The OnePlus Nord 2 5G is coming for the top dogs of the smartphone world. OnePlus is calling this its “flagship killer”, and after spending a week with this impressive little handset, we’d have to agree - this is one of the best smartphones you can buy.
The Nord line is OnePlus’ mid-range smartphone models, and since its inception the aim was always to bring flagship level features at affordable prices. The original Nord certainly nailed that premise, but the Nord N10 kind of lost its way on this front. It was a great budget phone, but it was a far cry from a flagship device in terms of specs.
Now OnePlus is back with the Nord 2, and it's gone back to that key vision of what Nord should represent… for the most part. There are a couple of areas that OnePlus could have stretched itself with - most notably the 90Hz screen - but on the whole this is a fantastic mid-range smartphone that can easily compete with the likes of the Google Pixel 4A 5G and even iPhone 12 Mini. It’s just a shame it’s not coming to the US.
OnePlus Nord 2 5G review: Design
- Blue haze or Gray Sierra
- Premium design
- No IPX rating
At first glance, the OnePlus Nord 2 5G certainly passes the premium test in terms of design and styling. It has the Gorilla glass front and back that we’ve come to expect, and a fiberglass metal polymer shell that’s exposed on the sides. That’s a fancy way of saying it’s plastic, but it really doesn’t look or feel cheap and plasticky. There are two color options on offer - Blue Haze and Gray Sierra.
The entire device measures in at 159.12mm x 73.31mm x 8.25mm and weighs 189g. The 6.43-inch AMOLED display isn’t quite edgeless, with a small black bezel. It’s a solid display though, rocking a 2400 x 1080 resolution and 90Hz refresh rate. The selfie camera is embedded in the top left of the screen.
On the back of the device, you’ll find the main camera array in the top left corner, with the four sensors embedded into a raised section which sticks out from the device - this is standard these days as manufacturers look to squeeze bigger and bigger lenses into thinner and thinner phones.
On the side of the device, you’ll find the usual buttons and switches - volume controls on the left side and lock button on the right, along with a switch that flips your phone between normal, silent, and vibrate modes. This is a great little feature that we’ve seen on OnePlus phones before, making it quick and easy to shut your phone up when you don’t want to be disturbed.
One of the areas that OnePlus has clearly saved cost is with the lack of IPX rating. This thing isn’t going to combust the second a drop of rain hits it or anything, but it’s probably not going to enjoy life if you drop it into the sink.
Overall though, the OnePlus Nord 2 5G looks and feels like a top-end device. It’s only when you really go poking around that you find signs that this is actually a mid-range smartphone. Considering OnePlus’s “smartphone killer” mantra for the Nord 2, we’d call this a success.
OnePlus Nord 2 5G review: Performance
- Mediatek Dimensity 1200-AI chipset
- 8GB RAM / 128GB storage & 12GB RAM / 256GB storage options
- Solid performance
The OnePlus Nord 2 5G is the first OnePlus phone to branch out from the usual Snapdragon chipset, instead using a custom-made Mediatek Dimensity 1200-AI which is exclusive to this phone. On paper, the Mediatek Dimensity 1200-AI is faster than the Snapdragon 870, which is a solid mid-range chipset.
Beyond that, there are two options for the OnePlus Nord 2 5G with regards to RAM and storage. You can get the base model with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage, or the upgraded version with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage. We tested the 12GB/256GB model. It's a 5G device, as we'd expect for all new phones at this point.
In practice we found the OnePlus Nord 2 5G to be fast and responsive across a variety of tasks. Navigating around menus and surfing the web was seamless, and watching videos was equally pain free. We also tried out a number of different games to test the performance of the hardware under stress including Forza Street and Warhammer 40,000: Lost Crusade, and we were suitably impressed.
The OnePlus Nord 2 5G actually has a Games app that lets you manage your games and mess with things like notifications, so you don’t get Instagram alerts or even phone calls in the middle of a game. It’s a neat feature, and essentially an extension of the Zen mode that we’ve seen in previous OnePlus devices. Zen makes its return too, letting you close out the world and cut down your screen time by blocking distractions, notifications and calls during set times of your choosing.
OnePlus Nord 2 5G review: Display and audio
- 6.43 inch Full HD 90HZ AMOLED
- Dual stereo speakers
- AI boost tech is neat, but seems like a gimmick
OnePlus has always been very proud of its screens, boasting 90Hz and 120Hz screens when the competition was still chilling at the 60Hz mark. The OnePlus Nord 2 5G has an impressive, but not ground-breaking, screen with its 6.43-inch Full HD AMOLED running at a 90Hz refresh rate. That’s excellent, and it certainly beats out or equals most of the competition, but it’s not trial blazing. In fact, some phones in this price range, like the Realme X3 Superzoom, have it beat.
Earlier, we mentioned the fancy custom chipset that the OnePlus Nord 2 5G is using - the Mediatek Dimensity 1200-AI. It’s the AI part that is unique to this phone, and it brings a lot of clever tech with it that enhances your user experience. This includes auto-adjusting the brightness of your phone by analyzing external lighting and what’s currently on screen. It can also color boost images and videos, and even gives a resolution boost to videos using its fancy AI tech. We had a play around with this by watching some old, low resolution YouTube videos - Charlie bit my finger and Chocolate rain, two classics of the early YouTube era - both with and without the AI tech on, and the results were... ok.
Side by side, one image looks a little sharper than the other, but when watching the video it wasn't that obvious. You do get a swanky animation that slides across the screen as the AI is turned on though, so it’s maybe worth it just for that.
There are dual speakers for audio output, position at the top of the screen and the bottom of the device. These pack a decent amount of volume and, the top and bottom layout means you avoid that weird, mono-directional audio problem that many cheaper phones have with when both speakers are at the bottom. There is also Bluetooth support for headphones, which is how you’ll spend the lion’s share of your time listening to music and videos on your phone if we’re honest. No headphone jack, and at this point it’s just time to stop mentioning that - they’re gone and they’re not coming back.
OnePlus Nord 2 5G review: Camera
- 50MP main lens
- 8MP ultrawide and 2MP monochrome
- 32MP selfie camera
- AI tech can improve contrast and brightness settings automatically
The camera array is often the first thing to take a hefty downgrade when companies are putting together cheaper and mid-range smartphones, but we’re suitably impressed with the setup in the OnePlus Nord 2. The main wide lens uses the Sony IMX 766, the same 50MP camera that you’d find in the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro.
Alongside this you also get an 8MP ultrawide lens and a 2MP monochrome lens. The monochrome lens has been a regular fixture in OnePlus devices for a while now. While it can be used to take artsy black and white photos, its main function is to assist the other lens by capturing details they’d miss. Finally, there is a 32MP selfie camera on the front which you’ll just have to take our word on, because my hair is a mess and there is no way you’re getting selfie snaps out of me today.
That fancy AI tech from the Mediatech chip comes into play with the camera too, and in a more noticeable way too. With the AI turned on, your camera will automatically adapt the color and contrast settings to make your shots look their best. We were dubious about this, but we went out and took pictures of some flowers and indoor shots, and the camera automatically switched to presets called Bouquet and Indoor, so maybe it does know what it’s doing. As to whether it improves the shots - that’s all quite subjective
The AI tech also works when you’re recording video. You can record up to 4K at 30fps, or 1080p at 60FPS using the camera here. You can also record slow motion footage at up to 240 fps. Overall, the camera array here is decent. You don’t get a telephoto lens, but only the OnePlus 9 Pro has ever been packing one of those, and that’s not really a fair comparison. The OnePlus Nord 2’s camera is a huge improvement over the original Nord, and the Nord N10, at a similar price range.
OnePlus Nord 2 5G review: Battery life
- Solid battery life
- Ludicrously quick charging
The OnePlus Nord 2 5G has a 4500mAh dual cell battery, seemingly identical to the battery that you’ll find in the OnePlus 9. It also shares the same charging technology - Warp Charge 65T - which can get your phone from 1% to 100% battery in 30 minutes.
Our own testing confirms these numbers, which makes the OnePlus Nord 2 5G one of the fastest charging phones at this price level. With normal use throughout the day, we’ve found that the OnePlus Nord 2 5G will last a couple of days, or one full day with intense usage.
There is no wireless charging, so you’re stuck with plain old wired charging via the included USB-C charger. Considering other brands have dropped the in-box charger, having it included is a nice touch.
OnePlus Nord 2 5G review: Software and security
- Oxygen OS 11.3
- Fingerprint scanner and facial recognition
The OnePlus Nord 2 5G runs on Oxygen OS 11.3, which is based on the Android operating system. This is actually the first phone to be released with this version of Oxygen OS, but don’t get too excited - this latest version is mainly just packed with behind the scenes upgrades rather than new features.
With that said, Oxygen OS is a solid operating system and we’ve enjoyed our time with the OnePlus Nord 2 5G. Settings and options are all where you’d expect them to be and the OS runs smoothly.
In terms of extra features, the OnePlus Nord 2 5G has an on-screen fingerprint reader, and also uses facial recognition for unlocking your device if you want. The former works perfectly, and the latter is somewhat temperamental - either that or it just doesn’t like my face, and who can blame it to be honest?
OnePlus Nord 2 5G review: Price
The OnePlus Nord 2 5G is currently available to buy in multiple markets, including the UK, but crucially excluding the USA. We asked OnePlus and it doesn’t seem like there are any plans for this phone to come to the US down the line either, which is a shame.
In the UK, the OnePlus Nord 2 5G with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage will cost £399, while the 12GB RAM and 256GB storage option will set you back £469. That’s around $550 for the cheaper model, and $650 for the top version if you wanted to get one imported.
You also get a two-year warranty with the OnePlus Nord 2 5G as standard.
Should you buy the OnePlus Nord 2 5G?
If you're looking for a solid mid-range smartphone, the OnePlus Nord 2 5G is undoubtedly the best option out there at the moment. You get great performance, a stylish design, and an excellent camera array for a bargain price. Add the fast charging speeds on top of that and this is a tough smartphone to beat.
While it talks a good talk about being a flagship killer, it can’t quite compete with true top-end flagship phones - monsters like the iPhone 12 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus. Nor should it be expected too really, when those devices cost two or three times as much. But as a replacement for base model flagships like the iPhone 12, it's a really compelling proposition.
OnePlus has played it safe in a couple of areas though, so if you really want a 120Hz screen then you’ll have to look elsewhere. And if you’re living in the US, then you’re going to have to import one and hope the customs fees aren’t horrendous because the Nord 2 is showing no signs of being released in the US.