OnePlus and Qualcomm have had a long and fruitful relationship. Barring the hot Snapdragon 810 on the OnePlus 2, all OnePlus smartphones have paired fantastically with a Snapdragon SoC. The company had also largely stuck to flagship SoCs, but that changed with the launch of the OnePlus Nord last year. The Nord was the first mid-range smartphone from the company since the 2015 OnePlus X, and it received a positive reception from both reviewers and customers, running forward to become one of the most successful OnePlus phone in several regions. OnePlus followed it up with the Nord CE this year, and just a few months later, we now have the OnePlus Nord 2. And for the first time, OnePlus is looking beyond the formidable Snapdragon army and placing its trust and confidence on a MediaTek flagship SoC instead. Will this gamble with the Dimensity 1200 pay off?
The Nord lineup for OnePlus was the moment the company branched away from being a flagship-only brand. One could argue that the introduction of regular and Pro variants had split the lineup already, but as far as SoC and performance are concerned, the Pro and non-Pro versions on the number series were identical. The Nord lineup made OnePlus more accessible to a wider market base, and we’ve now seen several devices within this sub-brand. To me, the OnePlus Nord 2 comes closer to an experience from the OnePlus 3 than it would from a “mid-range” device, and after a long time, I am quite happy with the phone in my hand. Just like old times.
OnePlus Nord 2: Specifications
|Specification||OnePlus Nord 2 5G|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|SoC||MediaTek Dimensity 1200-AI
GPU: ARM G77 MC9
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||In-display fingerprint sensor|
|Front Camera(s)||32MP Sony IMX 615, f/2.45|
|Port(s)||USB Type-C USB 2.0|
|Audio||Dual Stereo Speakers|
|Software||OxygenOS 11.3 based on Android 11|
|Other Features||Alert Slider|
About this review: OnePlus India sent me the OnePlus Nord 2 for review. My colleague Adam also received a OnePlus Nord 2 from OnePlus UK, and his experiences so far have also been factored in. This first impressions article is written after 4 days of using the device. OnePlus did not have any input on the contents of this review.
OnePlus Nord 2: Design and Display
The OnePlus Nord 2 in its Blue Haze color is a beautiful device, and I say that with several current flagships sitting on my desk right now. That was a high bar to clear, and the Nord 2 managed to do it with good room to spare. The phone sports Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back, while the mid-frame is plastic with a glossy finish. The “porcelain” finish on the Blue Haze back feels smoooooth, and the cyan blue color has a very calming aura to it as it does not reflect back too much light.
The Blue Haze color is similar to the Lake Blue color of the OnePlus 9R. You can tell the two phones apart from the camera modules, with the Nord 2 featuring a triple camera system with two imposing lenses, while the OnePlus 9R has a busier camera module with quad cameras and separated dual flash.
The best part of the Nord 2’s back is not the color though — it’s the fact that it does not catch any fingerprints. OnePlus did not mention any special treatments beyond the fact that the back is “smudge and fingerprint resistant”; but whatever they did works pretty well. Mumbai has high humidity, and phones tend to get plastered with ugly fingerprint smudges within the hour. The OnePlus Nord 2 did not get them, and this gave me the confidence to leave the included silicon case behind.
The Nord 2 5G also has good weight distribution for all of its 189 grams. As someone who daily drives the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with its very heavy top, I loved the smaller size, lower weight, and the great balance on the Nord 2. I also frequently use the Apple iPhone 12 but hate holding the boxy phone. The Nord 2 has better curves on the back glass, reminding me of the experience of the Xiaomi Mi A3 which was also a small, light, and well-curved phone. The Nord 2 is a delight to hold and look at, even more so than the OnePlus 9 Pro in my opinion.
On the front is a pretty good 90Hz 6.43″ FHD+ AMOLED display. To me, jumping from devices like the OnePlus 9 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra to the OnePlus Nord 2 was a visible downgrade to the eye. But the Nord 2 is a fraction of the price of these flagships, and the display is good on its own. I’ve had no real complaints on the display so far, other than it being just 90Hz instead of 120Hz. I would have loved to see OnePlus pack a 120Hz refresh rate display on the device. But if that meant settling for an otherwise inferior display with subpar characteristics, I would prefer to stick with this 90Hz display in this current form.
The Nord 2 has the power button and presumably-metal alert slider on the right side of the mid-frame, while the left side has the long volume rocker. The buttons are clicky, which addresses a common complaint on mid-range and budget phones. However, I do feel the vibration motor is just okay and quite categorically midrange, although Adam disagrees and feels it is decent. The top has a single microphone hole, while the bottom has the speaker grille, another mic hole, and the dual SIM card try. The Nord CE bought back the 3.5mm headphone jack, but the OnePlus Nord 2 takes it away once again, staying truer to the original Nord in this regard. This is a mid-range phone, so there is no wireless charging here either. But, you do get NFC, a good in-display fingerprint sensor, and some splash resistance even though there is no official IP rating.
Overall, I am very happy with the way the OnePlus Nord 2 feels in the hand. Big phones with huge camera modules, solid metal frames, and ceramic bodies are great. But light, curved, hand-friendly, and fingerprint-resistant phones have their own place in the market.
OnePlus Nord 2: Performance and Software
The OnePlus Nord 2 comes with the MediaTek Dimensity 1200-AI SoC. Let’s focus on the “AI” bits first. OnePlus touts a few AI-related features on the Nord 2 that warranted adding in the “AI” branding to the SoC name exclusively on this device for now. These features include AI Video Enhancement to improve brightness, color, and contrast of shot video content, AI Photo Enhancement for recognizing 22 different scenes and adjusting parameters accordingly, AI Color Boost that improves the color and gradience of images and video content (on YouTube, VLC, MX Player Pro for now) and AI Resolution Boost which upscales low res content (on YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat for now) into HD resolution. Of all of these features, I could spot settings for only AI Resolution Boost, and the difference is noticeable and better when you are viewing low-res content. There’s a Video Color Boost setting as well, but I could not notice any difference when toggling this setting. For the others, I was unable to discern any difference as well, and this is an area that would need further digging into if we are to figure out if the additions of the “AI” bits are material or just marketing.
The AI Resolution Resolution Boost feature managed to improve the quality of this 240p video on YouTube. This feature will be handy for users who are regularly on limited/poor data connections.
Moving on to the actual Dimensity 1200 SoC — performance is claimed to be comparable and even better than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 870. While we reserve judgment on the SoC and how it compares for our longer review, I can say this with confidence right now: it’s a great SoC to be used on a premium mid-range phone. My colleague Sumukh had a great experience with the SoC on the OPPO Reno 6 Pro, and both Adam and I agree that the Dimensity 1200 performs really well on the OnePlus Nord 2. In fact, MediaTek’s Dimensity lineup has overcome the huge performance deficit it had against Snapdragon SoCs in general, and it competes so much better now than MediaTek did in past years. We’ve had great experiences with other Dimensity phones as well, such as the Dimensity 1000+ on the Realme X7 Pro and the Dimensity 800U on the Xiaomi Redmi 9T.
On the OnePlus Nord 2 5G, performance is very good, thanks also in part to the 12GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage. All the apps in my regular usage had no problems, and I am pleased with the gaming performance too. I am a heavy Genshin Impact player, and my Exynos 2100-based Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra performs horribly, to the point that it lags and skips through entire cutscenes. On the OnePlus Nord 2, Genshin Impact works well. The game starts with Medium as the default settings, and I could spot frame drops for only about 2-3% of my total game time (probably because of some background sync tasks interfering). Dropping down to Low graphics smoothens those out as well, while bumping up to the highest setting increases the frequency of frame drops to ~5% and makes the phone run hotter quickly. Considering how graphic and animation intensive Genshin Impact is, I am impressed by how well the Nord 2 and the Dimensity 1200 handle the game.
Perhaps the biggest talking point on the OnePlus Nord 2 is the software. This is the first phone with OxygenOS 11.3 with the integrated ColorOS codebase. While OnePlus insists that users will not notice any changes, we definitely could tell that the software is ColorOS underneath. The settings are redesigned, there are features like gestures for partial screenshot that didn’t exist in OxygenOS, and there are sections like “Convenience Tools” which appear like a rough translation over from ColorOS. It wouldn’t even be wrong to call this an OxygenOS theme over ColorOS. That’s not a bad thing either, because the phone has been performing really well for the most part.
We still have issues with delayed notifications though, and Adam also missed two phone calls as the Phone app just didn’t fire. We’ll be diving in deeper for our full review, so stay tuned.
A point worth mentioning is the fact that the OnePlus Nord 2 comes with an unlockable bootloader.
Camera, Battery, and Charging
The OnePlus Nord 2 features a big upgrade in the camera department over the original Nord, as it comes with the same 50MP Sony IMX 766 sensor from the wide-angle camera on the OnePlus 9 series (but without the wide-angle freeform lens). This camera received wide praise for finally producing great images, as against the shoddy job that previous wide-angle camera implementations did. There’s also an 8MP wide-angle camera and a 2MP monochrome sensor on the back. The front camera is another notable talking point, as it features a 32MP camera, the highest MP count for a OnePlus device.
Our initial impressions of the camera are promising. But we reserve judgment for the full review as we had very limited opportunities in this short time.
Charging on the OnePlus Nord 2 5G also sees a massive upgrade. With Warp Charge 65, the 4500mAh battery on the Nord 2 can be charged from 0% to 100% in under 35 minutes. Over these few days, we don’t doubt this claim, as the phone charges very quickly and without generating heat on the device. We’ve experienced these speeds on other past OPPO and Realme devices as well, and the variance is only a few minutes against the claim, if at all. Battery life over these few days has also been satisfactory and combined with the super-fast charging speeds, there was no battery anxiety to be had.
Conclusion: Don’t sleep on MediaTek flagships
The OnePlus Nord 2 5G arrives at the market as a strong contender, and a good part of the credit goes to the Dimensity 1200 SoC. While the Nord 2 cannot be called a proper flagship because of the existence of the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro, the SoC is indeed MediaTek’s flagship so far, and it performs as such. This is a great SoC for everyday use as well as gaming, although Snapdragon chips have an edge when it comes to aftermarket development. Xiaomi/POCO has even added the Dimensity 1200 to the Redmi K40 Gaming Edition/POCO F3 GT, a gaming phone, which should be a testimony to the confidence in this MediaTek SoC.
If you’re someone who doesn’t particularly care what processor your phone runs as long as it can run well, phones with Dimensity 1200 like the Nord 2 are a great choice. In India, the OnePlus Nord 2 is priced aggressively, but competition like the POCO F3 GT is arriving with even more aggressive pricing. OnePlus is banking on the signature OnePlus experience to market the device, and based on our impressions so far, it will be able to catch the fancy of the average user thanks to its brand power. The OnePlus Nord 2 being a great device and a good value offering also helps.