OnePlus Nord 2 Review: Best value mid-ranger?

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OnePlus has once again launched a highly affordable alternative to its flagship range, bringing a bunch of great features for a lot less money.

One of the most significant aspects of the new OnePlus Nord 2 is that it is powered not by the usual Qualcomm Snapdragon chipset, but rather MediaTek’s top-end Dimensity 1200 SoC, with additional tweaks for AI.

Most consumers probably aren’t too bothered about who makes the components inside their device, but many are, and with the Snapdragon 888 SoC having had some well-publicised thermal issues, an alternative option is to be welcomed.

I need to disclose before I go any further that MediaTek reached out to me to supply this review device, as they were keen to let me see how it compares to the more expensive OnePlus 9 (and other Snapdragon powered smartphones). They had no input in my review content (nor did they see the content of the review until it was published for all to read).

MediaTek has come a long way since it was known by many for powering lower end phones often available by import only, to where it is today with its new Dimensity range of SoCs – and early support of 5G to give it a real lead in the marketplace.

Realme and Xiaomi have each used the Dimensity 700 and 800 chipsets in highly affordable phones over the last year or so, bringing 5G access to the masses. Updated versions are hitting the market soon, meaning we’ll be seeing many more devices using MediaTek chipsets in the months and years ahead.

For flagship models, Dimensity 1200 is where it’s at right now. While not quite as powerful as Snapdragon 888 in graphical benchmarks, it is still geared for a good balance between performance, and power efficiency and thermal management.

Stay cool

When many Snapdragon 888 phones have been found to throttle down the performance to avoid overheating, the real-world difference can be a lot less significant and in some cases barely noticeable.

Stronger battery life is something a lot of people will consider a higher priority, especially when you can argue that for some time we’ve had chipsets that are total overkill for the vast majority of functions we as consumers actually use on our phones.

Dimensity 1200 still offers access to high-end features, such as high-resolution displays with features like HDR, support for high-megapixel cameras (up to 108-megapixels, as seen on the Xiaomi 11T), dual 5G, Wi-Fi 6, fast RAM and storage.

As a result, the Nord 2 is not a significant downgrade from the OnePlus 9 as you might assume given the saving in price of £230 (based on retail pricing, which may vary from time to time due to promotions).

Such an amount is not pocket change, and yet the phones are surprisingly similar in many ways – including the look on the rear (bar the Hasselblad branding).

Software appeal

One big change on the Nord 2 is the swap from Oxygen OS to Color OS, as used by Oppo and Realme (other brands part of the BBK Electronics empire), albeit with a skin that resembles the look and feel of OnePlus’ original user interface.

There are differences when it comes to the settings menu layout, and even trivial differences like the need to have at least 6-digits for a PIN code instead of just four on older OnePlus phones, but the general look and feel is not substantially different to the point that anyone who has owned an earlier OnePlus phone is going to be shocked by the changes.

That doesn’t mean the online community hasn’t taken news of the switch in a bad way, with some considering this the ‘end of OnePlus’. There’s clearly no way BBK will ditch a brand that has a big and loyal following, especially when Oppo has not yet captured the hearts and minds of many in European markets.

We shall of course have to wait and see how things pan out, but this is really not much of an issue for the current products on sale here and now. In my opinion, it isn’t even an issue for future ones either.

Look and Feel

The build quality of the Nord 2 is high, and it looks every bit as good as the OnePlus 9. There’s a case supplied in the box and a factory-fitted screen protector, which will help keep the phone in good condition for longer.

The phone packs in a 6.43-inch Full HD+ resolution AMOLED display, but instead of a 120Hz refresh rate like many other new phones, it tops out at 90Hz. Cast your mind back to the launch of the OnePlus 7 and 90Hz was considered a major leap forward. Even now it still provides an extremely smooth experience, and you’d probably be hard pushed to tell the difference between 90Hz and 120Hz.

You now get more options on display and font sizes, including a new font that comes from the Oppo/Realme family of phones. You can dynamically adjust the thickness of this, or allow the phone to manage things itself. There are many picture and video enhancement options, making it almost as good as the OnePlus 9 in terms of adjustments and control.

Sound is great too, with powerful stereo speakers, while the phone also comes with a decent 4,500mAh battery and 65W fast charging, the same as the OnePlus 9. Wireless charging would have been a nice addition, like the OnePlus 9, but that only offered 15W wireless charging compared to the 50W rapid charging on the even more expensive OnePlus 9 Pro.

Considering the huge difference in charging speed (65W vs 15W), it’s a minor inconvenience.

Camera

One area where I would be less willing to compromise too much is camera performance, and the Nord 2 has a triple-camera setup that comprises the same Sony IMX766 50-megapixel image sensor used on the OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro. On those models it’s used for the ultra-wide camera, but here it becomes the primary camera.

It has optical image stabilisation, and is accompanied by a more simplistic 8-megapixel ultra-wide camera, as well as a pointless and forgettable 2-megapixel mono lens (that aids portrait photography).

On the front of the phone, you get a 32-megapixel camera that is twice the resolution of both the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro models.

By the start of 2022, I really hope all 2-megapixel sensors are consigned to the dustbin forever. From this point onwards, let me just consider this to be a dual-camera phone and forget about the third camera as I hope you will too.

Photo Gallery

The ultra-wide camera on the Nord 2 cannot compare with the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro, and there’s no telephoto camera here either (nor is there on the OnePlus 9) but the most important camera is the primary one, and Sony’s sensor works brilliantly. It also offers an excellent performance in low light, as well as a decent enough 2x zoom without a loss in quality.

Go to 5x or the maximum 10x and you’ll lose a lot of detail (as you can see in the last photo above) but it doesn’t really show on the phone screen. If you are going to share such pictures on social media, you’ll be okay but don’t expect to get anything special for more serious content creation.

This means you have a perfectly good camera setup for most usage cases, even if you don’t have the same zoom options as offered on phones that usually come with ‘Pro’ in their name, or the ability to get amazing landscape shots with the ultra-wide. If you need all of that, you’ll need to invest more – pure and simple.

One other thing missing from the phone is any association with Hasselblad, which is strictly reserved for the flagship devices (at least for now; it is always possible that some features may trickle down in the coming years).

There are some changes to the camera app layout, but there’s not going to be a major learning curve to worry about (and none at all if you’ve used an Oppo or Realme phone in the last year or two).

Video is limited to 4K at 30fps, which is about the only limitation over Snapdragon 888 powered smartphones that can go up to 60fps, including 8K on selected devices at 24 or 30fps.

I’d guess that most video clips recorded on the Nord 2 will be captured at 1080p or less for sharing online, but if you do want to get involved with high-definition video recording at the highest frame rates, this is one limitation to be aware of – and another reason you may have to invest in something else.

Performance

The most important benefit I found when using the Nord 2 is that the phone never ran as hot as the OnePlus 9, the only phone I’ve used this year which gave a warning about heat (albeit on a particularly hot day).

I also saw an uplift in battery life with an impressive six hours of screen on time, so if battery anxiety is a thing for you then the Nord 2 is perhaps a better choice than an equivalent Qualcomm powered phone. Plus, you still get the same super fast charging as the more expensive models.

As you can see from the benchmark results, the Nord 2 is still an extremely competent performer and you can quite happily muster up a bit of video or photo editing, or play intense games without issue.

There’s dual 5G support and Wi-Fi 6 here too, although it should be noted that it only supports 80MHz on Wi-Fi 6 (1200Mbps) instead of 160MHz that the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro can muster reach (2400Mbps).

This did mean a slight performance hit on my home BT fibre connection, down from the maximum 910Mbps available to around 700-750Mbps (because of the inherent losses of Wi-Fi) but I can’t really see this being much of an issue for a couple of reasons;

Firstly, a lot of affordable Wi-Fi 6 routers top out at 80MHz too. Secondly, it really isn’t likely to be a problem even for those lucky enough to enjoy gigabit broadband speeds. It may make a difference if you’re moving files from the Nord 2 to other devices on a local network, but I can’t see this being a very common scenario to give a lot of thought to.

Final thoughts

As with many reviews, it’s not always just a case of recommending the most expensive smartphones with the absolute best-in-class specifications. Especially if there can be actual benefits from a cheaper model, such as the efficiency savings with the alternative chipset.

Given the big difference in pricing, yet keeping all-important things like a great screen, stereo audio, 5G and next-gen Wi-Fi 6 connectivity, an excellent camera, good battery life and fast charging support, it actually leads to me wondering whether you’d ever need to pay more for the OnePlus 9.

Of course there are some differences that may swing the balance in favour of the OnePlus 9, or 9 Pro, such as mentioned above with the cameras, but the Nord 2 feels like a return to when OnePlus offered a ‘flagship killer’ at a great price that made it accessible to a wider audience.

The Nord 2 is a sign of great things to come with a change in user interface, but keeping OnePlus’ unique design language and high-end features that often get ditched on competing products at a similar price.

Pricing and Availabiity

There are two configurations for the OnePlus Nord 2, with 8+128GB retailing for £399 and 12+256GB costing £469. At the time of publishing this review, OnePlus was also offering a further £10 off via discount code shown on its site.

This represents a significant saving over the OnePlus 9, which starts at £629 for 8+128GB and rises to £729 for 12+256GB. However, these models are also subject to occasional promotions that bring the price down also.

Nevertheless, the OnePlus Nord 2 is great value even when sold at full price.

Key Specifications

Size / Weight158.9 x 73.2 x 8.25mm / 189g
Display6.43-inch Full HD+ (2400×1080 pixels)
90Hz Refresh Rate
AMOLED
with video enhancement, AI-super resolution and daylight readable enhancement
ChipsetMediaTek Dimensity 1200 AI SoC (6nm) with ARM G77 MC9 GPU
Rear Cameras50-megapixel Sony IMX766 primary camera (f/1.88) with OIS (0-10x zoom)
8-megapixel ultra-wide (119.7 degree FoV) f/2.25
2-megapixel monochrome camera f/2.5
4K video at 30fps
Nightscape Ultra, AI Photo Enhancement, AI Video Enhancement, UltraShot HDR
Front Camera32-megapixel (f/2.45) with EIS
1080p video at 30fps
RAM8 or 12GB
Storage128GB or 256GB
ConnectivityLTE Cat 18 (1.2Gbps/150Mbps)
NR (5G) up to 2.95Gbps
Bluetooth 5.2
Dual-band Wi-Fi 6 with 2×2 MIMO
Dual SIM (Dual 5G)
Battery4,500mAh with Warp Charge (65W) charging
AudioDual stereo speaker with noise cancellation support
In boxPhone, Warp Charge 65 power adapter and cable (USB 2.0), phone case, pre-applied screen protector
ColoursGray Sierra, Blue Haze or Green Wood*
* Selected markets
More information

OnePlus Nord 2

£399 - £469
9

Features

8.8/10

Performance

9.0/10

Camera

8.5/10

Value

9.5/10

Pros

  • Packs in most key features from pricier OnePlus 9
  • Doesn't get as hot as Snapdragon 888
  • Powerful audio and great screen
  • Uses an excellent Sony image sensor for primary camera
  • Better battery life than OnePlus 9 despite same capacity

Cons

  • Can't quite match Snapdragon 888 for overall performance
  • Wi-Fi 6 tops out at 80MHz (1200Mbps)
  • 2-megapixel camera is worthless - why is it even there?

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