After months of rumors and leaks of all kinds, the OnePlus North is official. Sold from 399 euros, the new smartphone from OnePlus should help the brand find the right course, the one that has allowed it in just six years to rise among the benchmarks of the market. After an encouraging first grip, we were able to use the OnePlus North for several days. Here is our full test.
“This is the North! “. No, OnePlus was not inspired by Michel Galabru to choose the name of its smartphone. Any craving for french fries has nothing to do with this whole thing either. No desire to get to the Iron Throne (King in the North, all that stuff) either. No, this enigmatic term has nothing to do with it all.
OnePlus readily admits, he needed to find a course. What could be better than the North, the landmark of a compass, to get back on the right track? After a rise in power over the past six years (number 1 in India, number 4 in Europe in the premium segment), the manufacturer was lost by focusing on the ultra high-end market, losing in the process some of those who had made his success.
Fans of the first hour were full of praise about this brand at the origin of the term “flagship killer”, the one that was able to offer the first affordable smartphone offering an experience as qualitative as the most expensive models on the market. . But in the face of rising prices, some have lost their immoderate faith in the brand, no longer understood its directions and sometimes abandoned it.
Rest assured, OnePlus has heard you. “From November 2019, we wondered what would be a mid-range according to OnePlus” Akis Evangelidis, vice-president of OnePlus France, told us during the presentation of OnePlus North. The answer: a smartphone without concessions, offering an experience worthy of the best on the market, for a low price. This is the promise made by OnePlus with this North.
Price and release date
The OnePlus Nord will be available in Gray Onyx and Blue Marble (our test model) from 04 August 2020 at the price of 399 euros (8/128 GB). A 12/256 GB version is also available at a price of 499 euros. The OnePlus North will be marketed on the manufacturer’s official store, on Amazon and at Fnac / Darty. As of this writing, negotiations with Bouygues Telecom (which distributes the brand’s other products) are not yet sealed.
By adopting this positioning, OnePlus returns to the origins of its success. In 2014, the manufacturer was shaking up the market with the OnePlus One, a smartphone with a high-end technical sheet sold at an ultra-aggressive price. Subsequently, the brand opted for a strategy oriented towards the premium market, increasing its prices over the years until reaching the symbolic bar of 1000 euros. With the OnePlus Nord, early adopters can once again access an affordable smartphone from the brand.
Design: a little gem
Do you find the smartphones of 2020 too big? The OnePlus North could well seduce you. While it is not among the most compact, its dimensions (158.3 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm) and weight (184 g) make it very pleasant to hold. As far as we’re concerned, we’re happy to use a one-handed smartphone without performing a contortionist number. As wide as an iPhone 11 Pro and slightly longer, The OnePlus Nord adopts the ideal format in 2020 : large enough for a quality multimedia experience, small enough for an excellent grip.
If it has to cut costs a bit (Gorilla Glass 5 protection on both sides,), OnePlus still incorporates quality materials. The shiny glass (surprisingly little mess) and the metal give it a decidedly high-end look. The manufacturer plays the card of minimalism and opts for particularly elegant rounded lines. The OnePlus North looks like two drops of water like the OnePlus 8 in (slightly) smaller.
The vertical photo module (positioned in the upper left corner), the logo (in the center) and the mention “OnePlus” (at the bottom) are the only three elements visible on the back of the smartphone. Up front, the manufacturer opts for a hallmarked screen containing two photo sensors. While the little pill in the upper left corner will upset some, it proved to be rather inconspicuous throughout our testing. It just poses a problem with some games since it hides sometimes important elements. Rest assured, a 180 ° rotation corrects the problem most of the time.
For the rest, OnePlus uses a recipe that he masters perfectly. The power button is placed on the right border with the ’Alert slider (button used to switch from ring mode to silent or vibrate modes). In contrast, the volume keys play it solo. Finally, the USB-C, the loudspeaker and the dual nano-SIM drawer are united on the lower border.
Despite the cost constraints, OnePlus manages to deliver a model that has nothing to envy high-end smartphones. While it looks a lot like its big brothers, the OnePlus Nord stands out with its more compact size, which will delight those who are allergic to the increasingly common behemoths on the market.
90Hz AMOLED screen!
The OnePlus North has a 6.44-inch FluidAMOLED screen (20: 9 aspect ratio) with Full HD + definition (2400 x 1080 pixels) sRGB and Display P3 compatible. Those accustomed to the brand’s products will therefore notice that it makes no sacrifice on the quality of the screen, the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro incorporating the same type of panel.
So you won’t be surprised to learn that the display quality is more or less the same as on the last two high-end models. A feat insofar as the North costs two to three times less than its brothers. We therefore find a very bright screen, with deep blacks and excellent contrasts. By default, bright colors tend to flatter the retina a bit too much. But Oxygen OS comes with a slew of settings to optimize the display to your liking. Three modes are available:
- Vivid: marked contrasts and saturated colors
- Natural: more neutral
- Advanced: allows you to choose between sRGB, Display P3 or AMOLED Wide Color Gamut (our favorite) spectrum and adjust the temperature
So as not to spoil anything, the OnePlus Nord displays content with a refresh rate of 90 Hz (60 Hz also available if you want to save the battery), like the OnePlus 8. If we barely observe the difference between a 90 Hz and 120 Hz panel, the gain in fluidity provided by 90 Hz compared to 60 Hz jumps to eyes. Animations and transitions are smoother, navigation (especially on social networks) much more pleasant. Hard to go without after tasting it.
Finally, the OnePlus Nord’s vibration motor is similar to that of the premium models and the screen is optimized to reduce the emission of blue lights.
By integrating an almost identical panel in all respects with those of the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro, OnePlus fully respects its commitment to provide the same experience “Fast and Smooth” than high-end models. It follows that the screen of the OnePlus Nord is a little marvel and slaps his rivals.
Performance and software
Against all expectations, OnePlus does not play kikalaplus fat and opt for the Snapdragon 765G chip (octa-core, 7 nm, clocked up to 2.4 GHz). An unprecedented strategy from the manufacturer who has always relied on the most powerful chip on the market. To support Qualcomm’s chip, it opts for 8 or 12 GB of LPDDR4X RAM (not LPDDR5) and 128 or 256 GB of UFS 2.1 memory (not 3.0).
Forced to reduce manufacturing costs, OnePlus therefore partly sacrifices the performance of its new star. “In part” because beyond benchmarks less flattering than with a Snapdragon 865 chip, the Snapdragon 765G is particularly efficient in use. A finding that we were already making on other smartphones equipped with this mid-range processor.
Thus, thanks to an in-depth optimization of Oxygen OS, the OnePlus North provides coverage in all circumstances. OnePlus again succeeds in providing the same “Fast and Smooth” experience as with its top-of-the-range models. The animations are fluid, the transitions are quick and the multitasking management is exemplary. The most demanding applications (photo editing, video editing) also work perfectly.
Players will also have some for their account since the Snadragon 765G, associated with the Adreno 620 graphics chip, is optimized for mobile gaming. Also the OnePlus North runs the most resource-intensive licenses (Call of Duty Mobile, Fortnite, PUBG Mobile, Asphalt, NBA Live) without any difficulty and with the best graphics configuration available.
Oxygen OS: the importance of optimization
Like Apple, OnePlus understood from the start the importance of well-designed, optimized and durable software. This vision materialized in the creation of Oxygen OS, which in just a few short years has established itself as one of the best versions of Android, if not the best. Out of the question for the manufacturer to provide a different experience on its more affordable model.
The OnePlus Nord therefore runs on Android 10 with Oxygen OS 10.5. In order to maintain the same speed, the same fluidity and a version 100% identical to that of the high-end models, the developers have made nearly 300 optimizations. While most are invisible, they can be felt with use. We have not seen any difference between this OnePlus Nord and our OnePlus 8.
Yet OnePlus does not ignore any functionality. In addition to the identical graphic charter, we find the same dark mode, the same Zen Fashion and the many customization options. Always so fluid, Oxygen OS shines with its lightness and its small, well-felt options. Like it or not, we have to recognize that the interface created by OnePlus has few faults.
On the security side, the OnePlus North offers the duo facial recognition and in-screen fingerprint reader. We recommend the second option, which is more secure and very responsive. While facial recognition remains faster, it only relies on less reliable 2D analysis.
Finally, the manufacturer promises a follow-up of major updates for two years and three years for security updates.
Historically, OnePlus has always established itself among the market benchmarks in terms of autonomy. If the latest models were somewhat disappointing compared to the first versions, the OnePlus North inherits the know-how of the manufacturer. Its 4115 mAh battery coupled with the excellent optimization of Oxygen OS allow a two-day intensive use. If your uses remain basic (little video, photo and / or game) you can even expect two and a half days of battery life. Thus, the OnePlus Nord ranks among the most enduring smartphones on the market. This good performance is also explained by the integration of the Snapdragon 765G processor which, although not as powerful as the Snapdragon 865, has the advantage of consuming very little power.
OnePlus accompanies its smartphone with Warp Charge 30T charger (5V / 6A) inaugurated with the OnePlus 7T and 7T Pro. According to the manufacturer, this fast charging system allows the OnePlus Nord to win 70% battery in 30 minutes of recharging. Promise kept. The smartphone even regains all of its health in less than an hour. All without ever heating up, even if you use it while charging. A delight.
No big surprise wireless charging is available for absent subscribers. The manufacturer seems to want to reserve this technology (yet inexpensive) for its most premium model. Even the OnePlus 8, however sold 699 euros, does not. If this lack is almost unacceptable at this price, it remains relatively acceptable on a smartphone sold at 399 euros. Nevertheless, some competitors (and not necessarily the most generous) integrate it without complaint. We think, for example, of Apple, which provides wireless charging in its iPhone SE 2020 sold for 489 euros.
Although voluntary, OnePlus has never quite managed to shine in the audio field. While the OnePlus Nord doesn’t really change the game, it still manages to stand out on one point: listening with wireless accessories. A strange coincidence as the manufacturer launches the OnePlus Buds, the first true wireless headphones in its history. Bluetooth 5.1 compatible, the Nord supports aptX, aptX HD, LDAC and AAC, codecs promising high definition listening.
In the absence of a 3.5 mm jack, fans of wired accessories should equip themselves with USB-C equipment or a jack / USB-C adapter (not supplied). In all cases, the OnePlus Nord embeds a Dirac audio tuner to optimize the sound quality. Three listening modes are available: Dynamic (adjusts the sound according to the content), Movie (priority to voice and surround sound) or Music (more nuances).
These different optimizations will prove particularly interesting when you are not using headphones. This is because the single speaker delivers poor monophonic sound. If the mids remain balanced, the highs saturate beyond 50% of the maximum volume and the bass is almost inaudible. In summary, put on headphones to truly enjoy the audio experience worthy of the name.
The advantage of offering a smartphone for less than 500 euros is that the requirements for photography are lower. By attacking the premium segment, OnePlus has (a little) tripped over the carpet: while the photo quality of the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro is very good, it does not reach the level of its competitors. There is no question of reproducing the same errors with the North. OnePlus therefore includes a photo module composed of:
- a wide-angle lens : 26mm, f / 1.75; 48 mpxls Sony IMX586 sensor (0.8 µm photosite); 6 lenses; PDAF, optical and electronic stabilization
- an ultra wide-angle lens (f / 2.25); 8 mpxls sensor (119 ° field of view); PDAF, OIS
- a macro lens : f / 2.4; 2 mpxls sensor
- a lens loaded with depth of field (f / 2.4); 5 mpxls sensor
If you are interested in the brand, you will no doubt have noticed that the photo module is very similar to that of the OnePlus 8, which is sold twice as much. The explanation is simple: OnePlus wants to offer a photographic experience worthy of a high-end model. However, it should be remembered that the OnePlus 8 mainly uses sensors already used on the 7T launched in 2019. In summary, the OnePlus North mainly includes equipment launched 9 months ago.
Should we be worried? Not really insofar as the OnePlus Nord captures excellent shots and stands out for its versatility. If we still do not understand the choice of a macro lens (rather medium) instead of a telephoto lens, the results in 2x zoom are still good enough to forgive this slight misstep.
The ultra-wide angle is also effective. OnePlus manages to contain distortion well, retain enough detail and keep an overall rendering close to that of the wide-angle. A very good point therefore.
The manufacturer combines the main sensor with ToF in order to shoot the portraits. Here again, the results turn out to be very correct. If the clipping sometimes lacks precision, the bokeh is natural.
Like his brothers, the OnePlus North shows its limits when light is scarce. OnePlus still hasn’t fixed the pesky trigger speed issue. Very annoying in the first moments, we end up taming it and we then obtain more acceptable night photos. Still, the yellow tints are still dominant and the noise is too present. If the night mode improves these few faults, it does not work miracles either.
Despite everything, these weaknesses remain acceptable for a smartphone at this price. While waiting for Google’s Pixel 4a, the OnePlus North has nothing to envy its direct competitors. It is even closer to the OnePlus 8, whose place in the range, in fact, is seriously questioned.
OnePlus even pays for the luxury of integrating a front photo module more efficient than that of the OnePlus 8. On the program, a 32-megapixel Sony IMX616 sensor (0.8 µm photosite) with wide-angle lens (f / 2.45) associated with an 8-megapixel sensor with ultra-wide-angle lens (f / 2.5; 105 ° field of view). The OnePlus North can thus capture quality selfies or groufies as well as equally flattering self-portraits.
Finally, the latest from OnePlus can shoot 4K or 1080p at up to 60fps. The combination of optical and electronic stabilization allows for very good videos. In this price segment, no other manufacturer can boast of achieving such results. As well the OnePlus North stands out as the benchmark in this area on the smartphone market for less than 500 euros.