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The OnePlus Nord Is Such a Tease

Illustration for article titled The OnePlus Nord Is Such a Tease
Photo: Sam Rutherford

As good as the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro are, the OnePlus Nord might be the company’s most exciting phone of the year. Not only does the Nord include a lot of the specs and features we love about the OnePlus 8, but its combination of price and components also represents a return to form for OnePlus, whose phones have been getting increasingly more expensive for the last few years. The downside is that the Nord doesn’t really work in the U.S., and it’s unclear if it ever will.

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Starting at 400 euros (around $455) for a Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage (or 500 euros for 12GB of RAM/256GB of storage), the Nord lands squarely in the mid-range segment, which had been OnePlus’ area of expertise from back when the company first started selling phones with the original OnePlus One.

But more importantly, thanks to that Snapdragon 765G chip, the OnePlus Nord has support for both 4G and 5G networks, which is big because up until now, 5G phones have typically been priced closer to the $1,000 mark. At that price, paying extra for faster data speed on networks that carriers are still building out is a really hard sell, but when you can get 5G on a phone for under $500, suddenly it makes a lot more sense to buy a phone that comes with better compatibility and a little future-proofing for next-gen networks.

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Putting a 90Hz refresh on a phone this cheap is really enticing.
Putting a 90Hz refresh on a phone this cheap is really enticing.
Photo: Sam Rutherford

Furthermore, the OnePlus Nord has essentially the same camera module as the OnePlus 8, which consists of a 48-MP main camera, an 8-MP ultra-wide-angle camera, a 2-MP macro sensor, and a bonus 5-MP depth camera to assist with portrait mode-style effects. While I had a few critiques of the OnePlus 8's camera setup when I reviewed it earlier this spring, when that same system shows up on a phone that costs almost half the price, a lot of those little nitpicks don’t hold quite as much weight.

Cameras aside, the Nord also comes with a bunch of features you seldom find on mid-range phones including dual front cams (32-MP main cam and an 8-MP ultra-wide cam), an in-display optical fingerprint sensor, and most importantly, a 6.44-inch AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate. The only things the Nord is missing is a microSD card slot for expandable storage, a headphone jack, and an official water-resistance rating.

OnePlus has even kept a lot its little signature traits like its built-in alert slider and super clean take on Android, with OnePlus promising to provide support for at least two years of Android updates and three years of security patches. Even the Nord’s design is refreshing, with OnePlus opting for a gorgeous powder blue glass back that includes a color-matched paint job on the metal band that runs along the outside of the phone. And if blue isn’t your thing, the Nord also comes in gray.

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So while I haven’t had enough time to get super in-depth with the Nord just yet, from the time I’ve spent with it so far, it feels like a nearly ideal mid-range handset. It’s got great specs, good cameras, and support for 5G without blowing up your wallet.

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But then comes the Nord’s major shortcoming: The Nord doesn’t have support for any of the important U.S. cellular bands, and currently, the Nord is only expected to be available in North America as part of a very small beta program that’s limited to just 50 people. So in a lot of ways, the OnePlus Nord is the 5G phone the U.S. needs but won’t actually get, at least in the foreseeable future. Hopefully, that changes down the line, because the more time I spend with the Nord, the more I like it. But sadly, if the Nord doesn’t go on sale here, it’ll never rise to much more than a 5G tease.

Senior reporter at Gizmodo, formerly Tom's Guide and Laptop Mag. Was an archery instructor and a penguin trainer before that.

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DISCUSSION

North Americans are happy to pay $1000+ for phones every two years. Hell, Canadians pay $150+ CAD a month for 6 gigs of data, so I don’t see this coming unfortunately.