OnePlus Nord: The iPhone SE of Android World

The OnePlus Nord sports a 6.44-inch FHD+ display with 90Hz refresh rate.
It is powered by a Snapdragon 765G SoC with up to 12GB RAM, 256GB storage.
To keep things ticking is a 4,115mAh battery with 30W Warp Charging.

Chinese smartphone company OnePlus makes some of the most value-for-money smartphones with a self-proclaimed tagline “Flagship Killer”. The smartphones offer the right balance between performance and features, and cost significantly less than the Apple iPhones, Samsung Galaxies and Huawei smartphones. In fact, over the years, OnePlus smartphones have matured from “flagship killers to flagships”. In India, OnePlus leads the premium segment, followed by Samsung and Apple. But, in this whole process, a gap got left behind, that too in the segment where OnePlus started its journey. The latest OnePlus Nord is the company’s attempt at “going back to its roots” and competing in the hotly contested mid-premium segment.

With prices starting at around $400, the OnePlus Nord does bring a set of tradeoffs. There is no wireless charging, no IPXX rating, no stereo speakers, and no flagship chipset. But the OnePlus Nord does come with 5G connectivity. It also brings all the OnePlus goodness such as clean and customizable OxygenOS UI and Warp Charging technology. From the 90Hz screen refresh rate to 48MP quad rear cameras with OIS and dual front cameras, there is a lot to like about the Nord. OnePlus is also promising two years of Android OS upgrades and three years of security updates.

But what makes the OnePlus Nord special in its segment? Well, after using the smartphone for over two weeks, I can say that a lot is working in its favor. But before I get to the design and performance part, let me first talk about why OnePlus “Nord” exists.

What does Nord mean?

When I first heard the product name, I had two thoughts in my mind. It either had to do something with the Nordic countries or something with the Nord VPN. Maybe a phone with a built-in VPN for better privacy. But ahead of the launch, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei revealed the reason behind the product naming.

“Nord name comes from the concept of true north. We each have this inner compass that guides us. This product line reminds us to always search for our true north, and we hope it will keep reminding you of yours,” Carl Pei tweeted. So, can the Nord guide OnePlus to success? Let’s find out.

Design: Realme X50 Pro Lite in the Making

It is no secret that OnePlus and Realme share parts of the supply chain, design, and the manufacturing line with Oppo. Despite the various prototypes that OnePlus experimented with the Nord, it finally went with a design that closely resembles the Realme X50 Pro and Realme X3 SuperZoom. I do not have much to complain, except that nothing is refreshing considering the new product line and the company’s ambitions.

The Nord features a front and back glass design protected with Corning Gorilla Glass 5. But unlike other OnePlus smartphones that feature a metal frame, the Nord comes with a hard plastic frame with a shiny metal finish. It does not bother much to me as it makes the phone a little lighter to hold compared to other 5G phones, like the Realme X50 Pro. The front is dominated by a 6.44-inch screen, but more on that later. It also comes with a dual hole-punch selfie camera cutout on the top left. There are rounded corners on all four sides, with very thin bezels. Despite having a taller screen, the Nord feels compact and comfortable to hold.

counterpoint oneplus nord review vs realme

The placement of buttons is also good enough for easy accessibility, and they offer good tactile feedback too. The volume rocker is on the left, whereas the power/sleep button is on the right. Just above the power button is the alert slider to quickly switch between volume profiles (ring, vibrate and silence).

counterpoint oneplus nord review alert slider

Along the back is a vertical, pill-shaped quad-camera module and LED flash on the top left. The rest of the back is clean with the OnePlus logo in the center and branding at the bottom. OnePlus sent me the Blue Marble color unit for review, and it looks refreshing. There is also a Grey Onyx color.

The Blue Marble color gives the OnePlus Nord a distinct look and feel.

counterpoint oneplus nord review back

Display: 90Hz Screen Refresh Rate and More

The display runs at Full HD+ resolution, 1080×2400 pixels, and a tall 20:9 aspect ratio. The screen has a refresh rate of 90Hz, and it supports HDR10+ as well. It offers good viewing angles, vibrant color reproduction, and legibility is no issue either. The high refresh rate makes animations, web scrolling and UI navigation quite smooth.

OnePlus lets you choose between Vivid, Natural and Advanced screen profiles depending on your needs. There is also a “Reading Mode” which turns the screen into a greyscale mode. If you are reading e-books or a long article on some site, activating the reading mode will ensure less strain on your eyes.

Software: OxygenOS with Promised Software Updates and Upgrades

The Android OS is used by hundreds of OEMs, but only a handful of them offer timely software updates. Besides Nokia HMD, OnePlus is also known to offer timely OS upgrades and monthly security patches to its smartphones. The Nord runs on Android 10 with a July security patch. And despite offering a lot of customization options, the OxygenOS 10.5 also offers close to stock Android experience with just a couple of pre-installed apps.

The UI feels super smooth, thanks to the hardware and software optimization. A lot of credit also goes to the 90Hz screen refresh rate which makes the whole experience better. The interface is smooth, and scrolling through web pages is fluid too. Another thing I like about OxygenOS is how easy it is to customize different aspects, right from accent color to the tone, system icons and fonts among others.

Then there are some interesting additions in the form of Game Space, which optimizes the CPU, GPU and RAM for a lag-free performance. There is also a Fnatic mode that supercharges the smartphone with network enhancements while activating the DND mode for a distraction-free gaming experience.

Another thing I like is the Zen Mode. In the current COVID-19 times, we spend more time on our phones, and it is important to get some digital detox. The Zen Mode does exactly that – it locks you out of your smartphone for 20-60 minutes, depending on what you choose. Once activated, you will only be able to make and receive emergency calls, and all apps except the camera will be temporarily locked.

The OxygenOS skin offers the best of near-stock Android experience with a dash of customization.

Performance: So Much More For Less

The Nord is the first OnePlus smartphone that does not sport a Qualcomm Snapdragon 800-series chipset. It draws its power from a 7nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G SoC, which is paired with up to 12GB of LPDDR4X RAM and up to 256GB UFS 2.1 storage. Coming to performance, the OnePlus Nord may not be the fastest, but it does show what the 765G SoC is capable of. It can be comparable to the Snapdragon 845 SoC, but with a 7nm process node, the 765G is a bit more efficient too. We have already seen how smoothly the chipset performs in our Vivo X50 Pro review, and the experience is the same on the Nord too.

Right from daily tasks like surfing the internet to social media or multitasking, the Nord handles things well. The gaming experience on the smartphone is also smooth. I had no issues running games such as PUBG Mobile, Alto’s Odessey and Hill Climb 2 among others. One of the things I like here is how well optimized the battery management and thermals are on the smartphone.

The Snapdragon 765G SoC offers a good mix of performance and efficiency, along with 5G connectivity.

I played PUBG Mobile at a stretch for two hours with graphics at HD and frame rate at high. Even with this usage, the phone barely got warm, and the battery drain was just 36%. This was with the standard gaming mode. However, occasional frame lags were noticeable. OnePlus has also included the Fnatic mode, which supercharges the phone in terms of allocating more resources for gaming. It also blocks unwanted calls and other notifications for a distraction-free gaming experience. The Fnatic mode did make things smoother.

Cameras: Surprisingly Good, Especially Low-Light

Though the Nord is not a flagship smartphone, OnePlus is offering a flagship camera experience. It comes with a quad-camera set-up at the back and dual cameras on the front. The Nord is also one of the first smartphones in its segment to come with optical image stabilization (OIS) to let you capture blur-free photos and smooth videos. The primary camera is a Sony IMX586 sensor (f/1.8), which is also present on OnePlus 8. It is a 48MP sensor that captures 4×1 binned shots in 12MP resolution by default. But there is also an option to capture full-res photos that take three times more space than standard 12MP shots.

In terms of quality, photos captured from the primary camera offer good details. As it is monsoon, I did not get to test the camera to see how it performs in harsh sunlight. But with the cloudy weather and all, the camera was able to capture the greenery pretty well. Though there is no telephoto lens, the Nord does let you capture 2X digital zoom shots, and they look good. It uses the 48MP sensor to capture full-res images and the crop. Below are some camera samples.






The primary camera performs well in low-light conditions. But to get better shots, you will need to use the nightscape mode. From the photos I captured, the nightscape mode photos are sharper, brighter and look vibrant too. Though the photos look a little oversaturated, I like how OnePlus has fine-tuned the algorithms. The overall quality looks sharp and better.

“The primary camera offers good overall performance in daylight and low light.”

The other three cameras include an 8MP sensor, an ultra-wide lens, a 5MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro lens. Photos shot from the ultra-wide lens are decent in daylight, but they suffer in dim lighting conditions. The depth sensor works well in adding background defocus to your photos. Edge detection is good too, and there are no complaints there.

Ultra-wide-angle shots



Portrait Shots




Portrait mode photos offer a shallow depth of field, though having an option to adjust the blur intensity would have been better.

Lastly, while most OEMs use the ultra-wide camera for capturing macro photos, OnePlus has added a dedicated 2MP macro lens. But as it is a low-resolution sensor, the photos are not that sharp and vibrant. The photo quality is just passable.



Smooth Videos, But Not The Best

Now, having OIS makes recording smooth videos easier, even with 4K 60fps. Though it does not match the smoothness offered by a gimbal, the video quality is decent for handheld videos. But for better footage, 1080p at 30fps works well.

OnePlus has also included a super stable mode that uses a combination of OIS and EIS (electronic image stabilization). Though videos are slightly smoother, they are not sharp and a lot of graininess is visible too.

Good Selfies and Videos From Front Cameras

Upfront, the Nord comes with two cameras in a hole-punch set-up. The primary camera is a 32MP sensor, and it is paired with an 8MP ultra-wide sensor. Selfies look good, but the AI is a little aggressive in making the skin tone a little brighter. But it does work well in hiding the dark spots and blemishes to an extent.

The ultra-wide-angle camera is also good in retaining quality even with the drop in resolution. Below are some sample shots.


One of the interesting things about the front camera is that you can also record 4K 60fps videos. One small caveat is that you can only use the main camera for video recording, not the ultra-wide one. But that is not a problem as such, and the video recording and audio quality is surprisingly good.

4K 60fps videos from the front camera are good enough for vlogging newbies.

Battery: One Full Day, and Some More

Talking about the battery life, the OnePlus Nord is equipped with a 4,115mAh unit. It also supports 30W fast charging tech which the company claims goes from 0 to 70% in just 30 minutes. In my test, the battery rose from 2% to 64% in just about 32 minutes. Full charging took about one hour and eight minutes, which is not bad at all.

The battery life on OnePlus Nord is pretty solid.

With a mixed usage that includes heavy gaming for two hours, social media, and web surfing, the Nord easily lasts a day with about 28% battery to spare at night. Without gaming, the Nord with me lasted for a day and a half over the weekend. In terms of screen time, I constantly got around six-and-a-half hours of usage, and sometimes some more.

Conclusion: Good Things Come in Small, Affordable Package

Apple reworked its iPhone strategy to capture the lower-tier market with a value-for-money proposition with the iPhone SE. OnePlus is trying to create the same magic in the Android world. The OnePlus Nord has all the required ammunition in its arsenal to succeed. Available in the emerging markets like India, and other markets such as Spain, France and the UK, it will largely miss the North American market. But given the markets OnePlus is targeting, the Nord has better chances to emerge as a winner.

That said, the Nord is not perfect. The cameras could have been a bit better. Instead of going for a quad-rear camera set-up, OnePlus should have gone with a triple camera set-up like the OnePlus 8, while using the ultra-wide sensor as a macro lens. Having an IPXX rating for splash resistance could have been welcome. OnePlus should also work towards fine-tuning the video camera algorithms, especially with the super stable mode. A stereo speaker set-up would have been a better addition as well for a better multimedia experience. But beyond these, there is nothing much to complain at this price point.

Also Read: Strategic Reviews and Insights on The Latest Smartphones

Podcast: Rise of Affordable Premium Smartphones in Korea Signals a Trend Change

The Korean smartphone market is dominated by three major players – Samsung, Apple and LG. Out of the three, Samsung has a majority market share of close to 60%, whereas Apple and LG hover close to 20%. Since 2016, except 2017 (due to Galaxy Note 7 fiasco), the Galaxy S and Note series sales have been more than other devices during the first quarter period. But that changed in Q1 2020, with an “affordable premium” Galaxy A90 5G emerging as the best-seller in Korea.

Counterpoint Samsung smartphone sales share by product group, Korea
Source: Counterpoint Model Sales Tracker

A non-ultra-premium smartphone taking a top spot is a significant event that signals changing consumer needs. The COVID-19 impact could be one of the reasons why we are seeing this shift. The “affordable premium” smartphones bring top-of-the-line hardware along with flagship features without creating a hole in your pocket. The Q1 2020 best-seller in Korea, the Galaxy A90 5G, comes equipped with Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 855 SoC, triple cameras and next-gen 5G connectivity with an ASP of $453.

Counterpoint Smartphone average selling prices (ASP), Korea
Source: Counterpoint Model Sales Tracker

In the latest episode, “The Counterpoint Podcast” host Peter Richardson and research analyst Minsoo Kang discuss the rise in popularity of “affordable premium” smartphones in the Korean market. The discussion also touches upon other launches such as the Apple iPhone SE, LG Velvet, and a look at overall best-selling phones in Korea, and more.

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Podcast: One in Three Smartphones Sold in the USA in April 2020 Were Online

The COVID-19 outbreak in the US resulted in store closures due to the lockdown and stay-at-home orders. As a result, the US smartphone market was down 21% YoY in Q1 2020. Moving into Q2 2020, the economic downturn and delay in tax refunds slowed down the smartphone sales even further. Nearly 40 million workers in the US applied for unemployment over the past few months. This is a strong base that buys prepaid devices, and a lot of them pay cash as they do not have credit cards.

As 80% of the stores were closed, we saw online smartphone sales grow from 13% to 33% in April 2020. That is a good growth after many quarters. But, is it just a temporary boost because offline stores were closed or are we are seeing a longer-term shift in consumer buying patterns?

counterpoint usa smartphone sales monthly

In the latest episode, “The Counterpoint Podcast” host Peter Richardson and Research Director Jeff Fieldhack discuss the growth of online smartphone sales in the US. The discussion also touches upon how carriers and national retailers are addressing the needs of their customers. While the US market contracted in Q1 and Q2 2020, Jeff also shared his expectations about Q3 and Q4 when Apple is expected to launch 5G smartphones.

Detailed data with monthly split according to country, price band, device type and sales channels can be found here. You can also visit our blog to read about the COVID-19 supply and demand impact on the US market.

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Podcast: New iPhone SE – Powerful Apple Experiences at $399

Four years after launching the compact and powerful iPhone SE, Apple has finally launched its successor. The new and refreshed 2020 model is also called the iPhone SE. A lot has changed in the past four years where modern smartphones now come with an edge-to-edge screen, multiple cameras among others. Yet, Apple has gone with the old design featuring thick bezels, a physical home button and more. So, why exactly did Apple launch the iPhone SE in 2020?

At $399, the smartphone brings the latest and fastest A13 Bionic chipset, water and dust resistance, and wireless charging. But is there an audience for this new iPhone? Is this the right time for Apple to launch a 4G smartphone on the cusp of the 5G era? We have already discussed these in our blog. And, in the latest episode of “The Counterpoint Podcast” our host and research director Jeff Fieldhack, and research analyst Hanish Bhatia deep dives into Apple’s strategy behind reviving the ‘SE’ brand and the outlook for the same in these testing times.

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The Real Reason Why Apple Launched an iPhone SE on the Cusp of the 5G Era

The next-generation iPhone SE has been launched after many rumors and leaks over the last three years. The device is a successor of the previous generation iPhone SE launched in March 2016. According to Counterpoint Research, we expect 2020 shipments of the new iPhone SE to exceed 15 million units driven by the lower price point and best-in-class A13 Bionic chipset, which is also used in the iPhone 11 series models.

The device was initially expected to launch during March 2020, but the launch was delayed due to factory shutdowns in China amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. However, factories in China are nearing full capacity again. Apple and its manufacturing partner have done an admirable job bringing this device to market given that Chinese factories were closed for almost two months during the factory ramp-up phase. This is also an indication that upcoming Apple launches may also adhere to expected launch timelines, but we will have to wait and watch.

4G LTE iPhone Amid 5G Noise

While many markets have shifted focus to the 5G smartphone race, Apple delivers one last shot at a mid-range 4G LTE before finally shifting towards a 5G-heavy portfolio. Global network operators are focusing on the faster throughput speeds and the better economics of 5G networks, but we can’t overlook the fact that there remain many hurdles and work to be done. These include spectrum acquisition, investments for tower upgrades, and for years we will see patchy 5G coverage in many regions. Apple will have a 2-3-year window before a majority of 4G LTE users finally migrate to a 5G network, even in the developed markets. The iPhone SE taps this window of LTE opportunity for Apple. By foregoing 5G, Apple allowed the device to be priced at $399 instead of at least $450. It also would have been challenging to fit the extra 5G components into the SE’s tight, aesthetic 4.7” package. Finally, with the latest A13 Bionic CPU, Wi-Fi 6, and a modem that supports GB LTE, it will probably feel sufficiently powered to most users, even though it lacks 5G. The device is likely to be a mid-range “cash cow” for Apple for the next 2-3 years.

A13 Bionic Chipset to Drive the Consumption of Apple Services

The new Apple iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch LCD screen, Touch ID fingerprint recognition, and a design similar to the iPhone 7 and 8 series, with a single camera on the back. What makes iPhone SE 2020 stand apart from the crowd is the A13 Bionic chip. Having an A13 bionic chip inside the iPhone SE means that it now has one of the best-in-class chipsets, which is comparable or better than many Android flagships. Apple’s A13 was a large upgrade over the A12 chipset used in iPhone XR models. It is based on the 7nm chip architecture which is more optimized for machine learning operations. But why would Apple put its best-in-class chipset in a mid-range device? The answer:

  • In Q1 FY20, Apple’s revenue hit an all-time quarterly high of $91.8 billion, up 9% YoY for the three months ended Dec 2019. Out of the total Q1 FY20 revenue, $12.7 billion came from its service segment which accounted for 13.8% of the total revenue.
  • The old generation Apple iPhone 6S/7/8 models don’t have the hardware to support the latest services while delivering best-in-class user experience.
  • Apple has tested its price elasticity and realized that marginally aggressive pricing can potentially generate a much higher “customer lifetime value (CLV)” over a period of 24-30 months.
  • The A13 Bionic chipset will enable these users to get a taste of new services. 4K video recording, Smart HDR, Gigabit-class LTE and Wi-Fi 6 will act as a backbone to drive the overall consumption of services such as Apple Arcade, AR Apps, Apple TV+, Apple Music, while driving faster consumption of iCloud.
  • According to Counterpoint, Apple can potentially generate a Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) of US$2,400 over a period of 30 months from a “power” iPhone user with the latest hardware, subscribing to its existing and new Apple services.

counterpoint research power iPhone User CLV 30 Months

Source: Counterpoint Research, Ecosystem Analysis (2019)

Capturing the Mid-Range Demand with a Lean Portfolio

Although the market is rapidly shifting towards higher device specifications (including >6-inch display, multi-camera setups, 3D face unlock, AI features), there is still a segment of consumers who still feel more secure with a fingerprint unlock and a screen size that fits well in the palm. On top of that, some of these consumers are previous generation Apple users who are nearing the end of their device life cycle. These users are seeking high brand value with good performance without paying $1000 or more – especially in world in which normal economics have been altered by the coronavirus.

Apple iPhone SE will consolidate the demand for existing older generation iPhone 6/7/8 series models towards a single device – iPhone SE. This will also enable Apple to maintain a leaner 4G LTE portfolio while it transitions to 5G. Meanwhile, other global OEMs will face stronger competition from Apple in the mid-range. For example, iPhone SE will compete strongly with Samsung’s Galaxy A series, LG’s ThinQ series, Motorola Z series, and the upcoming Pixel 4a series.

North America, Europe, and Japan to be Primary Target Markets

A budget category Apple device is often considered as a device targeted for Asian and Latin American markets. However, these markets have shown modest uptake of existing Apple devices in the $400-$600 price band in the past. The aspirational value of the Apple brand remains high in these markets, but these markets have remained highly competitive and consumers tend to lean towards buying a device that offers higher specifications. The consumers in these markets also pay a significantly higher cost for Apple devices due to additional customs duty, currency fluctuations, supply issues, and other local taxes. For example, Apple iPhone SE is priced at $550 (approximately) in the Indian market. So iPhone SE may still end up competing in the premium category in these markets. Having said that, the iPhone SE may still manage to gain significant traction given its latest hardware.

Therefore, the primary target market of iPhone SE will be North America, Europe, and Japan. These are primarily the same markets where the iPhone 7, 8 as well as the iPhone XR series continue to rank among the best-selling models. But now, the availability of the new iPhone SE may leave some prospective iPhone XR buyers confused, as they may end up paying more but end up with an older A12 Bionic chipset. Also, the timing of the iPhone SE launch is not favorable. Carrier stores in North America, Europe and some other parts of the world remain closed due to the COVID-19 lockdown since mid-March 2020. This means Apple may lose out on some initial launch push, but sales will gradually pick up in H2 2020 if the COVID-19 situation continues to improve.

Overall, the device maintains a fine balance among device specifications, design, and pricing while keeping in mind the aspirations of a certain set of consumers. This will entice the mid-range consumers to upgrade without paying the premium cost for a new device while Apple gets an opportunity to capture more value over the lifetime of the device. At last, Apple should be able to capitalize upon its stellar hardware integration and the design “nostalgia” which lasted for more than three years and became the hallmark of Apple’s design finesse.

BONUS! Podcast – New iPhone SE: Powerful Apple Experiences at $399

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