OnePlus delivers a premium look and feel with Nord N10 5G, but the phone needs to come in at a lower price than the iPhone SE and the Pixel 4a in order to be competitive.
The OnePlus Nord N10 5G brings a flagship feel to low-cost Android phones, with build quality that’s rare at the $350 level—if OnePlus indeed prices it at $350. The Nord hits the mark with a bright, smooth screen and stellar software, although it overpromises and underdelivers with its complex camera system. This isn’t a full review, because there are still too many questions about the Nord’s launch in North America, like how much it will cost and what networks it will support. But we spent some time with the phone and can tell you how it looks, feels, and performs.
On the surface, the Nord N10 bats well over its (potential) price bracket. It’s a big, handsome phone, at 6.41 by 2.94 by 0.35 inches (HWD), with a 2,400-by-1,080, 90Hz 6.49-inch screen. It feels solid with its smooth glass back. There’s a fingerprint sensor on the back, and a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom. It comes in one color, “midnight ice,” a dark blue-black. The back picks up lots of fingerprints, but it’s also not too slippery considering it has a glossy finish.
Boot it up and you find that it’s running Android 10 with OnePlus’ extensions. Several of OnePlus’ phones are on Android 11 already, so this is a little odd; I asked OnePlus about the Android 11 upgrade, and it didn’t answer. On the plus side, the company’s software is always fast and smooth, and is how this Snapdragon 690-based phone gets away with competing with Snapdragon 765 devices.
The N10 uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 690 processor, a step below the Snapdragon 765 found in the Google Pixel 4a and the original Nord, and way behind the Apple A13 chip in the iPhone SE. It has 6GB of RAM, as well as 100GB of available storage and room for a microSD card.
The phone scored 7,942 on PCMark Work 2.0, 578 single-core/1,846 multi-core on Geekbench, and 151 on Basemark Web. That’s interesting. Geekbench tests raw processor performance independent of real applications. There, the N10 was close to the scores we saw from the 765-powered original OnePlus Nord and the LG Velvet 5G. But on PCMark and Basemark Web, which test real-world applications, the N10 was way behind, with especially low scores on video editing and web browsing.
The graphics benchmark scores may provide a clue: The N10 only got 14fps on GFXBench Car Chase offscreen, while the 765-based phones got 21fps, indicating the 690’s weak GPU is dragging this phone down. The drag carries through web browsing and applications, offsetting the speed of the 90Hz screen.
Now, once again, what you make of this depends on how much the N10 ends up costing, and we don’t know that answer yet. The Google Pixel 4a costs $479. If this phone costs $300, then the lesser performance is totally understandable—and I don’t find the N10 sluggish, just not buttery smooth.
The Nord will support 4G LTE and sub-6 5G, so not Verizon’s super-fast “ultra wideband” 5G. Beyond that, frustratingly, we don’t know. We don’t know which US carriers it will be compatible with, or which ones it will support Wi-Fi calling on. I tested the phone on Rogers in Canada, and it connected to Rogers’ 5G network. The 690-based phone will have likely limited speeds on both US and Canada-based networks. It supports 3x carrier aggregation, while AT&T and the Canadian carriers all have more complex carrier aggregation setups available.
Wi-Fi performance is also uninspiring. Coming from a 100Mbps source in a weak-signal 5Ghz location, the Nord only managed 3-4Mbps down where the iPhone SE was capable of 60Mbps. I get the feeling that the 690’s networking components aren’t the latest and greatest, which is disappointing.
The 4,300mAh battery delivered 9 hours, 57 minutes of video streaming and supports 30-watt wired charging (but not wireless charging).
The Nord has a lot of cameras on it, but they don’t add up to one great one. While it’s amazing to get this number and level of cameras on a possibly-$350 phone, they don’t outpace the iPhone SE or the Google Pixel 4a in terms of imaging.
The phone has a 64-megapixel main camera, an 8-megapixel wide-angle camera, a 2-megapixel macro camera, and a 2-megapixel black-and-white camera. I compared the Nord with the iPhone SE, which has a single 12-megapixel camera, and the iPhone 12, which has 12-megapixel standard and wide-angle cameras. I don’t have a Google Pixel 4a on me, but it’s similar to the iPhone class of camera.
The main problem here seems to be in image processing, where the Nord is way behind the iPhone. As a result, all of my Nord photos appear a little softer, less lively, and less detailed than photos taken with either iPhone, even though the Nord has more megapixels.
Selfies taken with the Nord look odd, while selfies taken with the iPhone SE are more human and realistic.
Zoom to 2x, and images on the iPhone 12 are sharper than on the Nord, which shouldn’t be happening. The Nord is doing a crop from its 64-megapixel sensor, without digital zoom, while the iPhone is using digital zoom. But the iPhone is just much smarter.
In low light, the Nord’s Nightscape mode is about as good as shots taken on the iPhone 12 without night mode. OnePlus has nothing here to truly compare with night modes on Apple, Google, or Samsung phones.
The macro camera brings home the goods, for an incredibly rare use case. Does it focus at a distance of one inch where other phones don’t? Yes! How often are you taking photos at a distance of one inch? Probably never! I have similar confusion around the black-and-white camera, which you can just do in post-processing on any phone.
Marking the competitive set is key in this case. I don’t have any low-cost phones in my inventory right now; if I did, I’d compare this phone with the likes of the $249.99 Moto G Power, and I think the Nord would come out much better in reflection.
Price is everything here, and we don’t know how much the OnePlus Nord N10 5G will cost in the US and Canada. No, this phone doesn’t match the $399 iPhone SE or the $479 Pixel 4a. But if it’s inexpensive enough to go up against the $249.99 Moto G Power, the Nord will acquit itself better with its 90Hz screen and premium-feeling body. The phone costs the equivalent of $430 in the UK, so let’s hope it lands here for significantly less than that, or it will be a tough sell.
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OnePlus, 5G, iPhone, Mobile phone, Android
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