OnePlus Nord is the ultimate hype machine, but…

Can the Nord replicate the OG OnePlus legacy?

OnePlus Nord Launch Poster

If the memories of my marketing classes serve me right, the marketing concept of, well… marketing, is a customer-first approach where a company thrives on understanding what the consumers actually want, and then operate accordingly. Back in 2013, a young company by the name of “OnePlus” landed on the smartphone industry with the aforementioned philosophy absolutely plastered into its first product, the OnePlus One. Anyway, this device was radical in every sense of the word. I mean, practically no company had been able to pull off such feat before! And maybe the new OnePlus Nord can work the magic again?

The Journey to OnePlus Nord

To compare, the flagship phones at the time like Samsung Galaxy S5 and iPhone 5S retailed for somewhere between $600 – $700 while OnePlus One started at just $299. Featuring Qualcomm’s the-then flagship SoC (Snapdragon 801), a gorgeous Sandstone back, and other amenities, this phone was an absolute steal for the price. However, getting your hands on one was as difficult as running Crysis on PC itself.

What I mean is, you couldn’t just walk into a store and buy an OnePlus One for yourself; no, no, no. Initially, there was this “invite-only” distribution system where the company would give out such invites via different contests.

Even though this system gained some traction for its unorthodox approach, it was a pain to own the phone. Having said that, it still managed to sell over 1 million units of OnePlus One by the end of 2014. This invite system would still continue for the next couple of devices in its pipeline but it finally entered the open-distribution model starting with the OnePlus 3.

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OnePlus 3
OnePlus 3

That right there, challenging the norm, is how the OG OnePlus fans know the company by. The original OnePlus One was so successful that it spun off a whole new category of smartphones in the market, the “flagship killers”. And yeah, things have been running pretty smoothly for this newbie ever since; except not quite. While every succeeding phone has lived up to the OnePlus legacy in terms of build quality and performance, the gradual yet consistent price bump faced some pretty vocal criticisms from the fanbase.

Going all in!

Nevertheless, OnePlus went all-in on its latest ‘8’ series with the maxed-out OnePlus 8 Pro retailing for a buck shy of thousand dollars. In the past, it had always stayed out of cost-adding features. For instance, an official IP rating and wireless charging. But that changed with the OnePlus 8 Pro as the company fully gave in to the flagship market. Ah, what a ride! Despite the natural fact that this was a very probable reality from day one, many experienced a stirring sense of betrayal as OnePlus had turned into exactly what it strived to revolt from day one.

Be that as it may, it did manage to sizably adjust the price for the Indian market; which is the largest market for OnePlus. Also, it is the top premium smartphone maker in the country, finally ending the reign of Samsung and Apple. So, in the end, it was a necessary evil per se. Even with the comparatively low price, the OnePlus 8 series was unaffordable to the masses; seeing just how price-conscious the Indian market is.

Regardless of the expensiveness, these phones did manage to sell out within minutes of the flash sale in India. However, availability has been halted indefinitely since its reliance on the parent company OPPO for manufacturing needs were met with some trouble due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, OnePlus has reported less-than-exciting sales figures. Therefore, the need for an affordable device has been realized for a while considering the company has progressed into a prominent manufacturer of flagship smartphones, at a flagship price.

Enter, OnePlus Z/8 Lite/Nord!

Now, because it was fully committing to a complete premium phone and consequently couldn’t ignore its value-oriented roots either, rumors of an inexpensive smartphone in the works from OnePlus circulated the web right around the launch of OnePlus 8 series. We were even expecting the device to launch alongside the 8 series on April 14 but that was a no-show.

Known by the name “OnePlus Z” or “OnePlus 8 Lite” in its earliest stages, the phone had a lot of contradicting details to what we know now. First, the name. The company has since confirmed that the device is called “OnePlus Nord” instead. Nord? Doesn’t really slide off the tongue, now does it? But as expected, this naming convention does have sentimental meaning behind it. Carl Pei (Co-founder/Director, OnePlus) took it to twitter to explain how the Nord name “comes from the concept of true north”, reminding everyone to get on the right course.

Similarly, the preliminary renders of the device also hinted at a single punch-hole cut-out for the front camera and triple rear-facing lenses. Like the name, this has now been debunked as well. Finally, in the performance department, the alleged OnePlus Z was rumored to feature MediaTek’s Dimensity 1000 SoC which is a high-end chipset with an integrated 5G modem. Yet, like everything else, this turned out to be false too.

And if you ask me, that was for the better. Even though it’s a great chipset, MediaTek is notorious for not releasing the source code of its SoCs as Qualcomm. This would mean a restriction in custom ROM development which is so popular in the OnePlus community.

What is the OnePlus Nord?

With the past out of the way, let us now talk about everything we know about the OnePlus Nord. This includes details that have been confirmed either by the company itself. Or those that corroborate to what OnePlus has subtly hinted in its different promos.

In terms of performance, the OnePlus Nord will be a mid-range device, unlike anything we’ve seen from this Chinese OEM in years. If you remember the OnePlus X, it was a one-time experimental mid-range offering back in 2015. But OnePlus has since attested that the Nord is in no way its successor, and will be a “new beginning” altogether; thus spin-off a whole new lineup of mid-range devices. What this means is that the Nord will only be the first entry in the said product line. So, expect a lot of non-flagship phones from OnePlus in the coming days.

OnePlus Nord design

The chipset in use is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765G. Announced in late 2019, it has been the number one pick for manufacturers in their mid-range offerings. It is based on a much efficient 7nm process and has an integrated 5G modem as well. Seems like a perfect choice, doesn’t it? Not quite when you consider the fact that this SoC already has an overclocked successor – the Snapdragon 768G which brings higher clock speed in both CPU & GPU. Yeah… packing in already-outdated hardware doesn’t seem like the kind of #NewBeginnings OnePlus is hoping for.

A sub-$500 price tag

What’s even more astounding is the fact that sub $500 smartphones with the flagship Snapdragon 865 already exist. Oh, yes; that’s the vague price reveal of the upcoming OnePlus Nord – under $500. With all the promos its pumping out regularly, the company is confident that the phone comes “at a pretty great price.” But in the end, it’s us, the consumers who get to decide if that’s really the case at all.

Here, take the iQOO Neo3 5G for instance. It boasts Snapdragon 865, 144Hz display, 44W FlashCharge, UFS 3.1 – all at a starting price of just $385. Admittedly, its display is an inferior IPS panel though that is somewhat complemented with the HDR10 certification. You see what I’m getting at, right? So, keep this mind as we further discover what the OnePlus Nord is packing.

Flagship-level Cameras?

Since a flagship-grade performance is out of the equation, the company is betting on the next best thing instead – the cameras. The phone is set to have quad-cameras at the back with OIS, and dual front camera setup. Though the official word on the specifications of the lenses remains a mystery, we believe the phone comes with 2018’s 48MP Sony IMX586, followed by an 8MP ultrawide lens, a 2MP macro camera, and finally a 5MP depth sensor at the back.

At the front, OnePlus Nord will have two cameras: 32MP primary sensor, and an 8MP ultra-wide lens. To make matters interesting, Carl Pei revealed to TechRadar that OnePlus Nord is looking to bring “a flagship-level camera to the mid-range price.”

OnePlus Nord - Design Leak

Now that’s an ambitious claim right there. To be honest, OnePlus smartphones have never been known for their exceptional camera prowess. Sure, they are excellent for their price but even the latest OnePlus 8 Pro doesn’t fare well in the camera test compared to similarly priced flagships like Xiaomi’s Mi 10 Pro. Consequently, it becomes a little difficult to digest the aforementioned affirmation. It is also pretty obvious that the phone won’t come with a telephoto lens since OnePlus hesitated to ship it in even on the standard OnePlus 8.

Once again, there are plenty of mid-range phones with zoom lenses. Realme 6 Pro is a sub-$250 that has a 2x telephoto camera, directly contradicts the case against a zoom lens on affordable smartphones. Maybe the OnePlus Nord will be able to stand out against other mid-range smartphones. But I’m pretty sure it won’t be giving flagship phones a run for their money.

As promised: A Fluid Display!

Moving on, the phone is confirmed to have a 90Hz Fluid AMOLED display. The smooth refresh rate was always a given as it aligns with Mr. Pei’s statement during the Indian launch event of OnePlus 7T & OnePlus TV about how every future OnePlus smartphone will come with the Fluid display technology.

OnePlus Nord Presentation Slide Leak
Credit: Evan Blass (@evleaks)

Additionally, a new leak from Evan Blass showcasing an alleged presentation slide of the device indicates a 6.44” FHD+ display with 20:9 aspect ratio, the sharpness of 406PPI, and optical in-display fingerprint scanner. The slide in question is part of the unique AR launch event OnePlus is holding on July 21st. But more on that later.

Other Stuff

Getting to the memory side of things, it looks like the OnePlus Nord is coming in either 8 or 12GB of LPDDR4x RAM with 128 or 256GB of internal storage. Here, 12GB RAM definitely invites some speculations and even questions the leak’s integrity; seeing how the Nord is a mid-range device. The image also discloses NFC and Bluetooth 5.1 integration, alongside a rather small 4115mAh battery with Warp Charging 30T support. The latter once again refutes the earliest leaks that suggest a slightly larger 4300mAh battery instead. Additionally, the OnePlus Nord will come in three color options: Gray Ash, Gray Onyx, and Blue Marble.

Now let’s talk about that AR launch, shall we? In a world’s first, participants are required to download the “OnePlus Nord AR App” from Play Store or App Store using which they can experience the AR-infused launch event. You can also buy yourself an INR 99 launch invite with “assured gift for everyone”. This is not the first time OnePlus has something like this; as the company also showcased the OnePlus 2 in the world’s first VR product launch.

Too much hype?

With all the public excitement of an economical OnePlus phone and how the company is “going back to its roots”, the hype surrounding the Nord is unreal! And like every other commercial organization, OnePlus has been clever enough to capitalize on it.

Releasing docu-series with trailers just like the movies, a separate private Instagram account for the product (which has since gone public), adhering to the meme-culture, and accepting its pre-orders without fully revealing the specs or the final MRP of the Nord – all feel similar to the guerilla marketing for the OnePlus One, at least in theory.

However, in a way, many people feel the whole thing is unnecessarily flamboyant. Something this vague and extensive wasn’t even a part of marketing for the OnePlus 8 series. And it isn’t wrong to say that the price-reveal (or lack thereof) is only what’s keeping the hype alive. OnePlus has confirmed that the Nord will be exclusive to India and multiple European countries. I’ve already discussed how price-sensitive the Indian market so there’s that.

Therefore, to deliver on its promises and live up to the hype, India is where OnePlus has to nail the price. I’m not downplaying the importance of the European market but that’s just how things are. So, are you excited about the OnePlus Nord? What do you think is the ideal pricing? Don’t forget to comment down below!