The $300 price of the OnePlus Nord N20 5G matches that of the original OnePlus One in 2014, but otherwise, it’s a big change from what OnePlus is now offering at a lower price. The $299 “flagship killer” phone in 2014 was a competitor to the best devices from Samsung, Apple and HTC, with a “never settle” mantra.
The N20 5G instead brings some nice conveniences from the top end — like an in-screen fingerprint sensor and faster 33W charging — but mixes them with a less powerful processor and a so-so camera.
Some of this is to be expected when a phone is built at the $900 or $1,000 top-of-the-line device price. The N20 5G does offer some surprising value for money, but don’t expect it to beat its price tier like OnePlus phones from years past.
I’ve been using this phone for the past few weeks and found that while the phone lacks excitement, it probably packs enough features to run most of what you need in the $300 price range.
Decent specs, good performance
The original $300 OnePlus One ran on a top-of-the-line Qualcomm processor at the time, while the N20 5G used Qualcomm’s cheaper Snapdragon 695 chipset and 6GB of RAM. While it took a minute to start turning it on, once it loaded it seemed fine, although there were occasional hiccups when the battery was below 10%.
Even so, I was able to multitask watching The Departed on Netflix, texting and browsing the web at the same time without major issues, although scrolling did improve when I had only one app open at a time. It also works great for games like Call of Duty Mobile.
The 6.43-inch AMOLED display also looks good, although AMOLED panels on budget phones are nothing new, as Samsung already uses it on some of its phones..
The N20 5G’s 60Hz refresh rate makes me miss the 90Hz panels OnePlus has used on most of its phones in recent years, especially when scrolling through text-filled websites or even opening the app tray. Cheaper phones, like the $200 TCL XE 30 5G, offer 90Hz displays for less. However, browsing TikTok or YouTube on the OnePlus is fine, even when the battery is low.
Oddly, the phone had trouble playing live content on YouTube TV, with constant frame drops and lag that made watching live content nearly impossible. Viewing is better with DirecTV Stream, but there is still some stuttering and dropped frames when watching live TV.
The mono speaker isn’t great and lacks fullness, but it can get loud and good for playing music on Spotify or streaming a movie or TV show, especially in a quiet room.
On the plus side, there’s a fingerprint scanner built into the display, which worked well enough to recognize my thumb and unlock the phone quickly and reliably. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD card slot for adding an additional 512GB of storage.You can also use NFC for tap-to-pay mobile payments, which can.
Aside from the display’s lower refresh rate and processor, OnePlus has scaled back in a few other areas compared to flagship devices. The phone is IP52 rated, so it’s resistant to dust and raindrops, but don’t take it to the pool or shower. It also lacks wireless charging, a common omission on most sub-$300 phones.
OnePlus says it will get one major Android software upgrade (from Android 11 to Android 12) and three years of security updates. Most high-end Android phones promise at least three years of major software upgrades, and Samsung even promises two to three years of software updates and four years of security updates on its cheaper Galaxy A phones. It’s a little disappointing to see OnePlus only get one major upgrade here — especially when the phone is still running Android 11.
I also wish the 173g phone’s vibration motor was a bit more powerful, as the haptic feedback when texting felt inconsistent, and the hum of notifications like incoming calls and text messages was weak.
Triple rear cameras have macro aspirations, edge effects
The cameras on the N20 are as follows: a 64-megapixel main camera, along with a 2-megapixel macro lens and a 2-megapixel monochrome lens. The main shooter excels in well-lit environments. Daylight shots of Mets games or bars look good with a fair amount of detail and color.
As one would expect from a budget phone, night photography isn’t the N20’s selling point. It has a “night mode,” but those photos still look dark. In this example, the New York Mets apples seem to blend into the darkness of the sky.
At the same time, the macro lens is useful for meeting the “three rear cameras” spec count, but not so great for other things. The macro camera was inconsistent in focus, and the results lacked sharpness and detail. I wish more companies would stop using these cameras and use the money to upgrade more valuable features like displays, processors or speakers.
There’s also a monochrome lens, but there’s no dedicated setting to shoot with it, and it seems designed to help the main shooter like other OnePlus phones.
A 16-megapixel camera is located in the upper left corner. Like the main rear shooter, selfies look good in good light.
Even with basic features like pinch-to-zoom, the included gallery app is frustrating. I found that the N20 lags when I gesture to zoom out. However, zooming in usually works well.
Solid battery life including fast charger
OnePlus does stand out for including a 33W fast charger in the phone, which is worth noting as the manufacturer continues to include it out of the box.
After 15 minutes of charging, the N20 5G’s 4,500mAh battery dropped from 0% to 22%. About 30 minutes of charging brings the battery to 49%, and a full charge takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
While I didn’t do any serious testing, I didn’t experience any battery life issues when using the phone in a mix.
With the OnePlus Nord N20 5G, it’s easy to see which features the company is skimping on to keep costs down. It still handles many of the basics well enough for those looking for a reliable but affordable carrier option on T-Mobile or Mint Mobile.
OnePlus recently expanded the N20 5G to now also be unlocked, but its 5G support is limited to providers that use T-Mobile’s 5G network (such as Mint, Google Fi, and T-Mobile’s Metro).
Sadly, OnePlus has so far strayed from its initial success, as the US market desperately needs more powerful, lower-priced alternatives to Samsung and Apple. The N20 comes close, but there are too many compromises to keep it from being great.