May 17, 2022

OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: Return of the OnePlus X

How does this cost less than $300?

By Nicholas Sutrich last updated 8 days ago

OnePlus Nord N20 wide hero

(Image: © Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

OUR VERDICT

At just $282, there’s no better example of how to cram incredible value into a gorgeous-looking and feeling phone shell. Almost everything about this phone screams excellent, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything even remotely close to this good at this price. It’s hard to imagine it getting any better without being more expensive.

FOR

  • Gorgeous AMOLED display
  • Excellent cameras
  • 3.5mm jack and microSD card slot
  • 5G connectivity and NFC
  • Great-looking and feeling build
  • Lots of software features

AGAINST

  • Display could be brighter
  • Some weird RCS issues
  • Only one software update
  • USB port compatibility issues

Jump to:

When OnePlus first announced the Nord N20, I got excited. As someone who has used just about every OnePlus phone over the years, I’ve seen the company go from the Flagship Killer company to just another flagship company and everything in between. The OnePlus of the last year or two has been a bit of a mess, to say the least, but, for me, the OnePlus Nord N20 5G seems like a turning point for the company.

As I surmised nearly a month ago now, the OnePlus Nord N20 5G is essentially the resurrection of the OnePlus X in all the right ways. At $282, concessions have to be made but OnePlus has seemingly made all the right cuts and kept the most premium-feeling parts in the exact places that need them. An AMOLED display, an actual good 64MP main camera, excellent performance, and nearly 2-day battery life round out what’s seriously the best cheap phone I’ve used in years.

If you’re a T-Mobile or Metro by T-Mobile customer and don’t want to spend very much on a phone, this is absolutely the one you should buy. Our OnePlus Nord N20 review tells you exactly why.Sponsored LinksWhy Are Dubai Villas So Cheap? (Take A Look)Luxury Villas in Dubai

ONEPLUS NORD N20 5G: PRICE AND AVAILABILITY

OnePlus Nord N20 5G
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

The OnePlus Nord N20 5G is sold in the U.S. exclusively through T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile as a continuation of the partnership between the two companies. It’s available both prepaid and postpaid on either network and comes to a total cost of $282. The phone ships in a single Blue Smoke colorway.RECOMMENDED VIDEOS FOR YOU…CLOSEhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.516.0_en.html#goog_20377589100 seconds of 59 secondsVolume 0% PLAY SOUND

The Nord N20 will be available at OnePlus.com, Best Buy, and Amazon at a later date. OnePlus told me they weren’t able to provide information on International availability at the time of launch.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G

At just $282, the OnePlus Nord N20 5G will blow away your expectations of what a “budget phone” means with its gorgeous AMOLED display, fast Snapdragon 695 processor, and fantastic 64MP camera.

Buy at: T-MobileCheck Amazon

ONEPLUS NORD N20 5G: WHAT I LOVED

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OnePlus Nord N20 5G
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

$282 is a very strange price. It doesn’t fit the usual pricing mantra of ending on a zero or a five, but that kind of fits with the rest of the phone anyway. At this price, I wholly expect some big concessions. A sub-par display, mediocre performance, a terrible camera, or really poor software would easily be expected from something in this price range but the OnePlus Nord N20 5G has none of these issues.

In fact, as you’ll see from the section below, there’s almost nothing not to like about this phone. Even the issues that are present should almost all be fixable via software.

But let’s not focus on that just yet. Let’s focus on how seriously amazing this phone is, and not just because of its excellent price. When OnePlus debuted the OnePlus X so many years ago, it made three mistakes that held the phone back. First, the construction was all metal and glass, which drove manufacturing costs up. With the Nord N20, the frame is completely plastic yet feels anything but what you might think of when you hear “plastic phone.”

CategoryOnePlus Nord N20 5G
Operating systemAndroid 11, OxygenOS 11.3
Display6.43-inch 60Hz AMOLED
1080 x 2400 (20:9)
ChipsetQualcomm Snapdragon 695 CPU
Qualcomm Adreno 619 GPU
RAM6GB LPDDR4x
Storage128GB UFS 2.2
MicroSD slot✔️
Rear camera 164MP, f/1.79, 1080p @ 30 FPS
Rear camera 22MP, f/2.4, macro lens
Rear camera 32MP, f/2.4, Monochrome lens
Front camera16MP, f/2.4, 1080p @ 30 FPS
Connectivity5G sub-6, Wi-Fi 5, Bluetooth 5.1
NFC✔️
AudioSingle speaker, noise cancellation
Battery4,500mAh
Charging33W SUPERVOOC fast charging
PortsUSB Type-C, 3.5mm
Water resistanceIP52
SecurityIn-display fingerprint (optical)
ColorsBlue Smoke
Dimensions159.9 mm tall x 73.2 mm high x 7.5mm thin
Weight173g
Price$285

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The phone comes away looking much more expensive than it is thanks to its great design.

The design of the phone is nothing short of superb. The only time I thought it felt a little “cheap” was when I was peeling off the IMEI sticker that is affixed from the factory. The back lifted in a way only plastic would but, beyond that, I never once thought about the materials used in the build. The color chosen is great looking — especially with the metal rings around the camera humps — and the phone comes away looking much more expensive than it is.

Similarly, this phone is very thin, yet doesn’t shy away from a big battery. I easily got a day and a half out of every single charge, and I imagine some users will have no trouble getting two days out of a single charge. OnePlus even includes a 33W SUPERVOOC charger in the box, so it only takes a few minutes to top up 50% or so if you happen to run the battery dry on a particularly heavy use day.

Now, on to the performance. The second issue with the OnePlus X was the processor, but not because it was bad. Far from it, actually. It was the same flagship processor included in the OnePlus One the year before. With the Nord N20, OnePlus choose a more reserved Snapdragon 695, a chipset that’s not flagship-level performance but won’t have any issues doing basically anything you need it to do.Image 1 of 4

OnePlus Nord N20 5G
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 5G
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 5G
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 5G
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Games like Minecraft ran at a buttery smooth 60FPS at default settings.

Comparatively, most phones at this price range opt for a Snapdragon 400-level processor, which has substantially worse performance at every level. While I noticed that it wasn’t quite as responsive as a Snapdragon 800-level processor — which is to be expected given the numbering scheme — it never felt slow. In fact, games like Minecraft ran at a buttery smooth 60FPS at default settings, but more graphically intensive games like Fortnite will need the settings turned down a bit to get a smooth experience.Advertisement

Further aiding with the performance is the display, which is only a 60Hz panel. Too many inexpensive phones, like the Moto G Power (2022), try to push the display refresh rate too high to give off the aura that this is a more powerful phone than it really is. The problem with that idea is that the processors in cheaper phones simply cannot keep up with higher refresh rates. It’s folly to even try, and I’m glad OnePlus didn’t bother.

Instead of wasting precious manufacturing dollars on a useless high refresh rate display, OnePlus opted for a quality AMOLED panel that looks simply fantastic all the time. It’s got those deep infinite blacks that only AMOLEDs can make, and the colors pop without looking unrealistic. I’d love to see a brighter panel in next year’s phone, but it’s not bad by any means. If anything, it’s just hard to photograph, and you’ll notice my outdoor photos of the display have a decidedly dim-grey look to the display because of it.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G outdoor visibility
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Instead of wasting precious manufacturing dollars on a useless high refresh rate display, OnePlus opted for a quality AMOLED panel that looks simply fantastic all the time.

Even the in-display fingerprint scanner is excellent, which makes using the phone on a daily basis quite enjoyable. Likewise, OnePlus ships Oxygen OS 11.3 with the Nord N20 and, while it’s not the Android 12 that should have shipped with the phone, it’s a great OS that’s full of features.

The last course correction OnePlus made is with the camera. The two previously mentioned faults of the OnePlus X left very little money to invest in a proper camera module, leaving the phone with a terrible camera — not just a mediocre one. I can happily say that the camera on the OnePlus Nord N20 5G is the best camera I’ve used in this price range by a wide, wide margin. It’s not even close.Image 1 of 9

OnePlus Nord N20 camera sample
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 camera sample
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 camera sample
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 camera sample
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 camera sample
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 camera sample portrait mode
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 camera sample front camera portrait mode
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 camera sample portrait mode
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 camera sample macro camera
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

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You really just don’t get this kind of quality from a phone in this price range. It’s seriously impressive. The one sore spot is with the 2MP macro camera. As you might imagine from the “2MP” part, the quality isn’t particularly impressive. Sure, you can get right up on something and still have a clear focus — OnePlus recommends taking a photo just 4cm away from a macro subject — but I’m not sure how often anyone will use this. Still, photos taken from this sensor are notably better than other budget phones I’ve used with macro cameras. 

Surprisingly, even with just a single 64MP camera, zoom detail is impressive but it can be a bit hit or miss. Most of the time, I found 2-3x zoom produced good results while zooming in further highly depended on the subject and the lighting. These ducks were an excellent example of general overall quality while zooming.Image 1 of 3

OnePlus Nord N20 camera sample 1x zoom
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 camera sample 2x zoom
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)
OnePlus Nord N20 camera sample 6x zoom
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

OnePlus is still providing the good old “Extra HD” mode — which has gone by a number of names over the years — which expands fine detail in an image at the cost of dynamic range. It produces giant 108MP images that take up a lot of space but, if you’re looking for extra crisp pictures with lots of little details, this is most certainly the mode for you.

OnePlus Nord N20 5G camera sample extra hd mode
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

ONEPLUS NORD N20 5G: WHAT COULD BE IMPROVED

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OnePlus Nord N20 5G
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

If I’m being as cavalier as possible, there isn’t a single reasonable thing that could be improved with the OnePlus Nord N20. Realistically, at $285, you’re getting a phone that’s worth quite a bit more than that. AMOLED at this price is unheard of, much less actual good cameras, a fast processor and large battery, a build that’s gorgeous and feels truly great to hold, and all the other bells and whistles.

But if I absolutely must fill out a section with improvements that could be made, I’d start with what needs to be fixed. That, specifically, is the USB port on the phone. No, it’s not a microUSB port or anything silly like that. In fact, this USB Type-C port supports OnePlus’ SUPERVOOC 33W charging, which puts it in an elite class all its own at this price range (yet again).

No, the issue boils down to compatibility. If you have a device that you’re planning on plugging into the USB port that’s designed to do anything other than charge the phone, you’re probably out of luck. See, no matter which device I plugged into the OnePlus Nord N20’s USB port — be it a PS5 controller, Stadia controller, GameSir X-2 controller, pair of wired USB-C earbuds, or even just a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter — not a single one of them worked.

If you have a device that you’re planning on plugging into the USB port that’s designed to do anything other than charge the phone, you’re probably out of luck.

I’ve been in touch with OnePlus on the issue but haven’t heard much back in the way of troubleshooting or what could possibly be going wrong. All I know is that, as a consumer, none of my USB Type-C gadgets work on the Nord N20. Plugging them in yields no lights, no prompt on the phone, and no working accessory. It’s a huge, huge bummer, to say the least.

I also had some issues with using RCS messaging on the phone. Namely, the Google Messages app doesn’t appear to fully work on this phone at all. Instead, you’ll need to use the built-in Messages app, which appears to be hard-coded to use T-Mobile’s RCS servers. That means RCS technically works as expected — and out of the box with no additional configuration, to boot — but you’ll be missing all those nifty features we love from the Google Messages app.Advertisement

Beyond that, it’s well worth noting that this phone won’t ever see past Android 12 since OnePlus is only guaranteeing one major OS update and launched the phone with Android 11. That’s pretty lousy given that it really should have launched with Android 12 at this point, but at least the company is going to give three years of security updates.

ONEPLUS NORD N20 5G: COMPETITION

Samsung Galaxy A42 5G
(Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

In North America, if you want to spend less than $300 on a smartphone, there really aren’t a lot of good options. While many phones like the TCL 20s, Moto G Stylus, and Nokia G50 5G are fine enough for the price, you can usually tell right away that you didn’t get a particularly powerful device. The Nord N20 5G feels like it’s worth at least $100 more, and that puts it in a class all its own.

If you actually wanted to spend $100 more, you could likely find a used or refurbished Pixel 4a 5G that’ll get you an even better camera than what OnePlus is delivering here. It’ll also get more software updates than what OnePlus is offering.

Similarly, Samsung’s A42 is a good choice with more software updates and more features, but it’ll cost you and, in all honesty, is probably just not worth the extra cost.

ONEPLUS NORD N20 5G: SHOULD YOU BUY IT?

OnePlus Nord N20 5G
(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

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You should buy this if…

  • You don’t want to spend a lot of money on a phone.
  • You need a phone with the best display, camera, and performance in its class.
  • You need more than one-day battery life and a quick charge-up time.

You shouldn’t buy this if…

  • You have a USB Type-C accessory (like a gaming controller or headphones) that you absolutely must use.
  • You were hoping for updates beyond Android 12.

Phones are expensive these days, but OnePlus is offering up a great device that’ll blow away your expectations without blowing up your wallet. At $282, it’s the best value phone anywhere and easily the best budget Android phone you can buy right now. A superb display, excellent cameras, great performance, and battery life that’ll last more than a full day no matter what you do round out a gorgeous, well-built package.

The only real problem I ran across is the USB port on the phone, which didn’t play well with any USB Type-C accessory I had. So long as you don’t have a pair of wired USB Type-C headphones or a gaming controller that needs to be plugged in, you should be fine. Heck, the 3.5mm jack on the phone will fix the headphone problem, and there are plenty of great Bluetooth controllers that’ll work just fine with it. Bottom line: don’t spend $282 on any other phone.

Nicholas Sutrich

Nicholas Sutrich 

Senior Content Producer — SmartphonesNick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it’s VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he’s been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @GwanatuMORE ABOUT…Creative Outlier Pro review: Affordable buds worth paying forApex Legends Mobile for Android review: The game you love with a few concessionsLATESTDisney Plus: How to sign up, 2022 content guide, movies & moreSEE MORE LATESTAdvertisement

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