The highly anticipated Nord N20 ($282) aims to capture the true spirit of OnePlus phones: smooth performance and impressive design at a very competitive price. Last year’s excellent Nord N10 ($299.99) matched it in every way, with its 90Hz display, 5G support, and ultra-wide camera. The Nord N20 is slightly less successful in its objectives. The phone looks distinctive and feels fast (both in terms of UI navigation and download speeds on T-Mobile’s 5G network), but its cameras aren’t very competitive. The Samsung Galaxy A32 5G ($279.99) remains our Editors’ Choice award winner for budget Android phones due to its superior imaging capabilities and software upgrade policy. But if you’re not focused on camera quality, the Nord N20 is a compelling alternative.
Distinguished design and impressive battery life
The Nord N20 is the sleekest affordable phone I’ve seen in 2022, and I don’t expect another model to steal that accolade this year. It has a striking flat back with two bold, gold camera lenses near the top corner. The rear panel looks black from an angle, but straight up, it shimmers like special automotive paint. And while the edges aren’t entirely square, they’re sharper than Motorola and Samsung phones. The handset measures approximately 6.3 x 2.9 x 0.3 inches (HWD) and weighs approximately 6.1 ounces; it’s a bit smaller and lighter than the Galaxy A32 (6.5 x 3.0 x 0.4 inches, 7 ounces).
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The flat back is striking (Photo: Sascha Segan)
The phone’s 6.43-inch, 1080p, 60Hz OLED panel seems to emphasize color richness (its contrast levels, in particular, are commendable) more than outright brightness, but I didn’t have a problem. with the visibility of the screen outside. The Samsung Galaxy A53’s panel is relatively brighter, for reference, although that phone is more expensive at $449.99.
The 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom of the phone is something I always appreciate. Motorola still includes a physical headphone connector on its handsets, but Samsung has started phasing them out even on its low-end models (the Galaxy A33 and Galaxy A53 don’t have a 3.5mm port). The headphone jack is particularly handy here as the N20’s single bottom-ported speaker sounds tinny and is easy to accidentally cover with your finger when holding the phone in landscape mode. The speaker was unable to produce the low frequencies of our test track, “Silent Shout” by The Knife, but when I plugged in a pair of wired Bose headphones, the track regained its power.
Battery life and charging speed are standout features. We got 13 hours and 50 minutes in our video test of the 4,500mAh battery, which is excellent. And when we left the phone on a shelf for a few days, it didn’t lose much charge. For comparison, the Galaxy A32 5G didn’t last as long in the same test (13 hours and 1 minute), but the $199.99 Motorola G Power went on for quite a while (16 hours and 7 minutes). ).
Long live the headphone jack (Photo: Sascha Segan)
Thanks to the N20’s support for 33W fast (wired) charging, we were able to recharge its depleted battery up to 14 per cent in seven minutes and up to 50 per cent in 27 minutes. That said, a full charge still takes 75 minutes (the latter percentages go slower) and the phone doesn’t support wireless charging. OnePlus includes a wall adapter in the box.
Performance and software: when 11 is greater than 12
The OnePlus Nord N20 uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 chipset with two 2.21 GHz ARM Cortex A78 cores and six 1.8 GHz ARM Cortex-A55 cores. It offers 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (106GB is available out of the box). In particular, a microSD card slot allows you to add additional storage (up to 512 GB).
In terms of benchmark, the N20 does not stand out. Its multi-core Geekbench score of 1,982 is better than the Samsung Galaxy A53 (1,826), but on the app-focused PCMark Work benchmark, the A53 (11,675) absolutely burns the N20 (7,650).
App icons in OxygenOS 11 look great (Photo: Sascha Segan)
App performance is solid unless you’re trying to run high-end games like Genshin Impact. This title is playable, but the loading times were very long and I noticed instances of stuttering during gameplay.
Hardware performance aside, I maintain that OnePlus’ Android OxygenOS 11 skin is second only to Google’s skin for Pixel devices. It emphasizes speed and ease of use, features clean icons and a very readable font, and provides extremely fast scrolling and app transitions. The fast skin transitions, in particular, make the N20 faster than competing Samsung phones, despite what the benchmark results indicate.
You may complain that the N20 doesn’t run Android 12, but I’ll throw in a smoking gun here: at least for OnePlus devices, Android 11 is better. Android 12 doesn’t bring any notable new features to OnePlus phones, and OnePlus’ Android 12 skin is a disaster. As I say in my OnePlus 10 Pro review, OxygenOS 11 is fluid, elegant and simple; OxygenOS 12 is overloaded and ugly. OxygenOS 13 is supposed to be better, but this phone won’t get that version.
Older versions of Android tend to become a problem when a phone no longer receives security updates or when third-party apps become less compatible. OnePlus promises three years of security updates, so this handset should be fine for the next few years.
Solid Cellular Connectivity
OnePlus plans to release an unlocked version of the Nord N20, but the model I tested is almost obsessively tuned for T-Mobile. It supports 2/25/41/66/71 5G bands, as well as carrier “range band” (71) and “speed band” (41). Just note that out of any other carrier this is a mediocre 4G phone at best. The N20 doesn’t have mmWave 5G, but that’s not something we’d expect at this price.
T-Mobile’s speeds are solid (Photo: Sascha Segan)
Speed on T-Mobile’s mid-range network is as good as other mid-range phones, and nothing about reception or call quality sets me apart. Calls are clear, although the speakerphone is a bit quieter than other mid-range phones. It peaks at 87dB at a distance of six inches, compared to the Moto G Stylus 5G’s 92dB and the Samsung Galaxy A32’s 94dB. Still, this performance is within the typical range.
Camera: limited imagination
The Nord N20 comes with three primary camera lenses, two of which are confusing and unnecessary. The 64MP primary sensor typically produces 12MP photos and uses sensor cropping techniques to simulate 2x zoom. You also get 2MP monochrome and macro cameras. Oddly enough, there’s no monochrome photo mode, so the former might just work more like a depth sensor. As for the macro camera, I really don’t understand why manufacturers keep spending money on this little-used part; this implementation is particularly questionable given the low megapixel count. I would have much preferred an ultra-wide or zoom lens.
Photos taken in good light are good (Photo: Sascha Segan)
With good lighting, the camera works well. It creates images with decent dynamic range and doesn’t obscure bright skies. Portrait mode isn’t perfect – I noticed a bit of blurring on flying hair – but it’s good enough for most use cases.
Low-light performance, on the other hand, is disappointing. You get a night mode, unlike Apple’s $429 iPhone SE, but this mode produced noticeably darker and muddier photos in testing than the Samsung Galaxy A53.
The night mode of the Nord N20 (right) is not as good as that of the Samsung Galaxy A53 (left) (Photo: Sascha Segan)
The A53 is, of course, a more expensive handset, but our complaints still stand as other phones around the same price as the N20 offer better imaging capabilities. For example, the Nord N10 and Galaxy A32 have ultra-wide lenses, and the latter performs best in low-light environments.
A strong and economical competitor
In 2021, OnePlus was offering two low-cost phones on T-Mobile: the $299 N10 and the $239 N200. The N20 serves as the successor to both of these devices; it roughly splits the cost between them and delivers an experience that’s mostly consistent with its $282 price tag. OnePlus could have designed the N20 better for the US market, although I suspect the company has spent a lot more time this year integrating with Oppo and creating new models for international markets. So Samsung’s Galaxy A32 5G stays more in line with the needs of most US phone owners. The Nord N20 falls a little short of the Galaxy A32 in terms of camera benchmarks and performance, but is worth considering if you prefer its better looks and superior screen.
The OnePlus Nord N20 is a smooth, striking and affordable phone; don’t expect a flagship camera experience.
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