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posted on 2020-10-26 18:25:00 .
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After the Europe-only launch of the midrange OnePlus Nord earlier this year, OnePlus is finally bringing a cheaper phone to the United States with the OnePlus Nord N10 5G. It doesn’t quite look like the slam dunk the original Nord was, though, and for a company that has “never settle” emblazoned across its press images, it kinda feels like we’re settling here.
OnePlus says the phone is coming to the US, but it only provided a UK price tag of 329 pounds ($427). For that, you get a 90Hz, 6.49-inch, 2400×1080 LCD—yes, an LCD and not an OLED display—a Snapdragon 690 SoC, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage, and a 4300mAh battery.
The Snapdragon 690 is a fairly new eight-core Qualcomm SoC with two Cortex A77 cores, six Cortex A55 cores, and an Adreno 619 built on an 8nm process. Qualcomm’s midrange chip lineup is kind of a mess right now, and you’d have to really break out the calipers to find significant differences between the Snapdragon 690 and the Snapdragon 765G on the European Nord. The 690 has a newer A77 main CPU core compared to the A76 on the 765G, but the 690 has a 200mHz lower clock. In benchmarks, the CPU and GPU numbers are basically a wash, but the 7nm 765G should be a bit lighter on your battery. Qualcomm docks the 690 a bunch of Qualcomm Model Number Points because it does not support mmWave 5G, but that seems irrelevant when most 765G phones opt to not support mmWave either. “The Snapdragon 765G with mmWave support sliced off” sounds like a close-enough shorthand description for this chip.
The back has four cameras. The main camera is a 64MP, and there’s an 8MP wide-angle lens. If you’ve ever seen cheap sports cars with fake hood scoops or nonfunctional spoilers on the back, that’s sort of what OnePlus is going for with the last two cameras: a pair of purely decorative 2MP sensors, one supposedly for “Macro” photos and another labeled “Monochrome.” In this price range, OnePlus faces fierce camera competition in the form of the Pixel 4a, a phone that can outshoot a lot of flagship phones, and I guess it’s trying to make up for the lack of quality with quantity.
Unlike the European Nord, the phone ships with a rear capacitive fingerprint reader and a headphone jack. It supports OnePlus’ 30T Warp Charging. The biggest disappointment is the OS, which is shipping a crusty, old copy of Android 10 instead of Android 11. Meanwhile, Android 11 is shipping on the OnePlus 8T and has been out for almost two months now.
Is this really going to cost more than a Pixel 4a?
It’s hard to see how this phone is going to fit into the market here without a firm US price. It’s going to have to fight the Pixel 4a, which, in the United States, is $349. The prices of OnePlus phones in the US are typically higher than a direct pounds-to-dollars conversion would suggest (the OnePlus 8T, for instance, is 549 pounds in the UK but $749 Stateside). So expect a US Nord 10 to be similarly a bit more expensive than when it’s sold in the UK, which puts it somewhere around $449.
The Nord N10 and Pixel 4a both have 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, headphone jacks, and rear fingerprint readers. The Nord N10 has a bigger, faster 90Hz display, but it’s an LCD compared to the Pixel 4a’s OLED. We don’t yet know what the LCD’s image quality is like, but you’ll never get an always-on display feature on an LCD. The Nord has a bigger battery, but the Pixel 4a is basically guaranteed to have a better camera. The Pixel 4a is going to have much better software support, while it’s downright alarming that the Nord N10 won’t ship with the current version of Android (it also won’t have monthly security updates).
If the Nord N10 is going to be $100 more than the Pixel 4a, that does not sound like a great deal. I’m not even sure this is a good deal if it’s priced evenly with the Pixel 4a. We’ve liked OnePlus products in the past because they were killer deals that were often hundreds less than the competition, and while there’s less room for that in the midrange market, I’m not seeing much of a value argument here at all.
I’m starting to worry about OnePlus. The company used to only ship one or two smartphones a year and seemed to put plenty of effort behind them, especially when it came to software updates. This year has seen six OnePlus phones: the OnePlus 8, the 8 Pro, the 8T, the Nord, the Nord N10, and the Nord N100. If you’re a company out there wondering how many phones is too many phones, you’ve definitely hit “too many” if you can’t ship the current version of your operating system on everything. As a customer, you’ve also got to wonder if a phone like this will receive timely updates. OnePlus recently had its co-founder, Carl Pei, leave the company, and when that sort of thing happens, it’s time to keep an eye out for any strategy changes. Maybe we’re seeing one.
Listing image by OnePlus
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