August 14, 2020

Is the Nord really a ‘New Beginning’ for OnePlus? It doesn’t seem that way.

While the term "New Beginnings" conjures up the idea of a massive overhaul, the OnePlus Nord doesn't seem to be that.

A closeup of the back of the OnePlus One showing its single rear camera.

Credit: C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

Opinion post by
C. Scott Brown

OnePlus is slowly doling out information about its upcoming OnePlus Nord smartphone. This week, we had a chance to sit down with company co-founder and head of the Nord team Carl Pei. He gave us some insight into various aspects of the new phone (while staying very cryptic about most details). You can check out the main part of the interview here.

One of the things Pei mentioned during the interview is the “New Beginnings� mantra the company has pushed over the past few weeks as the Nord slowly comes to light. The CEO of OnePlus, Pete Lau, used the slogan as a hashtag on Twitter first, and the phrase has been paired with the Nord line many times since.

“Yeah, it’s a new beginning, right?� Pei said during our interview. “A couple of months ago, [Lau] was doing an interview with Fast Company where he said that we’re now expanding our product portfolio and when it comes to smartphones, there will be more products in the Nord series […]�

When I hear the term “New Beginnings,� I think of a massive overhaul or a dramatic change that signals some new direction. I feel like it’s the type of phrase someone uses when they know their life just irrevocably upended.

Related: OnePlus phones: A history of the company’s entire lineup so far

Now that we know quite a bit about the OnePlus Nord, though — including a glimpse at what it looks like — it doesn’t really feel like a new beginning. It feels like…well…a relatively cheap mid-range phone from a company that started out just six years ago making cheap phones. Wow?

OnePlus Nord: New beginning, or minor strategy alteration?

OnePlus Nord Logo

Credit: OnePlus

I don’t want to downplay too much what OnePlus is doing with the Nord line. One of the biggest complaints about the company’s portfolio over the years is the steady increase in pricing. This year, the OnePlus 8 series hit the highest levels yet, getting closer than ever to traditional flagship price tags. The OnePlus Nord will allow budget-conscious fans to get OnePlus phones without breaking the bank. That’s good.

However, that’s hardly a revolutionary concept. Pretty much every smartphone OEM is producing mid-range smartphones that comfortably exist alongside their premium models.

The OnePlus Nord doesn't really feel like a new beginning.

What makes a mid-ranger stand out, though, is adding that special ingredient. For the incredibly well-received Google Pixel 3a (RIP), it was the inclusion of the same camera system we saw on the Google Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL. For the iPhone SE, it was the inclusion of the same processor that appears in the premium iPhone 11 series. Sometimes all it takes to elevate mid-rangers is for an OEM to approach its offerings with some new care and attention, like Samsung finally started doing with its Galaxy A line.

But what does the OnePlus Nord offer? So far, all we can see is that it’s a cheaper, slimmed-down version of a OnePlus flagship. That’s not enough to make a truly great mid-ranger, and it’s certainly not enough to allow a company to use a slogan like “New Beginnings� without hearing sniggers in response.

What do we know the Nord will offer?

oneplus nord first look front

Credit: OnePlus

As I said earlier, Pei was being very cryptic during our interview. Many of the questions we threw down he declined to answer. However, he did explain that the company’s approach to the OnePlus Nord is to offer three things: a great camera, a smooth experience, and a great build quality.

Let’s break these down. The camera on OnePlus phones has always been the troubled child of its portfolio. While the company deserves all the praise in the world for the strides its made in recent years, the chances of a OnePlus camera ever being the best Android can offer are very low. With that in mind, if the company tries to sell the OnePlus Nord as having a similar or even the same camera system as its flagships, that won’t be enough to separate it from other mid-rangers with great cameras.

On the “smooth experience� point, we know for certain that the Nord will land with Oxygen OS. However, Pei declined to answer when we pressed him on whether or not the OnePlus Nord will receive the same level of Android updates that its flagships get. Now, it’s totally possible the Nord will get three years of updates and at least two years of Android upgrades — but Pei wouldn’t commit to that during our chat. While Oxygen OS is amazing, its inclusion alone doesn’t help create a mid-ranger worthy of all the brand’s hype.

Finally, the build quality. OnePlus has always done a great job of making its phones look and feel premium, so we expect the OnePlus Nord to be a gem. It certainly looks the part from the brief first look in the latest Instagram teaser. Once again, though, a good-looking, premium-feeling mid-range phone just isn’t enough to make it great.

It appears the OnePlus Nord is going to be a good mid-ranger, but that’s hardly a new beginning.

If anything, the OnePlus Nord is a return

Credit: Nirave Gondhia / Android Authority

I really don’t want this article to make it seem like I don’t care for the OnePlus Nord. To be totally clear, I am excited about this phone — I even wrote a whole article about my excitement.

What I don’t care for is OnePlus’ apparent attempts to make this seem like a bigger deal than it is. The Nord is shaping up to be a solid mid-ranger, something that might even make it onto our list of the best mid-range Android phones you can buy. However, it doesn’t seem like it will be the revelation the company is making it out to be with its “New Beginnings� slogan.

Don't get me wrong: I'm excited about this phone. I just think OnePlus is being a bit overzealous with how it's trying to sell it.

A more appropriate slogan for this phone would be “Don’t Call It A Comeback� or maybe “Back To Our Roots.� When OnePlus first started, it made incredibly cheap devices that offered as much power as possible within its budgetary restrictions. While the OnePlus Nord does not appear to be a OnePlus One, or even a OnePlus X, it certainly aims to do the same thing: bring as much power as possible within a certain price bracket.

However, a slogan like “Back To Our Roots� would earn lots of detractors who would point out that OnePlus shouldn’t have strayed from its roots in the first place. The company has a difficult task of balancing its ambitions to become a mainstream OEM that can go head-to-head with the Samsungs and Huaweis of the industry while not neglecting its roots as a budget-conscious, tech-first brand. That’s not easy, and I understand that.

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Ultimately, the OnePlus Nord has its work cut out for it. It needs to invigorate the core OnePlus fans so as not to tarnish the brand, appeal to the general mainstream consumer to guarantee sales, and impress tech review sites like Android Authority to earn good reviews. Hopefully, OnePlus understands that just slapping big-sounding slogans onto the product isn’t going to make any of those things happen.

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