The OnePlus Nord N20 5G’s $300 price tag is identical to the original OnePlus One from 2014, but after that, a lot has changed from what OnePlus is now offering at this low price. The $299 “flagship killer” 2014 phone is designed as a competitor to the best devices from Samsung, Apple, and HTC, with the “Never Settle” tagline.
Instead, the N20 5G offers a few nice, high-end amenities — like an in-display fingerprint sensor and faster 33W charging — but mixes them up with a less powerful processor and cameras.
Some of this is to be expected when making a phone for a fraction of the $900 or $1,000 price tag of high-end hardware. And the N20 5G offers some surprisingly solid value for money, but don’t expect it to be in its price category like OnePlus phones of years past.
I’ve been using the phone for the past few weeks and found that while the phone lacks excitement, it may include enough features to power much of what you need within the $300 price range.
Decent specifications, good performance
While the original $300 OnePlus One ran Qualcomm’s then-best-of-the-time processor, the N20 5G uses Qualcomm’s cheaper Snapdragon 695 chipset with 6GB of RAM. Although it takes a minute to start up after turning it on, once it loads it seems to be fine albeit with some occasional hiccups when the battery was below 10%.
Until then, I was able to multitask watching The Departed on Netflix while texting and browsing the web without major issues, although scrolling improved when I only had one app open at a time. Playing games like Call of Duty Mobile also worked well.
The screen, the 6.43-inch AMOLED screen also looks good, although the AMOLED panels on budget phones aren’t new, as Samsung has done in some.
The N20 5G’s 60Hz refresh rate makes me miss the 90Hz panels OnePlus has been using on most of its phones in recent years, especially when scrolling through text-laden websites or even opening the app drawer. Even cheaper phones, like the $200 TCL XE 30 5G, offer 90Hz screens at lower price points. However, TikTok or YouTube navigation was fine on OnePlus even when browsing with a low battery.
Oddly, the phone struggled to play live content from YouTube TV, with continuous frame drop and lag that made watching live content nearly impossible. Watching with DirecTV Stream was slightly better, but there were still some stutters and frame drops when watching live TV.
The mono speaker isn’t great and lacks fullness, but it can be loud and suitable for playing Spotify music or streaming a movie or TV show, especially when you’re in a quiet room.
On the plus side, there is a fingerprint scanner built into the screen and it works well, recognizing my thumb and unlocking the phone quickly and reliably. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microSD card slot to add an additional 512GB of storage. You also get NFC for mobile payments Click to pay, which is a feature.
Besides the low refresh rate and processor of the screen, there are a few other areas where OnePlus has been cut short compared to its flagship devices. The phone is IP52 rated, so it should withstand dust and raindrops, but don’t take this to the pool or in the shower. It also lacks wireless charging, which is a common omission for most phones under $300.
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 with four years of security updates on its cheaper Galaxy A phones. Seeing OnePlus here settling on just one major upgrade is a bit disappointing — especially when the phone is still running Android 11.
I also wish the vibration motor was a little more powerful on this 173g phone, as haptic feedback when texting was inconsistent and the sound of notifications like calls and texts was poor.
Three rear cameras have macro aspirations and marginal results
The cameras in the N20 are as follows: 64MP main camera, 2MP macro lenses, and 2MP monochrome lenses. The main shooter does a respectable job in well-lit environments. Daylight shots of a Mets or bar game looked great with a fair amount of detail and colour.
As one might expect with a budget phone, night photography isn’t the N20’s selling point. It has a “night mode”, but those photos are still quite dark. In this example, the New York Mets apple appears to blend in with the darkness of the sky.
Meanwhile, the macro lens is useful for achieving a number of specifications for “three rear cameras” but isn’t great for anything else. The macro camera was inconsistent with focus and the result lacked sharpness and detail. I wish more companies would stop including these cameras and use that money to upgrade more worthwhile features like the screen, processor or speakers.
There’s also a monochrome lens, but there’s no dedicated shooting setup with it and it seems designed to aid the main shooter as it is on other OnePlus phones.
A 16-megapixel camera is located in the upper left corner. Like the main rear camera, selfies look great when given enough light.
The built-in gallery app is frustrating even when using basic features like pinch to zoom. I found that when I pointed to zoom out, the N20 was delayed. However, zooming often worked just fine.
Strong battery life, with fast charger
OnePlus stands out a bit by including a 33W fast charger with the phone, which is notable as manufacturers keep leaving that out of the box.
After 15 minutes of charging, the N20 5G’s 4,500mAh battery rose from 0% to 22%. Charging for about 30 minutes takes up to 49% of the battery, with a full charge taking around 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Although I haven’t run any rigorous testing, I haven’t had any issues with battery life in mixed use of the phone.
With the OnePlus Nord N20 5G, it’s easy to see where the company is ditching features to keep costs low. It still handles many of the basics well, which may be enough for those using T-Mobile or Mint Mobile looking for a powerful but affordable carrier option.
OnePlus recently expanded the N20 5G to now also be available unlocked, although 5G support is only limited to providers using T-Mobile’s 5G network (such as Mint, Google Fi, and Metro by T-Mobile).
It’s a shame OnePlus has so far deviated from all of its original success, with the US market in great need of more powerful and less priced alternatives from Samsung and Apple. The N20 is getting close, but too many compromises prevent it from being any great at all.