OnePlus is no longer the OnePlus that we all used to get excited about every time it released a new phone. In a somewhat short period of time, the company managed to go from a purebred hype machine to a Samsung or LG equivalent, announcing its flagship phones in a special way and firing off a ton of mid-range and low-end phones to virtually no fanfare.
That’s what happened to the company’s Nord line, a smartphone series that was particularly interesting in its heyday but has since been reduced to a channel for those random mid-range and low-end phone fire-offs to pass through. However, that doesn’t mean those phones are any less appealing than the ones that garner more media attention, and that’s where the Nord N20 5G comes in.
Announced back in April, the N20 5G is on the lower-end of OnePlus’ Nord lineup, priced at just under $300 ($282, to be specific), and it has one of the most interesting spec sheets for a phone of its class. Not only does it have a decent Snapdragon 695 processor, a big 4,500mAh battery, and good camera specs, it also comes with an OLED display, a rarity for this section of the market. This makes the phone an instant eye-catcher compared to other devices with similar prices, and I can safely say, it delivers for the small price you have to pay.
If you’re on a strict budget and need a generally good Android phone, the N20 5G is certainly worth checking out.
OnePlus Nord N20 5G
One of the best for under $300
If you need a reliable phone with good performance, battery life, 5G, and bonuses like an OLED screen (and you're okay with mediocre cameras and using it on T-Mobile), the Nord N20 5G is almost a no-brainer.
4,500mAh with 33W fast charging, no wireless charging
OxygenOS 11 (based on Android 11)
Water and dust resistance
No IP rating
Spec sheet for the OnePlus Nord N20 5G
I’m actually a fan of this design. Any smartphone that ships with flat sides already has my attention, and they look and feel premium on the N20 (as I’ll refer to it) with its Blue Smoke color way. There are silver accents around each camera lens which compliment the blue nicely, and I kind of wish they were present in more areas of the device like the buttons.
The N20 is slim at just 7.5mm thick, and it’s nice and light at 173 grams. I didn’t have any issues using it with one hand thanks to the display’s slender 20:9 aspect ratio, although it is a bit tall at 6.43-inches, so occasional use of your second hand is inevitable to reach things near the top of the panel.
There’s a USB-C port on the bottom for charging along with a loudspeaker that works in conjunction with the earpiece for stereo playback. I thought their audio quality was pretty decent, albeit sounding pretty empty with most songs and videos I played. To help alleviate that minor pain point, OnePlus includes a rare 3.5mm headphone jack. Granted, I’m not sure how many people are still in need of that port (especially with OnePlus’ excellent $40 Nord Buds now available), but I suppose some budget shoppers might want to stick with wired headphones that they already have.
The display on the N20 might be the best part of the device and the most compelling reason to buy it. OnePlus includes a 2400×1080 AMOLED panel which is everything but conventional in the world of budget phones. This makes the viewing experience feel a lot higher-end than its price tag suggests. Colors are more vibrant, contrasts are crisp, black levels are inky, and text is nice and sharp.
I compared it to the TCL 30 V 5G, which is priced slightly higher at $299, and its larger 6.67-inch IPS LCD was no match for the N20 – OnePlus simply has a leg up here. Everything is sharper, more colorful, and much more enjoyable to watch than on an LCD. Sure, the usual downsides of burn-in and limited brightness didn’t excuse themselves from the N20, but that comes with flagship-level OLED displays as well, so it’s a small price to pay if you want the best screen you can get for under $300.
That being said, I do have to note that the screen is locked to 60Hz. I realize this isn’t a huge issue for many people, but in a world filled with 90Hz+ refresh rates, I noticed that everything felt a bit more jagged on the N20 as a result. Maybe the N30 (or whatever its successor is called) will get an upgrade in this department.
Because it’s an AMOLED screen, OnePlus was able to include an in-display fingerprint reader. My expectations were admittedly a bit low since it’s a budget phone, but I actually found it to be surprisingly fast. I didn’t have any issues with print recognition, even if it my fingers were sweaty or dirty. If I have any complaint at all, it’s that it sits a bit too low so it’s not as comfortable to reach, but a little muscle-memory training will help you lock it down.
Powering the Nord N20 5G is a Snapdragon 695 processor, yet another feature that’s uncommon in phones priced below $300. In day to day usage, it translates to solid performance with almost no issue juggling apps as part of my daily workload. Games ran relatively well, although heavy titles will eventually start dropping frames (Asphalt 9 was no exception). While you’re definitely far from flagship-level performance, it certainly punches above its weight class.
The 6GB of RAM OnePlus includes also helps in providing smoother-than-average performance, and it’s an improvement of at least 2GB over other phones in this price range. There’s also 128GB of internal storage which can be expanded up to 2TB by a microSD card. Unfortunately, the onboard storage uses the slower UFS 2.2 standard, but OnePlus had to cut corners somewhere to drive costs down.
The camera department is another area where that’s happened. On the back of the N20 is a 64MP f/1.8 camera, which quite frankly isn’t all that bad since it’s a $282 phone. Colors are actually well-balanced and nothing feels artificial in terms of processing. Contrast, sharpness, and overall clarity is also decent. In dimmer situations, the camera does start to struggle, but not as much as you might think. At night, it really falls apart, but at least it has a night mode to help give everything a boost.
If there’s anything to really knock the sensor with, it’s the fast there’s no 4K video support, which is impressive to say for such an inexpensive phone. Video quality, in general, is decent despite being locked to 1080p. Colors and sharpness are fine, and it’s perfectly serviceable for posting to social media.
Like I said, the camera department is another area where OnePlus cut corners. The other two cameras on the back – both 2MP f/2.4 sensors, one for macro photography and the other for monochrome/depth – are essentially not worth talking about at all. The macro shooter drops so significantly in resolution that photos are always much worse than what they’d look like if you just zoom in with the main lens, and the monochrome/depth sensor doesn’t seem to do very much of anything (software is already good at adding a fake depth-of-field effect to portraits, and black-and-white filters exist and look lightyears better than this piece of crap).
It’s not a far stretch to say OnePlus included these cameras just so they could beef up the amount of cameras that are on the N20. “Four cameras” sounds a lot better to a marketing department than “one rear camera, one selfie camera,” although that would be my preferred setup if they insisted on excluding an ultra-wide. Speaking of which, I find it really interesting that OnePlus didn’t bother to put an ultra-wide camera on the N20. Why not just include a cheap 12MP sensor with a super wide field of view? At least you’d get some cool landscape shots instead of grainy close-ups or B&W photos that look no different than a filter.
All of that being said, I don’t want to knock the N20 too much because of how much it costs. However, I’m sick of companies throwing meaningless cameras on phones just to say they have a ton of cameras. Make each one useful or don’t include them at all, regardless of the price.
Speaking of things I don’t like regardless of the price, bloatware on the N20 is bountiful. It’s a T-Mobile phone, so you get all the normal crapware the Uncarrier wants you to see if you spend a minimal amount of money on a phone (or get it for free by adding a line to your plan or something).
What I found sarcastically delightful was a notification I’d get every time I’d install an update. I just recently installed the May 2022 security patch, and I was alerted I needed to run through T-Mobile’s app to “complete” the update (a.k.a. install some more apps that I don’t want). So I tapped on the notification to check it out, and it turned out that T-Mobile not only wanted to give me more useless apps, but also remind me that I was now running Android 12.
Reader, I was not running Android 12. The OnePlus Nord N20 5G is still on Android 11, and it’s only promised one major platform upgrade during its lifecycle (boo!). I went and checked the settings app just to confirm that I didn’t miss anything, and sure enough, the Android version section read off “Android 11” just as I was expecting. It definitely feels like over the years, bloatware has gotten worse and worse, and we’re now at a point of it being comically bad.
I understand that bloatware and subsidization are big reasosn why phone companies are able to charge small amounts of money for their phones, but I’ve never been a fan of that practice and I never will be.
Putting those feelings to the side, I can tell you that the rest of the software experience on the N20 is terrific. Android 11 is the last version of Android that OnePlus kept clean and stock-like before it merged OxygenOS with ColorOS. Compared to the software on my OnePlus 10 Pro, I’d use the N20 any day of the week. It’s smoother, simpler to look at, and overall more pleasant to use.
God, I miss the days of simple-and-clean OxygenOS.
The battery inside the N20 is 4,500mAh, and it’s the perfect size for a phone like this. With an AMOLED display that can shut off individual pixels when they’re not in use and a Snapdragon processor that sips power, it’s easy to get through an entire day of use on a full charge. I was averaging about 40 percent left in the tank at the end of my 16-hour days and even more when I was able to end my day a bit earlier in the evening. Heavier users might have a different experience (especially if you play a lot of games), but anyone who uses their phone lightly or moderately shouldn’t have any issues.
Recharge times were very solid thanks to the inclusion of 33W SuperVOOC wired charging (wall adapter included). I managed to juice the phone back up to 100 percent from zero in under an hour and a half, which is quite noteworthy in the world of budget phones. Overall, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed by the stamina and recharge capabilities of the N20 (besides wireless charging users as there’s no Qi charging on this device).
The Nord N20 5G has “5G” in its name for a reason. The device is compatible with sub-6GHz spectrum but not the fast mmWave, and it’s only compatible with T-Mobile’s 5G network as it lacks the n77 C-band frequency which AT&T and Verizon rely on. If you’re not on T-Mobile, you can pick up an unlocked model that’ll work with T-Mobile’s 5G and 4G networks as well as AT&T’s 4G spectrum. Verizon users will remain out of luck, unfortunately.
Regardless, in daily use, I didn’t have any issues with T-Mobile 5G. I was able to clock in speeds around 200-250Mbps, and coverage wasn’t a problem either as a lot of South Jersey is blanketed in the Uncarrier’s spectrum. Your milage may vary, of course, so you’ll want to check out T-Mobile’s coverage map before buying.
I didn’t test the device on AT&T since I don’t have an unlocked model, but I expect it perform somewhat well considering it’s stuck on 4G.
Should you buy the Nord N20 5G?
All in all, this is a really well-rounded phone for under $300. Compared to other devices like the TCL 30 V 5G and Samsung’s Galaxy A32 5G, it offers faster performance, a much nicer screen, a good-looking design, and reliable battery life. If you can look past the somewhat spotty camera quality and you’re good with using T-Mobile, this is by far one of the best phones you can get on a budget.
This device sort of represents an amalgamated version of OnePlus, one that focuses on providing as much value as it can for a low price and one that wants to be as fierce about smartphone releases as major players in the industry. The N20 certainly isn’t the flashiest phone you can buy (and the way OnePlus has marketed it means you could’ve missed it entirely), but if what you want is a reliable Android phone that doesn’t break the bank, the Nord 20 5G is certainly worth considering.