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OnePlus Nord N20 5G review: The $ 300 value pick that lacks a spark

The $ 300 OnePlus Nord N20 5G price matches the original One plus one since 2014, but otherwise a lot has changed from what OnePlus now offers at this lower price. The $ 299 “flagship killer” phone was built to compete with the best Samsung, Apple and HTC devices, complete with the “Never Settle Down” mantra.

Instead, the N20 5G offers some nice top-of-the-line amenities – like an in-screen fingerprint sensor and a faster 33W charge – but combines them with a less powerful processor and so-called cameras.

Some of that can be expected by making a phone for a fraction of the price of high-end devices at $ 900 or $ 1,000. And the N20 5G offers surprisingly solid value for money, but don’t expect it to break high above its price class like the OnePlus phones from years ago.

I’ve been using the phone the past few weeks and found that while the phone isn’t excited, it may have enough features to run most of what you need in the $ 300 price range.

Read more: Best phones under $ 500

Decent specs, good performance

OnePlus Nord N20 5G plays Call of Duty

The OnePlus N20 can handle games like Call of Duty Mobile well, but has had issues with YouTube TV.

Eli Blumenthal / topwatchbest

While the original $ 300 OnePlus One ran on the then-top Qualcomm processor, the N20 5G uses the cheaper Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 chipset with 6GB of RAM. Although it takes a minute when turned on, it feels okay when charged, although it does sometimes hiccup when the battery was below 10%.

Even then, I was able to multitask while watching The Departed on Netflix while texting and browsing the Internet without much trouble, although scrolling improved when I only had one app open at a time. Playing games like Call of Duty Mobile worked fine as well.

Display, the 6.43-inch AMOLED screen also looks good, although AMOLED panels on budget phones are nothing new as Samsung has had it on some of its affordable devices from the Galaxy A series.

The 60Hz refresh rate of the N20 5G makes me miss the 90Hz panels OnePlus has used on most of its phones in recent years, especially when scrolling through text-filled web pages and even opening the app tray. Even cheaper phones like the $ 200 TCL XE 30 5G offer 90Hz displays at lower prices. However, browsing TikTok or YouTube was fine on OnePlus, even when browsing on a low battery.

Read more: Best phones under $ 200

Oddly enough, the phone struggled to play live content from YouTube TV, with continuous frame drops and lag that made it nearly impossible to watch live content. Viewing with DirecTV Stream was a bit better, but there were still stuttering 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 music on Spotify or streaming a movie or TV show, especially in a quiet room.

On the plus side, there is a built-in fingerprint scanner which works well for 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 touch-to-pay mobile payments, a feature that Even some $ 400 phones like the Moto G 5G are missing.

Aside from the lower refresh rate of the display and the CPU, there are a few other areas where OnePlus has shrunk compared to its flagship devices. The phone has an IP52 rating so it should withstand dust and raindrops, but don’t take it to the pool or shower. Wireless charging is also lacking, which is a common omission with most phones under $ 300.

OnePlus says it will get one major Android software update (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 updates, and Samsung promises up to two to three years of software updates with four-year security updates on their cheaper Galaxy A phones. Seeing OnePlus only bills for one major update here, it’s a bit of a disappointment – especially when the phone is still running Android 11.

I also wish the vibration motor was a bit stronger on this 173g phone as the tactile feedback when texting was inconsistent and the buzzing of notifications like calls and texts was weak.

The three rear cameras have macro aspirations, marginal results

OnePlus N20 5G front camera.

16-megapixel front camera on the N20 5G.

Eli Blumenthal / topwatchbest

The cameras in the N20 are: a 64-megapixel main shooter along with 2-megapixel macro lenses and 2-megapixel monochrome lenses. The main shooter does a good job in environments with high lighting. The daylight photos in the Mets game or the bar looked good with lots of detail and color.

Daylight shot of bottles in a bar from OnePlus N20 5G.

Daylight photos are bearable for sharing with friends on social media.

Eli Blumenthal / topwatchbest

As you’d expect from an affordable phone, night photography isn’t the selling point of the N20. It has a “night mode” but these photos still looked quite dark. In this example, the New York Mets apple appears to melt into the darkness of the sky.

Night photo of the Mets apple with OnePlus N20 5G.

Night shots are not impressive.

Eli Blumenthal / topwatchbest

Meanwhile, a macro lens is useful for meeting the “three rear camera” specifications, but not great for many others. The macro camera was inconsistent with focusing and the result lacked sharpness and detail. I would like more companies to stop turning on these cameras and use the money to modernize more valuable features such as the display, processor and speakers.

There’s also a monochrome lens, but there’s no dedicated setting to shoot with it, and instead it appears to be designed to aid the main shooter like on other OnePlus phones.

Flower macro photo taken on the OnePlus Nord N20 5G

The macro photography of the OnePlus N20 lacks detail and clarity.

Eli Blumenthal / topwatchbest

In the top left corner is a 16-megapixel camera. As with the main rear shooter, selfies look good when they’re lit enough.

The included gallery app is frustrating even when using basic features like pinch zoom. I noticed that when I gestured to zoom out, the N20 was lagging behind. However, magnifying often worked well.

Long battery life with fast charger included

OnePlus stands out a bit by attaching a 33W fast charger to the phone, which is notable as manufacturers still leave it out of the box.

After 15 minutes of charging, the 4,500mAh N20 5G battery dropped from 0% to 22%. About 30 minutes of charging it took the battery to 49%, and it took about an hour and 20 minutes to fully charge.

While I haven’t run any rigorous testing, I haven’t had any problems with battery life in my mixed use of the phone.

Stabilization

OnePlus N20 5G side.

Eli Blumenthal / topwatchbest

With the OnePlus Nord N20 5G, it’s easy to see where the company skimps on features to keep costs down. It still handles a lot of basics well, which may be enough for those using T-Mobile or Mint Mobile looking for a solid yet affordable option with their carrier.

OnePlus recently expanded the N20 5G to be now also available in an unlocked version, although its 5G support is only limited to providers using T-Mobile’s 5G network (such as Mint, Google Fi, and T-Mobile’s Metro).

It’s a shame OnePlus has moved so far from what brought it its original success as the US market badly needs stronger, cheaper alternatives to Samsung and Apple. The N20 is close, but too many compromises make it never great.

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