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OnePlus Nord N10 5G review: Unsettled

(Pocket-lint) – Partway through 2020, OnePlus said it would start to offer more affordable products. Soon after it launched its first Nord-branded phone. It was probably the most hyped mid-range phone in, well, forever. But it did deliver on that promise of OnePlus smoothness and speed, in a phone that didn’t cost as much. In so many ways, it punched far above its price tag. 

Just a few months on and more phones have launched under the Nord family name. One of which is the US-bound Nord N10. In markets where the Nord already exists, it doesn’t seem to make much sense launching an only-slightly-cheaper Nord that’s poorer across the board than its sibling – but in the USA it offers some well-matched competition to the affordable Google Pixel 4a lineup. 

With the company’s mantra of ‘Never Settle’, OnePlus has long promised that it would offer phones that are powerful, speedy, without compromising on design. But can that really hold true on a plastic phone with a dated design running on a Snapdragon 690 processor? Indeed, the N10 feels more like an ‘Unsettled’ proposition.

Blending into the crowd

  • Dimensions: 163 x 74.7 x 9mm / Weight: 190 grams
  • Plastic back, glass front
  • Finish: ‘Midnight Ice’
  • 3.5mm headphone
  • Fingerprint sensor

Having a OnePlus phone used to mean standing out from the crowd. Increasingly over 2020 it’s meant blending in; that’s never been more true than with the OnePlus Nord N10. 

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From the front, the N10 looks like pretty much every other mid-range Android phone from the past 12 months. It has a flat display that pushes close to the edges on the sides and at the top, while the bottom bezel is noticeably thicker, creating that subtle ‘chin’ effect. 

Turn it over, and the ‘Midnight Ice’ finish – which we’d just call black – looks fairly standard too. It’s made from plastic, so doesn’t have that solid, sturdy feel of the original Nord. The design is somewhat reminiscent of other popular, affordable smartphones. In fact, we wouldn’t bat an eyelid if it had Motorola’s iconic ‘M’ logo on the fingerprint sensor. Objectively, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s fine. It’s just not what we’ve come to expect from OnePlus. 

There are benefits to the design though. Plastic, by its very nature, won’t crack or smash to pieces easily. So if you drop it, it’s less likely to ruin your phone than if it was glass on both sides. A physical fingerprint sensor – at least in our testing – has been more reliable and quicker than having an in-display optical sensor. 

However, at 9mm thick, the N10 isn’t the thinnest phone around – and it does feel like quite a large phone in the hand when holding it one-handed. Stretching a thumb to other sides or to the top of the screen can be a bit uncomfortable, but could be alleviated by a software update if and when Oxygen OS 11 makes its way to the phone (as it stands, the N10 launches running the Android 10-based version, Oxygen OS 10.5). 

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Buttons and ports are all pretty much standard, but it’s worth noting the Nord N10 does come with one thing that most recent OnePlus phones don’t: a 3.5mm headphone port. So you can plug in a pair of wired headphones, if Bluetooth isn’t your thing.

There’s also a microSD card slot, so you can expand the on-board storage. That’s not been available in a OnePlus phone for a good number of years. 

Display

  • 6.49-inch LCD, 1080 x 2400 resolution
  • Hole-punch cutout selfie camera
  • 90Hz refresh rate

As well as in the build department, one other area that’s seen some cost-saving is the screen. The fingerprint sensor on the back gives you the first clue: optical in-display readers don’t work with LCD displays. So that’s what you’ll find on the Nord N10. No OLED here.

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It’s a Full HD resolution IPS panel that measures 6.49-inches diagonally and boasts a pixel density of 406 pixels-per-inch. That means it’s plenty sharp enough for pretty much any content you could want to watch on it. Being LCD does mean you don’t get that vivid look of the AMOLED you’ll find on the OnePlus Nord or 8T. But it’s not a bad display at all. 

Put the N10 next to the OnePlus Nord and you’ll notice the difference quite easily, even down to how quickly the touch response seems to register as an animation on screen. The so-called “jelly scrolling” effect is more noticeable on the N10. Still, once you’re in a game or watching shows on Netflix, you won’t really care all that much.

Colours aren’t oversaturated, it’s nice and bright with crisp whites and a natural-looking overall tone. It’s softer, less harsh and less prone to looking overly contrasty. There’s no fancy HDR10 support for high dynamic range, but at this price point that’s not really a feature you expect to find – and it’s not one that’s especially necessary either. 

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The long and short of it is that if you’re a casual gamer or video watcher, the Nord N10 is as good a platform as any to watch it all on. 

Performance and battery

  • Snapdragon 690 processor, 6GB RAM
  • 4300mAh battery, 30W Warp Charge 
  • 128GB storage, microSD expansion
  • 5G connectivity

As far as everyday gaming and phone usage goes, the Nord N10 keeps up with pretty much everything you can throw at it. It’s powered by the Snapdragon 690, which isn’t the most powerful of mobile chipsets, but it does enable 5G at a low price. 

Regardless, when it comes to crushing the competition and flinging red shells in Mario Kart Tour, it’s reliably smooth and quick to load. If all you need it for is the odd casual game session, and mostly use your phone for social media, then the N10 will not give you any trouble at all.

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The only slight issue we really had with performance was in terms of reaction to touchscreen input. It’s not that it’s massively slow or laggy, it just seems a tiny bit less smooth and responsive compared to the standard Nord device. On its own, away from all comparisons, when you’re actually using it in day-to-day life it’s really not something you need to worry about.

At the lower end of the market this is something you do get quite frequently. You don’t get that virtually instant response to gestures that you get on something like the OnePlus 8T. It does, however, feel a little slow compared to the standard Nord, and that’s probably the more striking comparison, considering the similarity in cost. 

As for that software – unlike the OnePlus 8T – the N10 one doesn’t come with Android 11. It sticks with the Android 10-based Oxygen OS 10.5. That means its interface is more like what we consider to be a stock Google Android experience. It’s a lightweight and easy-to-use software that uses Google apps like the Messages, Calendar and Phone apps, along with the Google news feed to the left of the first home screen. 

That lightweight feel is enhanced by the OnePlus customisation options which let you change the appearance of the interface by adjusting accent colours, installing custom app icon packs, and even changing the font and the style of the quick settings toggle buttons. 

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Battery life is similarly hassle-free, with the 4,300mAh battery offering more than enough juice to get you through a full day without a worry. We rarely had to charge it every night with our own moderate usage – that said, the N10 didn’t ever come close to being a two-day phone in our use. You can probably expect to get somewhere to bedtime with something like 30 per cent of the battery left over.

One of the few on-brand OnePlus features to remain is the charging technology. The Nord N10 uses that 30W Warp Charge technology – as used on most OnePlus devices for the past few years. That means you get a “day’s power in half an hour”. Or, in other words, you can get from zero to around 65 per cent in 30 minutes.

Cameras

  • Quad camera rear system:
    • Main: 64-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture
    • Ultrawide: 8MP, f/2.3
    • Macro: 2MP
    • Depth: 2MP
  • Single front camera:
    • 16MP with HDR & portrait mode

In the true spirit of 2020 mid-range phones, the Nord N10 has four cameras on the back. Two of those we can safely ignore for the most part: it has two low-resolution sensors for macro/close-up and depth information. The two you will actually use are the primary and ultra-wide cameras. 

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In good daylight without too much in the way of harsh highlights and deep shadows, the phone will take good pictures with enough life to share on social media.

However, there is – yet again – quite a difference in performance compared to the first Nord phone though. At least when looking at the main camera. Results seem a bit more prone to producing image noise, while the lack of any image stabilisation can make it quite easy to get blurry images if you don’t hold still in lower light. 

Still, the primary camera can take decent enough shots. If you’re not worried about pixel-peeping best-of-best then it’s certainly capable of giving you images with decent colours and nice balance between highlights, shadows and a natural appearance. 

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Switch to the ultrawide camera, however, and things aren’t as rosy. The camera photos are noticeably darker and higher contrast, crushing the colours and making the photos seem unnatural. 

So yet again we’re in a position where we have a mid-range phone that would be just as good if it only had one of those cameras on the back. There’s really no need for the additional, poorer quality lenses that tarnish the experience.

Verdict

The Nord N10 is something of a curveball launch from OnePlus. In the markets where it’s the only Nord-branded phone, it’s a well-priced, affordable Android device with few major negatives. But in those markets where the original Nord launched we don’t see the N10 making any sense.

In pretty much every department the first Nord is better. You get speedier and smoother performance, an AMOLED display, better camera, skinnier bezels and a more premium and more attractive build – all in a device that doesn’t cost that much more. And these products have launched a matter of weeks apart.

That’s not a slight against the N10, it’s just that the first Nord is such a good all-round phone that it’s really, clearly the one to get. So, despite its ‘Never Settle’ mantra for the past few years, it seems the N10 leaves things rather more ‘Unsettled’.

Also consider

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OnePlus Nord

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If you live in a market where both Nord and Nord N10 exist, and you can stretch the little extra, just buy the first Nord. It punches way above its price point.

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Google Pixel 4a

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If you want a great all-rounder with clean software that’s not as big as the Nord N10, the Pixel 4a is a great option. Being in Google’s Pixel line-up means you get a great camera plus software and security updates as soon as they’re available. 

Writing by Cam Bunton. Editing by Mike Lowe.

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