OnePlus Nord N10 5G back handheld perspective


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The OnePlus Nord – the company’s return to the mid-range market since its first outing back in 2015 – benefited from just as much (if not more) hype than the company has placed on some of its recent flagship launches.

It was preceded by a four-part documentary (which has since reached Amazon Prime Video), covering its development in the face of COVID, it spurred a dedicated Instagram account which still serves up related posts multiple times a day and the phone’s gone on to become one of the most well-received mid-range handsets of 2020.

With all this in mind, when rumblings that the company would be expanding the Nord line to include more affordable devices, we were excited and intrigued to see how OnePlus would drum up interest around these new handsets before their big reveal. The problem is, for the most part, they didn’t.

Of the 25 official Instagram posts made since the Nord N10 5G’s announcement, only five make any reference to the N10, there’s talk of OnePlus having just pulled the design and hardware from affiliated phone makers like Oppo and most recently, we learnt that it (and the N100) will only receive one software update and two years of security updates in their lifetime (compared to an additional year in both instances for the standard Nord and the company’s flagships phones).

On the surface, it appears that OnePlus doesn’t care anywhere near as much about the N10 5G as it does about the original Nord, instead hoping that the Nord name and the success of its namesake are enough to have fans of the brand part with their money – especially in the US, where the original Nord never launched.

So is this just an uninteresting smartphone sold on the reputation of the OnePlus brand more so than the actual hardware at play, or does the Nord N10 5G actually have enough character and ability to be a worthwhile purchase?

Design and build

Giving OnePlus the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the N10 5G isn’t based on one of BBK’s other companies’ devices (such as Oppo’s, Realme’s or Vivo’s phones), this handset is a strange mix of design elements – both old and new – from the company’s other mobiles.

The most obvious difference to recent OnePlus handsets is the return of a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor – a trait we haven’t seen since early 2018’s OnePlus 6. Its inclusion comes directly as a result of the phone’s LCD-based display tech, which can’t accommodate an optical in-display fingerprint sensor the way the original Nord or OnePlus 8 and 8T offer.

Meanwhile, a domino-style rectangular camera setup – as popularised by Samsung’s Galaxy S20 line – makes the N10 the second OnePlus phone after the 8T to sport such an arrangement; a trait we assume we’ll see more of on future OnePlus devices, going by its inclusion here.

Moving to a lower price point compared to the original Nord means you sacrifice a few key qualities; namely a glass back (here it’s plastic), the company’s signature alert slider and weaker water and dust protection (as denoted by the absence of a gasket around the phone’s SIM tray). All that said, you will find a microSD expandability, although, in a strange way, this welcome addition is decidedly uncharacteristic for OnePlus.

OnePlus Nord N10 5G side

The N10 boasts a bigger battery than the original Nord but also comes with extra bulk to match. The bezel around the display is thick, especially when it comes to the ‘chin’ running along the bottom edge, while the 9mm-thick profile and nearly 200-gram weight (190 grams), render the N10 5G bigger and bulkier than expected.

That plastic back is curved to fit the hand nicely but with no case in-box, the eye-catching Midnight Ice finish is quickly covered by fingerprints and doesn’t offer much in the way of grip in day-to-day use.

Display and audio

OnePlus doesn’t do small-screened phones and the N10 5G is, in fact, a touch larger than the standard Nord (even before you take into account those bezels).

Its 6.49in panel uses LCD technology in place of OLED (as found on the original Nord) and you can tell, based on the drop in contrast and weaker colour reproduction. However, it still benefits from a high 90Hz refresh rate for smooth scrolling and motion, along with a perfectly sharp Full HD+ resolution set into a tall 20:9 aspect ratio.

OnePlus Nord N10 5G straight handheld

It’s worth noting that the display’s refresh rate isn’t adaptive, so it comes set to 90Hz out the box and is locked there unless you manually switch it down to 60Hz, which creates a more conventional viewing experience in an effort to prolong battery life.

OnePlus gives you a decent amount of control over the viewing experience, with colour temperature sliders for both general and Night Mode, a monochromatic Reading Mode and an Ambient Display option, despite no always-on setting (another limitation of LCD over OLED).

The one thing the screen setup lacks is a one-handed mode – a long-standing omission on OnePlus phones that doesn’t make sense considering their typically larger footprint. Its absence on the N10 5G is just as frustrating, with only larger-handed folk comfortably pulling down the notifications shade with a single mitt, without fear of an already-slick phone slipping from their grasp in the process.

OnePlus Nord N10 5G headphone jack

For everything the N10 5G’s design omits compared to the original Nord, it benefits from a couple of additions too, namely a headphone jack and stereo loudspeakers.

Audio quality across both is capable, with the stereo speakers being a particular highlight at this price point; offering fairly balanced, clear sound compared to some other stereo-capable phone loudspeakers.

Software and features

While OnePlus is known for creating phones that deliver on performance, the company’s skinned take on Android – Oxygen OS – is one of its greatest assets. Customised beyond stock to the point that it adds value, without feeling overwhelming, Oxygen OS is a rich user experience that’s just as approachable to newcomers as it is long-time Android users.

OnePlus Nord N10 5G Oxygen OS

Despite arriving after the OnePlus 8T, which boasts the latest and greatest Oxygen OS 11 (atop Android 11), the N10 5G sports version 10.5 atop Android 10. This might not seem significant, but considering the jump from Oxygen OS 10 to 11 places a focus on better optimising for one-handed usage, it’s a shame that the company didn’t work to make sure its latest user experience was available on its latest device.

Be that as it may, the N10 5G’s software is still a pleasure to use and features useful augmentations over stock Android – like greater inbuilt customisation, considered first-party apps that bring added value and a rich feature set – with entries like App Locker and Hidden Space for greater control over content and apps on your device.

Game Space and the included Fnatic mode are also on-hand to help avid mobile gamers, with resource optimisation and notification suppression at the ready.

OnePlus Nord N10 5G Game Space

It’s worth reminding that despite the promise of an upgrade to Oxygen OS 11 (and Android 11) in the near future, unlike the rest of the current OnePlus lineup, both the N10 5G and the Nord N100 will only see a single major software upgrade in their lifetimes (while other OnePlus phones will receive at least two).

Longer-term software support has often served as another great reason to choose a OnePlus device over certain Android competitors, so the absence of that benefit undermines the N10 5G in this regard.

Performance

While the Nord N100 drops the performance ceiling even further, the N10 5G still serves as one of the company’s most modestly-specced devices to date and one of the first phones out there to sport Qualcomm’s conservative 5G-capable SoC – the Snapdragon 690, all backed by 6GB RAM and a fairly generous 128GB of internal storage.

In artificial testing the Snapdragon 690 offers plenty of compute power for everyday use but shows its weakness when it comes to graphical performance, falling behind devices like the more affordable Poco X3.

In real-world use, our main concern was that the lower-end internals would show up the Oxygen OS user experience. Luckily, in this regard – especially with the addition of 90Hz smooth motion – the N10 5G offers a pleasingly responsive user experience, however, it’s imperfect – at least for the time being.

Likely a result of early firmware instability, our N10 5G would sometimes lock up for a few seconds after waking the screen, rendering the last app opened useless for a few moments, while other features, like volume control and the Google Assistant, continued to function.

OnePlus Nord N10 5G fingerprint sensor

That rear-mounted fingerprint sensor also undermines an otherwise responsive user experience, taking as long as some in-display alternatives to get a read and sometimes refusing to work outright until the phone has been woken up with the tap of the power key.

These are strange quirks that detract from an otherwise smooth, responsive user experience but they’re pervasive enough to sully the enjoyment of zipping around Oxygen OS on the N10.

Battery and charging

The N10 5G’s sizeable frame conceals a fairly sizeable 4300mAh battery to match, which thankfully delivers on battery longevity.

While it only matched (and didn’t exceed) the battery benchmark score achieved by the original Nord’s smaller cell (both listed above), in real-world use it consistently doled out just over six hours of screen-on time (tested with a 5G SIM), which for most users should result in about a day and a half of general use without issue.

OnePlus Nord N10 5G reflection

It’s worth noting that dropping the phone’s display down to 60Hz should result in even greater longevity, however, in day-to-day use, the N10 5G’s current battery endurance with 90Hz enabled should prove ample for most users. 

The N10 also happens to be the most affordable OnePlus phone that’s still able to offer the brand’s signature Warp Charge fast charging (with the Nord N100 dropping down to standard 18W speeds).

The updated Warp Charge 30T standard that OnePlus introduced on the OnePlus 7T series grants an initial rapid recharge and in testing brought the N10 5G’s battery up to 64% in just 30 minutes, with a full 100% charge in an hour.

While OnePlus has introduced an even-faster 65W Warp Charge standard as part of the OnePlus 8T’s makeup, we wouldn’t expect such a premium feature to arrive on a phone as affordable as the N10. Next year’s rumoured OnePlus Nord SE is, however, rumoured to tote this faster charging.

Camera

One interesting element first found on the Nord N10 5G is its primary 64Mp main camera (until now OnePlus cameras have topped out at 48Mp) – the Omnivision sensor is something of an unknown quantity in the smartphone space, so we were intrigued to see how it handled.

Shots are binned (combining four pixels’ worth of data into one to iron out noise, shake etc.) into 16Mp stills by default but you have the ability to capture at full resolution if desired.

OnePlus Nord N10 5G camera

As for the quality of stills the N10 5G produces, it’s a real mixed bag. OnePlus’ image processing has come on leaps and bounds in recent generations and you can see that hard work paying off when shooting via the main sensor.

Colours appear natural and dynamic range isn’t as narrow as you might assume; retaining more data in both the darkest and brightest areas of scenes. Fine details and bokeh appear a little muddy when pushing in but for sharing on social media most shots should do the trick.

Consistency with the colour science when moving between the main 64Mp sensor and the phone’s 8Mp ultrawide snapper could be better, with the latter moving towards magenta with regards to white balance bias, while zooming is all-digital but thanks to the high-resolution sensor, still looks pleasingly sharp at the default 2x crop value built into the native camera app.

OnePlus Nord N10 5G camera test

Speaking of, OnePlus’ camera interface is pleasingly easy to navigate around and use, with minimal clutter within the viewfinder when shooting. Just remember to dive into its inbuilt settings menu if there’s a control you can’t find, as that where it’ll probably live.

Much like the OnePlus 8T, the addition of standalone depth and macro sensors (2Mp a piece) seems pretty pointless. In the case of the depth sensor, shooting in portrait mode through the main module is hit-and-miss, with the phone often struggling to discern the foreground subject from the background and thus being unable to apply additional bokeh beyond the main sensor’s natural depth.

As for the macro snapper, as suspected, the low resolution means shots are barely usable from a quality standpoint but add in some awful dynamic range and saturation management (see the flower surrounded by green leaves in the gallery above for context) and you’re better off taking macro shots via the main camera and cropping in as needed.

OnePlus Nord N10 5G front camera

So long as there’s some degree of ambient light, the phone’s dedicated night mode makes low light shooting possible across both the main and ultrawide sensors, while portrait mode when snapping selfies is best left alone, as edge detection from the phone’s single 16Mp snapper frequently trips up. If desired, the easy-to-use tiered beauty settings are simple and effective, though.

Lastly, video capture grants up to 4K shooting, with both 16:9 and a 21:9 ‘Cine’ profile to choose between. Footage is electronically stabilised well enough, however, colour saturation is lacklustre, with footage appearing a little washed out.

Price and availability

While the Nord N10 5G is promised to be coming to the US market in the near future, OnePlus still hasn’t set a date for its regional launch, however, the phone is now available to buy across various European markets and in the UK.

In the UK and Europe you can pick it up directly from OnePlus’ own website for immediate shipping as of 20 November, while wider availability from established retailers like Amazon kicks off from 27 November.

With only one SKU of N10 to choose from (6GB RAM, 128GB storage, 5G, Midnight Ice) there’s only one price to worry about too – £329 in the UK or €349.

Verdict

The Nord N10 5G is perhaps one of the most out-of-place members of OnePlus’ current lineup; not because there’s no place for an ‘affordable OnePlus’ but because it’s comprised of a number of decisions and traits that seem uncharacteristic for the brand.

Its design and hardware are decidedly more generic compared to the company’s other current phones, and while not all of the differences between this and the original Nord are bad (e.g. a headphone jack, expandable storage), they don’t echo what the OnePlus promise.

Thankfully, the company’s signature snappy and clean user experience remains intact and is arguably the best thing about the N10, however, it’s undermined by bugs at this early point in its life that need to be ironed out for it to be a considered recommendation.

There’s also the fact that the mid-range space in 2020 has been fiercely competitive and while the original OnePlus Nord brings a compelling value-for-money proposition to the table, the N10 5G sacrifices too much and shaves too little off the price to offer similar appeal.

One notable alternative is the Realme X50 5G, which borrows from both the Nord and N10 5G but costs less than both, while those in the US, who don’t have such options available to them, might be better off saving up for a device like the $499 Google Pixel 4a 5G (based on the estimated $430 US price tag of the N10 5G).

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Specs

OnePlus Nord N10 5G: Specs

  • 6.49in 20:9 Full HD+ 90Hz IPS LCD
  • Gorilla Glass 3
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 690 processor
  • 6GB RAM
  • 128GB storage
  • microSD expandability up to 512GB
  • 64Mp main sensor
  • 8Mp ultrawide w/ 119° FoV
  • 2Mp macro sensor
  • 2Mp monochrome sensor
  • 16Mp front-facing hole-punch camera
  • Android 10 w/ OxygenOS 10.5
  • Rear fingerprint sensor
  • Dual stereo speakers
  • 4300mAh battery
  • Warp Charge 30T (30W fast charging)
  • 5G
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • NFC
  • USB-C
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • 163 x 74.7 x 8.95mm
  • 190 grams
  • Colours: Midnight Ice





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