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

The OnePlus Nord N20 5G’s $300 price tag matches the original OnePlus One from 2014, but beyond that a lot has changed from what OnePlus now offers at that lower price. 2014’s $299 “flagship killer” phone was designed to rival the best devices from Samsung, Apple and HTC, with a “Never Settle” mantra.

The N20 5G brings some nice high-end conveniences instead – like an in-display fingerprint sensor and faster 33W charging – but mixes them with a less powerful processor and mediocre cameras.

Some of that is to be expected when making a phone for a fraction of the price of high-end $900 or $1,000 devices. And the N20 5G offers surprisingly solid value for money, but don’t expect it to top its price bracket like OnePlus phones of years past.

I’ve been using the phone for the past few weeks and found that while the phone lacked excitement, it could include enough features to run a lot of what you need in the $300 price bracket $.

Read more: Best phones under $500

Decent specs, good performance

The OnePlus N20 can handle games like Call of Duty Mobile just fine, but it struggled with YouTube TV.

Eli Blumenthal/CNET

While the original $300 OnePlus One ran on a then-high-end Qualcomm processor, the N20 5G uses Qualcomm’s cheaper Snapdragon 695 chipset with 6GB of RAM. Although it takes a minute to boot up after turning it on, once it’s charged it seems to be fine, but with occasional hiccups when the battery was below 10%.

Even then, I was able to multitask while 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 that time. Playing games like Call of Duty Mobile also worked well.

The display, a 6.43-inch AMOLED display, also looks good, although AMOLED panels on budget phones aren’t new, as Samsung has had it on some of its affordable Galaxy A series devices.

The N20 5G’s 60Hz refresh rate makes me miss the 90Hz panels that OnePlus has used on most of its phones in recent years, especially when scrolling through text-filled websites or even opening the application bar. Even cheaper phones, like the $200 TCL XE 30 5G, offer 90Hz screens at lower prices. Browsing through TikTok or YouTube, however, was fine on the OnePlus even when browsing with low battery.

Read more: Best phones under $200

Curiously, the phone struggled to play live content from YouTube TV, with constant frame drops and lag that made playing live content nearly impossible. Watching with DirecTV Stream was a bit better, but there were still stutters and frame drops when watching live TV.

The mono speaker isn’t great and lacks fullness, but it can get loud and is fine for listening to music on Spotify or streaming a movie or TV show, especially in a quiet room.

On the plus side, there’s an in-display fingerprint scanner 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 for adding an additional 512GB of storage. You also get NFC for tap-to-pay mobile payments, a feature that even some $400 phones like the Moto G 5G are missing.

Beyond the screen’s lower refresh rate and processor, there are a few other areas where OnePlus has fallen behind its flagship devices. The phone is IP52 rated, so it should survive dust and raindrops, but don’t take it into a pool or the shower. It also lacks wireless charging, which is a common omission for most phones under $300.

OnePlus says it will get a 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 even promises two to three years of software updates with four years of security updates on its cheaper Galaxy A phones. Seeing OnePlus settle on just one major update here is a little disappointing, especially when the phone is still running Android 11.

I also wish the vibration motor was a bit louder in this 173g phone, as the haptic feedback when texting seemed inconsistent and the buzz for notifications like calls and texts was weak.

Three rear cameras have macro aspirations, marginal results

The front camera of the OnePlus N20 5G.

The N20 5G’s 16-megapixel front camera.

Eli Blumenthal/CNET

The N20’s cameras are as follows: a 64-megapixel main shooter with 2-megapixel macro lenses and 2-megapixel monochrome lenses. The main shooter does a respectable job with well-lit environments. Daylight shots of a Mets game or a bar looked good with a good amount of detail and color.

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

Daylight shots can be shared with friends on social media.

Eli Blumenthal/CNET

As you’d expect with a budget phone, night photography isn’t a selling point for the N20. It has a “night mode,” but those photos still looked pretty dark. In this example, the New York Mets apple appears to blend into the darkness of the sky.

Apple Mets night shot of the OnePlus N20 5G.

Night shots are unimpressive.

Eli Blumenthal/CNET

The macro lens, meanwhile, is useful for fulfilling a number of “triple rear camera” specs, but not great for many others. 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 exciting features like screen, processor, or speakers.

There’s also a monochrome lens, but no dedicated setting to shoot with and it seems more designed to aid the primary shooter like on other OnePlus phones.

Macro photo of a flower taken on OnePlus Nord N20 5G

A macro shot of the OnePlus N20 lacks detail and clarity.

Eli Blumenthal/CNET

A 16-megapixel camera rests in the top left corner. Like the main rear shooter, selfies look great when sufficiently lit.

The included gallery app is frustrating even when using basic features like pinch-to-zoom. I found that when I gestured to zoom out, the N20 lagged. Zooming, however, often worked well.

Solid battery life, with an included fast charger

OnePlus stands out a bit by including a 33W fast charger with the phone, which is notable as manufacturers keep leaving it out of the box.

After 15 minutes of charging, the N20 5G’s 4,500mAh battery went from 0% to 22%. Around 30 minutes of charging brought the battery up to 49 per cent, with a full charge taking around an hour and 20 minutes.

Although I didn’t do rigorous testing, I didn’t have any battery life issues in my mixed phone usage.

moving in

The side of the OnePlus N20 5G.

Eli Blumenthal/CNET

With the OnePlus Nord N20 5G, it’s easy to see where the company is skimping on features to cut costs. It still handles most of the basics well, which might be enough for those using T-Mobile or Mint Mobile looking for a solid but affordable carrier option.

OnePlus recently expanded the N20 5G so that it’s now also available unlocked, though its 5G support is limited only to providers that use T-Mobile’s 5G network (such as Mint, Google Fi, and Metro by T- Mobile).

It’s a shame that OnePlus has strayed so far from what brought it all the initial success, because the US market badly needs stronger, cheaper alternatives to Samsung and Apple. The N20 comes close, but too many compromises prevent it from being great.

Leave a Comment