Design, Size and Display
If it wasn’t for the camera redesign (which looks great on the newer phone), it’s hard to know which one is the Nord 2 and which one is the original. They are identical in size with a 6.4″ screen, roughly the same dimensions, same styling with a glass back and a plastic mid-frame, even the same slight curve on the back for a more ergonomic grip. We think this is as close to a universal size as it gets: this 6.4″ form factor is just the perfect middle ground, not too gigantic, nor too small either. And just in case you were wondering: the weight of the phone has also remained almost exactly the same, despite a 10% increase in battery capacity. Nice!
Both have the signature 3-way slider to quickly switch between mute, vibrate and ring modes, which is super convenient. Both lack a headphone jack and any special IP water protection rating.
As for the screens, you get the following: 6.4 inches, OLED, 1080p resolution, so mostly the same. The screen color calibration is tweaked just a little bit, so colors have a bit more pop on the newer phone, but the difference is really very subtle.
The big gamble OnePlus took with the Nord 2 is that it switched the processor and uses for the first time the MediaTek 1200 instead of the typical Qualcomm Snapdragon used across most phones.
The company says that this chip delivers big improvements over the original Nord. The Nord 2 running the MediaTek 1200 is said to have up to 65% faster CPU and 125% faster GPU perforance over the Snadragon 765G-powered Nord 1.
In the popular GeekBench, we indeed saw the second-gen device score higher marks:
The MediaTek chip also had superior graphics performance. We ran the 3D Mark Wildlife test and it ran at just around 3fps on the original Nord, while the Nord 2 was maintaining around 8fps for the first 10 minutes, more than twice bettter.
This particular benchmark is great because it runs for 20 minutes and shows when and whether your chip will throttle, and we indeed saw the Nord 2 throttle after about 10 minutes of playtime, while the Snapdragon maintained its performance.
Still, even after thermal throttling, which the MediaTek chip was susceptible to, the benchmark ran at higher frame-rates on the Nord 2, so it’s definitely a welcome improvement over the original.
All of this, however, comes at the price of the newer phone heating up quite a bit more under heavier loads, something that wasn’t an issue on the original, so keep that in mind.
The original Nord came with a decent camera that got the job done, but it certainly wasn’t among the very best mid-range camera systems out there.
The Nord 2 changes quite a bit on the camera front: instead of four cameras, you get a triple camera setup, which borrows the camera island style from more expensive OnePlus phones and looks very stylish. The macro and depth cameras from the original Nord, widely seen as gimmicky, are nixed in favor of… a similarly gimmicky monochrome lens.
In reality, there are two cameras that you will use most of the time: the main and the ultra-wide, and here are the differences in the camera specs:
- wide (main) camera is a 50MP one on Nord 2, 48MP one on Nord 1; both have OIS
- ultra-wide is 0.6X 8MP on the Nord 2, 0.6X 8MP one on Nord 1, but with different software
- third lens is monochrome on Nord 2, you have a 2MP macro camera and 5MP depth camera on Nord 1
- single front camera on Nord 2, dual (ultra-wide and wide) cameras on Nord 1
Right from the first picture, you will notice some dramatic improvements: you get a slightly wider photo that no longer has the crazy boost in contrast that we had on the original. Colors look way nicer: you can actually see the green color of the grass in the bottom left, shadows while still a bit crushed are way better than before too.
The above photo at sunset is just incredible on the Nord 2: the sunset gradient in the sky looks beautiful, colors are slightly warmer and more pleasing, it’s just an overall far better picture.
One more shot to illustrate the more capable camera on the Nord 2 which brings out a lot more color and pop.
Main camera in low-light
We see big improvements in low light conditions: the Nord 2 captures a lot more light, the photo looks more dynamic, and there is less noise.
We did notice that while it is overall the far superior camera, the Nord 2 does have some issues like the orange cast in the above photo.
The photo above once again illustrate that when you have incandescent lights, the white balance on the Nord 2 can get thrown off and produce an orange tint.
Overall, though, images from the Nord 2 in low light bring out more of the darker parts of a photo and make for a more dynamic and engaging picture.
What a difference in detail! The original Nord has smudgy detail and you can barely tell there is actually a sign on the stone monument, while you can clearly see that on the newer Nord 2, which captures the sharper photo.
Both of the above photos show that these phones are not perfect, the overly contrast look on the original is not great, but the Nord 2 also can often capture photos with bleak, uninspiring colors.
Ultra-wide camera in low light
And while the ultra-wide camera was pretty much useless on the original in low light conditions, the Nord 2 makes great improvements to photo quality in such conditions, even when just using the ultra-wide camera. Big difference!
One of the cooler features of the original Nord was a dual front camera with a wide and an ultra-wide lens for group selfies. The Nord 2 loses the ultra-wide camera, so you’re left with only one front-facing camera. We’re not sure if that’s a feature that will be sorely missed, but it was definitely nice being able to capture group selfies with the original.
In terms of just camera processing, you get the same trends as with the other cameras: shadows are lifted up and not as deep as on the original, and colors are a bit warmer.
We cannot say that this is a big improvement in daylight, but if you try and take a selfie in low light, the processing is so much better on the Nord 2 as you get a sharp photo with cleaner detail and a lot more light gets through.
Still, there is a big improvement in video quality in both daylight and low light. Colors appear more vibrant and more saturated on the Nord 2 compared to the bleaker, less lively colors on the original. The newer phone also has crisper detail and higher dynamic range (the shadows are crushed on the older phone). When it comes to video stabilization, both do a similar job, which is okay, but not quite great. Videos do look stable when you hand-hold the phone, but you can see a bit of microjitter in those moments when the stabilization kicks in.
Having a bigger battery size might be one of the best upgrades that the Nord 2 brings. You get a 4,500mAh battery cell on the newer phone versus a 4,115mAh battery on the original, an increase of nearly 10%.
And that translates pretty directly into improved battery life, interestingly without affecting the weight of the phone which has remained roughly the same.
In our battery tests, we got the following scores:
- 13:13 minutes at 90Hz browsing vs 11:10 on Nord 1
- 9:25 minutes YouTube Nord 2 vs 8:50 on Nord 1
This gives a slight, but noticeable advantage to the Nord 2, which might just be the difference between making it through a heavy-use day or not.
Another welcome improvement with the Nord 2 is a faster charger in the box: you a get a 65W charger on the newer phone compared to a 30W charger on the original, and that is a big difference. OnePlus claims that you can fully top up the Nord 2 from 0 to 100% in 30 minutes, and while we couldn’t quite get that number (it took us about 40 minutes for a full charge), that was still an impressive achievement that even most flagships these days cannot brag about.