OnePlus Nord N30 5G Review: Bottoms up

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This phone costs $379 — leave your flagship killer expectations at the door.

This is the new OnePlus, the company looking for tangible market share, not just headlines. That’s not to say it doesn’t make good phones. It’s traded that brash upstart attitude for experience, which leads us to the OnePlus N30, for better or worse.

This is the first low-cost OnePlus I’ve played with since the N200 in 2021, and it has a surprisingly rigid chassis, loud speakers and strong battery life. The company has come a long way from the second generation of Nord phones, but there are still a few annoying quirks the company needs to work out to offer the best value device on the market, including the fact that it doesn’t seem to support 5G on Rogers in Canada.

Low-cost phones always tell a story of compromise, and the Nord N30 5G isn’t any different. It’s the western release of the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite from earlier this spring. While it has excellent features like a MicroSD card slot, headphone jack and signature OnePlus fast charging, the camera is little more than a meaningless spec bump over last year’s well-regarded Nord N20 5G.

All of that said, for a lot of people, the modern chipset/components combined with the affordable price tag make it the right choice if you’re looking for something to last a few years.

Making the best of a budget

As someone who bounces between flagships, I’m fond of the subtleties that set phones apart. Still, every time I start to use a phone with a sub $500 price, I start to notice these less and simply use the phone.

It’s 2023, and most chips are more than capable of pushing a phone OS around. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 695 inside the OnePlus N30 can even do 120Hz. This helps the device feel smooth and fluid as you navigate. It also offsets the lack of an OLED display. The LCD in this Nord is pretty average, and I adjusted the colour temperature a lot before I found a middle ground that felt natural to me. I’ll also note that OnePlus installed this display panel in a way that makes it impossible to see with polarized sunglasses on.

With its squared-off edges, the phone feels rigid with very little flex, helping the Nord N30 feel reliable but not quite premium. I think this would have felt better to touch if it retained the matte back from the OnePlus Nord N20. The glossy back is a dust and fingerprint magnet. It also looks cheap next to the matte rails that give the phone so much strength.

That said, it features clicky buttons and a fast side-mounted fingerprint scanner that works well. It almost makes up for the absence of the signature OnePlus alert slider. But, as I’ve mentioned before, OnePlus hasn’t added a simple way to silence their phones via software. Last time I gave the company the benefit of the doubt, but it’s been over a year since then, and it still takes four interactions to mute the handset.

Yeah the volume goes up to a gimmicky 200 percent, but it sounds fine.

For a company that years ago determined silencing a phone so important it built a hardware switch, this paints a disorganized picture regarding its vision for the Nord N30. I don’t mind that the OnePlus decided the slider was too expensive for a phone at this price range, but with no software to pick up the slack, the minor missing feature becomes a major annoyance.

The good and the bad

When it came down to it, the other issue I experienced with the OnePlus Nord N30 is the vibration motor. It’s old school and barely resembles haptic feedback. I quickly turned it off for every interaction beyond notifications. As Android becomes more visceral with small vibrations for the back gesture and typing, the vibrations help sell the interactions with a phone. With bad haptics, something that’s pleasantly unnoticeable on a high-end phone, can become a barrage of loud and blunt vibrations that make the phone feel older than it is.

To counteract that, the battery life I’ve gotten out of the OnePlus Nord N30 has been phenomenal. Backed by the fact that there’s a 50-watt USB-C fast charger in the box, charging and using the N30 has never felt like a hassle. I just use the phone for a day or maybe even a day and a half, and then when the battery gets low, I stick it on the charger for 40 minutes, and boom, I’m good to go for another 15 hours or more. OnePlus has always been known for incredibly great charging; that experience is the same here.

The camera, unfortunately, falls somewhere between these two other features in terms of quality. It’s fine, and I’ve gotten a few fun snaps with it, but it’s not very fast, and the colours are often inconsistent.

The 108-megapixel sensor can gather a lot of detail, but the camera software feels a few steps behind a flagship, so I’ve been relying on the ‘Ai Scene enhancement feature,’ which helps. There’s also a fun 3x camera that’s not as sharp as the primary lens, but I appreciate that this phone has a wide and telephoto lens combo instead of the wide and ultrawide combo featured on most lower-cost phones.

Overall, I’d suggest doing a single camera lens on a phone in this price range. With a lower-power chipset like this, I’m sure 64-megapixel images would have been more than enough and maybe even resulted in the phone snapping pictures slightly faster. OnePlus has come a long way with cameras on its higher-tier phones, but that software still doesn’t feel like it’s been well implemented on the cheaper handsets.

This phone would be stellar if the Shenzen-based company could dial in a super camera system and refine the haptics. It’s fine as is, but that would take it to the next level.

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