Sarvagnan's Blog

Follow @sarvagnan on

OnePlus Nord: A Three Year Review

I read Nick Heer’s 3 year review of the iPhone 12 Pro and thought I should do a similar piece for my phone. I don’t see any long term reviews for Android phones, which is unfortunate but not surprising.

I have a OnePlus Nord, which I bought in September 2020. It replaced a Mi A1, that lasted almost 3 years as well before I broke the screen (I landed on it after tripping on stairs). The cost to repair the screen at the time was exorbitant (to me) and I ended up buying the Nord to replace it. A few words here on the Mi A1. It was an Android One phone (remember Android One? and it was very good. Stock Android was snappy, the hardware was good, and it actually got timely updates. It was so good in fact that Xiaomi seemed to neuter the successors (this is a theme).

At that time, the Oneplus Nord had been released and had been receiving good reviews (The Verge’s review as one example) and it was reasonably priced so I bought a light blue one. Everything about it was better than the A1 that it replaced. The screen, 90Hz OLED, was much nicer, the cameras were better, and the construction was quite nice. I especially liked the colour (the light blue really pops). Android phones had also started coming with a clear silicone case in the box and a pre-applied screen protector. Considering this was still at the height of the pandemic, I appreciated not having to get these separately (especially as I do not trust myself to apply a screen protector correctly). The charging situation was also much better, and this remains a OnePlus selling point.

There were a few immediate downsides though. The software situation was a step down for me as I was used to stock Android and was not used to OnePlus’ skin. It was minimal but it was still not what I expected. OnePlus had also started the practice (quickly stopped for later phones) of pre-installing FaceBook apps and services on the phone. I removed or disabled everything that I could find at the time. Something I found out about and did this year was enabling dev tools and removing all of the bloat that I could find (I used this guide from XDA developers). This is something I’ve been doing for anyone who asks as well. It’s a big quality of life improvement.

There are no really standout apps that I’d recommend. I’ve been a PocketCasts user for quite a while and it’s a good app. I’ve been using Jabra headphones for a few years now and they’ve worked very well (I started with the 65t, moved to the 75t, and am now using the 5 elite). The EQ on those can be off so I also installed Wavelet (requires ADB) for headphone EQ and it fixes things well. Jabra headphones, for those who haven’t used them, have been a great addition as their feature set and overall usefulness has made the experience much nicer. They’re not as plug and play as AirPods, but they’re pretty darn close.

Over the course of the three years that I’ve had the phone though, it has been remarkably consistent. The only hardware things (I wouldn’t call them issues) that I’ve faced are that the silicone case finally fell apart this year and the included cable fell apart as well. To have these last for almost 3 years too is not something I expected. The phone itself has been chugging along. It’s been in a case for almost the entire time I’ve had it so it is almost pristine as a result. As with the Mi A1, the OnePlus Nord appears to have been better than OnePlus would have liked as the later models have all had various downsides that the original did not have compared to the competition (this also appears to coincide with OnePlus losing it’s way a little and becoming more like it’s sister BBK brands).

The takeaway for me from using the Nord has been that Android, with semi-regular updates, is very good as a daily phone OS with none of the downsides that plagued it earlier. It’s snappy and generally gets out of your way. The apps that you get are more utilitarian than what you’d get on iOS but that is a tradeoff that I’ve been okay with. You can also customise it to suit your preferences. I did not like the OnePlus launcher and tried others, with varying results. When the Niagara launcher popped up though, I immediately switched to it and have not looked back. It’s lightweight and imitates the alphabetical ordering of apps that I loved about Windows Phone. There are advantages to using Android in India as well with Google supporting pretty much everything that you want it to support, the main one being support for card payments in the Play Store.

One aspect I haven’t talked about so far has been cameras. I have found that I treat my phone as a glorified document scanner than a camera of any kind. That and the occasional video call are my main uses, and for those they have been perfectly fine. I have tried developing a photo taking habit but it’s not something that comes to me at all (I bought a DSLR a few years ago but ended up selling it as it just sat on a shelf collecting dust). If you want a document scanner, the Nord is great. For any other uses, I’d recommend asking someone else.

What’s next? I always thought I would get an iPhone whenever I next upgraded, but now I’m not so sure. I use a Mac and an iPad so an iPhone would fit right in (and would have nicer apps that work across platforms). The build is overall nicer, the support story is much better (though not that much better now considering that all the major Android vendors provide good update promises), and I wouldn’t need to jump ecosystems all the time. Google’s web services (messages in particular) do a good job of managing jumping from Android to macOS but it isn’t great. Mimestream on the iPhone all on it’s own would be a pretty good reason to switch (whenever they do release an iOS app).

There are downsides though. The first is price. My Nord cost Rs. 28000 at the time. A brand new iPhone 14 is a little less than 3 times as much. Prices in India for iPhones are inflated, and that is a pretty penny. If I had to get an Android phone that would give me a similar experience to the Nord, I’d have to spend somewhere around Rs. 40k at the moment which is considerably less. A side note here is that the cost of a good Android phone experience has been creeping up. The Mi A1 when I bought it was Rs. 13k. To get a roughly equivalent experience, I had to get the Nord which was a little over double the price, and the price for that experience has continued to creep up. If you’re okay with an ad filled mess, you can get phones for much cheaper, but that isn’t for me. The bigger issue with the iPhone is that the App Store in India does not support card payments. In order to pay for anything, you need to transfer money from your bank account (can be done through UPI) and then use that stored Apple balance. The reason for this is that the Indian payments body changed the rules for cards a while ago, and in response Apple removed support for cards entirely. As someone who uses a card extensively and tries to keep all the payments on the card, this is a major downside for me, especially because in order to keep a subscription in the App Store, you have to keep track of the subscription and your App Store balance. I already deal with this on the Mac and iPad. I do not want to deal with it on my phone.

So what am I going to do next? My current plan is to just continue using the Nord. At the time I bought it, I was not expecting Android to become as good of an OS as it is now. I also was not expecting payments to be the big factor deterring me from changing to iOS. Price, sure, but payments just seems ridiculous. For people who have not used Android regularly, I would definitely recommend trying it out. It may surprise you with how good it is at what it does.