OnePlus Nord 3 makes the right improvements from its predecessors

It’s been a few years since OnePlus added the Nord series to what was the first spark of widening smartphone portfolio. While it started with one phone, it is now a range that spans a rather broad spectrum, in terms of price and therefore the proposition you pay for. In a way, this is helping OnePlus rediscover its roots (along with the true direction perhaps, as Nord signifies) amid the more affordable Android phone pricing bands. For a market like India, that is in particular important.

The OnePlus Nord 3. (Official handout photo.)
The OnePlus Nord 3. (Official handout photo.)

The OnePlus Nord 3, priced between 33,999 and 37,999 depending on the configuration you buy, is for the more discerning buyer, albeit without a flagship-esque budget. Also, as the logical successor to last year’s Nord 2T, which was impressive. The specs testify to an evolution. The MediaTek Dimensity 9000 chip with up to 16GB RAM, a 50-megapixel camera leading the troika, all while retaining the good ergonomics too, including the convenience of the alert slider for quickly changing between normal, vibration and silent mode.

There is a significant change in the design language, with the OnePlus Nord 3 adopting a bar style form factor with flat sides. That, unlike the predecessors, which have mostly had designs that merged into the thinner sides. It’s a nice change to have, particularly if you’re upgrading within the Nord family. From the outside of that trusted circle too, it looks better.

What also has a distinct visual appeal is the display. A significant upgrade over the predecessor, all things considered. Bigger too, at 6.74-inch instead of 6.43-inch. Is it just us, or that ‘punch-hole’ front camera cut-out is smaller than on most phones? Works, freeing up a few more pixels of usable space. Ticks off the 120Hz refresh rate bit, and support for HDR10+ for your binging requirements. What impresses us the most, is the bump in brightness – on paper it is rated at 1450 nits, but numbers aside, this is more than usable under really bright light peppered with reflections.

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The fact that OnePlus walked the complete path with 10-bit colour depth not only makes this a beautiful canvas to look at, but also holds the colour vividness at higher brightness levels.

A theme that’s emerged even with the comparatively more affordable Android phones is, they do match significantly more expensive flagship phones well enough on the performance aspect, for the most part. The Dimensity 9000 chip plays its part (this chip is the world’s first 4-nanometer architecture for mobiles), but the reason it’s able to hold performance for longer, are the improvements in software.

There’s an artificially intelligent solution called RAM-Vita, which works in the background, using machine learning to quicken app switching and faster data transfer between the RAM and processor to execute – speeding up the pipeline improves longevity, with the benefit apparent now is the swiftness with which the phone responds.

OnePlus also has the specific optimisations for gaming, including keeping frame rates stable. We did not notice any drop in frames or general slowdowns even after an hour of racing on F1 Mobile Racing, and that’s just one example. An observation – there is perceptible heating on the middle of the back panel, at this point.

Improvements to OxygenOS, now in generation 13.1, seem to be a nice course correction with subtle tweaks to make things work better. For one, it felt more stable. Secondly, there haven’t been any further changes in attempts to bring parity with the software that dots Oppo’s phones, which could potentially (further) alienate long-time OnePlus users. Aminations seem smoother, and there are refinements to how notifications arrive on the phone.

The OnePlus Nord 3 will have no troubles getting you through a day of fairly heavy usage, with ease. It’s a 5,000mAh battery and OnePlus has bestowed proper fast charging too, up to 80-watts. Theoretically, this means almost drained to 60 percent battery in about 15 minutes, fully charged in 32 minutes and the potential for a reassuring splash and dash before actually dashing out for a meeting.

That said, only time will testify to whether the battery health engine that the company is taking about, helps retain cell quality, charge cycles and usability.

It continues to perplex how smartphone makers headline the camera combination with a 50-megapixel camera (in this case, specifically) but pair that with a middling 8-megapixel ultrawide and a certainly avoidable 2-megapixel macro. Our recommendation would be, stick to the main sensor and zoom or crop as required. Easier said than done for ultrawide shots, but that’s a trade-off you must make.

Once you’ve wrapped your head around this unnecessary complexity, it is typical OnePlus smartphone consistency with photos (we reassert, the primary camera) that retain the sort of dynamic range that help with realism (and some room for creative edits), fair amount of detailing even when you zoom in and vibrant colours that don’t compromise between different shades (all green on trees won’t look the same).

Significant step forward from the Nord 2T in many respects. The OnePlus Nord 3 had the mandate of time to keep up, while also stepping forward. That means it is much faster, bigger too and overall has a level of performance which allows it to be prominent in a cluttered price band for Android phones.

There is definite room for improvement, as it always is the case with software, which if done right can refine usability and even give performance a bit of a further boost. The hardware limitations, particularly the secondary sensors and the lack of image stabilisation when recording videos in 4K, as well as heating that’s apparent after a session of gaming, are defining the compromises – flagship-esque experience, but not at flagship phone prices.


    Vishal Mathur is Technology Editor for Hindustan Times. When not making sense of technology, he often searches for an elusive analog space in a digital world.

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