OnePlus’s growing smartphone lineup can get a bit confusing with very little difference between devices. That’s particularly true for its upper-mid-tier segment in India, where it has both the Nord 2 and the 9R on offer. Even though they belong to different families, OnePlus has priced them rather closely. And with the latest Nord getting a major chip upgrade and improvements in other key areas, OnePlus has created a device that eats its own sibling’s lunch.
Clockwise from the bottom: The OnePlus 9 Pro, 9R, and the Nord 2.
Build quality & display
The Nord 2 — not the 9R — actually looks more similar to the 9 Pro with its reshuffled camera arrangement. Other than that, both are almost the same glass sandwiches, except for one thing. The Nord uses a shiny plastic frame instead of aluminum, hence no visible antenna lines. While the build quality doesn’t feel compromised, what I do take issue with is the fit and finish of the Nord. The USB port and the speaker grill cutouts have sharp edges and feel unpolished for a phone that isn’t particularly cheap. However, this issue isn’t critical enough to be a deal-breaker, and you probably won’t ever notice this if you always have a case on.
As for their displays, the 9R tends to be on the warmer side with the default color profile, which looks unnatural to me. In fact, I find that most OnePlus phones have this kind of warm tone, but that has certainly changed with the Nord 2. However, the Nord 2 lacks the advanced color profile picker that OxygenOS has traditionally had, so you’ll have to pick your poison here. For those fussy about how their phone looks from the front, the Nord 2’s slightly thicker chin bezel may irk you a bit.
The fingerprint scanner’s lower position on the Nord 2 might bother some users.
With the 9R, you get a higher refresh rate of 120Hz, which is increasingly becoming standard even on much cheaper phones, while the Nord 2 still sticks with its predecessor’s 90Hz screen. Honestly, that difference wasn’t quite apparent to my eyes, and I’d be perfectly okay with the latter, especially considering the battery advantage. Another area where the 9R scores (marginally) better is peak brightness, though you won’t face any issue with the Nord 2 either, even when using it under the sun.
Performance & battery life
While the previous Nord was decidedly a mid-ranger, the current iteration has taken a big leap in performance, and the call to go with the flagship Dimensity chip certainly works in OnePlus’s favor. Regular performance matches the Snapdragon 870-powered OnePlus 9R with no perceptible difference, and the gaming experience wasn’t too far behind either. Both phones support the same graphics settings on popular titles, though the 9R does a little better with fewer stutters. And if you’re wondering, the Nord 2 got warm only lightly — well within the expected behavior when under stress.
On other metrics, too, the Nord 2 can be pegged on par with the 9R, be it the call quality or the stereo speaker output. As a matter of fact, the Nord supports far more 5G bands than the 9R, which may not have any practical use right now given the state of 5G in India, but it’s still a good thing for future-proofing. It’s actually quite commendable what the Nord 2 is capable of doing versus a much pricier phone.
And it’s the same for the battery department as well. In my experience, the Nord 2 delivered a few minutes longer screen-on time than the 9R, which can largely be attributed to its lower refresh rate. Both get the same 4500mAh capacity, offering close to 6 hours of usage, a decent figure for a modern smartphone. But thanks to the blazing-fast 65W charging, mid-day recharges are never painful, in case you ever need them.
The overhaul of the underlying software codebase has also given the Nord 2 a new camera app that seems borrowed from Realme. The phone shares most of its options and features with the 9R (aside from the infamous beautification mode), but their placement has been switched around a bit. One weird thing about the camera app is that it requires the phone permission even to let you in. We have asked OnePlus the reason for this and will update this section when we hear back.
Left: Phone permission for the camera app, Center: Nord 2’s camera app, Right: 9R‘s camera app.
Looking at the main cameras, the Nord 2 is easily the better one of the two phones, mostly because of the new Sony sensor that also powers the ultra-wide lenses on the more premium OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro. The images taken under broad daylight look similar on a cursory look on both phones, but when zooming in, you’ll notice that the Nord 2 retains more details, while the 9R notoriously smoothens out finer details. That’s particularly evident with flower petals and leaves in one of the included shots. Even though the Nord 2 can oversaturate and over-sharpen images, its color accuracy and dynamic range are noticeably better.
First: OnePlus Nord 2, Second: OnePlus 9R
The 9R takes much brighter shots in low light (both with and without the night mode) but loses many details that the Nord 2 retains. Its focus hunting issue that I pointed out in my review still lives on, while the Nord 2 again does a better job at this, locking the focus in a single go. The only area where the 9R takes the lead is OIS, as it manages to keep things in focus if you tend to quickly move your phone away after taking a shot.
OxygenOS vs Color OxygenOS
The Nord 2 is the first OnePlus phone to get the new OxygenOS-ColorOS hybrid, but you won’t find much difference on the surface. From the setup page to the home screen, everything feels familiar if you’re coming from a OnePlus phone running OxygenOS 11. With the Nord 2, OxygenOS now largely remains as a launcher with many elements coming from Oppo’s software skin. That’s evident in the launcher settings, which are identical to the 9R, but the phone’s Settings app has many of its individual menus unbundled on the Nord 2.
Those who have used OxygenOS for a while will find a lot of changes once they start digging and may even take some time to get used to the new placements. However, that shouldn’t be a big deal for OnePlus newbies. It still feels very much like OxygenOS, though I think the new merged OS could use some more polishing, like with the navigation gesture bar that interferes with the app interface without enough padding. An even pressing issue with the Nord 2 is the new setting for targeted ads from OnePlus. While I have yet to see any ad on any of the preinstalled first-party apps, this cannot be guaranteed for the future.
Left: Privacy section in the 9R, Center, Right: New options on the Nord 2.
One area where the 9R has a clear advantage is software support. As per OnePlus’s revised update schedule, the 9R is supposed to get major Android updates for a year longer, though the actual implementation will only tell how favorable this turns out for end-users.
Left: Search categories on the Nord 2, Right: Navigation gesture bar’s position.
It doesn’t happen very often that a new phone trumps its pricier sibling in a matter of months. Despite a few rough edges, the OnePlus Nord 2 comes out as a real winner here, just because it costs a lot less than the 9R while offering a superior experience in many aspects. There aren’t a lot of things that work in the 9R’s favor, and with the new MediaTek chip, the Snapdragon advantage isn’t as compelling a reason anymore. While trying to make an all-rounder mid-ranger, OnePlus has pushed its own 9R towards irrelevance — and at the end of the day, that is indeed good news for budget-conscious customers.
OnePlus Nord 2