The OnePlus Nord N20 5G surprised me when it first became available through T-Mobile. Long battery life, great performance, a big OLED display, and a long update commitment all deliver a value I'm surprised OnePlus could squeeze into a sub-$300 phone. Now that it's available unlocked, It's an even better phone for more people. This is the $300 smartphone to buy, period.
Not everyone can afford a $1,000 smartphone, and the N20 5G makes surprisingly few compromises for its budget-friendly $300 price. Whether you're upgrading, downsizing, or just trying to get a good deal, this phone doesn't leave any features you'll need on the table — outside the camera.
- Brand: OnePlus
- SoC: Snapdragon 695
- Display: 6.43" 1080x2400 (20:9) OLED 60Hz
- RAM: 6GB RAM
- Storage: 128GB (UFS 2.2), microSD expandable
- Battery: 4500mAh
- Ports: 1x USB Type-C, 1x 3.5mm headphone jack
- Operating System: OyxgenOS based on Android 12
- Front camera: 16MP f/2.4
- Rear cameras: 64MP f/1.79 Primary, 2MP f/2.4 Macro, 2MP f/2.4 Monochrome
- Connectivity: 5G (Sub-6GHz), LTE, Wi-Fi (dual-band, up to ac), Bluetooth 5.1, NFC
- Dimensions: 159.9 x 73.2 x 7.5 mm, 173g
- Colors: "Blue Smoke"
- Charging: 33W SuperVOOC
- IP Rating: IP 52
- Price: $300
- Great battery life
- Decent performance
- Good screen
- Good software update commitment (for the price)
- Very fast charging
- Great price
- Mediocre camera
- No stereo speakers
- 4G only on AT&T, not compatible with Verizon
Design, hardware, what's in the box
The OnePlus N20 5G takes its design cues from a lot of different places, but it neither looks nor feels like a OnePlus phone, departing almost entirely from the OnePlus N10 5G that came before it outside the blue colorway. Parts of the styling, like the accent strip on the bottom back and the flat chamfered frame, invoke the iPhone 5, and I like it, but fans of the brand may not recognize it as a OnePlus phone without the logo.
The big, ostentatious cameras on the back look better than its resulting photos do, and while the matte-ish finish on the plastic back gets a little greasy, the phone feels solid and durable, creaking only minimally when wrenched on. Looks can be a little deceiving, though.
The plastic frame on my unit has already been dented, though I don’t remember it taking any major tumbles. As an all-plastic phone, a case is a good idea either way, and the N20 doesn’t come with one in the box. It's "IP52" rated — that's a number you probably aren't familiar with, and that's because it basically just means "rain resistant," protected from water spray within 15 degrees of vertical. Most phones at this price aren't IP rated at all, and though I'd argue this rating doesn't mean too much, it's better than nothing, which is what most sub-$300 phones have (and all that unlocked $900 OnePlus flagships offer now).
Above: You still get the expected and appreciated 3.5mm headphone jack, though. Below: The accent strip has your IMEI printed in big numbers for some reason — move it to the menus, OnePlus.
The N20 5G swaps the 90Hz IPS LCD in the prior N10 5G for a 60Hz OLED display with an itty bitty chin, and it’s a worthy trade. Excluding the acronyms, that means the N20 5G has better contrast and color, though it feels a little less fluid when scrolling. It’s also a little on the dim side; OnePlus tells me it's rated for 430 nits in “normal mode,” which isn’t super bright, though it’s about as bright as its predecessor. In my experience using it off and on over the last few months, that's still bright enough for outdoor use, though you might have to shade the screen to read smaller text or see details in a photo on a sunny day, and don’t expect to see great colors or a lot of contrast when it's really bright out.
The screen is also exceptionally uniform. There’s always an “OLED lottery” when you buy a smartphone that has one as panels vary, but mine was free of unwanted “tint” or streaky grays at low brightness levels. Automatic brightness was so-so — my usual chair in the living room has a window behind it, and the N20 5G tends to get a little confused there (as do some other phones like Pixels), ramping brightness higher than is deserved at times.
It does support an always-on ambient display for a clock and notifications, and battery life is so good that you probably don’t have to worry about the sort of dent that might make in it — more on that later.
Unlike a lot of other inexpensive phones, the N20 5G has an in-display fingerprint sensor. The benefits to this aren't huge, and it's not more secure or really "better" than the rear-mounted fingerprint sensors you often see at this price — in fact, optical in-display fingerprint sensors are actually a little less secure. It's just a slightly more ergonomic and intuitive way to unlock your phone — the sensor is right where your thumb would be. Or, at least, it would be if OnePlus didn't put it just a little too far down on the face, by the chin. That can make one-handed unlocking sometimes a little precarious for the phone. OnePlus made the same mistake with the OnePlus 9 Pro, but it was corrected on the OnePlus 10 Pro.
It’s not unusual at this price, but the OnePlus N20 5G only has a single mono speaker; the earpiece is for calls only. The single downward-firing speaker gets loud enough for notifications and speakerphone, but it’s shrill and doesn’t sound great with music. The scale for volume control is also poorly mapped — only the highest settings seem to adjust the actual volume very much. If you’re hoping to enjoy a little YouTube in bed with the sound on, you’ll need to use headphones or cup the bottom of the phone to hear things. It's not a deal-breaker, but it would be a nice perk if the earpiece served double duty for stereo sound.
Mediocre speakers might be forgivable, but the phone's haptics (its ability to vibrate when you perform actions) are awful. Frankly, you may want to turn that feature off in any apps that use it. When it vibrates, the feedback is inconsistent — just tapping around a keyboard, each key press will feel like it has a different strength. This lack of control indicates very low-end haptic hardware (probably an eccentric rotating mass with no real control), and it can be pretty annoying.
In an era when every other smartphone company is cutting corners by not including a charger, OnePlus still does. This has a few notable benefits. For one, a lot of people buying a $300 smartphone may still be using a phone that charges with Micro USB, and they might not have a Type-C charger around — or not enough of them, anyway.
More importantly, the bundled charger is one of OnePlus's proprietary 33W
Warp SuperVOOC chargers, and the N20 5G needs it to hit full charging speeds. With it, you can charge faster than some $1,000+ smartphones. OnePlus used to say it delivered "A day's power in half an hour," and you can easily top up to at leas 50% in that time. A full charge is also pretty fast, requiring only a little north of an hour. Because these charging speeds are delivered by a OnePlus/OPPO-proprietary technology, you can't just buy any USB Type-C charger off of Amazon and get the same rate, so bundling a charger in the box is basically a requirement to make the feature worth it.
On top of the charger, OnePlus includes a specialized SuperVOOC-compatible Type-A to Type-C cable, a SIM-ejector tool, and the anticipated warranty and manual docs.
Software, performance, and battery life
The OnePlus N20 5G ships with an “older” version of Android (Android 11/Oxygen OS 11.3, compared to the now-modern Android 12). Normally, I'd point this out as a weakness, but when it comes to OnePlus, that’s arguably a good thing, as changes in more recent versions of Oxygen OS have been contentious now that it shares a codebase and a general vibe with Oppo’s Color OS. Even just accessing the “app info” pane for troubleshooting issues is obnoxious on OnePlus’s recent software compared to prior versions.
The version of Oxygen OS 11 that you get on the N20 5G is a little different from how it is on other devices, with a few things shuffled around. Although OnePlus does make deeper changes to the OS, the overall vibe on the N20 5G is minimalist. Coming from other budget phones like a Motorola or Nokia, whose software remains "stock"-like, you should still be able to find everything, though there are some visual changes to things like menus, and OnePlus doesn’t use “stock” apps here for things like the dialer or SMS messaging (though it does appear to support RCS on T-Mobile). You can also do a little more customization than you can on some other phones, changing things like the accent color, icon styles and shapes, and fonts. It’s not “stock,” but Oxygen OS 11 feels fast and fluid.
Frustratingly, USB 2FA does not work during first-time device setup, and when I first set up the phone, account sync did not pull down my contacts correctly. Falling back to NFC for two-factor authentication and re-toggling sync settings fixed both issues, but these aren't things you should have to do. Confusingly, OnePlus tells me that 2FA being broken during setup is intentional and unavoidable due to changes OnePlus makes to how USB OTG works.
Bloatware was also an issue on the T-Mobile version of the phone. It didn't directly come with any, but the phone downloads a T-Mobile app on its own that annoyingly prompts you with a persistent notification to further install literal piles of apps you won't care about. Dismiss it, and it will come back later, and at some point, it will install at least one app you didn't ask for on its own. It's a little unsavory, and T-Mobile should stop doing this. This shouldn't be an issue with the unlocked version of the phone — it might even be worth spending the extra $20 difference to buy it unlocked if you're on T-Mobile to avoid the headache.
This is gross, T-Mobile.
OnePlus’s software commitment when it comes to flagships like the 10 Pro is lacking, but it’s exceeding expectations for a budget phone, promising one Android OS update and three years of security patches at a bi-monthly cadence. Plenty of phones at this price have zero guaranteed OS version upgrades, quarterly security updates, and two years of patches at best, though I should point out, Samsung does better with a four-year promise on the Galaxy A13. I’m highly critical of OnePlus’s commitment on more expensive phones (and long-term update quality is another concern), but its promises here beat many of the other choices in the US for the same price, ensuring you’ll be able to use it safely and securely for years — and, from a performance perspective, I think you might actually be able to.
The Snapdragon 695 inside the N20 5G hasn't been in a lot of phones yet, but I think it's going to be another long-lived and popular chipset for cheaper devices, because it's a lot faster than I expected. Benchmarks aren't real workflows, but the N20 5G beats the $450 Pixel 5a (and technically the Pixel 5) in Geekbench CPU scores. In more anecdotal use, the phone feels about as snappy as both of those more expensive models, too — maybe even slightly faster sometimes, though it does lag once in a while in a way a Pixel doesn't. That could be due to a difference in the GPUs used, where the Snapdragon 695 loses its edge. That also means games aren't the N20 5G's favorite activity.
|OnePlus N20 5G||Pixel 5a|
|Geekbench 5 CPU||686/1907||575/1562|
|3D Mark Wild Life Extreme (overall score)||361 (2.2 FPS average)||447 (2.7 FPS average)|
|Speedometer||40.2 (+/-0.81)||47.06 (+/- 0.4)|
We don’t usually include benchmarks in our reviews, as they’re not the best indicator of real-world use, but these numbers were surprising enough to include.
Fortnite was playable at a low resolution and framerate, but there were times it lagged pretty badly — once seizing up entirely for a solid 20s. Though it has a gaming mode, this isn’t a phone for gaming, and don’t expect a decent experience in demanding 3D titles. Less intensive 2D games or older 3D games should play alright, though.
In my initial review, I ran into issues with Wi-Fi performance, and the N20 5G was unable to break about 40-50Mbps speeds on my home network. Thankfully, that has resolved with subsequent updates, and I'm now able to break 200Mbps down, which is about what I'd expect for a smartphone at this price (i.e., in line with real-world speeds for an 802.11ac device that lacks MIMO). This matches what last year's OnePlus N10 5G reached for me and is fast enough for most smartphone use cases.
The short version of this benchmark is that some apps may not work as expected in the background.
Although OnePlus said it would stop doing it all the way back in 2019, the company still manages the sort of background work that apps can do more aggressively than "stock" Android does. Though the phone ships with 6GB of RAM, expect to see apps fall out of memory a little faster than expected. I regularly saw apps reload if they were further back than 2-3 in the recents/multitasking list in normal use. You may also experience delayed notifications due to this behavior. I did notice my N20 5G would fire off its notification trill for certain services minutes behind other devices at my desk at certain times.
OnePlus was caught manipulating performance on a per-app basis on prior phones, but in my own testing, the N20 5G isn’t doing anything disingenuous like that. Testing different versions of the Geekbench app modified to “spoof” other applications, OnePlus appears to have applied a flat performance profile to all apps. That was the right move on the $900 OnePlus 10 Pro, and it’s the right move here. You don't have to worry about paying for hardware that you can't fully use in all apps. It also runs quite cool — the N20 5G only starts to feel a little warm when fast charging or playing games (outside the initial setup).
|App||OnePlus N20 5G|
|Geekbench Corporate Version||686/1907|
|Geekbench Play Store Version||687/1946|
You can ignore the specific numbers here, the fact that they're all within a margin of error of being the same means OnePlus isn't doing any benchmark manipulation.
Originally, OnePlus wouldn't share any information regarding carrier compatibility with us outside T-Mobile — the phone launched as a T-Mobile exclusive, so that makes sense. Now that it's available unlocked for use on other carriers, OnePlus has shared more information with us. If you purchase the phone unlocked, it's compatible with T-Mobile, Metro, Google Fi, Mint Mobile, Ultra Mobile, Simple Mobile, and Telus on 5G. It can also be used on AT&T and AT&T MVNOs like Cricket, but only on 4G/LTE. (AT&T uses an allowlist to limit 5G access, and presumably, the N20 5G hasn't been certified for use on AT&T's network.) There's no stated Verizon compatibility.
As with last year’s N10 5G, OnePlus again threw in 128GB of (UFS 2.2) storage, which is great to see at this price. Apple’s iPhone SE (2022), which costs $430, only has 64GB base storage, and 128GB matches what you get in some more expensive Android phones like the Pixel 5a. It’s also microSD expandable by up to 512GB if you need more storage, though that won't be quite as fast as what's built-in.
OnePlus says that the N20 5G has an "all-day" battery, but that's not true — try closer to three days. Off and on, using the phone in recent months (both stuck at home sick and out and about), I was usually able to hit ten hours of so-called "screen-on time" over two or three days. Even if you're really hard on your phone, I think it should break 6+ hours of screen-on time per day at a minimum — and you'll have to be doing some very power-intensive tasks to bring the numbers down that low. For most customers, the N20 5G should last 2-3 days on a charge, rivaling (if not potentially beating) the Pixel 5a's incredible longevity.
The only real downside is a lack of wireless charging, but that's both typical for sub-$300 smartphones and offset by the very fast 33W SuperVOOC charging OnePlus includes. And don't sleep on the fast charging, it's a really handy feature that has saved my butt quite a few times when there are only a few minutes to charge before you have to split somewhere or if you have to top up quickly in an emergency.
The Nord N20 5G has exactly the sort of camera you expect to see in a sub-$300 phone. If you're upgrading from an older phone, it might be a step up, and it can take some decent photos in the right circumstances if you're careful, but it's not an objectively "great" smartphone camera.
OnePlus included three cameras on the back of the N20 5G, and only one of them does anything useful. There’s a 64MP primary (binned down to 16MP by default), paired with a monochrome-only camera for a black and white filter mode and a macro — the last two you can safely ignore.
As with most budget smartphone cameras, it does a decent job if you have plenty of lighting, but there are plenty of shortcomings. Color can be good (if a little undersaturated) outdoors on a sunny day, but dynamic range and exposure can be hit-or-miss. That could be because of the sensor (I was told the OmniVision OV64B sensor, also in the Nord CE 2, can only capture 3-frame HDR), or it could be due to processing, but I have plenty of examples of it underexposing a scene and then immediately overexposing the next one. Like all OnePlus phones, the camera can be inconsistent, even in back-to-back shots. But sometimes, a specific scene is just right, and the camera can nail it with almost Pixel-like contrast — just don't crop it.
In more marginal lighting, it does a worse job. Indoors during the day, you can't even reliably take a photo of something that might be in motion, and both colors and color balance start to have noticeable problems, with results that feel a little sickly. Extreme low-light or night-time photography is entirely out of the question. You can also kick over into a specific 64MP camera mode for higher-resolution images, but images taken in this mode can be noisier and muddier, so you're best using the high-resolution mode in sunlight, if you use it at all.
"Zooming" from 1x to 5x digitally.
There's no telephoto camera here, so "zoom" is purely digital. In good lighting, it's good enough to be functional, but processing is muddy on a crop and noticeably splotchy in worse lighting, so don't expect much. I don't have any good demonstrations I am comfortable sharing (not everyone in a blogger's life is willing to appear in their coverage online), but video quality is surprisingly decent for a smartphone of this price.
The fixed-focus macro camera (left) is only useful in full daylight and only gets a bit closer than the primary camera (right) can get.
Other than the vestigial monochrome and macro hardware, the N20 5G has an okay-for-$300 camera, but it won't compete with better phones like any given Pixel.
Should you buy it?
Yes, this is the best smartphone you can get for $300 — and it's actually just a little cheaper if you get the T-Mobile version at $282 or "free" when you add a line via bill credits. Now that it's available unlocked, I'm even increasing our review score from 8.5 to 9/10 and giving the phone our Most Wanted accolade. Unless you can spend more money or know you need specific benefits that this phone might be lacking in, the OnePlus N20 5G is a stunningly great combination of value and features, and it even takes our value pick on our list of the best 5G phones. In an era where we've seen "shrinkflation" cause mid-range phones to objectively get a little worse, as in the case of some recent Samsung models, the N20 5G is an incredible deal.
Doot doot (Most Wanted sounds).
I am highly critical of OnePlus as a company in a thousand other ways, but the N20 5G is a very, very phone for $300. When I switched back to the N20 5G after using more expensive smartphones, I never really felt like I was giving anything up or compromising outside the camera. Its few other flaws like bad haptics, no stereo speakers, and a plastic body are outright nitpicks at this price, and you're really not going to find a phone that does better and costs the same or less.
There are admittedly some other phones that have high refresh rate displays at this price — the prior model in this series, the OnePlus N10 5G, even had one — but I'll happily take a high-quality 60Hz OLED over a smoother but otherwise worse-looking LCD display. The screen could be brighter, OnePlus could toss in a flagship chipset, and it could be made out of metal, but at $300, it's probably more reasonable to ask for a unicorn in the box. Other than dropping the vestigial cameras to get a better primary sensor, I don't really know what OnePlus could have done to improve the N20 5G without increasing the price.
It's not as much of a complaint so much as a wishlist item, but I would have really liked to see OnePlus include its trademark alert slider for switching between ringer modes because it's a fantastic feature. But as more of Oppo's influence seems to be taking hold in the brand, we've seen that feature appear less and less often.
That brings me to one potential warning: There's nothing wrong now, but when this phone does get its Android 12 OxygenOS 12 update someday, the software situation will take a turn for the worse. At this price, I still think that's an easy tradeoff to make, but you should be aware. OnePlus-under-Oppo doesn't seem to understand what makes good Android software, and software updates have also been fraught with issues — more than usual, anyway. With only one major OS update planned to a version that's already out, I don't think that will be an issue for the N20 5G, but you never know.
Comparing the N20 5G to other phones only paints an even better picture. Samsung’s Galaxy A13 5G is a similar price at $250, but the Nord beats it in almost every way with a faster chipset, more RAM, more storage, and a higher-resolution OLED screen, though Samsung beats OnePlus when it comes to updates and future software quality. There’s a Moto G for seemingly every price these days, and the $300 Moto G Stylus comes closer to being a competitor, but it’s not on the same level when it comes to performance and features, though the Moto might have an edge when it comes to photos. Even comparing it to the more expensive $450 Google Pixel 5a, which is one of my favorite phones right now, the Nord N20 5G objectively beats it in some ways like performance and ties it in other ways like battery life and security updates.
As one of OnePlus's most vocal critics, I want to make it clear that this phone has my earnest praise. Now that it's available unlocked, I think OnePlus is going to sell a lot of these, and it's my personal recommendation for the best budget phone you can get.
Buy it if:
- You’re on a strict budget.
- You need great battery life.
- A decent screen and good performance are required.
- You plan to keep your next phone for three years
Don’t buy it if:
- You need a good camera.
- You can spend more money — there are better phones if you can.
- You're on Verizon or AT&T, it's incompatible with the former and 4G-only on the latter.
UPDATE: 2022/06/30 15:38 EST BY RYNE HAGER
Updated with longer-term impressions and unlocked availability
Our review has been updated with longer-term impressions, additional photo samples, and even a score adjustment now that it's available unlocked for use on other carriers.
Q: How does the OnePlus N20 5G compare to the Samsung Galaxy A13 5G?
Both phones have a similar up-front price, but the similarities end there. The N20 5G has a faster chipset, higher-resolution OLED display, more RAM, it's thinner, and it weighs less. However, it's not a clean sweep for OnePlus, as Samsung offers a beter update commitment of four years of security patches vs. OnePlus's three. Samsung also has a better history of delivering good updates more timely than OnePlus can, and to better quality. For my money, I think the OnePlus N20 5G is a slightly better phone for just slightly more cash.
Q: How does the OnePlus N20 5G compare to the Moto G Stylus?
The Moto G Stylus and Nord N20 5G are in the same ballpark, with the same amount of storage, the same amount of RAM, similar capacity batteries (and battery life), as well as similar pricing. Motorola and OnePlus have a similar history of forgetting about devices eventually when it comes to updates, but OnePlus promises three years of security patches to Motorola's two, and Motorola's already almost half a year behind when it comes to security patch levels. The G Stylus might have a better camera and the eponymous stylus, but it's also a lot thicker and charges more slowly. I think the OnePlus N20 5G is a better deal.