The original mid-range flagship killer from OnePlus is back. The OnePlus Nord 3 is an upgrade in almost every other way. If your budget allows, then forget about the Nord CE series and just walk into a store and pick up the OnePlus Nord 3.
It’s been a whole year since the OnePlus Nord 2 (I’m not even going to talk about the Nord 2T, which was just old wine in a new bottle), and we’re finally seeing the fruits of OnePlus’ labour.
The price may be slightly higher than expected at ₹33,999 (for the 8GB+128GB variant) and ₹37,999 (for the 16GB+256GB model). That’s mighty close to OnePlus’ own 11R’s starting price of ₹39,999.
With OnePlus essentially leading the way in the mid-range segment for 2023, there’s just one question (besides the obvious one of which smartphone to buy) to be asked: is OnePlus eating into its market share?
I’ve been using the phone for 10 days and I think it’s a very good (some aspects of the camera performance aside) smartphone. Let’s dive in.
The OnePlus Nord 3 is available in two colour options - Misty Green and Tempest Gray. I got the Misty Green model and I was slightly disappointed. The smartphone may scream premium but the back panel is excessively reflective and attracts fingerprints. On the other hand, the Tempest Gray model looks classy and is the one I’d personally buy.
The Nord 3 has separate camera modules (and LED lights next to them) on the top left and a OnePlus logo bang in the middle. The back panel looks clean but it feels very slippery while holding it. The boxy design helps with a better grip, but if you tend to drop your smartphone a lot, I’d suggest getting a case.
The Nord 3 comes with extremely thin bezels. This is especially attractive since it is a non-curved display. There’s a hole punch sitting in the middle at the top of the phone. The alert slider (it's still there!) sits on the top right, with the power button just below it. On the left-hand side is the volume button. One thing OnePlus could have done is for the fingerprint sensor to have been embedded in the power button rather than having one under the display.
Nonetheless, OnePlus has done a great job with the design. It’s minimalist yet premium. The build quality feels solid but with no Gorilla Glass protection on the back, most would feel scared using the phone sans a case. On the front, OnePlus has added Gorilla Glass 5 for enhanced protection.
The Nord 3 comes with a 6.74-inch 10-bit AMOLED display (with a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate). It’s HDR10+ certified. The display is vivid and the touch is responsive. It’s good for consuming media and playing games but I feel OnePlus could have gone a touch further and made it even better. I had some issues while doomscrolling on my social media feeds. The display doesn’t seem fully optimised and it has to do with refresh rate optimisation.
Changing from ‘auto-select’ in the screen refresh rate settings to ‘high’ fixed it. Even with this setting, the display never really hits 120Hz. Nonetheless, it’s much better than the adaptive option which can result in jarring visuals.
The viewing angles are good and with a peak brightness of 1450 nits, outdoor legibility is taken care of.
With a screen capable of punchy colours, one would appreciate a good sound system to complement the display. Thankfully, OnePlus listened to its consumers. The Nord 3 comes with dual stereo speakers which are loud, clear, and only crackle above 90 percent volume. They are Hi-Res audio certified and come with Dolby Atmos support. It’s got a good and wide soundstage and can handle most of the media (including OTT apps) that are part of your daily diet.
We are now seeing MediaTek power a large number of smartphones here in India. The MediaTek Dimensity 9000 SoC lends a helping hand to the Nord 3. The chip helps execute day-to-day tasks with ease. When pushing the device to its limit - whether it is prolonged gaming sessions or intensive photography - the Nord 3 refuses to heat up to a point where it is unbearable to use. Constant performance is the name of the game. Thankfully, there is no noticeable slowdown witnessed. The Nord 3 isn’t a gaming phone, but it can handle most games with aplomb. Just don’t try and play something like Genshin Impact on this device.
The Nord 3 runs Oxygen OS 13,1 (based on Android 13) out of the box. It’s a clean UI for the most part. There are some third-party apps (bloatware) but none that you can’t uninstall after setup. There are a few extra features like flexible windows, one-handed mode, Zen Space and more. OnePlus is giving users three major Android OS updates alongside four years of security updates.
The sub-heading may have you worried. The Nord 3 comes with a triple-camera setup on the rear of the device. There’s a 50MP Sony IMX890 (with OIS) primary sensor, an 8MP Sony IMX355 wide-angle sensor and a 2MP macro camera. The front features a 16MP selfie camera.
To put it bluntly, OnePlus should just do away with the macro camera altogether. It’s practically useless. The primary sensor is the one to tout here as it delivers great photos with good dynamic range across a range of lighting conditions. Thanks to the larger sensor, one gets a more natural depth-of-field. Using the main camera and you’ll get fast autofocus, which means that fast-moving objects should be less of a worry.
Indoor shots were a little bit grainy and low-light shots lacked detail. But in daylight conditions, the smartphone exceeded most expectations. I took the smartphone to the hills of Himachal Pradesh for a three-day trip and was pleasantly surprised by the wide-angle camera’s performance. The resulting photos came with punchy and vibrant colours and had good detailing.
The front camera also feels like a waste to me. The photos looked decent for social media usage or to quickly send on WhatsApp but they were far behind the competition at this price point.
As I mentioned above, the top variant of the Nord 3 is ₹2,000 less than the starting point of the OnePlus 11R. As I said in my OnePlus Buds 2r review, OnePlus is eating into its market share. Nonetheless, the decision here is easy. The 11R comes with a better in-hand feel and grip, a curved-edge AMOLED display, a faster Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 SoC and faster 100W charging. If your budget allows for it, the 11R is the one to purchase.
I may have said that the OnePlus 11R is the de facto choice, but it doesn’t mean the Nord 3 isn’t a great upgrade. No one purchasing the Nord 3 will be disappointed. Get the grey variant and a case, and you’re good to go for at least the next two to three years.
The Nord 3 checks almost all the boxes out there. It has the essentially OnePlus feature, the alert slider, alongside a clean UI. There’s a bigger and better display than its predecessor, a flagship-grade SoC, and a capable primary camera. With good speakers, great battery life, super fast charging, and fluid OS, what else can one ask for?
Sure, there are some downsides like the lack of a serious IP rating and underwhelming secondary cameras, but the Nord 3 is the biggest upgrade in the Nord series and deservedly so: a great all-rounder in today’s crowded mid-range smartphone market.
Sahil Bhalla is a Delhi-based journalist. He tweets at @IMSahilBhalla