With the Nord 3, OnePlus continues to offer a lot of phone for those who feel that flagships cost too much. This is the most premium Nord yet though, and that means it’s not quite as good value as before.
The Nord series is OnePlus’s mid-range phone series, and the Nord 3 is the latest in the line.
Like previous numbered Nord entries this phone isn’t launching in the US, and surprisingly it also isn’t coming to the UK, but it has launched in Europe where it has competition from the likes of the Google Pixel 7a, Xiaomi 13 Lite, and Samsung Galaxy A54.
Not long ago, we tested the first Nord phone in generation three, OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G, a long and confusing name for a not-so affordable phone with too many compromises to features, performance and design. In the more simply named Nord 3, OnePlus gets it more right.
It has an elegant design with a premium feel, luxurious materials, and a shape that’s as stylish as it is practical. With a 6.74in screen, it’s anything but small, but thanks to thin screen edges and flat sides on the phone’s aluminium frame, it’s not too wide to grip. It’s a slightly larger screen size than the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G, but a millimetre smaller in the outer dimensions.
On the front, it does not have Gorilla Glass but Dragontrail Glass from a competitor of Corning called AGC. Whether it is exactly as durable is difficult to determine, but it should offer good protection against a drop. The glass rounds off in a teardrop shape along the edges directly against the matte aluminium frame, and the back is also glass, in this case Gorilla Glass 5 with a curved design towards the edges. The Nord 3 is available in two styles, with a matt grey-black back, or a green glossy finish.
Just like the flagship OnePlus 11 I’m a little disappointed that I can’t get the more attractive green colour with the comfortable matt back, but if like most people you put a protective case over the phone, it doesn’t matter. The Nord 3 has a power button and volume control on opposite sides of the mobile phone, and at the top of the right side is OnePlus’s trademark slider that can quickly switch the phone to silent or do not disturb mode. It was missing from some previous OnePlus models, so it’s a welcome sight.
High mid-range performance
The Dimensity 9000 chipset from Mediatek delivers performance that is roughly equivalent to last year’s top phones. It delivers metrics in line with Google’s Pixel 7 mobiles, and with 16GB of RAM in the top model, I experienced almost no choppiness or lag. Only when loading large apps, where it’s a little slower than the best of the latest top-end mobiles. Not too bad for a mid-range phone.
With relatively high graphics performance and good cooling, it’s a great phone for gaming. It runs most of the more demanding Android games at a high and smooth frame rate on its 1080p screen, and it manages to keep the frame rate up for a long time even at really high loads.
However, there is an upper limit, and the phone’s cooling is to blame. A thorough stress test shows that it manages to maintain peak performance for 10 to 15 minutes, then it quickly loses about 30 per cent of its computing power. That should be enough in most situations, except for long gaming sessions.
High class screen
120Hz frame rate and up to 1,000Hz touch sampling in the screen makes the response pleasantly fast. The resolution is a slightly odd 1,240 x 2,772 pixels.
It’s not full LPTO technology in the screen, but it adjusts frequency in five fixed steps between 40 and 120Hz. In automatic mode, it’s seemingly seamless. But it doesn’t seem to be very good at keeping the frequency low, as I get almost the same battery life then as when I manually run the phone in 120Hz screen mode.
The screen is an AMOLED with excellent colour and high peak brightness for sunny days. 1,450 nits is the stated maximum brightness, and using the phone outdoors is never a problem. With support for HDR10+, and the right certificate for HDR content on Netflix and Prime Video, you can have a great film experience.
Built-in stereo speakers provide detailed sound, especially in the mid-range,. Unfortunately, it lacks quite a bit of power in the bass, so it can be a thin sounding experience. Dolby Atmos is enabled and can’t be switched off unless you plug in headphones, and no matter which sound profile I choose, I never get any real fullness in the sound.
On the back are two round camera pucks, which contain three cameras. A 50Mp IMX890 sensor with optical image stabilisation in the upper one, and a simpler 8Mp ultrawide camera with fixed focus and 2Mp macro in the other. Next to each are white circles, but it seems that only one of them is the LED flash, it’s the only one that activates when I’m shooting. What the other does is open to conjecture. Light sensor? Decoration? Who knows.
Photos in sunlight are sharp and detailed, and with quick focus and AI assist, it’s easy to pull the phone out of your pocket, point, click, and get a reliably good picture. I get natural colours in all my test shots, but the dynamics are a little unreliable. If the camera has large dark areas in shadow, it wants to highlight them to get details, which means bright areas are overexposed.
For the most part, though, it looks good, and the ultrawide and selfie camera match the main camera in colour and light levels. The small macro camera has paler colour saturation and some constant noise in the image. In pro mode, you can control exposure in detail and you can choose to shoot in RAW format.
Night photography with a daytime feel
OnePlus is keen to emphasise how good the Nord 3 is at night photography, with its large sensor, optical image stabilisation, and its own multi-exposure technology called Turbo RAW. So I went out into the neighbourhood and tried some shots. The results show that OnePlus isn’t lying – you can get a lot of detail and nuance with a sharp, almost noise-free image.
There’s just one problem: it’s too bright. Instead of giving me great colours, it pushes the light compensation to the max, so it suddenly looks like I’m shooting in the early evening rather than the middle of the night. The best cameras I’ve seen manage to capture detail and colour but still maintain a realistic sense of night in the image. It’s possible to tweak this in the app’s manual pro mode, but it’s not easy.
As a video camera, the Nord 3 is handy. You get a steady image with a combination of optical and digital stabilisation, and can shoot at up to 4K and 60fps, with simple but intuitive controls. In horizontal mode you even get a stereo microphone, which I think sounds convincing, and with good filters against noise and wind noise. If you want to connect an external microphone via USB or Bluetooth, that’s fine, but unfortunately it’s not possible to switch to it in the app; you’ll have to dig into the system’s settings menu for that.
System and battery
The interface is OnePlus’s usual OxygenOS, now in version 13.1, with a few improvements compared to the 13.0 that OnePlus 11 came with, including an extended Zen mode that you can activate to disconnect and relax.
It is of course based on Android 13, and OnePlus promises three years of Android updates and four years of security updates. That’s not as good as the premium OnePlus 11, but it’s on par with what Google itself offers.
OxygenOS is, as always, elegant and well-tuned for a fast experience, and is also said to help with battery optimisation to help maintain battery health and maximise charge cycles. This means that it has only a marginal loss of capacity after up to 1,600 charge cycles. Says OnePlus. Of course, it’s impossible for me to test without having used the phone for so long that you can no longer buy it and have to check out the Nord 6 or Nord 7 instead.
A 5,000mAh battery powers the phone and is enough for a full day of active use. The phone isn’t extremely energy efficient in some situations where others shine, such as video streaming, but you can still binge watch a season of your favourite show before the battery runs out. Brightness and audio volume affect battery life more than frame rate.
When it’s time to top up, you get real fast charging with the included 80W proprietary Supervooc charger. It takes just over half an hour to recharge a full battery, so it’s easy to do with your morning coffee.
The first OnePlus Nord was a success, and the Nord 2 was even better. Now OnePlus has built on its good qualities and above all delivers a higher sense of luxury than before – but at an increased price.
The Nord 3 starts from €499 for 8GB+128GB, rising to €549 for 16GB+256GB, a hefty hike from the previous €399 start price for the Nord 2 and Nord 2T.
Product name: OnePlus Nord 3 Manufacturer: OnePlus Circuitry: Mediatek Dimensity 9000 Processor: Cortex-X2 3.05GHz, 3x Cortex-A710 2.85GHz, 4x Cortex-A510 1.8GHz Graphics: Mali-G710 MC10, 848MHz Memory: 8/16 GB Storage: 128/256 GB Model tested: 16/256 GB Display: 6.74 inch AMOLED, 1240 x 2772 pixels, 120Hz Cameras: 50Mp + 8MP ultrawide, 2Mp macro, 16Mp front Connections: USB 3 Type C Communications: 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.3, GPS, Galileo, NFC Operating system: Android 13 with OxygenOS 13.1 Other: Dual SIM, in-screen fingerprint scanner, alert slider, splash resistant (IP54) Battery: 5000mAh, 16 hrs 40 min online video (Wi-Fi, high brightness, 60 Hz), about 15 hrs mixed use (4G, low brightness, 120Hz), about 36 hrs calls Battery charging: 80W USB-C (SuperVooc), 30W USB charger included. Size: 16.2 x 7.5 x 0.82cm Weight: 194g