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Most phones get worse with time, and that’s the nature of technology: New stuff comes out, requirements to do things increase, and old things get left behind. The N10 5G still has the same hardware it did at launch, but OnePlus has nonetheless made the phone better — or, at least, a better value. Now that the company promises three years of software security patches, the N10 5G is getting tough to beat, even if it doesn’t quite live up to its namesake.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
Nord N10 5G is big. It’s bigger than the higher-end original Nord and OnePlus 8. It’s almost as big as the humongous OnePlus 8 Pro, and taller than the gargantuan iPhone 11 Pro Max. It’s also 190g, which is pretty chunky for a budget phone. However you heft it, the N10 5G is a big boy and should prove popular for those seeking size at a smaller price.
Build quality is sturdy, but it still feels cheap. The phone is substantial, and you can wrench and twist on it without any disturbing noises or bending, but the glossy plastic back and frame don’t feel very premium, even compared to the original Nord, which used similar materials. I couldn’t tell you precisely what’s different, but something about it definitely feels different. The N10 5G is also the company’s first phone since the OnePlus 6 to have a rear-mounted capacitive fingerprint sensor. Unlike the older Nord, OnePlus elected to include a headphone jack on the N10 5G, a nice touch. It’s also on the bottom, which is my favorite place for it since it’s easiest to pocket a phone upside down — which most of our readers do.
I should point out: The Nord N10 5G has no water resistance at all, unlike the previous Nord, which the company called “splash proof” — though that phone also lacks any explicit IP rating, like all OnePlus phones until the recent OnePlus 8 Pro.
In perhaps the biggest change to the physical design, OnePlus has removed the alert slider, a trademark feature all OnePlus phones since the OnePlus 2 have had. First-time owners won’t lament the loss, but it adds to the overall sense that this isn’t really a OnePlus phone. OP also gave the N10 5G microSD-expandable storage, which is a first for any OnePlus device since the 2015 OnePlus X, and it’s a confusing move for the feature to re-debut on a mid-range phone. At least it means you’ll have plenty of space for media if you run out of the 128GB of UFS 2.1 internal storage.
It’s also the first OnePlus phone since the OnePlus 2 to have an LCD display, measuring in at 6.49 inches at 1080p and 90Hz. Although you won’t get those inky OLED blacks, it’s pretty good and, by virtue of its technology, doesn’t suffer issues like low-brightness irregularities or “green-tint,” though it does feel a little more smeary when you scroll compared to an OLED. Color and brightness were generally good, though the weather during our testing wasn’t conducive for the best outdoor comparisons.
The screen also has a hole-punch camera cutout and a big-ish chin, with the latter reminiscent of the Xiaomi Pocophone F1. There is a slight drip in brightness around the camera, but it’s only really noticeable at an angle with bright backgrounds. In all practical use, it was never an issue for me. The speakers (stereo via the earpiece) are usual smartphone fare. They are tinny, lack bass, and distort a bit at max volume, but they get plenty loud.
I can’t speak to US packaging, but the EU model comes with a charger and cable. Notably, there’s no bundled case like some OnePlus phones come with.
Software, performance, and battery life
The Nord N10 5G ships with OxygenOS 10.5, an older version of the company’s Android-based software. It’s one of my favorite Android skins, and though it has some issues with how it handles things deep down inside, it looks and feels pretty good. In short: If you’re familiar with stock Android (or, really, Android at all), you’ll be right at home. Though a few things are moved around, it’s easier to get used to than something like Samsung’s OneUI.
That’s not to say it lacks features, though. OnePlus builds-in perks that let you duplicate apps that don’t handle multiple accounts, like WhatsApp. There’s also a “quick reply in landscape” feature that makes great use of multitasking and is handy for firing back a quick message when watching videos, although it only works with a few apps. OnePlus’ volume control menu is also way better than stock. On a more negative note, OxygenOS also breaks expected behaviors with overly-aggressive background app management (at least, by default). In practical terms, that means notifications may come in late for some apps, and you may notice apps that need to stay running in the background don’t work correctly all the time.
General performance is pretty good. In our original review, I noted a few instances where the phone would randomly run into trouble, but since then OnePlus has managed to iron things out and deliver a much more consistent experience. Fortnite was hardly smooth at the default settings, and there were plenty of dropped frames, but it was sufficient for me to snag #2 in an online match, which is good enough for me, and performance in most games was acceptable.
The bigger issue I ran into is an outright deal-breaker: Randomly, the touchscreen just won’t work when you wake the phone up. It might fix itself in a few seconds, or it can take a few minutes, and it only happens one out of 20-40 times you turn it on, but it’s exceedingly annoying and entirely unacceptable behavior that you’re almost guaranteed to encounter every day. We ran into the issue on two separate phones (both set up from scratch/without a backup) after OnePlus first told us it might be a hardware issue, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. We’re now told “OnePlus is aware of the issue shared by Android Police and is working diligently to solve it,” so I hope a fix lands eventually.
Update: The touchscreen issue has been fixed as of the OxygenOS 10.5.7 update.
Earlier, we had issues with the phone reliably connecting to Wi-Fi networks, but an update fixed that, and I’ve also run into a few intermittent issues with Bluetooth audio devices repeatedly disconnecting immediately after they connect. There’s also a very visible change in color balance in certain apps when they declare a wider color space while night mode is enabled, visible to a lesser degree outside it as well, and OnePlus offers no additional color calibration options in settings. The fingerprint sensor can also take weirdly long to wake the phone, and sometimes it doesn’t work at all until you wake the phone with the power button.
Though the model we reviewed is a European import, I didn’t have any issues with cellular connectivity in testing here in the states, and it connected to T-Mobile’s sub-6 5G network just fine.
Although OnePlus originally promised this phone only one Android version update and security patch updates for two years, the company recently announced it was extending the latter to three. While I’d still like to see OnePlus deliver longer OS version updates, extending the software support window gives this phone an extra year of life, and that has a big effect on the value of the phone. However, both the OG Nord and Pixel 4a have better update policies, and both are only a little bit more expensive — and, therefore, worth considering even with the price difference.
Battery life was also pretty good. I was able to pull over 7 hours of screen-on time in a day and a half with 20% left, and I expect I could break 8-9 hours in one day, though I’m not as hard on my phones as some people are. OnePlus’ 30W fast charging continues to be great, topping up the N10 5G very quickly when you need it.
Photos taken by the Nord N10 5G were pretty decent. It has a primary wide-angle, an ultra-wide, a useless macro, and a monochrome camera. The usual caveats for mid-range cameras apply: Good lighting can take decent photos, poor lighting ends up muddy. More specifically, it tends to crank exposure faster than ISO, so try to shoot around that and don’t crop if you can help it. I wouldn’t say it’s a “great” camera, but it’s better than I expected.
It’s hard to get photo samples these days, an update landed right at the end of our review that improved performance, and weather didn’t offer much variety.
The lack of OIS on the primary camera was a bit of an issue, especially with the long exposure times the camera favored in all but the best of lighting conditions, so keep a steady hand. Colors also seemed off for me compared to other OnePlus phones: more muted than the company’s usually ‘gram-ready look. Darker details were also prone to being lost or processed into mush, and performance in even marginal indoor lighting was poor compared to phones like the $350 Pixel 4a. Still, the primary shooter is serviceable, as is the wide-angle.
The macro camera, on the other hand, is terrible, even in decent outdoor lighting. I get that the additional, cheap camera gives these phones another number for low-effort marketing, but I’d really prefer they spend the money on something better or give it an actually good macro camera mode, like on the OnePlus 8 Pro.
Left and center: Normal photo and an after-the-fact monochrome edit. Right: “Mono” color filter mode.
Like the OnePlus 8’s color filter camera, the monochrome camera is accessible via the last “mono” filter mode, seemingly combining results from both the primary sensor and the monochrome secondary. I didn’t expect it, but the results do provide richer tones than simply editing a similar photo taken normally to monochrome (especially when it comes to reds), but details also look a tiny bit muddier, so it’s a tradeoff.
Should you buy it?
Yes. OnePlus is selling the phone for $300 in the US, which is an awkward spot. For $50 more, I think the Pixel 4a is still a better phone — we gave it our Editors’ Choice award, after all. In the EU, you can get the OG Nord for just €50 more, and it’s also better in every possible way. But now that OnePlus has fixed the phone’s biggest issues and extended software updates for an extra year, it’s actually a good value, too. Kudos, OnePlus, you made the N10 5G into a good phone.
On top of that, there are carrier promotions to consider. If you pick one up through T-Mobile, you probably won’t end up paying MSRP. And, of course, it’s got that 5G connectivity that has folks more excited than they should be — though this phone lacks the super-fast mmWave 5G you probably won’t have in your town anyway.
The N10 5G didn’t start life as a good phone, but it is one now.
Buy it if:
- You can’t spend $50/€50 more and get either a Pixel 4a or the original Nord.
- You can compromise on performance and updates and value features like fast charging, expandable storage, and a smooth display.
- Brand loyalty pushes you to OnePlus.
Don’t buy it if:
- You want a reasonable update schedule, good hardware, or a better camera.
- 5G and 90Hz screens aren’t big features for you.
Where to buy:
The OnePlus N10 5G will be available starting November 20th on the company’s storefront in Europe:
Two months later
OnePlus has done two of the three things I think it needs to for this phone to succeed — or, at least, to get my recommendation. One, it’s fixed many of the bugs I suffered through in our original review. The touchscreen works all the time now, and I haven’t had any connectivity issues. Inconsistencies I ran into with performance have also been ironed out. Frankly, this is almost a decent phone now, and just on the cusp of earning a “yes, buy this” recommendation. However, US pricing at $300 has been revealed, and I think that may still be just a little bit too high, and updates are still a problem.
Praising the phone on a value basis may overemphasize the current benefits of 5G. This phone is most useful on T-Mobile, and T-Mobile’s 5G network isn’t what it could be right now. And worse, when those benefits will be genuinely handy, this phone won’t be getting updates.
Using the phone again now is a very different experience than when we did our initial review. That speaks poorly to OnePlus phones at launch, but I’m glad the company has improved things. Probably my biggest complaints now are camera performance in marginal lighting conditions and the fingerprint sensor’s random inability to wake the phone, and neither of those issues are deal-breakers at $300 — though the camera performance does bug me a lot more now coming from the Pixel 4a.
Nothing’s ever black and white when it comes to the smartphone experience these days, and OnePlus did manage to make the N10 5G into a better phone since we first reviewed it, but I still hesitate to call it a good value at $300. If you want certain things like a high refresh rate display, fast charging, a wide-angle camera, and 5G, then it may have the right mix of features for you. But speaking more holistically in terms of the overall experience, I think most folks are better off saving up the $50 difference for our Editors’ Choice Award-winning Pixel 4a. If you can’t, which is understandable, then I also think the cheaper TCL 10L offers most of the same anecdotal experience for less — the biggest thing you’ll probably miss is the N10 5G’s fast charging. I also expect plenty of entry-level and mid-range 5G phones to land at CES in the next week to further upset the N10 5G’s position.
OnePlus’ product lineup is starting to get pretty messy, and while the N10 5G is a better phone now going into 2021 than it was at release in Europe, the company still needs to do one of two things to get my recommendation: Drop the price or commit to better/longer updates. At $250 or with a better update policy, this would be my #1 choice at the price point. As it stands, it’s merely “fine.”
Longer updates make a better phone
One of my biggest remaining complaints about the N10 5G was its update policy. OnePlus only promised two years of security patches and a single update to a version of Android that will be out of date in just a couple more months. Amortizing the cost of the smartphone out across its life, it just didn’t present a very good value. But that changed today.
OnePlus is now promising an extra year of security patches for the N10 5G. That means an extra year of life for a phone you can use safely and securely, and that changes the math. Sure, I’d rather see two major Android updates rather than just one, but it’s still a significant step that extends the phone’s lifetime by an extra 50%. Couple that with the fact that OnePlus has fixed most of the bugs we’ve run into with the phone, and we think it’s only fair that we reassess things, as we promised to do in our original review.
I still hesitate to really think of this as a “real” OnePlus phone like the ones we’re used to, but the company made the N10 5G a better value today. It’s earned our recommendation, and we’re increasing our review score from 7/10 to 8/10.