I miss the old OnePlus. Sure, those were the bad old days of invites, and shaky software support, but it felt like the company had a mission: it was making the flagship killer. The OnePlus One wasn’t just supposed to impress us with its different approach to hardware and software, but also to marketing, and at $300 (or $350 for the 64GB model) this was clearly a company going after the budget market. Sadly, those days did not last, and now OnePlus is a regular full-fat flagship brand.
But there’s hope. I doubt we’ll ever see another budget OnePlus phone as well-executed as the OnePlus X, but the Nord line has arrived to pick up the slack, and last year we checked out what’s easily the most successful Nord to date, the N20 5G. Several months back, the latest Nord started hitting the US market through T-Mobile. Does the Nord N300 5G strike the same the high mark as the N20, or will I once again be dreaming for those halcyon days when OnePlus ruled the budget space?
The OnePlus Nord 300 5G is a super-affordable smartphone option for T-Mobile. As you’d expect for a price just north of $200, the N300 isn’t a powerhouse. While that means trade-offs like a 720p LCD, OnePlus does throw in a few nice upgrades, like a 90Hz refresh rate for the screen, a side fingerprint sensor, and NFC for contactless payments. It launched with Android 12, but it’s slated to get Android 13 at some point, plus security patches into 2024. If you need something cheap that will last you a year or two, and you’re on T-Mobile (or subsidiary Metro), the N300 is a decent selection.
- SoC: MediaTek Dimensity 810
- Display: 720p 90Hz IPS LCD
- RAM: 4GB LPDDR4x
- Storage: 64GB
- Battery: 5,000 mAh
- Operating System: Oxygen OS based on Android 12
- Front camera: 16MP f/2.0
- Rear cameras: 48MP f/1.8 primary, 2MP f/2.4 depth
- Dimensions: 163.8 x 75.1 x 7.99mm
- Colors: Midnight Jade
- Weight: 190g
- Charging: 33W SUPERVOOC Fast Charging
- IP Rating: n/a
- Price: $228
- Micro SD card support: Yes, up to 1TB
- Really affordable
- Long-lasting battery that charges fast
- Did I mention the low price?
- Low-res display
- Cheap-feeling body
- Middle-of-the-road performance
Availability and network
While the Nord series has been around for a while now, OnePlus really hasn’t focused on making it a priority for North America. That situation’s been getting better, with T-Mobile in particular stepping up to give Nord a home. That’s once again the case with the N300 5G, and pretty much the only place you’re going to see this handset; don’t expect to find unlocked models on retailer shelves anytime soon.
Honestly, that’s fine, and with 5G band support still as wonky as it is, I really wasn’t too interested in playing “which carrier is this handset going to work the least bad on.” Aligning with T-Mobile makes a lot of sense for OnePlus as well as customers, giving the phone great exposure and tempting them with its free-with-service pricing.
Of course, you can always just buy the phone outright, and at $230 it’s extremely affordable, undercutting even the Nord N20 5G.
Design and display
The Nord N300 5G is an odd beast, and when I first picked it up, I’ll admit I was not particularly impressed. The handset’s body is just plastic all over, and looks it — even the matte finish on the rear panel is unavoidably shiny. But when you get over the choice of materials, you can really start appreciating this utilitarian, boxy design for what it is.
I’m a big fan of squared-off edges on phones, and the N300 is only too happy to deliver. On the left edge, OnePlus gives us volume controls and our SIM/microSD tray, while over on the right you’ll find the slightly recessed power button with integrated fingerprint scanner. I tend to like the idea of this kind of scanner placement a lot more than I do the actual implementations in phone hardware, but OnePlus does a decent enough job here. Down below, we’ve got the speaker, USB-C port, and the blessedly still-present headphone jack.
So far, I’m reasonably satisfied — which, of course, makes it time to start getting negative. OnePlus gave the N300 a raised screen, which awkwardly juts out from the phone’s body. I hate this so much and it looks so bad and why couldn’t you just make it flush?
My other “why would you do this” moment comes courtesy of the main camera package around back, which lives in a transparent, raised island, of all things. I guess it helps minimize the extent to which the lenses seem to protrude, but I can’t look at it and not see a chintzy Lucite desk ornament.
Let’s flip back over to the display, because there’s a lot more going on here than just the regrettably raised profile. All around there’s a bit of a thick bezel, and the curved corners don’t do a great job matching the curves of the phone’s frame, resulting in a disjointed look and feel. OnePlus goes for a teardrop selfie cutout, which eats up a lot more space than a simple hole-punch would. I don’t love that choice to begin with, and it’s made all the worse here on account of brightness issues around the drop’s edge.
The screen itself is a 6.56-inch 1612 × 720 IPS LCD panel. It’s fine: decently bright, acceptable viewing angles, and has the bonus of supporting slightly higher than normal 90Hz output, which is far from a given at this price point.
Finally, from the screen, to just the body itself: I wish this phone were smaller. All of you who prefer larger phones are objectively incorrect, and I resent the influence you hold over manufacturers.
Software and performance
It’s been a minute since I’ve spent any time using an OxygenOS phone, and while there’s definitely an adjustment period, the software’s not too objectionable. I tend to like my OSes on the lighter side, and while there are absolutely some places here where OnePlus fails by trying to do too much, I do appreciate the extent to which OOS stays out of my way most of the time.
The Launch Shelf has got to be the worst offender here, and when you first go to access you notifications, chances are you’ll find yourself staring confusedly at a screenful of widgets. Thankfully it’s easy enough to disable, but really I think I want the ability to change how you access it — your only option is a swipe from the top-right, or nothing at all. I might give it more of a shot if I could just change that to the left, retaining my normal access to quick settings.
With a MediaTek Dimensity 810 SoC and just 4GB of RAM, I wasn’t expecting a ton form the Nord’s performance, and while apps are definitely more sluggish than they’d perform on a modern flagship, the overall experience here doesn’t feel that slow. The 90Hz display certainly helps a bit there, making it seem like on-screen elements are always moving around responsively.
Of course, there are still some sore spots that you come across as you start getting into the experience here. Haptics, for one, are disappointing and mushy, which is sadly what we’ve come to expect from handsets in this price range.
With a budget phone, a high-performance camera is usually a big ask, and you should not be surprised to learn that the imaging system on the N300 is functional at best. The main lens is paired with a 48MP sensor, which you’re probably going to find yourself using binned down to 12MP most of the time. While pixel binning is phone manufacturers’ go-to solution for improving light sensitivity these days, that effort is less than successful here, and nighttime shots quickly become a mess — white balance goes right out the window, and you’re left with murky shots that lack detail.
Don’t count on doing anything special with video on the N300, either. Recording is capped at 1080p, and even that’s only at 30fps. Granted, that’s still higher-res than this phone’s screen can display, so maybe this is actually a win, after all? That’s a depressing thought.
The 16MP front-facer here produces decent enough shots in unchallenging, well-lit conditions, but doesn’t really offer much in the way of flexibility — no wide-angle option, or anything like that. Much like the primary camera, quality takes a pronounced hit in low-light environments. None of this is surprising, and for a phone in this price segment it’s hard to demand more.
Large, cheap phones like the N300 are set up at what has to be the sweet spot for power endurance, and OnePlus absolutely delivers here. The 5,000mAh battery is just as big as the one you’d get on the $1,200 Galaxy S23 Ultra, only here we’re not running a cutting-edge flagship processor that exists solely to run that battery down. Instead, paired with the Dimensity 810, the N300’s got endurance to push it into multi-day usage without breaking a sweat.
When you eventually do run that tank down, support for 33W fast charging gets you back up and running in less time than it takes to watch a few YouTube videos. And if you can’t get to your charger fast enough, the software can offer some help on dialing-back more power-hungry features to stretch what charge you’ve got left even further. After the incredibly low price tag, the Nord’s battery life has got to be the biggest selling point here.
We started off talking about how successful the OnePlus Nord N20 5G was, and that represents some solid upgrades while still keeping the price quite reasonable. Originally listed for $300, you can find the N20 these days for $250-285, and that gets you a Full HD AMOLED display, an upgrade to 6GB of RAM, and a Snapdragon 695 SoC. Frankly, I prefer the design, as well, and it’s also got proper support from T-Mobile.
Then there’s Samsung’s budget A-series, and probably the closest match there is the $200 Galaxy A14 5G. It runs a lower-end MediaTek chip, but RAM and battery capacity are comparable, and even the screen is close to what OnePlus has here — Samsung just upgrades to FHD. The three-camera array does feel quite a bit more versatile than the N300’s package, though, and I think Samsung has the leg up on software here, too.
Should you buy it?
If all this has made the OnePlus Nord N300 5G sound like a bit of a mess, you’re missing the point. This is not a phone that does any one thing the best — it’s certainly not even close to the most powerful, nor feature-rich option around, and if you need to save money above all else, you can still find cheaper phones. But what this does represent is an intelligent balance of trade-offs. Nothing’s the worst, nothing’s the best, and I think most importantly, using the N300 5G doesn’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. It’s a phone you can live with, which is a lot more than I can say for many extreme budget models.
At under $230, and with support from a major US carrier, I can easily see myself recommending this handset to someone shopping for a new phone, but who maybe doesn’t care that much what they ultimately end up with. It’s a good phone for people for whom smartphones are an afterthought, and lest that sound like faint praise, this is actually one situation where “not bad” ends up being “pretty good.”