Sigh... my current phone is reaching the end of it's security life-cycle. These days, a phone can easily outlast the support cycle without too much degradation in power (CPU/GPU/RAM) and battery life (battery endurance) as long as you choose wisely when you first purchase the phone. So, the security patch support of a phone are really what determines the useful lifetime of a device. Of course, you can always ignore the security holes at your own risk... as the phone still works, but that isn't really an advisable course of action! Plus, in the last half year or so, my phone has started to glitch more and more often... I suspect that it is the battery starting to not be able to reliably supply the power required by the CPU/GPU combo and thus resulting in stuttering, hanging and the rare but growing number of hard crashes of the system.
Now, I first joined the smartphone era with the original HTC Desire... before moving onto the wonderful Nexus series of phones before jumping onto the ultra-nerd "Never Settle" credo of the OnePlus One. The invite system of the original OPO combined with the high powered hardwawre at a low price point was just a nerd's dream come true... along with the clean UI overlay and the lack of bloat in the installed apps (none!) was also a huge selling point for those who were nerdy Android enthusiasts.
The ability to also easily root and flash the devices was also a huge draw card!
So, with this in mind... I narrowed my choices of possible phone replacements down to two... the OnePlus Nord and the Google Pixel 4a... both of which are mid-range phones (flagships these days are too expensive and too much overkill in specs...) which have achieved sub-500 euro price points with compromises in different areas. Which leads to a very interesting choice indeed!
The One Plus Nord is a bit of a return to form for the OnePlus brand. After years of steadily increasing prices, the latest flagship launch hit at over 800 euros for a pretty nice phone... but still, over 800 euros! So, with the recent announcement of the One Plus Nord, OnePlus hit at the 400 euro mark with a phone that has some pretty nice flagship features, especially in the specs department... whilst cutting some corners in other spaces!
So, first up with the positives for the One Plus Nord. 5G (not mm-Wave but sub 6GHz), a decently powered CPU/GPU (Snapdragon 765G / Adreno 620), large AMOLED display at 90Hz refresh protected by Gorilla Glass 5, 8G RAM (up to 12GB) and 128 GB Storage (up to 256), dual sim slots, 30W charging. Well, this mid-range phone is a big specs beast for the price... much of what you find here would only be found in flagship class phones at around double the price! However, one of the biggest drawcards for me is the most inane and personal ones... I've always loved the textured sandstone backs of the original OnePlus One... and OnePlus have made sure to sell bumper covers (back and side) to recreate that original grippy feeling! I LOVE IT!
So, the downsides... no water/dust/ingress certification (no OnePlus phone ever has had this... they are fine generally, but they aren't certified!) and the okay but not top of the line camera hardware/software combination. Unfortunately, this has been the big Achilles heel of the OnePlus lineup since the start. The cameras sensors are quite decent... but the software for processing the signals haven't been up to par with Samsung, Apple and Google. Still, they have always improved with each software update... so there is always hope, but Google will always have the edge with the gigantic AI lead!
Finally, a near deal-breaker for me was the fact that OnePlus sold out a little bit and pre-installed Netflix (no problem...) and Facebook on the phones (probably to subsidise the cost of the phones). Now, the apps can easily be uninstalled with no problems.. however, more problematic are the 3 system level app services from Facebook that can't so easily be installed and are constantly running. They can be disabled to prohibit their running and data access.... but it still sucks to have them there. However, I just found out recently that they can be removed via ADB bridge commands from a PC/Linux system.... so, they can be removed, but might put up again in a further software update (to be removed again...). People have reported no problems with either the disabling or removal of the system services... so that is some good news!
Still... it is a bit of a slap in the face of the hardcore nerd users that came to OnePlus from the start. Apparently, OnePlus had done a survey of "users"... and people WANTED Facebook?!?!?!?!... idiots, these could NOT have been the class of consumers that were the loyal hardcore but those who jumped on much later!
Well... the Pixel *a types of phones have been the spiritual successor to the Nexus line. My wife has a Pixel 3a, and it has great sound and unbelievably good camera hardware/software that is boosted by the Google Image AI that just produces incredible photos in pretty much any lighting and action condition! That is by far and away the biggest selling point of the Pixel 4a, as it lags behind the One Plus Nord in every other respect. Smaller, lower refresh screen... less RAM/Storage, weaker CPU/GPU combo, single SIM slot. However, it does retain a legacy headphone jack (not much use to me anymore...)... and more importantly, has a year longer of security support than the One Plus Nord.
... but that camera... the photos are just unbelievably stunning! The photos from my wife's Pixel 3A are just light years ahead of anything else.. and I always grab her phone (if I can...) if I want to take a photo of the kids!... even in near darkness!
So, I was talking with my wife about it... and she pointed out that the One Plus Nord seemed just better suited to my needs and wants. Sure the, camera setup of the Pixel 4a is just unbeatable... but the One Plus Nord takes passable photos... better than my current one. But it also hits the sweet spot of other specs... most notably the 90 Hz refresh screen... buttery smooth high refresh rates are something that you don't notice until you have one... and then it is really hard to go back.
I recently upped my computer monitor to 144Hz refresh... and let's just say that the 60Hz screens are difficult to look at!... the extra RAM/Storage of the One Plus Nord doesn't hurt it's case either!
So, in the end... tough choice... but my wife has a phone that takes great photos... and I value the power of the CPU/GPU/RAM/Storage a bit more than the camera. However, that is just a nerd talking... I think for most people, I would definitely recommend the Pixel 4a over the One Plus Nord... but for me personally, the One Plus Nord just wins out!
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