Design, Size and Display
There is a substantial difference in the feel of these phones once you hold them in your hand: not only is the Nord pleasingly more compact, but it also has the more premium feel with that glass back compared to a decidedly cheap-o plastic feel on the Galaxy. Indeed, the second-gen Nord comes with a glass back and only the mid-frame is plastic, while both the frame and the back on the A52 are made out of plastic. Even tiny details like the buttons have slightly better travel and click on the Nord. And it also comes with its signature 3-way slider, so you can easily switch between ring, vibrate and silent modes, super convenient.
So far, the Nord definitely shapes like the prettier phone. The Galaxy, however, might be a bit more practical as it flaunts IP67 official water protection rating, while the OnePlus lacks such certification. There is a bit of explaining due here: OnePlus phones are usually water sealed too, but they often skip the official rating which adds to the cost of the phone, so you should be fine using the Nord 2 in the rain, just make sure not to dump it in water on purpose.
Speaking of screens, you have a 6.4″ one on the Nord and a 6.5″ size on the Galaxy. Both are of the OLED kind and have punchy, juicy colors, deep blacks and excellent contrast, no complaints whatsoever. We couldn’t find much of a difference and both phones allow customizing the colors and switching to a more gentle sRGB color profile, if the typical vivid OLED colors are not your cup of tea.
Biometrics and Haptics
Both phones feature fingerprint scanners embedded under the screen, but there is a clear difference in how fast these work: the one on the Nord 2 feels nearly instantaneous, while with the Galaxy it takes a long extra second until the phone unlocks, and that is a constant little irritation that will surround your use of the phone. Both are similarly accurate, it’s just that the one on the Galaxy is too slow.
And when it comes to haptics, the vibration motor on the Nord 2 is so much stronger and provides a pleasing precise vibration whether it is for а notification or to aid you in typing faster, while the Galaxy vibrates like an angry beehive all the time and that quickly gets quite annoying.
Under the hood, the Nord 2 is powered — for the first time in a mainstream OnePlus phone — by a MediaTek processor instead of a Qualcomm-made one. And we should say that we don’t mind this one bit as this chip is more powerful than the average for this class.
Comparing the MediaTek 1200 on the Nord 2 vs the Snapdragon 750G on the Galaxy A52 5G, and we find that the MediaTek processor provides more power in almost every regard.
On the popular GeekBench test, the Nord 2 scored double the single-core performance and 50% higher multi-core performance than the A52 5G:
- 808 (Nord) vs 421 (Galaxy)
- 2583 (Nord) vs 1607 (Galaxy)
In real life, we also noticed a bit of stutter here and there on the Galaxy, while the Nord ran much smoother.
Gaming and GPU performance
Turning over to gaming, and we notice a similar pattern. To best understand the gaming performance, we use the 3DMark Wildlife Stress test which runs for 20 minutes and shows not only the initial burst of power that you get from your GPU, but also shows how well it handles the heat and whether it throttles.
Summarizing the results, we can say that the Snapdragon 750G does not throttle and stays consistent throughout the duration of the test, but its base score is just too low at around the 640 point mark. The Nord 2 with the MediaTek 1200 inside it, starts off at nearly SEVEN times that power, but it does throttle significantly after about 10 minutes of gaming, falling down to around 2,500-3,000 points, which is still a lot better than the Galaxy. At the end of the day, the Nord 2 seems like a great choice as a gaming phone, especially for those longer gaming sessions and its performance is really not too far off flagships.
There are two models of the Nord 2: a base version with 8GB RAM/128G storage, which costs 400 euro, and then you can also step up to 12G/256GB for a bit more. There is also a cheaper Nord 2 model with 6GB RAM/128GB storage for India, but it is not likely to arrive to other markets. As for the Galaxy, it also comes with 128GB of native storage, but has 6GB RAM, a bit less than its rival. The Galaxy does, however, support microSD card expandable storage, which is not available on the OnePlus.
OnePlus phones have had all the building blocks for success except for one: a great camera. Can the OnePlus Nord 2, of all devices, suddenly show that the company has made a camera break-through? It has a formidable opponent in the Galaxy A52: Samsung’s mid-ranger snaps photos that other budget phones can envy in both daytime and in low light.
First, though, here’s a quick look at the camera hardware on both:
- wide (main) camera is a 50MP one on Nord 2, 64MP one on Galaxy A52 5G; both have OIS
- ultra-wide is 0.6X 8MP on the Nord 2, 0.5X 12MP one on Galaxy, so you get a wider field of view on the Galaxy
- third lens is monochrome on Nord 2, you have a 5MP macro camera and 5MP depth camera on Galaxy
The lack of a telephoto zoom lens is really the major omission on both, but this is common with budget phones so we have to deal with it.
So… can a OnePlus phone finally win a camera battle? We have to say that OnePlus has overhauled the color science from the first-gen Nord and the second-gen phone now has a far more capable camera.
In the first shot above, you will notice a few things that are trends on the Nord 2: first thing is just how dominant greens are on this photo, kind of taking over other colors, while there is a lot more distinction between colors on the Galaxy. Next up, look closer in the shadows, they are just crushed on the OnePlus Nord 2, while you get a lot more detail in the shadows with the Galaxy. Finally, detail is razor sharp on the Nord 2, especially noticeable in the blades of grass, while the photo on the Galaxy has softer detail and more gentle colors.
On this next shot, the Nord 2 picks up more detail in the sky, but the whole image has a bit of a green-ish tint to it, while the Galaxy doesn’t quite have as much definition in the highlights, but gets the white balance correctly.
In the above shot, you can notice something very typical for the image processing on the Nord 2: when you have greenery, all the colors in the picture seem to turn bleaker and with a green tint, and it almost seems like a few of the colors are missing, while the Galaxy preserves the vibrancy of each color and has the more engaging look.
Same thing here: the brown-orange tonality has taken over the shot, while you have a lot more in terms of distinct colors and dynamics on the Galaxy.
In low light, the roles reverse: colors on the Galaxy look a bit muted, while the OnePlus has captured the more dynamic shot with more contrast.
One more low light shot and it’s really impressive how much light the OnePlus is getting from this scene, yes there is a very noticeable orange-green tint to the photo, but we would argue that it brings more of the atmosphere of the place and looks better.
Both phones also have an ultra-wide camera, a must for a 2021 device, and the first difference that should be mentioned is just the wider field of view on the Galaxy.
In this second shot, we notice that sometimes when you get a lot of greenery in the scene, the OnePlus produces these bland colors with little contrast, while the Galaxy captures a better-looking image.
Apart from the weird halo on the lamps on the Galaxy, we like the photo it captured better as it brings out the vibe of the place far better.
In this next scene, however, we have the total opposite: the Nord is able to extract a lot more light and even though the photo has an orange cast, it looks vastly better than the dark and moody picture from the Galaxy.
Samsung phones are often praised for their selfie cameras as they have really improved big time in the last couple of years, and the Galaxy A52 5G is a great example of how even a budget model can come with a great selfie camera with good dynamic range and pleasing colors.
The OnePlus Nord 2 comes with a single front camera as well, and it also shots very good looking selfies. The front camera is not quite as wide as on the Galaxy, and it tends to overexpose shots a tiny bit, so we’d still the Galaxy the upper hand when it comes to selfies, but it’s definitely a small lead.
We stumbled upon some limitations with video recording on the OnePlus Nord 2 from the get-go: despite having an ultra-wide camera on board, you cannot actually pinch out to use it once you have started recording 4K video with the main camera, and you have to stop the video and then start over with the ultra-wide camera. The Galaxy just allows you to freely zoom in and out between cameras, as it all should work.
If we ignore that, however, we have to say that OnePlus has improved the dynamic range, colors, detail and overall quality of the Nord 2 by a mile, and it not only competes with the Galaxy, most of the time it looks better. We found that video footage was a bit more cropped in on the Nord compared to a wider field of view on the Galaxy. However, video stabilization with the main camera was better on the OnePlus Nord, and so was detail and especially dynamic range as the Galaxy A52 blew the highlights and often overexposed the footage.
We have to also spend a moment talking about audio because the Nord 2 is improved from its predecessor and now comes with stereo speakers that are louder and cannot be easily muffled like you can when you have just one speaker. That is a welcome improvement, but we cannot say that sound quality per se is great. Audio comes out lacking in clarity and definition, while the Galaxy, which also comes with dual speakers, provides a much cleaner, balanced and overall more pleasant sound.
With both phones having the same sized, 4,500mAh batteries, we were curious to see how OnePlus and Samsung manage the software and which phone is able to squeeze more battery life out of the same battery capacity.
First, having used the Galaxy a bit more, we can definitely say that it is among the longer lasting phones we have tested. Unless you are pushing it hard, you can usually get around a day and a half of use between charges. In our week of using the Nord 2 prior to this review, we have found that it mostly matches the battery life on the Galaxy.
Interestingly, in our proprietary battery testing, the Nord 2 beats the A52 with a slight marging, check out the results below:
- 13:13 minutes at 90Hz browsing vs 12:35 minutes on A52
- 9:25 minutes YouTube Nord 2 vs 8:30 minutes A52
These tests are performed under identical conditions, with both phones set at the same brightness level, so they are indeed very indicative of the actual battery situation, and we should say that the Nord 2 does very well.
OnePlus, on the other hand, steals the show when it comes to charging. Listen closely, this $400 budget phone comes with a 65W charger included in the box for free that tops up the phone 0 to 100% in… just half an hour! (It took around 40 minutes in our testing, but still) This is just INSANE. OnePlus explains that such charging speeds are possible since it divides the battery inside the phone in 2 different calls that charge in parallel, and it’s just mind-blowing that you can get such speeds on an affordable phone like the Nord 2.