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OnePlus Nord review: top-quality phone is true bargain at £379 | Smartphones

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With the Nord, OnePlus is returning to its roots with first-class smartphones at mid-range prices, which is a very good thing.

The £379 Nord sits under the £599 OnePlus 8 as the firm’s mid-range offering, aiming to bring everything that makes its top-end smartphones so good but at a significantly lower price.

Dimensions-wise the Nord is only marginally different to the 8, being 0.2mm thicker, 0.4mm wider, 1.9mm shorter and weighing 4g more. It has a gorgeous, bright and colourful, 90Hz AMOLED screen that is 6.44in on the diagonal with FHD+ resolution, which is only 0.11in smaller than the 8. The screen is flat, rather than curved at the sides, and a dual-selfie camera peers through the screen, taking up a fair chunk of real estate in the top left corner.

OnePlus Nord review
The Nord looks particularly good in Marble Blue with top-notch fit and finish. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The rest of the phone is fairly standard for a high-end device in 2020. Metallic (but plastic) sides, glass front and back, with a vertical camera lump to one side. It is extremely attractive in a light blue colour but also comes in a metallic-like grey. The curved glass back is fairly grippy, which makes the Nord feel great in the hand and easy to hold and use without a case, although a high-quality clear thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) case is included in the box.

There is a USB-C port in the bottom but no headphones socket – which is more common in smartphones priced under £400 than at the top end of the market. It’s not obvious from the outside that the Nord is not a £600+ smartphone.

Specifications

  • Screen: 6.44in 90Hz FHD+ AMOLED (408ppi)

  • Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G

  • RAM: 8 or 12GB of RAM

  • Storage: 128 or 256GB (UFS 2.1)

  • Operating system: OxygenOS 10.5 (Android 10)

  • Camera: quad rear camera: 48MP main, 8MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro, 5MP depth sensor; dual selfie camera: 32MP main, 8MP ultra-wide

  • Connectivity: 5G, dual sim, wifi 5, NFC, Bluetooth 5.1 and GPS

  • Water resistance: no rating

  • Dimensions: 158.3 x 73.3 x 8.2 mm

  • Weight: 184g

Fast with 32 hours of battery

OnePlus Nord review
Warp Charge 30T is one of the fastest charging systems on the market. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Nord has one of Qualcomm’s latest 5G-capable mid-range processors, the Snapdragon 765G, rather than the top-end Snapdragon 865. It comes with either 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage or 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, depending on the model. It is worth noting that the storage is the older, slower UFS 2.1 standard, not the faster, newer UFS 3.0 standard that has been used in top-end smartphones since last year.

Performance all round was very good indeed. During day-to-day usage, launching apps, switching between them, browsing in Chrome, email in Gmail, trying to avoid the dross of social media and hurriedly setting teams against tight deadlines for the final weeks of the Fantasy Premier League, I could not tell the difference between the Nord and the stellar OnePlus 8 Pro. That, in itself, is an achievement and has as much to do with well-optimised software as the processor.

You could notice a performance difference in graphically demanding games, while trying to manage a giant spreadsheet in Google Sheets or while rapidly scrolling through very media-heavy sites but some top-end phones from rivals also struggle a little with some of those activities compared to the OnePlus 8 Pro.

OnePlus Nord review
The excellent alert slider quickly switches between totally silent, vibrate and ring. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Battery life is also good and lasts about 32 hours, from 7am on day one until 3pm on day two, which is more than enough to make it through the toughest of days and a night out. That matches the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro’s 32-hour batteries and beats Apple’s iPhone SE by five hours and Google’s Pixel 3a by eight hours.

That was after spending three hours on 4G, the rest on wifi. And with the screen set to 90Hz and on for more than five hours for the usual deluge of email, messages and push notifications, browsing and using apps, five hours of Spotify via Bluetooth headphones and about 20 photos.

Note that it was impossible to test the effects of 5G on battery life because I do not receive 5G at my home, to which I am restricted because of the Covid-19 situation in the UK. Also, pending a software update, the phone is limited to 4G only when two sims are used at the same time.

The Nord has OnePlus’s Warp Charge 30T super-fast wired charging, which hits 50% in 25 minutes and fully recharges the phone in an hour. Optimised charging preserves battery longevity by learning when you need a fully charged phone overnight and delays charging to 100% until just before that moment, and works with any charger, not only the one included in the box. There is no wireless charging.

Sustainability

OnePlus rates the battery in the Nord for 800 full-charge cycles till 80% capacity – better than the typical 500. Battery longevity is also aided by the firm’s optimised charging system. The smartphone is generally repairable by OnePlus in the UK, with the battery costing £12 or the screen costing £67 plus VAT and labour to replace.

The firm offers a trade-in programme for purchase of the Nord, including the return of OnePlus smartphones and models from rivals. It did not comment on the use of recycled materials in its smartphones.

OxygenOS 10.5

OnePlus Nord review
The dual-selfie camera takes up a reasonable chunk of the status bar, so the option to edit which icons appear there is welcome. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Nord ships with the same OxygenOS 10.5 based on Android 10 as the 8 and 8 Pro.

Google’s Discover feed features on the home screen, alongside nice touches such as full theme support and choices for animations such as that around the fingerprint scanner. The ability to choose which icons show in the status bar is particularly useful, given the large space taken up by the dual-selfie camera in screen. OxygenOS does have a dark mode but it cannot be toggled on and off quickly, as with most smartphones.

OxygenOS has developed into the best version of Android you can get on a phone, balancing features, aesthetics and speed like no other, even without a top-of-the-line processor. OxygenOS’s one long-term downside, which is common to all OnePlus phones and has been a problem for several years, is that it aggressively shuts down apps in the background more than most other manufacturers, which prolongs battery life but also delays notifications and can break functionality for some apps. I noticed delays to security camera alerts, new message notifications and fantasy football events, among others.

OnePlus only offers software support for three years from release, including two years of Android version updates and then a further year of security updates on a bimonthly schedule. Apple offers five for its iPhones, including the £400 iPhone SE, so there’s still work to be done for OnePlus.

Camera

OnePlus Nord review
The main camera is very good, particularly for a mid-range smartphone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The OnePlus Nord has a quad-camera system on the back, including the same 48-megapixel main camera as the OnePlus 8, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera, a 2-megapixel macro camera and a depth-sensor.

The main 48MP camera shoots 12MP photos by default (a 48MP mode is available) and captures some really great-looking images, with good contrast and colour in bright light and reasonable images in middling to poor light. Low-light performance is average but is helped by the dedicated Nightscape mode. What was pretty good in a phone costing £599 with the OnePlus 8 is very good indeed at the £379 asking price of the Nord.

There’s no optical zoom, relying entirely on digital zoom from the main camera, which is fine at 2x but not much good beyond that. The 8MP ultra-wide camera is fairly average compared with top-end rivals, with a noticeable softening of detail around the sides, but can produce good-looking wide-angle images in bright light if you do not zoom in on them too much. The 2MP macro camera is total rubbish for close-up shots; I got far better results with just the main camera and zooming in a little bit.

Video is pretty good, too, particularly at this price point, with up to 4K at 30 frames per second available. The dual-selfie camera on the front has one main 32MP camera and one 8MP ultra-wide, both are fixed-focus. Together they produce pretty good images, with a good amount of detail, but even in good light they can be a little grainy in areas around the eyes on closer inspection. It is nice to have the ability to take a wider angle to fit more people in.

Observations

OnePlus Nord review
The in-screen fingerprint scanner is the best in the business, matching traditional capacitive sensors for speed and accuracy, and far better than even top-priced rivals from Samsung and others. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian
  • A screen protector comes pre-applied to the phone.

  • The haptic feedback and vibration motor is as good as that in the 8 Plus: sharp and punchy, which cannot be said for many phones at this price.

Price

The OnePlus Nord is available in either blue or grey, costing £379 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage or £469 with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

For comparison, the Google Pixel 3a costs £329, the Motorola Moto G 5G Plus costs £299.99, the Apple iPhone SE costs £419, the OnePlus 8 costs £599 and the OnePlus 8 Pro costs £799.

Verdict

The OnePlus Nord is a very good phone full stop – and an absolute bargain at only £379.

It looks the part. The screen is great. The rear main camera is great and the battery life is very good. It is just as fast, smooth and refined in day-to-day usage as OnePlus’s smartphones costing twice as much and it supports 5G, whenever that arrives in your neighbourhood. Other than from reading the spec sheet and seeing the inclusion of a mid-range processor, it’s really not obvious where any corners have been cut.

The Nord has stiff competition from Apple’s 4G-only £419 iPhone SE but otherwise blows the competition out of the water. In fact, I really can’t see why you would pay an extra £220 for the OnePlus 8 but that’s a problem for OnePlus not the consumer.

Overall, the OnePlus Nord is one hell of a lot of phone for £379 and will take some beating.

Pros: great 90Hz AMOLED screen, great performance, solid battery life, fast charging, great software, looks stunning in blue, good main camera, top-notch build, dual-sim, 5G, superfast in-screen fingerprint scanner.

Cons: no headphone socket, no telephoto camera, no water-resistance rating, 5G disabled when using two sims, only three years of software updates, OxygenOS can break third-party app notifications.

OnePlus Nord review
The camera lump sticking out the back of the phone in one corner means it rocks a little when being used flat on a table or desk. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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NBC Sports Network will cease operations in 2021

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Ivan Provorov #9 of the Philadelphia Flyers plays the puck against Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins during the first period in a Round Robin game during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoff at Scotiabank Arena on August 02, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario.

Mark Blinch | National Hockey League | Getty Images

The NBC Sports Network is shutting down.

The network will stop operations by the end of 2021, a person familiar with the plan confirmed to CNBC. NBC will transfer its sports media rights, including the National Hockey League, to USA Network. The person spoke to CNBC on condition of anonymity as the individual isn’t allowed to comment publicly on the matter. Both networks are owned by CNBC parent company NBCUniversal.

The plan to halt operations will allow NBC to attract more reach for its sports content. USA Network is available in 86 million homes, while NBCSN has an estimated 80 million household reach.

NBCUniversal initially hoped NBC Sports Network would be its response to Disney‘s ESPN — a cable sports network that could justify high affiliate fees from pay-TV distributors because of its popular sports content. Twenty-first Century Fox developed Fox Sports 1 and CBS introduced CBS Sports Network for similar reasons.

But none of the cable sports networks have ever seriously threatened ESPN, and the media industry’s move toward streaming video has made linear sports networks anachronistic. NBCUniversal is considering shutting down several networks, CNBC reported in October, to consolidate its best assets in fewer networks. Shuttering underperforming cable networks could allow legacy media companies to keep the shrinking cable bundle afloat while maintaining subscription revenue by boosting fees for its existing networks.

The network started in the 1990s as the Outdoor Life Network, then was rebranded to Versus in 2006. Comcast owned the network when it took over NBCUniversal in 2011, and rebranded it as the NBC Sports Network at that time.

NHL playoff games, a selection of NASCAR races, and Premier League content will transfer to USA Network after NBCSN closes.

The Stamford, Connecticut-based network took over NHL rights with a 10-year, $2 billion package in 2011. The agreement runs through the current 2020-21 season.

NBCSN also has a $4.4 billion rights package with NASCAR that expires in 2024 and coming up on its renewal option with European’s soccer Premier League rights (worth roughly $1 billion). The network moved some of those games to NBC’s streaming service, Peacock, last year.

Back to the future

Longtime sports media rights advisor Lee Berke said the move is “back to the future” for USA Network airing sports content. The channel was originally a national distribution arm for Madison Square Garden Sports Network, airing sports content including the National Basketball Association until 1984.

“The fact that sports is returning to USA isn’t a new concept,” Berke told CNBC in an interview on Friday. “Certainly the distribution is helpful but this move is reflective of a couple of things — the pay TV bundle is shrinking. Subscriber base is shrinking. So, it justifies fewer networks to be on the air and the other part of it is the growth of streaming.”

Berke, the CEO of LHB Sports, a sports consultancy firm, said streaming trends is forcing network to reinvent themselves “as consumer viewing behavior changes. The was a migration of sports from broadcast to cable over the past 20, 30 years when pay TV became bigger and bigger. And now you’re seeing sports migrating to streaming.

“I think its a sensible move given the trends that are taking place,” said Berke of NBCSN’s closure. “You’re trying to stay ahead of the wave. You don’t want to be behind it and miss out. But this makes sense based off where pay TV is heading and base on where streaming is heading.”

Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, which is the parent company of CNBC.


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‘Touching fish’ craze see China’s youth find ways to laze amid ‘996’ work culture | China

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On the Chinese microblogging platform Weibo, enthusiastic slackers share their tips: fill up a thermos with whisky, do planks or stretches in the work pantry at regular intervals, drink litres of water to prompt lots of trips to the toilet on work time and, once there, spend time on social media or playing games on your phone.

“Not working hard is everyone’s basic right,” said one netizen. “With or without legal protection, everyone has the right to not work hard.”

Young Chinese people are pushing back against an engrained culture of overwork, and embracing a philosophy of laziness known as “touching fish”. The term is a play on a Chinese proverb: “muddy waters make it easy to catch fish”, and the idea is to take advantage of the Covid crisis drawing management’s focus away from supervising their employees.

The author of a viral post at the centre of the conversation, Weibo user Massage Bear, described “touching fish” as a life attitude.

“[It] is a life philosophy of perfunctory living, letting go of oneself and others at the same time… and that’s the key to living in the moment and being relaxed,” she said.

Some make a game of it, Quartz reported, aiming to be the employee who uses the most toilet paper, or getting up from their desk whenever any other colleague does.

The deliberate slowdown at work marks a cultural shift among younger generations who are pushing back against unhealthy work hours for little gain, and not seeing the opportunities for upward mobility experienced by their parents.

“The fundamental reason for me to do that is that I no longer believe that I can get a promotion in my current company by hard work and ability,” said one Weibo user.

“There’s a joke in the tech industry, if you work hard before 35 as engineer in a food delivery company, then after 35 you are the delivery guy,” said Suji Yan, a 25-year-old chief executive of a tech startup mask.io.

“I’ve heard of people being fired after 35 because they spent less time in the company, because they have families to look after and they have less energy than the younger people.”

The “touching fish” movement has a sense of humour, but behind it is a deadly serious issue. Recent deaths have again highlighted the dangers in China’s “996” work culture – a reference to working 9am to 9pm, six days a week at a minimum, particularly in the tech industry and among food delivery drivers. The 996 attitude is widespread, despite labour laws saying work should be limited to eight hours a day, for an average of 44 hours a week.

Media reports include anecdotes of employees being offered bonuses or fold-out beds for under the desk if they work overtime, fines for missing phone calls, and even signal blockers in bathrooms to stop employees using their phones while on their toilet.

“It’s not that I don’t do my job well,” said one Weibo user.

“Touching fish to resist 996 is nothing more than a kind of nonviolent non-cooperation in a harsh working environment and a difficult process of safeguarding rights.”

In December a 23-year-old employee of e-commerce giant Pinduoduo died after working past midnight, the company confirmed earlier this month. While her death hasn’t been formally attributed to overwork, the company attracted furious backlash over the expectations put upon employees, and it was exacerbated further when earlier this month an engineer – surnamed Tan – took his own life.

Shortly afterwards Pinduoduo also fired an employee, named as Wang Taixu. Wang said he was fired after posting a photo online of an ambulance parked outside the company’s Shanghai officer building with the caption “another brave Pinduoduo warrior has fallen”. Pinduoduo reportedly disputed his characterisation of the medical incident and said Wang was fired for “extreme comments made with obvious malice”, violating company rules, and unrelated to the ambulance video. But another video which he posted after he was fired, criticising the intense work culture at the company, was viewed nearly half a million times according to Sixth Tone. Pinduoduo denied the accusations in the video.

Yan said companies got around labour laws in globally familiar ways: hiring people as contractors rather than employees, and incentivising people like delivery drivers to work long hours more often, with bonuses and games, rather than forcing them to do it.

He said as a chief executive he understood the pressures companies were under to increase output, but disagreed with the systematic culture of overwork, and saw the touching fish movement as a form of safe resistance.

“People do that because they have no way of talking to the management.”

Current leading business people are still fans of 996. Alibaba founder, Jack Ma, has said the practice is key to being successful in competitive industries. Xibei Canyin chief executive, Jia Guolong, said people should in fact be working “715” (15 hours a day, seven days a week). In 2019 a Huawei executive boasted that employees asked to work past 10pm. But it has drawn opposition from state media, including Xinhua news and the Communist party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily.

Yan said the tech industry was having a reckoning with how it was enabling the 996 culture, for example by building the technology which exploits delivery drivers. Github, a software development hosting site, has a project called 996.ICU (work 996 and you’ll end up in the intensive care unit), which documents companies enforcing excessive overtime. Yan suggested the project, co-created by his wife Katt Gu and other IT developers and to which he contributes, was in part a way for engineers to make amends.

“There are more and more engineers who are like the Github starters and want to contribute something to society, not to create algorithms to kill more delivery guys,” he said.

“There’s progress. I think my generation, when they become employers and CEOs they’ll have more humane ways of management, they’ll try to fix the system.”


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Microsoft president Brad Smith defends MSPAC to employees

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Microsoft president Brad Smith takes part in a roundtable discussion with US President Donald Trump and industry executives on reopening the country, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC on May 29, 2020.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

A top Microsoft executive defended the company’s approach to supporting political campaigns in a meeting with employees on Thursday, according to a transcript of the meeting that CNBC reviewed.

Microsoft President and legal chief Brad Smith said Microsoft is evaluating options for the Microsoft Political Action Committee (MSPAC), which employees criticized because it helped finance the campaigns of Congress members who supported Donald Trump’s unfounded claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Microsoft employees in the U.S. can give some of their income to the MSPAC, but have no direct say in which candidates it donates to. On Jan. 11 the company said it was putting donations on hold after the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt, when rioters flooded into the U.S. Capitol during the Electoral College vote count that formalized Joe Biden’s win. The MSPAC had donated to several Republican members of Congress who tried to delay the formal Electoral College vote count, despite the complete lack of evidence of widespread voting fraud.

Several other companies, including Amazon, Facebook and Google, also temporarily stopped political contributions after the events.

On Jan. 13 one Microsoft employee, Carmen Crincoli, called for the company to stop supporting members of Congress who voted against the Electoral College results, and to stop giving money directly to elected officials and candidates. He said if the company couldn’t do those things, it should close down MSPAC and ask that employees get involved with politics individually.

Smith, who articulates Microsoft’s position on political topics, addressed the complaints.

“The questions that are being considered are exactly I think what you would expect. Should the PAC suspend donations to the members who voted against the Electoral College? If so, for how long?” Smith said to employees on Thursday.

But he also gave an frank explanation of why the MSPAC was important to Microsoft’s interests:

“I can tell you it plays an important role. Not because the checks are big, but because the way the political process works. Politicians in the United States have events, they have weekend retreats, you have to write a check and then you’re invited and participate. So if you work in the government affairs team in the United States, you spend your weekends going to these events; you spend your evenings going to these dinners, and the reason you go is because the PAC writes a check.

“But out of that ongoing effort a relationship evolves and emerges and solidifies, and I can tell you as somebody who sometimes is picking up the phone, I’m sometimes calling members and asking for their help on green cards, or on visa issues, or help to get an employee or family member who is outside the United States during Covid back into the country because of an immigration restriction.

“Or the issues around national security, or privacy, or procurement reform. Or the tax issues that our finance team manages. And I can tell you, there are times when I call people who I don’t personally know, and somebody will say ‘you know, your folks have always shown up for me at my events. And we have a good relationship. Let me see what I can do to help you.'”

Microsoft declined to comment on Smith’s remarks.

In 2020 hundreds of Facebook employees participated in a protest over the company’s decision to maintain a posts from former President Donald Trump, and in 2018 Google employees protested a contract the company had to supply cloud services to the Pentagon, prompting the company to not renew the contract.

WATCH: Microsoft and Green Bay Packers team up to invest in Black and Latinx entrepreneurs

Nominations are open for the 2021 CNBC Disruptor 50, a list of private start-ups using breakthrough technology to become the next generation of great public companies. Submit by Friday, Feb. 12, at 3 pm EST.


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