(Pocket-lint) - The OnePlus Nord is one of the most anticipated phone launches for some time. In the run up to the OnePlus 8 series launch, it was discussed as a 'Lite' version of that series. In fact, many assumed that it would be launched alongside the 8 and 8 Pro. But it didn't materialise.
Instead, this phone is launching with its own name, its own brand identity, and one that feels like it's the beginning of something new for OnePlus. Something bigger than just a single phone.
So it's not a flagship phone this time?
"It's now six years since the launch of our first product where we kind of asked the industry and the fans of smartphones of what kind of phone you like? What is a great user experience? How is that built?" OnePlus' head of European strategy, Tuomas Lampen, said when we interviewed him in the build up to the OnePlus Nord release.
"So then we kind of made this promise or commitment to the industry and the fans to create as good products as we can and deliver the best user experience. Now fast-forwarding six years I feel we've stayed true to that commitment."
On the subject of creating what OnePlus classes as a non-flagship level phone (essentially phones not running the Snapdragon 800-series processor), Lampen said it was "always a question of 'when' more than 'if' we should do it."
"Let's do it when the time's right, when we can bring that user experience, that level of premium-ness that we make in the flagships ... to a more affordable price point."
It's an interesting comment, especially when OnePlus' previous insistence - whether stated directly or insinuated - was that it would only build the fastest phones it could, and only use the most powerful processors it could. (In fact that was the argument used for launching T-versions of phones 6 months after a new range launched.)
Part of this is meeting the demand from consumers: Lampen says over the past couple of launches, it's become an "increasing demand and dialogue with the community. They expect more affordable devices." It's perhaps also a reflection of the changes in the smartphone market, with lower-positioned devices offering an experience that's getting much stronger.
With Nord a supposedly competitively-priced mid-tier phone, there's perhaps a risk of it cannibilsing sales of the flagships, but Lampen doesn't see it that way: "I think this device will talk to - almost - a completely different market of consumers."
"There's a huge market of the kind of users who don't demand the best in every aspect of the device, but just a great, solid quality user experience. So I think we bring this device to quite a different part of the market. And I'm quite happy about that because then they get to experience our user experience. Changing from any other device to Oxygen OS, it's like fresh air."
Why Nord and what is it?
There's a very real a feeling that Nord is more than just this single phone launch. We were told that Nord "will be the name for the whole ... line of new products. Which now we're starting with the first device. And like we usually do, we start kind of small-scale, start now in India and Europe first, and then of course take the learnings and see how it goes."
We were keen to push into what exactly these new products might be, but - of course - now is apparently not the time to discuss the exact details of those.
The name itself, the company has repeated, comes from the word for 'North' in multiple languages, and brings with it a sense of focus on what matters to OnePlus. And how it wants its products to feel.
"It's something when when we look inside or, let's say, the young people coming up [Gen Z], have quite strong direct inside feeling, inside kind of voice or direction for where they're heading in life and we feel that we're also looking inside, looking for direction - and you know - on a compass it's always north that you're looking for."
So this name is really about focusing on a new direction for OnePlus.
Is this all just hype?
Looking around the marketing efforts and social media hype being built by dedicated channels - particularly on Instagram - you'll see videos that appear really transparent, and open about the frustrations, focus, and effort behind this phone launch. You'll also see posts hinting at that laser-focused attitude on true north: "If we're not living our true self, we're not really living at all," one of the posts reads, like a feel good meme.
OnePlus has doubled down on the message about having no bloatware or ads in its software, and not requiring an embarrassing selfie stick for wide angle selfies.
We asked if there was a danger with all the hype building, that OnePlus Nord ends up underwhelming people when it's finally announced. Lampen said "it's something I wonder as well, because obviously there's this huge build up to one device," before joking that it "must be some sort of world record on mid-range device hyping."
Even from the retailer side, he said that outlets are preparing for this with the same kind of anticipation you'd get from a flagship phone. But a part of it is also trying to recapture that excitement that tech fans had when the first OnePlus phone was launching. "If we can catch even part of that feeling from six years ago, then I feel it's a great success."
Whether or not the device sells in the numbers OnePlus would like is yet to be seen. It's found success in the premium market, particularly in Western Europe where Counterpoint Research now places it within the top 3 brands for premium devices. With the mid-range phone, it could look to gain more fans, more loyal customers who then - perhaps - decide later on they'd like to go for the high end models.
Time will tell whether it's a strategy that will succeed, but it seems like the time is now right for high quality mid-rangers - and OnePlus wants to lead the charge.