OnePlus Clover: Why OnePlus is launching a budget phone in 2020 (and why it will succeed)

OnePlus Nord vs OnePlus 8
OnePlus Nord vs OnePlus 8 (Image credit: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

OnePlus is working on an entry-level phone codenamed Clover that will make its debut later in the year. The phone will launch in the U.S. and other global markets for around $200, and comes with a 3.5mm jack, 720p display, 4GB of RAM with 64GB of storage, and a massive battery.

An entry-level phone goes against OnePlus' ethos of delivering the best possible performance on all of its phones. In fact, during the launch of the Nord, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei said that the reason the company went with a Snapdragon 765G chipset instead of the Snapdragon 800 series was because the performance with the 765G is on par with flagships.

Well, that's not the case with the Snapdragon 460, the chipset that's powering the Clover. The chipset is fine in the context of entry-level chipsets — it has four Cortex A73 cores and four A53 cores — but it doesn't come anywhere close to the Snapdragon 765G, let alone Qualcomm's flagships series.

In a nutshell, OnePlus needs affordable phones to drive sales and increase market share.

So why is OnePlus launching an entry-level phone now? It could be as simple as gaining market share. For all the attention that OnePlus gets, the company sells only about 5.5 million phones a year — less than what Google manages with its Pixels. And with the company going up against the likes of Samsung and Apple with the OnePlus 8 series, it needs to have affordable phones if it wants to maintain any kind of sales momentum.

Don't get me wrong; the OnePlus 8 and 8 Pro are fantastic devices, but they launched at the wrong time. With the global pandemic and the ensuing economic hardships, there just isn't a big enough market for $1,000 flagships. So OnePlus is looking to the mid-range and entry-level segments. The entire point with the Nord is to make OnePlus phones accessible to a wider audience, and OnePlus is just building on that premise.

OnePlus Nord vs. OnePlus 7T

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central)

There's also the fact that OnePlus didn't launch the Nord in the U.S., with the company instead stating that it will release a follow-up model in the country. We won't likely get to know why OnePlus chose not to release the Nord in the U.S., but with Clover set to make its way to the country, there will be an alternative for those looking to get OnePlus hardware on a budget.

Clover could just turn into a carrier play in the U.S., but it goes up against Motorola and Nokia.

That said, it is puzzling that OnePlus would launch an entry-level phone in the U.S. instead of a mid-range 5G-enabled option. The Nord would have been the ideal phone for the U.S., but OnePlus must have felt that it couldn't get the margins it needed without increasing the price too much.

Then there's also the fact that doing so would have risked undercutting the OnePlus 8, which has been the go-to option for carriers like T-Mobile and Verizon instead of the costlier OnePlus 8 Pro. At $700, the OnePlus 8 is still a decent option and fits into the same category as the Galaxy A71 5G, whereas the $900 OnePlus 8 Pro encroaches on the Galaxy S20's turf. That could be the reason why carriers chose to go with the OnePlus 8 as the 5G-enabled option from OnePlus this year.

So in that context, it is plausible that OnePlus is looking at the $200 segment as a potential alternative to its flagship offerings. The Clover is definitely coming to the U.S., and it could end up being a carrier play where the likes of T-Mobile or Verizon could offer the device as a free or bundled option when you're picking up a new plan. However, there are a lot of great phones in this segment, and with Motorola and Nokia dominating the category, we'll have to wait and see if OnePlus can make a dent here.

The specs on offer with Clover are underwhelming (something I didn't think I would say for a OnePlus phone), so it will come down to the positioning and just how aggressive OnePlus decides to go with the pricing. Between this and the software changes with OxygenOS 11 and a wearable push, OnePlus is certainly looking very different to the company that embarked on its "Fast and Smooth" journey with the OnePlus 7 Pro last year.

Ultimately, it doesn't make a lot of sense for OnePlus to dilute its brand by rolling out an entry-level phone, but it looks like the manufacturer is chasing sales figures as it tries to become a mainstream player. OxygenOS and guaranteed software updates could be the differentiator for OnePlus here, and while the strategy is counter to what OnePlus has stood for so far, it may just work out for the company.

OnePlus Nord

OnePlus Nord

The OnePlus Nord has all the features you care about at a more affordable price. There's a 90Hz panel, 48MP primary camera at the back, dual 32MP + 8MP cameras at the front, 30W wired charging, and rock-solid internal hardware. Combine that with clean software and you get a great overall value.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.