On paper, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G offers just about enough to impress as a mid-range smartphone. However, you're still better off steering clear of this device. For the price, this new affordable phone from OnePlus does not offer enough oomph to help establish it as the alpha offering. Its biggest problem is the competition that exists in the segment, and as such, its inability to stand out from the crowd makes it look weak not only against slightly better specd devices such as the Poco X3 Pro – a phone that offers a faster display, bigger battery and a more powerful processor — but also against the original OnePlus Nord, which despite being slightly more expensive, and a year older, looks like the better of the two phones.
Launched in 2020, the OnePlus Nord remains one of the best selling phones from the company to date. While its powerful spec sheet is definitely a major reason behind its success, what helped it become a fan favourite is the fact that it plies its trade in a price segment that OnePlus had vacated years ago.
Now, in 2021, OnePlus is looking to take its mid-range game up a notch with the launch of the Nord CE 5G — a phone which according to the company is "built on the core aspects of the OnePlus Nord experience" but available at a price that's more accessible than before.
Much like the original Nord, the Nord CE is more than just another OnePlus phone. In fact, it's an attempt at reaching out to loyal OnePlus fans, ones that the company left behind when it first made the move to high-end and premium segments of the market. In terms of the approach, there are also similarities between the two phones. So, like the original Nord, this new OnePlus phone also follows a minimalistic, Scandanavian design language, and also appears to be a phone that's tailormade for the average OnePlus fan in India.
But the million-dollar question is: Will all the similarities help the OnePlus Nord CE replicate the successes of the original OnePlus Nord. Well, read our review to find out.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: Display and design
With the Nord CE 5G, OnePlus appears to be focussing on the design and display department. Despite being a mid-range device that's more affordable than the original OnePlus Nord, the company hasn't cut any corners here. As a result, what we have is a device that feels solid in the hands, does not compromise in terms of looks, and to top it off also has an above par display for a mid-range phone.
The phone shares many design elements with the original Nord and brings with itself a design language that focuses on keeping things clean and simple. As such, we have no curved displays or eye-catching camera bumps. Instead, we get a phone that just sits in your palm and looks elegant. From the moment you take the Nord CE 5G out of its retail packaging, the device starts to impress with its finely crafted exteriors. While it doesn't look like a 40-50k segment smartphone, the phone does definitely look like something more premium than what its price suggests.
At 7.9mm, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G is also the slimmest OnePlus smartphone since OnePlus launched the 6T. It's also quite lightweight at 170 grams, which makes it easy to carry around. However, despite its lightweight nature, the phone does not feel toy-like as it has a balanced heft to it. Another interesting thing to note here is that OnePlus has managed to add a 3.5mm jack to the device — something that was missing from the original OnePlus Nord last year.
Moving to the back of the phone, we have a back panel that flaunts a soft matte finish. This not only makes it look premium but also nice to touch. Keeping with the clean, Scandanavian design language of the device, the back panel features only a small OnePlus logo and a vertically placed camera set-up at the back. As we explained earlier, all these elements come together to create a phone that's as easy on the eyes as it is on the pocket.
However, if you're comparing it to the OnePlus Nord from last year, there are some design differences. Sadly, these also make the Nord CE 5G the inferior offering of the two. So, for example, unlike the original Nord, this new phone from the Nord series misses out on the iconic alert slider, which has been a major differentiating factor for OnePlus phones. There is also no Gorilla Glass protection on the device.
Talking about the display, we have a 6.3-inch FluidAMOLED panel on the front of the phone. This panel is capable of running a maximum resolution of 2400×1800 pixels. It also offers a high pixel density of 401ppi. This screen is also capable of running at a fast refresh rate of 90Hz. However, this is not handled dynamically by the phone and is instead set by the user. Since it's an AMOLED panel, the display also brings with itself support for Always-On-Display(AOD).
As one would expect, the performance of the display is quite good. It feels premium and works as well as any other panel fitted on a OnePlus phone in the past. In our time with it, we found the display to match up to our expectations. It can get plenty bright — even under direct sunlight — and also outputs vibrant and punchy colours. OnePlus has included five display profiles, including VIvid, Natural and three more presets AMOLED Wide Gamut, sRGB and Display P3, with the phone. Of these, we found the Natural the most balanced for all basic use, however, if you're looking to watch movies on Netflix, or play games, we'd recommend switching to the Display P3 profile for access to a wider colour gamut.
Apart from this, the display also offers good viewing angles, text legibility is also up to the mark, and overall the display ends up looking like a good option if you're looking to buy a phone for playing games and watching videos and movies on it.
The display on the phone also houses a punch-hole. This feels blends in nicely like a design element. The display also hides an in-display fingerprint scanner. The latter is quite responsive and fast.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: Specifications and performance
Over the years, OnePlus has managed to make a name for itself by launching powerful devices with flagship-grade hardware inside them. However, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G attempts to do no such thing. The phone is a mid-range device, which offers truly mid-range specs — albeit with a 5G twist.
Underneath the hood, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G brings with itself a Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G chipset which offers a decent punch in terms of performance. Manufactured using Samsung’s 8nm process, this chipset offers design similarities to the Snapdragon 765G — the chipset that powered the OnePlus Nord — and as a result almost similar levels of performance. This chipset uses a base configuration of two performance ARM Cortex-A77 cores clocked at 2.2Ghz sat next to six efficiency A55 cores which run at 1.8Ghz. For graphics, we have the Adreno 619 GPU on the chipset, which again delivers pretty much the same kind of performance as the GPU on the Snapdragon 765G. Most of the other features remain the same as both the chips offer support for 5G.
For smooth performance, OnePlus has paired the phone with 12GB RAM on the top-end variant of the device. As we found during our review, this core hardware comes together to ensure that the phone performs as advertised. While the chipset isn't the most powerful in the business, it still does offer enough power to handle graphically demanding games and heavy applications. The phone is equally adept at multitasking between light tasks such as social media apps.
Unsurprisingly, all interactions with the phone seemed breezy, especially when the display was set to refresh at 90Hz. As part of our gaming tests, we ran both Call of Duty Mobile and Asphalt 9 Legends at maxed-out settings and did not notice any frame drops or stutters. The only issue we experienced with the device was slightly high load times for games, however, even that wasn't anything to really get too upset about.
This was something backed up by the results of the benchmarks we ran to test the device. For example, OnePlus Nord CE 5G scored a respectable 390044 points in the AnTuTu benchmark test. While in Geekbench 5, the phone managed a single-core score of 639 points and a multi-core score of 1878 points. GFXBench revealed a similar story about the graphics chops of the Nord CE 5G, with the phone clocking 723 frames in the Aztec Ruins OpenGL (High-Tier) test, and 975 frames in the Car Chase test sequence.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: Cameras
As is the case with most OnePlus devices, the camera department is one of the major areas of focus with the OnePlus Nord CE 5G. The device gets a triple-lens set-up, with a primary pixel binned 64-megapixel lens, with support for electronic image stabilisation (EIS). The lens flaunts an aperture size of f/1.79 for decent low light performance. But more on that later. For now, let's get through the specifications of the camera set-up of the phone.
Sat next to the primary lens is a secondary ultra-wide camera. This is an 8-megapixel lens with a 119-degree field of view and an aperture size of f/2.25. OnePlus has also backed this lens with EIS for stabilisation. To make up the numbers, we also have a 2-megapixel mono lens on the device. The set-up is backed by OnePlus' camera software that brings a number of features to the table. These include the ability to choose between different zoom levels, recording 4K videos at 30FPS, 1080P videos at up to 60FPS, Super Slow Motion videos — 720P captures at 240FPS and 1080P ones at 120FPS — and more.
As for performance, both these lenses are a bit of a mixed bag really. Talking about the primary lens, we get good daytime performance and decent low-light results — although the latter can be significantly improved using the phone's Nightscape mode. In well-lit conditions, pictures come out looking vibrant but accurate colours. These shots also offer a good dynamic range. The lens also captures a good amount of detail to ensure there is little loss even if you zoom or crop an image. The images we captured came out with crisp detail and offer a good amount of sharpness, including at the edges.
The same is mostly true for the ultra-wide lens as pictures clicked using this lens in the daytime generally came out fine. However, we did notice a slightly lower amount of detail retention and some amount of fish-eye effect in the images clicked using this lens. But despite its shortcomings, the ultra-wide lens manages to do what it promises as it increases the scope of the frame at the press of a button and enables users to click sweeping views and scenic vistas thanks to its 119-degree field of view.
There's no macro lens on the device and that's something we definitely think should have been included on the OnePlus Nord CE 5G. Without the presence of a dedicated lens, the phone's primary camera fails to capture usable macro shots, which depending on how you use your phone's cameras could be a deal-breaker for some. But even as the Nord CE 5G falters in the macro performance, it recovers some lost ground with computational photography modes such as Portrait and Nightscape. Both these modes significantly improve the usability of the phone's cameras, with the former clicking nice bokeh shots with creamy blur effect, while the latter enhances the quality of images in low light conditions.
During our time with the OnePlus Nord, we clicked a number of low-light shots with the Nightscape mode enabled. The resultant images showed improvement in detail, proving that OnePlus' camera software was not just artificially brightening up images by increasing exposure time, but was actually stitching together multiple images to create a master image with improved details, highlights and shadows. While we're not saying the results achieved were on the same level as those from higher-end phones, but they were definitely better than a lot of mid-range offerings which fail to implement night mode well.
We also a 16-megapixel front camera on the device. This lens captures accurate skin tones and facial details and if you're looking for something to click selfies and make video calls from, then this one should definitely be good enough.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: Battery performance
Moving on to the battery department, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G provided expected results. The phone does just about enough here to hold its own, even if it doesn't go the extra mile to help itself stand out from the crowd.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G comes with a 4,500mAh battery pack that also comes with the promise of fast charging. However, before you can actually get to charging the device, the phone's energy-efficient chipset and its highly optimised UI ensure that there is little battery drain when you are doing simple tasks like texting, browsing the web, or even video calling. The Nord CE 5G's battery also handles videos well, with the phone returning over 15 hours of runtime during our videos loop test.
So overall, if you're a medium-heavy user, and your phone's average day includes streaming content from Netflix, clicking photos, and browsing the internet, the OnePLus Nord CE 5G should easily get you through a day's use and more. And after all of this, when you finally find your phone running out of charge, you can simply plug it in the provided Warp Charger 30T charging brick to take it from 0-70 in about 30 minutes.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: Should you buy it?
At first glance, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G will convince you that it has everything you need from your next mid-range smartphone. However, closer inspection will reveal that you're possibly better off steering clear of this device. And that's not because it's a bad smartphone. In fact, at Rs 22,999, the Nord CE 5G is a good option if you're looking for a new smartphone that sits right at the heart of the mid-range segment.
However, its biggest problem is the competition that exists in the segment, and its inability to effectively stand out from the crowd. From the missing alert slider to the macro lens, there are lost opportunities that effectively hamper the OnePlus Nord CE’s ability to compete not only against slightly better-specced devices such as the Poco X3 Pro – a phone that offers a faster display, bigger battery and more powerful processor — but also makes it look weak against the original OnePlus Nord, which despite being slightly more expensive, and a year older, looks like the better of the two phones.