OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review: The Core Experience

OnePlus launched its Nord smartphone last July, as the most affordable offering in the OnePlus lineup. It came at a time when people were wary of spending too much, and it was among the first few smartphones to offer 5G for under Rs. 30,000. OnePlus has now launched the new OnePlus Nord CE 5G, which takes the price further down while still offering 5G connectivity as well as three rear cameras.

I’m sure the first question that pops into your mind when you hear the name Nord CE 5G is “What does CE stand for?” OnePlus says it stands for “Core Edition” since the Nord CE covers all the basics that one would look for on a smartphone. So what exactly is this promised core experience, and is there anything important that you would miss out on compared to the OnePlus 9R? I tested the OnePlus Nord CE 5G to find out.

 

OnePlus Nord CE 5G price in India

The OnePlus Nord CE 5G price starts at Rs. 22,999 in India for the base variant which has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The mid-spec variant with 8GB RAM and 128GB of storage is priced at Rs. 24,999, while the top-of-the-line 12GB RAM, 256GB storage variant is priced at Rs. 27,999.

All three variants are available in the dark Charcoal Ink finish. The 8GB variant is also available in a Blue Void colour. If you choose the 12GB RAM version, you can choose between these two as well as an exclusive Silver Ray option. I have the top-spec variant in Blue Void for this review.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G design

The OnePlus Nord CE 5G is a good-looking device and reminds me of the original Nord, especially in the Blue Void colour. It is solidly built and feels comfortable to hold. OnePlus has managed to keep the phone slim at 7.9mm in thickness, and it weighs 170g which feels lighter than some of the other smartphones I’ve tested recently. The Nord CE 5G is well balanced and it is curved along the sides which makes it comfortable to grip.

You get a big 6.43-inch display with a camera hole in the top left corner. The bezels are thin around the sides and top while the chin is slightly larger. The frame of the Nord CE 5G is made out of plastic and all the buttons are placed near the centre. The power button is on the right and volume buttons are on the left. This placement makes it easy to reach these buttons without needing to shuffle the phone in the hand. However, there’s no alert slider, which has become a OnePlus trademark over the years. The SIM tray is on the left as well and can take in two Nano-SIMs but there’s no microSD card slot.

The OnePlus Nord CE 5G can resist fingerprints

 

The Nord CE 5G does have a 3.5mm headphone jack, which was missing on the OnePlus Nord (Review). It’s at the bottom along with the USB Type-C port and loudspeaker. Turn the phone around and there are only two elements there; a OnePlus logo in the centre and the triple camera module in the top-left corner. The camera module does protrude slightly but this isn’t a major issue. My Blue Void review unit had a matte finish at the back which made it resist fingerprints quite well.

OnePlus has packed a 4,500mAh battery into the Nord CE 5G which is slightly bigger than the one in the original OnePlus Nord. This phone supports 30W fast charging and comes with a Warp Charge 30T charger in the box.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G specifications and software

Just like the OnePlus Nord, the Nord CE 5G sports some interesting specifications for its asking price. The big 6.43-inch AMOLED display has full-HD+ resolution and a 90Hz refresh rate which is a big plus. It also has an in-display fingerprint scanner and Asahi Dragontrail glass for protection. Powering the OnePlus Nord CE 5G is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processor, which we have seen in some of the competition such as the Xiaomi Mi 10i (Review) and Samsung Galaxy M42 5G (Review). You get 6GB of RAM on the base variant of the Nord CE 5G, and a whopping 12GB RAM on the range-topping one that I had for review.

There are only two storage options on this smartphone, 128GB and 256GB. The Nord CE 5G has support for Bluetooth 5.1, dual-band Wi-Fi, NFC, and six satellite navigation systems. There is support for dual 4G VoLTE, as well as 5G connectivity.

oneplus nord CE 5g sim OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review

The Nord CE 5G can take two Nano-SIMs but storage isn’t expandable

 

OnePlus has built its reputation largely because of its clean software experience, and that is what you get on the Nord CE 5G. This smartphone runs OnePlus’ custom OxygenOS based on top of Android 11. My review unit was running the April Android security patch but got an update for the May security patch along with a few bug fixes while I was using it. OxygenOS is well polished and I found this phone to be quite easy to use. If you like a clean interface and have an affinity for stock Android, OxygenOS will feel welcoming to you. OnePlus also promises two years of Android updates and three years of security updates, which may just sweeten the deal for potential buyers.

The Nord CE 5G does have a few preinstalled Google and OnePlus apps which can be uninstalled if required. I wasn’t bombarded with notifications from any app. The Nord CE has an always-on display which lights up for incoming notifications. There is a Game mode as well which allows you to block incoming notifications and answer calls directly on the speaker while gaming. It also has shortcuts for WhatsApp, Instagram, and Telegram, but I couldn’t find a way to reassign these You can even block incoming calls and notifications, prioritise game performance over other apps, and disable the second SIM for more stable network performance.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G performance and battery life

The OnePlus Nord CE 5G did not spring any surprises on me while using it, and worked as expected. It was quick to load apps and my 12GB RAM unit made multi-tasking super easy. I could jump between multiple apps without needing to wait for the phone to load them again. The small size of the OnePlus Nord CE 5G also makes it easy for one-handed use.

I found the in-display fingerprint scanner convenient to reach and it never needed more than a single attempt to unlock the smartphone. The AMOLED display is good to watch content on and the 90Hz refresh rate makes usage feel smooth. There is only a single bottom-firing speaker, which is just about adequate.

I recently tested the Samsung Galaxy M42 5G, so I had a fair idea of how the Snapdragon 750G should perform. My OnePlus Nord CE 5G unit fared well and managed to score 391,813 in AnTuTu. In GeekBench 5’s single-core and multi-core tests, it scored 639 and 1,830 points respectively. It managed 59fps and 17fps in the T-Rex and Car Chase tests respectively in GFXBench. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G also managed to score 2,737 points in 3D Mark Slingshot OpenGL. This is slightly lower than what the Galaxy M42 5G scored, though that phone benefits from having a lower resolution display.

oneplus nord CE 5g android 11 OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review

You get a clean software experience on the OnePlus Nord CE 5G

 

Call of Duty Mobile on the OnePlus Nord CE 5G ran at the High presets for both graphics as well as frame rate. I was able to play it without any hiccups and I did not notice any drop in performance during gameplay. After playing the game for 25 minutes, I noticed a 7 percent drop in the battery level. The Nord CE was slightly warm to the touch but not to a concerning degree. If you are looking to play games on your smartphone, the Nord CE 5G is capable of handling popular titles with ease.

Now let’s talk about battery life. The Nord CE 5G’s refresh rate is set to 90Hz by default and I did not change this during the review period. In our HD video loop test, the Nord CE 5G managed to run for 19 hours and 59 minutes which is a good score considering the battery capacity. The Nord CE 5G might be able to deliver slightly better battery life with the refresh rate lowered to 60Hz.

Fast charging is available on the OnePlus Nord CE and you get a 30W Warp Charge 30T Plus charger in the box. This charger took the smartphone from zero to 67 percent in 30 minutes and could charge it completely in about an hour. While it’s not the fastest charging smartphone we’ve seen at this price level, it’s far better than the likes of the Galaxy M42 5G.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G cameras

The OnePlus Nord CE packs in a triple camera setup. It has a 64-megapixel primary camera with an Omnivision sensor, f/1.79 aperture and EIS; an 8-megapixel ultra-wide angle camera with a 119-degree field of view; and a 2-megapixel black and white camera. For selfies, it has a 16-megapixel camera with an f/2.45 aperture. The camera app has a simple UI and I did try out the different shooting modes it offers. The AI could detect what I was shooting and even suggested different modes at times. While using the 64-megapixel primary camera, the smartphone by default uses pixel-binning resulting in 16-megapixel shots.

The OnePlus Nord CE 5G managed to capture some good photos in daylight, and these looked very good on the AMOLED display. It also managed to capture good details of objects in the foreground and text was legible at 100 percent magnification. The ultra-wide angle camera offers a wider field of view but there’s a noticeable drop in image quality. The sides of photos also appeared warped.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G daylight camera sample (tap to see full-size image)

OnePlus Nord CE 5G ultra-wide angle camera sample (tap to see full-size image)

 

Close-up shots were crisp, and the main camera managed to capture textures quite well. The Nord CE 5G also managed good background separation. Portrait mode did not let me fine tune the level of blur before taking a shot. The smartphone displays ‘Depth Effect’ when it’s ready to take a shot. The output had good edge detection and a nice depth effect to it.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G close-up camera sample (tap to see full-size image)

OnePlus Nord CE 5G portrait camera sample (tap to see full-size image)

 

Low-light photos turned out to be average. The Nord CE 5G manages to keep noise under control but you can still see grain in the output. With Nightscape enabled, the phone takes eight exposures and combines them into one photo. This process takes about 7-8 seconds. The resultant images are brighter, bringing out more details in the shadows. Textures were better in Nightscape shots too. The phone crops into the frame to stabilise a Nighscape shot, so you’ll need to take this into account. You can also use Nightscape with the ultra-wide angle camera but the difference is subtle.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G low-light camera sample (tap to see full-size image)

OnePlus Nord CE 5G Nightscape camera sample (tap to see full-size image)

 

Selfies were crisp but skin tones were slightly off in shots taken outdoors, while indoor shots didn’t seem to have this issue. You can take selfie portraits, and the phone managed good edge detection. It could detect faces even with masks on. Low-light selfies were decent and you will only notice fine grain at a 100 percent magnification.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G selfie portrait camera sample (tap to see full-size image)

OnePlus Nord CE 5G low-light selfie portrait camera sample (tap to see full-size image)

 

Video recording tops out at 4k 30fps for the primary camera and 1080p 60fps for the selfie shooter. Footage was well stabilised at 1080p as well as 4K in daylight with only a few shakes evident. Video quality takes a hit in low light, and shimmer is noticeable in the output as the phone tries to stabilise footage.

Verdict

The OnePlus Nord CE 5G has adequate performance to keep up with what you throw at it, and the software experience is clean. OnePlus has also sweetened the deal by promising two years of software updates and three years of security updates, which should keep the phone up to date until you start thinking about your next upgrade.

The triple camera setup can handle the basics, and given the price, there isn’t much to complain about for daylight shots. Low-light camera performance is where this phone could still do with a few tweaks for improvement. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G does manage to deliver the core experience it promises, and given the starting price, it isn’t hard to recommend this phone. However, the variant I’ve reviewed costs Rs, 27,999 and doesn’t offer the same value for money as the entry-level model. For this price, you can consider the OnePlus Nord (Review), or wait for its successor rumored to launch soon. If you can spend a little extra, the Mi 11X (Review) offers higher performance.


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