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OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: back to basics

A year after OnePlus’ comeback to the mid-range segment with the Nord, the brand has now launched the OnePlus Nord CE 5G. OnePlus clarifies that the ‘CE’ in the name stands for Core Edition, and that’s exactly what the OnePlus Nord CE is. The latest smartphone retains the core specifications of the last year’s Nord while getting rid of the fluff. According to OnePlus, this has helped it to price the Nord CE even more aggressively than the original OnePlus Nord.

Also read: OnePlus 9 Pro long-term review: how does it hold up 2 months later?

Starting at Rs 22,999 for the base 64GB variant, the OnePlus Nord CE brings back the 3.5mm jack but sheds a camera on the back and the front compared to the standard Nord. Moreover, the OnePlus Nord CE is the first smartphone from the brand to come with a 64-megapixel primary camera onboard. Let’s see if the OnePlus Nord CE has what it takes to repeat the success of the original Nord despite the few downgrades.

Design and display

  • 159.2 x 73.5 x 7.9mm, 170g
  • 6.43-inch Fluid AMOLED, Full HD+, 90Hz refresh rate, sRGB, DCI-P3 coverage, Asahi Dragontrail glass

The OnePlus Nord CE and OnePlus Nord seem identical at first glance. Upon looking closer, you find the differences like one less camera in the vertical camera layout on the back and a single punch-hole camera instead of a pill-shaped dual cutout from the last year.

Additionally, the Nord CE is just 7.9mm thin and weighs 170g compared to 8.2mm and 184g on the Nord. I personally like the narrow and compact form factor of the latest launch. The smartphone is quite ergonomic and the size makes it ideal for one-handed use. Unfortunately, just like Nord, there’s no IP rating for water resistance.

The OnePlus Nord CE features the power button on the left, and volume keys and dual nano-SIM card tray on the right. There’s no provision for expandable storage, which might irk some users.

The real downgrade on the Nord CE though is that it’s the first OnePlus smartphone in India to get rid of the iconic alert slider. The alert slider is a signature OnePlus feature that’s loved by OnePlus fans, and it’s absence might annoy loyalists who are opting for the new device. For users migrating to the Nord CE from other brands though, the lack of the alert slider might be less conspicious.

The good news is that the brand has brought back the 3.5mm audio jack, which is positioned at the bottom with a single noise-canceling mic, Type-C port, and speaker grille. The top edge is bare except for a single noise-canceling mic.

The OnePlus Nord CE retains the Nord’s 6.43-inch Fluid AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate. The display also has sRGB and DCI-P3 support from the last year’s model. However, the brand has given HDR10 video support a miss on the latest launch. It does support Widevine L1 standard out of the box, which means you can stream high-resolution content on platforms like Netflix and Prime Video.

When the display is set to 90Hz, the smart refresh rate control kicks in. The display dials down to 60Hz when watching a video or when you are not interacting with the display, and bumps it up to 90Hz again when you touch the screen. The whole experience is quite smooth and users transitioning from a 60Hz smartphone will love the experience.

I found the display brightness, legibility, and viewing angles great on the OnePlus Nord CE. Thanks to the AMOLED panel, the display offers punchy colours and inkier blacks, which enhances the overall viewing experience. I played several of my favourite games and watched Loki episode 3 on the smartphone, and totally loved the experience. There’s an inbuilt fingerprint scanner in the display, which is fast and accurate.

Cameras

  • Rear: 64-megapixel sensor (main), 8-megapixel sensor (ultra-wide), 2-megapixel sensor (mono)
  • Front: 16-megapixel sensor

The OnePlus Nord CE marks the brand’s foray into the 64-megapixel smartphone arena. The primary camera is backed by an 8-megapixel ultra-wide lens and a 2-megapixel mono sensor. The main camera on the back is an OmniVision sensor with a fairly large 1/1.79 aperture and EIS support. On the front, there’s a 16-megapixel selfie camera inside the punch-hole cutout.

The camera UI is typical OnePlus with modes like timelapse, panorama, slow motion, video, photo, portrait, nightscape, and pro, available on the view finder itself. Users can either scroll on the viewfinder to switch between various modes or swipe up from the bottom to see all modes in one place. Tapping on the gear icon in the top right corner pulls up settings from where users can toggle on UltraShot HDR, Smart Scene Recognition, Histogram, and Ultra Wide Lens Correction.

As is standard with high-resolution cameras, the 64-megapixel shooter on the back captures 16-megapixel pixel-binned images by default. Users can tap on the button next to the gear icon on top to switch to 64MP mode, which can also be turned on from the Pro mode. The pictures taken in regular mode during the daytime turned out well with slightly oversaturated colours. The 64MP mode bumps up the resolution and details, but also introduces a lot of noise in the frame.

Wide Angle
Regular
2X
5X
10X
Rear Portrait
Low Light
Night Mode
Close-up
Selfie
Portrait Selfie

Coming to the low-light imaging of the Nord CE, pictures taken using the regular mode are nothing to write home about. There are absolutely no details in shadows and the overall picture is pretty unusable. Turning on the dedicated night mode improves exposure to an extent but also amps up the noise level.

As for dedicated lenses, the 8-megapixel ultra-wide lens does a good job of capturing more of a frame but there’s a visible edge distortion in images, and details are lost to an extent. Even after turning on the Wide Angle Lens Correction from the settings, you will still notice some warping around the edges from time to time. The 2-megapixel mono/depth sensor does a good job of separating the subject from the background and produces a soft blur that looks natural.

The 16-megapixel selfie camera on the front does a good job of capturing facial details. However, I noticed a slightly pinkish hue on the skin tone, which looks unnatural. In the portrait mode, the camera captures good bokeh but has trouble isolating stray hair from the background, causing soft edges at times. The low-light selfies are underwhelming and I would recommend using the display flash to get decent selfies at night.

Performance, software and battery

  • Android 11 with OxygenOS
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G
  • 6GB + 128GB, 8GB + 128GB, 12GB + 256GB
  • 4500mAh battery, 30W wired fast charging

The OnePlus Nord CE has the Snapdragon 750G 5G SoC at its core, which also powers the likes of Xiaomi Mi 10i, Moto G 5G, and Samsung Galaxy M42. The chipset is a decent mid-range offering that can handle usual day-to-day tasks with ease. The smartphone comes in 6GB + 128GB, 8GB + 128GB, and 12GB + 256GB configurations. However, it uses dated the LPDDR4X RAM and UFS 2.1 storage standard, which reflects in the app launching times. While multitasking is smooth between multiple apps in the background, the slight delay in opening some apps is somewhat irritating.

As for gaming, I mainly played Call of Duty Mobile, Alto’s Odyssey, and Forza Street on this smartphone. COD Mobile plays smoothly in very high graphic quality and very high frame rate settings, with no frame drops. I did notice minor jitters when the frame rate was set at Max. Alto’s Odyssey and Forza Street, on the other hand, play extremely well on the Nord CE and I enjoyed the experience. OxygenOS 11 also has several gaming features like Do Not Disturb, FPS meter, disable auto-brightness, and mistouch prevention, among others, to help the gameplay further.

Speaking of OxygenOS 11,  the OnePlus Nord features OxygenOS 11.0.3 based on Android 11. OxygenOS has changed over the last few iterations but it still remains one of the best custom interfaces in the market. The near-stock software features deep integration of Google services and also offers advanced customisation options to the user. Users can change system-wide theme colours, used third-party icons, and customise the Ambient Display. Additionally, there’s no bloatware whatsoever on the OnePlus Nord CE, which is a huge plus.

Thanks to the 7nm die size of the Snapdragon 750G processor, the 4,500mAh battery consistently lasted an entire day on moderate usage. I had the display set at 90Hz for the duration of my stint with the smartphone. With heavy social media browsing, some gaming, lots of messaging, and some binge-watching on Netflix, I had to plug it in just before bed. Speaking of plugging in, the 30W fast charger provided with the handset charges it fully in just under 60 minutes.

Bottomline

The OnePlus Nord CE starts at Rs 22,999 for the base 64GB variant. For the price, the OnePlus Nord CE offers a good design, stunning display, clean software experience, and good battery backup. However, the phone fails to impress when it comes to imaging prowess. While it may still find takers because of the OxygenOS experience, it faces tough competition from the Xiaomi Mi 10i.

The Mi 10i (review) starts at Rs 21,999 for the 6GB + 128GB variant and apart from the bloated MIUI, it outclasses OnePlus Nord in every aspect. The smartphone is powered by the same Snapdragon 750G processor but comes with 108MP quad rear cameras, a 6.67-inch FHD+ 120Hz display, and 4,820mAh battery with 33W fast charging.

Another smartphone in contention is the iQOO Z3 (review), which starts at Rs 19,990 but features a more powerful Snapdragon 768G processor. If you can look past the dated waterdrop notch display, you get a 6.58-inch FHD+ HDR10+ display with a 120Hz refresh rate, 64MP quad rear cameras, and a 4,400mAh battery with 55W fast charging.

Pricebaba’s rating: 7 / 10

What works

  • Attractive design
  • Clean software
  • Stunning 90Hz display
  • Day-long battery life
  • 3.5mm headphone jack

What doesn’t

  • Average cameras
  • Minor lags in usage
  • No alert slider
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Abhiman Biswas

Abhiman is obsessed with all things tech. His hobbies include reading on his Kindle and clicking random pictures on his phone. His secret superpowers happen to be mixing great cocktails and lip reading. In his spare time, you are likely to find him cleaning his aquascape, researching new species of aquatic fishes and planning which aquatic plants to buy next.