OnePlus may be known for its flagship smartphones, but its efforts in the mid-range segment have been quite noteworthy as well. The brand entered this particular arena with the OG Nord just a couple of years ago, following that up with the more affordable Nord CE (review) last year. Standing for Core Edition, the CE range is the more value-printed lineup, sticking to the basics while ensuring that the core proposition of the brand remains unchanged. The competition in this segment is pretty intense though, and the latest in the portfolio that comes in the form of the Nord CE 2 5G, faces strong rivalry. Let’s see how it stands up.
The Nord CE 2 5G is well designed, looks good and scores high in aspects like battery life and UI. That said, hardcore gamers might find it lacking in the performance department, and the cameras could do with some improvements as well. The lack of stereo speakers is also disappointing. It does have a 3.5mm headset socket and even a memory expansion slot that you can use without foregoing dual-SIM functionality though. Overall, it’s a phone that’s worth a closer look, but not before you weigh in all your options.
Design and display
The Nord CE2 chooses elegance over flamboyance, going in for a subtle look as opposed to some of the flashier designs we’ve seen from other brands. The phone looks understated and might not turn heads immediately, though the Bahama Blue model I have is a nice, youthful hue. Drawing cues from the OPPO Reno7 5G (review) in more ways than one, the device sports a flat screen upfront, with a gently curving glass back that blends nicely into the frame. The polycarbonate rear is minimalistic, with OnePlus logo in the middle and the camera module encased in an interesting-looking bump that looks and feels like glass. The said module has two prominently large camera sensors, with a smaller one and a flash placed towards the side.
The right spine is home to a power key, while the left holds the SIM tray and discrete volume keys. The SIM tray can not only accommodate a pair of nano-SIMs but a microSD card in addition as well… which is a first for any OnePlus phone as far as I know. At the bottom, you’ll find a Type-C port, a speaker, and thankfully, a 3.5mm headset socket as well. The phone misses out on stereo speakers, which is a bummer, especially considering that most phones across different price points do offer this feature. Also missing in action is OnePlus’ signature alert slider key. Overall, the in-hand feel of the device is pretty good, and it feels well put together… making it seem more premium than what its asking price would suggest. It’s compact and not too heavy, and at 7.8mm, quite slim too. I also love the fact that OnePlus provides a pre-installed screen protector, plus a sturdy-looking case in the box, ensuring you can start using the phone right away without worry.
The front of the phone sports a 6.43-inch FHD display of the AMOLED variety, with a 20:9 aspect ratio and 90Hz refresh rate. It’s layered with Gorilla Glass 5 for protection and is HDR10+ certified too. OnePlus allows you to tweak it as per your liking, offering all the expected options including dark mode, an eye comfort mode, the ability to choose warm or cool colour temperatures and set the screen to either vivid or sRGB. The always-on display feature is present, and you can customise the font and its size as well. There are slim bezels on three sides, though the chin at the bottom is noticeably wide. On the left corner is a punch hole for the front shooter, and a fingerprint scanner is embedded under the display as well. The display gets sufficiently bright, and provides a decent viewing experience for whatever you do on the phone. It’s worth mentioning that the phone can’t stream in HDR from Netflix. HDR videos work fine when streamed from YouTube though.
Let’s jump on to the snappers now. On offer is a 64MP, f/1.8 primary sensor, mated to an 8MP ultra-wide and a 2MP macro. The primary camera shoots very good pictures, especially in daylight. The images are rich in detail, offer very good dynamic range, with the colours staying true to life. Images shot from the 8MP ultra-wide sensor are passable though, with some noise being visible. Exposure control is decent and there’s not much distortion around the edges, but the focus tends to get muddy on the sides.
The 2MP macro isn’t great, and you’d do well not to expect much from it. In low light, the Nord CE 2 does need some improvement, as is evident from the overexposed images and light flare issues. The dedicated night mode does little to alleviate the concerns. As far as the 16MP snapper on the front is concerned, it takes decent selfies in daylight. There are some small exposure issues, and edge detection in portrait shots could be better, but skin tones are accurate enough. In short, if you’re a casual photog, the Nord CE 2 should suffice in most situations, but if you’re looking for something more in terms of camera capabilities, it might not fit the bill.
Related read: OnePlus Nord CE 2 vs Realme 9 Pro+ camera comparison
Software, performance and battery life
The software side of things is handled by Oxygen OS 11. The base is still Android 11 though, but you do get the same clean UI and barely any bloatware OnePlus’ custom interface is known for. As usual, the key highlights include a near-stock look for the most part, till the time you dive into settings and discover the plethora of customisation options and tweaking choices OnePlus provides.
With MediaTek’s Dimensity 900 handling the performance side of things, the Nord CE 2 is a smooth performer, especially for the usual day-to-day tasks. There’s 6 or 8GB of RAM, depending upon the variant you choose, and 128 gigs of storage. App switching and multitasking is fast, and there are no lags or stutter. Scrolling through the UI remains smooth, and casual games work reasonably well too. That said, you might find it lacking if you’re a hardcore mobile gamer, as intensive games do take their toll on the phone, and you’d need to dial down graphics settings to get playable frame rates. Again, this might not necessarily be a deal-killer, as long as you know what to expect. The device supports 5G, and I didn’t face any call-related issues using Airtel 4G in South Delhi. The in-display fingerprint scanner is fast, and face unlock works well too. The 4,500mAh battery lasts the whole day with medium use, and I got 14 hours 40 minutes in the PCMark battery test, which is pretty good. What’s more, the 65W charging support can juice up the battery quickly, taking less than 40 minutes to go from nought to 100.
The thing with the OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G is that it doesn’t really excel in the core aspects of smartphone usage, especially when pitted against the competition. The Realme 9 Pro+ (review) is better in terms of cameras, while the Mi 11X (review) can offer better performance. The Xiaomi 11i is also a noteworthy rival to consider in this price range, while upping your budget slightly can get you the Nord 2 (review) or even the iQOO 7 (review). That said, the Nord CE 2 does deliver respectable performance, good daylight photos, and decent battery life, all encased in a package that’s well built, and easy on the eye. Add the clean interface combined with tons of customisability options to the mix, and you get an option that deserves a second look.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Nice looks & good build
- Clean UI sans bloatware
- Capable primary camera
- Good battery life and fast 65W charging
- Performance can’t match rivals
- Misses out on stereo speakers
- Low-light camera performance could be better
- No Android 12