[ZEN SLIDER]OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review: Bringing You The Core Experience

2021-07-30 18:22:45

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  OnePlus’ latest handset, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G. promises “a little more than you’d expect.” How does the handset from the Shenzhen-based company compare to the growing portfolio of OnePLus handsets and the competitive mid-range market?

  OnePlus Nord CE 5g

  Ewan Spence

  One thing that the OnePlus Nord CE 5G makes clear (apart from the fact that OnePlus phone names look increasingly like they are put together on a Scrabble rack), is the current ambition of OnePlus to be known for more than the single ‘Never Settle’ handset released every spring. That mode was cut to six months with the launch of the ’T’ models every autumn. Then the range was increased to two models with Regular and Pro variants.

  Last year saw the launch of the Nord range, first with the titular handset, and then an extension of the brand with the Nord N10 and Nord N100. OnePlus has been keeping the higher end handsets separate from the mid- to lower-end handsets thanks to the Nord brand, but they are all still part of the OnePlus family.

  OnePlus is covering more of the price range, presumably with the aim to get a handset in every price band possible. It’s into this portfolio that the OnePlus Nord CE 5G arrived.

  OnePlus Nord CE 5g

  Ewan Spence

  Perhaps the easiest shorthand way to look at this handset is not as the OnePlus Nord 2 (that is, presumably, at some point in the future), but as the OnePlus Nord Lite. It’s priced at £299, compared to the list price of £379 for the OnePlus Nord at launch (although that handset is currently discounted to $329, which makes the purchasing decision between the two handsets a little tighter).


  And it’s reached that by shaving a little bit of each specification. It’s a balancing act that many smartphone manufacturers deal with. Here the margins are much finer between the Nord and the Nord CE, compared to say the top-end Nord and the N10 / N100 low-end smartphones. That also means that it’s not that much more to bump up a handset purchase to the regular Nord handset (let alone the discount price).

  OnePlus Nord CE 5g

  Ewan Spence

  OnePlus has focused on the core essentials of the Nord brand here (hence the CE in the title). That means a focus on keeping everything as fast as possible, while remaining as smooth as possible. Contributing to that is the continued use of a fast refreshing screen, with the Nord CE’s HD AMOLED screen coming in at 90 Hz. The smooth scrolling is always welcome, although what was once a flagship feature is slowly working down the portfolio to be a must have. Nevertheless the inclusion at the CE’s price point is welcome.

  The CE is powered by Qualcomm’s SnapDragon 750G system on chip. While this is one step down from the SnapDragon 765G of the OnePlus Nord, there’ve very little difference in day to day use. Part of this will likely come down to OxygenOS, OnePlus’ implementation of Android. It remains stripped back and much more lightweight than other manufacturers, and while the company has put more of its own voice into the UI, it remains a clean Android experience with little bloat… although the curiousity that is ‘Zen Mode’ remains.

  Also contributing to the feeling of speed is OnePlus’ branded fast charging system, with the Warp Charge 30T Plus going from empty to seventy percent capacity in thirty minutes. No wireless charging here, just cabled, and as always much of the fast charging circuitry is in the OnePlus charger. You can still charge from regular USB sources but it will be slower.

  OnePlus Nord CE 5g

  Ewan Spence

  Then there’s the camera. Any mid-range handset is going to fall short of the quality that a premium flagship handset can offer, and the Nord CE is no different in this regard. OnePlus has always been a notch behind the competition in terms of the camera – although in day to day use that difference is perhaps not as noticeable between the likes of the OnePlus 9 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

  Here you have a 64 megapixel main camera, supported by an ultrawide 8 megapixel camera. These area higher resolutions than the OnePlus Nord, it uses a different supplier for the sensor, and the quality of the final image is lower. The results do not feel out of place with similarly priced handsets, but the Nord CE is not a stellar performer on the photography side.

  There’s also a two mega pixel monochrome camera here that feels like it’s been added so the marketing can say ‘triple camera’ in the marketing. I think I would have preferred more resources spent on the main and wide-angle camera.

  OnePlus Nord CE 5g

  Ewan Spence

  As OnePlus’ portfolio expands, handsets like the OnePlus Nord CE 5G are going to represent the brand to more consumers than the higher tiered handsets – OnePlus has stated that last year’s onePlus Nord is the best selling OnePlus device in Europe – and that means these handsets arguably need to be more representative of the brand than say this year’s OnePlus 9 Pro.

  Part of that is down to software, and the Nord CE has that covered. Some of it the visible branding, and we have both the visible OnePlus logo on the rear of the handset as well as the highlighted red ‘1’ in the lock screen clock.

  But some of it is physical as well, and here’s where I think the Nord CE has missed a trick. There’s no three position alert slider on the side of the device. If there’s one thing I associated with OnePlus, its the ability to physically feel if I am in silent, signal, or ringing mode, and switch it over as required. More than anything, this is what says ‘OnePlus’ to me. With that removed, the Nord CE fades into a background of similarly styled phones around this price point.

  The OnePlus Nord CE 5G is a phone that’s worth a careful look. The battery life is good, easily reaching a day of normal use; it feels good in the hand and offers enough friction that it’s not going to slip to the floor; and the specs compare nicely to other handsets in this price bracket.

  Disclaimer: OnePlus provided a OnePlus Nord CE 5G for review purposes.