OnePlus Nord CE review: A little less Nord for a little less money

When it launched last year, the OnePlus Nord was the company’s first real stab at mid-range dominance. As the rest of the OnePlus line-up crept up the price ladder, the Nord sought to democratize the OnePlus experience. The OnePlus Nord CE, however, isn’t quite as ambitious.

OnePlus claims to have made a few careful omissions to help drive down the price further and be even more competitive than even the original Nord. It’s rather obvious that the phone is by and large, little more than a play at expanding the company’s standing in the very lucrative mid-range market. The Shenzhen company says it wants to do this while still retaining the core of what it believes makes its output special — hence the CE, or Core Edition moniker.

However, cheap Android smartphones are a dime and a dozen. In markets like Europe and India, brands like Redmi and Realme have built up their reputations on the ethos of value, enabled by bleeding edge spec sheets and barely-there profits. Competing with these budget juggernauts will take more than just brand recognition.

In Android Authority‘s OnePlus Nord CE review, we see if this affordable mid-ranger brings enough heat to beat the competition.

About this OnePlus Nord CE review: I used the OnePlus Nord CE for seven days running Oxygen OS 11.02.2.EB13DA. The OnePlus Nord CE unit was provided to Android Authority by OnePlus for this review.

What you need to know about the OnePlus Nord CE

  • OnePlus Nord CE (6GB/128GB): €299/Rs. 22,999 (~$316)
  • OnePlus Nord CE (8GB/128GB): €329/£299/Rs. 24,999 (~$343)
  • OnePlus Nord CE (12GB/256GB): €399/£369/RS. 27,999 (~$385)

The OnePlus Nord CE is designed to slot in as an affordable entryway into OnePlus’s ecosystem. In India, it is the most affordable OnePlus option, while in Europe, it comes in above the Nord N100 and Nord N10, but just below the original OnePlus Nord. The addition of a new price tier is just another step in the company’s strategy to go mainstream, and offer a diverse range of options to take on Xiaomi’s Redmi brand, as well as keep pace with its BBK stablemate, Realme.

The phone is available in three colors including Charcoal Ink, Silver Ray, and the Blue Void shade pictured in the review. The phone went up for pre-order in Europe and the UK on June 11, with shipping set to start from June 15 from the OnePlus Store or June 20 from Amazon. The OnePlus Nord CE goes on open sale in India on June 16.

Is the OnePlus Nord CE well designed?

OnePlus Nord CE in hand with display on

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

It’s been a hot minute since the OnePlus Nord launched to claims of the design language having been cribbed from Realme and Oppo phones, but here we are again. The design inspiration is glaring, and you can see hints of Realme’s mid-range portfolio strewn all over the hardware. However, that’s not to say there’s nothing original here.

Starting off with the distinctive colorway, the Nord CE owns its Blue Void shade with a shimmering purple thrown along the edges for good measure. Those after a more subtle look may want to consider the Charcoal Ink or Silver Ray variants. The construction is entirely plastic with a glossy mid-frame, and matte back. While I didn’t have much of an issue with the build quality, I can’t say that the phone looks particularly premium.

The alert slider is a OnePlus essential, and it’s missing from the Nord CE.

You’ll also notice the omission of the alert slider — once a non-negotiable hallmark of a OnePlus phone. As a long-time OnePlus user, I missed the feature a lot more than I expected, and contrary to what the company says, the alert slider is most definitely a quintessential part of the OnePlus experience.

On the flip side, OnePlus is clearly directing its energy towards bringing first-time buyers into the fold. That explains the quizzical but very welcome return of the headphone jack on the OnePlus Nord CE compared to the original Nord. There’s an argument to be made that the loss of the alert slider might only be felt by long-term OnePlus users, but for a phone designed to rope in a mainstream audience, a headphone jack is a much more important feature. Placed along the bottom edge, the headphone jack is easy enough to access, and it had no trouble driving a pair of high-quality earphones.

The rest of the button arrangement is a standard affair. You get a volume rocker on the left, while the power button sits on the right. The tactile feedback is excellent. In fact, the phone has excellent ergonomics all around. Unlocking the phone is a cinch with the included in-display fingerprint scanner. It rarely failed to work on the first try.

Finally, the slim 7.9mm profile bears mention. Coupled with the light 170g weight, it makes the phone a delight to use on a day-to-day basis.

OnePlus Nord CE with call of duty

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

The display here is nearly identical to the one on the original OnePlus Nord. The Full HD resolution works perfectly fine for the 6.43-inch size, and brightness levels are just about sufficient for outdoor viewing. The default color calibration looked good, though there are options to tweak it further if you wish. I would recommend switching the display calibration to the Natural setting for a more accurate look.

Thanks to the AMOLED panel, black levels are dark and deep, and watching HD content on Netflix is a pleasurable experience. Additionally, the navigation experience is aided by 90Hz support.

However, adequacy isn’t enough. The competition isn’t just pushing higher frame rates — all the way to 120Hz — but also higher brightness levels. While the OnePlus Nord CE is viewable outdoors, phones like the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max with over 700 nits of peak brightness make it very easy to view content under direct sunlight. That makes a difference.

Read more: Gorilla Glass vs Dragontrail Glass vs tempered glass and beyond

Unlike with the original OnePlus Nord, the Nord CE skimps on Gorilla Glass in lieu of Dragontrail glass in pursuit of cost savings. While the latter is competitive against Corning’s solution as far as scratches are confirmed, the lack of data against drop protection makes me skeptical of its efficacy.

The lack of stereo speakers or any ingress protection is off-putting.

That lack of competitiveness extends to many other aspects as well. You can forget about an IP rating or basics like stereo speakers. The single speaker goes loud but sounds tinny and shrill when cranked up high. Additionally, the positioning of the speaker ensures that audio gets completely muffled if you hold the phone horizontally. Planning to play games or watch a movie over the speaker on your phone? That’s a no-go unless you are willing to contort your hand.

How good is the OnePlus Nord CE camera?

OnePlus Nord CE back of the phone and cameras

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Cameras and imaging performance have traditionally been the Achilles heel of OnePlus hardware. The Nord launched to much derision around the inconsistent output from its camera array. The company took steps to correct this with subsequent updates, but hardly anyone would call OnePlus smartphones a class leader in photography, even with its recent advancements with the Hasselblad-supported OnePlus 9 series.

On the plus side, it appears that OnePlus has applied some learnings from the original Nord. For one, the 64MP primary camera captures consistent-looking frames across the board.

Read more: The best budget camera phones you can buy

Straight out of the camera, the primary shooter outputs downsampled 12MP images that are reasonably detailed at first glance. OnePlus is going heavy-handed with its sharpening algorithms and that is very evident in features like foliage. The sharpening makes the images pop, but close inspection reveals the toll it can take on the level of detail.

Additionally, the phone doesn’t do a very good job of toning down highlights. For example, it added a purple tinge to shots of blue skies on more than one occasion.

Unlike previous generations, OnePlus has done a pretty good job at matching color profiles across the primary and ultra-wide shooters. Unfortunately, this extends to how the camera handles highlights and the white balance isn’t quite perfect. I wish OnePlus would have opted for a higher-resolution ultra-wide shooter. The 8MP resolution doesn’t afford much room to crop into images. I also observed significant distortion around edges.

Indoors, and in dim-lighting, the Nord CE has a proclivity to brighten up the image too much. The two images above look much brighter than the setting really was, and that’s without the dedicated low-light Nightscape mode activated. There are some trade-offs to be made here with a drop in details and accuracy, but if you find yourself shooting images in less than perfect lighting, the Nord CE should get you the shot.

Pixel peeping reveals some aggressive noise reduction algorithms in play as the light starts falling, but the infamous watercolor effect is gone for the most part.

Additionally, despite lacking a macro camera (the third camera is a depth sensor), the primary shooter on the OnePlus Nord CE can get quite close to the subject. In the image of the flower, the phone did an excellent job of capturing close-up details. Contrast levels have been boosted up slightly, but the end result looks tasteful.

I came away impressed with the 16MP front camera on the OnePlus Nord CE. There’s ample detail here, and the phone avoided crushing details in darker regions. On the flip side, highlights have been kept in check. Portrait mode, however, is astonishingly bad. Not only does the phone struggle at boundary detection, but adds an odd cast to the image. My white t-shirt looks anything but that in the photograph above. There is significant post-processing going here to the point that you can pick out digital splotches on skin when zooming in.

The OnePlus Nord CE is astonishingly bad at capturing portraits.

Video quality tops off at 4K at 30fps, which isn’t the most impressive in its class. Viewed on the phone, videos look sharp with a contrasty look, but the lack of detail is exposed when viewing the content on a big screen. The sharpening algorithms and low detail manifests as digital noise even with ample lighting.

You can take a closer look at full resolution OnePlus Nord CE image samples at the link.

How’s the battery life on the OnePlus Nord CE?

OnePlus Nord CE in hand showing rear camera set up

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

Battery life on the OnePlus Nord CE is acceptable for everyday use. I rarely if ever got below 30% charge on an average workday with heavy use including phone calls, emails, and social media use. Averaging over seven hours of screen on time, I had no trouble getting a day and a half of usage from the phone and could see myself pushing this to two days with more moderate use.

Gaming, however, puts a noticeable dent in battery life. A ten-minute session of Call of Duty: Mobile drained battery life by almost 5%. Avid gamers should expect to carry a charger around.

Normal day-to-day use can net you two-day battery life.

The phone charges up quick enough, and the bundled 30W charger will take you from zero to 100 in about 45 minutes. That’s impressive compared to some budget phones, but it’s not the very fastest. Alternatives from Realme offer 55W and even 65W charging support. There’s also no wireless charging, though that’s not a significant miss at this price.

How powerful is the OnePlus Nord CE?

OnePlus Nord CE in hand with specs

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

The OnePlus Nord CE sits at a very interesting cross-section when compared to the original OnePlus Nord. The Nord CE’s Snapdragon 750G chipset features more powerful CPU cores than the Snapdragon 765G-toting Nord, but at the expense of a bit of GPU grunt. With that said, the real-world performance delta between the two processors isn’t significant, and general usability reflects that.

Leaving aside the question of why OnePlus would bother making a phone that is so similar to a higher-end model, I was satisfied with the performance on offer here. As with any mid-range smartphone these days, performance for day-to-day tasks is a non-issue. There were no slowdowns or lag with the screen locked to a 90Hz refresh rate. As previously mentioned, playing Call of Duty: Mobile put a bit of a dent in battery life, but I could max out the game’s graphics without noticeable frame drops.

Performance is largely the same as the original OnePlus Nord.

OnePlus expects Oxygen OS to be a key selling point for the phone, and I can’t disagree that the core user experience is on point. Despite the uproar against the design changes made with Oxygen OS 11, it remains one of the cleanest Android experiences across price tiers. It also differentiates itself by not strewing ads and bloatware across the interface — a big win in this price segment.

OnePlus has done a great job optimizing Oxygen OS to the hardware, and I didn’t notice any errant bugs during my testing. The phone is particularly enjoyable to use with the refresh rate locked at 90Hz, and animations flow slick and smooth. The phone includes OnePlus staples like a work-life balance mode that lets you prioritize notifications based on profiles, parallels apps as well as an app locker.

Anything else?

  • 5G support in India: The OnePlus Nord CE includes 5G support. However, this is limited to just a single N78 band in India which can restrict connectivity based on your operator and location. This is in sharp contrast to the number of bands supported in other territories and is a clear-cut cost-saving measure.
  • No expandable storage: Storage expansion remains important in the mid-range segment. Unlike many of its competitors, the OnePlus Nord CE doesn’t include support for microSD cards.
  • Software support: OnePlus has pledged to support the OnePlus Nord CE for two years of version upgrades and three years of security patches. That’s not the very best out there, but it’s far better than the one year you get with the cheaper Nord N10/N100.

OnePlus Nord CE specs

Specs OnePlus Nord CE

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Display

OnePlus Nord CE

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6.43 inches Fluid AMOLED

FHD

90Hz

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Chipset

OnePlus Nord CE

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Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G

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GPU

OnePlus Nord CE

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Adreno 619

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RAM

OnePlus Nord CE

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6/8/12GB

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Storage

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128/256GB

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Battery

OnePlus Nord CE

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4,500mAh

USB-C

Warp Charge 30T

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Cameras

OnePlus Nord CE

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Rear:

64MP standard

8MP Ultra-wide

2MP mono

Front:

16MP

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Fingerprint sensor

OnePlus Nord CE

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In-display

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Headphone jack

OnePlus Nord CE

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Yes

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Software

OnePlus Nord CE

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Oxygen OS

Android 11

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Colors

OnePlus Nord CE

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Blue Void

Charcoal Ink

Silver Ray

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Dimensions and weight

OnePlus Nord CE

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159.2mmx73.5mmx7.9mm

170g

Value and competition

OnePlus Nord CE Official

OnePlus Nord CE

A mid-range phone with a 90Hz AMOLED display, 64MP triple camera, and Snapdragon 750G 5G chipset.

The OnePlus Nord CE is not particularly great value no matter how you spin it. Unfortunately, the phone fails to leave a mark in any meaningful way, and there are more than a few highly competitive alternatives available.

If you are willing to spend just a little more, the original OnePlus Nord is a safe bet. The company has ironed out a range of software and optimization issues through constant updates, and the performance holds up just fine even today. It also has an additional camera on both the front and back, stereo speakers, and has a more premium glass build. The OnePlus Nord is officially priced at £379 in the UK, but regularly drops to the £329 mark, matching the OnePlus Nord CE. It’ll run you €399 in Europe and Rs. 24,999 in India.

Check out: The best phones under £500The best phones in India under 40,000 rupees

Prospective buyers should also look at the Redmi Note 10 Pro (known as the Note 10 Pro Max in India). It’s a stellar alternative that might not have the same processing grunt but makes up for it with better cameras, a bigger battery, slightly faster charging, and an ultra-competitive price tag. The Redmi Note 10 Pro is priced starting at £249 in the UK or Rs. 18,999 in India.

Performance seekers could also look at the Poco X3 Pro. The phone makes some compromises to hit its £229/Rs. 18,999 price point, but you get the might of the Snapdragon 860 chipset as well as stellar battery life. Another option is the Poco F3. Powered by a blistering fast Snapdragon 870 chipset, the phone is available starting at £329 which makes it a steal for performance seekers.

The OnePlus Nord CE is not particularly great value no matter how you spin it.

If you care about photography, you can’t go wrong with the Google Pixel 4a and its flagship-grade camera. The phone can be had for £349 in the UK.

Within the BBK stable, buyers can look towards the Realme 8 Pro. The lower-end Snapdragon 720G chipset might not excite, but the phone makes up for it with a rather good 108MP camera, fast 50W charging, and a much lower price. The Realme 8 Pro starts at Rs. 18,999 in India and is available for 299 and £279 in Europe and the UK, respectively. 

OnePlus Nord CE review: The verdict

OnePlus Nord CE with box and cover

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

The OnePlus Nord CE is a perplexing device to say the least. It’s definitely not best-in-class, but worse still, it sits within spitting distance of the original OnePlus Nord to its detriment. The performance difference isn’t really significant, but feature ommissions like the lack of stereo speakers, the alert slider, higher-end protective glass, and the extra cameras (especially over at the front), all add up.

The OnePlus Nord CE doesn’t do a very good job of justifying its existence within OnePlus’ smartphone portfolio.

Having spent a week with the phone, I was left with more questions than answers. Who exactly is the OnePlus Nord CE for? For just a little more, you can get yourself the older but superior OnePlus Nord. And if you’re not fixated on the Oxygen OS experience, there’s a world of options that give you more performance, longer battery life, faster charging, or deliver better value, or often a combination of all of these. Plus, with the OnePlus Nord 2 reportedly around the corner, it’s surely worth waiting to see what’s in store.

The OnePlus Nord CE errs too close to a superior product, which bizarrely is its predecessor, while simultaneously pricing itself away from what matters most to its target audience: value.