OnePlus made a successful debut in the mid-range smartphone market in 2020 with the Nord series to counter the notion of price equals quality. What helped Nord become a huge fan favourite was the fact that it offered more for the mid-range price segment OnePlus had vacated for a few years.
After being able to offer 5G for a mid-range smartphone through Nord, OnePlus has taken its mid-range game up a notch by launching the OnePlus Nord CE 5G, and hence offering a similar product at a price that is much more accessible.
The base model (8+128GB) of the Nord CE 5G is priced at S$499, while the slightly more expensive variant (12+256GB) is priced at S$699. Both of these are available in 2 colours – Blue Void (ELI5: light, aqua blue) and Charcoal Ink (ELI5: greyish, black), and can be purchased from the official OnePlus store on Shopee.
In A Nutshell
OnePlus promises that the Nord CE 5G is a “little more than you’d expect”, and is “built on the core aspects of the OnePlus Nord experience”. The initials CE stand for ‘Core Edition’ because OnePlus thinks that the Nord CE 5G covers all the basics that one would look for on a smartphone.
OnePlus also had a series of firsts with the launch of the Nord CE 5G – the cheapest, lightest, slimmest and the most underpowered device manufactured by OnePlus to date. Other important firsts to note include the ditching of the iconic alert slider, and the inclusion of a 64MP rear camera.
This one from OnePlus is not going to blow your mind away with its speedy performance but is more of a no-nonsense, straight-up, mid-range performer. You get what you pay for, and maybe a bit more.
Design & Display
The design and display of the device seem to have been the primary area of focus for OnePlus for the Nord CE 5G.
The result gives us a clean, curved device that looks great and feels solid in the hands. It also shares several design elements with the original Nord – none of those annoying, eye-catching camera bumps, or those curved displays. Instead, we see OnePlus only curve those corners to give us a smartphone that will look elegant on your palm and looks and feels more premium than what its retail price suggests.
The device has been dressed to impress and boasts many more impressive design elements. It only weighs 170 grams, which makes it quite lightweight and easy to carry around. If you’re an audiophile still hooked to your cables, you’ll be glad to know that OnePlus managed to add a 3.5mm jack to the device. The Nord CE 5G has received quite the slim trim – at 7.9mm thick, this device is the slimmest offering from OnePlus since the 6T.
The back panel of the device sticks to the clean, Scandinavian design language of the device. Flaunting a soft, matte finish, OnePlus ensured that the CE 5G doesn’t just look premium but is also nice to touch. A small OnePlus logo and a vertically-placed camera setup on the back finish up a smartphone that is as easy on the eye as it is on the pocket. The display features a 6.3 inch, FluidAMOLED panel, capable of running resolutions up to 2400×1800 pixels at a high pixel density of 401ppi. The AMOLED panel means that the display also supports AOD (or Always-On-Display). The display panel also features a punch-hole front camera that blends in nicely. The hidden, in-display fingerprint scanner is quite fast and responsive.
Quite typically, OnePlus hasn’t left a stone unturned when it comes to the displays of their devices. The display can get very bright and can produce vibrant, punchy colours. As is the case with several of their other smartphones, OnePlus has included 5 display profiles to choose from, hence giving easy access to a wider colour gamut on this mid-range smartphone.
The 90Hz, fast refresh rate of the smartphone screen continues the trend of screens with faster refresh rates. Once thought to be a flagship feature, OnePlus now thinks the smooth scrolling on a display with a 90Hz refresh rate is a must-have. However, the 90Hz refresh rate is not dynamic and has to be manually set by the user.
Minor drawbacks and misses compared to the original Nord from last year include no Gorilla Glass protection or an IP-rated display. It was also surprising to see OnePlus ditch the alert slider, given how it has proven to be such a massive UX differentiator on all of their other devices.
Software & Performance
OnePlus never fails to deliver that clean software experience for stock Android. Known to deliver the most seamless and smooth Android experience, OnePlus’ custom OxygenOS running on top of Android 11 feels welcoming as always. Two years of software updates and three years of security patches by OnePlus means that the Nord CE 5G can continue being your power driver for at least 3 more years, if not more.
In-phone software straight out of the retail box includes no bloatware as usual. All the handy Google apps come pre-installed, while all OnePlus apps can be uninstalled if need be. Other software perks include the Game Mode (blocks all notifications while gaming), the Dark Mode (reduces the strain on your eyes while using it in the dark) and the Zen Mode (your smartphone will lock itself from you for a brief period of your choosing).
Underneath the hood, the Nord CE 5G is powered by the Snapdragon 750G. Although it’s a step-down from the Snapdragon 765G on the original Nord, there’s not much that raises any red flags when it comes to its daily usage. An Adreno 619 GPU on the chipset powers the graphics on the smartphone, and you can also play high-latency, multiplayer games like COD Mobile without stutters or frame drops.
Depending on how much you plan to do on this OnePlus, you can choose between the 8GB or the 12GB RAM variants of the device. With ample local storage provided by OnePlus for both variants, the only real issue that arises with performance is that UFS 2.1 is used to accessing your storage during high-performance gaming, or multi-tasking on several heavy apps. Slightly high load times for games, and that ever slight lag on heavy apps that would otherwise be invisible on a 90Hz screen is, however, nothing to be too concerned about.
The addition of 5G support means that you’ll be able to do more, more seamlessly; and support for Bluetooth 5.1 with Qualcomm’s aptX, aptX HD codec and Sony’s LDAC codec goes a great way to support all sorts of wireless earbuds/headsets.
The CE 5G packs a triple camera setup and features a 64-megapixel primary lens with an Omnivision sensor, f/1.79 aperture for low light performance and EIS (Electronic Image Stabilization); an 8-megapixel ultra-wide-angle lens with a 119-degree field of view; and a 2-megapixel mono lens. As is the case with most OnePlus smartphones, the camera setup was a major area of focus on the CE 5G. The AI sometimes detects what you’re clicking, and even goes on to suggest appropriate modes. The overall performance of the rear camera setup is a mixed bag at best.
Although the 64-megapixel primary lens can shoot brilliantly during the day, the smartphone by default uses pixel-binning resulting in 16-megapixel shots. These shots, however, offer good dynamic range and come out vibrantly on the CE’s AMOLED display. The secondary 8 ultra-wide camera clicks some great pictures with accurate colours in well-lit conditions too, but it fails to retain the detail. Despite the minor drawbacks of the secondary cam, the ultra-wide lens increases the scope of the frame at the click of a button. Both combine to help you capture good clicks of sweeping with crisp detail and sharpness through the 119-degree field of view.
However, the performance of the rear camera setup in low-light settings is bang average. You’ll still get grainy captures despite all that AI working on CE 5G tries to keep the noise to a minimum. Nightscape mode captures can be brighter, have more detailed shadows. It’s easy to spot the improved texture on the final capture after it takes a good 7-8 seconds to stitch up several captures that results in a more stabilized capture. The results are not at the same level as a high-end phone camera but are on-par (if not better) than a lot of the phones in the mid-range bracket.
The 16MP camera on the front captures crisp, clear images and videos when indoors, but doesn’t capture the skin tone very accurately. It easily detects faces (even with masks on) and performs remarkably well in low-light conditions (unless you want to point out the grain at 100 per cent magnification).
You won’t find the camera setup on the CE 5G deliver stellar, spectacular captures, but overall, the four-camera setup on the device does a decent job for the price bracket that it is competing in.
By boasting a 4500mAh battery pack, the energy-efficient chipset on the phone combined with that clean, highly-optimized UI means there’s little battery drain when it comes to daily, regular usage that includes simple tasks like texting, browsing, and even video calling. A 10 percent drop in battery level when playing popular, heavy games on the Nord CE is notable, although not too concerning.
The screen refresh rate on the Nord CE 5G is set to 90Hz by default out of the retail box. At that refresh rate, the phone should last you a day of regular usage + some HD streaming on YouTube. You may want to turn that down to 60Hz if a longer-lasting battery is what you are gunning for, and are not too fussed about that silky-smooth scrolling and interactions at 90Hz.
But overall, this phone can easily be your daily driver if your daily phone usage includes clicking pictures, browsing the web, texting and streaming videos on Netflix/YouTube. The Warp Charge 30T charging brick will come in handy when it will charge up the CE 5G and take it from 0-70 per cent in 30 minutes if and when it runs out of juice.
For the price and the specs on paper, this new, affordable smartphone from OnePlus offers just about enough to impress in the mid-range smartphone segment. However, it does not offer that WoW and oomph to help establish itself as the alpha offering from a brand like OnePlus. The intense competition that exists in this price segment is the biggest problem for the Nord CE 5G.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G deserves the plaudits for what it can offer. The battery life is good and can easily power the device for a day of regular use. All the interactions with the phone seem breezy, thanks to the 90Hz refresh rate of the AMOLED display. It has a feel-good factor based on how it looks, and feels good and sturdy in the hand too. The specifications on this device stack up nicely, enough to compare and compete with the other handsets in this price bracket.