OnePlus recently unveiled the latest addition to its mid-range Nord series with a new Core Edition (CE) smartphone.
As OnePlus fans may recall, the Nord lineup has always been a jack of all trades, but master of none. In other words, it is OnePlus’s idea of an affordable daily driver for those who are looking for a well-rounded experience and don’t mind skipping on the latest flagship features.
The Nord CE 5G is a retouch of the same idea with some small but noticeable changes. In this article, we will be seeing if the device really does pack “a little more than you’d expect” as OnePlus claims, and whether or not is it worth the buy.
1. Camera: Color, Clarity, and Computation
Cameras were a big selling point for the original OnePlus Nord, so much so that they were sometimes compared with the flagships of that time. Unfortunately, the Nord CE comes nowhere near this.
For starters, the main rear sensor no longer has Optical Image Stabilization (OIS). And although it has a higher resolution sensor (64MP vs. 48MP), it opts for a smaller pixel size (0.7µm vs. 0.8µm).
The 8MP rear ultrawide camera is thankfully still present. But that’s about where the good news ends. The 2MP monochrome camera is there mostly to earn OnePlus bragging rights about a triple-camera setup. Not to mention how there is no dual-LED anymore.
The front camera is quite the bummer too—switching from a 32MP sensor to a 16MP one. Plus, a missing 8MP ultrawide front camera and no 4K video support on the Nord CE make the selfie and vlogging experience feel really bland in comparison to the original Nord.
The images taken from the OnePlus Nord CE are not the best in the category, but they are good enough for everyday use with natural colors and a good dynamic range.
Perhaps the thing worthy of praise here is how the device does not oversaturate photos to (unsuccessfully) mimic flagship cameras. Instead, it opts for a subtler approach—unlike a lot of other brands in this price segment.
2. Performance: SoC, Speed, and Storage
In a recent interview with Tech YouTuber Arun Maini, OnePlus Senior Product Manager Sam Twist reflected on the Nord CE as a device built around the day-to-day experience.
In other words, it’s not trying to specialize in any one key area to stand out, but rather is simply focusing on being “good enough” for everyday use. Twist mentioned that the 5G-ready Snapdragon 750G processor is the most expensive component in the Nord CE.
For those keeping tab, this is a still downgrade given that the original OnePlus Nord was powered by a faster and more efficient Snapdragon 765G processor. The AnTuTu score (a popular hardware benchmark test) for the Nord CE clocks at roughly 318672 which is almost the same performance as the Google Pixel 5 that launched last year.
The European variant of the device has 12 5G bands in total, while in India you only get one band, which is quite the difference. The 6GB, 8GB, or 12GB of LPDDR4x RAM are all enough to handle daily use effortlessly. However, if you’re a gamer, the lower variants may prove to be inadequate and stutter mid-gameplay.
The 128GB/256GB UFS 2.1 storage is fast enough that the loading speed won’t be a concern when scrolling through the UI and opening apps, photos, and videos.
The best thing about the Nord CE in terms of performance is perhaps its classic OxygenOS. Although the software skin is slowly losing its charm against the competition, it is still one of the better ones that we get to see in the budget/mid-range categories of smartphones.
3. Display: Resolution, Refresh Rate, and Panel
Back in 2019, OnePlus set a new bar for flagship devices with its first-ever high refresh rate 90Hz Fluid AMOLED display on the OnePlus 7 Pro. Fast forward two years to 2021 and the mid-ranger Nord CE is housing the same panel. Only this time, it comes without HDR10+ support.
The device rocks a 6.43-inch Full HD+ display with a tall 20:9 aspect ratio and a pixel density of 450 pixels per inch. If you’re planning to use the device outdoors a lot, the peak brightness in max auto mode clocks to a maximum of about 600 nits which should be plenty. In comparison, the original Nord scored roughly 750 nits in max auto mode.
4. Battery: Capacity and Charging
The Nord CE packs an all-day 4500mAh battery which is slightly bigger than the original Nord’s 4115 mAh battery. The device supports the same 30W fast charging and comes with the Warp Charge 30 Power Adapter and Type-C cable inside the box—which in 2021 is a welcome surprise.
According to some third-party tests, plugging in the device for 30 minutes can take it from empty to a respectable 67% charge. The charging speed is not the fastest in the category but it gets the job done well enough that you normally wouldn’t need to worry about your battery running out of juice.
5. Build Quality: Design and Durability
Let’s start with the good news. The Nord CE is thinner, lighter, and has a headphone jack. The bad news is that it loses the signature OnePlus Alert Slider that the original Nord received a lot of praise for. It also ditches the Gorilla Glass 5 protection on the front.
The device is made of plastic as opposed to the glass of the original Nord, but the frosty matte finish feels smooth to hold in hand so we won’t judge it too hard. The front of the device does have a noticeable chin bezel on the bottom. This isn’t really a big deal but makes the device look less uniform.
A Not-Bad Phone at a Not-Great Price
The 8GB|128GB model launched in the UK for £299 and in India for INR 24,999, which is around $337 in the US. The 12GB|256GB model costs £369 or INR 27,999, the equivalent to $377.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G is a decent package if you’re looking to replace your two to three-year-old phone.
That said, it is not a bargain by any stretch of the imagination and certainly not a worthy upgrade from the original OnePlus Nord. Although the headphone jack and a slightly bigger battery seem appealing, they do not justify all the corners OnePlus has cut for the Nord CE.
The missing Alert Slider, the inferior cameras, no official IP rating, no Gorilla Glass protection, a plastic body, and poor pricing are reasons enough to consider skipping this otherwise great mid-range device. Alternatives like the Samsung Galaxy A52, the Poco X3 Pro, and the Mi 10i 5G offer more value for money. Unless you are fixated on buying a OnePlus phone, the ultra-competitive mid-range bracket has lots more for you to consider.
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