OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G Review: Confusing Name, Confusing Price

I’ve had the OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G for a few weeks at this point, I got to use it at home whilst sick and relying on its longevity, and I got to use it whilst out and about without a power brick for its mobile radios and screen, after all that, I’ve come away impressed, but I’m still going back to my Nord 2 after the review.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G
+ FOR
  • Gorgeous 90Hz AMOLED screen
  • Dimensity 900 is a very capable chip
  • Great 5G radios
  • Battery life and charging is stellar
  • Main camera is upgraded
- AGAINST
  • Pricing is slightly high for place in market
  • Auxiliary cameras feel like an afterthought
  • Slippery without a case.

Buy on Amazon UK

Disclaimer

OnePlus have provided me (Dom) with the Nord CE 2 5G for the purposes of review, they are not seeing this content before it goes live, nor are they financially compensating me for the content. The device was used on the Three UK network in the South East of the UK and in Hertfordshire over 3 weeks.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G Review

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Overview

OnePlus has been releasing a barrage of phones lately, few being as well-received as the previous Nord 2 was. The Nord CE was an interesting midstep last year, better in some ways than the original Nord, but not a full step up to the Nord 2 a few months later, the Nord CE 2 is an even stranger proposition.

Let’s start with a physical walk around, the front is the large gorgeous screen, at 6.43” it isn’t the biggest screen around, in fact in some people’s eyes it is basically normal now, it’s still a smidgen larger than my ideal but that is a personal preference. The panel is a Samsung AMOLED screen at 90Hz, it is smooth and has a metric boatload of brightness microsteps, and that sounds absolutely boring, I get it but have you ever been to a bright or dark place and can see the steps of your screen ramping up or down? The newer OnePlus phones, Nord CE 2 5G included don’t have that issue, and it is really nice to have . In the top left is the small hole punch for the 16MP front-facing camera, it is fine, small and out of the way, once you stop looking for it your brain ignores it much easier than a waterdrop or bathtub notch. As with most lower-end devices, the bezels are not symmetrical, the left and right are, but the top is a little larger, and the chin is larger still. Is it an issue? Not in the slightest but if I didn’t mention it, someone would complain, I happen to think a slightly smaller chin gives a bit of purchase for your fingers to rest on.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G Review

Moving to the perimeter, on the left-hand side we have 2 separate buttons for controlling volume instead of a rocker switch, as well as the SIM tray, which has space for 2 NanoSIMs and a MicroSD card, instead of making you decide between a second SIM and storage expansion OnePlus gives you both. What is cool to me is that unlike the super length trays we saw on older devices that allowed 2x NanoSIM and MicroSD, this is barely longer than a normal tray, it is just double-sided, smart. The right-hand side houses the solitary power button, that’s right, much like the Original Nord CE, whilst we die-hards think of the alert slider when we think of OnePlus, OnePlus don’t think it deserves to be on their Core Edition phone.

Up top, there is a secondary microphone for noise cancelling in phone calls and video recording, and then we move to the bottom, with a loudspeaker, main microphone, USB-C port and, what’s this? A rare beast, the 3.5mm audio jack, huzzah for those of you that still insist you absolutely must have one.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G Review

Now we get to go to the back, probably the most interesting part of the Nord CE 2 5G, at least in my Mirror Grey model. In the centre, we have the OnePlus logo and in the top left, we have the 2 large cutouts for the 50 and 8MP cameras with a small dot in the top right of the top left for the 2MP Macro lens and the LED flash. Where this gets interesting however is the design, this very much invokes the Find X3 Pro’s curved glass and ceramic, however, this is all plastic. The step up to the camera module is a nice gradual curve and feels very sleek when paired with the curved edges of the phone. Whilst this is an all-plastic affair and slippery as all hell, this is a really pretty phone design, I like what OnePlus has done here.

Spec Sheet

  •  MediaTek Dimensity 900 SoC
    • 2x Cortex A78 @ 2.42Ghz
    • 6x Cortex A55 @  2.0Ghz
    • Mali G68 MC4 GPU
    • TSMC 6nm
  • 6.43” AMOLED Screen
    • 90Hz
    • 2400×1080
  • 6GB RAM
  • 128GB UFS2.2 Storage
  • Cameras
    • 64MP main camera
      • F1.8
      • 26mm equivalent focal length
      • 1/1.97” sensor size
    • 8MP Ultrawide
      • F2.2
      • 119 degree field of view
      • 1/4.0” sensor size
    • 2MP Macro Camera
      • F2.4
      • 1/4.0” sensor size
    • 16MP Front facing camera
      • F2.4
      • 27mm equivalent focal length
  • 4500mAh battery
  • 65w SuperVOOC charging.
  • Android 11, OxygenOS 11

For a more exhaustive list of the specifications, head on over to GSMArena for the Nord CE 2 5G

Performance & Use

One of the main differences between the Nord CE and Nord CE 2 is the chipset, going from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G to the MediaTek Dimensity 900, much like to Snapdragon to Dimensity swap on the main Nord, the swap on the CE is for performance, power use, heat and radio reasons, all of which are nothing short of stunning on the CE 2 and the Dimensity 900.

PnePlus Nord CE 2 5G Review

Whilst my initial experience with the Snapdragon 750G was pretty positive, it quickly started to slow and more worryingly heat up, with the Dimensity 900 in here not only is it incredibly snappy I’ve not had any thermal issues whatsoever, including when fast charging on the included 65w brick or any of my USB-PD bricks. The Dimensity 900 is set up with 2 clusters of cores, the first is the high-performance Cortex A78 cores, the same as in the Dimensity 1200-AI in the big brother Nord, and then 6 Cortex A55s for normal and background stuff, this paired with a 4 core Mali G68 GPU is very peppy and then it is made of TSMCs N6 6nm fab, a high end nearly leading-edge fab for lower power, higher density and much more, this is a great chip and I’m glad OnePlus swapped to it.

The only unknown so far is the software support side of things. Initially, MediaTek devices had worse software update support from vendors, however that has rapidly improved since the Dimensity line-up has come around, what has slowly gotten worse however is the OnePlus Update strategy which has honestly no rhyme or reason most of the time, only time will tell, but the only update my unit received during testing was to bring it to the retail firmware from the beta firmware.

Camera & Samples

This is interesting, as when in the meeting with OnePlus PR, I was told that the camera modules on the Nord CE 2 5G are identical to the Nord CE, and any image upgrades are entirely down to the newer ISP (image signal processor) on the Dimensity 900 chip, as well as some software processing in the newer version of OxygenOS. I love this as It does give us as close to a 1:1 between ISPs and chipsets as can be.

Starting with the main camera, a 64MP, we still don’t have confirmation on who makes the image sensor, but with subsequent updates to the Nord CE, I’m more inclined to believe that it is indeed the OmniVision OV64B, it doesn’t exhibit the telltale signs of a Samsung sensor and does in fact line up with some of the other OmniVision sensors I’ve tried in the past. One thing to note is how obnoxiously large these camera “lenses” are, they serve no purpose other than making you believe its a better camera than it is.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G Review

The main camera colours are really neutral, and not in a bad way, whereas Samsung sensors take certain colours and crank the saturation intensity up, and Sony Sensors tend to take a different subset of colours and crank the warmth up, this on the other has is flatter and mildly over sharpened but quite normal looking, I was impressed. I’m not sure whether to put this down do software on the phone itself or the image algorithms in the ISP itself, but the object separation is much cleaner on the Nord CE 2 5G,, almost like a really good portrait mode, except not in portrait mode, it is a subtle sharpening that makes the images look a bit artsy I think. Something I was impressed at was night photography, the SD750 in the Nord CE struggled when the light got low, and the Nord CE 2 does as well but it is significantly faster at opening, switching lenses, focusing and capturing the image, it’s a night and day (heh, get it) change from the first generation CE, I truly was not expecting this.

PnePlus Nord CE 2 5G Review

The Ultrawide once again is subtly improved over the previous gen, everything just feels tighter and more cohesive. OnePlus still hasn’t tried too hard to match colours from the 2 sensors, but the images from the ultrawide at least don’t feel like there is a thin layer of vaseline over them this time around, which is always nice to see. 119-degree field of view is pretty common, and it is roughly 16mm equivalent lens compared to the main camera, you can get significantly more in view, but I just wish companies cared enough to put good ultrawide cameras in, because usually, people will try to get it with the main camera, realise they can’t and swap to the wide, and when the quality dips, and they get a grainier shot with wonky colours, it’s disheartening.

The Macro lens gets this entire sentence to itself, it’s useless and doesn’t need to be here. Moving on the front camera, a Sony IMX471, OnePlus is very happy to shout this is a Sony sensor and, I’m honestly not sure why. When used with the SD750, the SD888 or the D900 they all just look kinda meh. OnePlus seriously needs to step up its selfie and especially its front camera software on the phone if it wants to sell these phones to the younger crowd. The TikTok and Instagram crowd will scoff at how the front camera looks in the app viewfinder. If OnePlus can’t get app makers to optimise for them, OnePlus is going to have to do the heavy lifting of writing better camera processing and making a better camera app in the first place.

PnePlus Nord CE 2 5G Review

Video is… video. This is somewhere that Whilst MediaTek has caught up, I still think Qualcomm has a bit of a lead as you can see in the video samples below. Still, this is a sector where MediaTek was miles behind just a few years ago, I’m impressed that it is at the level it is, kudos.

 

Software

This is slightly less positive. After Android 12 being out for 5 months now, the Nord CE 2 ships with Android 11 on Oxygen OS 11.3. This is rough, I know Oxygen OS 12 has been under fire for being very broken and also being a thinly veiled version of ColorOS with OxygenOS colours, but guys, it is been nearly half a year, this is ridiculous. On the positive side, it is much more stable than I’ve seen OnePlus devices launch in the past, with only one bug to my knowledge, and that was the  “pocket mode” detection triggering all the time even when it was sitting on a desk and woke itself up with a notification, removing the included screen protector helped a bit, making me think it might have been slightly obscuring the proximity sensor, however, I don’t think it should be that sensitive that a clear PET film should trigger it.

There really isn’t a lot to say about the software experience if you are even somewhat knowledgeable about OxygenOS of the last 2 years,  default colours have slowly moved from a light grey and carmine-y red to a stark white and cobalt-y blue, similar to the Google Blue, but this can be changed in the settings as is common. More of the default apps are being replaced by the Oppo ColorOS apps which is no bad thing, I have found them to be more reliable, have a more cohesive design and are less prone to crashing, but I know a fair few people are mad that OnePlus is becoming more and more of an Oppo subbrand.

Battery

I was pleasantly surprised here, first off, the bad, because there isn’t a lot to say, Idle drain seems higher than I’d expect, it is about 15% overnight, which makes me think it is a software bug that’s stopping it sleeping or I have a rogue app that is only affecting this one phone. Everything else is really positive, in active use, the battery is a champ, routinely finishing a day with about half the battery left, the second day I can usually get to about 5 pm before I drop it on a charger at my desktop top it up before a full charge at the bed. Much like other dual cell batteries, the battery life doesn’t seem very linear, the second 50% lasts a lot less than the first 50%, but given that it is about a day for each half I don’t mind as much, I do want to watch how it degrades though as my original Nord CE does seem to have suffered some heat degradation.

For the better part of 2 weeks I was pretty sick whilst testing the Nord CE 2 5G, and in that time I got to use the phone and just test how long it lasted with light use, and I was pleasantly surprised when I got 2 days and 6 hours when I hit 3% and plugged in, that’s pretty great, although it is only 5 hours of screen on time (again, 5 hours over 2 and a bit days, I was sick) this is one of the places where I think even with the idle power drain issues, you aren’t going to seriously be in trouble with the battery, and if you are, you can turn on one of the plethora of battery saving measures in software, this is a phone you can easily take on weekend away trip and not worry about it.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G Review

Charging wise the Nord CE 2 is pretty much top of the market. Few phones charge faster at this price, 65W is insane, 0-100% in about 35 minutes is great, however not really the useful metric for me, so how about in the time it takes to make a cup of coffee (grind, brew, steep) and walk about to the office I’ve gained almost 35%, way more than I’d need to get me to the office (if I had a commute to an office). Whereas older OnePlus phones would get a bit warm when charging on USB-PD charger, the Nord CE 2 doesn’t have that issue, however, whilst it charges at 65W on the OnePlus charger it charges at just 18w on a USB-PD charger, something I hope changes with the next round of devices.

Final Thoughts

The Nord CE 2 5G is a weird device, in a way, it is just as weird as the first CE was. At £299 it’s £100 cheaper than the Nord 2, a phone with a demonstrably better camera experience, a nicer fingerprint scanner and just has a better in-hand feel, except the Nord 2 is almost never at the full £399 price, I often see it at £349 or lower, it is currently at £379 and I’d say to buy that instead of this.

The problem however is outside of the OnePlus Ecosystem. Realme has the 9 Pro+ for £299, the same price, but it has the newer Dimensity 920 chip, double the storage at 256GB and Android 12 with RealmeUI 3.0 and the much nicer Sony IMX766 camera sensor, which the name is confusing, at the moment, the price is moreso.

About Domenico Lamberti

Technology has been a big part of my life for years, whether it be ripping the family computer apart to see how it worked, playing with the new phones that Dad brought home from work. Senior Reviewer for MTT.

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