OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review: strutting it’s stuff

OnePlus had a hit on its hands last year when it launched the Nord. a smaller, cheaper phone that, for many, was a return to the roots of OnePlus’ ‘flagship killer” mantra, except this wasn’t a flagship, it was a flagship experience, pared down to a more cost-effective solution, how does the refresh line up?

OnePlus Nord CE 5G
+ FOR
  • Lovely design
  • Snapdragon 750G is great
  • 5G
  • Very good battery life
  • OxygenOS is fluid
- AGAINST
  • Cameras could use some work
  • Some won't like the plastic build

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Disclaimer

OnePlus PR sent me (Dom) this Nord CE 5G for the purposes of Review. OnePlus is not seeing this review before it goes live nor are they allowed to ask for any editorial input. No money has exchanged hands between either part. The Nord CE 5G has been used on the Three UK Network in the Southeast of the UK and received a single OTA to bring it to the release version of the software.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review

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Spec Sheet

  •  6.43” AMOLED Screen
    • 2400×1080 resolution
    • 90Hz
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G
    • 2x Cortex A77 @ 2.2Ghz
    • 6x Cortex A55 @ 1.8Ghz
    • Adreno 619 GPU
    • Samsung 8nm
  • 6GB/8GB/12GB LPDDR4x RAM
  • 128GB/256GB UFS2.1 storage
  • Rear Cameras
    • 64MP
      • F1.8
      • 26mm effective focal length
    • 8MP Ultrawide
      • F2.3
      • 16mm effective focal length
      • 119-degree field of view
    • 2MP Monochrome camera
      • F2.4
  • Front Camera
    • 16MP Sony IMX471
    • F2.45
  • WiFi 5
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • NFC
  • USB-C
  • 3.5mm Audio jack
  • 4500mAh 
  • 30w Warp charge 30T+ (0-70% in 30 minutes)

For a more complete and exhaustive list of the specs head on over to the GSMArena page here

Performance & Use

OnePlus has done a really nice job with the hardware of the Nord CE 5G, much like the original Nord, this is an all-plastic affair, but I really don’t mind it, at 170g and 7.9mm thin it is very slender and slips into a pocket with ease. The front has the 6.43” 1080p AMOLED display, at 90Hz it is smooth and it is doesn’t appear to be a cheap OLED panel either, so there doesn’t appear to be much colour banding at all, in the top left is the 16MP front-facing camera, which is actually the same module as used in the OnePlus 9 Pro, fun fact.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review

On the right-hand side of the phone is the power button and on the left-hand side are the individual volume buttons and the combo NanoSIM and MicroSD Tray, but what’s missing? The signature OnePlus alert slider, which I’m told was left off of the “Core Edition” (which is what CE stands for) because whilst it does make a “OnePlus phone a OnePlus phone” it could have meant they’d need to compromise in other areas. Up the top is the secondary microphone for the noise cancelling in voice calls and video recording, and the bottom houses the USB-C port, 3.5mm audio jack, main microphone and loudspeaker.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review

The rear is this absolutely gorgeous frosted plastic, on my “Blue Void” colour, it invokes the Aurora Borealis with blues, greens and purples, with a metallic/mirrored OnePlus logo in the centre with a camera bulge in the top left with the three lenses in a single unit, and the LED flash outside. This smooth rear panel is absolutely lovely and would be a shame to cover it up, but I do fear it would scratch somewhat easily, if you want a case, OnePlus provides a simple clear TPU one in the box, and also has a couple of these cute speckled ones on sale, I’m particularly besotted with the purple one.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review

The performance of the Snapdragon 750G in the Nord CE 5G is bloody brilliant, paired with the 90Hz display, this is a great device to use, in many ways it feels faster than the 765G phones of last year whilst giving better battery life, which is nice to see. Flipping through OxygenOS was no issue and playing the games that I like to play (Monument Valley, Helix Jump, Sparkle, etc) the CE 5G didn’t so much as a stutter or get warm to the touch, though I have heard reports of the device stuttering and overheating when attempting to play Genshin Impact, which I hear is a particularly brutal game for phones.

The Snapdragon 750G should also age a lot better than other 700 series chipsets have, I have gone on the record about how I think the 720G,730G and 732G need to be retired, and I think the 750G would be a great replacement for companies considering using those, even if not for the 5G capabilities of the 750G.

Network performance of the Nord CE 5G was actually very decent as well, the X52 5G Modem in the Snapdragon 750G powering the Nord was very adept at picking up and holding onto mobile signals in my hometown of Hastings, as well as when on the motorway going up to London and whilst I was up there clinging to some of the nascent 5G networks on offer. WiFi performance was mostly good, with a few instances of the phone randomly disconnecting from the WiFi whilst every other device was fine but just toggling it on and off managed to fix that. GPS was fine if a bit power hungry, Google Maps had no issues in locating me and navigating me to places.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review

Camera & Samples

The cameras on the Nord CE 5G are a bit interesting actually. The main camera is an unnamed 64MP unit, with rumours of it being an Omnivision OV64B, given the characteristics I’m seeing in colour rendition and focus, this does not look or behave like a Samsung ISOCELL sensor, and I feel like if this was a Sony IMX sensor, OnePlus would have told us it was a Sony sensor. Now, this isn’t to say that it’s a bad image sensor, far from it actually, I was pretty impressed with both the image sensor and the ISP in the Snapdragon 750G.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review

Colours are generally more accurate than on standard Samsung ISOCELL sensors whilst not being as neutral or toned down as Sony ones. The main issue I had with the main camera on the Nord CE 5G is minimum focus distance and focus speed, I’m not sure which part is to blame here (the ISP or the sensor) but the minimum focus distance seems a lot farther away on this than most other phones, and the focus is noticeably slower too, meaning that in lower light situations I have accidentally gotten a blurry photo because it took a smidge longer to focus than I was expecting and I started to move.

The ultrawide camera on the Nord CE 5G is a bit weak if I’m honest, at just 8MP I’m pretty sure it is the same GalaxyCore GC8054 that we have seen on other BBK brand phones and it is just a bit lacking. it is soft, the colours aren’t always there and while the focus is faster than the main camera, given the output it almost feels like it is never really focused, which is a shame because wide-angle photography is so fun and is able to give you some great new views of scenes, this one just falls a bit flat if you aren’t in perfect lighting with steady hands or a tripod.

The front camera is a bit odd, with the same sensor as the OnePlus 9 Pro the differences in output coming down to the ISP on the chips and these are closer than I would have expected given the significantly better ISP on the Snapdragon 888, but in the end, this is still just okay as a front camera, it is fixed focus, the plane of focus is pretty thin and the camera over-sharpens to a crazy degree.

Next is video, some of these did much better than expected and some did worse, I wasn’t expecting the 4k30 to be as good as it was, but personally, I think every other mode underperformed, I hope these get better with software updates, I know the front camera got significantly better going from pre-launch to the launch firmware, so I still have some hope.

Software

Software is handled by OnePlus’ Oxygen OS 11, in this case, OxygenOS 11.0.2.2 built upon Android 11 with a planned upgrade to Android 12. I haven’t been the biggest fan of OxygenOS in recent years, but that’s a personal preference, I know that some like the OneUI inspired design elements, as well as the light greys on white with red and black accents that come as default, OnePlus has a very holistic design ethos here, everything is intentional, nothing really feels out of place aesthetically, which is a nice change from other companies would build UI’s on top of Android and stop at a level or two deep so you can still find baseline Android/AOSP design features that’ll clash, those aren’t really a thing on OxygenOS.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review

It’s stable too, with not a single app crash once I reached the launch firmware, and only one bug that I’m aware of (that is being worked on) occasionally when the screen is powered up, the touch layer doesn’t wake up, pressing the power button on and off again fixes this, so it is no big deal, just a bit annoying.

OnePlus’ core apps have been updated and feel smoother and faster than before, little things like opening the history in the calculator, or swapping camera modes just feel a bit more instant-on here than the older Nord and even to an extent the 9 Pro, software tweaks really do improve phones over time. The one OnePlus app I do not like however is the stock gallery app, it feels clunky and out of proportion. I mostly use Google Photos though, and if I didn’t, I can download another Gallery app from the Play Store.

Battery

The Nord CE’s 4500mAh cell is looking almost pedestrian these days, but it is a great size, being about 400mAh larger than the older Nord and the “same” 30w charging, you’d expect this to take a hit, but the new Warp Charge 30T Plus has charging curve optimisations to get the phone to the same 0-70% in 30 minutes mark, nice!

 

Battery wise, I was looking at a solid day and a half here, and I could kill it sooner if I tried, such as when I was in London and used GPS, music streaming and did a fair bit of 5G testing, but those weren’t really normal circumstances for me or most people, and a quick plugin at my London destination filled it back up whilst I was in a meeting.

 

One slight worry I had was the first few times I charged the Nord CE 5G It got uncomfortably warm to me, not warm enough for the phone to damage itself (or at least not tell me about it) but I could feel the heat build-up, and this was on an 18w USB-PD charger, not even the 30W Warp Charge charger, something to keep in mind if you’re the type of person who puts their phone under their pillow.

Final Thoughts

The Nord CE 5G is a great phone, especially at the base price of £299, you get a great screen, capable chipset, decent camera and good battery and charging. There really isn’t much competition. The Realme X50 5G has a significantly worse screen and subpar battery for the same price. The Samsung A42 5G has a bigger but lower resolution 60hz screen, a bigger battery but only 15w charging for more money. Only Poco gets close with the stellar bang for the buck that is the X3 Pro, but that doesn’t have 5G if you want that, plus its screen is IPS and at just 450 nits, not all that bright.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G Review

The Nord CE 5G isn’t the best phone out there, but it strikes a better balance than most of its contemporaries do, which I think is important. Plus, I’m absolutely smitten with this Blue void colour.

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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