Android Central Verdict
Bottom line: The Nord CE has a vibrant 90Hz AMOLED panel and reliable hardware under the hood, and you also get clean software along with regular updates. But the camera isn't as good as other mid-range phones, and for what you're ultimately paying here, there are much better alternatives.
90Hz AMOLED screen
Reliable internal hardware
Larger battery than the Nord
3.5mm jack is back
Not as good value as rivals
Doesn't feel premium
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With the Nord, OnePlus showed that it can deliver a mid-range phone that is just as good as its flagships. The Nord continues to be one of the best cheap Android phones nearly a year after its launch, and OnePlus saw a sales hike of a staggering 300% following its launch in markets like India.
OnePlus already rolled out several models in the Nord series, including the N10 and N100, and more recently the N200. The Nord 2 is also on the horizon, with that phone slated to launch sometime in July with a MediaTek chipset — a first for OnePlus.
Then we have the Nord CE 5G. OnePlus is billing it as a more affordable version of the original Nord — the device costs anywhere between 11 to 18% less than the Nord in global markets. The Nord CE has the same 90Hz panel and follows the same design aesthetic as the Nord, but it is powered by the Snapdragon 750G, has a 64MP camera at the back, a larger 4500mAh battery, and a 3.5mm jack.
OnePlus says the 3.5mm jack is a part of the "core" experience of using a smartphone, which makes me question why it omitted the jack on the OnePlus 9, 9 Pro, and all of its other devices over the last two years. OnePlus wants to sell you on the idea that the Nord CE is just as good as the Nord. But the reality is that the device is a poor imitation that doesn't quite measure up to its rivals, and with the Nord 2 set to launch soon, there's really isn't a good reason to pick up the Nord CE right now.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G: Price and global availability
The Nord CE 5G is going up for sale in 47 countries around the world, including India, the UK, Middle East, and most European countries. Like the Nord, the device won't be available in North America. The phone is available in three color options: Blue Void, Silver Ray, and Charcoal Ink. The phone is going on sale starting June 16 in India and June 19 in other markets.
The Nord CE 5G is available with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and you can get your hands on it for ₹24,999 ($340) in India, £299 ($420) in the UK, and €329 ($400) in Europe. There's also a 12GB/256GB model that debuts at ₹27,999 ($380) in India, £369 ($520) in the UK, and €399 ($480) in Europe. OnePlus will introduce a 6GB/128GB option in India at a later date, with that variant set to be available for ₹22,999 ($315).
OnePlus Nord CE 5G: Design and display
As the Nord CE is billed as a "core" variant of the Nord, it doesn't deviate too much in terms of the design aesthetic. The phone has the same flowing curves and similar oblong camera housing at the back, and also comes in a vibrant blue hue — just like the Nord. That said, the camera housing feels dated in 2021, and particularly when seen against the OnePlus 9 series.
With a thickness of 7.9mm, the Nord CE has the distinction of being the slimmest OnePlus phone after the 6T. It also weighs just 170g, a full 14g lighter than the Nord even though it is packing a larger 4500mAh battery. The reason for this lightness? The Nord CE has a polycarbonate back and mid-frame.
While that's not a bad thing necessarily, the Nord CE does end up feeling cheap. Don't get me wrong; the design itself is rather elegant, and I like the Blue Void color option — the vibrant blue hue is accented on the sides by purple, and it is striking. The matte finish also ensures fingerprint smudges aren't visible, but the glossy coating on the sides and the choice of materials means the Nord CE doesn't have quite the same in-hand feel as the Nord.
Another issue I have with the Nord CE is with the power and volume buttons; they feel mushy and don't have good feedback, and I don't remember the last time I used a phone where I was worried about these buttons failing. Furthermore, the phone misses out on the alert slider; the hardware toggle has been a mainstay on OnePlus phones for seven years now, and to get rid of it just doesn't make sense.
A key differentiator for the Nord CE is the 3.5mm jack. While flagships have eschewed the port for a few generations now, most budget and mid-range phones still feature a 3.5mm jack, so it is good to see the Nord CE featuring the jack. That said, the 3.5mm jack alone doesn't make up for the omissions on the design front.
Thankfully, OnePlus hasn't changed things when it comes to the display side of things. The Nord CE has a 6.43-inch AMOLED panel with an FHD+ (2400 x 1080) resolution and 90Hz refresh. If that sounds familiar, that's because the Nord CE is using the exact same display as the Nord.
Just like the Nord, the Nord CE has vibrant colors with excellent contrast levels, plenty of customization in terms of color balance, and great viewing angles. And like the Nord, the phone misses out on stereo sound; the solitary speaker is passable for gaming and streaming videos, but you should definitely pick up a pair of wireless earbuds to use with the phone.
You can stream HDR10 content without any issues on the device, and all things considered, the panel is one of the best in this category. It has excellent colors, gets sufficiently bright for outdoor use, and with OxygenOS 11, you get always-on display.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G: Performance and battery
Coming to the hardware, the Nord CE 5G is powered by a Snapdragon 750G chipset. The platform should be immediately familiar if you've looked at the mid-range segment in 2021. The Xiaomi Mi 10i, Galaxy A52 5G, A72 5G, and Motorola's Moto G 5G are all powered by the same chipset, and it is a known quantity at this point.
|Specs||OnePlus Nord CE 5G|
|Software||OxygenOS 11, Android 11|
|Display||6.43-inch (2400x1080) 90Hz AMOLED|
|Chipset||2.20GHz Snapdragon 750G|
|Rear Camera 1||64MP ƒ/1.8 (primary)|
|Rear Camera 2||8MP ƒ/2.3 (wide-angle)|
|Rear Camera 3||2MP ƒ/2.4 (portrait)|
|Front Camera||16MP ƒ/2.5|
|Connectivity||Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, BT 5.1, NFC|
|Colors||Blue Void, Silver Ray, Charcoal Ink|
|Dimensions||159.2 x 73.5 x 7.9mm|
The Snapdragon 750G has two Cortex A77 cores that go up to 2.20GHz and six A55 cores at 1.80GHz, and there's more than enough power here for handling just about anything you can throw at the phone. You also get LPDDR4X RAM and UFS 2.1 storage modules, unchanged from the Nord.
I used the Nord CE for just over a week now, and I didn't run into any issues on the hardware front. The phone runs through most tasks without breaking a sweat, and it holds up just fine for gaming. The Adreno 619 is a stable performer, delivering consistent frame rates and high visual settings in all but the most intensive of games.
The Nord CE also has 5G connectivity, and the EU model has the requisite Sub-6 bands for 5G across the region: n1/3/5/7/8/20/28/38/40/41/77/78. The Indian model, meanwhile, has just the n78 band, making it effectively useless for international roaming. I've already made my feelings known about OnePlus India's 5G strategy in the OnePlus 9R review, so I don't want to rant here again. Just know that if you're buying a OnePlus device in India and want to use it in any other country, you'll be limited to 4G.
Like the Nord, the Nord CE has Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.1, NFC, and AptX HD and LDAC codecs. OnePlus introduced a new haptic motor in the OnePlus 9 series, but the Nord CE is using the same module as the Nord, and it isn't quite as good. The in-screen module is also unchanged from last year, and it is fast and reliable. And just like the Nord, you miss out on ingress protection.
As for battery life, the Nord CE has a larger 4500mAh battery that comfortably lasts all day without any issues. While the phone uses the same Warp Charge 30T tech as the Nord, OnePlus says it made a few optimizations to the battery to allow it to charge at 30W for a lot longer, with the tech now dubbed Warp Charge 30T Plus.
It takes the Nord CE just 30 minutes to go from zero to 70%, and you get the same battery-saving features as other OnePlus phones. The Nord CE does manage to last a little longer than the Nord, but it still lags behind some of its mid-range rivals, particularly from Xiaomi and Realme.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G: Cameras
The Nord had a total of six cameras, but a majority of sensors served little to no purpose. Thankfully, OnePlus is dialing back on the Nord CE, with the device featuring a more modest three cameras at the back and a single sensor up front.
The phone has a 64MP primary camera along with an 8MP wide-angle lens and a 2MP portrait lens — there's no macro this time around. At the front, you get a 16MP Sony IMX471 module that's unchanged from the last three years.
Because the phone is aimed at the mid-range segment, it misses out on a few features that you'll find on OnePlus flagships: there's no OIS or the ability to shoot 4K video at 60fps. These are not huge omissions, but with more and more mid-range phones raising the bar for cameras, it feels like OnePlus is standing still in this category.
The camera interface itself is unchanged; you'll find all the shooting modes laid out in a ribbon at the bottom, and there are toggles for switching between the various lenses and the timer, flash, filters, and the full-res 64MP mode.
Right off the bat, there are inconsistencies with the Nord CE's cameras. Even daylight shots end up looking overexposed and with colors washed out, and things go downhill from that point. The camera takes too long to focus on a subject in low-light conditions, and the resultant shots miss out on finer details and have a lot of noise.
The dedicated night mode does a decent enough job fixing some of the more egregious issues, but what's clear after using the Nord CE for a week is that the camera lags behind its rivals by some margin.
Nord CE on the left, Mi 10i on the right
To get a better idea of just how far the Nord CE is off the mark, just take a look at the two photos above. The Mi 10i does a great job retaining the colors and minimizing noise levels, but it isn't without issues; the photo is underexposed and you don't see the letters on the keyboard and the Corsair branding.
But the Nord CE botches the colors entirely, blows the highlights, and introduces a lot of noise into the shot. And this is after the phone received an update to fix the camera issues. The Nord CE just doesn't measure up to other mid-range phones, and with camera quality being the differentiator in this category, you'll have to look elsewhere if you want a phone that can take good photos.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G: Software
There's not a whole lot to talk about on the software side of things. The Nord CE runs OxygenOS 11 out of the box, and it is identical to the OnePlus 9 series and other OnePlus phones that have made the switch to Android 11.
OnePlus set itself up as the go-to manufacturer for fans of clean software, and that continues to be the case in 2021. While the company is exerting its own design style — OxygenOS 11 features a design aesthetic that deviates from "pure" Android — the changes don't really make that much of a difference in day-to-day use. The more egregious problem with OxygenOS is the slow introduction of bloatware, particularly in India.
OnePlus is looking to software services as an added source of revenue, and it offers a cloud service similar to Google Drive in India. The service itself isn't as good as what Google offers, and you will see periodic reminders to try it out whenever you go into the gallery. These sort of notifications are becoming more and more frequent, with the likes of Nearby Charging Stations — a feature that constantly uses your location to find charging points where you can charge your phone nearby — bugging you to use the service.
For now, OnePlus is still in the lead in terms of software, but if the changes to OxygenOS over the last 12 months are any indication, it is clear that the manufacturer wants to be more like Samsung in this area.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G: The competition
The mid-range segment has been incredibly busy over the course of the last 12 months, and there are dozens of great options if you're looking to save some cash. The Xiaomi Mi 10i continues to be a standout choice; the phone has the same Snapdragon 750G chipset as the Nord CE, but has a larger 4820mAh battery with 33W fast charging, a much better 108MP camera at the back, and a 120Hz LCD panel.
The Mi 10i undercuts the Nord CE in India, where it's available for ₹23,999 ($325). The same phone is sold in the UK as the Mi 10T Lite but with a 64MP camera, and at £299 it costs the same as the Nord CE while offering more value.
If you don't care about the cameras and just want a phone for gaming, the POCO X3 Pro is the ideal choice. The phone is powered by the beastly Snapdragon 860 chipset, has a large 5120mAh battery that lasts for well over a day, and a 6.67-inch 120Hz LCD panel that's great for gaming. Best of all, the POCO X3 Pro undercuts the Nord CE by a sizeable margin: you can pick it up for ₹20,999 ($280) in India and £229 ($323) in the UK.
Realme's X7 Max is also a strong contender in this category. The phone has a 120Hz AMOLED screen, MediaTek Dimensity 1200 chipset, 64MP camera at the back, and a 4500mAh battery with 50W fast charging. At ₹26,999 ($368), it is ₹2,000 costlier than the Nord CE, but you are getting a lot more for your money here.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if ...
You want clean software
OxygenOS 11 delivers a clean interface that doesn't include too much bloat. That said, OnePlus is flexing its design muscle, and OxygenOS 12 will introduce a radical overhaul of the interface once it rolls around later in the year. So if you're buying into OnePlus because of the interface, you should wait for a little bit to see just what's in store with OxygenOS 12.
You're looking for reliable hardware
The Nord CE nails the hardware basics: you're getting a 90Hz AMOLED screen, Snapdragon 750G chipset, adequate RAM and storage options, and a large 4500mAh battery that lasts all day along with 30W fast charging. And yes, the 3.5mm jack is back.
You're a OnePlus fan
If you have a strong affinity to OnePlus and aren't wiling to consider the myriad of alternatives available in this segment, then you've already made up your mind about the Nord CE. If you're this person, please just buy the Nord instead or wait for the Nord 2.
You should not buy this if ...
You want a good camera
The Nord CE just doesn't hold up to the original Nord or most other mid-range phones when it comes to the cameras. You can get decent shots in a few scenarios, but the effort isn't worth it when there are plenty of great alternatives available.
You want a device that feels premium
The Nord CE doesn't feel like a premium phone, and that's down to the polycarbonate back and mid-frame. Now, there are other devices that use a plastic back — like the Galaxy A52 — but they do a much better job with the fit and finish, and that's missing with the Nord CE.
You're in the market for value
Unlike the Nord, the Nord CE doesn't really offer an enticing value. You'll find plenty of phones in the mid-range segment that give you a lot more for your money, including the Xiaomi Mi 10i, Realme X7 Max, or even the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max.
After using the Nord CE for just over a week, I'm struggling to understand the reason for its existence. The phone doesn't offer anything meaningfully different to the Nord, and the fact that it costs nearly the same makes it a tough recommendation. Value is at the core of what makes the Nord series stand out, and you don't just get enough of that with the Nord CE.
Yes, there is a larger battery and a 3.5mm jack, but the underlying chipset is marginally slower than the one on the Nord. The biggest issue with the Nord CE is the camera; it's just not good enough for a phone in this segment. There are some savings to be had here, but as an overall package, the Nord CE doesn't measure up to the Nord or other mid-range phones available right now.
3.5 out of 5
In a sense, the Nord CE feels like it is trying to ride the coattails of the Nord. After all, the Nord ended up being the best-selling phone in this category for a few quarters following its debut, and by calling this device the Nord CE, OnePlus is emphasizing that it is just as good. That's not the case in day-to-day use, however, and it feels ironic that a phone dubbed the Core Edition cannot deliver on something as fundamental as the cameras.
There's also the fact that the Nord CE will soon be overshadowed by the imminent arrival of the Nord 2. I revealed earlier in the year that the phone will be powered by the MediaTek Dimensity 1200 platform, and it will have better cameras and faster charging. If you're in the market for a new mid-range phone in 2021, you may as well pick up the Nord right now or wait for the Nord 2 to debut shortly. The Nord CE does little to push the needle for the Nord series, and OnePlus should have had the foresight to not launch it at all.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G
Bottom line: The Nord CE isn't a bad phone by any measure, but it doesn't offer the same value as the Nord. It may have been a decent option had it launched eight months ago, but with the Nord 2 on the horizon and plenty of great alternatives to choose from, there really isn't a good reason to buy the Nord CE.
Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.