Ameya DalviOct 22, 2021 12:41:31 IST
OnePlus surprised most of us by releasing the Nord CE right in between the first Nord and Nord 2. While a more affordable OnePlus phone is always welcome, the company probably went a bit too far to keep its price down. A certain disregard for the competition was also evident from the way things shaped up. After using the phone for a couple of months on and off, and with the advantage of having used the Nord 2 extensively, too, it’s time to share the experience with you.
We will move away from our usual review format this time and take a quick look at what’s good and what’s not good detailing seven key aspects of the Nord CE. We will also share our insights on what its successor can do better – if there is one.
OnePlus Nord CE: Design
The Nord CE’s design has flashes of the first Nord, especially the rear profile. While the design is elegant, the company has opted for a plastic back instead of glass, which will be a lot more prone to scratches. To OnePlus’ credit, it doesn’t look like glass and is pretty much smudge-free. The glossy plastic frame does attract a few fingerprints, though. Thanks to all that plastic, the weight of the phone is kept in check at 170 grams. Most importantly, the Nord CE is quite slim and less than eight mm in thickness.
The rear camera layout is similar to its predecessor’s, with one less camera module. The front camera cut-out is thankfully a lot smaller due to a single camera like on the Nord 2, as opposed to the capsule-shaped cut-out for two cameras on the Nord. A popular OnePlus feature is missing here – the alert slider. That said, an old feature that's been missing on OnePlus phones for years makes an appearance – a 3.5 mm headphone jack.
OnePlus Nord CE: Display
Just like the other two Nord phones, the Nord CE sports a 6.43-inch Fluid AMOLED display with 2400 x 1080 resolution and a 90 Hz refresh rate. But unlike those two, the display here isn’t HDR10+ compliant. Most of the competition has moved on to 120 Hz refresh rate displays, but 90 Hz is still smooth enough. Colour reproduction and sharpness are generally good, especially in Natural mode, but don’t bring anything special to the table in this segment.
OnePlus Nord CE: Hardware and performance
This is where the Nord CE feels like a bit of a downgrade from the first Nord. OnePlus has opted for a Qualcomm Snapdragon 750 on the Nord CE, which feels like a step down from the Snapdragon 765 on the Nord. While the Snapdragon 750 is not significantly less powerful than the 765, OnePlus had a full year to opt for something better. Case in point, the Nord 2, whose performance is way better in comparison thanks to the Mediatek Dimensity 1200 SoC.
The Nord CE is generally lag-free in day-to-day tasks, but it does feel sluggish when using the camera and a few other apps. And that despite our review unit being equipped with 12 GB RAM. To put things in numbers, the Nord CE scores 641 and 1835 in Geekbench single-core and multi-core benchmarks, respectively. In comparison, the Nord managed scores of 613 and 1942, while the Nord 2 raced ahead with scores of 815 and 2762 in the same tests. The CE does reasonably well in PCMark Work 3.0 benchmark with a score of 8366, almost 300 higher than even the Nord 2.
In 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme - Vulkan benchmark, the Nord CE falls short of the Nord by over 500 points, with the two scoring 2590 and 3092, respectively. In the 3DMark Wild Life benchmark, the Nord 2 blows away the CE with a score of 4218 as opposed to a measly 1113. There is a massive difference in the average frame rates, too (25.3 vs 6.7). Moral of the story, the Nord CE is not great for serious gaming.
OnePlus Nord CE: Camera performance
The camera department is probably the weakest aspect of the Nord CE. While it does boast of a 64 MP main camera as opposed to the 48 MP or 50 MP units on its more illustrious cousins, the performance is nowhere in the same league. It lacks optical image stabilisation (OIS), too. The output is decent in good lighting but starts to lose detail fast as soon as the light fades. The dynamic range is good, but photos appear a bit soft and with less-than-ideal detail.
There is no telephoto camera here, the zoomed shots are digitally zoomed, and you need a steady hand to get usable shots. The lack of OIS doesn’t help either and there is a noticeable blur in certain shots. Make sure you click a few extras. The second camera is an 8 MP ultra-wide camera which is average at best, like most 8 MP ultra-wide cameras. The third camera is a 2 MP depth sensor, and helps in portrait shots, which come out decent on this phone.
Low-light photography on the Nord CE is average at best, and the colours in captured images often look different from the real thing. The images come out soft, too. Using zoom in low light is not a smart option, as there is a significant loss of detail when you do. You do get a Nightscape mode that improves things significantly when the light is too low, but it takes a good five to seven seconds to capture and process the images. The objects look brighter than they are, but the images have noticeably more detail and sharpness. Nightscape mode does not support zooming.
The 16 MP front camera does a pretty good job with selfies. They come out sharp and with natural colours. The front camera also has a portrait mode, which can be a hit or miss. It often blurs the hair but gets the rest of the subject and background separation right. The rear cameras can shoot 4K videos at 30 fps and 1080p videos at up to 120 fps. You get EIS to stabilise the footage. The output is acceptable for the segment. The front camera can record videos in Full HD resolution at 30 or 60 fps.
OnePlus Nord CE: Battery backup
The battery capacity sees a bit of an increment as compared to its predecessor, which results in an improved battery life. The 4,500 mAh battery lasts a day and a half of moderate use, which is quite good in comparison to the other two Nords that last close to 30 hours with similar usage. While it supports fast charging, and the bundled charger manages to charge it in about 65 minutes, which is decent enough, that’s a good half an hour more than the Nord 2, which also has a 4,500 mAh battery.
OnePlus Nord CE: OS and User interface
No complaints here for now, except for the odd stutter in a couple of apps. You do get the proper OxygenOS experience at a low price point. The Nord CE runs Android 11 with OxygenOS 11. OnePlus promises two major Android updates and three years of security updates for this phone, which is great.
OnePlus Nord CE: Price and competition
The Nord CE starts at Rs 22,999 for the 6 GB RAM and 128 GB storage variant and costs an additional Rs 2,000 for the 8 GB RAM variant. I wouldn’t bother with 12 GB RAM on a phone with Snapdragon 750; it is bound to be wasted. OnePlus has opted to jump into a highly competitive segment of smartphones under Rs 25,000, and some serious competition it receives. In fact, it is surrounded by some extremely competent phones that are vying for the same piece of the pie.
Two options come to mind straight away in the Rs 20,000 to 25,000 price band – the Samsung M52 5G and iQOO Z5 5G. Both phones have a faster Snapdragon 778 chip, higher capacity batteries and 120 Hz refresh rate displays. While the Samsung has a Super AMOLED screen, the iQOO has a regular IPS display. If you choose to spend a bit more, you have the popular trifecta based on Mediatek Dimensity 1200 SoC. The Realme X7 Max 5G, Poco F3 GT and OnePlus Nord 2 are clearly superior phones on every front and available under Rs 30,000.
The Xiaomi Mi 11X has also been selling under Rs 25,000 lately in the festive sales, making it a terrific option at that price point. The Mi 11X has a flagship-grade Snapdragon 870 along with an excellent AMOLED screen with 120 Hz refresh rate and more. Lastly, you also have a couple of phones going after the CE from the sub-20K segment. The Poco X3 Pro flaunts a powerful Snapdragon 860 processor making it a great option for gaming under 17K, while the Redmi Note 10 Pro Max offers a 108MP camera and 120 Hz AMOLED screen around 20K.
As you can see, the OnePlus Nord CE is bound to get lost in the crowd. It does have a superior UI as compared to the rest, courtesy of OxygenOS. Despite that, I would strongly recommend bumping your budget by another Rs 5,000 or so and opting for the Nord 2, if you are looking for a OnePlus phone specifically. Otherwise, you have one option too many to choose from.
What can improve with the OnePlus Nord CE 2?
I feel the bigger question is – should there be a Nord CE 2? If it's going to be more like the CE, then probably not. OnePlus so far has operated at a different level as compared to the competition and that is what has made it special. It cannot expect to play Xiaomi or Realme’s game and win just like that. If it intends to, they need to be better equipped. Most aspects of the Nord CE are fine, barring the drop in processing power and camera, and those are the areas the company needs to focus on in the Nord CE 2.
It does make sense to have a OnePlus phone in the Rs 20,000 to 25,000 range if the Nord (non-CE) is positioned around Rs 30,000. However, it needs to feel like a OnePlus phone, and not something generic with a OnePlus logo and OxygenOS. Maybe the company can use the main camera from a generation old OnePlus phone, like it did with the first Nord (it had the OnePlus 8 main camera). Couple it with a better midrange SoC and we may have something worthwhile. If not, just have one Nord to rule the segment each year and let the previous Nord operate in a lower segment with a price drop.
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