One year after OnePlus boldly entered the midrange and entry-level phone markets with the OnePlus Nord, the company has returned with the OnePlus Nord CE 5G. The letter “CE” at the end of its name stands for “Core Edition.” According to OnePlus, the new phone eliminates some of its predecessor’s less necessary features in order to focus on offering its “core” features at a lower price, similar to what Samsung offers with its “FE” (fan edition) devices.
First and foremost, this means that the Nord CE has a lower starting price of £299 / €329, down from £379 / €399 for last year’s phone. It retains the 1080p 90Hz OLED display and even adds a headphone jack, but it has one fewer camera on both the front and back, as well as a less premium design with a plastic rear panel rather than glass. In addition to the £299 model, which comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, there is a £369 / €399 model with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. I’ve been using the 12GB model.
The OnePlus Nord CE, like the original Nord, will only be available in Europe and India, with the Nord N200 arriving later this month in the United States. The question for all of them is whether OnePlus has removed too many features or found the right balance of price and performance.
When you compare the Nord CE to last year’s phone, it’s clear they’re cut from the same design cloth. Both have an edge-to-edge OLED display with minimal bezels on the front, selfie cameras in a hole-punch to the top left of their screens, and a rear camera bump that organises their sensors into a line. There is no official IP rating for dust and water resistance, and there is no wireless charging, as with the original Nord.
However, as you get closer, the differences become more apparent. For starters, there is now only one selfie camera on the phone: the original Nord’s secondary ultrawide camera has been removed, and the resolution of the main selfie camera has been reduced from 32 to 16 megapixels. The resolution of the main camera on the back has been increased from 48 to 64 megapixels, and there is still an 8-megapixel ultrawide sensor, but the 5-megapixel depth and 2-megapixel macro sensors have been replaced by a single 2-megapixel monochrome sensor.
The Nord CE is a slim device that is easy to hold. OnePlus claims that this is the thinnest phone it has made since the OnePlus 6T, and at 170g (6oz), it feels light for a phone with a 6.43-inch screen. It’s tempting to argue that heavier devices have a higher quality feel, but I believe there’s something to be said for a device that’s thin and light enough that you can forget it’s in your pocket. Despite its small size, the Nord CE has a headphone jack, which was missing from last year’s phone.
The Nord CE’s battery is also bigger than last year’s Nord, measuring 4,300mAh. However, in my testing, its battery life was slightly worse in everyday use. While the original Nord received up to eight hours of screen time, the Nord CE received closer to six and a half hours in my experience. That was enough to get me through a day of Twitter, Slack, and WhatsApp with some battery left over, and after a weekend of lighter usage, the phone lasted until the middle of Sunday.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G uses the Warp Charge 30T Plus fast-charging standard for charging, so you won’t see the ultra-fast charging speeds seen with the 65W-compatible OnePlus 8T and 9. The Warp Charge 30T Plus can still charge the Nord CE from 0 to 99 percent in an hour. In my testing, it reached 32% after 15 minutes, 64% after 30 minutes, and 88 percent after 45 minutes. That should be sufficient for all but the most ardent users.
The overall performance of the Nord CE was a little slower than last year’s phone, similar to battery life, which came out slightly worse despite ostensibly having better hardware. The Snapdragon 750G processor powers the CE. The new processor, as you might expect from its name, is technically lower in Qualcomm’s range than the 765G in last year’s phone. However, because it is a more modern chip, OnePlus claims it is faster, with 20% better CPU performance and 10% better GPU performance.
One of my complaints about the original Nord was that its display would hitch slightly when quickly scrolling through an app like Twitter, interfering with the otherwise silky smoothness of its high refresh rate display. However, the Nord CE’s overall performance did not feel as snappy. When switching between apps, the interface would occasionally hitch or stutter as the system keyboard loaded in. That’s not an unusual tradeoff at this price (we saw similar results with last year’s Pixel 4A, for example), but it’s worth noting in light of OnePlus’ performance claims.
For the most part, I believe OnePlus made some wise decisions about how to approach cameras on the Nord CE, even if OnePlus’ much-publicized partnership with Hasselblad with the recent OnePlus 9 hasn’t resulted in any benefits here. Three rear cameras is a more reasonable number of cameras than the original Nord’s overkill of four. On the Nord CE, OnePlus has kept one useless rear camera — a 2-megapixel monochrome sensor — but it’s easy to overlook.
Personally, I would have liked to see the first Nord’s ultrawide selfie camera return. It may not have been the most useful feature on a daily basis, but it’s always handy to have when you need it.
Otherwise, I was pleased with the Nord CE’s photos; daytime shots are bright and vibrant, even if the phone loses some detail in the shadows. When it comes to landscapes, colours are handled especially well, with my only complaint being a slightly over-processed look I got when photographing trees.
However, it is in the edge cases that the Nord CE’s cameras fall short. Attempting to take close-up shots of flowers caused the phone to struggle to keep things crisp and sharp, and faces had an unnatural smoothness to them. It can also struggle with detail in low light, as seen in the above shot of an apartment building, where many of the individual railings are indistinguishable.
On paper, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G and the original OnePlus Nord should be uncompetitive. It is the less expensive phone with a high-refresh rate OLED display, 5G, and improvements such as a headphone jack, a higher resolution main camera, a larger battery, and a faster processor.
However, in practise, the Nord CE does not feel as polished as the original Nord. Its battery is larger, but you don’t get any more usage out of it, and its processor is technically faster, but it still causes the phone to lag when used heavily.
Those may be reasonable compromises given the price difference, but as of this writing, the original OnePlus Nord is available on Amazon UK for £299 (approximately $418). At that price, the original Nord appears to be the superior option.