OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G Review
Reviewing budget phones is tricky, especially when you’re spoiled by 100x zoom flagships with 120Hz displays and chipsets that can launch the next SpaceX rocket and land it with no problems.
With that being said, we live in extraordinary times! You can now get an AMOLED screen smartphone, supporting the latest connectivity, with a long-lasting battery, and a snappy enough chipset for pocket money.
And that’s what the Nord CE 2 is all about – value. After OnePlus launched the original Nord, the company saw the enormous potential in the budget smartphone segment. And started exploiting it, aiming to take behemoths like Samsung and Motorola down. Then the “Core Edition” came along with an even more affordable price, and now we have the successor.
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 does a lot of things right – it has a decent display, pleasant design, great battery life, speedy charging, and the aforementioned superb price tag. There are some deficiencies in the camera department, and you can definitely feel the plasticky build but overall this phone punches way above its weight.
The Nord CE 2 sticks to the Core Edition formula to offer a pleasing design and a gorgeous display at a reasonable price. The overall design is fresh, especially the Bahama Blue color option, which bears reminiscence of a summer sky with a touch of purple in it.
The frame is made of plastic with a gloss over it, and the back is also plastic, although you can easily mistake it for glass. The only telltale sign is the little flex when you press on the OnePlus logo at the back.
The camera bump is not a regular physical protrusion but a gentle sculpted raise in the plastic itself. Two huge circles are looking at you from the back accompanied by two smaller ones next to the main camera. It’s a throwback to the way OnePlus 9 dealt with the camera bump and it doesn’t look half bad.
There’s a hole-punch selfie camera in the upper left corner of the display, and the usual Core Edition chin at the bottom. The 3.5mm jack and the microSD card support are both a nice surprise but the physical mute slider is nowhere to be found.
Putting an OLED screen in a sub-$400 device is not a revolution anymore but we can’t help but feel impressed with the screen of the OnePlus Nord CE 2. It’s a 6.43-inch AMOLED panel with 2400×1080 resolution (409PPI), 90Hz refresh rate, and HDR10+ support.These specs translate well in real-life scenarios – it’s a bright, crisp and overall nice-to-look-at screen. The peak brightness is pushing 600 nits, and while this is far from what flagships can output the display is perfectly readable under direct sunlight.
There are two color modes – Vivid and Gentle, with the former using the P3 color gamut, and the latter – sRGB for more accurate, natural colors. The 90Hz refresh rate is starting to become the industry standard now, and it’s good to see OnePlus sticking to their guns with the Nord CE 2 (the first edition also sported a 90Hz display).
The default color temperature is on the colder side but you can warm it up via a slider. There’s also an Always-on mode with a couple of clever options (All-day, Scheduled, Power Saving, and Pick up to show).
All in all, this 6.43 panel is the main star in OnePlus’ show and one of the best features that the Nord CE 2 has to offer.
Hardware and Performance
Unlike its predecessor, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 relies on MediaTek silicone. The Dimensity 900 chipset holds its ground and delivers some pretty decent performance results. It might not be a powerhouse or a benchmark champion but it’s a clear upgrade over the Snapdragon 750 in the first Nord CE.In real life the phone feels amazingly snappy, even with all visual candy on – like animated backgrounds, UI animations, etc. 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage is plenty on a phone of this caliber, and there’s also an SD card slot to expand the base storage further (although, to be fair, the phone comes in a 6/128GB memory configuration in some markets).
There is a high performance mode buried in the battery settings and turning it on will improve synthetic benchmark scores, as well as the overall feel of the phone. Doing so will shorten battery life inevitably, as will keeping the phone at 90Hz refresh rate.
On the software side of things we find the OxygenOS 11 based on Android 11. Nothing to complain about here, even though some might find the lack of Android 12 out of the box disappointing. Finally, the fingerprint reader (which is of the under-display variety) works pretty consistently.
Camera and Audio
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 comes with a triple camera system on the back, consisting of one 64MP sensor under the main wide lens camera, paired with an 8MP ultra-wide snapper. The third camera is (sadly) a dedicated macro lens.
The main camera can take decent pictures in good lighting conditions, although even then images tend to lack dynamic range and detail. There’s a stark difference between the main and the ultrawide camera – the latter overexposes the shots, and the colors are dramatically different between the two sensors.
The macro camera is not amazing – OnePlus says for best results you should place the phone at 4cm from the object you’re shooting but even then the resulting images lack the dramatic detail of some better macro implementations out there.
The selfie camera is a 16MP sensor that’s okay and on par with the rest of the shooting tools inside the OnePlus Nord CE 2. Be careful, though, because beauty effects are turned on by default and you might end up looking like a plastic doll.
There is a dedicated night mode on board but it really requires a steady hand to shine. The algorithms are pretty aggressive and the resulting images are washed out and smeared, albeit a bit brighter. Shooting without the night mode on produces much more natural images but introduces noise and other artifacts.
On the video side of things, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 can shoot 4K videos but the image stabilization is unavailable at that resolution making videos shaky. On the plus side, when filming 1080p videos stabilization is decent and the autofocus does a great job as well.
You can zoom in and out only while using the 4K mode (I suspect it has something to do with image stabilization that already crops the image in 1080p), and it’s all digital, so not great. Overall, if you’re filming in 1080p and in a well-lit room or under bright sunlight, the results can be decent enough.
Battery Life and charging
Another big plus (pun intended) of the OnePlus Nord CE is the fast charging support, which is extremely fast. The battery itself is rated at 4,500mAh but if you dig in the press materials you would find that there are two 2,250mAh cells inside – a common practice when fast charging times are targeted.This phone charges from zero to full in around 40 minutes, and it is one of the fastest charging budget options out there. Plus, you get the 65W charger in the box (coupled with a silicone case, too).
You may have noticed that battery test results are nowhere to be found, and that’s because the way OnePlus Nord CE 2 handles screen brightness makes it non compatible with our test procedures.
On the other hand, my purely subjective test run showed that the phone could last for a day and a half easily, with potential to stretch that to two full days if you keep the high performance mode off.
The budget smartphone segment is getting crowded these days. There are plenty of options around the $400 mark and the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is definitely a contender. It all boils down to personal preference in the end – if you’re a OnePlus fan, and you’re looking for a budget phone with great display and 5G then the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is your best bet. Otherwise, you can score a Galaxy A-series device or a Motorola for the same kind of money. Check out our Best phones under $400 piece for more details.