OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: A cheap phone that’s made to last
“The OnePlus Nord CE 5G is a lightweight, low-cost phone with a two-day battery, future-proofed with 5G and a series of software updates, and will last provided you aren’t too demanding. But only a little more money gets you something better.”
- Two-day battery life
- Reliable, fast software
- Screen lacks vibrancy
- Processor struggles with intensive tasks
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G is a phone specified to last you for a few years, providing good value without a high initial price. It’s no surprise that, on paper, the Nord CE 5G has such a strong bang-to-buck ratio, as OnePlus has focused on providing good value hardware for years. But is a value-driven spec sheet enough? Now I’ve spent nearly two weeks with the Nord CE 5G, it’s clear why you don’t need to spend more, but it’s also obvious why you should.
My Nord CE review model is in the Blue Void color and it’s lovely. It’s obviously closely related to the Ultramarine Blue on the OnePlus 8 Pro, but with fewer hints of green, preferring to subtly morph into purple at the very edges instead. It catches the light nicely, and the glass rear panel — not Gorilla Glass, but from another unnamed maker — is grippy and cool to the touch.
The chassis is made of plastic. It’s 170 grams in weight and 7.9mm thick, and that’s thinner and lighter than the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G, the Realme 8 5G, and the first OnePlus Nord. The rounded chassis and flat screen make it comfortable to hold, but the plastic volume and power buttons feel cheap.
It’s unfortunate that the Nord CE 5G doesn’t have that wonderful OnePlus alert slider, which has been standard on most other OnePlus phones from the very beginning, and very much part of the brand’s identity. This is despite the company’s insistence the Nord CE is every bit a OnePlus phone as those more expensive devices. It has a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom of the phone, which may be compensation enough for some.
I could complain about the lack of imagination in the design — it’s basically the same as the first Nord, and how many more times will we see that shape camera module on a phone? — but it seems a bit silly to do so. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G has a pretty, entirely non-challenging design, which is classier than the price would suggest, and is really eye-catching in this particular color. It’s one of the cheapest 5G phones you can buy, but you’d never know just by looking at it from the back.
Here’s the first instance of where you would want to spend more on a phone, and a small downgrade over last year’s Nord. The Nord CE 5G has a 6.43-inch Fluid AMOLED screen with a 90Hz refresh rate and a Full HD resolution, which on paper is a decent specification, but it misses out on HDR10+. In reality, it can’t match the screen on phones that only cost a little more, such as the Galaxy A52 5G.
It lacks warmth and vibrance when watching video, even after digging into the settings and making sure Vivid is set at the display mode. Watching Carfection’s Shelby Mustang GT500 review exposes the coldness of the screen, as it didn’t make the crazy green paint job leap out as it does on higher-quality screens.
At maximum brightness, the screen is visible in all lighting conditions, but it does lose a little clarity at extreme angles. There’s a screen protector fitted as standard, which gets covered in marks from your fingers, and really doesn’t make the front of the phone look very attractive at all. I’ve wiped this phone down a lot more than most others.
Harsh comments? Possibly, but OnePlus is good at screens, and although the 90Hz response rate is very welcome, the Nord CE 5G’s performance doesn’t keep up with the Galaxy A52 5G, and even the Google Pixel 4a adds some of the life that’s missing from the Nord CE’s screen. It’s very similar to the Realme 8 5G though, indicating it’s what we should expect from a phone at this price.
There are three cameras on the back of the OnePlus Nord CE, a 64-megapixel main camera, an 8MP wide-angle, and a third 2MP monochrome camera which can be used separately. The photos from the main camera are bright and colorful, but a little too saturated sometimes, and it does struggle in difficult lighting. The wide-angle camera gets even more saturated and struggles in shadow, where it loses detail.
The camera app shows a 2x zoom option but this is not an optical mode, and using it will see the final image lose detail. The monochrome camera takes pure black and white photos but at a low megapixel count, although I’ve still found it fun to use in the past. The video mode can shoot at up to 4K at 30 frames per second, there’s a night mode for stills, and a pro mode.
It can’t match the Google Pixel 4a for photo quality, but that’s not really surprising, and the Galaxy A52 5G’s camera gave photos a warmer, slightly more attractive look. That and the inconsistency between main and wide-angle cameras aside, the Nord CE’s camera takes photos you won’t mind sharing, but they may need an edit before you do. OnePlus includes an editor in its Gallery app, but the filters are mostly awful and the adjustments aren’t as extensive as those in Snapseed or Google Photos.
Where the Nord CE stumbles is when you try to do anything too technical. It’s dimwitted when trying to focus using Portrait mode, and it often refuses to focus on anything it deems too close. Provided you don’t expect too much, the Nord CE 5G’s camera is fine, but if you want to experiment and really enjoy playing with the camera, it’s not going to impress very often.
Performance and software
My review Nord CE has 8GB of RAM, more than enough for most smartphones, and it’s paired to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processor. Released in 2020, the 750G is a confusing little thing. It’s a step up from the Snapdragon 765G in the first Nord with newer Kryo 570 cores, but its Adreno 619 GPU is a step backward compared to the Adreno 620 in the 765G. It’s built using an 8nm process rather than a 7nm, but uses the same X52 modem and supports both Sub-6 and mmWave 5G connections.
The Snapdragon 750G is newer than the still current 765G, and although the G in the name indicates the processor has been tuned for gaming, the Nord CE 5G’s at its happiest playing casual games like Asphalt 9: Legends, which is fast and exciting, rather than anything more intensive.
Genshin Impact is playable with minimal slowdown, but the phone does get warm, bordering on hot, to the touch when playing for a while, especially if you spend a lot of time battling. Although I never got an overheating warning, I did get a “your phone’s operating temperature has returned to normal” message on a few occasions after long sessions with Genshin Impact. What lets the Nord CE down more when gaming is the audio, which is delivered through a single speaker and can be unpleasantly tinny.
The phone wins on general software though, with OnePlus’s excellent OxygenOS 11 running smoothly and without fault during my time with the phone. I like the always-on screen, which can be customized in a variety of ways, and the battery scheduling feature for use overnight. I had no problems with app compatibility or updates, and the settings menu is simple to navigate. It’s one of the Nord CE 5G’s biggest strong points.
While the Snapdragon 750G sounds like it should be a little powerhouse, it’s not always as snappy as I’d like. It can get bogged down when multitasking, for example. It’s not a dealbreaker, but you definitely notice a speed and responsiveness improvement when you use a phone with more power. For general use the Nord CE is fine, and it has enough power for casual gaming too.
Battery and security
The OnePlus Nord CE is a great casual use phone, and the battery reflects this. Use it gently — screen time of around two hours — and it will barely use 30% before the end of the day. On some quiet days the OnePlus Nord CE 5G, when connected to either Wi-Fi or 4G LTE, still had energy left at the end of day two. Play games for an hour, play some video, and mix it with general use and the battery should still last a full day with a little to spare.
OnePlus’s proprietary Warp Charge 30T Plus charging reliably takes the 4,500mAh battery to 70% in just over 30 minutes, but it needs at least a full hour to reach capacity. The battery life and fast charging are two of the best aspects of the Nord CE 5G. The Galaxy A52 5G is the Nord CE’s nemesis, and although Samsung’s phone bests the Nord in a few places, the Nord’s fingerprint sensor is superior. It works really well, despite being placed quite low on the screen, and there is a quick face unlock system there as an alternative.
Price and availability
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G has only been announced for the U.K., and it’s not known if it will ever make it to the U.S. officially. In the U.K. it starts at 299 British pounds, about $420, for the 8GB/128GB version, and 369 pounds/$525 for the 12GB/256GB model. It’s up for pre-order now through OnePlus’s online store, and will be sold through Amazon, John Lewis retail stores, and the Three network. It will be released on June 21.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G proves a low-cost phone can be capable, good-looking, and come equipped with great software. If that covers all your requirements, then great, you’ll be pleased with it. However, this is where it pays to understand if you should spend a little more to get a superior product with even greater longevity, and although there is nothing wrong with the Nord CE 5G, making sure your new phone lasts is vitally important.
It’s Samsung’s fault for making the Galaxy A52 5G such a strong proposition. It has an IP67 water resistance rating for increased durability, a better screen, a good camera, two-day battery life, and looks just as pretty (perhaps even a little more modern) too. Add in an equally robust software commitment and a MicroSD card slot for good measure, and it’s worth the extra over the 8GB Nord CE 5G because it’ll almost certainly last longer.
I’ve not felt the need to rip my SIM out of the Nord CE 5G at any point, so its frustrations have never climbed far up the scale, and the brilliance of OxygenOS makes up for some of them anyway. However, there’s no escaping that while the OnePlus Nord CE 5G is a solidly dependable phone that’s sensibly future-proofed with 5G and two years of software updates, if longevity is one of your goals, and it really should be at any price, an even longer-lasting phone can be had for only a little more money.
Is there a better alternative?
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G’s price is very competitive. We suggest going for the 299-pound, 8GB/128GB version, as it represents the best value. In the U.K. the Realme 8 5G and the Xiaomi Redmi Note 5G challenge the Nord CE on price, but there’s little to separate them technically.
We recommend the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G as it has a generous, well-thought-out feature set, is arguably more stylish and more durable, plus it has a larger, prettier screen for only a little more money. It’s $499 in the U.S., and 399 pounds in the U.K. Getting a 5G phone under $500 in the U.S. is a challenge, but also consider the Google Pixel 4a 5G if the camera is a priority.
How long will it last?
The Nord CE doesn’t have a water resistance rating or an especially tough body, so you’ll need to put it in a case if you want to protect it. OnePlus makes a selection of very colorful cases that are perfect for the job. There’s good news on the software side, as the company promises two years of updates and three years of security updates. Provided your use doesn’t change, there’s no reason for it not to last for those three years.
Should you buy it?
No. As good as it is, we recommend you purchase the Galaxy A52 5G for its added features and increased durability.