OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: capable but cuts corners

The OnePlus Nord CE 5G takes on the affordable phone market

OnePlus Nord CE 5G review
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The OnePlus Nord CE 5G isn't quite the standout phone that the original Nord was, but it is cheaper. Anyone on a budget who wants a small, light phone with decent battery life and good display will be happy with this.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Impressive battery life

  • +

    90Hz refresh rate

  • +

    Easy to use one-handed

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Performance was average

  • -

    No waterproofing

  • -

    Plastic design

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OnePlus Nord CE 5G - key specs

OnePlus Nord CE 5G review

(Image credit: Future)

Dimensions:  159.2 x 73.5 x 7.9mm
Weight: 170g
Screen: 6.43 inch AMOLED
CPU:  Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G
GPU: Adreno 619
Storage: 128GB/256GB
Rear cameras: 64MP + 8MP + 2MP
Front cameras: 16MP
Battery: 4,500 mAh
OS: Android 11 /Oxygen OS 11
5G: Yes

In this OnePlus Nord CE 5G review, I’ll take you through everything you need to know about their latest handset. From its design and display to the camera, performance, and ultimately whether this smartphone is a good choice for you, or not. 

The marketplace for cheap and mid-range phones is growing. Not everyone is keen to spend upwards of $800 on one of the very best phones that they’ll only keep for a couple of years anyway. Nowadays you don’t need to spend loads to get a decent phone, the quality of more affordable options has increased dramatically over the past few years, you just need to take a look at T3’s guide to the best cheap phones to know that. 

After having plenty of success with the OnePlus Nord, the Chinese smartphone manufacturer is back with a stripped-down version of the handset, that cuts a few corners to save on price, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G. 

OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: price and what’s new

Launched in June 2021, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G is available now starting from £299 for the 8GB RAM, 128GB storage version. You can also buy it with 12GB RAM and 256GB of storage for £369. That’s cheaper than the OnePlus Nord was at launch. At the moment, there’s no official pricing for the US or Australia.

The OnePlus Nord CE 5G, or Core Edition, is a more stripped back handset than the OnePlus Nord. Firstly it has a plastic casing as opposed to the Corning Gorilla Glass seen on the Nord. The CE also only has three rear camera lenses, down from four on the original, as well as a single 16MP front camera as opposed to dual selfie cameras. Those are really the main differences though, both have a similar-sized FHD screen and a similar processor. Improving on its predecessor, the new OnePlus Nord CE 5G actually has a bigger battery and a lighter build. 

OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: design and display

OnePlus Nord CE 5G review

(Image credit: Future)

The build is one of the main talking points of the OnePlus Nord CE 5G. It’s seriously slim and super light, measuring 159.2 x 73.5 x 7.9mm and weighing just 170g. That makes it easy to use one-handed,  and perfect for anyone who prefers a smaller phone. Available in three colours, Blue Void, Charcoal Ink, and Silver Ray - the plastic casing has a matte finish and doesn’t seem to pick up fingerprint marks very easily. 

The back of the phone houses a slim rounded camera module with three lenses. On the front, the display is only interrupted by a hole punch camera in the top left corner. One of the big changes is that you no longer get a Corning Gorilla glass display, so it could potentially be more prone to damage than the screen on the OnePlus Nord. 

Unlike a lot of other phones, you still get the 3.5mm headphone jack on the frame. That sits next to a USB-C charging port. In terms of buttons, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G keeps things simple, there’s just the power button and two volume controls. OnePlus has gotten rid of the slider which is a shame because it was something that made the phone just a little bit different from the rest. Overall this is a good-looking phone. It may not feel as solid and premium to the touch as the OnePlus Nord did, but it definitely looks the part. You also get a clear protective case included in the box. 

A 6.43-inch edge-to-edge AMOLED display stretches across the front of the phone. It has a resolution of 2400 x 1080p and a 90Hz refresh rate, not much has changed from the OnePlus Nord but it didn’t really need to. It feels sleek and smooth to tap, swipe and scroll on, and HDR10+ support means you’ll get a good experience streaming video from the likes of Netflix. So although it’s hardly going to match up to the most expensive phones on the market like the best Samsung phones, it does hold its own very well in the cheap handsets crowd. Bright, sharp and clear, you don’t get much better at this price point. 

OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: cameras

OnePlus Nord CE 5G review

(Image credit: Future)

A three-lens camera system sits on the back of the phone, with a 64MP main lens, an 8MP ultrawide lens and a 2MP mono lens. Although admittedly, I'm not sure I see much point in a dedicated monochrome lens. On the front, there’s a 16MP selfie camera. You can see some of the shots I took on the OnePlus Nord CE 5G in the gallery below. 

Photos taken on a bright sunny day came out looking well-balanced, bright and colourful. Look a little closer and you’ll see they lack some finer detail, and actually slightly exaggerate colour too. It’s hardly going to rival the leaders of the pack, the OnePlus 9 series, but the quality of point-and-shoot images is fine for a cheap smartphone. In fact, they’re slightly better than other handsets at this price. In the right lighting, you can take some pretty solid shots even.

The front camera was great for snapping selfies, the colours looked accurate and it managed to pick up plenty of definition. So if you’re buying this for your kids, or if you take lots of front-facing shots yourself, you’ll be able to take some good ones with the OnePlus Nord CE 5G.

 OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: performance and battery 

OnePlus Nord CE 5G review

(Image credit: Future)

A mid-range chipset powers the OnePlus Nord CE 5G. That being the Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G, and with it comes 5G so you’ll get the fastest internet speeds possible if your area supports it. You can choose between 8GB RAM/128GB storage and 12GB RAM/256GB storage - it’s worth knowing that you can’t expand it using a MicroSD card. 

Day-to-day the handset coped well with most tasks and even handled some mobile gaming. You do have to expect some shortcomings when it comes to performance, it did sometimes suffer from a little lag but most won’t even notice that. Falling slightly behind the OnePlus Nord in its Geekench 5 scores, the One Plus Nord CE 5G got 440 in single-core and 1,775 in multi-core. Hardly super-speedy but that’s about the same as other similarly priced phones like the Realme 8 Pro or the Oppo Find X3 Lite.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G review

(Image credit: Future)

Packing a large 4,500 mAh battery meant that you’ll get loads of juice from each charge, easily lasting the whole day, if not more. I ran a video on it over two hours on full brightness, in that time the battery level dropped by 12% suggesting it would have lasted almost 17 hours all in all. That’s very impressive, you’d expect that long a battery life in a phone triple the price. Included in the box is a Warp Charge 30T Plus, it managed to charge the phone from empty to 100% in just over an hour so you should never be caught short.

Running OxygenOS 11 which is based on Android 11, the software feels smooth and intuitive. It’s not quite as nice to use as pure Android, yet it’s really not that far off either. You get all the usual Google apps pre-installed, OnePlus hasn’t filled it up with loads of unnecessary apps you’ll just end up deleting. On this version of the operating system, OnePlus has improved the Dark Mode, Zen Mode, and included a new always-on display so the screen wakes up when you pick it up.

OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: verdict

OnePlus Nord CE 5G review

(Image credit: OnePlus)

Okay so the OnePlus Nord CE 5G isn’t particularly game-changing and I wouldn’t say it’s a better phone than the original Nord. In fact, it risks blending in against the masses of competition with its cheaper build and simpler design. But in saying that, anyone who wants to spend a bit less, needs a reliable battery and wants a decent display should definitely add this to their shortlist. 

If you’re on a budget, this phone doesn’t make too many compromises. It does take a bit of a hit in performance, but it’s really nothing dramatic and the phone will be able to cope with normal everyday tasks like texting and social media. 

The main draw of this phone is the price, and because of that, it's unlikely you're expecting a powerhouse anyway. Overall I'd say you get what you pay for, and maybe just a little bit more. 

OnePlus Nord CE 5G review: also consider 

A similarly priced phone worth considering is the Google Pixel 4a, it may not be their newest phone but it’s still extremely capable. The camera is where it really thrives, plus any Android lover will be more than pleased with the software. You can also choose to buy it with 5G if that’s important to you.

Looking to go even cheaper? The Vivo Y20s is a super cheap phone and one of the best you can buy at that price. Naturally, given the fact that it’s half the price of the OnePlus Nord CE 5G, its screen isn’t as good and it could be a little slow in comparison, but overall it's a decent phone that will do the job. 

Yasmine Crossland
Freelance Tech Expert

Yasmine is the former Reviews Writer for T3, so she's been knee-deep in the latest tech products for reviewing and curating into the best buying guides since she started in 2019. She keeps a finger on the pulse when it comes to the most exciting and innovative tech and is happy to tell you exactly what she thinks about it too. In her free time, you'll catch her travelling the globe – the perks of being a freelance tech expert – tending to her plants when at home and, but of course, planning her next big trip.