To cut right to the chase of this OnePlus Nord CE 2 review, this is one of the best cheap phones out there right now if you're on a tight budget.
OnePlus is known for making some of the best Android phones in the world, like the OnePlus 9 Pro which was tough competition for the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra when it was first released. But not everyone can afford to spend such an eye-watering amount of money, and OnePlus has those people covered too.
Now dominating the mid-range smartphone crowd, it started with the OnePlus Nord, a more affordable handset that managed to pack in a number of flagship-level specs. Since then OnePlus hasn’t looked back, and the five-star rated OnePlus Nord 2 was just as groundbreaking.
Last year, they took things a step further to bring the price even further down, the OnePlus Nord CE (Core Edition) cuts a few corners but it was a huge success thanks to its decent specs and low price.
We have been excited to see what the series had in store for us next, and here it is, so read on to find out all about it in this OnePlus Nord CE 2 review.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 review: price and what’s new
You can pre-order the OnePlus Nord CE 2 from the 3rd of March, its official release date is on the 10th of March. It’ll set you back just £299 for 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Take a look at the widgets on this page for more information on where you can buy one.
The second in the Nord CE series, there have been a few improvements to the handset worth talking about, but it’s not wildly different. You can expect this phone to be more powerful than before thanks to an upgraded CPU and it’ll also charge faster thanks to 65W charging. The camera tech is largely the same, but its features have been improved so you’ll be able to snap better Portraits, low light photos and videos. It also has a shiny new design.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 review: design and display
Like what came before it, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is a compact phone with a slim build. It measures 160.6 x 73.2 x 7.8mm and weighs about 173g so it’ll be fine to use one-handed even if yours are on the smaller side.
You can buy the phone in two smart colours: Gray Mirror or Bahama Blue. I tested out the latter and it looks fantastic, shimmering when the light catches it.
Made largely from plastic, it doesn’t feel as premium as other OnePlus devices but then it's not meant to either, and it’s nice to know the back won’t break if you drop it. The screen is Corning Gorilla Glass 5 which isn’t the toughest glass they offer but it is tougher than it was on the first Nord CE. This phone still doesn’t have an IP rating so you will have to be careful not to have any water-related accidents.
On the back, the three camera lenses are housed in a raised rectangular module that is smoothly integrated into the back of the phone, and on the front, the screen is only interrupted by a hole-punch style camera placed in the top left corner. Although the bezels aren’t the slimmest, you’ll still get close to an edge-to-edge display.
Around the frame, you’ll find the volume controls and a power button as well as the USB-C charging port. Wired headphone fans are in luck because you will still get a 3.5mm audio input as well.
To unlock the screen, you get the usual choice of pin or password, as well as facial recognition and an in-display fingerprint sensor. When I tested them out, both the facial recognition and the sensor worked quickly and efficiently each time I went to use them.
The 6.43-inch AMOLED display has a resolution of FHD+ at 2400 x 1080p with HDR10+. It looks superb for a phone at this low of a price: it’s colourful, sharp and bright. You can’t expect to be blown away by the screen, as you would from one of the best phones you can buy, but you’ll get a decent experience on it whether you’re reading the news, flicking through social media or watching Netflix.
With a refresh rate of 90Hz, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 makes scrolling, swiping and tapping feel seriously smooth, it’ll be most obvious in mobile games but you’ll feel the benefits across all sorts of tasks.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 review: camera system
The camera system is made up of a 64MP main lens, an 8MP ultrawide lens and a 2MP mono lens as well as a 16MP selfie camera on the front. There are loads of camera modes to play around with to help you get the most out of the camera system, those include an improved Night Mode and Portrait Mode, as well as a Macro Mode.
Photos come out looking just fine, you can't expect them to blow you away but for the most part, they are clear and sharp although the system struggled to brighten up the shots I took on a cloudy day and so my photos looked a little dull.
You certainly won't get the level of detail that you would from a phone that costs twice the price, but then you wouldn't really expect that here anyway. It actually fairs quite well up against other cheap phones on the market. You can see some examples of shots taken on the OnePlus Nord CE 2 below.
Selfies on the other hand were pretty reliable, they were accurate, bright and flattering. And you can adjust how much to blur the background in the Portrait Mode.
At night, the camera does do a good job of lightening up shots. Again, you can't expect tonnes of detail and the colours don't come out looking as natural as they do during the day but considering how cheap this phone is, the Night Mode is actually quite effective.
I wouldn't recommend the OnePlus Nord CE 2 if you're big on smartphone photography but if you just plan to snap a few shots here and there, it'll do a good enough job.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 review: performance and battery
Under the hood, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 packs a mid-range processor, the MediaTek Dimensity 900, alongside an ARM Mali-G68 MC4 GPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. It also supports both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 for speedy internet.
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 isn’t going to deliver knock out speeds but it will feel relatively fast to use day-to-day, it’ll cope fine with having multiple apps open at once and you’ll be able to play a mobile game here and there with no trouble as well. It’s not going to match up to one of the best gaming phones but for more casual mobile gamers, it’ll do the job.
On the Geekbench 5 benchmarking test, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 performed better than its predecessor with scores of 708 in single-core (vs 440 on the OnePlus Nord CE) and 2,123 in multi-core (vs 1,775). That’s on par with similarly priced devices like the Samsung Galaxy A52 5G and the Honor 50.
You get a huge 4,500mAh battery here as well, with powerful 65W charging which OnePlus claims will take the phone from empty to 100% in just 32 minutes. Unlike a lot of other phones, the charger is included in the box so you’ll be able to make the most of that right from the get-go.
During the time I spent with the phone, the battery lasted through the whole day and then some. To test out how long it would last playing videos, I downloaded and ran one on full brightness over the space of two hours. In that time, the battery level dropped by 12% so would have lasted almost 17 hours in total, which is more than enough.
Running Android 11 with OxygenOS 11, OnePlus’ user interface is one of the better ones out there. It’s intuitive and well-laid out, there’s no clutter and it doesn’t come with loads of apps pre-installed that you won’t want. It still doesn’t compare to pure Android, and it’s not been updated with the latest Android 12 yet, but it still feels nice to use.
Featuring an improved always-on display, the OnePlus Nord CE will show you the time and your notifications throughout the day on the screen when you aren’t using it, or when you pick it up but don’t go to unlock it. You can choose when you see it, and it should only cause minimal battery drain.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 review: verdict
For anyone on a tight budget, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is an obvious choice because it performs well across the board.
The screen is great for watching videos, the processor can cope with all sorts of tasks and it has a very long-lasting battery as well as fast charging. What more could you ask for?
Granted, to keep the price this low OnePlus has made a few sacrifices like the fact that this phone isn’t completely waterproof, or that it’s made from plastic. It also doesn’t match up to more expensive devices when it comes to its camera, and the refresh rate is lower than elsewhere as well.
But in saying that, you won’t ever find a phone this cheap that can do it all, and when you compare it to the competition, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is incredible value for money.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 review: also consider
If you're already using Apple products, then the best cheap phone for you will be the iPhone SE (2020) because it'll work well with your other devices. It is a bit more expensive than the OnePlus Nord CE 2, but you do get a more premium waterproof build and a very impressive camera.
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 is very cheap, but if it's not cheap enough then take a look at the Motorola Moto G10, a super-cheap phone with good battery life, a decent camera and a durable design, although admittedly it lacks speed and doesn't even support 5G.