OnePlus launched the Nord CE 5G, the company’s latest mid-range smartphone in the Nord series, cheaper than the last year’s Nord, which was one of the successful smartphones from the company. This retains the same FHD+ AMOLED screen with 90Hz refresh rate from the Nord, but replaces the Snapdragon 765G with the Snapdragon 750G and also brings back the 3.5mm audio jack which the Nord lacked. The specifications look good on paper. Let us dive into the review to find out what the device has to offer.
- OnePlus Nord CE 5G 12GB+256GB in Blue Void colour
- Warp charge 30T Plus (5V-6A) fast charger
- USB Type-C Cable
- Transparent case
- SIM ejector
- Quick Start Guide and Warranty Information
Display, Hardware and Design
The OnePlus Nord CE sports a 6.43-inch (1080 x 2400 pixels) Full HD+ 20:9 aspect ratio Fluid AMOLED display with 90Hz refresh rate and 410 PPI, almost the same as the first Nord. The display is bright, offers good colour output since it has sRGB and DCI-P3 Colour Gamut and the sunlight legibility is good as well.
The 90Hz refresh rate and 180Hz touch sampling rate offers a buttery smooth user experience, especially when you are scrolling through the UI and when gaming. It can only automatically switch between 60Hz and 90Hz depending on the content, thus saving the battery life. It also has HDR 10 support, which works for YouTube and even Netflix. The company doesn’t say if this uses any kind of protection.
Under the display options, there are different options to adjust colours and contrast based on your preference. There is also a vision comfort mode and reading mode that lets you reduce the display’s blue light emission, so it doesn’t cause eye strain when you are reading at night. There is Dark mode, similar to other OnePlus phones. You also get an option to enable dark mode to apps that are installed, but it doesn’t look good on most apps.
The phone doesn’t have a notification LED, but this has always-on-display, which is called ambient display that shows contextual info and notifications all day or as per schedule, and there is also horizon light that glows when you receive notifications. It doesn’t consume a lot of power since this is an AMOLED screen, but the company says that it increases the power consumption.
The phone has a tiny punch-hole on the left that houses a 16-megapixel camera with Sony IMX471 sensor, which doesn’t disturb when watching videos since it just occupies a small space. Above the display there is an earpiece on the top edge. The phone also has the usual set of proximity and ambient light sensors, as well as a gyroscope and a magnetic sensor, otherwise known as a magnetometer.
Coming to button placements, the power button is present on the right. Dual SIM slot and the volume rockers are present on the left. The secondary microphone is present on the top. The 3.5mm audio jack, primary microphone, USB Type-C port and the loudspeaker grill are present on the bottom. It doesn’t have stereo speakers or an alert slider.
It is easy to hold since it is 73.5mm wide. The phone doesn’t have an eye-catching design, and comes with a plastic back and the frame, but the Blue Void colour with a matte finish doesn’t attract fingerprints, but the sides are glossy and attracts fingerprints, so it is recommended to use the bundled case. It weighs 170 grams and is 7.9mm thick, making it thinner and lighter than the Nord, yet it packs a bigger 4500mAh battery. The phone has Warp Charge 30T Plus fast charging.
The company also sells the phone in Charcoal Ink colour with a glossy finish and the Silver Ray colour reflects light for a gradient effect.
Rear camera setup
- Primary camera — 64MP with 0.7μm pixel size, f/1.79 aperture
- Secondary camera — 8MP 119° ultra-wide camera with f/2.25 aperture
- Third — 2MP mono camera with f/2.4 aperture
- Front Camera — 16MP with Sony IMX471 sensor, f/2.45 aperture
- Video capabilities — 4K video at 30fps, 1080p slow motion at 120fps, 720p at 240fps
The camera UI is familiar with other OnePlus smartphones running OxygenOS 11 with timer, flash, aspect ratio, Hi-res and settings options on the top. You can switch between the main and ultra-wide cameras easily and also go for 2x zoom or zoom up to 10x digitally. There are several filter options and Google Lens shortcut. Camera modes include Time-lapse to shoot from 5x to 480x in up to 4k, Panorama, Slow motion, video, photo, portrait, Nightscape and Pro mode that lets you adjust white balance, focus, shutter speed (1/8000s to 30 seconds), ISO (100 to 3200) and option to select focus. You can also shoot in RAW in Pro mode and in 64MP mode. Cam2API is enabled by default, so you can side-load ported Google Camera APKs for advanced editing, including RAW capture.
Coming to the image quality, daylight shots came out well with good dynamic range. After 4-in1 pixel binning technology, you get 16MP output. HDR shots are better with improved dynamic range. 8MP wide-angle shots are decent, but the 13MP ultra-wide in some mid-range phones were better. 64MP mode that offers a lot of details, but the image size is big. Even though there is no telephoto lens, it uses the software for offering up to 10x digital zoom. This is like taking an image and cropping up later. Even in the 2x zoom images start to lose details, so it is not recommended going beyond 2x if you don’t want to lose details. The dedicated 2MP mono camera for portrait, which is decent, and there is no 2MP macro camera from the Nord which is a good thing.
Low-light shots are average without a lot of details, and the nightscape mode is better making the images brighter offering more details. Images with flash are good, and the flash is not overpowering. Daylight front camera shots from the 16-megapixel front camera is decent, but not the best even in daylight conditions due to the tiny sensor. Output is 16MP in resolution. Portrait shots have decent edge detection, but it is not the best since this is done using software.
Check out the camera samples.
Software, UI and Apps
It runs Android 11 out of the box with Android security update for June 2021 after the recent update and OxygenOS 11 on top. The company recently confirmed that the phone will get two major Android updates and 3 years of security updates. It is also integrating the OxygenOS code base with the ColorOS. There will not be any changes for the users after this, but we can expect faster updates. The company keeps pushing regular updates for the phone, fixing bugs and improving camera performance. However, I am still facing a bug in the night mode / vision comfort mode that takes a second to enable every time you unlock the phone.
Out of 12GB LPDDR4x RAM, you get 11.18GB of usable RAM, and about 6GB of RAM is free when default apps are running in the background. Out of 256GB, you get about 224GB of free storage. It UFS 2.1 storage, and we got sequential read speeds of about 960.56MB/s. Apart from the usual set of utility apps, Google apps and OnePlus’ own set of apps, it comes pre-loaded with Netflix app, but it can be uninstalled.
It has an in-display fingerprint sensor that unlocks the phone quickly, but it is not as fast as a physical fingerprint sensor. You can add up to 5 fingerprints. You can also use the fingerprint for app local and payments in apps. The phone also has face unlock, but it is not as secure as fingerprint, and also doesn’t work if you use sunglasses or hats.
Music Player and Multimedia
YouTube Music is the default Music Player that has equalizer and Dirac Audio Tuner. It doesn’t have FM Radio support. Audio through the mono speaker is quite loud and clear. Wish it came with stereo speakers. Audio through the earphones is good as well. This has Widevine L1 so that you can play HD content on Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and other streaming apps. It also supports HDR content in Netflix, which is available only in few phones in the price range.
Dual SIM and Connectivity
The Nord CE 5G comes with X52 5G modem and has support for N78 5G Network Band in India. It has 4G Wi-Fi and VoLTE with support for Carrier Aggregation on 4G, so you can see 4G+ symbol when it’s enabled automatically. Other connectivity options include Dual-Band Wi-Fi 802.11 ac, VoWiFi / Wi-Fi calling support, Bluetooth 5.1 LE and GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou and NaVIC. The dual channel download acceleration combines mobile data and Wi-Fi to enhance the download speed. Moving on, the call quality is good, and we did not face any call drops and the earpiece volume was loud.
The Nord CE’s body SAR is 1.06W/Kg and head SAR is at 1.19/Kg which is slightly high compared to some mid-range phones, but it well under the limit in India which is 1.6 W/kg (over 1 g).
Performance and Benchmarks
Coming to the performance, this is powered by an Octa-Core Snapdragon 750G 8nm Mobile Platform, which has 2 x Kryo 570 Performance CPUs (A77-based) at up to 2.2GHz, 6x Kryo 570 Efficiency CPUs (A55-based) at up to 1.8GHz. It has Adreno 619 GPU with support for Open GL ES 3.2, Open CL 2.0 FP, as well as Vulkan 1.1 graphics and up to 12GB LPDDR4X RAM.
Thanks to the larger Kryo 570 cores based on new Cortex A77, this is faster than the Snapdragon 765, promising a 20% performance uplift compared to Snapdragon 730G. The Adreno 619 GPU promises up to 10% better graphics rendering compared to Adreno 618 GPU used in Snapdragon 730, and it also has Snapdragon Elite Gaming features.
We did not face any issues or frame drops in the graphic-intensive games. It gets a bit warm on intensive gaming and 4G data use, but it doesn’t get too hot to handle. That said, check out some synthetic benchmark scores below.
Coming to the battery life, the phone packs a 4500mAh (typical) built-in battery, slightly bigger than the 4115mAh battery in the Nord. It lasts for a whole day with 4G enabled and multimedia use, and more than that with minimal use. I got about 6 hours of screen on time with over a day of use on Wi-Fi. Since the phone has support for 30W Warp Charge 30T Plus fast charging, it takes about 1 hour to charge from 0 to 100%, and 0 to 50% takes about 20 minutes using the bundled charger, which is good.
It achieved One Charge Rating of 18 hours and 53 minutes in our battery test, which is good for a phone with a 4500mAh battery. We tested it in 90Hz which is adaptive, so in some cases it switches to 60Hz. Battery life is based on different factors such as software optimization and the processing power that requires to power the phone, so if the phone lasts for a day with heavy use, it is good.
At a starting price of Rs. 22,999, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G is a decent smartphone, but it is not a value for money phone as the Nord. Even though this retains the same 90Hz AMOLED screen from the Nord and increases the battery capacity, the camera is strictly average. It brings back the 3.5mm audio jack, but removes the alert slider and switches to a plastic back compared to premium glass back in the Nord. Even though the Snapdragon 750G offers a good performance, the Snapdragon 768G is the latest SoC that offers a better gaming performance.
In terms of 5G phones, the realme X7 Max is a good deal in the price range. At a cheaper rate, the iQOO Z3 5G with Snapdragon 768G is good, but it has an LCD screen. If you can spend more, you can also wait for the upcoming Nord 2 which will feature a faster MediaTek Dimensity 1200-AI SoC and possibly a better camera.
Pricing and availability
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G is priced at Rs. 22,999 for the 6GB RAM with 128GB storage version that comes in Charcoal Ink colour, 8GB RAM with 128GB storage version costs Rs. 24,999 that comes in Blue Void and Charcoal Ink colours and the 12GB RAM with 256GB storage version is priced at Rs. 27,999 that comes in all three colours – Blue Void, Charcoal Ink and Silver Ray.
It is available from Amazon.in and OnePlus.in as well as OnePlus Experience stores, but it is currently selling only the 8GB + 128GB and 12GB + 256GB storage versions, just like it did with the original Nord which came in 6GB + 64GB version, but it was always out of stock.
- 90Hz HDR display is good
- Smooth performance
- Good battery life with fast charging
- Lightweight body
- No stereo speakers
- Average camera performance and no OIS
- Pricing is not competitive