With the OnePlus Nord CE 2, OnePlus have recommitted to their original mission statement of producing premium quality phones at a more affordable price than many big-name flagship devices. And for the most part, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 makes good on that promise, offering enviable specs and a fast and smooth experience in a visually appealing package.
Operating system: Android 11
Screen size: 6.43 inches
5G ready: Yes
Headphone jack: 3.5mm
Charging type: 65W SUPERVOOC fast charging
Camera: 64MP AI Triple Camera, 8MP Ultrawide, 16MP Front camera
Video recording: 4K video at 30 fps, 1080p video at 30/60 fps
While it doesn’t quite blow the very best smartphones (opens in new tab) out of the water, our time with the OnePlus Nord CE 2 revealed a very capable phone that gets all the most important features right, with OnePlus’s own OxygenOS 11 proving itself once again to be a very intuitive and slick OS.
In this review, we’ll take a look at what makes the OnePlus Nord CE 2 a worthy upgrade to its predecessor and what that remarkably low price tag gets you.
OnePlus Nord CE 2: Design
- Smooth, glossy appearance
- Slim, lightweight body
- No IP rating
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 has a 6.43” screen and similar dimensions to rival smartphones, yet feels pleasingly slimline and light in the hands. This can be attributed to the plastic rear panel rather than the metal or glass materials found in OnePlus’s other phones, which does more to separate it from more premium phones than anything to do with the hardware itself. Fortunately it’s the ‘good’ kind of plastic, being both pebble smooth and slightly iridescent to look at, whether you choose the Bahama Blue or Gray Mirror colorways. The latter becomes easily painted with fingerprints, however, although a case or protector will eliminate that issue. The camera ‘bump’ is pleasingly unobtrusive, with the lenses well protected by metal rings.
The front of the phone is plated in Gorilla Glass 5, which offers decent protection against nicks and scratches. The front-facing camera is set discreetly in the top left corner. Volume buttons are on the left, power button is on the right, with SIM entry revealing two SIM card slots and a micro SD card slot which could see the phone’s storage expanded up 1TB if desired. We did find we missed the slider switch available on other OnePlus phones that flits between ring, vibrate and silent, but these are quickly adjusted in the notification bar.
We suspect a lot of users will appreciate OnePlus opting for a 3.5mm headphone jack on the OnePlus Nord CE 2 instead of a USB dongle connection, which allows for wired headphones. Unfortunately, the phone isn’t IP rated, so while it might withstand a splash of water now and then, this isn’t a phone you want to drop in the bath.
Beneath the hood, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 comes with a MediaTek Dimensity 900 chipset sporting 6 nm architecture and a Mali-G68 MC4 GPU that’s 5G-ready. As chipsets go, this is powerful enough for any budget-to-midrange phone and average user, and that grunt can be felt in the Nord CE 2’s pleasingly fluid operation and zippy photography.
OnePlus Nord CE 2: Display and audio
- 6.43” AMOLED screen
- 90Hz refresh rate
- Single speaker
Given the relative affordability of the OnePlus Nord CE 2, the 6.43” AMOLED display is a premium inclusion and firmly nudges the phone towards flagship territory when compared to similar mid-range smartphones. Sure, its 90hz refresh rate doesn’t trouble the 120hz beasts, but it is more than enough to provide a silky smooth experience when flipping through apps and watching media.
A native resolution of 1,080 x 2,400 pixels keeps things sharp, and color accuracy, while not exceptional, still brings plenty of richness and warmth to images and video. Fortunately, the phone offers Vivid and Gentle color profiles to switch between depending upon what you’re watching,
Audio on the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is adequate, and despite the lack of built-in stereo speakers, the single speaker at the foot of the phone is clear and surprisingly punchy.
OnePlus Nord CE 2: Cameras
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 offers what is now a fairly standard three-camera setup at the rear, with one 64MP (f/1.8) camera with a 1/1.97in sensor; one 8MP (f/2.2) 119-degree ultra wide camera, and a 2MP macro camera for getting up close with objects. On the front, you get a single 16MP (f/2.4) camera. While you can shoot 4K.video on the Nord CE 2, it is sadly locked at 30fps unstabilized, but dropping to 1080p captures smooth, shake-free 60fps footage.
These are not flagship cameras, but they’re no slouches either, and shots taken during the day were impressively rich and colorful. Low-light shots were improved over the phone’s predecessor thanks to tweaks to Nightscape mode that produce better color and contrast in darker conditions.
OnePlus Nord CE 2: Software and assistant features
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 ships with OxygenOS 11, based on Android 11, and is as smooth and intuitive as OnePlus’s own OS has ever been. Menus are quick and straightforward to navigate and the improved OS is now optimized for one-handed use. It also features a Dark Mode to reduce eye-strain.
Setting up the phone took mere minutes, and the phone’s assistant, biometrics and security settings were simple to set up by following the prompts. Happily, a common failing of many Android phones didn’t seem to affect this phone, and SmartLock actually worked as intended.
OnePlus Nord CE 2: Battery life
If you’re at all familiar with OnePlus phones, then you’ll know that the company was one of the first to supercharge phone charging with their Warpspeed technology. The OnePlus Nord CE 2 uses their latest standard, 65W SUPERVOOC fast charging, and the results are little short of staggering.
We found we could charge the phone to 100% in around 30 minutes, and 50% in approximately 15 minutes. The phone’s 4500mAh dual-cell battery provided a full day of fairly intensive use while watching videos, making video calls and enjoying some light gaming.
OnePlus Nord CE 2: Price
So far, OnePlus have not announced any plans to release the OnePlus Nord CE 2 in the US or Australia, which leaves only the UK, Europe and India. In the UK, the phone retails at £299 for the 8GB version.
Should you buy the OnePlus Nord CE 2?
If your budget can’t quite stretch to the latest all-singing, all-dancing flagship smartphone, then you’re not without options, with many lower-priced smartphones providing a somewhat watered-down experience in return for their lower price-point. The OnePlus Nord CE 2, however, offers about as close to a flagship experience as you’re likely to get on a budget or mid-range Android phone.
What compromises have been made to put it within reach of the more budget-conscious don’t at all obscure the fact that the Nord CE 2 is a full-featured smartphone that offers fun and rewarding photography, expandable storage, a smooth and responsive OS and exceptionally fast charging.
If this product isn't for you
If the OnePlus Nord CE 2 isn't quite the right phone for you, then there are plenty of other budget and mid-tier Android phones to choose from, not least its predecessor the OnePlus Nord 2 (opens in new tab). As it falls under the shadow of its newer sibling, the Nord 2 still offers a great experience for the price, which is only set to drop further.
If you want the purest expression of Android, then Google's own Pixel 4A 5G (opens in new tab) might be your best bet. It lacks many flashy features to really set it apart but otherwise offers a great Android experience for around $350.
If you're happy to cross the aisle, then the iPhone SE (2020) (opens in new tab) is still the best value iPhone you can buy and retails in the US for around $250 for the 64GB model.