OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review
It doesn't have the killer value of classic OnePlus phones, but there's a lot to like
While it doesn’t have that sense of killer value of value classic OnePlus phones had, this is a good mid-range option if you’ll appreciate its loud speakers and like the eye-catching green colour.
- Camera holds up OK during the day
- Eye-catching green colour
- Large display
- Loud stereo speakers
- No ultra-wide camera
- Limited performance
- Default colour tuning doesn’t look great
- Not great for video or low-light photos
- UKRRP: £299
- EuropeRRP: €329
- 67W Fast ChargingWith 67W charging, the Nord CE 3 Lite can go from flat to full in just 44 minutes.
- Large 120Hz displayWhile it’s LCD instead of OLED, the 6.72-inch display is plenty big enough for watching movies and playing games, and the 120Hz refresh rate keeps things feeling smooth.
- Sleek designThe OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite doesn’t look or feel like a budget-focused phone.
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite is one of OnePlus’s cheaper phones. It is affordable, but not without a sense style and charm.
It’s bold, available in a lime green colour more provocative than OnePlus’s typical tones. It has a large screen, loud stereo speakers, fast charging and a decent primary camera.
The OnePlus Nord 2T seems a more special phone, though, and unlike some other phones from the brand, the Nord CE 3 Lite seems about right for the money, rather than a real bargain.
Design and screen
- Plastic casing, but doesn’t feel too cheap
- Loud stereo speakers
- A large display, good for video streaming
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite doesn’t have much of a specific OnePlus flavour to its design. And that makes sense when you look at the Realme 10 Pro, an almost identical mobile from the same family of phone manufacturers. Realme, OPPO, OnePlus and Vivo are all part of BBK Electronics.
It’s a fairly chunky-feeling Android. The brick-like shape, 8.3mm thickness and large footprint make sure of that. But if you’re looking for something trim and light, just check out the OnePlus Nord 2T instead.
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite’s back and sides are plastic. This is not a hugely expensive style, but it does at least avoid the hollow character of some plastic designs thanks to its injection moulding manufacturing process.
Its glossy plastic backplate also curves down at the sides, softening the feel of the phone just a little.
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite has a side fingerprint scanner, one a bit slower off the mark than OnePlus’s best. And there’s a good stereo speaker array.
One driver sits above the screen, one of the bottom of the phone. While the mids can sound a little hard-edged at top volume, there’s a good amount of the stuff on tap.
Max out the volume as it displays as “200%”, which I take as an indication you should expect a bit of distortion. But it’s a star at cutting through noise, like a boiling kettle or the sound of a shower. It’s one of the loudest in this category.
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite has a 6.7-inch 1080p display, with specs I’d expect for this sort of money. However, I don’t think it makes a great first impression.
Coming from the OLED Xiaomi 13 Lite, the Nord looks sickly. Its standard white balance is too cool, colour saturation is overbaked, and the LCD panel doesn’t actually have the same colour depth as an OLED.
If you buy one of these phones I recommend switching the colour mode to Natural, and dialling the temperature slider all the way over to the warm side. Like this I think the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite looks OK, but still not quite as good as some OLED phones.
Max brightness is just OK by 2023 standards too. The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite does have a sunlight mode that ramps up the backlight to compete with strong ambient light, but on a very bright day, it barely scrapes by. This was the norm a couple of years ago, but we’re starting to see mid-range phones that really do blast their displays up to around the 1000-nit mark outdoors.
I notice this most when taking photos. And it doesn’t help that the phone does not give a good estimate of its own HDR processing in the camera preview screen to brighten up the picture preview.
That said, just checking your messages in bright sunlight is perfectly fine. This phone doesn’t have bad peak brightness, it’s just not all that competitive any more. Loss of brightness off-axis doesn’t help either.
This is a 120Hz refresh rate screen and, unlike some LCD screens, it doesn’t suffer from obvious motion trails so does legitimately make scrolling menus appear much smoother. The phone does not support HDR video but, after the tweaks mentioned earlier, the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite holds up well for YouTube and Netflix use.
- Inoffensive custom software
- Largely unimpressive graphics performance
- General navigation feel is perfectly sound
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite runs Android 13 and has the company’s OxygenOS interface. It is inoffensive, doesn’t come with too many superfluous apps preinstalled and runs well. And, unlike a OnePlus phone I used last year, it doesn’t shove the more contentious bonus features down your throat too much.
For example, Smart Sidebar is a little box of icons that pops up when you swipe from the top right of the screen. But the little marker it leaves is hidden as standard, and you are unlikely to pull it up accidentally.
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite’s raw performance may be an issue for some of you, though. This phone uses the Snapdragon 695 chipset, a budget 5G CPU announced in 2021, and seen in the last-gen OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite.
I’m all for phone manufacturers re-using CPUs when they latch onto an affordable winner. I just don’t think the Snapdragon 695 was ever much of a winner.
It absolutely has the power for a respectably smooth day-to-day experience. No problems there. But its graphics chipset is not impressive; the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite gets smoked by the Poco F4, the Google Pixel 6a or OnePlus’s own Nord 2T.
In fairness to OnePlus, you see this issue in other phones that have 5G but need to stick below £300. Take the Xiaomi Redmi 12. It uses the much newer-sounding Snapdragon 4 Gen 1 processor, but that chipset is compromised in exactly the same ways as the Snapdragon 695. If OnePlus was able to save some money by sticking with this old silicon over that chipset, it did the right thing.
Still, we’re in the same performance ballpark as the much cheaper Samsung Galaxy A14 5G here.
- Good image quality during the daytime
- Takes a big dip in low light
- Very limited video
A bunch of people are likely to be disappointed when they first start using the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite camera. It has three cameras on the back, but there’s no ultra-wide or zoom, meaning this feels like a single-camera phone.
The other two are junk 2MP sensors, a depth sensor and a macro. Sticking in a cheap depth sensor is fine, but this trend of crappy little macro cameras grew tired a long time ago. They are never capable of taking a photo worth looking at for more than a second or two.
However, the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite starts to look a bit more rosy when you just take pictures with the main camera. It is based around the Samsung HM6, a 108MP 1/1.67-inch sensor. While it’s far from Samsung’s best camera of this resolution, it produces decent results thanks to OnePlus’s largely tasteful software processing.
Colour is generally not obviously oversaturated, dynamic range enhancement is very powerful without leading to too flat an image. Fine detail does not look too synthetic up close. Colour balance can be off a bit at times, but not egregiously so. Its hit rate during the daytime is good, and that powerful HDR means you don’t need to worry about where the sun is in your composition.
OnPlus is fairly ambitious with what it draws out of the Samsung HM6 in the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite. Look into the deeper shadows pulled out of the darkness by the HDR algorithm and you’ll occasionally see what’s under there is actually noisy mush. But when it means an all-round more engaging image, I don’t mind.
This is the classic sign the Samsung HM6 isn’t a world-class sensor. You see more evidence at night. The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite’s low-light images aren’t a patch on those of the OnePlus Nord 2T, or the Xiaomi 13 Lite I used before this OnePlus.
There is a Night mode, which takes a little longer to capture an image. But it doesn’t produce results with anything like the detail of the best mid-range phone cameras. Once again, OnePlus does its best to drag information out of the darkest parts of a scene, but a lot of it ends up looking mushy and vague. Still, I like OnePlus’s processing approach in general, of squeezing the fruit until only dust is left, while trying to retain a largely natural look.
Video brings more bad news. While the Samsung HM6 is capable of recording 8K video according to Samsung, the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite doesn’t even have a 4K mode. It’s 1080p or 720p only, and both of these are limited to 30fps.
This is real barebones stuff, but the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite’s video is at least electronically stabilised. The only way to get a higher frame rate is to use the slo-mo mode. It outputs 720p video, but the footage looks softer than that.
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite’s selfie camera is, thankfully, better. It uses an unnamed 16MP sensor that, based on the specs we do have, I’d guess may be an Omnivision OV16A10.
Despite its small sensor pixels this camera can pull a good, even unflattering, level of facial detail out of your selfies. And unlike some of the other Chinese brands, OnePlus doesn’t pile on sneaky facial processing by default.
- Nippy 67W fast charging
- No wireless charging
- Solid battery life
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite has a 5000mAh battery, the least I’d expect given how large and thick this phone is. This is also a bit higher than the capacity of the Nord 2T’s 4500mAh.
It lasts a bit longer than the Nord 2T and some of OnePlus’s previous flagships. However, I still find it merely fine rather than great. The Sony Xperia 10 IV uses the same processor and lasted far longer in my experience. But it does have a smaller 6-inch screen so such a comparison is not all that fair.
You can expect it to last a full day, but I don’t think it’s going to get close to two-day use for most folks. An hour of streamed video takes 8% off the battery life, suggesting it should last around 12.5 hours of streaming.
Charging speed is also a bit slower than that of some other OnePlus phones, even ones with the same 67W charging standard. It took 18 minutes to reach 50%, hit 100% at the 44 minute mark, but then continued to draw power until 56 minutes in. Either way, it’s far better than what Samsung offers at this level.
Typical for a phone of this price, there’s no wireless charging.
Should you buy it?
You want a phone for basic entertainment: This phone’s good at handling the less demanding forms of mobile entertainment. Its speaker is loud, the screen is large and it can take good photos during the day.
You want a decent all-rounder: Care about mobile gaming? Or night-time photography? The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite isn’t too hot in either of these areas, and if you want touches of higher-grade design class like metal or glass casing panels, you’ll have to spend a bit more.
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite is a decent, reasonably affordable mid-range phone. There’s not much of the old OnePlus magic here, but the phone does stand out in a couple of ways.
It has a headphone jack, a rarity in phones any more expensive than this one. The stereo speakers are also among the loudest I’ve heard recently. They cut through noisier environments in a manner most affordable phones just can’t.
And the rest? The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite’s design has a little spark to it, partly down to the bright green colour on offer. However, it’s otherwise only a middleweight contender, and lacks the stand-out appeal of phones like the OnePlus Nord 2T at release.
How we test
We test every mobile phone we review thoroughly. We use industry-standard tests to compare features properly and we use the phone as our main device over the review period. We’ll always tell you what we find and we never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Used as a main phone during the review period
Taken lots of photos in various conditions
Tested with benchmarking sofrware and actual use
You might like…
This phone has no water resistance rating so should be used carefully near water.
It has a 3.5mm headphone jack on its bottom, near the USB-C charge port.
There’s no wireless charging here, just cabled charge.