The OnePlus Nord CE 5G is not a ‘classic’ OnePlus phone, one that disrupts things by offering more than you usually get for the money.
You’d buy one because you would prefer a relatively small, light and classy-looking phone rather than the geek-friendly, high-value giants on offer from companies like Xiaomi.
I prefer the original OnePlus Nord, available for only slightly more at the time of review. But the OnePlus Nord CE 5G has its charms.
- Petite, light and fairly good-looking
- Fast charging
- Good general performance
- Not as hot a deal as the original Nord
- Cheaper alternatives offer better battery life
- UKRRP: £299
- OLEDThe display here is strong for the price
- Snapdragon 750GStrong performance and 5G support
- Headphone portThe 3.5mm port makes a welcome return
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G is a cheaper version of the original OnePlus Nord, with no major benefits aside from a slightly lower price. And I do mean slightly, because at the time of writing you can get the entry-level Nord for only £329.
Cuts include a plastic back instead of a glass one, a lower-end processor, slightly worse cameras and a screen that cannot get quite as bright.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G’s snips are consistent across the board, and no single one is too dramatic unless you have your heart set on an Android that feels expensive. Add them up, though, and this phone doesn’t seem as solid a buy as the original Nord or some of the best cheap phones you can get for less money.
Competition in this area of phones is fierce. However, if you like OnePlus’s style and want an OLED screen, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G is a perfectly sound option.
Price and Availability
There are two main versions of the OnePlus Nord CE 5G. The cheaper one costs £299 and has 128GB storage, 8GB RAM.
Spend £369 and you get 12GB RAM and 256GB storage, much like some of the most expensive phones around. However, 12GB RAM is arguably overkill for a phone with this processor, so buy the pricier version for its greater storage rather than the additional RAM. There’s no microSD card slot here to let you expand the storage further down the line.
Blue and black colours are on offer with either spec, and the higher-end OnePlus Nord CE 5G comes in an additional “Silver Ray” finish.
- Plastic sides, plastic back construction is a step down from the OnePlus Nord
- Has an in-screen fingerprint scanner, unlike most affordable 5G phones
I have liked OnePlus’s approach to phone design for ages. I’m not talking about the tech it uses inside, but the way the company tends to stop a few steps short of the bombastic looks other Chinese companies like Xiaomi and Realme go for.
“Reserved” is the word that usually comes to mind, and this mostly applies to the OnePlus Nord CE 5G too. The back has a matt blue finish, in a very similar shade to that of the original OnePlus Nord.
OnePlus’s logo is small, and doesn’t even say “OnePlus”. OnePlus’s phones often look that bit more grown-up than some of the competition, which can be refreshing. It’s like drinking a glass of water after a trip through an American city spent drinking gallons of luminous diet soda.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G isn’t as well-made as the original Nord, though. Its back looks a bit like matt finish glass but is actually plastic. And the purple gradient finish that appears at the very end of the curved sides does take away slightly from the tasteful conservatism I mentioned earlier.
The original OnePlus Nord feels more “high-end” than this CE model, to a greater extent than their £30 price difference suggests. Its build is pretty similar to many phones in the £200-250 range.
There is one extra feature, though. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G has an in-screen fingerprint scanner, where most other affordable 5G phones have one either on the side or the back. This one is not as fast as the OnePlus 9’s. But it is, in my experience, a lot better than the Realme 8 Pro’s.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G’s speaker is loud too, although it uses just one driver on the phone’s bottom, and it doesn’t have the impressive lower-frequency output you can get from much more expensive phones. This leaves it sounding a little hard on the ear at higher volumes. Those extra few decibels are still useful for listening while you’re in the shower, cooking or as the kettle boils, though.
You also get a headphone jack, which might be the only advantage the OnePlus Nord CE 5G has over the original OnePlus Nord.
- Display size doesn’t sacrifice handling for extra screen inches
- Claimed 1000-nit brightness doesn’t pan out in reality
- OLED tech is better than the LCDs used in many cheaper alternatives
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G has a 6.43-inch AMOLED screen of 1080p resolution. Its size is a good fit if you’d pick a phone that is easy to handle over one with a monster Netflix and gaming screen. If that’s your bag, consider something like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro, although it does not have 5G.
OnePlus says the Nord offers peak brightness of 1000 nits, but this must be in very limited conditions, perhaps with only a small square of the screen lit. I took the phone outside on a very sunny day with both the Oppo A74 5G and the original Nord. Both phones were a good bit clearer than the OnePlus Nord CE 5G.
Its outdoors clarity is fine, but nothing more than is now common among £200-300 phones.
OLED depth and contrast is what you pay extra for. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G’s screen has per-pixel lighting, which means black parts of the screen will stay black even in very dark rooms. It doesn’t make a huge difference in normally-lit ones, though.
OLED’s colour is more obvious in these situations. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G has a true wide colour gamut screen, meaning it can display deeper tones than some LCD rivals at £200-300.
It can also make a high refresh rate look better, thanks to OLED’s fast-reacting pixels. You can get phones at this price with either 90Hz or 120Hz screens, whose screens refresh their image 90 or 120 times a second rather than the usual 60. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G’s refresh rate is 90Hz, which makes web pages and the app screen scroll more smoothly than your current phone, assuming you don’t already own one with a high refresh rate.
- Good general performance a solid GPU performance
- You can get better gaming phones for your money
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G’s software looks just like that of the other OnePlus phones. It uses the company’s OxygenOS software on top of Android 11.
This phone feels zippy, even if it is a lower-end model. It has a Snapdragon 750G, which has similar CPU performance to the Snapdragon 765G of the OnePlus Nord.
I’ve noticed the OnePlus Nord CE 5G tends to keep apps you’ve used recently ‘parked’, not fully closed down, significantly longer than a lot of the other affordable 5G phones I’ve tried in the last few months. It does seem to make good use of its 8/12GB RAM, and this improves the experience of jumping between apps.
There’s minimal lag and loading games is reasonably quick, if not at the level of the OnePlus 9 of course.
Games won’t run quite as well as they do on the original OnePlus Nord, though. 3D Mark’s benchmark tools suggest the Nord has roughly an extra 50% GPU power and, sure enough, their graphics chipsets are different. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G has an Adreno 619, the old Nord an Adreno 620.
This difference is frankly not going to be all that obvious in most games. Casual titles don’t need a top-end processor. But Fortnite does run better on the Nord than the OnePlus Nord CE 5G, and the disparity is even wider if you compare it to the cheaper Xiaomi Poco X3 Pro, one of the few affordable Androids that can legitimately claim to be “made for gaming”.
- Higher megapixel count does not result in better image quality
- Monochrome camera is useless
- Competes OK with most £200-300, but not an imaging superstar
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G has three rear cameras, and two of them are useful. Its third is a monochrome camera, in contention for the most useless camera put into a phone in 2021, particularly as few people will even dig out the particular “P3” monochrome filter that uses it.
Our other two are a 64-megapixel standard camera and an 8-megapixel ultra-wide. This may sound higher-end than the OnePlus Nord’s 48-and-8-megapixel combo, but it isn’t.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G’s main camera uses an Omnivision sensor rather than a Sony one, seen in the Nord, and it does not seem quite as good. It tends to smush up textures and fine detail in the shadow areas more often than the best in this class.
Zoom detail is slightly worse than the non-CE Nord’s too, despite the higher-res sensor. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G and original Nord do not have an actual zoom camera, but do have a software 2x zoom mode.
It’s not all about OnePlus, of course, so I also compared the phone to the Realme 8 Pro and the Xiaomi X3 NFC, which has one of the best camera arrays you can get for under £200. The Xiaomi once again is better at retaining fine texture detail in the darkest areas of the picture. Its ultra-wide also trashes the OnePlus Nord CE 5G’s, because it has a better 13-megapixel sensor.
The Realme 8 Pro is also better for night photography. However, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G is actually similar to the original Nord at night, and has a dedicated Nightscape mode. Its low-light images are significantly better than those of the Oppo A54 5G and A74 5G.
If you’re hoping this phone will outright beat the others you might buy at £200-250, it doesn’t. But most of the best performers in that price range do not have 5G.
I’m mostly pleased with the OnePlus Nord CE 5G’s video. You can shoot at up to 4K resolution at 30fps or 1080p at 60fps. All these top modes have decent software stabilisation, which is reassuring.
The 16-megapixel Sony selfie camera is solid, able to hold onto plenty of detail in lower light, although it does tend to lean on contrast a bit to keep your pictures looking punchy. This is not always the most flattering approach, bringing out wrinkles and specular highlights on your forehead in some situations.
In short, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G camera is fine, but nothing special, and is beaten by the older Nord and bunch of cheaper non-5G phones.
- One day battery life max
- Heavy users may need an evening top-up
- Great charging speed for this class
The OnePlus approach to battery life is a bit different to that of other affordable 5G and 4G phones you might buy with £300 to spend. It has a 4500mAh battery, smaller than the 5000mAh that has become the standard in this class.
With my every day use the OnePlus Nord CE 5G tends to go the distance, but without much charge to spare by the time each day ends. This is quite unlike the Motorola Moto G50, a less capable phone in other respects, which always seems to be left with a good amount of charge when I came to plug it in.
Stamina here is pretty similar to OnePlus’s other phones. It’s fine, but little more than that. You can drain them down in a day if you hit them hard. Counter-intuitively I find this a little more of an issue with the OnePlus Nord CE 5G than the OnePlus 9 series as there are a lot of affordable Androids competing for your cash that last longer than the flagships.
High-end phones trade on advanced features like amazing cameras, slick design and great gaming performance, while cheaper ones often focus more on something many of us care about just as much: battery life that makes them easy to get on with.
OnePlus’s consolation prize is fast charging. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G doesn’t not have the company’s quickest charging standard, Warp Charge 65T (65W), but it does have Warp Charge 30T (30W). This takes the phone from dead flat to 61% in 30 minutes, and to a full battery in 69 minutes.
The claims from OnePlus HQ are even better than this, 70% in 30 mins. However, this is likely because their testing leaves out the part right at the start of charging from a dead flat battery, where charger the output is deliberately kept low to avoid damaging the battery itself. Either way, a 10 minute top-up goes a long way.
It’s much faster charging than the 18W Pixel 4a, for example, although Xiaomi offers 33W charging in phones at the same price and cheaper.
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Should you buy it?
You want a relatively petite, good-looking phone
OnePlus may have sacrificed a glass back to make the Nord CE 5G cheaper to produce, but it is still a better-looking phone than many you might choose with a £300 budget to spend. It’s not too big, the frosted plastic back looks great and the 6.43 inch screen size makes the phone smaller and easier to handle than the Xiaomi alternatives that might suit an enthusiast crowd better.
You own an older OnePlus or Nord
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G bridges the gap between OnePlus’s cheap N-series phones and the Nord. That means you have to have to head a way back into OnePlus’s past to find a main-line phone from which it would be a suitable upgrade. Perhaps 2017’s OnePlus 5.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G is not OnePlus’s best phone for value. And the cuts made to lower the price from the first Nord are quite wide-ranging. Still, it’s not a bad buy if you want a 5G phone that doesn’t cost a packet, and don’t like the look of the competition, may of which are a bit larger and heavier.
No, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G does not have a water resistance rating.
Yes, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G has a classic headphone jack, unlike the original Nord, OnePlus 9 and OnePlus 9 Pro.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G has a single driver on its bottom. No stereo sound here, but the volume available is good.
Yes, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G has NFC.