REVIEWS

OnePlus Nord CE 2 review: Bereft of OnePlus character

The term “CE” in OnePlus’ cheapest Nord lineup stands for Core Edition. The new OnePlus Nord CE 2 indeed emphasizes the essentials of a modern budget phone, offering a decent screen and performance, along with impressive 65W charging speeds. But in doing so, the CE 2 misses out on a few features that users in India have come to expect from phones of this category. When brands like Xiaomi and OnePlus’ sister brand Realme can provide superior, well-rounded packages, doing the bare minimum just isn’t enough even when you control expectations with terms like Core Edition.

The OnePlus Nord CE 2 has a lot to offer, but you can easily find all that — and much more — on many other phones in this price range.


Specifications

  • Storage: 128GB UFS2.2, dedicated microSD card slot
  • CPU: MediaTek Dimensity 900
  • Memory: 6/8GB LPDDR4X
  • Operating System: Android 11 with OxygenOS 11
  • Battery: 4500mAh, 65W charging
  • Ports: USB Type-C, 3.5mm audio jack
  • Display (Size, Resolution): 6.43″ OLED, 2400 x 1080 pixels, 409 PPI, 20:9, 90Hz, HDR10+, Gorilla Glass 5
  • Camera (Front): 16MP, f/2.4
  • Cameras (Rear): 64MP, f/1.79, EIS, 4K30fps (main); 8MP, 119°, f/2.2 (UW); 2MP (macro)
  • Price: Starting ₹23,999 (~$310)
  • Connectivity: 5G (8 bands), Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC
  • Others: In-display fingerprint reader
  • Dimensions: 160 x 73.2 x 7.8mm
  • Colors: Gray, blue
  • Weight: 173g

Pros

  • The display looks good
  • Excellent battery life and charging speed
  • It’s got a headphone jack and a dedicated microSD card slot
  • The performance is good enough

Cons

  • The camera isn’t up to the mark
  • No alert slider
  • Still on Android 11
  • The display could’ve been brighter
  • Mono speaker gets muffled easily

Design, hardware, and what’s in the box

While OnePlus flagships have still retained their distinct visual identity, budget phones like the Nord CE 2 are a telltale sign of how interlinked OnePlus has become with its BBK siblings. The Nord CE 2 is a straight-up rebadged version of the recently announced Oppo Reno 7 and shares several design elements with the Realme 9 Pro+ (pictured above). Because of this shared inheritance, you lose the iconic alert slider.

I’m not a fan of how the camera bump melts into the phone’s back on the Nord CE 2. It’s intended to feel plush, like what we saw on the more premium Oppo Find X3 Pro, but up close, it honestly looks melted in a bad way and feels squishy when you touch it. Besides that, the cutouts for the ports and the speaker grills at the bottom have sharp edges that frequently rub against your fingers and force you to use a case — something I complained about on the Nord 2, too.

Among shortcomings, the haptic motor has an unsatisfying weak buzz and the single bottom-firing speaker isn’t all that great. The speaker is plenty loud and clear, but it gets a bit shrill at high volumes and can be muffled easily while gaming or watching videos. The absence of a stereo pair is a real bummer for the Nord CE 2 since we’ve seen much cheaper phones offering the feature.

On the bright side, the CE 2 gets you a good-quality 1080p OLED screen that is HDR-enabled and refreshes at 90Hz. The punchy colors and deep blacks are as good as any other display on a OnePlus phone, though I’d have liked to see higher peak brightness for better visibility under direct sunlight. The brightness sensor could also use some fine-tuning, as it seems to always micro-adjust the level when the ambient lighting changes, which can get quite annoying.

The Nord CE 2’s retail box contains a basic case, a 65W SuperVOOC charger, a USB-A to USB-C cable, and some documents and branded stickers.

Software, Performance, and battery life

We’re well into 2022, and OnePlus is still struggling to commit to Android 12. The Nord CE 2 ships with Android 11 and the Oppo-fied OxygenOS 11. It’s a shame that OnePlus has taken this long to figure out its Android 12 situation, and the two-year Android update promise doesn’t induce much confidence either.

Despite that sore point, OxygenOS remains the cleanest skin among its main competitors like Realme UI and MIUI, with little to no bloatware to speak of. Version 11 on the Nord looks and feels very similar to what we saw on the more premium 9RT — right down to the glitches. The software drops frames here and there, and transitions feel jerky at times. These are occasional hiccups, and you aren’t likely to come across them very frequently on your daily use.

The new Nord runs on the previous-gen Dimensity 900, whereas the competition has already moved on to the newer Dimensity 920, with its improved CPU and GPU cores. You probably won’t notice much difference in day-to-day stuff like your email and messaging apps or while streaming videos. While gaming, too, the phone shows no visible sign of difficulty — there are no frame drops, even at high frame rates and graphics quality. But during such intensive tasks, the CPU and the GPU run at near-maximum speed — it’s at the very edge of acceptable performance, which could be an issue if you decide to keep the phone for a few years. For some occasional gaming and CPU-intensive tasks, the Nord CE 2 should be fine, but don’t expect too much from it.

In spite of all that, I must give these recent 6nm Dimensity chips the credit for being incredibly energy efficient. The Nord CE 2 gets a rather modest 4500mAh battery, but there hasn’t been a day when the phone gave me any battery anxiety. My regular usage doesn’t include gaming at all; it’s all work apps and some social media, and with that, I routinely ended up with close to 40% of charge left at the end of the day – after clocking a decent 6-hour screen-on time. Like most OnePlus phones, a 65W charger (now called SuperVOOC) is included in the box, and the phone takes around half an hour to fill up the battery.

Camera

The camera arrangement here hasn’t changed since the first CE, so you still get a 64MP OmniVision primary sensor. Like most mid-rangers, the CE 2 can produce some good images in daylight; they look natural and have a fair bit of detail, with HDR also doing a decent job to retain detail in light and dark areas. However, the color science isn’t consistent across images — you’ll find that the colors don’t pop, especially at night. The camera also starts to lose the finer details indoors, resulting in photos that look too soft. That is also true for the full-res 64MP shots.

There’s an AI scene enhancement tool that automatically switches to night mode and tweaks the white balance based on the lighting, but that’s pretty much it. There aren’t a lot of camera features to play with, like you get on the Realme 9 Pro+.

The front camera is OnePlus’ favorite IMX471, but it somehow performs slightly worse here. The white balance here is something you cannot rely on, and the same goes for its HDR capabilities. Your selfies are going to look acceptable with a natural skin tone, but as you zoom in, you’ll notice that none of the finer details have been retained.

Should you buy it?

Probably not. The Nord CE 2 isn’t the strongest phone to come from OnePlus in recent times, nor is it the best in its price range. And given how crowded this price segment is, OnePlus should have seen this coming. Without distinctive features like the alert slider, and given how deeply integrated OnePlus now is with other BBK brands, the CE 2 doesn’t offer anything special. There’s no longer an incentive to get a OnePlus phone over a Realme or an Oppo.

For the same price, you can pick up the Realme 9 Pro+, which is as good or better than the Nord CE 2 in most ways, and you’ll also get Android 12. If a OnePlus phone is what you want, I’d suggest spending a little more for the Nord 2, which is a much more capable device overall. And it’s got the alert slider. You also cannot go wrong with the Galaxy A52s or the Xiaomi 11i 5G, both of which have better features for just a little more cash.

Buy it if…

  • Battery life is a priority.
  • You’re okay with a mediocre camera.

Don’t buy it if…

  • You don’t mind spending more on a better phone.
  • You care about extra features like stereo speakers.

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