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OnePlus Nord CE review: A brilliant budget Android phone

Its low price, decent specs and 5G speeds makes the Nord CE a great budget option.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The OnePlus Nord CE (or 'core edition') takes a lot of what made the previous Nord so appealing -- triple rear cameras, super-fast 5G speeds and an attractive design -- and slices even more off the asking price. While last year's base model came in at £379, the Nord CE will set you back only £299. And who doesn't love a bit of savings? 

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The first Nord OnePlus launched last year as a big success in the company's eyes. It was OnePlus' best selling device in Europe and provided the best first day of sales in its history. But even more important is that I liked it, too. I did. I liked its bold blue look and I loved its compromise of performance and price. 

So following up such a success is never going to be easy, particularly with rivals like Samsung offering dirt-cheap entries into 5G and even Apple offering affordable handsets like the iPhone SE.

And while it's processor performance isn't exactly stellar, the new Nord CE still offers everything you need for day-to-day use, including a decent camera setup and 5G connectivity, and does all at a very affordable price. If you're shopping on a budget then there's not much that comes close at this price. 

As with its predecessor, the Nord CE is Europe-only, so those of you in the US will have to look elsewhere. For reference, its £299 starting price converts to $423 and AU$546.

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The Nord CE (left) and the original Nord launched in 2020 (right). 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

So what's good about this phone? 

Well I love the look. It's got a frosted glass back which is deep blue but has this subtle purple edging which I think looks great. It's only 7.9mm thick which makes it comfortable to hold and even more comfortable to slide into your jeans. It's visually similar to the previous Nord, but I think it has a classier look overall. There's no IP rating for waterproofing, so keep it safe if you're taking calls in the rain or handling it around clumsy friends carrying drinks. 

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The screen is around 6.4-inches, much like its predecessor's, and its full HD resolution is sharp, vibrant and has bold, accurate colors. Perfectly good enough for gaming and watching some excellent YouTube videos (like on CNET's YouTube channel). Like and subscribe.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Inside is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G processor, which is actually a slight step down the range from last year's 765G chip. It's not often that a next generation phone uses lower-spec hardware than its predecessor, but it's clearly the main area OnePlus has tried to shave off some money in order to keep the asking price down. 

In use, my review model (which has 12GB RAM, rather than the base 8GB) feels smooth and responsive. Lightweight games like Alto's Odyssey run with no problems and even more demanding titles like Asphalt 9: Legends play well enough for all but the most demanding of gamers. Photo editing in Snapseed meanwhile was as swift as you'd expect from any flagship phone, while navigating the Android 11-based interface is free of any kind of lag or annoying stuttering.

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Andrew Hoyle/CNET

So, yes, it's performance on benchmark tests may be a little below what last year's model offered, but in real-world use there's little difference: It's perfectly capable of handling your everyday essentials. 

OnePlus Nord CE performance comparison

OnePlus Nord CE
629
1,817
4,045
OnePlus Nord
618
1,966
4,656
iPhone SE
1,326
2,638
10,405

Legend:

GeekBench 5 (single core)
GeekBench 5 (multi core)
3D Mark Sling Shot Unlimited

Note:

Longer bars equals better performance

The rear cameras include a 64mp standard lens along with an 8mp wide angle and a 2mp monochrome sensor. It can take decent outdoor shots, with plenty of detail and a good handle on exposure. It's no rival to the iPhone 12 Pro, or even OnePlus's 9 Pro, but for the money it's not bad and will suit those of you who just want some nice snaps in the park perfectly well. 

img-20210609-103144

There's a decent exposure overall in this shot, and plenty of detail to be seen. It's not bad at all considering the affordable price of the phone.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET
img-20210609-103252

There's no dedicated macro lens, but the main camera can focus quite close up and the 64-megapixel sensor means that shots are packed with detail allowing you to crop in further if you want.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

It supports fast charging, going up to 70% full in just 30 minutes, while the battery itself should give you a full day of mixed use. It offers 5G connectivity of course, it's got a fingerprint scanner built into the display and we've also got the return of a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom -- something the previous Nord didn't have and great news for those of you still clinging to your wired headphones. 

OnePlus Nord CE specs comparison chart


OnePlus Nord CE Apple iPhone SE (2020) Samsung Galaxy A32 5G
Display size, resolution 6.43-inch Fluid AMOLED; 2,400x1,080-pixels 4.7-inch Retina HD; 1,334x750 pixels 6.5-inch HD+ LCD display (1600 x 720 pixels)
Pixel density 410ppi 326ppi 270ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.26 x 2.89 x 0.31 in 5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 in N/A
Dimensions (Millimeters) 159.2 x 73.5 x 7.9 mm 138.4 x 67.3 x 7.3 mm 76.1 x 164.1 x 9.1mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 5.99 oz; 170 g 5.22 oz; 148g 205g
Mobile software Android 11 iOS 13 Android 11
Camera 64-megapixel (wide), 8-megapixel (ultra-wide), 2-megapixel (monochrome) 12-megapixel 48-megapixel (main), 8-megapixel (ultra-wide), 5-megapixel (macro) 2-megapixel (depth)
Front-facing camera 16-megapixel 7-megapixel 13-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K
Processor Snapdragon 570G Apple A13 Bionic MediaTek Dimensity 720
Storage 128/256GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB
RAM 8/12GB Not disclosed 4GB
Expandable storage No No Yes, up to 1TB
Battery 4,500mAh Not disclosed, but Apple claims it has the same battery life as iPhone 8 5,000 mAh
Fingerprint sensor In-display Home button Side button 
Connector USB-C Lightning USB-C
Headphone jack Yes No Yes
Special features 5G-enabled, 30W fast charging, 90Hz display Water resistant (IP67); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging 90Hz display, 15W fast charging,
Price off-contract (USD) $423 (converted from UK price) $399 (64GB), $449 (128GB), $549 (256GB) $279.99.
Price (GBP) £299 £419 (64GB), £469 (128GB), £569 (256GB) £249
Price (AUD) AU$546 (converted from UK price) AU$749 (64GB), AU$829 (128GB), AU$999 (256GB)