The OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G updates last summer’s original “Core Edition” to keep up with the mid-range, or as OnePlus would like us to believe, “A little more than you’d expect.” As with the original, it takes the best of the Nord series, distils it down and sells it at a great price, so expect a focus on “fast charging, powerful cameras, smooth display, good battery and a headphone jack.” Round two…ding,ding. Who’s the champ?
The Nord CE 2 arrives in the same black cardboard box with Nord branding picked out in reflective navy blue. No changes here and maintains the contrast between Nord black box and the red boxes reserved for the higher-end models. Opening the box reveals the CE 2 5G phone itself, along with a semi-transparent bumper case, a SIM tray tool, a few small manuals, the now rebranded SuperVOOC charger and a USB charging cable. We’ll come back to SuperVOOC later but as a green bonus, I think all the packaging is some kind of card so should be recyclable.
Unwrapping the Nord CE 2, it’s clear that this is not quite the same phone as last time and steps a little away from the expected OnePlus design. This phone is smooth, really smooth. There’s even a smooth chamfer up to the camera array. Why is this? Well, if you haven’t read any of the comments from other commentators, it’s because this isn’t a OnePlus designed phone – it’s really an Oppo Reno 7 with a few tweaks. Does it matter? Probably not – it’s still (as we’re going to see) a great value phone. But I can look at OnePlus 9 and a Nord 2 to see clearly that they’re from the same stable. Sometimes I think it would be really nice if phone companies designed the phone and stuck with it for a year or two, just upgrading the internals. You could use the same case as last time…
Moving on, it’s a polycarbonate back and in Gray Mirror: I think you can see why it’s “mirror” (the other colour is Bahama Blue). The CE 2 feels sturdy enough but I think it would be prudent to pop it in a case to avoid tears. Other than the total smoothness, there’s nothing to write home about – flat Gorilla Glass front, pinhole camera top left, power button on right, USB C on the bottom and triple camera array, though you can hardly see the third lens. As with the original, no alert slider and the 3.5 mm headphone jack remains. As I’ve mentioned before, I think the retention of the jack is a good move at this price point. Size-wise, the Nord CE 2 is thin too, at only 7.8 mm thick. The other dimensions are 161 mm x 73 mm, weighing in at 173 g, so it’s pretty much the same size as last time (but it won’t fit in the same case).
One other change that’s of note: the SIM card tray has been improved and now takes two SIMs and a microSD card (up to 1 TB). That’s definitely new to the CE phones and I’m fairly sure that it’s new to OnePlus phones. On the back of being able to add storage, there’s only going to be one variant in each territory and for most, it will be 8 GB RAM and 128 GB storage. (There will also be a 6 GB version for some areas.)
Turning on the CE 5G begins to show off the lovely 90 Hz Fluid AMOLED 6.43″ display (2400 x 1080 pixels, 410 ppi). It looks good, it’s fast and it has the controls of its more expensive siblings – screen calibration, refresh rate, vision comfort, reading mode. I do like the dynamic wallpapers that OnePlus offers though I’m not sure there are any new ones this time round, just an expanded range of static ones (I could be wrong). Anyway, that’s diverting from the point that this is a fantastic screen.
In terms of sound, the audio through the jack is good. For speakers, there’s only the one at the bottom next to the USB C port, which is the same as last time. Also as last time, it’s fairly loud but distorts over about two-thirds volume and there’s limited bass. What did you expect from 7.8 mm?
Now we come to one of the major changes. Moving away from Qualcomm, a MediaTek Dimensity 900 octacore 9 nm CPU paired with an ARM Mali-G68 GPU powers the Nord CE 2. I’m told the 900 should deliver a 20% CPU performance improvement over the Snapdragon while increasing battery life by 20%. Is this true? I used GeekBench 5 to look at the Nord CE, CE 2 and Nord 2.
|Nord CE 2
Ok, so it’s not quite a 20% uplift but in use the Nord CE 2 is snappy. Frankly, no one really cares what’s inside as long as it does the job. Pokemon Go runs great and despite a warning that the phone isn’t officially supported, Fortnite is playable (a game controller is recommended though) with a few stutters at moments of high action. The phone has a Gaming Tools enhancement that provides quick access to WhatsApp and Discord, and keeps track of the phone temperature. As with the screen, there are no quibbles here – the phone is responds quickly to touches and it’s all very smooth.
Powering the phone is a 4,500 mAh battery which easily gave me a day of use as long as I wasn’t burning through it with non-stop gaming. Sadly Warp has been relegated to the past with the introduction of SuperVOOC charging from Oppo. I liked Warp and Dash charging. SuperVOOC just sounds cheap. Anyway….this 65W charging should take the phone from 0% to 100% in 32 minutes and in my tests, it wasn’t far off at all, taking 34 minutes and 10 seconds. The charger is in the box (hurrah) and has a USB A socket, so the charging cable is USB A to USB C. No, there’s no wireless charging before you ask.
Cameras….The Nord CE 2 5G officially has three cameras on the back and one selfie camera around the front. The smartphone uses the same camera app as all the other OnePlus phones as far as I’m aware and offers time-lapse, panoramic, slow-motion, video, photo, portrait and nightscape and pro modes. Starting with the selfie cam, it’s a 16 MP Sony IMX471 that OnePlus has used many times. I feel it takes good enough selfie photos with reasonably accurate skin tones. For the rear, there’s a 64 MP main camera, an 8 MP ultra-wide with 119° field of view and a macro 2 MP unit for close-ups. The camera app is enhanced by AI features that help with scene detection to help get the absolute best from the images. In particular, low-light photos should be improved as well and video performance has been enhanced. The Nord 2 introduced these smart features and they’ve been brought to the Nord CE 2 courtesy of the MediaTek CPU chipset.
In reviewing the cameras, there are definitely some improvements over the original Nord CE. One of the original problems was a kind of motion blur on the edge of wide-angle shots and I’m pleased to say that this has gone. Colour saturation can still be a bit iffy – the sky tended to come out over blue (it’s not the Caribbean, y’know) courtesy of the AI and but sometimes large areas of colour could be stronger. In the picture on the right, the tiles are green, not grey.
Having said all that, I did take some other pictures that I’m really quite pleased with. The basket with pine cones is a favourite. No editing to these shots other than resizing.
Overall, the camera has improved since the original CE and for the average person, there’s not much to argue with. The AI does it’s best to create a good photo and you can always turn it off.
Lastly, the CE 2’s OxygenOS 11 is based on Android 11 with OnePlus keeping tinkering to the minimum but adding value where it can. That’s the OnePlus way and to extend that value, the company is committing to 2 years of software updates and 3 years of security updates. Android 12 is promised later in 2022.
Clearly, the Nord CE 2 has loads of other features that you’d expect as standard: Wi-Fi bgnac, Bluetooth 5.1, NFC, GPS, in-display fingerprint reader, dual SIM slot and so on. Rather than review each in turn, I’ll simply confirm that everything is as you’d expect.
Let’s talk about covers…the bumper covers are back to being sandstone which is a definite improvement over the previous generation.
On to the pricing….OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G 8 GB + 128 GB: GB£299 / 329€. Incredibly, there’s no price inflation, which is great to see. Unfortunately, the CE 2 5G is a European and Indian release only so our American cousins will be disappointed.
So does the OnePlus Nord CE 2 meet expectations as a “Core Edition” focussing on what’s really needed without all the frippery? On the whole yes: 5G, great screen, powerful enough processor, day-long battery life, fast charging, 2 years of software updates, lovely colour. Considering there’s a jump of about £70 to the Nord 2, I think it’s good value. It’s not perfect but for the price, I’d have no hesitation in recommending it to friends and family.
Available now. See more in the video below.
Thanks to OnePlus for supplying the Nord CE 2 smartphone for review.