The OnePlus Nord CE 5G drops into the crowded mid-range market where there’s no shortage of competitors wanting to take your money. OnePlus pitches the CE as “Core Edition” focussing on key features requested by its user community: “Heavy on features, light on price” says OnePlus. Obviously, there’s 5G in the CE, but what else does this new Nord offer? Let’s take a look…
The Nord CE 5G arrives in a black cardboard box with Nord branding picked out in reflective navy blue. There’s a clear contrast between the Nord’s black box and the red boxes reserved for the higher-end models. Opening the box reveals the CE 5G phone itself, along with a semi-transparent bumper case, a SIM tray tool, a few small manuals, a Warp charger and a USB charging cable.
Unwrapping the Nord CE 5G, it’s clear that it continues OnePlus’ current design cues which stretch back at least as far as the 7 series. There’s nothing unexpected here – flat glass front, pinhole camera top left, power button on right, USB C on the bottom, smooth curved back with attractive colouring, vertical triple camera array. It’s largely by the numbers. What’s different? There’s no alert slider but the 3.5 mm headphone jack makes a return to the smartphone. I think the restoration of the jack is a good move at this price point: my daughter prefers wired headphones as she’s less inclined to lose them and if she does, they’re cheaper to replace.
Sizewise, the CE 5G is within a millimetre or two of most recent OnePlus handsets at 159 mm x 74 mm, but it’s only 7.9 mm deep, making it the thinnest OnePlus since the 6T. Weighing in at 170 g, it’s lighter than the Nord by 14 g, though you’re unlikely to notice the difference day-to-day. The back of the CE 5G is polycarbonate rather than glass and it doesn’t quite feel as premium as I’d like but the Blue Void colour is lovely. It’s very similar to the Glacial Green of the OnePlus 8 but as you rotate the phone from the back to the front, the curved edge of the back takes on this lovely purple tone. There are other colours, Charcoal Ink and Silver Ray, but I’ve not seen them in the flesh. The Silver Ray version is only available with the large memory capacity (12 GB + 256 GB)
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 and the Nord CE 5G comes with a couple of new ones that show off the display when the phone is unlocked.
In terms of sound, I’ve mentioned the return of the headphone jack, which is a good thing for a large chunk of the possible purchasers of the CE 5G. For speakers, there’s only the one at the bottom next to the USB C port. “It’ll do” is about as best as I can muster. It’s quite loud but playing music above two-thirds volume will start to distort the speaker and don’t expect much bass.
Powering the Nord handset is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G 5G Mobile Platform to give it the full title. Simplistically, this is a perfectly acceptable workhorse platform that offers some improvements over the 765G in the Nord. In day to day use, it’s a fine processor and keeps up with most activities. Will it run Fortnite? Yes, it does run Fortnite reasonably well, but there are definitely times when it stutters and all you can do is pray that it’s not at an inconvenient time. However, I have won a solo Battle Royale on the Nord CE 5G so it’s not a big deal. For something a bit more gentle, Pokemon Go runs beautifully. For the nerds, the phone scored 639 single-core and 1798 multi-core on Geekbench 5, putting it in amongst the Pixel 4, the Xiaomi Mi 9 and the Samsung Galaxy A51.
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. Even the battery does get a bit low, the supplied Warp 30T Plus charger is supposed to get the battery from 0% to 70% in 30 minutes. In my test run, it didn’t quite hit the 70% mark in the half-hour, but it was literally only a few minutes behind. The charger itself has a USB A socket, so the charging cable is USB A to USB C.
Cameras….The Nord CE 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 mono 2 MP unit that’s mainly used for depth sensing (as far as I know). The brand of the camera sensor is not revealed in the specs.
To review the rear cameras, I took a few photos to see how they turned out. Overall I was happy enough with the snaps but there are a couple of issues. First, colour saturation could be stronger: here’s my cat on a red blanket. The red of the blanket is way stronger than it appears to be in the picture.
Next, on ultrawide shots, even with ultra-wide lens correction turned on, you get this kind of motion blur effect on the edges of the shots. You can see it in the picture below. Again the colours of the flowers could do with just being that bit brighter too.
These would be my main two concerns, but I did take some other pictures that I’m really quite pleased with. I thought it handled close up shots better than panoramic ones. That bee has some load of pollen…
I think it would be fair to say that the Nord CE 5G takes photos that are acceptable without being outstanding.
Lastly, the CE’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.
Clearly, the Nord CE 5G 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…OnePlus sent four bumper covers with the Nord – black, blue, purple and creme. They’re flat colours with flecks of straw through them. Again, using my daughter for her opinion as a prospective purchaser, she liked the purple one but thought that golden glitter mixed in would’ve been much better. I’m with her on this one. These will be priced at GB£17.99 when they’re available.
For most territories outside of the Americas, the CE 5G is the fourth Nord device alongside the Nord, N10 5G and N100. If you are looking to understand where the Nord CE 5G fits in the OnePlus line-up, it’s below the Nord but above the Nord N10. In terms of base pricing, the Nord is GB£379, the CE 5G is £299 and the N10 is £249, though the N10 has slightly less memory at 6 GB rather than 8G.
The Nord CE 5G comes in two variants for the UK:
- 8 GB + 128 GB: GB£299 / 329€
- 12 GB + 256 GB: GB£369 / 399€
So does the Nord CE 5G 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. There’s plenty to like but there are some negatives: the rear cover could be better though once the phone is in a case, it’s not noticeable, and the camera does have some failings. Overall, the Nord CE 5G is a good all-rounder without being exceptional. The snag is that there’s plenty of competition to consider as well. If you like it, the phone is on sale from the OnePlus store.
Thanks to OnePlus for supplying the Nord CE 5G smartphone for review.