This mid-range smartphone offers good overall performance, with a quality screen, relatively high processing power and great fast-charging – but it isn’t an exceptional bargain for the price.
- Excellent fast-charging ability
- Decent value for money
- Good screen
- Underwhelming battery
- No IP rating
- UKRRP: £279
120Hz display refresh rateThe refresh rate of this display is very high, meaning that content can look far smoother than usual
64-megapixel main cameraThis device’s main camera has a high resolution
33W fast chargingThis phone’s 5000mAh battery supports speedy top-up
OnePlus’ Nord range promises the benefits of the brand’s expertise, especially in processing performance and screen technology, at a lower price than the likes of its flagships (such as the OnePlus 10 Pro) – which have become prohibitively expensive compared to the earlier models in the series.
This model retails for £279, and yet comes packing some impressive specifications such as a 120Hz screen, a 64-megapixel main camera, and a 5000mAh battery that’s supported by 33W fast charging.
Is this a bargain for a 5G-capable handset, or could you get more bang for your buck elsewhere?
Design and Screen
- Unspectacular but practical design
- No IP rating
- Unreliable fingerprint scanner
- Good quality screen for the price
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G is by no means a flashy phone to look at, especially when compared to some of the multi-coloured glossy phones you’ll sometimes find for this price; but I prefer its muted looks.
The rear panel is dominated by a matte-black finish, but a small textured glossy section at the top does lend some interest in terms of both sight and touch. This matte back is a practical choice, too: like some reflective panels, it isn’t prone to picking up fingerprints, with that aforementioned glossy section being above the part where your fingers normally rest.
The camera module protrudes slightly from the back, and although it isn’t obtrusive, I did find that dust could quickly gather around it. It’s a small flaw that more smoothly contoured modules could neatly avoid.
Nonetheless, this device is very obviously made of plastic, and the simple action of picking it up reveals that the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G isn’t a premium device, lacking the coolness of glass and metal that marks out the best phones in the range. That’s hardly surprising, though, given its price – and bearing in mind the phone’s relatively cheap construction quality, it looks fine.
The Nord CE 2 Lite 5G does have a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is good news if you either haven’t yet made the leap to Bluetooth headphones, or would like a back-up option for the times they lose their charge. There’s also expandable storage available in the SIM tray – you’ll have to choose between adding a microSD or a second physical SIM card. Unfortunately, though, this device lacks an IP rating, which would have told us how it may have reacted when exposed to water or dust.
For faster unlocking than just entering a PIN or pattern on the screen, you can use either the fingerprint scanner that’s embedded in the power button or else face unlock. I started out by using the fingerprint scanner, but actually found it frustratingly unreliable, frequently misreading my prints and failing to allow access to the device. I switched to face unlock instead, but this is often cited as a less secure method of screen unlock due to its relative unreliability.
The screen measures a healthy 6.59 inches, and has one particularly impressive spec given the price: a 120Hz refresh rate. This means that the display updates itself 120 times each second, making it super-smooth in action, especially when scrolling down social media feeds for instance.
OnePlus claims that this feature is subject to “AI dynamic refresh rate management that adjusts the refresh rate based on your usage habits to save battery life”. However, it’s unclear exactly how adaptive this refresh rate is, and in the Settings app you can only choose between 120Hz and 60Hz.
The resolution is just as sharp as you could expect at this price point, being 1080p (Full HD), and I always found it to be clear and readable. However, unlike many other smartphone screens these days, this one isn’t an OLED panel – it’s LCD. This means that you won’t get the perfect contrast and deep blacks that OLED can deliver.
I enjoyed watching YouTube videos and rewatching old Seinfeld episodes on this screen, as well as scrolling through my increasingly depressing newsfeed; but it doesn’t do full justice to footage that demands HDR or deeper contrast to really appreciate.
- Decent main sensor
- Night mode makes a huge difference to low-light shooting
- Macro sensor is of limited use
The camera system is led by a 64-megapixel sensor, along with two 2-megapixel secondary sensors (a macro camera and a depth sensor) – which, frankly, don’t do much. Let’s be clear: this phone’s photographic merits rest entirely on its primary lens, but that doesn’t make it much different from other cheap phones, few of which offer great versatility.
As you can see from the sample shots above, this isn’t a poor shooter by any means, with images being reasonably sharp and clear. However, it lacks the detail and dynamic range that you might expect from classier camera phones – or even the likes of the Realme 9 Pro Plus, which is within the same price range but far superior in this regard.
As mentioned, there’s no telephoto zoom, so you’ll be reliant on using digital zoom instead for shooting closer to your subject. The above picture was taken at 2x, and it’s still sharp enough to be usable.
When you’re shooting in low light, it’s worth noting that photos are near-unusable unless you have Night mode applied. As you can see from the above photo, lights are completely blown out and the detail is catastrophically poor otherwise.
When Night mode is applied (as above), keeping your phone still for a few seconds while it works its magic, shots were still far from perfect – with glaring highlights. But at least objects are actually distinguishable again.
Quite a lot of phones in this price bracket offer a macro camera that’s rarely of much use, and above you can see the results of this one. It isn’t that bad, but you won’t often put it to use. An ultra-wide or telephoto lens would be of far more use in your day-to-day shooting.
Turning to the 16-megapixel selfie camera, detail isn’t as sharp as the main camera (which is to be expected); but you can still get some nice pictures from it.
When using Portrait mode, the bokeh effect comes entirely from the software – not from any physical camera effect – and, as you can see from the above photo, it’s slightly flawed in its application. It blurred the edges of my hair and ears slightly in order to achieve the desired “popping” look with the blurred background. Below is an image without Portrait mode applied, which I found preferable given the shortcomings of the software.
The best video recording you’ll get from the rear camera is 1080p footage at 30fps, and so results certainly aren’t as smooth or sharp as you can expect with the best camera phones. Nevertheless, it’s good enough to capture a passing moment. The dual-view video feature, where you can shoot from the main rear camera and selfie camera simultaneously, is certainly fun to play around with.
- Good overall performance
- 5G connectivity
- Games run smoothly
- Efficient software
The Nord CE 2 Lite 5G runs on a Snapdragon 695 5G chipset, which is a pretty strong mid-range processor, with an Adreno 619 GPU. That’s supported by 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The modem delivers 5G connectivity, plus the phone boasts dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.2. Call quality proved super-clear in my experience.
During my time using the phone, I didn’t experience any app crashes or lag, and even demanding games ran very smoothly. In the table below, you can see its benchmark performance scores – scroll across to see how it stacks up against key rivals, including the Poco X4 Pro 5G. The Geekbench scores concern the CPU performance, which is responsible for the main functions of your smartphone, while the GPU counts more for gaming – and that’s measured by the 3DMark metrics.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G Benchmark Results
Geekbench 5 single core
Geekbench 5 multi core
3D Mark – Sling Shot Extreme
3D Mark – Wild Life
3D Mark – Sling Shot
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G
Realme 9 Pro Plus
Samsung Galaxy A53 5G
Poco X4 Pro 5G
The software at play here is OxygenOS 12.1, which is based on Android 12. I’m a fan of this user interface, which is minimalist and unobtrusive – in stark contrast to rival handsets from the likes of Realme and Xiaomi, which often come pre-stuffed with bloatware. In particular, I’m a fan of the Shelf feature, where you slide down from the top-right of the screen in order to access handy widgets.
- Large capacity, but underwhelming endurance
- Great fast-charging capability
On the face of it, you might well be pleased to see that the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G has a 5000mAh battery capacity, since this is usually a generous and reliable size of battery to include in such a device.
However, I found that the battery actually drained more quickly than might be expected. One hour of watching Netflix consumed 7%, which is more or less par for the course; but an hour of streaming music on Spotify drained the battery by 5%, which is higher than expected. Most alarmingly for me, it lost in the realm of 10-15% of its charge while on standby overnight, when that figure is usually well down into the single digits for other handsets.
If I didn’t use the phone intensively then I found I could get through the day without recharging, with three hours screen-time or so. This underwhelming result may partly be down to the demands of 5G, or perhaps the lack of a variable refresh rate – either way, it was below my expectations. If you’re not going to have access to charging ports through the day, with more than a few hours of screen-on time, then I’d recommend against this phone.
Fortunately, however, fast-charging was a different story. The 33W-rated charger, which is included in the box with the typical red-coloured USB-C cable from OnePlus, delivered excellent…