(Pocket-lint) - As the line between Oppo and OnePlus continues to blur, the latter company's phone release schedule is starting to get a little unpredictable. Rather than a top-tier flagship being first to market in 2022, instead we get the OnePlus Nord CE 2 - that's 'Core Edition' - with a focus on affordability.
The idea behind the CE series was to take the original Nord, strip out some of the fancy bits, and make it cheaper - all without losing anything too important in the process. That means you get plastic instead of glass, you lose the stereo speakers, but still get a bright screen with 90Hz refresh rate, fast-charging, plus plenty of useful ports and functions.
So is the Nord CE 2 worth a look or should you skip it and go with OnePlus' full-fat Nord instead?
For its price, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is a solid offering. It might not be the most exciting phone on the market, but it gets the job done without any serious compromises.
The main issue is that we've seen a large number of competitors entering this mid-range market over the past couple of years. Therefore the second-gen Nord CE doesn't have any one standout feature to help set it apart from the rest.
Overall the OnePlus Nord CE 2 delivers about as complete a package as you could expect on a budget. Still, with the older Nord 2 available with a bit of a discount, we'd recommend spending a bit extra and getting that more premium model.
OnePlus Nord CE 2
- Bright and vivid display
- Great battery life
- Transparent camera hump is a nice touch
- Lots of competition
- Cameras could be better
- Glossy plastic attracts fingerprints
- Looks more Oppo/Realme than OnePlus
- Dimensions: 160.6 x 73.2 x 7.8mm / Weight: 178g
- Plastic back and sides, Gorilla Glass 5 front
- In display optical fingerprint sensor
- 3.5mm headphones jack
When a company says it's going to take an existing phone and distill it down to its core essentials, you expect the two will look alike. With the Core CE 2, however, that's not the case: while the Nord 2 features a flat aluminium plate on the back to house its cameras, the CE 2 has instead taken a leaf from Oppo's Find X3 Pro design playbook, giving us a camera unit that seamlessly 'ramps up' from the rear plastic surface.
But it's almost as if OnePlus isn't even trying to maintain a visual distinction between itself and Oppo. From the back the CE 2's design certainly looks more like a Realme or Oppo phone than a 'Core Edition' OnePlus handset. Whether or not that's important is subjective though.
What we will say is that it's an interesting look, one that - at least from arm's length - is visually less vanilla. The camera unit is completely colourless and almost transparent - like a Fox's Glacier Mint - and so you can peer through the side of it.
The Bahama Blue is an interesting finish too. Head-on, it looks like a pastel, minty blue. But when it catches light, it'll reflect gold and pink back at you. With it being glossy plastic, there's also a very good chance it'll reflect some pretty horrendous fingerprint smudges too. Although, without direct light, it's pretty good at disguising such smudges.
The overall feel of the phone is quite plasticky, but it doesn't feel weak or poorly made. It's pretty sturdy, far as plastic phones go.
As for ports and buttons, the CE 2 has all the basics and some old essentials you'd hope to find in a practical mid-ranger. That means a 3.5mm port is built into the metallic plastic frame on the bottom edge. There's also a dual SIM tray with space for microSD card expansion in addition. This could be a deal-maker for some, given that so many phones make you choose between having dual SIM or one SIM and a microSD card. With this method, you can have your cake and eat it.
The one thing it doesn't have - that other OnePlus models do - is the alert slider switch. This textured button on the side of most OnePlus phones allows you to easily switch between mute, vibrate and ring modes. It's no real surprise that it doesn't feature on the CE 2, since it wasn't on the original Nord CE, but it still feels like something so core to the OnePlus experience that it should be on a 'Core Edition' OnePlus phone. Oh well.
From the front, the CE 2 looks like pretty much any other mid-range Android phone out there. The surface is mostly taken up by the display, with skinny bezels up the sides and around the top. It does, however, feature a chunky chin on the bottom edge and a punch-hole camera in the top left corner that can sometimes get in the way.
It also features an in-display fingerprint sensor, rather than a physical one to the side button. It's pretty quick to register and unlock, and hasn't failed all that many times during our testing. It's not speedy enough that you'd confuse it for a flagship phone, but it's reliable enough to not cause any inconvenience.
There is one area you feel compromise though: the vibrating motor in the phone's body doesn't provide subtle haptic feedback, it buzzes. It's a kind of nasty to feeling when you unlock the phone and not so kind on the ears when the CE 2 is sat on a hard surface, buzzing away.
Display and software
- 6.43-inch AMOLED display, 90Hz refresh rate, HDR10+
- Full HD resolution (1080 x 2400)
- OxygenOS 11 on Android 11
There's lots to like about the Nord CE 2 in regards to its media capabilities, as the screen is virtually identical to its Nord sibling: a 6.43-inch AMOLED panel with Full HD resolution that's capable of reaching up to 90Hz refresh rates and with HDR10+ brightness. So it ticks all the right boxes.
However, again, there are compromises versus the Nord 2 proper. Although it's a vivid panel with lots of contrast and lively colours, at times it's a little too contrast heavy, not always getting that perfect balance between light and dark. Still, when watching movies, or simply navigating the interface, those bright highlights really pop and dark areas certainly look very deep.
What's more, with refresh rates hitting up to 90Hz, it can be very smooth too. Particularly when gliding around the interface of the phone's software.
So the screen is good, but there is one element that tarnishes the media experience somewhat: the loudspeaker audio. It's not stereo, so you don't get that feeling of being immersed in sound. Furthermore, while that bottom loudspeaker may be loud, it's not exactly nice to listen to, becoming quite harsh and distorting when the volume is turned up. You're better off sticking with headphones, so it's a good job there's a 3.5mm port if you don't have Bluetooth.
As for software, there's nothing especially new here. The CE 2 runs Android 11-based OxygenOS 11. It's very similar to what was on the Nord 2, except for a few minor graphical tweaks in the settings menu. Most of the pre-installed apps are Google's, not OnePlus', with no duplicates. So it's nice and clean, with no complaints from us.
Performance and battery life
- MediaTek Dimensity 900 5G processor
- 8GB RAM, 128GB storage, microSD card slot
- 4500mAh battery, 65W SuperVOOC fast-charging
Regardless of whether or not a company promises "fast and smooth" performance, it's always safe to temper expectations when it comes to the more affordable devices. So if you go into the Nord CE 2 expecting lightning-fast reaction times, super speedy animations and absolutely zero lag, your expectations will not be met. But for a phone in its category, it's more than fast enough.
In truth, the speed and fluidity only seems a small step down from the types of phones you'd easily spend double the amount on. The CE 2 can also handle most games without much of an issue, loading them quickly and only dropping frames during gameplay on rare occasions. The MediaTek Dimensity 900 processor inside is not a top-tier platform by any means, and is a small step down from the Dimensity 1200 that's in the Nord 2.
There is a sense when playing some titles that - in order to achieve this smoothness - the resolution drops. Elements in the background and surroundings of games like Mario Kart Tour or Call of Duty Mobile appear a little more jagged than they would on a more powerful device.
The phone uses slightly slower flash storage than the Nord 2 as well (UFS 2.2 vs UFS 3.1), so operation can feel a tiny bit slower compared to its sibling. The only time we saw any real stuttering or lag was on web pages in Chrome or Twitter.
As for battery life, the CE 2 will comfortably get through a busy day without too much effort. It's got the same capacity 4,500mAh cell that you'll find in some of OnePlus and Oppo's flagship phones, yet its used to power a phone that's less powerful with a lower resolution and therefore less demanding display.
That translates to almost two days from a charge. With moderate use - around three hours of screen time per day - we'd comfortably finish with at least 40 per cent left over. Plus, with 65W SuperVOOC charging - and a charger included in the phone box - battery anxiety isn't really a concern. A 30 minute charge can get the battery almost entirely refilled.
- Triple rear cameras:
- Main (26mm): 64-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, 0.7µm pixel size,
- Wide-angle (13mm): 8MP, f/2.2
- Macro (close-up): 2MP, f/2.4
- 16MP selfie camera
Cameras are a pretty standard affair on the Nord CE 2, with a triple lens system on the rear. Two of those are useful cameras - the main and ultra-wide - while the macro one might as well not be there.
The primary features a 64-megapixel sensor that processes down to 16-megapixels output. Photos from this are decent enough, offering relatively well controlled images in good daylight.
Compared to the Nord 2, the CE 2's results seem a tiny bit rougher though. That'll likely be because the Nord 2 essentially has a flagship level sensor in it, while the CE 2 doesn't. And because there's no dedicated zoom camera, you're relying on digital zoom to get closer to the action. And that - especially in lower light conditions - means details can get quite blotchy.
The CE 2 does take pictures without adding too much saturation, although we find it doesn't handle highlights and shadows too well. The end result can be a bit harsh, dark and artificially sharp.
What is good to see, however, is the ultra-wide and main cameras are pretty evenly matched in terms of colour temperature (unlike the Nord 2 - which had two completely mismatched cameras). The ultra-wide in the CE 2 also seems better at focusing on objects that are closer to the lens than the ultra-wide on the Nord 2.
Once light levels aren't all that high, however, shots tend to display quite a lot of image noise, particularly in the shadow areas. It gives photos an almost fuzzy look. There is a Nightscape mode, which allows you to take handheld photos in low-light scenarios.
There's also Expert mode that gives you manual control over all the camera settings, Macro for close-ups, Portrait, Pano, Timelapse and many more, including a text scanner.
The camera is easy to use too, thanks to a clean and simple interface. The screen isn't cluttered with lots of different options or features. It's simple, and customisable.
As for the selfie camera, that's not so great. The selfies we took were too contrast heavy and over-softened, but even worse with the beautification mode is switched on (which it is, by default).
For its price, the second-gen Nord CE is a solid offering. It might not be the most exciting phone on the market, but it gets the job done without any serious compromises. And all for a very fair price indeed.