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OnePlus Nord CE 2 review: much to love, but not much improved

In a crowded marketplace you have to work hard to stand out. Does the Nord CE 2 make enough effort?

With OnePlus now duking it out with Samsung at the upper end of the smartphone price spectrum, you might think it had forgotten its roots as a value champ. Not true – that spirit now lives on in the Nord CE 2.

CE stands for Core Edition, which roughly translates to “all the hardware you need, with none of what you don’t, at a price your wallet can appreciate”. It’s the line-up’s new entry-point but carries over much of what makes the Nord 2 such a compelling mid-ranger. The display is excellent compared to many rivals,  a 6.43-inch AMOLED screen with fairly smooth 90Hz refresh rate and HDR10+ support. It has a Full HD resolution, which is what you’d expect at this price point.

Styling

The camera “blob” that curves seamlessly around the lenses and into the rear of the phone might look a little familiar. The Nord CE 2 has certainly taken a little design inspiration from sister company Oppo’s Find X3 Pro. Unlike that mega-pricey handset, though, the Nord is plastic all the way. Thankfully it doesn’t doesn’t lack sturdiness as a result.

It may not have the biggest battery of all the budget phones doing the rounds right now, but the Nord CE 2 is easily the fastest when it comes to charging. The meaty 65W power brick included in the box (not always a given these days, regardless of price) promises a full top-up in around half an hour, so you’ll be done in half the time of its closest rivals. That’s impressive by any standards.

Performance

The Mediatek Dimensity 900 powering the Nord CE 2 might not be the flashiest silicon chip-maker Mediatek makes, but it’s near the top of the pile, so comfortably runs Android 11 underneath OxygenOS 11 without any slowdown. 8GB of RAM gives it a leg up on the multitasking front, too, while storage is slightly slower than the Nord 2’s, not that you’d notice. Performance isn’t noticeably mid-range, let alone budget and everything zips along well. OK, so frames are dropped in some games – it’s not a flagship level of performance – but that’s what you’d expect for such a cheap phone.

The audio, however, is not good – harsh is the word from the internal speaker – but there’s obviously Bluetooth support in addition to the 3.5mm headphone jack. That’s a necessity at this price point, it seems.

The fingerprint sensor is underneath the display as is the case on a great many Android handsets now. And it works well.

Round the back, the triple-camera setup doesn’t move the game on from last year’s Nord CE 5G – literally, It’s exactly the same unit with a 64MP main snapper, 8MP ultrawide and 2MP macro also-ran. We’re yet to find any budget phone with a macro lens worth bothering with and it’s a familiar story here. The selfie camera is poor; they’re too soft while the default beautification mode makes them look worse not better. Normal shots are fine in decent light, but the quality plunges in low light with plenty of noise around.

Verdict

With OnePlus now more under Oppo’s watchful eye than ever, there was a danger the Nord CE 2 would lose some of its identity. You could make that argument as it’s more of an Oppo/Realme phone than ever (yes, these are all the same company). Like the original CE, it doesn’t have the alert slider on the side of the phone to switch between silent, vibrate and ringer modes – and that was once a OnePlus hallmark. The ever-increasing problem at this price point is that the market is now very crowded and it’s hard to stand out – and it could be argued that only the OnePlus name truly sets this phone apart from rivals.

Stuff Says…

Score: 4/5

While the cameras haven’t improved and it doesn’t stand out, there’s so much on offer here.

Good Stuff

Fast charging

Decent performance

Bad Stuff

Poor selfie camera

No alert slider

Tech specs

Screen6.43in, 2400×1080 AMOLED6.43in, 2400×1080 AMOLED
CPUDimensity 900
RAM8GB
OSAndroid 11
Cameras64MP, f/1.8 + 8MP, f/2.2 + 2MP, f/2.4 rear; 16MP, f/2.4 front
Battery4500mAh
Storage128GB on-board, MicroSD
Dimensions161x73x7.8mm, 173g