Mobiles & Tablets

OnePlus Nord CE 5G: Clean speed for the budget conscious

Mala Bhargava June 16 | Updated on June 15, 2021

The new Nord starts out at ₹22,999, while the OnePlus 9 Pro at the other end of the spectrum starts out at ₹64,999

OnePlus phones have been getting rather expensive in recent years. Long-time fans of the brand can’t help wondering whatever happened to the seductively anti-establishment ‘Never Settle’ persona of the company. For a nice long run, OnePlus phones were the ultimate competition to flagship level phones that cost two or three times the price. And then, OnePlus began to slide up the scale and play in the same league, many would think without quite giving as much.

OnePlus cameras on their phones, for instance, have never managed to outdo the flagships. Nor have OnePlus smartphones come up with much innovation. Meanwhile, the competition has increased hugely and managed to offer some of what OnePlus did: extreme speed and well-optimised fluid usage. For now, it would seem that OnePlus doesn’t have that many advantages left that are exclusive to it. But one of those is definitely its software. OxygenOS has probably been overly interfered-with in recent times but it is still an operating system that offers an ad-free, nuisance-free experience combined with its legendary speed.

Also read: OnePlus 9R: India-only budget variant

It’s against this backdrop that OnePlus has launched the second avatar of its Nord phone, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G, to give it its full name. This phone shows how OnePlus is trying to creep down the scale so that it can cover more customer bases. The new Nord starts out at ₹22,999 while the OnePlus 9 Pro at the other end of the spectrum for this year starts out at ₹64,999. There are plenty of options in between. But what’s OnePlus doing to bring down that cost? Or at least differentiate? This and that.


Unforgivable omission

While the new Nord has a CE in its name standing for Core Edition and meaning that the experience is signature OnePlus, I would beg to disagree first on this one omission. They left out the signature alert slider on this phone. Of all the things to differentiate with, this was the most unnecessary. It’s almost like leaving out a logo. Other than OnePlus, it’s just the iPhone that uses this button and whether it’s used often enough or not, users like to know it’s there. Without the slider, a phone doesn’t feel like a OnePlus and it’s like a betrayal not to see it on the Nord. Just using the CE tag doesn’t counter the reality of a core feature having been ripped out. It’s an unsettling version of OnePlus’ Never Settle.


Otherwise, the Nord CE does look quite OnePlus-like, sticking to the same design language. I am checking it out in a blue that we have seen before on OnePlus phones and even on the previous Nord for that matter. It’s slim, slightly more compact than the other 2021 OnePlus phones, and just a tad easier to hold. The back is very smooth and very plastic. You won’t know it to see, but you’ll just know it. However, letting go of glass is of course one way to bring the price down. It’s as slippery as glass, but you get a stylish case in the box.

The question on 5G bands

There’s one other omission that has Indian fans up in arms. The Nord (and some of the other 2021 Oneplus phones) may have a proud 5G in their name, but they don’t cover more than one or two of the 5G bands.

Now, until 5G actually rolls out in India one can’t say what will really work and whether a device has what it takes, but if one were to travel outside with a 5G phone that doesn’t support most bands, it could be a sticky problem. In Europe, the Oneplus Nord includes many more 5G bands; so it’s baffling to Indian users why OnePlus would not do the same in India which, it has repeatedly said, is one of its most important markets.

Core experience

Having gotten these two big complaints out of the way, is the Nord CE worth buying? If you think of the promised ‘core experience as fast and powerful with clean software,’ you do have that. The variant I have been looking at comes with a whopping 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage (UFS 2.1). There are other variants if you want to keep the price down.

The processor is a Snapdragon 750G which has been criticised for not being as good as last year’s Nord which has promptly been yanked-off the market lest anyone should be tempted to buy it instead. You do get a fast enough ride with the Nord though. It’s able to handle the range of tasks from simple navigation to gaming and heavy camera work. The 6.43 inch display has a 1080x2400 resolution and a max 90 Hz refresh rate when 120 Hz has reached below this price point. It’s a good enough AMOLED display and I certainly had no complaints working with it. But there’s no stereo speaker to go with it. You do get the 3.5 mm stereo jack though, so may as well plug those old headphones in. There’s no Gorilla Glass protection, so don’t drop it too often. I’ve already done that, which it survived.

The battery is a 4,500 mAh with 30 W fast-charging. It lasts fine doing better than some of the other recent OnePlus phones.

The Nord, like other OnePlus phones, runs on OxygenOS, which isn’t as simple and minimalist if as it used to be, but is till better than most interfaces out there, sometimes even better than stock Android. It remains one of the most compelling reasons to get a OnePlus, including this OnePlus.

The camera setup on the Nord CE is strictly regular. We have a 64 MP rear camera that has good dynamic range and colours in daylight. There’s an 8 MP ultra wide lens and 2 MP depth making up the complement. Dark-place photos are sometimes all right and sometimes a bit soft and grainy, depending on what exactly is happening with light distribution. The cameras do not have optical stabilisation. The from camera is a 16 MP shooter. All of this is much as expected.

Many believe the Nord CE to be an over-priced smartphone that would have been fine at a lower price. I believe that it’s just getting further away from what OnePlus originally was — a fantastic phone for a reasonable, acceptable price. Now that the competition has more than caught up on many fronts, it’s time for OnePlus to do something new.

Price: ₹22,999, ₹24,999, ₹27,999

Pros: Fast and powerful, good display, retains headphone jack, resists smudges, clean software

Cons: No signature alert slider, no stereo speakers, only one 5G band, no Gorilla protection, No OIS

Published on June 15, 2021

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