Budget phones are better than ever - with extended battery capacities, better processors, and snazzier displays. While companies are trying their best to leave no room for complaint, how good can a budget phone get, before the cracks - however small - begin to show? I’ve been trying out the latest budget contender, OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G, to see if it’s the well-rounded choice for the value-conscious.
Build and display
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G ships in what seems to be the colour of the season - a very bright shade of lime sorbet. Apart from this pastel lime option, there’s a more serious looking chromatic gray, if that’s your thing.
There’s a massive 6.72-inch FHD display but alas, it’s LCD and not AMOLED as is increasingly the norm. I haven’t done a double-take at the display quality of a device in recent times, but this was an exception. While design-wise, all is well, the lighting around the edges of the screen appears to be a bit dimmer. And, despite the promised 120 Hz adaptive refresh rate scrolling through articles and websites does leave a visible blur along.
There’s a very bold two-circle camera layout on the back, which looks like glass but is very much a plastic back.
There’s a dual-speaker system, which delivers loud-enough sound. It comes with a 3.5mm headphone jack, which might be good news for those who like plugging in their wired buds. There’s a function that lets me amp up the volume to 200%, but honestly, that just sounds like one notch above 100 per cent, rather than twice as loud.
One USP that OnePlus advertised was the Nord CE 3 Lite being “the first OnePlus smartphone boasting of 108 megapixels in its main camera”. While it looks good on paper, the overall quality of the images taken has been a mixed bag. Anything that wasn’t captured in bright sunlight or perfectly lit indoors turned out to be below average. Pictures taken at night too were blurry, even those of perfectly still inanimate objects, such as buildings. Macro shots were a miss as well, with the lens not being able to focus well.
There’s a 16-MP front camera for selfies, which does a decent job of capturing skin tone but blurs out skin texture even with no filters on.
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G is equipped with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G chipset - same as the iQOO Z6 and the POCO X5. The unit I reviewed had 8 GB RAM and 256 GB storage. While multi-tasking wasn’t really an issue especially with browsing and casual gaming. On benchmarking tests (AnTuTu) the OnePlus Nord CE 5G landed itself in the 65th percentile.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G operates on OxygenOS 13.1, and is overall an easy interface, with almost no learning curves if you’re a first-time user.
Powered by a 5,000mAh battery - which is slowly becoming the norm - the Nord CE 3 Lite delivers more than a day and a half of functional usage before I feel the need to plug it in. OnePlus continues to ship with chargers (hallelujah!), and this one comes with a 67-watt SUPERVOOC Endurance Edition charger. On the days that I needed a quick boost, the charger gave the device almost 30 per cent battery with a quick 15-min plug in.
With flagship phones, you know you don’t have to let go of your expectations much. However, we all know, that’s not the case with budget tech devices. With the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite, users get a sizeable display, great battery life, an intuitive interface, and that rare 3.5 mm jack. However, the exclusion of an AMOLED display and the lack of consistently good photography capabilities keeps this from being an outright winner.