Reviewing budget phones is tricky, especially when you’re spoiled by 100x zoom tags with 120Hz screens and chipsets that can launch and land SpaceX’s next rocket without any issues.
With that being said, we live in extraordinary times! Now you can get a smartphone with an AMOLED screen, that supports the latest connectivity, a long-lasting battery, and a chipset that’s fast enough for pocket money.
And that’s what Nord CE 2 – Value is all about. After OnePlus launched the original Nord phone, the company saw the huge potential in the budget smartphone segment. And it began to exploit it, with the aim of eliminating giants such as Samsung and Motorola. Then came the more affordable “basic version”, and now we have the alternative.
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 does a lot of things right – it has a good screen, great design, great battery life, fast charging, and the aforementioned great price. There are some shortcomings in the camera department, and you can definitely feel the sticky build but overall this phone goes beyond its weight.
Nord CE 2 sticks to the Core Edition format to deliver a great design and great screen at an affordable price. The overall design is fresh, especially the Bahama blue color option, which carries memories of a summer sky with a hint of purple.
The frame is plastic with a glossy finish on top of it, and the back is also plastic, although you can easily confuse it with glass. The only visible sign is the small fold when pressing the OnePlus logo on the back.
The cam bump is not a regular physical bump but a nice sculpted elevation in the plastic itself. Two large circles are looking at you from the back accompanied by two small circles next to the main camera. It’s a throwback to the way the OnePlus 9 handled the camera bump and it doesn’t look half bad.
There is a punch-hole selfie camera in the upper left corner of the screen, and the usual Core Edition chin at the bottom. Both the 3.5mm jack and microSD card support are a nice surprise but the actual mute slider is nowhere to be found.
Putting an OLED screen into a device under $400 isn’t a revolution anymore but we can’t help but be impressed with the OnePlus Nord CE 2 display. It’s a 6.43-inch AMOLED panel with 2400 x 1080 resolution (409 pixels per inch), 90Hz refresh rate, and HDR10 support. +. These specs translate well in real-life scenarios – it’s a bright, crisp screen that’s generally nice to look at. Peak brightness drives 600 nits, and while that’s far from what flagships can throw out, the screen is perfectly readable in direct sunlight.
There are two color modes – Vivid and Gentle, the former uses the P3 color gamut, and the latter – sRGB to obtain more accurate natural colors. The 90Hz refresh rate is starting to become an industry standard now, and it’s good to see OnePlus sticking to their guns with Nord CE 2 (the first version also came with a 90Hz screen).
The default color temperature is on the cooler side but you can warm it up via the slider. There’s also an always-on mode with two smart options (all day, scheduled, power-saving, and capture to show).
All in all, this 6.43 tablet is the main star of the OnePlus offering and one of the best that Nord CE 2 has to offer.
Hardware and performance
Unlike its predecessor, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is based on MediaTek silicon. The Dimensity 900 chipset holds its own and offers some decent performance results. This phone may not be a powerhouse or a standard champion but it’s a clear upgrade over the Snapdragon 750 in Nord’s first CE. In real life, the phone looks amazingly fast, even with all the visual candy – like animated backgrounds, UI animations, etc. 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage are plentiful on a phone of this caliber, and there’s also an SD card slot to expand base storage further (although the phone comes in a 6/128GB memory configuration in some markets, to be fair.).
There is a high performance mode buried in the battery settings and turning it on will improve the synthetic test results, as well as the overall feel of the phone. Doing so will inevitably shorten the battery life and also keep the phone’s refresh rate at 90Hz.
Software-wise, we find that OxygenOS 11 is based on Android 11. There’s nothing to complain about here, although some might find the lack of Android 12 out of the box disappointing. Finally, the fingerprint reader (the kind under the screen) works pretty consistent.
camera and sound
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 comes with a triple camera system on the back, consisting of a 64MP sensor below the wide-lens main camera, paired with an 8MP ultra-wide camera. The third camera is (unfortunately) a dedicated macro lens.
The main camera can take decent photos in good lighting conditions, although the photos tend to lack dynamic range and detail. There is a stark difference between the main camera and the ultra-wide camera – the latter overexposes shots, and colors vary widely between the two sensors.
The macro camera isn’t amazing — OnePlus says that for best results, you should position the phone 4cm from the subject you’re photographing, but even then, the resulting images lack the dramatic detail of some of the better macro apps.
The selfie camera is a 16MP sensor which is fine and on par with the rest of the photography gadgets within the OnePlus Nord CE 2. Be careful, because beauty effects are turned on by default and you might end up looking like a plastic toy.
There is a dedicated night mode on board but it really requires a steady hand to shine. The algorithms are very aggressive and the resulting images are washed out and smeared, albeit much brighter. Shooting without turning on the night mode produces more natural images but results in noise and other issues.
On the video side of things, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 can shoot 4K videos but image stabilization isn’t available at that resolution which makes videos shaky. On the plus side, when shooting 1080p videos, stabilization is decent and the autofocus does a great job too.
You can only zoom in and out while using 4K mode (I suspect it has something to do with image stabilization which is actually cropping the image at 1080p), and it’s all digital, so it’s not great. In general, if you are shooting in 1080p and in a well-lit room or under bright sunlight, the results can be good enough.
Battery life and charging
Another big feature (pun intended) of OnePlus Nord CE is fast charging support, which is extremely fast. The battery itself is rated at 4,500mAh, but if you dig into the press material, you’ll find that there are two cells inside with 2,250mAh—a common practice when targeting fast charging times. This phone charges from zero to a full charge in around 40 minutes, which is one of the fastest budget charging options available. Plus, you get a 65W charger in the box (along with a silicone case, too).
You may have noticed that battery test results can’t be found anywhere, because the way the OnePlus Nord CE 2 handles screen brightness makes it incompatible with our test procedures.
On the other hand, my purely self-testing showed that the phone can easily last a day and a half, with that can be extended to a full two days if you turn off the high performance mode.
The budget smartphone segment is crowded these days. There are plenty of options around the $400 mark, and the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is definitely a contender. It all boils down to personal preference in the end – if you’re a OnePlus fan, and you’re looking for a budget phone with a great screen and 5G display, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is your best bet. Otherwise, you can get a Galaxy A-series or Motorola device for the same kind of money. Verify Best phones under $400 more details.