The “CE” of the OnePlus Nord CE 5G name stands for core edition. It’s a bit like the “fan edition”phones Samsung makes. The name is all about a creating a way to show this phone is not quite as good as the rest, while slapping a friendly face on the downgrade.
And the phone we’re taking a step down from is the OnePlus Nord, one of the OGs of affordable 5G and a 5-star Stuff.tv stunner. So, yeh, we can’t help but go back to misty memories of using that phone when talking about this CE follow-up.
The first cut-down part you’ll notice is the back. It is not made of glass anymore. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G rear is plastic, but it does have a rather lovely matt finish that looks great and feels much better than the textured plastic of the rival Realme 8 Pro.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G ‘look’ is more sophisticated than that of the average sub-£300 5G phone, even if OnePlus diluted that a bit by putting some purple at the corners of the back curves for some reason.
That touch of class extends further too. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G is one of the cheaper phones with an in-screen fingerprint scanner. Most of the other £200-270 phones we might suggest as alternatives tend to have rear or side-mounted ones: just as good in a practical sense but not as flash.
A lot of the OnePlus Nord CE 5G draw is about the look and feel, as long as you don’t think too much about how you could have got a glass back by spending £30 more on the original Nord.
A few little cracks start to appear if you look too deep into what’s going on inside. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G has a 64-megapixel primary camera, and 8-megapixel ultra-wide and a 2-megapixel monochrome one. We assume a OnePlus employee must have found a few million of these monochrome cams discarded in a skip because this last camera is totally pointless.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G can shoot lovely images but when we compared them to the best from the class of £200-300 we noticed the OnePlus has a greater tendency to flatten textures into blocks of colour and mush up fine detail in the darker parts of a scene. It’s a step down from the OnePlus Nord’s 48MP IMX586, if not a catastrophic one.
Its ultra-wide camera is fairly basic, and the images look a little soft even without zooming when you throw them up on a monitor. OnePlus also tries to hide that it uses lower-end hardware by jacking up the colour saturation, although the effect is not unpleasant.
You can also find a bunch of phones with as much power as the OnePlus Nord CE 5G, or more, for less cash. And a quick side-by-side blast through Fortnite shows the CE isn’t quite as strong a gaming phone as the original Nord.
The golden oldie Nord lets you play Fortnite at “Epic” visuals, while the OnePlus Nord CE 5G is capped at “medium”. Why? This phone has a Snapdragon 750G chipset, the Nord a Snapdragon 765G. They have similar CPU power, but the 765G has more 3D grunt, a big part of why some Snapdragon 765G were such great buys. We’re looking at you, Realme X50 5G.
You get the impression the OnePlus Nord CE 5G isn’t made for the kind of nerdy audience that was once basically the entire OnePlus audience. It’s for people who would look at your blankly at the mention of “Snapdragon”, people who don’t pixel peep at their photos or notice the when the frame rate in their game dips a bit.
That does not mean performance has been overlooked, mind. The OnePlus Nord CE 5G feels slick. It doesn’t miss a beat as you jump between apps.
This sort of person will also get on best with the OnePlus Nord CE 5G’s battery. It’s a 4500mAh unit that usually makes it through the day just fine, but doesn’t hold up to a hammering as well as some of the other phones you might buy with £300 in your pocket. These tend to have slightly larger batteries, and perhaps tighter control over what can happen in the background, which may affect how quick a phone feels when you dart between apps.
Still, you do get 30W fast charging. This takes you from a completely flat battery to 61% in 30 minutes, and just a quick 10-minute blast before you head out for the night will see you right.
We haven’t spent any time talking about the screen, because it’s very similar to the kind of display OnePlus normally uses. It’s a mid-size 6.43-inch Full HD AMOLED. Sharpness, colour and contrast are all great, but some cheaper rivals like the Oppo A54 5G do look marginally brighter on sunny days, despite OnePlus’s claims of searing 1000-nit brightness.
OnePlus Nord CE 5G image gallery