There are two facts about OnePlus that not many can deny. The first is that the company used to make brilliant devices that heralded the "flagship killer" category in India. The second is that the automatic brightness toggle has been a failure since Day 1.
The company may have moved on from “flagship killers” to focusing on mid-range devices with the Nord series but that doesn’t mean they have strayed away from making devices worthy of selling out. Unfortunately, for OnePlus, the automatic brightness is still a failure. Something that a simple software update should have fixed over five years ago is still an issue in 2022.
The Nord CE 2 5G is the latest in the series and keeps up with the ethos of being the value-for-money all-rounder in the mid-range segment. It may not be flashy - like the OPPO Reno7 Pro - and it may not have a standout feature - like the Xiaomi 11i Hypercharge and its 120W fast charging capabilities - but the Nord CE 2 5G is a capable daily driver for most.
I’ve been using the device for over 10 days now and I’ve been quite pleased with it. It may be the company’s most basic smartphone so far but it is by no means a slouch.
Simple and basic but not a slouch
OnePlus’ mid-range smartphone may not get as much claim as the company’s flagship killers of the past but they have been quite impressive nonetheless. The CE in the name of the smartphone stands for Core Edition. The company went for a bare-bones smartphone while sticking to the core values that the brand has instilled over the last couple of years.
It’s a basic smartphone, without any flashy specifications, but once you set it up and navigate around you’ll feel otherwise. I opened a bunch of apps, used the camera, played some casual games, and scrolled through my social media fields. I didn’t come across any stutter and there was only a slight lag when opening some games.
An elegant and sturdy smartphone with a clean UI
The back cover is made of plastic with a glass-like finish. It’s a unibody design with a camera bump on the top left. It ain’t flashy but it’s simple and elegant. It’s an unassuming smartphone that won’t be turning heads in public. The frame of the phone is also made of plastic.
There are two downsides to the design choices that OnePlus has made. Firstly, the casings of the camera sensors are prominently large and do an injustice to the otherwise well-designed smartphone.
Secondly, and one choice that will irk longtime OnePlus fans is the omission of the alert slider. I know OnePlus was aiming for an inexpensive smartphone with the core features that its customers wanted but this is one big omission. I’ve loved using it over the years and it has been a differentiator for the company but alas, it isn’t on the Nord CE 2 5G.
Thankfully, the Nord CE 2 5G retains the 3.5mm headphone jack that is at the bottom, along with a Type-C port and a speaker. There’s also a SIM tray (that can accommodate two none-SIMs and a microSD card) and volume slider on the left spine, while the power button is on the right spine. The one thing missing is stereo speakers, something that the competition is offering. For most, this could be a dealbreaker.
The durability of the smartphone isn’t a concern. I’ve dropped the smartphone a few times from the table or from my pocket and there isn’t any damage on the display or the back panel.
Overall, I must say that the in-hand feel is quite good, and at no time did I think the smartphone would slip out of my hand. There’s no need to slap a case on the Nord CE 2 5G, but in case you want to, OnePlus includes a transparent case in the box. There’s a pre-installed screen protector also which is good to see.
The Nord CE 2 5G got that Dimensity power
The Nord CE 2 5G comes with a 6.43-inch fluid AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate. Again, being a CE device, means the smartphone misses out on the adaptive refresh rate feature, ultra-fast touch response rate, and a few other features. Nonetheless, for most consumers, there isn’t much difference between 90Hz and 120Hz, and the former works well during day-to-day usage. There’s also an always-on display with a customisable font that serves its purpose.
The Nord CE 2 5G is good for consuming episode after episode of Shark Tank while being plugged into wired headphones. The lack of stereo speakers may be disappointing but unless you’re buying the smartphone to consume Oscar-worthy movies, I’d suggest you look elsewhere.
The Nord CE 2 5G has got with it some Dimensity power under-the-hood. It’s running the Dimensity 900 chipset from MediaTek, one which is more than capable of handling a medium-to-heavy usage pattern on a day-to-day basis. There’s 6GB or 8GB of RAM offered along with 128GB of storage (expandable with the micro-SD slot).
The Dimensity 900 chipset ensures that the Nord CE 2 5G is a smooth performer. Unless you’re playing high-end games like Asphalt Legends or popular ones like Battleground Mobile India (BGMI), you won’t notice any stuttering or lag. The phone is quite good for casual games but one shouldn’t buy it thinking they’d be able to reliably compete in BGMI games online for hours on end.
While scrolling through the UI, flipping through various apps, and switching through the various modes in the camera app, I noticed a buttery smooth UI. That isn’t to say Oxygen OS is perfect. Far from it, in fact.
The Nord CE 2 5G that I was sent for review is rocking OxygenOS V11.3. This is based on Android 11, and not the latest Android 12, which has been out for a couple of months now. I’ve reached out to OnePlus to get an idea about when consumers can expect an upgrade to Android 12 but so far I haven’t gotten any positive response. OnePlus isn’t known to be the best in the business when it comes to software updates recently, so don’t expect anything different with this device.
There’s an in-display fingerprint scanner that is blazingly fast, and face unlock that I have no complaints with. With the 4,500mAh battery, I was able to get a full day of battery out of the smartphone and, on most days, I didn’t need to charge it until the morning. With support for 65W charging (and a 65W adapter included in the box), I could fully charge the Nord CE 2 5G in less than 40 minutes.
One word to sum up the cameras: Average
We’ve all known that OnePlus has lagged behind the competition in the camera department. In all but the OnePlus 9 series, the cameras have been average at best.
Now, let’s talk about the sensors at the back of the Nord CE 2 5G. There’s the 64-megapixel f/1.8 primary sensor, an 8-megapixel ultra-wide sensor, and a 2-megapixel macro sensor. While the primary camera shoots very good photos in daylight that are rich in detail with good dynamic range and true-to-life colours, it’s the low-light images that take a beating. There’s a lot of visible noise and missing details when taking low-light images.
The images from the ultra-wide sensor are passable at best. The less said about the macro camera the better. It’s basically unusable.
There’s a dedicated night mode that tries to “sharpen” the photos but it pales in comparison to what some of the competition offers. Finally, the 16-megapixel selfie camera on the front is good in daylight but not in any other lighting.
One thing I wish that OnePlus would fix about their cameras is edge detection in portrait mode.
Is the Nord 2 CE 5G a good buy?
The answer is yes. If you want a bare-bones, no-fuss smartphone that will easily last you three years, then the Nord CE 2 5G will not disappoint.
The Nord CE 2 5G may not excel in any one category, as opposed to the competition, but it’s a competent, well-rounded smartphone that is priced at Rs 23,999.
The Nord CE 2 5G may have cut corners - no IP rating, an older version of Android, and a basic single speaker - to get to this pricing, but the rest of the phone performs remarkably well, that a lot of people will be willing to overlook these omissions.
All isn’t rosy with the Nord CE 2 5G but it offers a lot of upgrades from its predecessor. OnePlus is on the right track in the mid-range segment and maybe its successors will write the wrongs of this device.