The ‘CE’ might stand for ‘Core Edition,’ but the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is no stripped-back OnePlus Nord 2. Its design is as much Oppo as OnePlus, its performance is several notches below its mid-range progenitor, and it lacks the Nord 2’s flagship-grade main camera sensor.
It feels harsh referring to the OnePlus Nord CE 2 as money for old rope, but that’s the initial impression we were left with. The phone’s display and camera system are identical to the OnePlus Nord CE before it, and the plastic design is only marginally improved.
Crucially, however, this remains a pleasant phone to use on a day-to-day basis. Spend some quality time with the OnePlus Nord CE 2, and its subtle charms will start to win you over.
Its performance has taken a modest but welcome step forward, and OnePlus’s OxygenOS continues to be one of the slicker Android UIs on the market. The impact of that latter point shouldn’t be underestimated in a mid-range market filled with gaudy UIs, incoherent custom app selections, and overstuffed home screens.
It’s the all-around sense of balance and competence that might just stand as the Nord CE 2’s defining feature rather than any single specification. There are phones with better screens, processors, and displays for similar money, but few hang together so cohesively.
If we were to pick out a single component that’s worthy of particular praise here, it would probably be the Nord CE 2’s 65W SuperVOOC charger. With the ability to get you up to a full charge in just over 30 minutes, you might just stop plugging it in overnight.
But the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is ultimately a phone of quiet competence and understated charm. It’s for those unconcerned with box-ticking specs who simply want a low-maintenance £300 phone with none of the nonsense.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 price and availability
- Went on sale March 10, 2022
- Single model priced at £299 / €349
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 hits shops in the UK, Europe, and India on March 10, 2022. There’s no news on a US or Australia launch at the time of writing, and we wouldn’t hold our breath on either front.
OnePlus has kept its pricing the same as last year’s OnePlus Nord CE, which means that in the UK the sole available model costs £299 (€349/around $400/AU$550) from OnePlus.com, Amazon, and John Lewis. This model gives you 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, with a choice of either a Gray Mirror or a Bahama Blue finish.
At that price, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is going into battle against the Realme 9 Pro and the slightly more expensive Poco F3, among other lower mid-rangers. It costs exactly £100 less than the OnePlus Nord 2, with which it shares surprisingly little, at least from a hardware perspective.
- Similar design and dimensions to the OnePlus Nord CE
- Attractively curved camera module hints at Oppo’s influence
- No stereo speakers or alert slider
OnePlus hasn’t changed the design of its latest affordable mid-ranger all that much. It’s another plastic phone with a solid hand feel and a fairly unremarkable look.
At 7.8mm thick, it’s a tad slimmer than its predecessor. In fact, this is the slimmest phone from the brand since the OnePlus 6T. It’s also ever-so-slightly taller and narrower than before, but we’re talking fractions of a millimeter here.
The new phone weighs 173g, which is an inconsequential three-gram bump over the original. It’s relatively light for a modern smartphone, at any rate.
You still get a 3.5mm headphone jack in this second-generation model, and there’s still no alert slider. The latter omission continues to be a bit of a shame, as it’s always been a welcome distinguishing factor in pricier OnePlus phones.
Another disappointing omission is any sort of stereo sound, so you’ll have to make do with a puny mono speaker. This isn’t a prerequisite for a phone of this price, but paying just a little more for the Realme 9 Pro Plus or the Poco F3 will secure you a fuller and more immersive audio experience.
On a more positive note, we’re fans of the OnePlus Nord CE 2’s new camera module design. The way it gently and seamlessly rises from the back of the phone calls to mind the decidedly premium Oppo Find X5 Pro, which makes sense given the recent merger between the two companies.
Our test model came in the Gray Mirror shade, which is a pretty descriptive title as these things go. It’s a little drab from certain angles, yet very reflective. It feels ever so slightly cheap in the hand, owing to the fact that it’s made of plastic rather than glass.
Carrying on that ‘cheap phone’ feel, there’s no IP rating to speak of. It might well hold off a heavy shower, but we wouldn’t be willing to stake our reputations on it.
The left edge of the phone plays host to a SIM slot that can handle dual SIM cards and a microSD card simultaneously, which is a cool feature to have.
- 6.43-inch AMOLED
- 90Hz refresh rate
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 is fronted by what appears to be exactly the same 6.43-inch FHD+ AMOLED display as before. Once again, this screen is capable of outputting at a 90Hz refresh rate, which is decent if not among the best in its class.
One change is that the display is covered by Gorilla Glass 5 this time around, which is more durable than the DragonTrail glass of the OnePlus Nord CE 5G.
Inherent similarity aside, this remains a pleasant screen to deal with. It’s completely flat, has fairly minimal bezels (but for a slightly larger chin), and it gets nice and bright to the tune of 800 nits.
The default Vivid P3 display mode punches up the colors slightly, but not to a distracting degree. You can lower this to a Gentle sRGB mode, and you can tinker with the settings further using a warmth slider in the relevant settings menu.
HDR10+ certification means that you can enjoy the full range of colors across Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime Video, too.
OnePlus’s Always-On Display options continue to be among the more tasteful on the market, offering clear heads-up information without wasting undue battery life.
Another noteworthy inclusion here is an in-display fingerprint sensor rather than the side-mounted alternatives that can often make their way into more affordable phones. This one’s nice, speedy, and reliable.
- Same triple-camera system as before
- 64MP main sensor captures decent if unspectacular images
Continuing the theme of incremental changes, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 keeps the same triple-camera system as the OnePlus Nord CE. That’s led by a familiar 64MP wide, backed up by an 8MP 119-degree ultra-wide and a typically pointless 2MP macro.
Any improvements here will have to come from the new Dimensity 900 chip, and OnePlus claims that portrait and Night scape modes have been algorithmically enhanced.
We can’t say that the improvement has been dramatic, however. The OnePlus Nord CE 2 takes perfectly competent pictures, but it’s leagues behind the Realme 9 Pro Plus with its flagship Sony IMX766 sensor, especially when it comes to low-light shots.
Part of us had hoped that OnePlus would bring this same sensor down from the OnePlus Nord 2, but to no avail.
On the Night mode front, there’s still no OIS to help keep things steady. Low-light shots lack definition and clarity, though they do capture the ambience of the scene fairly accurately, and don’t simply attempt to brighten everything to an unnatural degree.
You’ve probably spotted that there’s no telephoto lens provided, but the 2x zoom mode does a pretty good job of cropping using that main sensor. You wouldn’t want to blow these shots up any larger than the size of the phone’s screen, but they’re fine for sharing on a social network.
The 8MP ultra-wide is a sizable step down from the main sensor, lacking its detail and dynamic range, but it does a competent job.
Indeed, competent is the operative word here for the OnePlus Nord CE 2’s camera system. It offers nothing outstanding and nothing egregious for a phone of its price and market positioning. But you can do quite a bit better for a little more money.
Performance and specs
- MediaTek Dimensity 900
- OxygenOS 11 on Android 11
OnePlus claims that the 6nm MediaTek Dimensity 900 chip used in the Nord CE 2 is 20% faster and more efficient than the 8nm Snapdragon 750G used in the original Nord CE.
That loosely tallies with our own tests, where the Nord CE 2 scored 720 in the Geekbench 5 single-core benchmark and 2,133 in multi-core. By contrast, the Nord CE scored 633 and 1,812 respectively.
This is aided by a full 8GB of RAM as standard, which is sufficient to run Android without any obvious stutters or memory limitations.
In gaming terms, the phone is capable of running Genshin Impact on medium settings at a playable, if far from smooth, frame rate. Make no mistake though, this is no gaming specialist, even at such a humble price.
The Poco F3 in particular eats it for dinner as a gaming device, through the flagship-esque performance of its Snapdragon 870 processor, the stereo sound from its dual speakers, and the responsiveness of its display’s 360Hz touch sampling rate.
When it comes to software, OnePlus supplied OxygenOS 11 on top of Android 11. This is a tad disappointing, as it’s the same basic software that launched on the OnePlus Nord CE a year prior.
Lack of advancement aside, OxygenOS remains one of the more stylish and downright agreeable Android skins in the business. OnePlus’s approach shows a sense of taste and restraint that’s all too rare outside of the stock-ish efforts of Motorola and Nokia, and the lack of needless bloatware is particularly gratifying.
The provision of 128GB of internal storage doesn’t represent an advance over the Nord CE, but that microSD slot most certainly does. You also get 5G connectivity as standard.
- 4,500mAh battery
- 65W SuperVOOC charging
Like last year’s OnePlus Nord CE, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 supplies a 4,500mAh battery, here formed of two smaller cells to enable faster charging. But more on that in a moment.
The phone’s stamina is typically solid, holding sufficient charge for a full day of intensive usage, and potentially even two days of light to moderate usage. We found that we could clock up a long 15-hour day, with around 3 hours and 30 minutes of screen-on time, and still be left with a little over 50% in the battery.
In the classic TechRadar battery test, which consists of a 90-minute looping 720p video with the screen brightness set to full, the Nord CE 2 lost just 4% of its charge. That’s a strong result, especially for a more affordable phone with a middling processor.
As we’ve already mentioned, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 has taken a big step forward on charging speed. OnePlus has bundled a 65W SuperVOOC charger in the box, which represents a switch to parent company Oppo’s homebrewed fast charger rather than OnePlus’s own Warp Charge standard.
This only ever seemed to be a branding exercise, with the two standards proving to be pretty much interchangeable.
Naming aside, OnePlus claims that you can charge from 1% to 100% in just 32 minutes. The company claimed that the original Nord CE would hit 70% in around the same time, so it’s a source of genuine progress.
It’s fast enough that you might fundamentally change your approach to charging, with a quick 15 to 30 minutes in the morning sufficient to get you through the day.
Should I buy the OnePlus Nord CE 2?
Buy it if...
Elegant software matters to you
There are plenty of mid-range smartphones that offer similar or even superior specs to the OnePlus Nord CE 2 for similar money. None of them have the same elegant, restrained UI though.
You want to charge up quickly
The standout spec for the OnePlus Nord CE 2, and the key improvement over the original Nord CE, is its 65W SuperVOOC charger. This will get you from empty to full in a little over 30 minutes.
You’re done with chunky phones
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 is one of the more compact mid-rangers on the market, with a skinny 7.8mm body and a weight of just 173g. This one has the potential to slip into even tight jeans pockets without too much fuss.
Don't buy it if...
You’re after the best gaming experience
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 is capable of running games just fine, but the Poco F3 provides a much better all-around gaming experience for similar money. Its performance is on a different level, its display is more responsive, and it packs a proper set of stereo speakers.
You demand the best camera possible
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 takes decent pictures, but you can do better for just a little more money. The Realme 9 Pro Plus takes much better shots, especially in low light, with its flagship-grade main image sensor.
You want a silky smooth display
At 90Hz, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 display is nice and smooth, but you can do better. The likes of the Poco F3 and the Redmi Note 11 Pro both give you 120Hz displays for around the same money.
- First reviewed March 2022