[generation zero review]OnePlus Nord CE review: Meaningful increments but weak on core competency

  In the first half of this year, smartphone makers have launched more midrange smartphones than premium and budget ones put together. So, it will not be wrong to say the midrange segment is the new battlefield for smartphone brands in India’s price-conscious mobile phone market. Fresh in the segment is the Nord CE (Core Edition) by OnePlus. In retrospect, this Chinese smartphone brand brought the midrange smartphones back in trend in 2020 with the launch of the OnePlus Nord (review). The brand enjoyed the first-mover advantage and the Nord received a healthy reception despite its shortcomings.

  That was the background. Now let us dig right into the OnePlus Nord CE review to know if it fits the bill, especially when there are so many good options available now in the midrange segment:

  The OnePlus Nord CE is positioned not as a successor but the core edition based on the original Nord. The smartphone seems to have cut corners on some parameters to help OnePlus price it lower than the Nord, though not significantly. It will, however, be wrong to call the Core Edition as a trimmed-down version of the Nord because it also comes with several upgrades.

  The OnePlus Nord CE looks similar to the Nord but has a modest plastic back cover in place of the latter’s premium glass one. The plastic build is sturdy, so that’s no concern, but the design language is reminiscent of the Nord, which is a generation old now, and even some OPPO and Realme smartphones. That is a red flag. Besides, OnePlus has taken away its proprietary alert slider from the Nord CE. The alert slider is one thing that has always been part of OnePlus smartphones. The omission for the sake of sticking to the core features will have a negative impact on user experience, especially if you are an existing OnePlus user.

  The OnePlus Nord had one of the best displays of its time, but the same cannot be said for the Nord CE. Not much has improved here since last year. The Nord CE has a 6.43-inch fluid AMOLED fullHD+ screen of a 90Hz refresh rate. Though the display is vibrant and responsive, it is plagued by issues common in the OnePlus 9 series. For example, unresponsiveness to touch and the broken full-screen app functionality. (Read the OnePlus 9 Pro review here to know more about these issues).

  OnePlus Nord CE

  The Nord CE gets both an upgrade and a downgrade in the optics set-up. Instead of the quad-camera array in the Nord, the Core Edition sports a triple-camera array on the back. However, the primary sensor on the back gets upgraded to 64 megapixels from the Nord’s 48MP. The other two sensors on the back remain identical – an 8MP ultra-wide-angle of an f/2.3 aperture and 119-degree field-of-view (FoV) and a 2MP depth sensor of an f/2.4 aperture. The 32MP-based dual front cameras in the Nord have got replaced by a single 16MP sensor in the Core Edition model.

  Details aside, the imaging experience has improved but only marginally. In daylight conditions, the phone’s primary sensor captures a good amount of detail but the colour output remains far from natural. As a result, you get good-looking photos for social media usage, despite over-processing by aggressive imaging algorithms. The ultra-wide-angle sensor works fine in daylight conditions but fails to match the colour profile of the primary sensor. This brings disparity in the photos taken by primary and ultra-wide-angle sensors.

  In low light, both the primary and ultra-wide-angle sensors struggle to capture details. In the auto mode, the primary sensor boosts exposure unnecessarily, leading to a noisy output with sub-par detail and contrast. The ultra-wide sensor does not have such an exposure issue, but its tiny aperture fails to capture light, resulting in darker images. The phone has a dedicated night mode, which works well to improve the camera’s low-light imaging. However, it is not the best and has a lot of catching up to do for delivering a consistent performance.

  Surprisingly, the Nord CE’s front camera performs better than the predecessor. It is, however, not as good in processing portrait pictures; it fails to identify contours and blurs part of the subject in the process.

  The OnePlus Nord CE is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 750G system-on-chip, paired with up to 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of internal storage. The phone ships with Android 11 operating system-based OxygenOS 11. Starting with the performance, the phone does not feel any different from the Nord in daily-use experience despite being powered by a less powerful SoC – at least in terms of graphics prowess. That said, the phone handles most day-to-day operations with ease and the graphic-intensive tasks are no issue either. Complementing the performance is the OxygenOS 11 user interface, which is one of the cleanest custom Android skins available. It is not infested with ads and has tons of customisation options for personalised user experience. There are, however, some instances in the user interface that seem broken. For example, the setting to display app scaling shows a blank and there is no way to manually override the default app display scaling properties.

  The OnePlus Nord CE keeps up for more than a day on normal use and about a day on heavy usage, thanks to its 4,500 mAh battery. It is not a gaming smartphone, but it handles graphic-intensive games happily at the expense of battery. The battery drains quicker when the phone is used for gaming, multimedia streaming and imaging. However, you can still get a day of on-battery time if these processor- and graphic-intensive activities are carried out in a disciplined manner. The charging of the phone is quick, thanks to its 30W fast wired charging (Warp Charge 30T Plus). It takes about one hour and 10 minutes to charge the phone’s battery from zero to 100 per cent.

  Priced Rs 22,999 onwards, the OnePlus Nord CE falls short of the expectations set by OnePlus through its marketing blitzkrieg. It justifies its core edition moniker but only in bits. As a package, it is confusing even when looked at from the value perspective because the phone is not considerably cheaper than its predecessor. Things get difficult for the Nord CE to justify its worth if it is put on scale alongside other midrange smartphones like the Xiaomi Redmi Note 10 Pro Max (review) and Samsung Galaxy A52 (review). Therefore, consider the OnePlus Nord over the CE model if OnePlus is the brand you want to stick with. Otherwise, there are several options to go with in the midrange segment that can put the Nord CE in the shade – be it on paper or in real-life use.

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