OnePlus has changed a lot. The brand started out by releasing just one flagship phone per year that sold at a significantly lower price than its more established rivals. Lately that’s less true. It now has several flagship smartphones, like the OnePlus 9 and 9 Pro, which are similarly priced to its Samsung rivals, and it also has a range of around half a dozen mid-range and affordable smartphones. under its Nord brand in its UK store.
At just £299 (€349), the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is about as affordable as the range in Europe. (The company says it’s not releasing this specific model in the US, where OnePlus sells a different line of Nord phones). The Nord CE 2 is billed as a scaled down version of last year’s Nord 2, where the ‘CE’ in its name stands for ‘Core Edition’. In other words, it is a device focused on the essentials of a modern smartphone. That means good battery life, fast charging, a fast refresh rate display, and decent enough cameras. There is also a headphone jack. Happiness.
There is another change that has happened to OnePlus over the years. It is getting closer and closer to Oppo, another brand operated by parent company BBK Electronics. The result is that the OnePlus Nord CE 2 looks more like an Oppo phone than any other OnePlus device I’ve used. And yet, it also feels like a true continuation of OnePlus’ original spirit: delivering great performance at an affordable price.
OnePlus has always had a close relationship with its sister brand Oppo, but historically there has been a separation between the two, as a different brand for their similar fast charging technologies. But with the OnePlus Nord CE 2, those differences have all but disappeared. Its fast charging technology now bears the SuperVOOC branding, the same as Oppo’s, and the whole device appears to be a slightly modified and rebranded Oppo Reno7. It’s probably no coincidence that this device follows reports that OnePlus is now an Oppo sub-brand.
Is it important? Not really. I don’t care what brand my phone’s fast charging uses (OnePlus tells me the phone should still work with any OnePlus branded Warp chargers you have) and I also don’t mind if this device has ever been technically released under a different name. This does not change anything to the device I have in my hands.
The one major OnePlus feature that I wish I had made the cut is the company’s traditional alert slider on the side of the phone, to let you easily put the phone on silent or vibrate. This slider was also missing from last year’s Nord CE, so it’s not entirely a surprise, but I did miss it again during my time with the Nord CE 2.
Branding is less important than the specs you actually get, and on that front the OnePlus Nord CE 2 delivers. It features a nice and bright 6.43-inch 1080p OLED display with a smooth 90Hz refresh rate, a long-lasting 4500mAh battery that can be charged at 65W with an in-box charger. the box, 5G support and a headphone jack. It is available in blue or gray.
The overall build of the phone seems inferior to the specs it packs. Although its display is Gorilla Glass 5, it has a plastic back and plastic frame, and generally doesn’t have a premium feel. But on the plus side, it’s thin and light enough to disappear into a relatively slim pocket. There’s also no official IP rating for dust and water resistance, although like previous OnePlus phones, you Probably always use the phone well in light rain.
Internally, the Nord CE 2 is powered by a MediaTek Dimensity 900 processor, which in Europe is paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage (expandable up to 1TB of microSD storage), both generous for this price. . Not using a chip from more popular manufacturer Qualcomm means you lose features like high-quality aptX Bluetooth streaming, but overall performance is otherwise in line with what you’d expect from a phone at this price. In other words, the apps are generally smooth and fluid, but I noticed a stutter when I quickly switched between them.
More importantly, MediaTek’s processor is able to keep up with the phone’s 90Hz display, which like most OLED panels is also nice and colorful. My device looked a little too blue out of the box, but I was able to adjust its color temperature in its settings. Sound is a more basic affair, with a single downward-firing mono speaker. It gets very loud, but it quickly distorts the sound of anything you play. Your music deserves better, but I think it’s fine for listening to a podcast while you cook (my partner, a podcast producer, disagrees).
The battery life of the Nord CE 2 is excellent. I’ve never put the phone on charge at the end of the evening with less than 40% battery left, and I average just over 7 hours of screen time between charges. Charging from scratch using the included 65W fast charger got me to a 21 per cent charge in just five minutes, which is remarkable for an affordable handset like this. It reached 57% in 15 minutes and was fully charged (97%) in 35 minutes. You need to use the correct Oppo or OnePlus charger and cable to get those speeds, so it’s good to have one included in the box.
Besides its cheaper build, the biggest downgrade with the OnePlus Nord CE 2 over the Nord 2 or a OnePlus flagship is in its cameras. On paper, things look okay. The Nord CE 2 has a triple rear camera consisting of a 64-megapixel main sensor, an 8-megapixel ultrawide and a 2-megapixel macro. On the front, there’s a 16-megapixel selfie camera. (If you’re curious, this is the only major difference I could spot between the OnePlus Nord CE 2 and the Oppo Reno7, which has a 32-megapixel selfie camera.)
Give this camera system plenty of light, like when you’re outside during the day, and like most modern smartphones, it’ll do a great job. Objects are detailed, colors are accurate, and the overall system is nice and responsive. I even like the way the software handles faces. It doesn’t have that over-lit look that previous Nord phones have suffered from.
But even when using binning techniques, which reduce images to 16 megapixels by default, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 quickly loses detail in low light conditions. Rather than letting things get grainy, OnePlus’ software tries to smooth things out wherever possible, which can make faces look overly plastic. Look at the low light pic of me above and you’ll see all the definition in my stubble is gone. At least it doesn’t look too sharp and processed.
Unsurprisingly, the ultra-wide 8-megapixel sensor is even lower quality and struggles with detail even in bright light. The 2-megapixel macro pretty much lets you focus on close-up objects, but its resolution is so low that I didn’t like any of the shots it produced. I’d gladly take it over a completely fancy monochrome sensor, but it can’t match the true usefulness of something like a telephoto lens.
I’ve mentioned the blurred lines between the OnePlus and Oppo brands before when it comes to their fast-charging brands, but the most hyped example is in their software. OnePlus announced that it was merging its own Android OxygenOS software with Oppo’s ColorOS, and last year’s Nord 2 reviewer’s guide specifically mentioned that its OxygenOS software was based on ColorOS 11.3. From what I can tell, the Nord CE 2’s software is similar, although its review guide doesn’t mention ColorOS, and I couldn’t get a clear answer from the company based on the codebase below. underlying used by the North CE 2.
Again, none of this matters much in practice. In day-to-day use, the OxygenOS-branded software does a decent job of delivering a flexible operating system that doesn’t get in the way. If you’ve ever liked OnePlus’ software approach, you’ll probably like it on the Nord CE 2. However, it’s a shame the phone comes with Android 11 rather than the newer Android 12, as that means the two years of promised Android updates will probably only bring it to Android 13. In addition to two years of Android updates, you also get three years of security updates, although OnePlus doesn’t does not commit to the frequency of these. It’s not as good as the three years of OS updates HMD promised for the £299 X20, the up to four years of updates Samsung is now offering on its Galaxy devices, or the five years (and counting) that Apple provided for the original iPhone SE. from 2016.
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 is the most Oppo-like OnePlus phone I’ve personally used. But at £300 (€349), it’s hard to fault it. It feels quick and responsive on a day-to-day basis, its screen is smooth and vibrant, its battery easily lasts more than a day, and it charges ridiculously quickly when it runs dry. The big compromises here are the phone’s overall build quality, which borders on feeling a bit cheap and plastic, and a camera set that struggles to take decent photos away from daylight. .
Much has been written about how OnePlus has moved away from its roots in recent years and no longer focuses on offering flagship smartphones at a fraction of the price of its competitors. But with the Nord CE 2, it feels like a return to that original promise. More than its recent flagships, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 feels like a true continuation of the OnePlus spirit of yore. It’s just ironic that it’s done in a device that looks like an Oppo phone.
Photography by Jon Porter / The Verge