You know a company has a little too many budget phones when its latest device is called the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G. The name is as close to a tongue twister as it is in the smartphone world and you just can’t expect an ordinary person to remember that name.
Even explaining the whole concept takes a few paragraphs, but let me give it a try: So OnePlus launched the original Nord a few years ago in an attempt to revolutionize budget phones, but at around $400, the Nord still not super cheap . So not long after the original Nord, we got the Nord CE, which stands for “Core Edition” and is sort of a stripped-down version of the Nord that, in order to sell for cheaper, loses the signature alert slider and a few nice features. This year, OnePlus launched the second generation of that Nord CE aka Core Edition device, and it had 5G, hence Nord CE 2 5G. But then the company clearly realized it had to sell an even cheaper phone, so it changed that further into the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G.
So…what’s the price you might be wondering? The Nord CE 2 Lite 5G (gosh…) costs £280 in the UK, while the non-Lite version costs… £300. That is it! 20 pounds! Was it worth making this phone? We keep wondering, but if you want to know all about that story, keep reading.
Design and display quality
Plastic Construction, LCD Display
The Nord CE 2 Lite 5G is definitely on the bigger side with a 6.6″ screen and not the thinnest body, but being plastic it’s not too heavy and looks quite nice with a symmetrical camera system. and a pretty striped pattern on the back.
It feels solid, which is not the case with many phones in this price range, there is no wobble and the flat frame around the sides provides a good grip. No IP68 certification or special water and dust protection, but we didn’t really expect much from it.
The power button is on the right side and doubles as a fingerprint scanner. It sits in a comfortable position and is very fast and accurate so no problem at all. You can also register your face as an alternative and less secure but very convenient unlocking method.
You also have two separate volume keys on the left, and above that is a hybrid card slot, which fits two SIM cards or one SIM card with a microSD card (hurray for expandable storage). At the bottom of the phone is a USB-C port, a speaker and yes, a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is always nice to have.
If we have to mention the biggest compromise OnePlus has made with this phone, it would have to be the screen. The 6.6-inch 1080p display is the older LCD type instead of OLED, and this has all kinds of consequences: the maximum brightness is quite low and the display is difficult to see outside, viewing angles are poor, you have a ghosting when swiping around, and colors just don’t look nearly as vibrant as your typical OLED screen.
You can see our measurements above which once again confirm the insufficient peak brightness, as well as a colder-than-desired color temperature for the display.
Performance and software
Mid-range chip with solid performance
Under the hood, the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G runs on the Snapdragon 695 processor. This is a mid-range chip with performance similar to the more expensive Galaxy A53 5G, but it’s still clearly a mid-range chip that lacks the firepower of a flagship.
The version of the phone in most markets has 6 GB of RAM and 128 GB of built-in storage, but some countries also have an 8/128 GB model. As we mentioned before, you have microSD card support for expandable storage, so you don’t have to worry about running out of storage.
While the CPU performance is comparable to the Galaxy A33/A53, we can see that the Nord isn’t nearly as capable when it comes to GPU and graphics. In the 3D Mark stress test, we measured a performance that is half that of those, albeit more expensive, Galaxy phones. Ultimately, the Nord can handle most games, but it sticks to a lower quality and it’s certainly not a great phone for serious gamers.
The OnePlus software has evolved quickly to look a lot like an Oppo phone, meaning it lost quite a bit of its unique appeal. In any case, our Nord comes with the latest version of OxygenOS 12.1 on top of an up-to-date Android 12 platform.
One area where OnePlus definitely falls short, however, is software updates: the company is only promising 2 years of major software updates and 3 years of security updates, a far cry from the 4 years of software updates that Samsung has promised.
Look at the back of the Nord CE 2 Lite and the large camera lenses create the illusion that this is going to be a powerful camera phone. Unfortunately, this is just an illusion.
First of all, the two large camera rings suggest you have a main and ultra-wide angle camera, but that’s not the case. You only have a main camera (wide angle lens), but there is no ultra wide angle lens, nor a telephoto lens. The other two lenses are completely useless in our opinion: a 2MP macro shooter and a 2MP depth lens that should help when shooting portraits.
- 64MP main, 26mm, f/1.7, 1080p video
- 2MP macro + 2MP depth
- 16MP front
And this is what kind of pictures you can expect from these cameras:
OnePlus seems to have just maxed out the saturation, but if you can live with these extreme colors, the photos are usually fine, even if it’s clearly not the best camera on a budget phone.
However, it all falls apart in low light where photos often come out blurry and completely unusable. Highlights are out of proportion, details are grubby, and often these photos appear to have been taken with a phone from a decade ago.
The main camera maxes out at just 1080p, which is a bit disappointing, but at least there’s video stabilization and you can get decent footage with it during the day. Forget using it in low light, but it loses focus, lacks detail and just doesn’t look right.
Audio quality and haptics
Poor haptics are particularly annoying
The Nord CE 2 Lite 5G comes with a single speaker on the bottom and offers good sound for the price. If you only have one speaker, you can easily cover it with your palm while holding the phone, but the bigger problem is that the speaker distorts quite a bit at the higher volume levels. It gets quite loud, but we recommend using 2 or 3 clicks from the maximum so it doesn’t distort as much.
And yes, you have a headphone jack on board, great if you happen to have some good old wired headphones that you can just plug in and use without worrying about charging.
One thing that really betrays a budget phone is poor haptics, and unfortunately that’s exactly what we have on this phone. The vibration motor hums like a can of bees and it is certainly not a pleasant sensation.
Battery life and charging
The big advantage of this phone is the long battery life
Having a massive 5,000mAh battery in the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G is probably the biggest advantage of this phone. With such a large battery, you just expect it to last, and it lives up to expectations.
In our daily routine we got about a day and a half out of this battery with normal use, and if you don’t use your phone much you can probably stretch that to 2 days. That’s a great result!
Results of the PhoneArena battery test:
No support for wireless charging unfortunately, but that is to be expected on such an affordable device.
So what’s the competition?
It’s pretty intense actually. Last year’s Galaxy A52S can now be found for about the same price (or even cheaper), and it seems to beat the OnePlus in every aspect: it has a much better screen, faster chip, vastly better camera performance and equally solid battery life. .
Summary and final verdict
Ultimately, the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G is not only hard to remember as a name, it’s also hard to understand its purpose in an already crowded market! The phone is only £20 cheaper than the non-Lite version, we really need that this much segmentation in budget phones, OnePlus?
But worst of all, the overall package doesn’t add up: the CE 2 Lite 5G compromises on screen quality, camera quality, haptics… That would be a compromise worth accepting if it was a good deal, but unfortunately the phone is still quite pricey.
We can see those who appreciate long battery life, 5G connectivity and OnePlus’ clean approach to interface are considering this phone, but with so many shortcomings it would be a hard sell even for them.