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OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review: Treading water

Our Rating :
£299.00 from
Price when reviewed : £299
inc VAT

The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G is a decent mid-range phone, but it doesn’t feel like enough of an advancement over its predecessor


  • Competitive performance
  • Decent battery life and fast charging
  • Solid camera suite


  • Display is weaker than the CE 2 Lite
  • Middling night photography
  • Not much of an upgrade

The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G is in an odd position. The name would seem to indicate it’s a cut-back or cheaper version of the OnePlus Nord CE 3 but, since that phone doesn’t exist at the time of writing, we won’t be able to offer an opinion as to which of OnePlus’ 2023 budget models you should buy.

What we can do, however, is see how much progress has been made since last year’s OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G and, on that front, things are looking pretty stagnant. The only real advancements are a higher pixel count on the main camera and faster charging speeds. Pair that lack of improvement with a minor price increase and the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G has its work cut out to prove its value.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review: What you need to know

Indeed, it doesn’t take much delving to realise that most of the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G’s internal components are exactly the same as the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G: there’s a Snapdragon 695 5G processor at the helm, supported by LPDDR4X RAM, a 5,000mAh battery and 128GB of storage. The only change there is that you get 8GB of RAM now, rather than 6GB.

The camera array is mostly the same as the CE 2 Lite, too, with the 2MP depth and macro sensors and 16MP selfie camera all returning, but the main rear lens has been bumped up from 64MP to 108MP. This camera comes with a couple of new features, the most notable of which is “3x lossless zoom”, which aims to replicate the zooming capabilities of a telephoto lens by, essentially, cropping into the image. Finally, fast charging has been increased from 33W to 67W, with a compatible charger bundled in the box.

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OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review: Price and competition

With prices rising in every corner of the market, it’s not surprising to see the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G coming in at a slightly higher price than its predecessor: £299. Considering we already found the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G to be priced a little closely to the non-Lite version, the biggest competitor to the Nord CE 3 Lite could end up being the Nord CE 3, whenever that rolls around. It’s likely that the latter will see a similar price increase but if it’s equivalent to the previous generation, the problem of close pricing will remain.

Outside the OnePlus lineup, there are a few models you might want to consider. Both the Honor Magic 5 Lite and the Motorola Edge 30 Neo sit at around the £300 mark. Our favourite at this price, however, is the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G, which originally retailed for £319 but is currently available for less than £300. For that money you’re getting a solid all-rounder with a gorgeous 6.67in OLED display, 67W fast charging and a 108MP main camera.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review: Design and key features

The design is one thing that has been revamped, however, with the rectangular camera housing and frosted back of the CE 2 Lite replaced here with a glossy plastic back and two discrete circular camera modules. The top module houses the 108MP main camera, while the bottom houses the 2MP macro and depth sensors. The LED flash to the right of the mounts is a little oversized for my liking, but otherwise the design is attractive enough. As for colours, the phone is available in either “Pastel Lime” or the “Chromatic Gray” pictured here, which has a distinct greenish hue to it.

Flip the phone over and you have a 6.72in display with slim bezels on the sides and slightly thicker ones to the top and bottom. The selfie camera sits under the glass for face unlocking and there’s a fingerprint reader built into the power button on the right edge. The left side is home to the volume controls and the dual-SIM tray, which can either take two SIM cards or one alongside a microSD card up to 1TB.

Along the bottom are USB-C and 3.5mm headphone ports, alongside one of the stereo speakers, with its opposite number set just above the selfie camera. These speakers feature an “ultra volume mode” that claims to hit 200% volume, which is, of course, impossible. Marketing spiel aside, the ultra volume mode does crank higher than the alleged 100% ceiling – though it’s definitely not twice as loud and, as you’d expect, the quality of the audio takes a minor hit, so it’s a trade-off.

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OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review: Display

The display is once again an IPS LCD with a FHD+ resolution (2,400 x 1,080) and nippy 120Hz refresh rate. It gets a little brighter than the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite, hitting a peak of 517cd/m², and it’s quite a bit larger, measuring 6.72in across the diagonal. While this is good news for anyone who prefers a larger screen, the fact that it bears the same resolution as its smaller sibling means that the pixel density and, thus, sharpness takes a minor hit, falling from 401 to 391ppi.

Pixel density isn’t the only problem area, either. On the Natural colour mode, the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G only managed an average Delta E colour variance score of 1.95 versus sRGB. That’s not bad by any means, but neither is it a stellar performance. The Vivid colour mode didn’t score any better, returning an average Delta E score of 2.43 versus DCI-P3. The black and contrast levels are also worse this time around, measuring 0.39cd/m² and 1,321:1, respectively.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review: Performance and battery life

The octa-core 2.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G chipset used by the 3 Lite is popular among budget smartphones; indeed, most of its closest rivals use the same chipset. With that in mind, it’s unsurprising to see similar scores across the board, with only the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro pulling slightly ahead of the pack. Like the others, the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G is nippy enough to use, with apps opening promptly and the 120Hz refresh rate keeping scrolling nice and smooth.

It’s even-stevens again for the graphics-heavy GFXBench tests, with all of the test phones hitting roughly the same frame rates. In practical terms, the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G will easily handle lightweight games such as Candy Crush, but you can expect to see the odd frame rate dip when playing something more intensive, such as Genshin Impact.

Despite using the same 5,000mAh battery as the CE 2 Lite, the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G didn’t last quite as long in our video playback test, probably due to that larger screen. A result of 22hrs 30mins is very good, though; it should easily see you through a full day of intensive use, and on to a second if you’re careful.

The slightly weaker battery life is at least paired with improved fast charging, and the phone comes with a 67W charger in the box. OnePlus says 30 minutes plugged into this will provide a full day’s charge, which definitely lined up with my testing. After 20 minutes, the battery was at 50% and it hit 100% in around 40 minutes.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review: Cameras

Next to the beefed-up fast charging, the biggest change with the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G is the main camera, whose resolution has increased from 64MP to 108MP, albeit with a slightly smaller aperture of f/1.8. The backing dancers are the same 2MP (f/2.4) twins seen on the Nord CE 2 Lite, covering depth and macro duties, respectively.

The 64MP camera on the CE 2 Lite was already a pleasant surprise, so I’m not convinced the 3 Lite needed to put its attention in this area, but the results are still terrific. Colours are natural looking, with well-balanced exposure across a range of lighting conditions. The contrast is a little low around the tree trunks in the test shot below, smoothing out the texture of the wood somewhat, but overall the images look sharp and rich with detail.

Calling the 3x zoom “lossless” is a bit misleading, as all it’s really doing is taking the full 108MP picture and cropping into it, but it’s still not half bad for a digital zoom. Colour and brightness are retained well compared to the wide-angle shot, with decent contrast bringing out the contours of bark along the tree’s trunk and twisting branches. The only issue I’d call out is that the leaves bleed together a little more than I’d like.

Night photography is nothing particularly special. The scene is brightened quite well, but there’s an overall lack of detail in our test shot below, with a lot of the boats’ rigging being lost against the murky night sky.

The macro sensor still feels pretty superfluous, but the results aren’t terrible. The edges around the focal point aren’t as precise as I’d like them to be, but otherwise the detail levels are decent enough.

Finally, video capabilities for the Nord CE 3 Lite are exactly the same as the CE 2 Lite, capped at 1080p and 30fps. Detail levels are good and exposure is judged well, generally speaking, and the electronic stabilisation works reasonably well, too.

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OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review: Verdict

Aside from a few hyperbolic claims regarding lossless zoom and 200% volume, the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G mostly achieves what it sets out to do. The problem is that what it sets out to do is sorely lacking in ambition. Performance is essentially identical to the Nord CE 2 Lite, the display is bigger, but slightly lower quality, and battery life is a little shorter although bolstered by faster charging.

If the choice is between this and the Nord CE 2 Lite, though, your money is still better spent on the Nord CE 3 Lite: the design is better, the aforementioned fast charging works well and the new camera is decent, even if that attention may have been better placed elsewhere. Compared to other models in this price range, however, the CE 3 Lite struggles to keep up – the Xiaomi Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G, Motorola Edge 30 Neo and Honor Magic 5 Lite all use superior OLED displays, and the latter offers much better battery life for just a few pounds more.

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