The cheapest OnePlus is a surefire success, but it should have been a bit cheaper
- 5G for a lot less
- Surprisingly competent cameras
- Decent battery life and performance
- Dull design
- Realme 9 5G is better value
- Only £20 cheaper than OnePlus Nord CE 2
OnePlus first made a name for itself by squeezing top-spec smartphone componentry inside uniquely affordable handsets, but over the years that philosophy began to change. Instead focusing on the ultra-premium tier with list prices steadily rising, its smartphones were no longer the cut-priced options they once were.
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That was until a couple of years ago, when OnePlus decided to revisit its flagship-killing roots. It started to explore the budget space with its new Nord series, the latest of which – the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G – is the cheapest phone the company has launched to date, but is it worth the reduced price?
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G review: What you need to know
The Nord CE 2 Lite 5G couldn’t have arrived at a better moment. With an economic recession looming, OnePlus’ newest low-cost handset could be an ideal choice as consumers look for more affordable options as their current contracts come to an end.
And just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean there’s not much to like. The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite comes fully equipped with one of the latest 5G-capable chipsets – the Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 – and this is bundled with 6GB of RAM, a 5,000mAh battery and a generous 128GB of expandable storage.
It also has a 120Hz 6.59in IPS display with a resolution of 2,412 x 1,080. There are three cameras on the back, with a macro and depth-sensing unit complementing the primary 64MP camera. Finally, it runs Android 12, topped with OnePlus’ OxygenOS skin.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G review: Price and competition
You’re getting all this for just £279, which is a bit of a steal. Not only does this make it the cheapest OnePlus yet, but it also undercuts our current mid-priced favourites from Xiaomi: the Poco X4 Pro (£299) and the Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G (£319).
Both of these phones share the same Snapdragon 695 as the Nord CE 2 Lite, so you can expect performance to be largely similar across all three handsets. But for the added cost you’re getting 108MP main cameras, with slightly larger AMOLED panels.
We have the Realme 9 5G in for testing at the moment, too, which also has a Snapdragon 695, 120Hz IPS display and a triple-camera array for £30 less (£149). This one is going to be very difficult to beat, especially since it looks a lot nicer – more on that later.
It also has the regular OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G to contend with, which costs only £20 more (£299). The extra money gets you a fourth ultrawide camera on the back, with boosted 4K video recording and a 90Hz HDR 10+ AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass protection.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G review: Design and key features
Despite the obvious focus on the Nord CE 2 Lite’s specifications, it seems OnePlus has forgotten to make a phone that actually looks good. This is possibly the dullest smartphone I’ve reviewed in a number of years – and I’ve reviewed a lot.
It isn’t stylish in the slightest, with its simple plastic construction, unassuming rectangular camera housing and thick frame. A small block of vertical lines positioned in the top-third of the phone’s rear panel sits in contrast with the rest of the smooth plastic, but that’s about the only thing that stands out.
The Black Dusk model, which I received for review, is about as bland as an over-steamed Brussels sprout. The teal-coloured Blue Tide version, meanwhile, is admittedly a bit more interesting, but it’s still quite plain.
That said, there’s a lot to like, especially when you flip the phone over. The screen fills most of the front of the phone with minimal bezels, and the 16MP selfie camera is neatly positioned inside a hole-punch notch in the top-left corner. The power button on the right-hand side doubles as a fingerprint sensor, too, which is always handy.
Sadly, the Nord CE 2 Lite lacks OnePlus’ trademark three-position do-not-disturb switch, and it doesn’t have any form of waterproofing or Gorilla Glass screen protection. One thing it does have, though, is a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a bit of a rarity these days.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G review: Display
The only compromise with the screen is that it’s a simple IPS panel rather than OLED, but otherwise, the Nord CE 2 Lite’s display is as good as you could expect given the price. Measuring 6.59in from corner to corner, it has a resolution of 2,412 x 1,080, with a pixel density of 401ppi and a maximum 120Hz refresh rate.
And, in true OnePlus fashion, it’s a quality display that performs well under scrutiny. I measured an average Delta E, which measures colour accuracy, of 1.61 in the phone’s Natural display setting, with an sRGB gamut coverage of 86.9% and a total volume of 88.9%.
Colour reproduction was almost completely bang on, with only a smidge of under-saturation in some green tones – which isn’t something you’ll notice in use anyway. Brightness was rather good, with a recorded peak of 533cd/m2, and the contrast of 1,560:1 is nice and sharp.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G review: Performance and battery life
Mercifully, there’s a lot going on underneath its characterless chassis. The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite runs on Qualcomm’s mid-range mobile chipset, the Snapdragon 695 5G, alongside 6GB of RAM and 128GB of expandable UFS 2.2 storage.
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As far as sub-£300 handsets go, the CE 2 Lite isn’t ruffling any feathers, but performance is more than sufficient for the price. The Geekbench 5 graph below paints a familiar picture, with the OnePlus CE 2 Lite matching the speeds of its 695-equipped rivals. Only the regular Nord CE 2 and its MediaTek Dimensity 900 pulls slightly ahead, but the difference is marginal.
The embedded Adreno 619 GPU doesn’t provide enough oomph to make full use of the CE 2 Lite’s maximum 120Hz refresh rate, but gaming performance is adequate. A slightly wider gap has formed between the CE 2 Lite and the non-Lite CE, but again this isn’t much of an issue.
Visually demanding titles such as Genshin Impact and Apex Legends Mobile ran as well as I’d expect for a phone at this price, with occasional frame rate dips at medium visual settings when things got a bit hectic onscreen.
The Nord CE 2 Lite uses a 5,000mAh battery, which in our tests lasted an excellent 23hrs 52mins before needing to recharge. You shouldn’t have any issues getting through a full day of intensive use on a single charge, and you might even be able to squeeze in a second if you’re a bit more conservative.
When the battery runs dry, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite supports 30W “SuperVOOC” wired charging – there’s no wireless top-up functionality, which at this price isn’t common anyway.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G review: Cameras
The rear of the phone incorporates a primary 64MP (f/1.7) camera, which sits next to a simple 2MP macro lens and above a rather superfluous depth-assist unit. This is the same selection of cameras as the more expensive Nord CE 2, albeit without the fourth ultrawide unit – which would have been much more useful to include.
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Camera quality in decent lighting conditions is remarkably good for the price. Landscape images are filled with complex details, capturing tricky scenes with loads of rough brickwork and tree foliage with ease. Exposure levels are good, even in super sunny conditions, while colours are pleasingly neutral.
Portrait images are pretty great, too. There’s a good amount of artificial background blur applied, with crisp outlines around my subject. Images were also quicker to capture than the Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G.
The issues arise when the light dims, however. Indoors with the curtains drawn, OnePlus’ image processing softens photographs quite a bit, with very little detail and an unusually warm hue – the Redmi Note 11 Pro 5G absolutely smashes it here.
Video is also pretty weak, topping out at just 1080p at 30fps. Electronic stabilisation did a good job at keeping things steady, but footage severely lacks detail.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G review: Verdict
It’s a shame to end on such a damp note, since otherwise, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite is a pretty remarkable low-cost handset. Sure, its exterior is as dull as dishwater and the cameras could be improved, but you’re getting a good-quality screen, top-notch performance and exceptional battery life for very little money.
Still, it would have been wise for OnePlus to reduce the price a bit. The regular Nord CE 2 still exists after all, which not only outperforms the Lite but also gets you an AMOLED display, Gorilla Glass protection and an ultrawide camera for just £20 more. Not to mention that the Realme 9 5G offers much the same for even less.