The OnePlus Nord CE 5G has arrived, and it’s challenging the big names with a smartphone that suggests premium specs can be even cheaper than you think. At £299 the handset boasts some big ticket features to complement the small price tag.
Smartphone makers have made a big push for the midrange market in recent years. The leading heavyweights, Samsung and Apple, have both released ‘affordable’ versions of their flagship phones, giving customers premium specs without having to break the bank.
But is the OnePlus Nord CE 5G the best you can buy for under £300? Let’s find out.
First impressions and design
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G looks good.
The three-camera setup sits down the left-hand side of the phone’s back. This looks a lot less obtrusive than the boxy design you see on a lot of new handsets.
The 5G capable device’s back is plastic, but nevertheless feels solid. Yes, it doesn’t quite have the premium feel of a glass or metal back, but this is a small price to pay to keep the cost down.
One small drawback you might notice is how easily fingerprints mark the body. It didn’t take us long to notice smudges caught in the light.
Turn over the OnePlus Nord CE and we get our first look at the 6.4-inch Full HD AMOLED display. The size is virtually the same as last year’s model.
The punch-hole selfie camera sits unobtrusively on the left-hand side of the screen.
Wired headphone fans will be pleased to see the Nord offers a standard headphone jack at the bottom of the device. Meaning you won’t have to get rid of your wired headphones just yet.
The sides of the phone are relatively uncluttered, with the power on button placed on the right-hand side, and the volume controls placed on the left.
To turn the volume up and down you’ll have to use a separate button for each, instead of a volume rocker.
As you would expect, the charge port sits at the bottom, and caps off a smart looking design.
Despite having a price tag of just under £300, the manufacturers haven’t spared expenses on the display.
When enjoying a spot of Netflix, the display didn’t let us down.
Whether joining the ranks of Starfleet on Star Trek Discovery or following the exploits of charming rogue Neil Caffrey on White Collar, colours were accurate, and bright enough to immerse yourself in your favourite show.
You might want to consider boosting the in-app brightness to see the best results though.
The phone only offers one speaker at its bottom, but it provides good sound quality for the price.
When out and about enjoying a sunny day, we still had no real issues reading the screen and getting stuff done.
That said, if you're going to watch a movie, avoid direct sunlight for the best experience.
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G also comes with a 90Hz refresh rate. It’s not quite 120Hz, but scrolling through Twitter, phone menus, and webpages is still nice and smooth. It’s decent for gaming too.
In day-to-day situations, you're not likely to notice the difference between 90Hz and the 120Hz that’s found on some flagship phones.
Just because you purchase a mid-range phone, it doesn’t mean you have to suffer a poor camera.
The OnePlus Nord CE does its best in this area, with a three lens offering. The top lens is 64MP, up from 48MP on the original Nord device.
To keep the price low, OnePlus has compromised on a few features. One sacrifice comes courtesy of the selfie cam, which is downgraded from 32MP to just 16MP.
In practice, it’s a sacrifice we don’t really mind because, for the most part, our pictures passed the eye test. The phone also has an 8MP ultra-wide and a 2MP MonoLens.
The camera performed pretty well and yielded some Instagram-worthy photos. Whether a flowery scene, a landscape or a cheeky selfie, the photos looked good.
OnePlus Nord CE camera sample park
OnePlus Nord CE camera sample church
OnePlus Nord CE camera sample Bargate
OnePlus Nord CE camera sample flowers
OnePlus Nord CE camera sample marina
The phone will easily let you capture those casual moments with friends, or a picturesque view. However, its colour reproduction could be a little more vivid, as some bright shades can look a little washed out.
The main cameras come with a 10x zoom feature. This means you can take decent shots from a distance.
Even at a distance of about 10 meters, the quality is still pretty clear and the important details are preserved.
Meaning that on your next trip to the zoo, you won’t actually have to get in the lion’s cage to get a good picture.
The device comes with several different modes including, Portrait, Panorama, Nightscape, and Pro.
The latter allows you to get a bit more hands-on with the camera’s nuts and bolts, such as sensitivity to light and focus.
Nightscape handles its business and captures pictures quite well.
Performance and battery life
The OnePlus Nord CE 5G’s battery is good by anyone’s standard. It can even hold its own with premium phones that cost two or three times the price.
The handset sports a 4500mAh battery. That’s enough to scroll twitter, kill some time watching your favourite YouTube videos, and still have enough power to do productive things like send emails and take calls.
At 95%, the phone estimated it had one day and 21 hours remaining. Obviously, this will change with more intense use. If you intend to binge Netflix all day, for example, then this will go down much quicker.
We found that watching about an hour of Netflix only cost us around 5% of power.
Even better, the phone comes with a fantastic ability allowing you to get a full charge in just a matter of minutes with Warp Charge. The handset can go from 0% to around 70% in 30 minutes, and a full charge within the hour. However, you will have to use the intended 30W charger or it won’t be as fast.
Elsewhere, the fingerprint scanner is really easy to install within just a couple of minutes, and it's super quick to unlock the phone.
When trying to unlock the device, it responded with no noticeable lag and it worked first time pretty consistently. The phone’s screen can be brought to life with motion, but we found this method didn’t seem to work very often.
Instead, it was much easier to tap the power button and then place the finger on the screen sensor.
Face unlocking also proved to be a success. It takes very little effort to set up and can be completed very quickly. We found that in good light, the system allowed us access in less than a second.
If face or fingerprint unlock isn’t your cup of tea, then you can always go with a password or a pattern as your security.
The Accessibility options can be found within the System submenu.
Is the OnePlus Nord CE 5G good for people with a visual impairment?
As it’s an Android device, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G has access to the standard Accessibility suite supplied by Google. This includes the TalkBack screen reader, a magnifier and Select to Speak.
TalkBack is intended to help people with low or no vision navigate and interact with their phone. When enabled, the setting can read virtually everything that appears on screen.
This includes web articles and apps, as well as things like the time and battery level. Effectively, if something can be viewed on screen, it can also be read aloud.
Some will find TalkBack a bit cumbersome. This is because initiating the setting changes the way your phone's interface works.
For example, with TalkBack switched on, two taps are required to open an app. Performing tasks like scrolling through the home screen or pulling down the notifications bar also requires the use of multiple fingers.
TalkBack might be more trouble than it's worth if all you need to do is read a web article, or you have a disability which changes the way you use your hands.
For more on how to get the best out of TalkBack, check out our handy guide. It also offers solutions to those who might not be able to use the service.
Select to Speak may be a good middle ground for those who don't need every aspect of the screen reader but still want text-heavy content like an internet article in audio form.
Once switched on, Select to Speak provides a simple list of options which includes, play, stop, forward/back and pause.
If you want something read from the very top, turn on Select to Speak using the Accessibility shortcut. If you need the piece read from the top of what is visible on the page, just press play. Alternatively, you can use your finger to create a box around the desired text.
It is worth noting that the system will only read what is visible on the screen. That means you might need to scroll down to hear the next bit.
You can also use the Google Assistant to read articles to you. Just find the internet article you want to hear, open the Assistant, and say read this page. Google should then oblige, however it doesn’t always work.
Is the OnePlus Nord CE 5G good for people with hearing loss?
The Android Accessibility suite has a few tricks up its sleeve in this area.
Most notable is Live Transcribe. The function allows people who cannot hear a conversation to see the words appear on screen as they are spoken.
When we have tested it, we have found it to be very accurate.
Text is easy to read and the size can be adjusted. You can either choose to speak responses or type them.
You can also set Live Transcribe to vibrate when a specified name is mentioned, or a new conversation begins.
Although it's a useful piece of software, accuracy will likely vary depending on how noisy the environment is.
Live Transcribe also contains Sound Notifications, which can alert you to when certain noises occur, such as a doorbell, an alarm, a dog’s bark, or a baby’s cry.
This tool can be useful but it isn’t foolproof. To learn more about the potential problems and tips to get the best out of the service, check out our guide
Is the OnePlus Nord CE 5G good for people with a physical disability?
The phone weighs 170g and feels relatively light in the hand and shouldn’t feel too heavy to most people. Despite having a 6.4-inch screen, you should be able to use it one-handed if you need to.
In terms of software, the big-ticket items are Accessibility Menu and Switch Access.
Accessibility Menu is a feature inside the Accessibility suite of options. The basic Android version of this feature provides a simple one-touch list of options for functions that might otherwise require physical button presses or more complicated finger gestures.
For example, you can take a screenshot, activate the notifications bar, and activate the power off screen. Accessibility Menu isn’t the most advanced version of this type of offering out there, but it will still prove very useful.
For more on the different types of this feature check out our guide
Switch Access on the other hand, allows people with specialist buttons, called Switches, to connect them to the device. These buttons connected by USB or Bluetooth can allow you to perform functions such as scrolling through menu options, or other normally touch screen tasks.
Value and verdict
At a starting price of just £299 with 128GB of storage, the OnePlus Nord CE 5G is a bargain.
It comes packed with a great screen and a good camera offering, not to mention 5G capability. The Warp Charge option also means that you’ll never need to be out of juice again.
Simply put, you will struggle to do better at this price point.