OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G, hands on: OnePlus’s most affordable handset could offer better value

Pros
  • 120Hz display
  • Good performance
  • Good battery life
Cons
  • IPS rather than AMOLED screen
  • Moderate cameras
  • No Alert Slider or IP rating

OnePlus has a reputation for solid service in the mid-range smartphone market, but I was disappointed that some components had not been upgraded in the recently reviewed OnePlus Nord 2T 5G, which starts at £369. There is also disappointment with the new Nord CE 2 Lite 5G — not so much with the phone itself, but because in a crowded market this £279 phone is arguably more expensive than it should be: given that the ‘Lite’ version is only £20 cheaper than the Nord CE 2, which we reviewed back in March, OnePlus could have pushed its cheapest handset further on price (see specs comparison below). Like its Nord CE predecessors, the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G is not officially on sale in the US.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G: 6.59-inch 120z IPS screen, Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G chipset, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of internal storage (expandable via MicroSD card).

Images: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

There are two colour options, Black Dusk and my review handset’s rather arresting Blue Tide, whose light-refracting back morphs between baby blue and slightly deeper shades. The upper section of the back houses a large camera camera which stands very proud, causing significant rock-and-roll on the desk when the uncased phone’s screen is prodded. Vertically stripes running the full depth of the camera bump and full width of the phone isn’t the best design idea I’ve ever seen – it looks like someone put sticky tape on this section of the phone.

As with the Nord CE 2, OnePlus omits its trademark Alert Slider, which lets you switch between silent, vibrate and ring modes. However, the internal specifications impress. The Nord CE 2 Lite is powered by Qualcomm’s fast mid-range Snapdragon 695 5G chipset with 6GB of RAM, a platform that delivered Geekbench 5 CPU scores of 685 (single core) and 1945 (multi core). By way of comparison, the MediaTek Dimensity 900-based Nord CE 2 with 8GB of RAM scored 719 (single core) and 2143 (multi core).

There is 128GB of internal storage of which 108GB is free out of the box. The 5G support is evident in the handset’s name, and users have the choice of using either two SIMs or one SIM and a MicroSD card.

There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom edge, and a fingerprint sensor built into the power button on the right side.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G

A fingerprint reader is integrated into the power button on the right side, but OnePlus’s useful Alert Slider is absent.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

The screen is pretty good considering this handset’s price. It’s an IPS panel rather than AMOLED (as on the Nord CE 2), but at 6.59 inches and delivering 2,412 by 1,080 pixels (401ppi) it looks clear and sharp. The 120Hz refresh rate is also nice to see in a phone at this price.

There are few surprises on the software front, with Android 12 and OxygenOS 12 providing a fairly clean experience, with a gratifying lack of bloatware. I could do without Netflix and TikTok cluttering the place up, but both can be uninstalled. The Nord CE 2 Lite 5G includes the OnePlus ‘shelf’, where you sweep down from the screen’s top right to access a range of widgets. Some users find this distracting as they can hit it by mistake when accessing the notifications bar, but I find it easy enough to work with.

SEE: The best 5G phones: Which flagship comes out on top?

There are three rear cameras, the main one being a 64MP f1.7 unit that shoots a decent picture. The other two are rather less useful: a 2MP f/2.4 depth-assist camera and a 2MP f/2.4 macro lens that needs to be 4cm from the subject for best effect. You can shoot 1080p video at 30fps, and slow-motion 720p video at 120fps. The front camera is a 16MP f/2.0 unit that shoots acceptable selfies and captures 1080p video at 30fps.

The battery capacity is a generous 5000mAh. Although the Nord CE 2 Lite refused to complete the PCMark for AndroidWork 3.0 battery life test, I found it lost 15% of a full charge after running YouTube video continuously hours. This suggests total battery life of 20 hours. OnePlus provides a 33W charger, which should take the handset from empty to 50% in half an hour. There’s no support for wireless or reverse charging, as you’d expect with a handset in this price bracket.

The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G is a neat and decently specified handset, but it’s arguably a little overpriced considering that, for just £20 more, the Nord CE 2 gives you an AMOLED screen (albeit with 90Hz rather 120Hz refresh), slightly better performance, comparable battery life, faster (65W) charging, an ultra-wide angle camera, and Wi-Fi 6 rather 5.


OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite specifications

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite OnePlus Nord CE 2
Dimensions 75.6mm x 164.3mm x 8.5mm 73.2mm x 160.6mm x 7.8mm
Weight 195g 173g
Display 6.59-inch IPS, 1080 x 2412 (20:9, 401ppi), 120Hz refresh rate 6.43-inch AMOLED, 1080 x 2400 (20:9, 409ppi), 90Hz refresh rate, HDR10+, Gorilla Glass 5
Screen to body ratio 84% 85%
OS Android 12 + OxygenOS 12 Android 11 + OxygenOS 11
Chipset Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G MediaTek Dimensity 900
RAM 6GB 8GB
Storage 128GB 128GB
MicroSD card reader yes (via shared SIM slot) yes (dedicated)
Battery 5000mAh 4500mAh (2x 2250mAh)
Battery charging 33W SuperVOOC 65W SuperVOOC
Rear cameras 64MP f/1.7 wide angle (EIS) • 2MP f/2.4 depth-assist • 2MP f/2.4 macro 64MP f/1.79 wide angle (EIS) • 8MP f/2.2 ultra-wide angle (119°, EIS) • 2MP f/2.4 macro
Front camera 16MP f/2.0 16MP f/2.4 (EIS)
Networks 2G GSM, 3G WCDMA, 4G LTE, 5G SA+NSA 2G GSM, 3G WCDMA, 4G LTE, 5G SA+NSA
SIM slots dual Nano-SIM dual Nano-SIM
Wi-Fi Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax)
Bluetooth 5.2 5.2
NFC yes yes (dedicated)
Location GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou, QZSS GPS, A-GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou, QZSS
Sensors side-mounted fingerprint scanner, accelerometer, electronic compass, gyroscope, ambient light, proximity, sensor core in-display fingerprint scanner, accelerometer, electronic compass, gyroscope, ambient light, proximity, sensor core
Ports USB-C, 3.5mm audio out USB-C, 3.5mm audio out
Buttons gestures & on-screen navigation, volume, power gestures & on-screen navigation, volume, power
Audio 1x speaker 1x speaker
In the box OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G, 33W SuperVOOC power adapter, USB-C cable (supports USB 2.0), phone case, screen protector (pre-applied), SIM tray ejector, welcome letter, quick-start guide, safety information and warranty card OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G, 65W SuperVOOC power adapter, USB-C cable (supports USB 2.0), phone case, screen protector (pre-applied), SIM tray ejector, welcome letter, brand sticker, Red Cable Club membership card, quick-start guide, safety information and warranty card
Price from £279 from £299

Alternatives to consider

As the cost of living rises, many smartphone buyers are shifting their focus from expensive flagships to mid-range and budget handsets. There’s an increasing range of choice at lower price points — here are three leading contenders around the £300/$350 mark.

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