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OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review: Slick and affordable

Nord goes south.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G price in India starts at Rs 19,999. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

It is easy to review the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite in isolation. It is, as the name suggests, a “lite” version of the OnePlus Nord CE 2 (review) and for the most part, it behaves like one. There are no big surprises, no big shortcomings, too. The Nord CE 2 Lite is a simple phone with a go-getter attitude and for most people, we believe, that would be enough.

DESIGN & DISPLAY

The design looks familiar, no doubt, but it— still –has some of the core “Nord elements” intact to differentiate itself from similar looking Oppo and Realme phones. The colour blue is naturally one defining element but dig a bit deeper and you’d notice other subtleties we’ve come to expect from OnePlus like say, the understated minimalism whether it be in choice of gradient or branding.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review
The phone has a dual tone plastic back. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

OnePlus is using a dual tone plastic back in the Nord CE 2 Lite with the top portion having this brushed, sort of textured finish that transitions into the smooth lower half, but at no point does any of this feels overdone. The phone has just the right amount of playful energy, style, and sophistication but surely youth appears to be the main target audience. As a bonus, the blue version— which is called Blue Tide— is good at resisting smudge and fingerprints. You can get the Nord CE 2 Lite in a shade of black, also, with more or less the same bells and whistles.

For a budget phone, the Nord CE 2 Lite, is built well. It feels solid, though, the heft is quite noticeable at around 195g. The Nord CE 2, in comparison, weighs only 173g. The Lite isn’t as sleek, too, coming in at about 8.5mm (versus 7.8mm). But then, it’s a bigger phone — 6.59-inch versus 6.43-inch— and so those dimensions are not surprising. In fact, they are well withing permissible limits for a phone of its size and class. The ergonomics are on point and it helps that the power button –which is also a fingerprint reader— and volume rocker are on opposite sides rather than being placed one above the other.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review
The panel, here, is a fast 120Hz LCD. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

A bigger phone means a bigger screen, too, meaning you get more real estate to watch content, browse social media, and play games. The panel, here, is a fast 120Hz LCD with a 1080p resolution. It gets plenty bright and offers rich colours. HD playback is supported in streaming apps like Netflix and Prime Video. The proposition may not be as high-end as the Nord CE 2 –90Hz HDR10+-ready AMOLED with Corning Gorilla Glass 5 –but it works well enough at its price. The only gripe we’ve had is that OnePlus has skimped on a proper oleophobic coating on the screen, so it can get smudgy, way too quickly.

Like the Nord CE 2, its lite version also retains the headphone jack but makes do with a rather underwhelming single speaker.

PERFORMANCE & BATTERY LIFE

The Nord CE 2 Lite is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 695, a chip that seems to be the new hot favourite of every brand looking to push 5G on a budget, today. Aside from a few limitations such as the inability to do 4K video, the SD695 is actually turning out to be a reliable jack of all trades which is probably why brands are lining up for it. A chip like this has the potential to perform even better inside a phone like the Nord CE 2 Lite where there’s not a lot of junk hogging up space from the moment you power it on. You get ample RAM (up to 8GB) and storage (128GB), too, plus an option for micro-SD expansion.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review
The phone is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

For those seeking benchmarks, the Nord CE 2 Lite scored 3,98281 on AnTuTu which isn’t very far behind the Dimensity 900-powered Nord CE 2 (4,31,831). The phone showed good amount of stability in the 45-minute AnTuTu stress test and 30-minute CPU Throttling. But for what it’s worth, you don’t buy a phone to run benchmarks. The real question is, how does it perform in the real world?

The short answer is—it performs like a typical OnePlus phone which is to say, it’s pretty slick. The software – which is OxygenOS 12.1— isn’t without its quirks but OnePlus has optimised the phone well so it flies in day to day use without any issue. All the concerns about OxygenOS changing are still there, but somehow those are easier to live with, here. That’s because budget phones are notorious for pesky ads and spammy notifications. The experience is convoluted— in some cases like Xiaomi, it’s also different depending on whether you’re buying a Redmi or one of its pricier models. OnePlus is essentially giving you the same “clean deal” inside the Nord CE 2 Lite as the OnePlus 10 Pro (review), a phone that costs almost Rs 65,000. That is the Nord CE 2 Lite’s big USP and a big reason to pick it up over peers.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review
There is no alert slider. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Unlike the Nord CE 2, its lite version is shipping with Android 12 out of the box and is eligible for two major OS and three years of security updates making it more future-proof. It may not support as many 5G bands, but the number is still respectable (5 versus 8). It makes a lot of sense picking up the less expensive Nord CE 2 Lite over its own sibling for those reasons.

Battery life is great. The 5,000mAh battery inside the phone will take you through the day and then some, with ease. There is support for 33W fast charging and while it may seem a bit conservative, even by OnePlus’s own standards (the Nord CE 2 supports 65W fast charging), it is what it is— quite fast for most users. A full charge takes about one and a half hours.

CAMERAS & PICTURE QUALITY

The Nord CE 2 Lite has three cameras on the back which is a combination of 64MP main (f/1.7), 2MP depth (f/2.4), and another 2MP macro (f/2.4). As expected, only the primary sensor, that shoots 16MP photos by default, is worth talking about. It’s more or less being carried over from the Nord CE 2 (and also the original Nord CE).

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review
The phone has a 64MP triple camera setup. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The macro, which is also similar to the one on the Nord CE 2 and Nord CE, is a mere spec filler owing to its low resolution and lack of autofocus. Portraits may be a hit or miss, but they’re usable, and therefore we’d say the dedicated depth camera has its moments. An ultrawide camera is sorely missed and is a rather odd omission to say the least.

Regardless, the main camera performs surprisingly well especially when lots of light is available. The results are nearly indistinguishable from those coming out of the Nord CE 2’s. Details are nice and colours mostly pleasing, if a bit oversaturated. Dynamic range is okay, too. The main sensor does well in low light also with night mode on capturing good amount of detail and generally wide dynamic range.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review
Headphone jack is present. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The Nord CE 2 Lite’s main camera can do 1080p@30fps videos with electronic image stabilisation. Footage is usually nice and stable, something that should suffice for social media. 

On the front, the phone has a 16MP selfie camera. It takes good selfies with natural colour tones mostly in good light, but quality goes for a spin as light intensity goes down. The front camera also tops out at 1080p@30fps for videos, that are more or less in line with what you get with the rear camera (though there is no stabilisation).

ONEPLUS NORD CE 2 LITE | SHOULD YOU BUY IT?

Back when OnePlus had just started, it had come out with a phone called the OnePlus X. It was the most affordable phone it had ever made, up to that point, its all-glass design and flagship Snapdragon 801 chip being some of its major selling points. It was launched at Rs 16,999, which was the real kicker though. It did not do very well, and OnePlus has, in the past, openly admitted it was a mistake. But say what you will, a OnePlus phone under Rs 20,000 –still— carried a lot of appeal and caught a lot of eyeballs.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review
For a budget phone, the Nord CE 2 Lite, is built well. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Fast forward to 2022, and OnePlus has once again launched a phone under Rs 20,000— the Nord CE 2 Lite. It’s been a long time coming, some might say. But it’s also coming at a very different time and under very different circumstances. The market is not the same anymore and OnePlus has moved on to become one of the key “premium” smartphone players in India. The brand is talked about in the same way people talk about a Samsung or Apple, even. It’s part of those conversations.

When a brand like that decides to branch out into new categories, goes down the price ladder, and tries to bring their premium experience to more buyers, people would sit up and take notice. The only difference, this time, is that more people would be interested to get their hands on a phone like the Nord CE 2 Lite than say, the OnePlus X. And the numbers speak for themselves. The Nord series has already raked up over 10 million units since launch in 2020, OnePlus claims.

We quite liked the Nord CE 2 for its simplicity and unwavering focus on core essentials. The Nord CE 2 Lite is trying to do the same, in a whole new –lower—price segment. OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G price in India starts at Rs 19,999 for a version with 6GB RAM and 128GB storage. A version with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage will set you back by Rs 21,999.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review
Nord CE 2 Lite retail packaging. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Question is, as affordable as it is, is the Nord CE 2 Lite worth your money and should you buy it? Well, it depends.

The Nord CE2 Lite isn’t particularly great at anything. It’s just good enough. That said, it does everything so well, it grows on you, eventually. And that’s the point of it all, really. Good tech just fades away in the background. It doesn’t baffle you with ads or spam. It becomes part of you. There’s this synergy that’s hard to put into words, but it’s out there. If you’ve been looking for a simple, no-nonsense phone, with lean, easy-to-use software, the Nord CE 2 Lite comes as a no-brainer.

If you’re one who’s easily swayed by the thought of an AMOLED screen, versatile cameras, fast chipsets, and insanely fast charging speeds, especially when there’s a possibility to get them—all— at unbelievably low prices, to you, the Nord CE 2 Lite, might seem boring on first look. We suggest you give it a second look, regardless, take it out for a spin at a store near you, maybe that would change your mind. If not, there’s a bunch of Redmis, Motos and Realmes around, waiting.

ProsCons
Attractive design, solid buildDisplay lacks proper oleophobic coating
Good displayMono speaker
Reliable performanceMacro camera just a spec filler
Clean software
Competitive main camera
Great battery life

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