OnePlus Nord CE 3 review: Well-built 5G phone for the masses

By Ankita Garg: OnePlus India forayed into the mid-range smartphone market with the Nord series back in 2020. And within just three years, the company successfully established its affordable lineup in a highly competitive Indian smartphone market. Over the years, the company disrupted the affordable smartphone segment by consistently delivering feature-packed Nord devices at various price points between Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000. However, this year is a bit different. Well, not in terms of performance or offerings but from the pricing point of view.

Due to the increasing prices of components and the addition of more high-end features, the prices of Nord phones have risen this year. The OnePlus Nord 3 now exceeds the Rs 30,000 bracket, while the Nord CE 3 is priced higher than the initial sub-Rs 25,000 range. Having said that, is the new Nord CE version worth your money? Let’s find out in our detailed review ahead.

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OnePlus Nord CE 3 design, display and build

OnePlus seems to have settled with the dual-circle camera arrangement design for its affordable Nord series phones. The new version looks pretty similar to the previous gen Nord phones, yet a few people whom I showed the phone pretty much liked the design of the phone. The main reason for this is its unique blue colour model, which is the company’s signature style for the Nord series. The gorgeous Bahama Blue colour variant that I received for review is good for those who appreciate a subtle and satisfying hue rather than flashy back panels. There are other colour models too if you think sky blue could be a bit too much for you. The device sports a plastic build, but its holographic appearance might easily deceive one into thinking it’s a glass panel upon first sight.

The glossy finish on the rear panel tends to collect fingerprints easily. If you want added protection and want to avoid dealing with fingerprints or any damage to the back panel, you can use the bundled case. While OnePlus has skipped the headphone jack port this time, it has added dual speakers for an improved audio experience. You now also get an IR Blaster and so, you can easily use this phone as a remote control for your TV. However, you still don’t get an Alert Slider, a feature commonly found on pricier and some mid-range OnePlus phones. This made adjusting sound settings a bit cumbersome because I myself have been a OnePlus phone user for years and I believe Alert Slider has been one of the greatest additions in terms of convenience. For users unfamiliar with the Alert Slider, this will not pose a problem. On the positive side, the entire phone including the side frames is plastic, but the durability of the phone still looks solid.

OnePlus has also offered a bigger 6.74-inch AMOLED display this time around. I believe the 6.4-inch screen on the previous gen was good enough for general users but a bigger display makes the overall user experience even better. So, people who want a big canvas for binge-watching and gaming will surely appreciate the upgrade. What is even better is that the screen refreshes at 120Hz, and it falls to 60Hz when there is no movement to save some battery. For instance, when you are using the camera app or WhatsApp. With full coverage of sRGB and Display P3, as well as HDR10+, the content on this looked visually appealing. The colours seem more lively and contrasty, compared to the previous version. It even seems that OnePlus has trimmed down the chin and side bezels to offer a clean look and more screen space for content consumption. The brightness levels seemed sufficient in harsh sunlight because I was able to read the content on the screen.

Additionally, it is impressive to see that the company has added support for 2160Hz PWM dimming as this is one of the most important factors that some smartphone companies are yet to realise. Fortunately, the company has also provided support for very high PWM dimming to provide protection from screen flickering in low light. For those unaware, very high PWM frequency means that flickers happen too fast, so the human eye is not able to see it, and this eliminates any sort of eye strain or headache. If the PWM frequency is less than 500Hz, then slower screen flickering speeds can cause eye pain, headaches, and other issues. OnePlus has done a good job of providing this feature in a mid-range phone.

OnePlus Nord CE 3: General performance, gaming, and battery life

The new OnePlus Nord CE 3 is using Snapdragon 782G processor, which is an overclocked version of the Snapdragon 778G chipset. The latter has powered many mid-range phones to offer fast-enough performance. The new offering from OnePlus is no different. It can handle everyday tasks with ease. Throughout my usage, I mostly enjoyed a smooth multitasking experience without encountering much of an issue. Though, the device did struggle a bit when I was editing a few high-end files on the Inshot app, and resource-heavy apps like Instagram, as well as Genshin Impact, were running in the background.

Games like Battlegrounds Mobile India ran fine at default HD graphics and “High” frame rate settings. I also put the phone to the test with the demanding game Genshin Impact, which automatically set the graphics to low. While the games remained playable at these settings, I did observe slight stutter and lag during critical fighting scenes after I switched the graphics settings to a higher option for more detailed and clear visuals. In Genshin Impact, I selected the 60fps option with low graphics setting for better responsive gameplay.

The phone also managed to control the temperature of the phone after 40 minutes of gaming. The back panel was slightly warm and the battery percentage dropped by only 10, which is pretty impressive. Although, I wouldn’t suggest you game on this OnePlus phone while putting the handset on charge. That’s because it gets pretty hot as the device is using all its power to deliver a smooth gaming experience while also running certain apps in the background and the charging puts a lot of load on the OnePlus Nord.

The company has incorporated stereo speakers on this one. It is good to see that OnePlus took the feedback positively as Nord CE 3’s predecessor had only one speaker unit that didn’t offer a fuller sound quality. While you can’t expect to get depth in bass-heavy tracks and detailed audio experience with smartphones, you would enjoy watching movies and other videos.

As is the case with OnePlus phones, you get a clean and minimalistic user interface in this Nord phone. So, one can personalise the phone as per their needs. You won’t see bloatware, meaning there are no unnecessary third-party apps on this phone. However, it’s worth noting that the system consumes 17GB of storage out of the box, which could be a concern, as OnePlus doesn’t provide support for storage expansion. To address this limitation, users have the option to purchase cloud storage space from Google if the phone’s 128GB storage fills up quickly. Rest, OnePlus’s OxygenOS software is feature-packed with utility features like hide apps, system cloner, private safe, app lock and more. I experienced no app crash issue and the apps also opened faster during my usage period. All-in-all, you get a smooth and clean software experience out of the box.

Based on my experience, the battery life of the OnePlus Nord CE 2 was remarkably good. Its larger 5,000mAh battery, coupled with the 80W SuperVOOC charger, offered more than a day’s battery life with basic usage. This includes messaging, calling and watching some videos. With a few hours of gaming sessions and a bit of photography as well as video editing, the phone lasted for less than 9 hours. Fortunately, OnePlus is still bundling a fast charger in the box, unlike Samsung and many other smartphone companies. The phone takes 30 minutes to fill up the battery to around 95 per cent. The best part is 15 minutes of charge gave me 47 per cent battery, which is a big relief as I’m someone whose phone’s battery is always low and suffer while heading out.

OnePlus Nord CE 3: Camera

The OnePlus Nord CE 3 has a triple camera setup at the back, which is capable of taking decent photos in daylight. The primary camera is able to offer sufficient details and colours are also retained well. Though, the dynamic range could have been better in some cases. The dark and brighter spots could have been defined in a better manner, I believe. This isn’t the case in sunlight shots and only during some indoor or rainy seasons. One thing to note: As is the case with most OnePlus phones, photos clicked with the Nord CE 3 look a bit saturated sometimes but people who like images with vivid colours may not have any issue.

Click on any photo to access full album of camera samples

I can say that the OnePlus Nord CE 3 can take good portrait shots. As you can see in one of the portrait shots, the camera is able to properly capture the texture of the shirt, the exact skin tone of the subject, and almost natural colours. The sharpness is also on point and the background is blurred pretty well. The edge detection is mostly good and the hair strands are not abruptly cut in the scene. The macro camera is one area wherein the Nord CE 3, I believe, could have been better as it misses details. But then, that’s also the case with most 5G phones at this price point.

However, I was pretty much impressed by the low-light shots that the OnePlus Nord CE 3 is able to deliver as not every phone in its range is able to offer a well-lit photo with good colours. You get good low-light photos for its price. The details are amble and sharpness is sufficient. Some of the objects are well-defined. All thanks to its Night mode as the primary rear camera mode offered a raw image with washed-out colours. However, the selfie camera changes the skin tone of humans and makes them look artificial as the facial features are enhanced. You can fix this by turning off this feature.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 review: Should you buy?

The OnePlus Nord CE 3 is a big upgrade over its predecessor in almost all departments with just a few areas for improvement. After using the OnePlus device for around a week, I think the new OnePlus phone is capable of delivering smooth performance, reliable battery life, exceptionally fast charging, and social-media-worthy camera performance. There’s little to complain about this new phone from OnePlus. Overall, it is safe to say that the OnePlus Nord CE 3 is surely one of the best you will find in the under Rs 30,000 price bracket in India right now.

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