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OnePlus Nord CE 2 is the best Android value yet

The OnePlus Nord CE 2 is the phone you should check out if you want the best bang for your buck

OnePlus Nord CE 2
(Image: © OnePlus)

Early Verdict

The OnePlus Nord CE 2 features a lower price than the OnePlus Nord 2 and some improved specs. But it downgrades the phone in notable ways to save costs.

Pros

  • +

    Improved main camera with larger aperture

  • +

    65W charging

  • +

    Improved chipset

  • +

    Still includes a headphone jack

Cons

  • -

    Plastic sides

  • -

    Downgraded selfie camera

The OnePlus Nord CE 2 is not the OnePlus device I thought I was looking forward to this year, but it's the company's best value-for-money device ever — even more so, thanks to a £300 price tag in the UK.

Yes, the headline here is that this phone costs £99 less than the already well-priced OnePlus Nord 2 goes for, despite the similarities between the two phones. If you're not familiar with the first OnePlus Nord CE from last year, then what we have here is a "Core Edition" of the Nord 2, one which upgrades a few specs, downgrades a few others and then reduces the overall price. 

OnePlus Nord CE 2 upgrades

Possibly the most premium feature on the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is its 65W charging. That's the same as the OnePlus 9 series offered last year, and is still faster than much more expensive phones like the iPhone 13 or Galaxy S22 series. According to OnePlus' tests, it's capable of filling its 4,500 mAh battery 65% in 15 minutes.

OnePlus Nord CE 2

(Image credit: OnePlus)

I also still love the display on the Nord CE 2 as well. It's a 6.4-inch, FHD display with a 90Hz refresh rate and an 800-nit brightness rating. It's still a great display even compared to the 120Hz-plus QHD screens you find on flagship phones, plus the combination of the phone's size and its curved sides and back panel means it feels like a much smaller phone. That's something my iPhone 13 Pro Max certainly can't handle.

But those specs are the same as on the old Nord 2, so what's new? Start with the cameras on this new device.

OnePlus Nord CE 2

(Image credit: OnePlus)

The main camera is now a 64MP sensor rather than the OnePlus Nord 2’s 50MP lens, and the new camera offers a larger aperture to boot, which should make for both brighter and more detailed shots. The final result of this image of some shiny public art I took near the Tom’s Guide UK office is bright and crisp, even though it was a typically gray February day in London.

OnePlus Nord CE2 camera samples main lens

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The 8MP ultrawide camera is the same as before, but it still does a good job. Here's a sample I took of another art installation, this time a long and rainbow-hued one, near the Grand Central Canal.

OnePlus Nord CE2 camera samples ultrawide

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

OnePlus' second big upgrade to the Nord CE 2 is the chipset. The Nord 2's Dimensity 1200-AI has been swapped out for a Dimensity 900 chip. OnePlus claims the new chipset will offer 20% power and efficiency gains over the older model, although the original Nord wasn't lacking in power. Plus, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 supports 5G and Wi-Fi 6 for speedy data connections both home and away.

Speaking of connections, the Nord CE 2 still boasts a headphone jack and expandable microSD card storage. These are retro features these days, but can be a godsend for users without wireless earbuds or cloud storage accounts.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 downgrades

The Nord CE 2's alterations are not all straight upgrades. For example, there's no 12GB RAM and 256GB storage option, which helped boost the Nord 2's power and set it apart from other budget Android devices. 

OnePlus Nord CE 2

(Image credit: OnePlus)

Also, the selfie camera's resolution has been reduced from 32MP to 16MP. It's hard to say in isolation if that's a downgrade that matters or not. I'm still quite happy with how this selfie looks, even if the portrait effect has not judged the boundary between my hair and the background too well.

OnePlus Nord CE2 camera samples

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I'm not that keen on the OnePlus Nord CE 2 design either. Although I like the look of the phone, particularly in this Bahama Blue colorway, the device looks an awful lot like an Oppo phone with its slope-sided camera bump. OnePlus may have merged with Oppo last year, but it should still keep a sense of its own identity, particularly in the design department. 

Plus the back and sides of the Nord CE 2 are made of plastic. They’re still nice to the touch, but this is an obvious concession to reduce the price.

OnePlus Nord CE 2

(Image credit: OnePlus)

The final and most serious bone I'll pick with the Nord CE 2 is its software. It runs on OxygenOS 11, which I think is an attractive-looking Android skin with plenty of nice enhancements to the basic Android 11. For example, Zen Mode allows for quiet moments away from your emails and social media, and the home screen features a drawerful of widgets accessible by swiping downwards anywhere on the display. 

However, OnePlus is only promising two years of Android updates and three years of security updates. That's underwhelming compared to what other Android phone makers provide. It’s especially limited since the Nord CE 2 is starting with Android 11, not Android 12 like most 2022 Android phones will.

OnePlus Nord CE 2 outlook

If you don't mind the prospect of upgrading your phone in a couple of years, or getting stuck on an outdated Android version, then there's very little to put you off shortlisting the Nord. We love our premium flagship phones here at Tom’s Guide, including the OnePlus 10 Pro, which we can't wait to be made available in the U.S. and U.K. But it's good to ask why we're paying $1,000-and-up prices for flagship phones — devices like the Nord CE 2 help to put things in perspective.

We need to spend more time with the OnePlus Nord CE 2, but early on, it feels like one of the best cheap phones I've personally tried. I don't know how long that will last, given that the Redmi Note 11 just launched, and the iPhone SE 3 is looming on the horizon, too. For now, though, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 is hoping to make a name for itself, and it seems off to a good start.

Richard is a Tom's Guide staff writer based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, gaming, audio and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.