The OnePlus Nord CE series of smartphones has been a popular choice for users since its launch. It benefits from the trust in OnePlus as an OEM, it is always a cheaper option when compared to the Nord series, and these smartphones often don’t sacrifice too many features to cut down costs. The OnePlus Nord CE3 5G is priced at ₹26,999, a sweet spot in the price-conscious Indian market, servicing users who want a performance champ without breaking the bank. However, competition in this price segment is rife.
So, even though the OnePlus Nord CE3 brings numerous improvements compared to its predecessor, fierce competition in the mid-range segment may diminish its popularity. It competes with options such as the Realme 11 Pro+ (review), Samsung Galaxy F54 (review), Moto Edge 40 (review), POCO F5 (review), and iQOO Neo 7 (review) – all of which inhabit the ₹25K-₹30K price segment. Does the Nord CE3 shine amongst these competitors, or does it fade out of view? Let’s find out.
OnePlus Nord CE3 5G Review: Build and Design
All of the 2023 lineup of OnePlus Nord phones look strikingly similar. From the ₹19,999 OnePlus Nord CE3 Lite (review) to the ₹33,999 OnePlus Nord 3 (review) – one would find it difficult to distinguish between these phones at first glance. While all three look similar, do not mistake this for a glass rear panel like the Nord 3. The Nord CE3 Lite comes with a polycarbonate back panel in two colourways – Aqua Surge and Gray Shimmer. The former is a glossy design while the latter sports a more metallic look. I got the former for review.
The glossy back picks up a lot of fingerprints and smudges and just looks cheap when compared to the likes of the gorgeous Motorola Moto Edge 40 and the Realme 11 Pro+ with their premium leather backs. The buttons on the sides are nice and tactile and the flat display has slim bezels, but overall, this doesn’t compete against the new grain of mid-range smartphones that come with elevated build and design for the price.
The phone’s rear panel has rounded edges which is comfortable to hold, but the back panel is a bit too slippery. Thankfully, OnePlus has provided a stellar-looking case in the retail box. Alongside an 80 W SUPERVOOC charger with the iconic red cable. The Nord CE3 is heavier than the CE2 at 184 g, but the weight is well-distributed. There’s even an optical under-display fingerprint sensor included that works decently well. The phone is rated IP54 but once again, the Moto Edge 40 has it beat with an IP68 rating.
There’s no fatal flaw in the build of the OnePlus Nord CE3 5G, but there’s nothing that stands out as well.
OnePlus Nord CE3 5G Review: Display
If I had to applaud some aspects of the OnePlus Nord CE3, the display would definitely be one of them alongside the battery (which I will talk about later). The phone houses a 6.7-inch Fluid AMOLED panel with a Full HD+ resolution and a 20.1:9 aspect ratio. There’s 120 Hz refresh rate, 2160 Hz PWM dimming, 10-bit colour depth, and HDR10+ support, making this a very capable display.
The display looks stunning with good colour reproduction, solid levels of detail, and fantastic viewing angles. HDR content on YouTube looks stellar, but unfortunately, Netflix doesn’t identify the screen as being HDR-capable. The phone’s display is also very bright; I recorded 948 nits of peak brightness outdoors on Auto-Brightness. So, you shouldn’t face any sunlight screen legibility issues as the display is plenty bright for outdoor viewing.
The 120 Hz refresh rate ensures smooth scrolling when you’re searching for apps or settings. Oddly, apps such as YouTube and Chrome default to 60 Hz when scrolling which can appear rather janky after the smooth scrolling experience in the UI. I hope OnePlus can fix this issue via an OTA update, but I am not keeping my hopes high since the same issue was present in the Nord 3.
Nevertheless, the content consumption experience is great coupled with the Dolby Atmos-enabled stereo speakers. These speakers sounded full, warm and got pretty loud, which is definitely an above-average performance at this price.
OnePlus Nord CE3 5G Review: Performance
Mid-range smartphones in 2023 are giving flagships a run for their money, so the OnePlus Nord CE3 has a lot to prove in that regard. Long story short, it performed well, but it is nothing exceptional. The OnePlus Nord CE3 features the Qualcomm Snapdragon 782G chipset (which is a slightly improved Snapdragon 778G+ SoC). My review unit came packing 12 GB LPDDR4X RAM and 256 GB UFS 3.1 internal storage, with an option to expand it via microSD card. There’s also the RAM Expansion feature that sets aside a predetermined portion of your internal storage as Virtual RAM, allowing for slightly better multitasking abilities.
In benchmarks, the OnePlus Nord CE3 performed admirably well, but it never astounded us as some of the latest mid-rangers did. We’re talking about the likes of the iQOO Neo 7 and the POCO F5 which only cost a few thousand bucks more, but offer performance that’s truly a class apart. The OnePlus Nord CE3, on the other hand, offers reliable performance across the board. In AnTuTu, the phone scored 6,50,000+ but it was soundly beaten by the iQOO Neo 7 and POCO F5. In GeekBench, we saw the POCO F5 beat the OnePlus Nord CE3 in both Single Core and Multi-Core tests. The performance was comparable to that of the Realme 11 Pro+ and Samsung Galaxy F54.
In GPU benchmarks, The Moto Edge 40 and iQOO Neo 7 blow past the OnePlus Nord CE3 while the Realme 11 Pro+ and Samsung Galaxy F54 perform about the same. So, benchmarks put the OnePlus Nord CE3 around the middle of the pack in the sub-₹30K range. Real-world performance tells the same story. The phone is smooth and fluid when performing basic tasks such as texting, calling, social media, web browsing, and more. Gaming is mostly lag-free, but the phone did heat up after about 20 minutes of playing Call of Duty: Mobile and I faced a couple of frame drops.
We also ran the CPU Throttling Test to see how the phone performs under sustained workloads and the OnePlus Nord CE3 throttled to 77 per cent of its peak performance in 15 minutes. Not the best result, once again.
Overall, the performance of the OnePlus Nord CE3 5G will never leave you disappointed, but it is not a performance monster like some of the recent mid-rangers have proved to be. If you’re looking for a fluid phone under ₹30K, this is a good choice. However, for pure, unadulterated performance for gaming or other intensive tasks, maybe look at the POCO F5 or iQOO Neo 7 instead.
Moving on to software, the OnePlus Nord CE3 runs Oxygen OS 13.1 on top of Android 13. OnePlus promises 2 years of OS updates and 3 years of security updates, which yet again, lies in the middle of the pack – not the best in business, but decent. OxygenOS 13.1 is feature-rich and highly customisable, there’s a lot of character and it is veering closer towards ColorOS than ever before, but it is pleasant to use. Surprisingly though, there’s not a lot of bloatware and barely any ads at all.
OnePlus Nord CE3 5G Review: Camera
The OnePlus Nord CE3 houses a triple camera setup consisting of the popular Sony IMX890 50 MP primary camera, an 8 MP ultrawide shooter, and a 2 MP macro lens. The main camera provides excellent pictures in ideal lighting with good dynamic range and detail. There’s a bit of extra contrast added at times and skin tones are not the most accurate, but most photos look pleasing to the eye. Here are some camera samples; do note they’ve been compressed for the web:
Portrait shots look good as well with decent edge detection and good colour. Human skin tones could be tuned a bit better though. The 8 MP ultrawide shooter is mediocre – it takes a serious hit when it comes to detail and dynamic range. The 2 MP macro lens is decent and clicks some usable shots.
Low light imagery is impressive from the OnePlus Nord CE3’s primary camera. Noise and grain are kept to a minimum and the detail and colour are quite stunning for a sub-₹30K phone. There’s also a 16 MP selfie camera that clicks vivid and detailed shots in ideal lighting; you get nice-looking portrait shots as well but low light performance isn’t great.
OnePlus Nord CE3 5G Review: Battery life
Sporting a large 5,000 mAh battery, the OnePlus Nord CE3 5G has long-lasting battery life. Coupled with the power-efficient Snapdragon 782G chipset, the phone has more than enough juice to last most users one whole day without a hitch. My day consisted of benchmarking, clicking pictures, shooting 4K videos, watching OTT content, and using Google Maps, and the phone still managed to preserve 21 per cent of its battery capacity by 10 PM that day.
In our video loop test, the OnePlus Nord CE3 lasted a whopping 16 hours from 100-0 per cent, which is fantastic. Moreover, the 80 W SUPERVOOC charging tops up the smartphone from empty to full in just 32 minutes! There’s no wireless charging support though.
OnePlus Nord CE3 5G Review: Verdict
After spending a week with the OnePlus Nord CE3 5G, I can confidently say that the phone is a well-rounded mid-ranger that ticks many boxes. It has excellent battery life, super fast charging, good performance, an impressive primary camera, and an immersive display. However, the OnePlus Nord CE3 5G never once completely floored me with its performance. Neither does it match up to the performance champs of the mid-range segment nor does it impress with its build and design. It hovers in the middle, providing a safe and reliable option for the masses. I’d suggest you consider the Moto Edge 40 if you’re looking for far superior build quality though. And for faster performance, the iQOO Neo 7 is a no-brainer in the sub-₹30,000 price segment.