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Ex(ce)ptional?: Nord CE walks the tightrope between price & functionality

Something has changed when it comes to the mid-range smartphone space. Of late, manufacturers have launched an onslaught of really capable smartphones at extremely competitive price points, around the $300 (Rs. 25,000) mark. With flagships moving higher up in price with the addition of new features and more powerful innards, this space is now no longer for the so-called “flagship killers” of the world. And that brings us neatly to the Nord CE. 

The Nord CE is an interesting device. It is priced slightly lower than the one launched last year. With that in mind, it is easy to look at the Nord CE as a stripped-down version of the Nord, although that is not the case. Sure, a few corners have been cut to achieve a lower price point, but there are additions that stand out. For instance, the Nord CE gets a plastic back in place of the far more premium glass unit on the original Nord but also a newer main camera sensor. 

We spent some time with the device and are impressed with the choices that OnePlus has made: for instance, to use a plastic back, which has bestowed the OnePlus Nord CE with a sturdiness that will be much appreciated in this category of smartphones. The design though is too similar to the Nord which, quite frankly, is not a bad thing at all. The choice to let go of the characteristic OnePlus alert slider is something I can’t quite understand. The display stays the same as the Nord which means that a Fluid AMOLED 90Hz unit with Full HD+ resolution does duty on the phone. Even a year later, it happens to be great with vibrant colours and has good brightness. However, it is not the category-defining display that it was anymore—competitors have caught up. 

The new primary sensor is bumped up to 64MP which helps the Nord CE’s camera array perform slightly better than the Nord. In good lighting, details are captured with more clarity and the sensor does a better job at reproducing colours than last year’s unit. The ultrawide and the depth sensor are carried forward and, for some reason, there is a mismatch in the colour profiles of the main and ultrawide sensors which could be jarring when switching from one to the other. 

The performance, however, is hard to fault and although the Nord CE gets the Snapdragon 750G,—a far less powerful SoC than last year—it is hard to find a discernible drop in day-to-day performance. The 4500-mAh battery stands up to the demands of heavy use as well, and would easily last a full day for most people. It doesn’t have the 65-W fast charging present on the 9 Series, but what it has it par for the course in this segment. 

A year ago, the Nord was a revelation of sorts in the segment. When every major manufacturer had their eyes set on the affordable flagship segment, OnePlus saw an opportunity lower down and released a phone that was an instant success. Even with an avalanche of options, for a lot of buyers, the bloat-free experience of OxygenOS along with the effortless performance that OnePlus devices are known for should make the choice easy.

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