It is time to pull my thoughts together for the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G after I have been using it for a few weeks.
I have already taken the time to put this through it unboxing process and provided a few very brief initial first thoughts for the device, however, that was before I lived with it for any sort of time. I wanted to dig down to the very core of the Core Edition phone to find out what made it tick and now this has been done, I have a better grasp of the subject matter.
So let’s get started and see if this phone that is currently on sale for £269 at OnePlus is worth spending some of your hard-earned cash on.
I have gone over this in more detail in the unboxing article I wrote when I first receive the device earlier last month. I was pretty pleased with the design of the phone as it has some very nice details. A couple of areas that stand out now having used the phone are broken down in some detail below.
-It’s a bit square… but in a good way.
I have got to day this was one of the things that struck me the most about the design of this phone when I first unboxed it and even before that when I saw the early pictures. I will go as far as say this was one of the things that made me want to review the phone, to begin with. If you have been a reader of Coolsmartphone for some time you may remember I was a big fan of the Xperia lineup of old and one of the things that I liked most about their design, which is continued into today’s phones that they are pushing out was the “blockiness” of the design. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I like this.
The Nord CE 3 is very much from the same school of thought in this regard. it has a large flat glass display a flat plastic back and flat plastic side and bottom rails making up the frame. These all appeal to me. The rails along the side and bottom are nicely textured to add a bit of grip to the exterior making it easier to hold and they are very slightly rounded off on the four corners which contribute to the comfort when it is hand. It is very similar in terms of the design that is currently being offered of the iPhone 14 lie up and this has been unchanged for what feels like forever. I do like this design choice and it fits the market segment correctly I feel.
-The buttons are split between both sides of the phone
I have found that this is a design choice that OnePlus started to follow a while ago and I like it for the most part as it means that you aren’t confused as to which button does which. So on the right-hand side, you have got the power button which also pulls double duty as a fingerprint reader. It is nicely raised enough (just about 1mm)so that it can be found with ease and has good action. The fingerprint reader is also pretty responsive too which is a nice touch. the volume buttons are then located on the left-hand side almost exactly opposite the power button. This means that unlike on my Pixel 7 Pro, I am not often pressing the volume key instead of the power key. There is however a downside which I need to mention and that is that it is very easy to accidentally take a screenshot with these buttons the way they are located which I have done several times by mistake!! it is an easy fix as you can turn the feature off in the settings which I am yet to do, whenever I remember to do it I then get sidetracked by something else.
-The back is plastic.
Now for a lot of people, this is a negative but for me and given the costs of this phone I am not too bummed out by this. I get that having a glass rear panel is nicer as the feel is better and it affords a better feel in the hand. it does however mean that the phone is inherently more fragile and if you were to drop it then the glass will break meaning an expensive repair and potential for other damage. having a plastic back means that the phone is more resistant to damage if the phone does get dropped and it is cheaper to make in the first place. So for me, this is a good decision on the material used but they did in my opinion, especially on the back colour way make a fundamental mistake. They have given the back of the phone a “Piano black” style finish which we see on a lot of car interiors these days. This is one of the most annoying finishes that they could have had as this means that the phone is constantly covered in smudges and fingerprints. if you give this to a teenager without the case this phone will look mining in a matter of seconds. It is, for this reason, I was very glad to see that OnePlus has continued to provide a free clear TPU case for the phone in the box as this was applied as soon as the initial picture had been taken and only removed if I need to photograph the back panel. If you’re choosing this phone and hate fingerprints get the Lime Green one as even if this is the same glossy finish you won’t see the fingerprints as much on that colour version.
-Camera Modules are exaggerated.
This is a bit of an odd one to me. I can see what has been done as this is the designed direction being taken for the Nord series in its 3rd generation. the camera modules on the back of the phone are pretty massive for the overall size of the phone. I can get it for the top array as that features the bigger camera but the bottom array is a bit nasty looking as it has 2 camera lenses in the same circle. This means that if you glance a the phone then you would think this has 2 rear cameras but in reality, you really only have the one which is mounted into the top circle.
I was on a video call the other day for work and happened to be doing something on my phone for password authentication and out of the blue I got a comment from one of my colleagues saying that the cameras were ridiculously big! I then felt compelled to advise him that it was only the top one that was the actual camera and the bottom one contained a depth of field sensor and the 2 MP macro lens The person who commented uses a Samsung phone that incidentally has the same 107Mp sensor on his phone and was shocked at how big they had made the housing for the camera when compared to his phone. It is not a problem in any way but just something that came up in my time with the device.
-Sim and Micro SD card support!
It has been such a long time since I have had the pleasure to use a phone that supports micro SD card expansion that I forgot all about this feature and how useful it is. I love that if I needed to I can throw in a memory card to the phone and store extra content on it. This would be great for me to take this away on a trip as it means I can throw a load of music and MP4 files onto a large SD card and then I will have a way of keeping my 10-year-old entertained on long journeys. It also means that if he was using it and it and the screen were to get broken as long as I set the camera to store photos on the external storage then he will have all those photos available to him on that memory card. Given that the phone also only comes with one storage size of 128GB having the expandable memory is a great selling point as it will allow the phone to be used for longer without the need to buy extra cloud solutions once that internal memory has been used up. I have been using the phone for a few weeks with my regular app loadout and music on the phone and I have already used 90GB of the stage so having the ability to add extra will be very useful.
of course that is only one of the use cases for the extra slot as the phone also supports a secondary sim which is a gain very useful if you are using this a travel phone as it means that you can have both your primary and secondary sim inside it at the same time. The phone has various future that will allow you to determine which SIM is used or what which can be set up easily for you to make the best use of this feature.
-3.5mm headphone jack on board.
So I defiantly did not expect to see this on such a budget-oriented device as this feature was something that was for the large part now defunct on all phones bar the Sony lineup Xperia 1 Series devices which are all £1k plus phones. I am pleased to see this is back as it was a feature I used to get better audio when I was recording videos at trade shows but it also means that if I was going to be giving this to a child I can give them headphones that they can use that won’t cost me a small fortune but will still allow a good sound experience. it also means one less thing for them to lose and let run out of power.
-SuperVooc 67W charging.
Fast charging is a must for phones these days and the Nord CE 3 has this covered with the built-in SuperVooc fast charging capability meaning that even the most demanding of users will find that they can back up to speed in no time at all. With a recharging speed of 0% to 80% in just 30 minutes you can have enough power for your day’s adventure in the time it takes you to get yourself ready whiteout having to worry about the phone not being charged. I have been using SuperVooc charging on a Realme phone that my wife uses for nearly a year now and it is a godsend as she never remembers to charge her phone so it always needs that quick boost, which SuperVooc affords.
However, it is often a cited concern that using fast charging will harm the battery or the phone which is where the SuperVooc Endurance Edition aspect of the charging protocols comes into its own. The phone and charger will use the phone’s built-in Battery Health Engine software to ensure that the phone’s battery will be kept in optimum condition so that you charge it whenever you need it and depending on your charging habits the charging speed will be adjusted. So if for example you are plugging in overnight all the time then the phone will pick up on this behaviour and it will then slow down the charging rate accordingly. If however, you are more of charge and dash style person then it will allow the phone to charge quickly and fast for the short period the phone is plugged in. This is normally a feature that is only found on flagship-grade phones so it is nice to see this on a lower specced device.
So those are some of the design features that jump out to me about the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G. The key overwhelming feeling I get from the phone is that this is a phone that does what it says on the tin but the design is only part of what allows this to happen a lot of that does what it says on the tin comes from the hardware and what is inside the phone so let’s spend a few moments going through that
First up and following on nicely from the battery tech I have just been looking at is that this phone has a suitably large 5000mah hour battery meaning that you should in most use cases not have to worry too much about being left with a depleted battery on most days. In most of my usage, I have normally had anywhere from 30% to 40% left in my daily use cases. Now admittedly I am not a young man and I don’t spend a lot of time using social media or taking pictures as I am at work for 8 hours of the day and my phone will just be ticking over quietly in the corner. However, I do use the phone for at least 2 hrs of media playback over Bluetooth on most days while I drive to and from the office for work. I will normally have about a 1hrs use of email and then another hour of web browsing and social scrolling in the evenings throw in a few Youtube videos and that is where we are at. All of this time I have had the phone connected to a Galaxy Watch 5 Pro over Bluetooth as well for tracking steps and notification duties as well. I have not ever been worried about the phone running low on juice so far and most days I can stretch the usage out to last me up to days which is nice to have.
It is good to see this price point getting a decent size battery and coupled with the aforementioned charging speed and tech this is head and shoulders above some higher-end devices that I have tested and owned over the years.
Next up is the screen that is I would say average to good. Whilst I had no problems with its speed and fluidity of displaying content and navigating on the large 6.72″ 120Hz FHD Display I did have an issue with the brightness of the screen as I found that it was very hard to see in direct sunlight. This is partly down to the panel being an LCD and the colours being not as vibrant due to the capabilities of LCD panels by their very nature. The panel was also not a very bright panel maxing out at 680nits which when combined with my preference for dark mode does make it tricky to see when the sun comes out.
I also dont think it was being helped by the screen protector that comes pre-applied to the phone as this seems to be a dust magnet and I found myself constantly cleaning the screen down especially when I had just taken it out of my pocket to use it. I am not sure what material was used by OnePlus for the screen protector but the combination of the screen protector and TPU case meant that the phone was constantly being covered in lint and dust. I did ultimately remove the screen protector as it started to peel at the edges and the dust pick up did reduce a bit so that is some food for thought.
Under the hood the brains of the phone are in the form of the efficient energy-sipping Snapdragon 695 5G chipset that was plenty powerful for most daily tasks which I carried out on the phone it was very rare for me to see any sort of slowdowns on the phone. Again as mentioned above I don’t tend to push these phones to their max but I was able to do all I wanted to do on it with very little speed difference when compared to either my Z Fold 4 5G or my Pixel 7 Pro. The only chick was that I did occasionally notice that when I was using some apps that required large data set to be loaded this was a bit slower than on my flagship devices. I didn’t see the same when playing F1 Mobile at least not after I went through the initial loadout of the game that was as this did take a bit longer than I would have liked, but it is a big game so I will let the Nord CE 3 off for that one. I use the inbuilt gaming mode to monitor the performance of the game and I was consistently getting frames rates in the high 20s’ through the session apart from one very strange moment when the phone slowed down to single figures and everything turned into a bit of an awful laggy mess. A quick force close of the app seemed to resolve the issue and it didn’t come back even after playing for about another hour of gameplay time.
Another area where I was keen to test the phone’s performance was when I was using it with Android Auto in my car. This has been the downfall of phones that are much better specced than the Nord CE 3 in the past. I am happy to report that the phone didn’t have any problems when using Android Auto in a wired mode, Unfortunately, I was unable to test the wired functionality as my car does not support that feature but it worked fine when using it for music playback and handling voice and texts while I was on the road.
In terms of call quality, the phone delivered here calls were crisp and clear and they synced up with Bluetooth fine both on my watch and my car. In terms of the signal I was experiencing the same sort of signal that I typically get on most phones I have tested as of late in some specific areas I was able to get a better signal on the Nord CE 3 that I sometimes would get on my Pixel 7 Pro. I would say that this is another respect of having the plastic case design as it allows more of the signal to get into the phone’s antennas which unlike the Nord CE 3’s counterparts have to use signal channels creating potential weakness in the frame. This has been a problem on the OnePlus devices since the adoption of the larger camera modules on the OnePlus 10 series phones and sadly it is still evident on their 11 series. The good news is this should be the case with the Nord CE 3 and the other phones within the Nord series of devices.
So in terms of hardware and performance, the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G is great bang for its buck as long as your expectations are realistic.
A lot of the phone’s appeal comes down to the software experience that is provided by the phone and that brings me nicely to the software side
The concept of the OnePlus phones, when they were originally envisioned, was to bring true flagship value to the masses at a low and affordable price point. While there have been some shifts in this ethos over the years I do feel that a lot of hose aspects still ring true in the way that the Oxygen OS 13.1 UI that sits on top of Android 13 still works. Yes, there has been a lot of merging with the parent companies Colour Os that can be found on Oppo and Realme phones but this is not necessarily a bad thing as Oxygen OS is a really good UI. It doesn’t add too much duplication and where the duplications of apps or functions do happen they are either well thought out and useful or easily sidestepped. I have been running this phone as my daily driver for quite some time during this elongated review and I have found that I was never left lacking in terms of the way the software works.
The UI allows me to set the phone up the way I want it to I have options if I want them and if I don’t then I am not forced to adopt them. An example of this is the App Drawer. I can set the phone to either have on or off as I want. I can have a swipe-down gesture brings up my notifications screen or it can bring down the OnePlus Shelf option, which is a place to keep useful widgets for quick access. Being that I am a bit of an old-school user I prefer the notifications dropdown but I have the option for either which is good to see. I do appreciate the search function in the app drawer and I have found myself using it more than once.
With all that being said, there are some minor annoyances that you do learn to live with but are not found on a device from the pixel lineup. So if I get a notification I need to tap on the small arrow icon to view it on Oxygen OS which is a bit annoying when I am trying to quickly clear my notifications. on other phones I can just pull down and as I do so all my notifications expand fully allowing me to see what I need and quickly dismiss irrelevant apps.
A lot of the OnePlus built-in apps require you to approve the Status Of Usage before you use them which is annoying but is only an issue on the first use so this is forgivable.
I did also find that the battery management was sometimes a little too persistent for my liking as I would be reminded about an app that is open in the background that I want to be open too frequently. If I want the app open then I know what it is going to do to my battery. Again this is probably something that is just me as I know what I am doing but for an inexperienced user, this would potentially prove to be useful as it will stop the phone from running unneeded programs in the background. I do feel that this is not as big of a problem as the Oxygen OS management software makes it out to be though as I normally get the same sort of battery life out of the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G as I get on my Pixel 7 Pro despite them using different chipsets screen types etc.
If you can live with these very minor issues in the software there is a lot to like about Oxygen OS 13.1 and don’t let the OG Oneplus Oxygen OS hater put you off. I have been more than happy living with the phone daily and would be more than happy to recommend this phone based on the software implementation to either my wife or my parent. I also know that my son would be more than happy with this phone as it would allow him to do everything he wants to do and more.
Just before I wrap up on the software there is one more section that I want to mention. that is of course virtual RAM. This is something that more and more phones are starting to feature and I am pleased to see that it is on board here as it does allow the phone to stretch its legs if you need that extra bit of memory for gaming or multi-app use. It is particularly useful when gaming as it allows for an option called Championship Mode
This will essentially turn your phone into a dedicated handheld when you are in a game and draws the maximum power from the phone for gaming only everything else becomes secondary. By default, the virtual RAM capacity is set as 4GB but this can be doubled if required (In my testing I have not needed to do this but it could be useful for some)
Last but not least let’s look at the camera.
This is perhaps one of the weaker aspects of the phone but going into this I was aware that the camera was not going to be amazing as we do only have one sensor to work with in reality here. The camera adopts pixel binning using a 9 in 1 ratio meaning that your 108 MP sensor will produce images of 12 MP in size which is plenty for an entry-level camera. the difference here though is as the image is being captured by a high MP sensor it can pull in more data about the subject matter and essentially capture more light. this in turn results in brighter, clearer and more natural-looking images. In addition, you do of course have you wide variety of capture modes included and some of these modes will feature an aspect of AI Assitance to tweak your settings to suit the lighting levels the subject the depth of focus etc.
You also have got 3x Lossless Zoom which is of course a digital manipulation afforded by the large sensor size but it works reasonably well as can be seen in the zoomed images below. But that is enough of me stating the facts here are some image si have captured for you to assess yourself and make your judgements.
As you can see from the images the camera is not too bad in optimum light conditions. The macro shots come out pretty well and it does a good job of keeping the subject in focus when using portrait mode (even when the subject is not a person!). This is all pretty much par for the course with any camera these days. It is when the light drops that normally things start to wrong.
I have included a few low-light shots here to show what I mean
The first of the above shots was without night mode and the second was with night mode on. As you can see there is a little bit of improvement but it is not great as we have a lot of edge blurring on the shot. To be fair to the Nord CE most phones would have struggled with this type of shot. This however is not something that would actively disuade me from this phone as these are firmly in the minority of the photos I would be intending to take with this phone. Also, the LED flash is more than bright enough to make up for the low light issue.
As for video the phone can record at up to 1080p at up to 30FPS in normal video and it will also do 720p at up to 120fps samples of which can be seen below.
Last but not least is the selfie mode which is more than good enough. it also allows for background blurring and it does a pretty good job at keep the focus on the subject whilst blurring out the background.
I am happy with the camera performance for a phone of this price point and would be more than happy to recommend this to someone who doesn’t need anything more advanced which to be fair is the vast majority of us.
This phone is a very good budget offering and I have enjoyed using it. If I had not become so accustomed to the high-end flagships that I can use due to this website I would be happy with this phone as one for myself. it is of course not perfect but given what you are paying it does a great job. I found it slightly irritating when I was using it in very bright sunlight due to the relatively low nit levels that the screen was able to produce. There were some things in the software that did annoy me slightly but none of these things were a deal breaker for me overall.
OnePlus has always been very good at hitting the cash-to-spec balance well with the Nord range and this is why I am normally such a big fan of it. I have recommended that some of my colleagues look to this phone as a possible replacement for their ageing phones that they are currently using as they have said that cost is a bigger factor for them than high-end specs. I feel that this is the market where the OnePlus Nord cE 3 Lite 5g shines brightest. If you are on the lookout for a phone for a gift to a family member who doesn’t need the specs to be top-end but wants to know that they have something reliable and easy to use this is defiantly one I would recommend.
In terms of its competition there are a lot of cheap but good ones in this segment b the direct competitors for me though are the Pixel 6A and the Realme 10 Pro. The Pixel 6A I currently a tad more expensive but it does bring all of the Pixel’s unique features to the party and as such this would be a bit of a step up especially if the camera was one of the main drivers for the user. The Realme 10 Pro on the other hand is essentially the same phone albeit in a different shell and with slightly different branding. The main reason why I don’t think Realme would be one I would recommend is that it is a largely unknown brand in the UK.
So there you have the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G, This is a very competent phone with a great price tag and some great specs on board. if you know someone who just needs a smartphone but doesn’t demand the best interest of specs, then this is a strong recommendation. it is also a great alternative for your normal phone if you are looking for a secondary device for work, or travel to the sketchier areas of the world. (on my recent trip to Marroco this would have been a great option over my Fold 4 as it wouldn’t have been the end of the world had I needed to replace it if it got lost /stolen etc). lastly, if you have kids who have not quite learned the value of high-end electronics and don’t take the best care of things this would be a great option for them as well.
If you are wanting to get a OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G now is a great time to buy as they currently are selling them for £269 on the OnePlus Website, they are also available on Amazon for £289.99 with next-day delivery if you have a prime account