If you’re in the market for a very cheap phone, then this OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review is a good place to start. It’s a stripped-back handset but it still looks great and it manages to pack in a lot more than you would expect at this sort of price.
Earlier this year, I reviewed the OnePlus Nord CE 2, calling it ‘a cheap phone with a good screen, decent performance and a long-lasting battery’. Taking things a step further than that, OnePlus has added a new smartphone to the lineup, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite, and it’s even more affordable.
I managed to get my hands on the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite to find out whether it’s one of the best cheap phones you can buy, or not.
Here you’ll find everything you need to know about it, from what’s new to its design and display as well as my take on its camera system, performance and battery.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review: price and what’s new
Available to buy right now, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite only costs $279 in the US, £279 in the UK and AU$450 in Australia. Take a look at where you can pick one up using the widgets on this page.
So how is it different to the OnePlus Nord CE 2? Starting with the display, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite comes with a bigger 6.59-inch screen, in comparison to the OnePlus Nord CE 2’s 6.43-inches. That means the device is slightly bigger and heavier as well. You won’t get Gorilla Glass 5 on the Lite model, and the screen tech is a little more basic without features like HDR10+ support or AI Color Enhancement.
You won’t get an in-display fingerprint sensor here, instead, it has been moved to the right-hand side of the frame. The hardware has been scaled back too, the MediaTek Dimensity 900 CPU has been replaced with a Snapdragon 695 5G and when it comes to the battery, it has actually been boosted to 5,000mAh but the charging tech has dropped from 65W to 33W.
The camera system is made up of a 64MP main lens, a 2MP macro camera and a 2MP depth sensor, down from a 64MP main lens, an 8MP ultrawide lens and a 2MP mono lens. You’ll also now only be able to film video in 1080p at 30fps FHD, instead of 4K like you could on the OnePlus Nord CE 2.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review: design and display
Very much following the same design language as its older sibling, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite is available in two colourways: Blue Tide and Black Dusk.
I tested out the blue version and it looks really cool with a gradient effect climbing the matte plastic casing. It’s not waterproof but it seems durable and it is very good at resisting dirty fingerprint marks, so all in all, I felt comfortable using this without a case even though it does actually come with one included in the box. You’ll want to show it off.
In all honesty, the black colourway seems a lot less interesting, in fact, I’d go as far as to say it looks quite bland.
On the back, a rectangular camera notch sits in the top left corner but it doesn’t protrude too much which means the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite doesn’t wobble when you use it on a table. Turn it over and the front is pretty much all screen, even if the bezels are slightly thicker than what you would see on a pricier handset. A small hole-punch style camera is the only thing disrupting the display.
Around the frame, things are exactly how you would expect them to be although there’s no alert slider like you get on other OnePlus phones. A volume rocker sits below the SIM card slot on the left while the power button is on the right and doubles up as a fingerprint sensor to unlock the phone. As well as the fingerprint scanner (which I found works very quickly each time) you could also use facial recognition, and of course, the usual password, pattern or pin.
Along the bottom edge, there’s a USB-C charging port next to the 3.5mm headphone jack. Downfiring speakers are placed on the bottom of the frame as well. You won’t get the most immersive sound ever but it’ll be loud enough to watch a YouTube video without having to hook up your headphones each time.
I liked the size of the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite because it’s not too big nor is it too heavy – it measures 164.3 x 75.6 x 8.5mm and weighs about 195g. I found it easy to use one handed and it was able to fit in my jeans pocket without poking out too much.
The screen is a 6.59-inch LCD with a resolution of 2412 x 1080 pixels and a refresh rate of 120Hz. Bright, colurful and sharp it’ll be perfectly fine for just about any task, be that browsing the web or flinging an Angry Bird or two. It’s worth mentioning that it won’t completely blow you away because it lacks HDR10+ support and there’s no AI colour enhancement but for such a reasonable price, OnePlus has gone above and beyond with the screen.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review: camera system
The camera system is a solid one even though it won’t win any awards. You get a 64MP main lens, a 2MP macro camera and a 2MP depth sensor with a 16MP front camera.
You can take decent shots on the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite, they come out looking colourful and bright if a little over-saturated at times. Admittedly the camera does struggle with focusing which means rushed photos can lack sharpness. But even so, the results are much better than you would expect from a phone this cheap.
I took shots of landscapes, cityscapes, people and plants – and I was pleasantly surprised for the most part. Selfies looked good as well, and while they won’t match up to the magazine-worthy snaps taken on the best phones in the world, front facing photos are still relatively flattering and good enough to use on social media.
If you’re after a strong zoom, then you won’t get that here. It maxes out at 6x digital zoom and you can’t expect to get much detail above about 2x zoom.
Another downside is the video. You can only shoot footage in 1080p video at 30 fps. There’s no 4K video recording here. The difference in quality is pretty noticeable, videos look slightly grainy but the recordings do a good job at keeping things steady.
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OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review: performance and battery
The fact of the matter is that you wouldn’t expect a phone this cheap to go very far when it comes to its performance, and that rings true with the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite, but it will still work perfectly fine for most people.
Under the hood, there’s a mid-range Snapdragon 695 5G processor alongside the Qualcomm Adreno 619 GPU, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (which is expandable if you pop in a MicroSD card).
I found the phone ran well, it loaded apps quickly and didn’t hesitate when I flicked through a few open windows. But it did struggle a little with larger games and heated up a little at times too.
On Geekbench 5, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite picked up scores of 685 in single-core and 1,737 in multicore which places it slightly below the OnePlus Nord CE 2, and more towards the original OnePlus Nord from back in 2020 or around the same level as lesser-known handsets like the TCL 20 Pro.
You get 5G connectivity which means you’ll get the speediest internet if your area has the most up to date mobile networks, but if it doesn’t then at least you’ll be future-proofed for when it does.
Packing a huge 5,000mAh battery, I certainly expected big things from the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite, and I was quite disappointed. It lasted me the workday with some juice to spare, but barely. I then ran a test where I downloaded and played a video on full brightness for over two hours, in that time, the battery level dropped by 18%. That suggests I would have gotten just over 11 hours from it. That’s okay but it’s not amazing, some mid-range phones like the Samsung Galaxy A53 lasted a whopping 25 hours in the same test.
Charging the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite back up again using the 33W charger included in the box took less than an hour and a half which is perfectly acceptable even if it’s not anywhere near as impressive as the thirty minutes it took to charge the OnePlus Nord 2T. You won’t be able to charge this wirelessly either, unfortunately.
Running on OxygenOS 12.1 which is based on Android 12, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite feels great to use. You can choose between buttons or gestures to navigate through the system, and all your apps are stored in a handy drawer that you pull up from the bottom of the screen.
The user interface doesn’t look as good as stock Android like you’d get on a Google Pixel 6 phone, but it’s not overly colourful or cartoonish either. I’ve used Oxygen OS a lot, on this phone and on others, and I think it’s one of the better operating systems out there. Every now and then you’ll come across a little bug but I didn’t notice anything major.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review: verdict
Despite being such a cheap phone, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite proved to be pretty middle ground across the board. Nothing about it will wow you, but you will be pleased with what it can offer.
It has a big screen that is bright and vibrant, the camera does a good enough job and it has a very respectable charge time. While the performance won’t be up to scratch for more intense users, most people will get on just fine using it.
Downsides worth knowing about are the weak battery life which barely makes it through a whole day and the fact that it’s not waterproof. Whether those are dealbreakers or not will be up to you.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite review: also consider
iOS fans will be most drawn to the Apple iPhone SE 2022 – while it might look a little outdated and struggles with its battery life, it still manages to pack in a decent camera, 5G connectivity and a speedy processor. The best part? It’s much cheaper than every other iPhone.
If you’re happy with Android but you want something that’s even more affordable than the OnePlus CE 2 Lite, then another super cheap smartphone to consider is the Moto G31. Like this phone, you won’t get many more advanced features like wireless charging or an in-display fingerprint sensor but you will get a bright 6.4-inch display and decent battery life without spending over the odds.
We don’t just test smartphones, we try out everything from sleeping bags to soundbars. If you’re interested to know more, you can read about how we test at T3.