It’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G is the ‘lite’ variant of the already ‘lite’ Nord CE lineup, where the CE represents the ‘Core Experience’ of the Nord series (the Nord sub-brand itself is a mid-range ‘return to roots’ for OnePlus which focuses on the experience rather than top-shelf hardware).
Put another way, the Nord CE 3 Lite is the entry-level to the OnePlus brand, and the successor to the hugely popular Nord CE 2 Lite. It’s been launched in two storage options – 128GB (Rs. 19,999) and 256GB (Rs. 21,999) – with 8GB of memory as standard. With the brand getting off to the races in 2023 with the OnePlus 11 series, the Nord CE 3 Lite certainly has big shoes to fill. Let’s dive in to find out if this Nord gets our nod.
Straight out of the box, there’s a lot to like in the Nord CE 3 Lite’s design, even as the price point dictates the use of plastic for the rear panel and the Asahi Dragontrail Star glass instead of Corning screen protection that you’re likely to be familiar with. The Pastel Lime color certainly stands out in a sea of similar designs, and is definitely the color to get over the Chromatic Gray colorway. In either case, using the included case is recommended as the plastic back tends to get scuffed over time.
A fingerprint scanner is integrated into the power button on the right edge and is easy to use to unlock the phone, but as with the Nord CE 2 Lite, this phone skips on the iconic OnePlus Alert slider. You do get a headphone jack, and dual stereo speakers, with the earpiece doubling as a second speaker.
For an all-plastic phone, build quality is on par with the segment and the slightly curved edges let the flat back panel rest easier in the hand and allow you to grip the 195g phone easily. Some sort of basic dust/water protection would have been good to see, but there’s none there.
Towards the front, the Nord CE 3 Lite features a 6.72-inch Full HD+ display with 120Hz refresh rate, but this IPS LCD panel will likely cause a bit of consternation among spec hungry enthusiasts who are now used to seeing vibrant AMOLED displays from Moto and Redmi in the same price segment.
The display is bright enough (with a peak brightness of 680 nits) to be used outdoors, and the super-responsive, expansive display comes in handy when watching streaming content or while gaming, yet the contrast and black levels are noticeably better on its peers. On most apps, the Nord CE 3 Lite varies between 60Hz and 90Hz, with 120Hz really only reserved for the user interface and a handful of first-party apps.
OnePlus’ choice of silicon on the Nord CE 3 Lite is the 5G-enabled Qualcomm Snapdragon 695G, which is the same chip as was used in the predecessor. This chip is mated with 8GB of LPDDR4X memory and either 128GB or 256GB of UFS 2.2 storage. The hybrid-SIM card slot allows you to use one slot for SD card for storage expansion up to 1TB, which is a welcome move.
Performance is what I’d best described as adequate for daily tasks – browsing the web, social media, music and maps - and the phone plays Call of Duty: Mobile (medium graphics) and Asphalt 9 without running too warm or dropping too many frames over extended duration gameplay.
The choice of hardware is somewhat perplexing, with the 695G unquestionably long in the tooth, and you have better picks in the segment from the likes of iQOO if you want a phone for gaming.
Powering the experience is a 5000mAh battery, which lasts a day of moderate use, or around six hours of screen-time. A big upgrade this time around is support for 67W fast charging with the included 80W charger. The phone takes around 50 minutes to charge to full capacity.
In terms of software, the Nord CE 3 Lite runs OxygenOS 13.1 on top of Android 13, and you should expect to receive two major Android updates, and security patches for three years. The experience was largely fluid, except for some amount of bloatware and unwanted notifications from the Theme Store and the somewhat dubious looking Metis app.
What one liked was the amount of customizability, with the support for custom icons, fonts and themes, and improvements in multitasking via floating and pinned windows. No always-on display though, owing to the phone’s LCD display.
Onto the shooters then. The Nord CE 3 Lite has a triple camera system on the rear, with a new 108-megapixel Samsung HM6 camera and 2-megapixel macro camera and a 2-megapixel depth sensor (there’s a 16-megapixel selfie camera on the front). There’s no ultra-wide camera on the rear trio, which is a miss given how quickly you realize how limiting the field of view gets with just the primary camera.
The primary camera’s performance in daylight is quite good, with good amount of detail and good color accuracy in the binned 12-megapixel images, with none of the over-the-top vibrancy other brands are often guilty of. Images taken in low indoors light and at night are well exposed but lack detail and have a fair bit of noise and blur about them.
The high-resolution sensor allows ‘3x lossless zoom shots’ by cropping into the middle of the sensor, and it works reasonably well to get you the added reach, but at the expense of far muted colors captured. Selfies are pleasing and with good edge detection, and videos are good, if somewhat limited at 1080p/30 frames per second (no 4K). The macro camera is largely forgettable, as is the case with most 2-megapixel macros.
If you’re on a tight sub-20K budget, the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite checks off some of the boxes – a new look, fast charging, a good primary camera, stereo speakers and a smooth user interface. The headphone jack and micro SD card expansion are big wins as well. It’s what’s missing – an upgraded chipset, an ultrawide camera and a better display – that leaves one wanting for more, and the competition by way of the Moto G82, the Redmi Note 12 or the iQOO Z7 leaves the CE 3 Lite in strictly ‘for the OnePlus fans’ category. It may sell well on that account, but it’s not forging any new paths, that’s for sure.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar.