OnePlus quickly gained popularity when it first started out, thanks to its aggressively priced, powerful smartphones that completely disrupted the market. Over time, the brand slowly transitioned from producing "flagship killer" smartphones to simply making premium flagships. In order to keep its loyal fanbase happy, OnePlus launched the Nord series a couple of years ago with the aim of disrupting the mid-range smartphone segment again, and it more than succeeded.
Ever since the first OnePlus Nord (Review) raised the bar for the sub-Rs. 30,000 segment, a lot of fans have been waiting for a sub-Rs. 20,000 OnePlus phone, and in 2022, we finally have it. The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G is the most affordable OnePlus phone starting at just Rs. 19,999. As its name suggests, it's a lighter version of the Nord CE 2 5G (Review) for the most part, but it does manage to offer slightly better specs in some areas. Is the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G everything we've been hoping for in a sub-Rs. 20,000 OnePlus phone or would you be better off with one of its competitors?
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G price in India
The base variant of the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G with 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage is priced at Rs. 19,999 in India, while the variant with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage is priced at Rs. 21,999. Both are available in either Blue Tide or Black Dusk. I have the top-end variant in blue for this review.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G design
The Blue Tide colour makes the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G instantly recognisable as a Nord smartphone. OnePlus has used similar shades of blue for all its Nord models. In fact, even the original OnePlus Buds were available in a shade called "Nord Blue". The Black Dusk variant of the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G is said to have a sandstone finish; a throwback to the OnePlus One.
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G display has a hole for the selfie camera
While its colour is distinctive, the same cannot be said about the design of the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G. At first glance, it would be very easy for this phone to pass off as a Realme or Vivo device, and in fact both the Realme Q5 and the Vivo T1 (Review) look very similar.
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G has a large 6.59-inch full-HD+ resolution display with a camera hole in the upper-left corner. However, this is an LCD panel and not AMOLED one, which we're used to seeing on OnePlus phones. The good news is that you get a 120Hz maximum refresh rate, which is higher than the 90Hz of the pricier Nord CE 2 5G. I like the slim bezels on the sides of the display but the chin is thicker. This is not uncommon for phones in this segment, with maybe the exception of the Motorola G52 (Review).
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G has a plastic frame and back panel. A fingerprint scanner is integrated in the power button on the right. It's is easy to find and reach, being slightly recessed into the frame. The volume buttons are on the opposite side along with the SIM tray. OnePlus has retained the 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom. Here, you'll also find the single speaker and USB Type-C port.
The side-mounted fingerprint scanner on the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite is easy to reach works quickly
Just like other models in the Nord CE (Review) series, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G misses out on the iconic OnePlus alert slider. This phone weighs 195g which is heavier than the Nord CE 2 5G and this added weight is definitely noticeable in the hand. It feels even heavier if you use the bundled case.
The back panel has a textured finish near the camera module, and the colour in this area transitions from sky blue to yellow when seen at different angles under light. The rest of the back panel is a static blue shade and bears the OnePlus logo.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G specifications and software
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G has modest specifications but is in line with what the competition offers in this segment. I found this a little disappointing, since OnePlus has often been the one to set trends and not follow them. Powering the phone is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 SoC, which we've already seen in similarly priced phones such as the Vivo T1, Moto G71 (Review), and Redmi Note 11 Pro+ 5G (Review). OnePlus also offers a software RAM boost feature that can allocate up to 5GB of internal storage as virtual RAM (on the top-end variant).
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G supports Bluetooth 5.2, dual-band Wi-Fi ac, 4G VoLTE, a total of five 5G bands in India, and six satellite navigation systems. It also has a hybrid SIM slot that can accommodate microSD cards of up to 1TB in place of a second SIM. The phone packs a 5,000mAh battery and supports 33W SuperVOOC fast charging.
The upper portion of the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G's back panel has a textured finish
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G runs OxygenOS 12, based on Android 12. My unit had the April 2022 Android security patch. OnePlus guarantees two Android OS version updates and three years of security updates for the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G. This is a longer commitment than what most of the competition offers, which is nice.
OxygenOS 12 on the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G has some new features which we first saw on the OnePlus 10 Pro (Review). OnePlus Scout lets you search for things across contacts, apps, and the Web, similar to the Spotlight on Apple devices. Work-Life Balance 2.0 now lets you create profiles allowing you to separate work apps from those used for leisure. You can also filter notifications to help you stay focused while at work. These profiles can be automated to based on time, location or which Wi-Fi access point you connect to.
OnePlus Shelf can now be accessed with a pull-down gesture from the right side of the upper edge of the display. Private Safe lets you secure media files as well as apps with a passcode. OnePlus has kept the number of preinstalled apps to a minimum, which is good.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G performance and battery life
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G proved to be a capable budget smartphone, and chugged along just fine during the review period. It handled casual usage with ease but heavy apps and games took a little longer than usual to load. The high-refresh-rate display made scrolling through the interface feel responsive. Multitasking wasn't an issue and I was able to seamlessly switch between multiple running apps. Unlocking the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G using the fingerprint scanner as well as face recognition was quick. The speaker was also quite loud but a dual-speaker setup would have been better.
The three cameras on the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G include a 64-megapixel primary sensor
In the AnTuTu benchmark, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G scored 4,00,763 points. In Geekbench 5's single-core and multi-core tests, the phone managed to score 687 and 1951 points respectively. It also scored 17fps and 60fps in GFXBench's CarChase and T-Rex tests suites. These scores were in line with what competing smartphones with the same SoC have shown us before.
When it came to gaming, Call of Duty: Mobile ran well at the 'High' preset for graphics as well as frame rate and without any stutter. After playing the game for about 15 minutes, I noticed a five percent drop in the battery level, which is not bad.
Battery life was also good. The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G easily lasted beyond a day and a half with my typical usage. In our HD video loop test, the phone ran for 23 hours and 35 minutes, which was a very good time. The bundled 33W SuperVOOC charger managed to charge the phone from empty to 50 percent in 30 minutes and up to 93 percent in an hour.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G cameras
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G sports three cameras on the back, consisting of a 64-megapixel primary, a 2-megapixel depth, and a 2-megapixel macro camera. For selfies, it has a 16-megapixel front camera identical to the one on the OnePlus 9 Pro (Review). One thing that's sorely missing is an ultra-wide camera, which the Nord CE 2 5G does have.
The camera app is fairly easy to use and has multiple shooting modes to choose from. The viewfinder offers toggles for HDR, AI scene enhancer, and the ability to capture images at the full 64-megapixel resolution of the main camera. It also has a 'Pro' mode that lets you manually adjust various exposure parameters.
Daylight photos taken with the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G had decent dynamic range and good colours. This phone managed exposures well and even smaller objects at a distance in landscape shots were generally recognisable. The AI scene enhancer did boost colours a bit, but I didn't find the results to be unnatural. Photos taken at the native 64-megapixel resolution had better dynamic range but lacked detail compared to the pixel-binned ones.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G daylight camera sample (tap to see full size)
Close-up photos were crisp with a nice soft blur for the background of the subject. The camera app prompted me with suggestions on how to position the phone in case I was too close to a subject. Images captured in Portrait mode had good edge detection and the intensity of the background blur was adjustable. The 2-megapixel macro camera managed decent photos but I would have happily traded both these secondary cameras for an ultra-wide-angle camera.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G portrait (above) and macro (below) camera samples (tap to see full size)
Low-light camera performance was average. Objects in photos often lacked sharpness and the phone struggled to capture adequate details in darker areas of the scene. With Night mode enabled, it took three to four seconds to take a shot but I ended up with a brighter looking photo. This phone also managed to capture better detail in the shadows using this mode.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G main camera sample in Photo mode (above) and Night mode (below). Tap to see full size
Selfies shot with the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G in daylight as well as low-lit conditions were good. It also managed decent portrait shots. In low light, it automatically used the screen flash to capture a brighter image.
OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G selfie samples taken with Portrait mode (tap to see full size)
Video recording tops out at 1080p on the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G. Daylight footage was decently stabilised and I could only see some jitter creeping in while walking around. In low light, video footage appeared soft and had visible jitter in the output.
I'm happy that we finally have a OnePlus smartphone that's priced under Rs. 20,000, but at the same time, I'm a little disappointed that the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G doesn't raise the bar in any significant way. The features it offers are good but not good enough for it to really stand out from the competition. The promised software updates and relatively quick charging are notable features, but other than this, the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G feels more like a mash-up of parts from other BBK-owned brands such as Realme and Vivo, making it look and perform very similar to its cousins.
The OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G faces stiff competition from the likes of the Vivo T1, which is less expensive than the Nord's base variant by nearly Rs. 3,000 and features pretty much the same specs. The Moto G71 5G (Review) undercuts the Nord by roughly Rs. 2,000 and although it lacks a high-refresh-rate screen, it does have an AMOLED panel and an ultra-wide camera.
If you have your heart set on owning a OnePlus smartphone or long-term software updates rank high on your 'must-have' list, you can consider the Nord CE 2 Lite 5G. For everyone else, I think the Vivo T1 and the iQoo Z6 will offer the same performance for less money. The Moto G71 5G is another phone worth considering, if you don't mind living with a 60Hz display.