OnePlus has a new entry-level smartphone called the Nord CE 3 Lite. While the name is a mouthful, it does bring a lot to the table and it should, seeing that it is in the more expensive range of budget phones.
In my few weeks with the phone, I started with low expectations and while some of those expectations were disappointingly met, there are some elements to the device that has the wow factor.
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite sports a large 6.72-inch LCD display with a 120Hz refresh rate. Powering it is the modest Snapdragon 695 chipset from Qualcomm and in our market, it comes in a single configuration with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of expandable storage.
It has a triple-camera setup consisting of a 108MP main camera, a 2MP macro lens, and the obligatory 2MP depth sensor found on most budget phones. For connectivity, it supports dual SIM cards, NFC, Bluetooth 5.1, and even 5G.
The phone is relatively slim and tall, making it easy to hold in the hand and the display is completely flat, which is a pro in my book. The back of the phone is simple and is made out of shiny plastic meant to imitate glass for that premium look.
While it does look pretty good, the Nord CE 3 Lite is undoubtedly the smudgiest phone I’ve ever laid my hands on. Any single touch will leave an ugly mark on the phone and most of the time, wiping the smudges barely does any damage. This means that unless you’re willing to have a phone that’s constantly infected with sweaty marks, a case is an absolute must for this device.
On the other hand, the rails of the phone have a very nice brushed aluminium finish that you don’t see in a lot of devices in this price range. The side-mounted fingerprint scanner is placed on the right at exactly the perfect height and on the left, you’ll find the SIM card + microSD slot and volume rockers.
The phone rocks dual stereo speakers, one that doubles as the earpiece and another on the bottom. Despite being over RM1,000, the Nord CE 3 Lite still provides a 3.5mm audio jack, which is a welcome feature rarely seen these days.
There are two circular camera bumps that protrude out like a pair of eyes, so it does make the phone uncomfortable to type on or use on a table as it gets quite wobbly. Surprisingly, despite its large footprint, it is a very light phone, making it easy to hold using one hand.
The 120Hz display for Nord CE 3 Lite is sharp and fluid, but I did have to set my expectations realistically, and to no one’s surprise, it doesn’t get that bright when using it outdoors under direct sunlight. Of course, it’s usable, but it does pale in comparison to the outdoor visibility of flagship phones.
The fingerprint sensor is absolutely fantastic. It’s incredibly fast and accurate, never once locking me out even with sweaty fingers. The only tiny criticism I have for it is that the placement might just be a bit too perfect, leading to a lot of accidental unlocks when I’m just carrying the phone in my hand, although it’s a good problem to have.
While it does run on an SoC meant for entry-level devices, it gets the job done. I’ve experienced a lag or two while using it for sure, but nothing that would constitute a deal breaker for something at this price point.
The synthetic benchmark scores are obviously going to be underwhelming, but it’s not exactly a phone marketed for gaming or multi-tasking. At the very least, it didn’t get heat-throttled while testing, so overheating isn’t an issue for this phone.
The stereo speakers can get quite loud with OnePlus’ 200% volume feature. You won’t be using the phone for high-fidelity audio listening but it’s more than good enough to watch videos.
The battery life of the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite is probably its standout feature. Even when I used location tracking, enabled the hotspot, and used social media apps all day, I never managed the get the phone to go below 50% at the end of the day. I can comfortably go two days without charging and three if I have days where I’m not using it as heavily.
As usual, I put the phone’s battery life through the wringer by subjecting it to a YouTube streaming endurance test at 25% volume and brightness. It lasted just a little over 12 hours, which isn’t the best I’ve seen, but it’s still respectable and pretty much the standard these days.
It does come with fast 67W charging so when coupled with the great standby time, I never panicked even when I forgot to charge the phone overnight as a 10- or 20-minute charge can juice it up enough to last the entire day.
The cameras on the Nord CE 3 Lite are probably the most disappointing aspect. While it does boast a high megapixel count, this phone is a good case of why that doesn’t really matter as much when it comes to actual results.
Even in good lighting, pictures aren’t the sharpest and with the lack of OIS, any tiny movement can result in some subtle blurring. At night, the camera’s capabilities completely disintegrate, resulting in noisy pictures and harsh blooming whenever there’s any light source. Its only saving grace is that with the large sensor, it does have room to crop in for a 3x lossless zoom even without a telephoto lens.
As for the macro camera, it’s barely even usable as the resolution is terrible and, in reality, you can’t even get that close to a subject. Suffice it to say, it’s more of a gimmick than an actual tool, but you could say the same for the macro lens of most budget phones.
Redmi Note 12 5G
The Redmi Note 12 5G is priced exactly the same as the Nord CE 3 Lite, and with it also being a budget phone with 5G, these two devices are natural rivals. It runs on an entry-level Qualcomm Snapdragon 4 Gen 1 chipset which isn’t that much bigger of an advantage than the 695 but should have about the same performance or even slightly better.
An advantage that it does have is the 8MP ultra-wide lens that the OnePlus lacks, giving it one leg up. It also has a 48MP main camera and a 2MP macro. The phone has the same configuration of 8GB of RAM and 256GB of expandable storage. For the battery, it has a similar 5,000mAh capacity but with much slower 33W charging.
POCO X5 5G
The POCO X5 5G also carries the same price tag as the OnePlus phone and it even uses the same Snapdragon 695 chipset. However, you only get 6GB of RAM and 128GB of expandable storage for that price while the higher 8GB+256GB configuration costs RM1,199.
The biggest advantage the POCO phone has over OnePlus is its display, with an AMOLED panel that boasts a peak brightness of 1200 nits. It also has a 48MP main shooter, a 2MP macro sensor, and an 8MP ultra-wide lens. Regarding the battery, it has the same 5,000mAh battery but just like with the Samsung, the charging speed is half of the Nord at only 33W.
As a long-time OnePlus fan, it’s nice to see that the brand can still offer an amazing package at a reasonable price. That being said, it does lag behind the competition in some aspects, specifically the camera and display. The battery life and charging are stellar if you care more about that and the performance is more than reasonable in this price bracket.
Unfortunately, while it’s not something that you would regret buying as it’s a good bang-for-the-buck phone in general, I could not recommend it over some of its competitors that have a bit of an edge over the Nord CE 3 Lite.
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