More of the same again- Technology News, Firstpost

– Good build quality and design
– Surprisingly good main camera in good lighting
– Android 13 with periodic updates
– 256 GB internal storage option available
– Good battery backup
– 3.5 mm headphone jack, MicroSD card slot, 5G ready

– Hardly any substantial changes from the Nord CE 2 Lite
– Camera performance drops drastically even in average light
– No ultra-wide camera, sub-par macro camera
– Charging speed is a lot slower than it should be

Price: Rs 19,999 onwards
Rating: 3.3/5

Typically, OnePlus launches a new Nord series with the top-of-the-line phone from the series with respectable specifications and features. In the subsequent months, the company starts to cut corners and add suffixes like CE and Lite to come up with scaled-down but more affordable versions of the new Nord phone. This year, the company is looking to take a different route. The first of the Nord 3 series isn’t the Nord 3 itself but the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G which target’s the sub-20K segment.

Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

Exactly 12 months ago, we reviewed the Nord CE 2 Lite and were far from impressed. We termed it the most non-OnePlus phone ever as it was underpowered, missed out on certain signature elements of the brand and didn’t offer anything special. If we compare the spec-sheets, its successor doesn’t seem to offer anything drastically different either, barring an 108MP primary camera. Would that be enough to make the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G a viable option that trumps the competition? Let’s find out.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G: Design (3.5/5)
The Nord CE 3 Lite design, though not striking, isn’t bad at all, especially the new Pastel Lime shade. The phone is constructed out of good-quality plastic with a smooth matte finish on the frame and all-out gloss at the back. The build quality is good but the back does attract smudge marks. There are no rough edges on the phone though. Just like its predecessor, the bottom bezel is quite thick, and the punch-hole for the front camera has moved from the top left to the top centre.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G Long Term Review Back
Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

A volume rocker and a SIM + MicroSD card tray are located along the left edge of the phone, while the power button can be found on the right side. The surface of the power button also doubles up as a fingerprint scanner. The scanner here is a lot more responsive than the one on our Nord CE 2 Lite unit and unlocks the phone briskly. The placement of the volume rocker and power button are well thought out and you don’t have to stretch your fingers much to reach them.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G Long Term Review Buttons and SIM slot
Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

The bottom edge of the phone has a speaker, a USB-C charging port and a 3.5mm headphone jack that’s present on all CE series phones so far. There are dual speakers on this phone with the other located behind the earpiece on top of the screen. The phone is 8.3 mm thick and weighs 195 grams which is on the heavier side for a phone without a metal frame or a glass back. The phone also feels fairly large in hand courtesy of its sizable display which we will talk about next.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G Long Term Review Bottom edge
Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G: Display (3.25/5)
The display on Nord phones keeps getting larger. The Nord CE 3 Lite 5G has a 6.72-inch Full HD+ IPS LCD screen with a 120 Hz refresh rate. The display is protected by a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass (version not specified). While the display is large and fairly bright, it isn’t the best we have come across in phones around Rs 20,000. It could have done better in sharpness and colour accuracy. There aren’t too many screen calibration options either that you get in more expensive OnePlus phones.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G Long Term Review Display
Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

You get to choose between Vivid and Natural colour profiles, and you also get a manual colour temperature adjustment slider, which is certainly handy given that the default colour temperature of this screen is on the colder side. The vivid profile makes the colours look over-saturated, while Natural makes them appear dull. If you have to choose between the two, we would suggest going with Natural and pushing the colour temperature slider halfway towards the warmer side from the centre for the best results.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G: Hardware and performance (3/5)
OnePlus literally went Lite on processing power on the Nord CE 2 Lite by using a Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G chip, and a year later, they have decided to continue using the same on the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G too; a questionable decision. You get two variants of the phone, but unlike the CE 2 Lite, you get 8 GB RAM on both and a choice between 128 GB or 256 GB UFS 2.2 internal storage. You can expand the storage further with a MicroSD card.

The performance of the phone is acceptable for general usage but not special. Things work smoothly in day-to-day tasks like using social media apps, browsing, watching videos or switching between multiple apps. You can do a bit of casual gaming too but at medium to low settings. The phone doesn’t get too hot, which is good. The speakers on this phone produce a loud and punchy sound output with a decent stereo effect. You also get a 3.5 mm headphone jack and a slightly downgraded Bluetooth 5.1 (its predecessor had v5.2) to plug in wired or wireless earphones. The call quality and reception were fine during testing.

Let’s look at some benchmark numbers for reference. We cannot have a direct comparison with its predecessor in Geekbench as we have moved on to version 6 of the benchmark, while the older phone was tested using version 5. The Nord CE 3 Lite managed to score 911 and 2107 points in the single-core and multi-core benchmarks respectively. In PCMark Work 3.0 benchmark, it returned a score of 8347 as compared to 7777 on the Nord CE 2 Lite despite using the same SoC.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G Long Term Review Benchmark scores
Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

Clearly, the newer version of Android and further optimisations is getting more out of the Snapdragon 695 chipset. The same cannot be said in gaming benchmarks where the scores are neck and neck. In 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme – Vulkan benchmark, the Nord CE 3 Lite goes as high as 2754 points, which is just 21 points higher than the CE 2 Lite. Similarly, in the 3DMark Wild Life benchmark, the Nord CE 3 Lite scores 1215 points as opposed to 1213 on the CE 2 Lite. Thus, not even a 1% jump in performance. Clearly not a phone for gamers, this.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G: OS and User interface (3.5/5)
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G runs the latest Android 13 with OxygenOS 13.1. If you are expecting one more rant on this topic, it is not happening! No no, not because OxygenOS is back in its old glory, but we have just given up on it. It is now very much ColorOS, and not ‘like ColorOS’. We are done ranting; it’s time for you to deal with it and move on too. For those who haven’t experienced older iterations of OxygenOS in its glory days, OxygenOS 13 is perfectly usable.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G Long Term Review User interface
Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

It remains free of ads and excess bloatware, which is great. The UI is smooth, lag-free and fairly easy to comprehend even for a novice. It offers a handful of tweaks to customise it further, and it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. Even better, the company has committed to two years of major Android updates and three years of security updates for this phone. That is one promise OnePlus has delivered on over the years.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G: Camera performance (3/5)
The new Nord CE 3 Lite gets a 108MP main camera as compared to the 64MP unit on its predecessor; probably the only notable change on this device. The 2MP macro camera and a 2MP depth sensor have been retained, while an ultra-wide camera remains absent. The 16MP front camera also keeps its place (though it has moved under the earpiece from the top left. Neither the main camera nor the front camera can record videos at 4K resolution.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G Long Term Review Cameras 2
Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

The max video resolution is capped at 1080p at 30 fps courtesy of the not-so-powerful processing hardware. It drops further to 720p at up to 120 fps in case you wish to record slo-mo videos. At first, I thought the 108 megapixels that the main camera flaunts is also a marketing gimmick, but I am happy to report that it’s not. In fact, in good light, the performance is surprisingly good.

When shooting outdoors in good light, the captured images exhibit lively colours and good dynamic range. The colours feel slightly over-saturated (especially the reds) and look more vivid than the original subject. Ironically, some users may actually like it that way. There is a good amount of detail in shots and most areas are well exposed. When shooting indoors or in sub-optimal lighting, the captured images look noticeably soft and low on detail.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G Long Term Review Cameras
Image Credit: Tech2 | Ameya Dalvi

As the light drops, the quality of the output gets progressively worse. Night Mode does make certain low-light photos usable but a great amount of detail is lost and the photos look flat probably due to the aggressive noise reduction algorithm. The macro camera output is just like that of any other low-end 2MP macro camera, barely usable. The portrait shots come out reasonably well in proper lighting with good foreground and background separation.

While there is no telephoto camera on this phone, you get a 3X zoom toggle in the camera app, but that’s a digital zoom. If you need 2X zoom, you will need to manually adjust the level of zoom from the app. Again, images captured using up to 3X zoom in good lighting are more than decent, but beyond that, they look dull and void of detail. I would strongly advise against using Zoom in low light. The results are bad. The 16MP front camera does a fair job with selfies and video calls.

Click here for uncompressed camera samples clicked on the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G:

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G: Battery backup (3.5/5)
The battery backup on this phone is pretty decent. The phone retains the 5000 mAh battery that easily lasts for a day and a half of moderate use, and at times even touches two full days. While the battery capacity is the same as its predecessor, the charging capacity has almost doubled in theory with the Nord CE 3 Lite supporting 67W SuperVOOC charging as compared to 33W on the Nord CE 2 Lite. The company includes an 80W fast charger in the bundle. Strangely, it takes about 70 minutes to charge this phone fully, which is just 5 minutes less than what a 33W charger takes to charge the Nord CE 2 Lite fully.

At launch, we were informed that the company has taken note of this issue and a fix is being worked out in an upcoming firmware update. Post that update, the bundled charger is expected to charge 80% of the battery in just 30 minutes. As of now, it only gets to 50% in half an hour. The Nord CE 3 Lite did receive a couple of updates during the course of our long-term review, but neither of them improved the charging times. We also tried using older 65W and 80W chargers from OnePlus with this phone, but they didn’t charge it any faster.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G: Price, verdict and competition
The 128 GB storage variant of the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G can be purchased for Rs 19,999, while you will need to shell out Rs 2,000 more for the 256 GB storage option. That makes it the most affordable OnePlus phone around, but not necessarily the best option around 20K given the competition. While the CE 2 Lite had some tough competition to deal with a year ago, things may get even tougher for the CE 3 Lite.

Two options that come to mind straight away are the Motorola G82 5G and iQOO Z7 5G. Both phones offer much sharper OLED/AMOLED displays and flaunt primary cameras with optical image stabilisation (OIS) that’s lacking in the Nord CE 3 Lite. The Motorola also has an ultra-wide camera at the back. While the Moto packs the same Snapdragon 695 chip, the iQOO has a much more powerful Dimensity 920 chip at its core, making it a better phone overall.

As you can see, the competition is better equipped in this segment, and we don’t have a compelling reason to recommend the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G over it. OnePlus had a full year to empower the CE 3 Lite with more than just a higher-megapixel camera and faster charging (in theory). If OnePlus is serious about competing in this highly competitive sub-20K segment, they really need to do a lot more. They cannot afford another strike against the next CE Lite.

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