OnePlus revisits the point of origin; but can it deliver on the value formula?

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Back in 2014, after months of build-up, a smartphone was put together after feedback from customers. That phone changed how affordable smartphones were approached – a no-compromise spec sheet and the resulting experience.

A flagship Android phone for around 20,000? The OnePlus One, as it was called, created a new category of “flagship killer” phones at that time. Things aren’t so straightforward now.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge since, during which time OnePlus climbed higher up the price ladder as phones became more and more expensive, year after year. Yet, we see a sort of return to the past, with the OnePlus Nord CE 2 5G. It arrives less than a year after the OnePlus Nord CE, but it is more aligned with trying to replicate what the OnePlus One set out to do. The simple summary is – closer to flagship specs for around the 20,000 price point. The reality is, that formula is proving harder to replicate.

It isn’t for the lack of trying. OnePlus has, after years of climbing up the price band, focused attention on the 30,000 to 40,000 price range. It knows that affordable Android phones cannot be ignored. Then came a push in the 20,000 to 30,000 price band. Therefore, the product line-up (in different stages of progression) includes the OnePlus Nord 2 5G (priced between 27,999 and 37,999) and the OnePlus Nord CE ( 22,999 and 27,999).

Also Read: How much are you willing to pay for a rare, genuinely rugged phone?

With the Nord CE 2, the attempt seems to be clear – make this the most affordable Android phone that OnePlus sells once the Nord CE eventually walks into the sunset. The variants indicate as much. It is a no-brainer which one you should spend your money on – 23,999 for the 6GB RAM and 128GB storage option, or 24,999 for 8GB/128GB? Hint: more RAM is better. Also, there’s the memory card slot.

But does it do enough? The answer isn’t a straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

For all intent and purposes, the move away from Qualcomm’s mid-range processors to a notch higher MediaTek Dimensity 900 has reaped rewards. In every metric, the Dimensity 900 is faster than Qualcomm Snapdragon 750, which powered the predecessor. It’s a smaller 6 nanometre size, which has incremental power consumption benefits, too. Clock speeds are faster, the graphics chip is more powerful, and there is wider memory bandwidth.

Our takeaway from the testing is, this change has worked in favour of the Nord CE 2. The phone you’re buying this year is a definite step up. It handles scenarios better where a bunch of apps are open at the same time.

There is good news on the battery-life front as well – the 4,500mAh battery gets through a day of regular use, once fully charged in the morning, with around 30% energy at, say, around 8pm.

The upgrade includes support for up to 65-watt fast charging, which takes it into the pure flagship siblings’ category. And a major step up from 30 watts the previous phone was restricted to.

It is on the design front that you get a stricter realisation of the work that remains to be done to achieve the heights of the simpler times behind us. It has a plastic back and frame, albeit with the Corning Gorilla Glass 5 layer on the screen.

It is perplexing that OnePlus distinguishes the Nord series from the rest of their Android phones by removing the alter slider. It is incredibly convenient to simply toggle between ring, vibrate and silent modes, without having to tap on five different things on the menu.

There isn’t as big a step forward for cameras – it’s still the troika of 64-megapixel wide, 8-megapixel ultra-wide and 2-megapixel macro; albeit with tweaked apertures, which should exhibit minimal differences in comparative photos.

But yes, there is a little more light to play with. If you are looking for video recording prowess, this can record 4K but at 30fps still, which is a bit limiting – but that’s the nature of the price band, with another example being the Poco X3 Pro. Neither is the reality that the phone runs Android 11 out of the box, with OxygenOS 11. Nothing wrong with the software, but this isn’t easy to fathom when OnePlus has been busy releasing OxygenOS 12 with Android 12 for the rest of its phones. It works, but you’ll just have to wait for the big Android update.

The larger picture is, the OnePlus Nord CE 2 seems a step up as far as performance goes. The screen is still a 6.43-inch OLED, but it feels richer and supports HDR10+. To get closer to flagship positioning, there’s a long way to go still, yet there are hints of the fighting spirit that gave us the OnePlus One and a few more.

This raises an important question – are we actually looking at it the wrong way? Perhaps the Nord CE 2 is purely meant to be a better mid-range Android phone in a segment that really has the volumes. You didn’t expect this twist, did you?


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