The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite is another competent yet uninspiring lower-mid-range phone from the brand. It fulfills its brief adequately, and won’t let anyone down, but there are more compelling options out there for similar money.
The OnePlus roster isn’t as clean and concise as it used to be, to put it mildly. Case in point: the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G. This phone belongs to a sub-brand (the CE line) of a sub-brand (the Nord line), and is a more affordable version of a phone that hasn’t even been announced yet (the OnePlus Nord CE 3).
Which in itself is a more affordable spin-off of the similarly unannounced OnePlus Nord 3, but now we’re really getting into the weeds.
Shopping for a OnePlus phone has certainly gotten a lot more complicated. All you really need to know, though, is that the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G is the most affordable phone in OnePlus’s 2023 line-up, and that it’s a direct succesor to last year’s somewhat disappointing OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G.
Can OnePlus get the lower-mid-range formula right this time around, or is the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G another affordable also-ran?
Design & Build
Relatively big and heavy
Flat-edged all-plastic design
Pastel Lime colour certainly stands out
The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G is another big phone from the brand. At 165.5 x 76 x 8.3mm, it’s fractionally taller and wider than the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G, if a little thinner. It weighs an identical 195g, which is hardly lightweight for an all-plastic phone.
OnePlus has stepped up the design language somewhat from the bland OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G, with flat edges reflecting the post-iPhone 12 style of the moment. A central hole punch notch replaces the left corner positioning of the previous model.
My Pastel Lime model certainly stands out, in a fizzy lemon sherbet kind of way. The yellowy-greeny metallic finish on the plastic rim sets it off nicely, though both are something of an acquired taste. There’s a much more sober Chromatic Gray option if you prefer.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
The glass-effect plastic finish of the rear picks up greasy fingerprints rather easily, though the light colour goes some way to hiding them at an initial glance. There’s no IP rating, which isn’t an unusual omission at this end of the market. With that said, the Redmi Note 12 Pro does manage to include an IP53 rating, so asking for one isn’t entirely unreasonable.
Elsewhere you get the standard side-mounted fingerprint sensor positioned underneath the power button on the right hand side. I found this to be a little harder to locate by feel than usual, as it’s recessed and thus sits almost flush with the edge, but it’s reliable enough in operation.
Screen & Speakers
6.72in IPS LCD
Full HD+ & 120Hz
The main reason the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G is a little bigger than its predecessor is because of its larger display. It’s a 6.72in IPS LCD, up from the 6.59in example in the CE 2 Lite 5G.
It’s plenty sharp enough at 1080 x 2400, or Full HD+, and it can also hit a 120Hz refresh rate. Unlike most other affordable Android phones, it defaults to that peak refresh rate too, which is nice to see.
The biggest issue that I can see here is the type of panel that OnePlus has opted to use. With Xiaomi offering full AMOLED in the cheaper Poco X5, as well as the only slightly pricier Redmi Note 12 Pro, the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G display looks somewhat anaemic.
With a gamut coverage of 85.5% sRGB, 60.6% Adobe RGB, and 62.7% DCI P3 in the more balanced-looking (if slightly drab) Natural colour profile, it offers pretty middling colour output. The default Vivid mode supplies a punchier 99.5% sRGB and 79.8% Adobe RGB, but isn’t what you’d call colour accurate overall.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
It’s in those grey blacks and general lack of contrast that you really see the LCD to AMOLED difference, though. Still, a top brightness (with auto brightness switched off) of 510 nits is not to be sniffed it.
A far bigger improvement over the OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G is the inclusion of stereo speakers. They don’t offer the deepest or most detailed sound, but simply having a proper left and right channel in landscape video content makes all the difference.
Specs & Performance
Snapdragon 695 5G
One area where there’s been precious little progress is when it comes to performance. You’re getting the exact same Snapdragon 695 chip here as you did with last year’s model, as well as with the slightly cheaper Poco X5.
That’s backed by a more capacious 8GB of RAM as standard, which is up from 6GB in last year’s model, but that’s largely by the by. The bottleneck here is that processor.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
Sure enough, the Geekbench 5 and GFXBench benchmark scores (covering CPU and GPU performance respectively) more or less match last year’s model. Meanwhile, they all fall comfortably short of the Redmi Note 12 Pro, which is probably the closest contemporary we can compare the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G to at the time of writing.
Benchmarks don’t always reflect the final experience, of course, but this older chip certainly doesn’t provide a modern mid-range experience in general use.
There was nothing egregious during my time with the phone, but I did experience fairly frequent micro-pauses when navigating through menus and home screens, as well as a longer delay when switching between apps than you get with more capable phones.
In gaming terms, you’ll be wanting to run Genshin Impact on Medium settings at most, and even then it won’t be flawlessly smooth.
You get 128GB of internal storage as standard, which is par for the course these days. It’s always good to see the possibility of microSD card backup, which is something the aforementioned Redmi rival doesn’t support.
Mediocre 108Mp main
Poor 2Mp macro and depth lenses
No dedicated ultrawide
OnePlus has bumped up the spec for the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G’s camera. Gone is the previous model’s 64Mp main sensor, and in comes a 108Mp unit – the first in a OnePlus phone, no less.
Pixels aren’t everything in photography, of course, but this one also boasts a reasonably large 1/1.67in sensor size, as well as a large f/1.75 aperture. There’s no OIS (optical image stabilisation), however, which really costs the camera in low light shooting scenarios.
All in all, I was reasonably satisfied with the results in decent lighting, particularly when it came to detail. The tone seems a little more natural and less heavily processed than before. However, shots could look a little washed out, and there were hints of overexposure in those HDR situations.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
I also found the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G to be a little slow when taking shots of moving targets, with blur present even in strong daytime lighting.
Low light shots really aren’t too hot either, doubtless at least in part down to that lack of OIS, with bags of noise and a general lack of sharpness.
You might argue that this is to be expected from a phone so far south of even the Pixel 6a’s sub-£400 mark. But I took the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G out with the Redmi Note 12 Pro and took half a dozen or so identical shots with both.
While it was far from a clean sweep, the latter’s dependable (and just plain larger) Sony IMX766 sensor, backed by OIS, yielded more pleasing and more premium-looking shots in most situations – especially when the light dropped.
There’s no dedicated telephoto camera, of course, but OnePlus does claim that those extra pixels on the main sensor mean that the 3x cropped shots negate the need for one. I wouldn’t go that far – there’s still a noticeable drop off in detail here, and the source material is far from perfect.
But it’s perfectly adequate for those social media posts, the tone of the main sensor is retained, and the results probably do beat a cheap and nasty telephoto camera on balance. Just don’t look too closely.
There’s still no dedicated ultra-wide with the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G either, unlike with the aforementioned rival, while the 2Mp macro camera is a complete waste of time. If you’re taking extreme close-ups, you want a decent level of detail that this sensor simply can’t provide.
Selfie shots are adequate from the 16Mp front camera, if a little washed out. Portrait selfies tend to produce that telltale halo of fuzziness that often accompanies cheaper phones.
You can still only shoot 1080p video at 30fps here. That’s a pretty terrible provision for a £300 phone, with various rivals offering at least 4K at 30fps.
Make no mistake, OnePlus has improved the camera system on its cheapest phone, but it’s still not among the best in its class.
Battery Life & Charging
Two days of light use, one of intensive
76% charge in 30 minutes
OnePlus has fitted the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G with the same 5000mAh battery as its predecessor, which is ample. Anecdotally, after a full 24 hours between charges and light to moderate usage (around 3 hours of screen-on time), I had around 45% left in the tank when I checked the phone in the morning.
Like its predecessor, this is a handset that will get you through two full days of light usage, and easily a full day of heavier usage.
In the usual PC Mark Work 3.0 battery test, the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G scored 13 hours and 5 minutes. That’s exactly 1 hour 30 minutes longer than the Redmi Note 12 Pro, which is pretty good going.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
The big battery-related improvement this time around is in the charging department, where OnePlus has ramped things up from 33- to 67W. This was enough to get the phone from 0 to 42% in 15 minutes and on to 76% in 30 minutes using the bundled charger, which is impressive, especially when you consider that the likes of the Samsung Galaxy A54 are still lagging behind on 25W and don’t come with an adapter.
Only two Android updates
Software used to be a key strength of OnePlus phones, but it isn’t any longer. Having been assimilated by Oppo, the brand’s OxygenOS is now essentially a reskin of the parent brand’s ColorOS. It has none of the old OnePlus UI’s crisp, stylish appeal.
That’s not to say that OxygenOS 13.1 is a bad interface, as such. It’s just no longer up there with Google’s stock Android and Motorola’s lightweight UI for sheer clarity and cohesiveness, with charmless menus and clumsy notifications dragging the experience down.
It still doesn’t hit you with quite as much bloatware as Xiaomi’s MIUI, however, which is a rare win for the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G over the Redmi Note 12 Pro.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
The main home screen has a tasteful Weather app and a Games management app, while the second home screen gives you Netflix and a dedicated OnePlus tools folder. There are a couple more preinstalled apps tucked away in the app tray (the relaxation-focused O Relax and Zen Space seem like particularly dubious inclusions), but they’re easily ignored.
One drawback compared to MIUI on the Redmi is that you’re only guaranteed to get two major Android updates and three years of security updates, rather than three and four respectively – or even more with Samsung.
Price & Availability
OnePlus will be selling the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G for £299 directly from its store from April 20. It’s not officially available in the US.
There’s only one model to choose from, with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, though you can choose from two colours. It’s also available from Amazon for the same price.
This is a £20 price bump from last year’s OnePlus Nord CE 2 Lite 5G, and it also puts the OnePlus uncomfortably close to the Redmi Note 12 Pro, which costs £339. As we’ve discussed above, this rival device bests the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G in a number of key ways.
Whether a superior display and camera, slightly faster performance, and the provision of IP53 water resistance is worth an extra £40 outlay is something you’ll need to decide for yourself. For my money, it is.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that there’s presumably a OnePlus Nord CE 3 around the corner. With last year’s equivalent models, there wasn’t a sufficient price gap between the two, so it might be worth holding off to see what OnePlus has up its sleeve.
You might, if your budget stretches, consider the Samsung Galaxy A54 or Google Pixel 6a, both of which feature in our best mid-range phones chart.
Jon Mundy / Foundry
OnePlus has turned out yet another competent lower-mid-range phone in the OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G but is competent enough?
The new 108Mp camera is an improvement over what’s gone before, though it’s far from the best in its class – especially when the light drops. Meanwhile, the continued use of an LCD panel rather than an AMOLED feels like an oversight that’s growing harder to ignore.
There’s a question of value for money here, with the Nord CE 3 Lite 5G coming in £20 more expensive than last year’s model. That might be justifiable with its faster charging and larger display, but rival handsets cast it in a less favourable light.
Spending just a little more gets you the superior Redmi Note 12 Pro, while spending a little less gives you the Poco X5 with its AMOLED display.
Throw in stagnant performance and OnePlus software that no longer stands apart from the pack, and you have a phone that struggles to differentiate itself in a competitive field.