OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review: A no-brainer at Rs 20,000

The Nord CE 3 Lite’s got enough momentum to jumpstart a smartphone space that was getting boring quite frankly.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review
OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite price in India starts at Rs 19,999.

The Nord CE 3 Lite 5G isn’t the first smartphone that is trying to woo the “entry-level” customer with high-end specs (and we hope that it won’t be the last, either). What sets the Nord CE 3 Lite apart from every such shenanigan in the past is the timing of the launch.  

The likes of Redmi and Realme have done this strategy to death, until 5G happened, when they all had to start picking sides. It was either specs and 4G or 5G and a couple of other niceties. But never both. The Nord CE 3 Lite does both.

Also Read | OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G: Best smartphone under Rs 20,000?

The phone in question starts at a base price of Rs 19,999. This is for a version with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. A model with double the storage will set you back by Rs 21,999. Not only does the Nord CE 3 Lite cost the same as its predecessor – the Nord CE 2 Lite— from last year, it also has better specs.

Now, specs don’t necessarily mean anything if not put to good use, but they’re surely a start to something. And basis that, the Nord CE 3 Lite is off to a good start.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G— High on features, low on price

Given the current market trend of incremental launches, to see a phone that does more than just blatant copy-paste is a major breather. That is not to say the Nord CE 3 isn’t drawing any inspiration from peers, but at least it’s all in-house and done tastefully. (Spoiler alert: the phone is roughly based on the Realme 10 Pro.)

The body of the Nord CE 3 Lite is flat-edged and made of glossy plastic. The chromatic gray variant we have for review is super shiny, almost like a mirror. An obvious downside to this is that it picks many fingerprints easily. You can also get the Nord CE 3 Lite in pastel lime which is the phone’s hero colour and very eye-catching. 

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review
The display while fast and colourful, could be brighter.

The Nord CE 3 Lite has a bigger 6.72-inch display with a hole punch cutout at the centre. The Nord CE 2 Lite was 6.59-inch. The panel type (IPS LCD), resolution (1080p) and refresh rate (120Hz) are do-overs from last year, and while AMOLED would have been a nice(r) thing to have, we won’t take that against OnePlus considering the low price point. The only niggle we have with it is that the display could have been a bit brighter. It tops out at 680nits. There is Corning Gorilla glass protection at the top, but OnePlus doesn’t specify the version.

Also Read | OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G rough-cut: Everything to know in 5 points

Despite being bigger, the overall dimensions are surprisingly nimble. A 6.72-inch phone is supposed to be not suited for one-hand use, but the Nord CE 3 Lite is easy to lug around without being excessive or anything. Maybe it’s due to all the plastic, but the weight-distribution, too, is mostly on point which make the phone very viable for long-term use. Biometrics are handled by a side-mounted physical reader. This is fast and reliable. Sadly, there is no ingress protection, none whatsoever.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review
OnePlus is committing 2 years of major OS and 3 years of security updates.

The larger display is joined by a pair of dual speakers which is, once again, an upgrade over the Nord CE 2 Lite’s mono setup. The combination can pull content playback well enough, though you should know that OnePlus doesn’t offer any HDR support. For some curious reason, the phone won’t let us access the Netflix app, either.

The battery size remains 5,000mAh but the Nord CE 3 Lite can charge faster at up 67W (versus 33W in Nord CE 2 Lite) which is capable of topping the phone from 0-80 percent in 30 minutes, as per data shared by OnePlus. In our experience, it takes about 46 minutes for a full top-up from scratch which is crazy fast for the asking price. OnePlus bundles an 80W charger in the box. Battery life is generally good.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review
You get a 108MP main camera in this phone.

The same is true about the phone’s new 108MP sensor (a Samsung HM6)— an upgrade over the Nord CE 2 Lite’s 64MP sensor— that takes pleasing photos when you give it lots of light, but low-light photos could be better. The are two more cameras in this phone, a 2MP macro and another 2MP depth, same as the Nord CE 2 Lite and they remain spec-fillers as before though they can be fun on some occasions. On the front, you get a 16MP camera, which is a hit or miss, mostly.

Also Read | OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite is fantastic value, but here are 5 alternatives you can also consider under Rs 20,000

The one constant is the choice of chipset. The Nord CE 3 Lite has the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 as the Nord CE 2 Lite. Make of it what you will but the performance is pretty good for the most part showing barely any signs of lag or stutter in normal day-to-day use, even with multiple apps running in the background.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite 5G review
The Nord CE 3 Lite has Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 695.

But as much as OnePlus would have you believe, the SD695 can’t pull off high or even mid-range gaming at respectable frame rates. Only the basic stuff. You naturally get newer software, aka OxygenOS 13.1 based on Android 13, and except for a few instances, the experience is mostly clean and minimal –and slick— relative to say the Realme 10 Pro or the Redmi Note 12 5G, phones in the same price class. Haptics could have been a bit better, though.

Should you buy it?

The Nord CE 2 Lite was a major bestseller, if data shared by OnePlus is anything to go by, setting a firm footing for the brand in the budget segment after having cemented its place in the higher-end already. The Nord CE 3 Lite is a good few steps forward, if not more, and even though it doesn’t reinvent the wheel or anything, it’s got enough momentum to jumpstart a smartphone space that was getting quite boring frankly.

A OnePlus phone at under Rs 20,000 can turn many heads, as it is, and after having used it for a bit, we can go out on a limb and say, the Nord CE 3 Lite is a solid 2 on 2. Just like the Nord CE 2 Lite, it should sell like hot cakes, too.  

Attractive design No IP rating
Large display Display could be brighter
Dependable performance Cameras could be better
Good battery life, quick charging

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First published on: 10-04-2023 at 19:54 IST