OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
OnePlus launched the Nord CE 3 Lite, the most affordable smartphone in their portfolio. The Nord CE 3 Lite is the successor to the CE 2 Lite. Since last year, the options from the brand have been more mainstream and easier to understand. Considering the Nord moniker has its own identity now. Like last year, the CE 3 Lite promises a standard OnePlus experience with a better camera and charging technology. There are some compromises, as you would expect, but do they affect the overall performance? And can it give a run for money to its competition like the Redmi Note 12 and Poco X5 Pro?

Price & Availability
OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite is available in 2 variants. There is a base variant with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage priced at ₹19,999. Then there is a variant with a similar 8GB of RAM but with an extended 256GB of internal storage offered at ₹21,999.


OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
There is a new camera module set-up on the CE 3 Lite.

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Having reviewed all the Nord devices that came out last year, I understand what to expect from OnePlus. And they have met my expectations, including the ones where I would have liked to be surprised. So yes, things get boring in some places.

Starting with the form factor. Developing over the existing Nord CE 2 Lite and making the design more in sync with the portfolio is something OnePlus has aimed for. The smartphone matches the design language of newer OnePlus devices like the 11 and 11R.


OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
CE 3 Lite features a side-mounted fingerprint sensor.
But yes, it’s a budget device, so the materials here are in accordance with the price. But the quality has not been compromised. The smartphone feels solid when you hold it and definitely has a presence and identity. This is a big device but in line with the previous variant. So, the same rules apply here too. If you are someone who can handle bigger smartphones, then you shouldn’t have a problem. But users with smaller hands will take time to come around. Fortunately, this isn’t a heavy device that might intimidate you since the balance here is well-maintained. Also, the flat edges make it easier to maintain a grip.

The smartphone comes with a plastic back with a glossy finish to it. It looks premium, but it is a smudge magnet. This year's colors are better than we saw in the previous iteration. I like the chromatic gray color with me, which looks chic. There is another pastel lime variant, which is louder. In both cases, the execution is top-notch.

The treatment of the camera module is different this time, with individual modules and not a casing around them like we saw last year. This has made the camera bumps less prominent, making the design look minimal and clean.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
You get a 3.5mm headphone jack on the CE 3 Lite.

Other specs are mostly the same as last year, including the absence of the alert slider. Considering this is the entry point for OnePlus, I expect to see their most recognizable hardware spec as well. This is purely from a reviewer and enthusiast standpoint. A generic consumer might not even bother with it.

Other characteristics include the power button on the right, which doubles up as a fingerprint sensor. Quick to register and unlock; it works just like last year. On the left, we have the volume rockers right under them, we have the SIM card tray. The smartphone supports two nano SIMs or a nano SIM and a microSD card of up to 1TB. At the bottom, we have the USB Type-C charging port placed next to the speaker grill and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Yes, OnePlus provides it here, which is a good decision.

What surprised me here was the absence of an IR blaster, which we get on the 11R. This is a true blue budget device, so having one here would add value.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
The 6.7-inch LCD display supports a max refresh rate of 120Hz.

The OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite features a 6.7-inch LCD with a 2400x1800 pixels resolution. The display this time is slightly taller than the previous CE 2 Lite, which is a welcoming change. The screen refresh rate is intact at 120Hz, which is adaptive and can switch automatically depending on the content.

I want to compliment the CE 3 Lite for the neatest execution of an LCD panel I have seen in a while. Unlike what we see in the competition, this panel doesn’t feel plasticky. It is a solid glass that is said to be Asahi Dragontrail Star glass. While it does feel solid, I would recommend getting a screen guard.

That being said, there is a chin with noticeable bezels. They don’t spoil the experience but seem outdated, considering devices have trimmed-down bezels in this segment, including the Realme 10 Pro Plus, which has a curved display altogether.

Once you interact with it, you can observe the colors and text looking as clean as possible, which can be credited to Oxygen OS. The animations on display are easy on the eyes, and you will be happy with the panel quality. However, brightness is the Achilles heel for the device, since I had a hard time looking at it outdoors. So an occasional shade from the hand is not surprising.

In terms of watching content, the device does have Widevine L1 support, so it does support HD content across OTT apps. I caught up with Pathaan on Amazon Prime to test out the device. And for a movie shot with IMAX cameras, HDR resolution is a piece of cake. The color reproduction on display was satisfactory, and with a strong internet connection, the HDR content ran easily. The sound is also amplified in terms of details.

It has a mono speaker set-up for sound here, which is bottom-firing. It’s louder than last year and satisfactory for watching content. Of course, you can use the 3.5mm headphone jack here, which I would also prefer for a more personalized experience.

Interacting with the panel gave me a mixed bag of emotions. It is responsive when you are sitting on a dedicated task or an app. But there are mistouches if you plan to switch from one app to another. This problem was solved once I opted out of the adaptive refresh rate and set it to 120Hz. And I suggest doing the same, considering the 120Hz refresh rate does justice to the panel's capabilities. I have been playing COD: Mobile on the CE 3 Lite, and with the high refresh rate, the experience only gets better.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
Nord CE 3 Lite runs on Android 13 with Oxygen OS skin.<br>

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite runs on Android 13 out of the box with the Oxygen OS skin. This is my second interaction with the OS since my review of the OnePlus 11R, and I didn’t notice much difference.

I want to clarify that Oppo’s COLOR OS traces can be seen here and there. But what made Oxygen OS everyone's favorite is still intact, mostly because the smartphone is relatively free of bloatware—something I can’t say about most other devices in this price range.

Another strength of the Oxygen OS has been the customization options that you get with it. The app widgets for emails and calendars are my favorite since they help my productivity. Considering a buffet of options here, I suggest you check them out too. Widgets are often looked over when we use a smartphone.

Another important customization I always do with OnePlus smartphones is changing the icon style from squares to pills, which I find to be neater.

Then, of course, we have the shelf here, which I have never had a problem with. Once customized correctly and set up with preferred applications, it can help you in productivity. I have set the steps, Gmail notifications, and screen on time here. So whenever I need to access anything, I simply swipe right and enter the app.

There were times when I observed the OS slower than what I experienced on the 11R. This was mostly when I was swiping in a motion and tapping on an application. The response time was noticeable. A general user might not notice this, but this stood out in an otherwise stable-performing OS to me.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
Geekbench score for OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite is powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 695 5G SoC, the same processor we saw last year. I see the merit of retaining the same processor, which mostly saves costs. But, upgrading the processor would have given me more points to differentiate it from the previous generation. But clearly, aesthetics and camera are where OnePlus channeled its energy.

In either case, the performance of the CE 3 Lite is enough for me to call it reliable and delivers on my expectations. I would have liked to be surprised, but I wasn’t. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but as a fan of the Nord series, I would have loved a jump in the SoC.

Let me start by commenting on the graphic performance of the CE 3 Lite, which is decent. I played Call of Duty: Mobile on the device, and the performance was stable with medium settings. The loading time was quick, and I faced no lags while playing the game. However, on long spells of gaming, the device gets considerably hot. I did not face this issue with the Poco X5 Pro, a device in the same range as the CE 3 Lite.

That being said, the game focus mode on the device does add value to the experience. It is a more comprehensive gaming mode, in terms of execution, with significantly better UI and understandability when compared to the competition. It is also easier to manage notifications with it while you are engaged in high-impact games.

Everyday tasks on the CE 3 Lite are breezy, and you will not find an issue. I have reverted to countless emails in the last ten days and stayed active on social media with the device, and I have no complaints.

The 8GB of base RAM on my review variant was sufficient to handle most applications, only missing a step with heavy games. Otherwise, the bootup speeds and application load time were quick. You also get an option for boosting the RAM on the device, improving the retention of gaming applications.

The storage on my review variant is 256GB, which should be more than enough for most users. Considering the price difference between the two variants is not a lot, I would recommend going with this one.

To give you a performance reference for the CE 3 Lite, I ran a standard Geekbench test on the device. The single-core score on the device was 869, while the multi-core score was 1920. These numbers translate to the performance which I expected. Appropriate power to get you through the day and respectable enough for some demanding graphic work like gaming.

The battery performance on the CE 3 Lite has significantly improved over the CE 2 Lite. Unlike last year, where it supported 33W of charging, we get 80W of SuperVOOC charge support this year. At the same time, the battery provided an average screen time of about 6 hours, which is impressive. It is the charging speed that takes the crown. With active internet and background apps, the smartphone goes from 0 to 100% in about 40 minutes.

It is the camera set-up where OnePlus is betting big on the Nord CE 3 Lite. The primary camera is a 108MP shooter with a 2MP depth sensor and a 2MP macro lens.

The 108MP camera on the smartphone is surprisingly good if you know how to use it. Let me explain.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
In complete 108MP resolution the camera bumps up the details.

I have clicked all my pictures with the 108MP mode, outdoors or indoors, and with patience, the results are stunning. In the image below, I observed that the camera tends to get the skin tones mostly right, and the AI working in real-time is not spoiling the shots. This is a rare case since AI enhancements have mostly made images softer. The color tones are also correct, and the details are top-notch.

In the picture below, I observed the trees and sky closer to the actual color. Details again are well put, similarly for the picture with the 32 Milestone signboard, where the details and colors are well retained.
OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
The camera tends to miss out on HDR.

Where the camera keeps lagging is the HDR. I observed that, especially with the sky. I have clicked multiple images with a subject in the foreground and the bright blue sky outdoors, and the HDR has been choppy. I observed a black patch overlapping the subject and the sky, which will spoil a shot if you are not careful.

Otherwise, the primary camera is solid and definitely delivers on the promises made by OnePlus.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
Digital zoom on the CE3 Lite misses out on details.

We also get digital zoom here, less comprehensive than in the competition, like the X5 Pro. Better yet, the camera can hold details respectably across 1X, 3X, and 6X digital zoom.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
The edge detection on portrait mode requires patience to work.

Portrait shots from the device are decent, with the 2MP depth sensor adding value to the setup. The edge detection is satisfactory, and I also liked the black-and-white portrait shots from the camera.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
Macro sensor shots require attention.

Then we have the Macro sensor here, which doesn’t add any value to me. It requires attention to get good images; even then, the results are not something to shout about.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
The camera tends to miss out on details in artificial lighting.

Low light performance from the camera is decent, but you will compromise on details on most days. The output can be grainy, even with the night mode on, and the prolonged post-processing of the image gets annoying. Some casual shots are not a problem, but expecting quality shots might lead to disappointment.

The video output from the CE 3 Lite maxes out at 1080P 30 fps, which is not stellar but not shabby either. Yes, it’s not meant for professionals to shoot videos, but coupled with features like dual video, your experience becomes wholesome.
OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite Review: An overall budget champ with minor compromises
Portrait selfies can be surprisingly well put.
The front camera is a 32MP shooter, which delivers a similar performance to the 11R. So that's good news for us. With proper lighting, the color reproduction and the details are on point, but the results dip in low lighting conditions. The AI here as well works smoothly, and the alterations here do not look fake but rather enhance the output. The edge detection in portrait mode is also spot on.

The selfie camera can also record 1080P videos at 30fps, and the results are really good for the price, especially paired with the crisp audio output.

OnePlus Nord CE 3 Lite can be considered a mild upgrade over the CE 2 Lite but is prominent for the brand when we look at the broader picture. The device's strengths are that of a classic OnePlus - a clean OS experience, fast charging speeds, and balanced performance. The camera here is a highlight, but it’s not enough for you to look away from the competition.

If you want a more appealing design, you can check out the Realme 10 Pro Plus; if you want a stronger camera, then Vivo V27 Pro might suit you more.
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