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I used the CMF Phone 1, and it’s 2024’s best smartphone bargain

The back of the CMF Phone 1.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

You’ve got to stick with me for a bit here, as there’s quite a lot of background to go through before we get to the meat of what makes this new Android phone such a bargain. The phone is the CMF Phone 1, and while you may never have heard of CMF, you will have heard of Nothing — the company co-founded by Carl Pei of OnePlus fame. CMF’s full name is CMF by Nothing, and it’s Nothing’s sub-brand responsible for very reasonably priced but little-known mobile products.

If, like me, you’ve barely paid CMF much attention (if any) until now, then it’s time to change that. Why? The CMF Phone 1 is the sub-brand’s first smartphone, and it’s quite simply the bargain of the year.

Shockingly good specs

The CMF Phone 1's screen.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

The CMF Phone 1 isn’t a flagship phone because that’s not what the brand is about, but it’s one of those rare devices where its overall appeal isn’t solely about the specification anyway. However, to imagine it has feeble specs is also wrong, as it’s way better than you think. The CMF Phone 1 has a 6.67-inch Super AMOLED screen with a 2400 x 1080 pixel resolution, a 120Hz adaptive refresh rate, Ultra HDR, and 2,000 nits peak brightness.

The processor is a MediaTek Dimensity 7300, which means it’s built using a 4nm process, has eight cores, and has 5G connectivity. There’s a choice of 6GB or 8GB of RAM, plus 128GB or 256GB of storage space, and you can put a microSD card in with the SIM. A 50-megapixel camera with electronic image stabilization (EIS) lives on the back of the phone, along with a portrait sensor and a 16MP selfie camera.

What else? There’s an in-display fingerprint sensor, an IP52 water and dust resistance rating, Android 14 with Nothing OS 2.6, and 33W charging for the 5,000mAh battery. Nothing promises two years of software updates and three years of security updates.

How much will you pay for all this? As little as 199 British pounds, or 209 pounds if you can only buy the 8GB/128GB version, which converts to around $267. For reference, the Samsung Galaxy A35 has a retail price of 339 pounds, or $399.

Wonderful customization options

The back of the CMF Phone 1.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

If CMF left the CMF Phone 1 alone with that spec and that price, it would still be a pretty good deal, but it hasn’t at all. The design and the level of customization are far beyond anything you’d expect from a phone at this price. The rear of the phone is a single piece of plastic, and it looks very cool with its exposed screw heads and that unusual circular knob in the bottom corner. The fun begins when you notice all these design aspects are functional.

CMF sells complete rear panel kits for you to replace the whole thing and give your phone a new look in moments. It includes a tiny screwdriver to remove the screws, a new SIM tray, and new screws in a different color to keep a uniform look. It took me a few minutes to swap from the industrial sci-fi looking rear panel to the brighter, summery mint green version. The knob actually covers an anchor point for a lanyard, which is long and thick enough to wear around your neck — or a kickstand. You can even screw a card-carrying case to the back of the phone.

The CMF Phone 1 taken apart before fitting a new rear cover.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

CMF isn’t price-gouging on the accessories either. A new rear cover with all the extras costs 29 pounds, or about $37. Meanwhile, the lanyard, kickstand, and card case accessory are all 19 pounds, which is about $25. If you buy the phone along with two cases in different colors, the lanyard, and the kickstand, you still don’t reach the basic retail price of the Galaxy A35. Even if you don’t bother getting another case, I think the CMF Phone 1 looks superb in the basic black finish, but beware, as it doesn’t resist grubby marks or scratches very well.

But is it a good phone?

The CMF Phone 1 with a lanyard strap attached.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I’ve been casually using the CMF Phone 1 as my primary phone for the last week, coming from the Motorola Edge 50 Pro, and haven’t really noticed many appreciable differences. Sure, the camera doesn’t take optical zoom shots or wide-angle photos, but the main camera takes perfectly acceptable photos.

Calls sound very good, and although I don’t think it pulls in as strong a signal on Wi-Fi or cellular as some other phones, it has not let me down. My screen time has been modest at a couple of hours per day, and the battery easily lasts two full days. A 30-minute Asphalt 9: Legends play session barely takes 5% of the battery, and a 30-minute YouTube video takes about the same, making it suitably efficient. I haven’t noticed the phone getting too hot, and although it’s not the smoothest user experience, it’s certainly not bad.

I do like Nothing OS and its minimalist look, which can be tailored to suit your tastes, adding to the breadth of customization possible with the CMF Phone 1. There is one big letdown, though. For some reason, the CMF Phone 1 does not have an always-on display. It can be set so the time and notifications show for a few minutes, but then the screen goes black until tapped. This annoying, bizarre decision aside, the average single speaker and aggressive auto-brightness are really the only other genuine downsides.

It’s the Nothing phone to buy

A person holding the CMF Phone 1.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

I started out using the CMF Phone 1 with no expectations at all and only became more impressed as time went on. Nothing, CMF’s parent brand, makes the Nothing Phone 2 with its flashing lights on the back and transparent design, and the slightly cheaper and less flashy Nothing Phone 2a. Much as both phones are great to look at and own, the CMF Phone 1 has replaced them both as the Nothing phone bargain hunters should buy.

It’s a rarity in the world of smartphones today, as it mixes great design, decent performance, and a range of customization options, all for an exceptionally reasonable price. But most of all, it’s a whole lot of fun, and I can’t really remember the last phone that made me smile because it’s cheap, decent, and a bit crazy.

Andy Boxall
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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