“The Nothing Phone 1 is quirky, unusual, and eye-catching — all in a good way. From the LED lights to the simple software, there's a lot to like.”
- Quirky and unusual design
- Slick, easy to use software
- Glyph Interface is eye-catching
- Main camera takes good photos
- Wireless charging
- Short battery life
- Software needs work
- Can get warm under load
Trying to separate the Nothing Phone 1 from the hype around it is a difficult task. The involvement of Carl Pei, the OnePlus co-founder with a significant following in the tech community, has meant a lot of people have been very excited about this phone. But as it was teased relentlessly for months ahead of launch, many will already feel jaded and even have some negative preconceived ideas about it, and no amount of bright, flashing lights will change that.
Pushing all this aside, what’s the Nothing Phone 1 actually like? It’s good, but not because of the LED light show on the back.
The Nothing Phone 1 looks nothing like any other phone available at the moment. Sure, glass on the front and back sandwiches a metal chassis, but the rear of the phone is transparent. Because of this, it shows the internal components and is lit up by Nothing’s fancy Glyph LED lights. Ignore the naysayers — it’s fun, special, and downright cool. The phone comes in black or white color schemes, is 8.3mm thick, and weighs 193 grams. It’s sensible to use with one hand, it’s not too bulky or thick, and slips into most pockets and bags without a fuss.
The flat-sided metal body looks very slick, but it’s not that comfortable to hold for extended periods, much like the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 it’s so clearly imitating. There is a hint of a chamfered edge, but it’s not enough to make the phone as comfortable to hold as the Xiaomi 12 Lite, which shares a similar design. The phone’s 193-gram weight is just right, though, making it pocketable and never fatiguing to hold. I was sent a transparent case for the Nothing Phone 1, which I’ve found reduces the way the phone digs into your palm.
The transparent back of the Nothing Phone 1 looks ace. All the phone’s guts are actually covered up, leaving the wireless charging coil as the only naked component on show. That may disappoint some folks at first, but in reality, it’s a good thing. Components are usually ugly, and aesthetics aren’t taken into account when laying out the inside of a phone. Covering them up with different-shaped panels under the glass gives the Nothing Phone 1 a cool, sci-fi look.
Nothing has designed a phone that doesn’t look like any other, and has a unique element that genuinely catches the eye when it’s activated. Considering this is the debut phone from a modestly sized startup, it feels incredibly substantial and well-made. There are some who question why the Phone 1’s looks have caused a furor and dismiss it all as hype, but this is cynical and myopic.
The past year has seen many good-looking smartphones emerge, yet Nothing still managed to come up with something fun and unusual. Reducing the Phone 1’s design to little more than a collection of flashing lights for people attracted by such things, or simply dismissing it as an iPhone clone, misses the point. What we’re seeing is Nothing continue to build its brand identity, which started with the Nothing Ear 1 true wireless headphones. Whether you like or loathe the look, it’s already immediately recognizable. It’s fascinating to see, and very few brands start out with such a clear design vision in place, let alone after just two products. It bodes well for the company’s future in design.
On the back of the Nothing Phone 1 is a 50-megapixel Sony IMX766 main camera with optical image stabilization (OIS), electronic image stabilization (EIS), and an f/1.88 aperture. There’s also a 50MP Samsung JN1 wide-angle camera with EIS and an f/2.2 aperture. That’s right, just two cameras. Not three, four, or five. That must mean it’s terribly basic, right? How will it survive without a depth camera, a macro camera, or a monochrome sensor?
It survives just fine, and is, in fact, all the better for shedding the unnecessary additional cameras. The Nothing Phone 1 can take lovely photos. It leans toward a natural color palette and further away from the saturation seen in many midrange cameras, which are designed to attract those who want to post instantly to social media. The Phone 1’s camera is more nuanced and slightly more subtle in its approach. It still amps up the blue sky, but crucially leaves green mostly untouched, resulting in more realistic scenes. It’s more iPhone than Galaxy, in other words.
I’ve enjoyed taking photos with the Nothing Phone 1 a great deal, being particularly pleased with the natural bokeh and some lovely use of HDR. However, it is far from perfect. Indoor shots often contain quite a lot of noise when light is problematic, the reflective glass back and lighting system may introduce lens flare more than on other phones, and Night mode is very glitchy — having failed to work several times and repeatedly failed to focus. The wide-angle camera is more muted, and its photos sometimes lack the vibrancy of the main camera. It requires more tuning to bring consistency in line with the main camera. Recording 4K video — only available at 30 frames per second (fps) — isn’t as smooth as 1080p, and it appears to have an overly blue tint.
For selfies, the Phone 1 uses a 16MP selfie camera in the hole-punch cutout in the screen. Photos capture skin tone and detail well, and the portrait mode isn’t too aggressive with its artificial blur, while edge recognition is very good. You can opt to use the Glyph lights as a fill light, rather than the harsher flash, when using the rear camera to take photos of people.
There’s still work to be done on the Phone 1’s camera, but I am using the device ahead of public release, and despite having one software update already, more are possible. I haven’t missed additional cameras on the back, and the photos don’t seem to suffer due to their absence either. Refining the software will hopefully help realize the camera’s obvious ability, as at the moment, it only shows it off 75% of the time. That said, I’ve had confidence to use the Phone 1’s camera, and consider most of the photos I’ve taken with it to be shareable and eye-catching.
The Glyph Interface is the name given to the lights, haptics, and sound effects that make the Nothing Phone 1 unique. They activate mostly when the phone rings or a notification comes in, and consist of 10 different sets of special ringtones and notification alerts, all of which flash the lights in different patterns, vibrate the phone in different ways, and make different sounds when something happens. Otherwise, the LEDs come to life to show charging status and when Google Assistant is listening, and can be used as an alternative to the flash in the camera app.
Nothing has got the combination of lights, haptics, and sound just right. They’re distinctive and unique, and the way the phone illuminates and vibrates means there’s no mistaking it for any other phone. They do give the Phone 1 a personality, albeit a quite mechanical one, oddly reminding me of Pixar’s famous desk lamp the company has used at the beginning of its films. The Glyph lights are very bright, and even at 75% brightness, some of the sharper notification alerts look like a flash of lightning in a dark room. It’s a good thing you can set a Do Not Disturb schedule.
I like the concept of the Glyph Interface a lot, but it’s during everyday use that the concept comes unstuck. The phone has to be facedown to see the Glyph Interface’s flashy light show, and that’s just not very convenient. This is how my time with it went: I put the phone facedown so I could see the cool lights, then when a notification arrived, I picked the phone up to see what it was. After a few times doing this, I left the phone face up so I could either see the always-on screen when the notification came in, or tap it to instantly see what was new. I just don’t know how often I’d realistically keep the phone facedown, and that means missing out on one of the things that makes the Phone 1 special.
— Andy Boxall (@AndyBoxall) July 12, 2022
The haptics are great (very noticeable and nicely engineered), and the sounds they accompany are a great mix of cute (the “Oi!” and tennis sounds), nostalgic (either of the bulb sounds), and weird (the excitable Scribble and Squirrels). I don’t mind having the sounds active at home, but would turn them off in public, and I’d probably just not turn the volume back up again. Everyone will take to them differently and perhaps deliberately adjust their lifestyle to suit the phone, but personally, I suspect the novelty will wear off and I’ll go back to the most convenient and established way of a phone alerting me of calls and notifications — a haptic-generated buzz and the always-on screen.
Before I started using the Nothing Phone 1, the hype around NothingOS — the name given to Nothing’s software built around Android 12 — had made me expect something different, new, and possibly even controversial. It’s not really any of those things, but don’t take this as a negative. NothingOS is great — simple to learn, free from bloat/annoying interruptions, and wonderfully fast and smooth.
The software doesn’t pester you to change this setting, try that feature, or use a different app, mostly because there aren’t any superfluous apps or features. It’s a wise move on Nothing’s part and brings the Phone 1’s experience closer to that of the Pixel 6 than the OnePlus Nord 2T, for example. The design is clean and quite similar to Android on the Pixel, apart from a few little additions made by Nothing. For example, there are four different Nothing clock widgets, and a pair of large multifunction connectivity panels under Quick Settings. If you were worried Nothing was going to cover NothingOS in its pixel-themed font, then don’t be. It’s all rather normal.
Using the Nothing Phone 1 is comfortable, effortless, and satisfying. You quickly fall into a rhythm with the phone, something that takes time on phones with more complicated, attention-seeking software. It’s not without fault or quirks, but most of them are only small annoyances. For example, there’s no on-screen button to activate the camera from the lock screen (it’s a double tap of the power key), and the Google Search bar on the Home screen is fixed and can’t be moved or removed. Considering this is Nothing’s first phone, it has done a very impressive job with the software overall, which I haven’t wanted to stop using.
Nothing needs to continue this theme for future devices and not give in to pressure to add more features or apps, as right now, it stands apart from the various ColorOS clones, Samsung’s OneUI, and Xiaomi’s MIUI, and is an excellent alternative to Android 12 on a Pixel phone. There’s slight concern it may already be falling into that trap, though. The Nothing Phone 1 has a feature in beta for Tesla owners to connect their car to their phone. There’s an NFT app, too, but this has not appeared on my phone yet.
While the general operation of the Nothing Phone 1 is comfortable and enjoyable, there are still bugs throughout, but few affect general, everyday operation. Also, I was expecting a little more coherence between the Nothing Ear 1 headphones and the Phone 1, but it’s not functioning very well yet. The earbuds connect, but there’s no way to control the noise cancellation effects without the app, and the built-in connection panel just shows “connecting …” despite the ‘buds being connected. If the Phone 1 is trying to be an iPhone, it has a long way to go to beat the excellent iPhone/AirPods interface.
You can try NothingOS out on your own phone right now by using the NothingOS launcher app, and it’s very close to the software on the phone in terms of design.
The Nothing Phone 1 uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+ processor, and my review model has 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage space. The phone has no issue with general tasks, whether it’s keeping up with the GPS when using it for navigation in a car, using social media apps, or using the camera. The combination of NothingOS, the chip, and the 120Hz screen means the Phone 1 always feels smooth and responsive.
It’s when you play games that the processor starts to struggle, and it generates quite a lot of heat when it does. Play Asphalt 9: Legends or Diablo Immortal for 30 minutes, and there’s a noticeable buildup of heat on the back of the phone. It’s never burning, and the phone doesn’t get too hot to hold, but you definitely get the impression the phone is working hard. It’s distracting too, and when a phone gets hot in this way, it can only negatively affect battery life. Using the Glyph lights as a fill light for longer than a minute or so on the camera also makes the back of the phone get warm. Heat was also an issue on the Xiaomi 12 Lite, which also uses a Snapdragon 778 processor, and it has also been evident on the Phone 1 when charging the battery.
There’s a slight caveat here, as I’ve been using the Phone 1 during a series of very hot days, which may have affected the way it cools, so I won’t judge it too harshly and will revisit this issue when the weather cools down. However, it does seem the Nothing Phone 1 runs pretty warm under load.
The combination of NothingOS, the chip, and the 120Hz screen means the Phone 1 always feels smooth and responsive.
On the front of the Nothing Phone 1 is a 6.55-inch OLED screen with a 2400 x 1080 pixel resolution, 10-bit color, HDR10+ certification, a 240Hz touch-sampling rate, and a maximum 120Hz refresh rate. Out of the box, the phone defaults to 60Hz, but you should change this immediately. Switching to 120Hz makes the noticeable blur when scrolling disappear, and it operates in the places you want it: in apps like Twitter, in Google Discover, and when browsing in Chrome.
I love the way the flexible OLED panel is so close to the glass and the equal-sized bezels around it. It gives the Phone 1 a modern, uniform look. The viewing angles are also very good, and for the most part, the screen is visible and usable in sunlight. Much like the camera, the screen’s tone, color balance, and overall performance has been tuned to match the iPhone. Putting it alongside the iPhone 13 Pro, there’s almost nothing to separate them, as each has the same natural look, with outstanding detail in shadows and bright, vibrant colors.
It’s different from the usual screen performance on an Android phone, particularly on phones that use Samsung panels, which usually up the contrast for a higher degree of saturation at the expense of detail. Personally, I prefer the iPhone’s screen performance, so the Nothing Phone 1 suits me. However, the speakers let the phone down as — although it’s stereo sound — it’s harsh and tinny at anything other than low volume.
There have been a few problems with dropped calls and Bluetooth connection stability, especially when the two are active together. I’ve been using the Nothing Ear 1 with the Phone 1, and several times one of the earbuds randomly disconnected. Calls have dropped when connected to Bluetooth too. Finally, there’s the fingerprint sensor. It’s fast, but it doesn’t work well with the face unlock active at the same time. It seems to get confused about whether the phone has been unlocked, and the swipe-up action isn’t tuned well, so you end up being presented with the PIN code screen quite often.
I am using the phone ahead of launch, so software updates may cure many of these problems.
The Nothing Phone 1 does not come with a charger, but a USB cable is included in the box. This leaves you at the mercy of the chargers you already own. I used a USB Type-C charger that claims to fast charge to Qualcomm Quick Charge 3 standards, and the phone showed “Charging Rapidly” on the screen. In 10 minutes, the battery went from 2% to 20%, After 30 minutes, it was at 55%, and was fully charged in a little over an hour.
Wireless charging is available, as you can see through the transparent back panel, but at 15 watts, it’s definitely not going to be faster than the wired option. You can also reverse charge at 5W. As you’d expect, the Nothing Ear 1 true wireless earbuds are compatible, as are the Samsung Galaxy Buds Live and the Apple AirPods Pro. When you place a device down on the back of the phone to charge, the central Glyph light illuminates for a few seconds to confirm the power is flowing.
Charging, compared to many other competing devices at this price, is underwhelming on the Nothing Phone 1, as is the battery life in general. Moderately heavy use — one hour of gaming or GPS, emails, social media, and photography — while connected to a 4G or 5G signal will see the battery struggle to last a single, long day. Play 30 minutes of games like Diablo Immortal with the default settings, and expect the battery to fall by about 8%.
Even with careful use, I haven’t gotten two full days out of the Nothing Phone 1’s battery. It’s fine provided you charge every night, but if you regularly play a lot of games or push the phone in other ways, then don’t expect any more than a full day, maximum.
The Nothing Phone 1 won’t be released in the U.S., which it says is due to it being a new brand, which makes entering into relationships with carriers in the U.S. unrealistic at this stage. However, Nothing does want to release a phone in the U.S. in the future. For now, the Nothing Phone 1 will be available to buy in the U.K., parts of Europe, India, Japan, and elsewhere.
In the U.K., the Phone 1 starts at 399 British pounds ($473) for the 8GB/128GB version and 449 pounds ($533) for the 8GB/256GB model. Later this summer, there will be a 12GB/256GB version for 499 pounds ($592). Nothing will sell the phone through its own online store, the O2 network, and retail partners (including Selfridges).
Quirky, individual, and enjoyable to use, the Nothing Phone 1 succeeds in being different from any other smartphone, at least on the outside. Inside, things are substantially more familiar, with the software sharing plenty of stylistic and interface similarities with the Google Pixel series. It’s reasonably priced, the specifications are good, the software is enjoyable to use, and it really does look and feel different from any other Android phone out there.
However, it’s not perfect. There are plenty of software bugs to squash, the camera needs tuning, and the battery life is short. However, it’s the first phone from a fairly new brand, and I’ll take the few software-related issues at this stage, as Nothing could be swift with software updates to fix them. If it does, the Phone 1 will be a considerable bargain. However, if it doesn’t swiftly fix at least some of the problems, then my opinion could rapidly change.
For now, the Nothing Phone 1 is a recommended buy, provided you understand this is the first phone released by an (admittedly well-connected and well-funded) startup, and with that, you’ve got to expect there to be some teething issues. It’s still a very exciting start for the company, though, and Nothing is certainly well on its way to meeting its target of creating tech that seamlessly blends into our lives.
Is there a better alternative?
If you want something like the Glyph Interface and its flashing lights, then no, the Nothing Phone 1 stands alone. If you want a phone that costs less than $500, or about 400 pounds in the U.K., then there are several alternatives worth looking at. The Samsung Galaxy A53 is its biggest challenger, with its better battery life, increased durability, longer software support, and decent software for about the same price.
The OnePlus Nord 2T or the Realme GT Neo 3T are both good choices if you want faster battery charging and longer standby, plus the camera on both is decent too. The Google Pixel 6a is another strong challenger if the camera is your top feature. Look toward Apple, and for a similar price, you could have the iPhone SE (2022) or the iPhone 11, which is still sold new.
How long will it last?
The Nothing Phone 1 has an IP53 water-resistance rating, which means it’s protected from water spray and from a degree of dust ingress. Using it in the rain is fine, but protection is not as comprehensive as an IP68-rated phone like the Samsung Galaxy S22. It’s made of glass and is therefore likely to break if it takes a big fall, and a case may be advisable to protect that transparent rear panel. Nothing promises three years of Android updates and four years of bimonthly security updates.
All this makes the Nothing Phone 1 more than able to last for two years or more, provided your requirements around the camera and gaming don’t change, as the battery life and simple two-camera layout may become restrictive.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The Nothing Phone 1, despite some software problems and its short battery life, is the Android phone to buy if you want to stand out from the crowd.
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