Nothing has not had the end to 2023 it perhaps hoped for — largely thanks to the Nothing Chats app turning into a debacle rather than a PR win. But what about its bread-and-butter tech product, the Nothing Phone 2?
Nothing made the right decision to launch its second smartphone in the U.S. earlier this year, and it was a real winner when we last spent time with it. But how does it fare after six months?
The good thing is, the Nothing Phone 2 has lost none of its charm or sense of fun since it was released. It’s still unique and eye-catching and won’t be mistaken for anything else. The lights and sound effects make the Nothing Phone 2 special, and I don’t think they’re a gimmick. This is the only phone I make an effort to select a ring and notification sound for and then leave them active. I’ve gone for the weird Wizard ringtone and the Cuckoo notification sound this time. The bright flashes when the phone is facedown are really noticeable.
It’s also a refined and reliable piece of hardware, with the in-display fingerprint sensor reacting instantly and the battery lasting for two days of use on average. The screen is very bright and colorful, and the side buttons have a pleasing, expensive feel. The transparent rear panel looks brilliant, and the phone has attracted various looks as people try to work out what it is. This wouldn’t happen with an iPhone 15 or a Galaxy S23.
However, the Nothing Phone 2 is a lively little thing, and it is keen to slip off most surfaces, a consequence of the smooth, slightly curved glass rear panel. It looks fantastic, but you either need to be very aware of where you put it down or cover it all up with a case. Sadly, it isn’t quite as comfortable to hold as the similarly shaped iPhone 15 Pro Max or the iPhone 15 Plus, with the sharp edges being very obvious when you grip it tightly.
The Nothing Phone 2 is a great piece of hardware, but the software isn’t quite as up-to-date as it should be. It’s still running Android 13, and although Nothing has released several beta versions of Nothing OS based on Android 14, the final release hasn’t arrived at the time of this writing, It can’t be far away, though, given the number of beta versions. Nothing is one of the few brands that does software updates well, so I’m eager to see the final release.
What about Nothing OS? Like the hardware, it has its own unique style, but it was a bit of a pain to set the phone up. It didn’t sync all my contacts automatically and required extra effort to make them appear. Adding the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro took several tries and restarts for it to pair and operate. By default, the Nothing Phone 2 covers the main home screen in widgets and then adds app icons to other screens. Several of the widgets perform the same function; it takes time to clean up the other home screens, and the Quick Settings aren’t populated, so you have to add the options you want immediately. It is quite time-consuming.
Once the Nothing Phone 2 was up and running and I’d made it my own, I didn’t have any other problems with it. There are various apps and features — such as the Glyph Composer, AirPods support, and the option to connect to a Tesla car — but these aren’t pushed on you. I did find tha\t the camera app can be slow, and I missed my “ideal” photo several times due to the shutter taking a beat too long to activate.
Aside from its speed sometimes frustrating me, the camera is as much fun as the Nothing Phone 2’s exterior. It has a lovely tone that reminds me of the OnePlus 11, and it captures colors and balances the image in a way that really pops, but is still realistic enough that photos don’t look overly processed. Editing is performed in Google Photos, so there’s plenty of room for adjustment. The camera is a high point of the Nothing Phone 2, but the app does need optimizing.
The quirky, individual, and powerful Nothing Phone 2 is one of the best smartphones of 2023. It’s not perfect, and though it suffers from a few downsides that commonly affect many other phones, none of these issues are dealbreakers. It feels different and unique enough that I’m proud to take it out and use it, which can’t be said for many non-folding phones. There are a lot of personalization options in the software to really make it your own, yet none are thrust upon you as a necessity. It’s a very friendly phone to use and own once you’re past the initial setup.
The Nothing Phone 2 launched at $599 in the U.S., but right now, it’s on offer for $549 through Nothing’s online store, making it a little cheaper than one of its main rivals as we near 2024, the Google Pixel 8. Both are excellent and thankfully have their own identity, which means one will likely appeal more than another — a trend we’ve seen a lot in 2023. That’s great news for you, and even without the price cut, it’s absolutely still worth buying.
The Phone 2 is also evidence that Nothing should be sticking to phones and hardware, and nothing else. Nothing Chats was a serious misplay, Nothing Beer is a bit silly, and Nothing Apparel’s lab coat and cap are so bizarre; it’s like CEO Carl Pei is trying to start a weird cult where everyone dresses like they’ve personally assembled the hardware they’re using.
Both you and Nothing should forget about all this nonsense and just concentrate on the Nothing Phone 2 and the Nothing Ear 2 earbuds, which are definitely worth your time, attention, and money. I’m hoping for more hardware on the Nothing Phone 2’s level and fewer marketing plays like Nothing Chats from Nothing in 2024 — and that it remains one of the most interesting new phone brands to come out in years. With the Nothing Phone 3 seemingly right around the corner, we may not have much longer to wait to see if Nothing can keep heading in the right direction.
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