I have been on a journey with Carl Pei my whole career, and the release of the Nothing Phone (1) feels like absolute deja vu. Everything about the Nothing Phone (1) and the hype surrounding its launch seems like a page straight out of OnePlus’s original playbook. This makes sense since OnePlus was founded by Pei. Even the terminology and phrasing associated with this particular device offer a similar vibe to the marketing behind the OnePlus’s early generation devices.
But this isn’t OnePlus, and Carl Pei doesn’t work there anymore. This is Nothing, and while it’s managed to make a splash among the throngs of thirsty Android fans thanks to its cavalier and minimalist marketing, it’s a wonder if the momentum will stick once folks get their hands on hardware.
The Nothing Phone (1) isn’t available for purchase in the U.S., and it doesn’t work on all three major networks. Thus, this isn’t so much a formal review as it is an exploration of what to consider before attempting to import this Android smartphone. Importing can be a hassle, and Nothing doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel as much as it claims.
A cool-looking, plasticky design
I would be lying if I said I didn’t immediately enjoy the look of the Nothing Phone (1). The company’s design style is reminiscent of the transparent gadgets that I used to love as a child. The durability of the device is something I am concerned about. The back feels like plastic, even if Nothing says it’s Gorilla Glass 5.
The Nothing Phone (1) has a 6.55-inch flexible OLED display, which comes already prepared with a transparent display cover on the front for extra protection. Since it’s a flexible display, you can feel a bit of indentation when pressing down on the screen with your finger. The display hails 10-bit color depth and a 2400 x 1080 screen resolution with 402 pixels-per-inch pixel density. Nothing says the screen can have a maximum brightness of 500 nits—1200 nits in super sunny situations—but it peaked at 465 nits with my display calibration tool.
Compared to the AMOLED displays on the Samsung Galaxy S22+ and the Pixel 6 Pro, the Phone (1) has a nice-looking display, though it veers yellow. This is especially apparent when it’s side-by-side with the Galaxy S22+, which rivals all the smartphones mentioned here with its color saturation. It’s also worth noting Samsung’s display doesn’t sound hollow when I tap on it with my nail the way the Nothing Phone (1) does.
If you were hoping for an Android phone with a less slippery backside, I have some bad news. The Nothing Phone (1) slips, at least on my paper notebook. Phones like the Galaxy S22+ and even the OnePlus 10 Pro, which I also brought to the comparison table, have matte backs which keep them from moving around when laid down. But the Phone (1) ’s backside is made of glass to provide a window for the LEDs, and the trade-off is a phone you’ll have to put in a case, lest it slide off the table.
Speaking of those backlights, they’re called Glyph lights, and while they’re neat to look at, I am still struggling to figure out who they’re for. I know what they’re for: according to the settings panel, they’re for notifying you of phone calls and messages, and you can customize them to have different patterns and sounds for each contact. You can also set them up to indicate that Google Assistant is responding to you, and they’ll let you know if you’re charging or reverse charging the device. But because I didn’t have a SIM card to put in the phone, I couldn’t test the true abilities of the Glyph lights.
But they are still very limited in terms of customization. Really, I don’t call or even text people on my phone anymore so much as I use different apps. I would love to be able to customize the glyphs to tell me when a message is coming from Slack or Discord or Twitter, but that’s not possible, at least yet.
I will say that they get very bright and flash absurdly fast. One of the matching ringtone patterns, called “radiate,” flashes so quickly it seems like a strobe light. This could be a trigger for migraines, I think. It’s worth noting there’s a warning label at the bottom of the Settings panel that indicates the Glyph Interface may not be safe for persons with epilepsy and other light-sensitive conditions. At least they’re aware! You can adjust brightness.
There’s another thing you should know about the Nothing Phone (1). There is no volume slider on the device’s side like on the latest OnePlus devices. You can hold the phone in one hand, and you can tap the volume buttons on the left and right. It makes it easy to capture a screenshot. But you’ll have to handle the ringer control the old-fashioned way.
Nothing put some extra work into the processor on the Phone (1), but don’t expect anything like Apple silicon here. Rather than choose something directly off the shelf, Nothing worked with Qualcomm to tweak an existing chip to accommodate the device’s unique features. The Phone (1) ’s processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+, based on the original model released in May 2021. That chip was an 8-core mid-range performer, and now it’s been tweaked to enable wireless and reverse charging on the Nothing Phone (1).
The Phone (1) is a solid performer in benchmarks. At least in Geekbench numbers, it performed better than comparable budget devices, like the Samsung Galaxy A53, which uses a Samsung-made Exynos chip. But it’s clearly a mid-range device when compared against the rest of the year’s major launches. The Phone (1) performed in the 800s in its single-core tests, compared to the 1100 and above scores from Samsung and Xiaomi’s flagships.
I’ve had the Nothing Phone (1) in hand for about a week, which is not enough time to tell how a smartphone will weather with use. But I used it for Pokémon Go and to play Elder Scrolls Online through Stadia with a Bluetooth controller. The device kept up with Go’s AR feature, and there was no lag while trudging through a dungeon in ESO. The Phone (1) can be used to play games and get things done. However, the extent of that is dependent on how the smartphone age. At this stage in the review, I cannot speak for that.
Although the Phone (1) comes with 8GB RAM, nothing sent me a unit with 12GB of RAM. You will enjoy games like those I listed, so a larger memory option is better. You also have the option to choose between 128 GB and 256GB. This device does not have an expansion slot so a higher storage capacity may be worth considering.
The Phone (1) is equipped with a 4500 mAh battery capable of up to 33W wired charging, 15W Qi wireless charging, and 5W reverse charging. It’s a quick charger, and I could grab 20 percent battery life after about ten minutes on 30W power brick via USB-C. However, the Phone (1)’s overall battery life is slightly shorter than some larger-sized flagship devices. In our battery rundown test, where we streamed a 24-hour YouTube clip at 200 nits for almost 15 hours, it lasted close to 15 hours. That’s about on par with the Motorola Edge+’s 5000 mAh battery and just a little less than the Galaxy S22+’s 4500 mAh battery.
Unlock it with your face
Nothing attempts to compensate for its mid-range-ness by packing in premium features, like wireless and reverse charging. You can unlock the Nothing Phone (1) using your fingerprints via the under-display scanner or by using the built-in facial unlock tech. The process of scanning your face into the phone for this function is quick and you can also choose to have the lock screen bypassed immediately or wait until your swipe.
During my testing, the face unlock function worked only a handful of time. I wasn’t entirely sure how to hold the phone to make it work each time. Anecdotally, it feels like the Apple iPhone 13 Pro’s FaceID is much quicker than the mechanism utilized by the Nothing Phone (1). I prefer unlocking my Phone (1) using a fingerprint or a pin code.
A camera for lovely days only
The Nothing Phone (1) has a dual rear-facing camera system. The primary camera is a Sony IMX766 50-MP sensor with an f/1.88 aperture and OIS and EIS images stabilization. It also has slow motion capabilities and a focal length of up to 24mm. The second camera, a ultra-wide Samsung JN1 with a 50MP sensor and an f/2.2 opening has a 114 degree field of view. There’s also a front-facing camera that’s a 16-MP Sony IMX471 sensor with an f/2.45 aperture. The Phone (1) is capable of shooting video at up to 4K resolution at 30 frames/second (fps), and 1080p resolution at 60fps.
Nothing Phone (1) cameras can capture everyday life. I was able take clear landscape shots at the end of the afternoon. I was also pleased with how sharp the images were even indoors. The high megapixel count helps photos look like they’re clear when zoomed out, though when you pinch to pan around the photo, you’ll see pixels muddled together.
The Nothing Phone (1) also struggled with its digital zoom capabilities. Admittedly, devices like the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and the OnePlus 10 Pro have spoiled me with their optical zoom abilities. But the Nothing Phone (1) ’s constraints became apparent to me when a grass fire broke out on the hills I typically use for testing each smartphone’s zoom. The Phone (1) was unable to keep up with the action even when zoomed in at 20x maximum. The images looked blurry and hard to see from the distance. The OnePlus 10 Pro’s maximum optical zoom was 3x and digital zoom was 30x. These photos were easier to share with places such as local news agencies. If you’re chasing fires, you should probably get a smartphone with lenses that can handle that sort of commotion. The Nothing Phone (1) isn’t it.
For more casual users, the Phone (1) ’s portrait abilities could also use a little tuning. Although the feature was able to blur the background in most cases, it did have a tendency to apply it in the wrong places. I also found the Phone (1) to be aggressive when adjusting exposure, and some shots taken out in the sun appeared more blown out than I’d prefer for a point-and-shoot. The Nothing Phone (1) made it feel like I had the task of manually adjusting each image that I took using it before I could share them on social media.
The Phone (1)’s nighttime capabilities were what impressed me the most. Even though the phone’s night photos aren’t as sharp as those taken with the Pixel 6 Pro (which is still the standard for smartphones capable of taking night shots), they were much better than the Pixel 6 Pro. Nothing managed to tweak the software so that it’s got lighting down in these sorts of situations, and it’s way better than on the Motorola Edge+, a flagship device that disappointed with its nighttime shooting. It’s still not the quality I like to post to my Instagram Stories, but that’s a mid-range phone for you.
A near-stock version of Android
If you’ve played around with the Nothing launcher available for download in the Google Play Store, then you already know what the Phone (1) ’s interface is like. A customization panel—spelled out in British English—lets you choose a wallpaper and color style, a la Android 12’s Material You. You can also choose from any icon pack you have installed, though you can’t change individual icons for apps that don’t have a corresponding image. (There’s a fix for this icon mismatch issue in Android 13 that will hopefully solve this problem across the platform.)
The overall interface on the Phone (1) ’s version of Android 12 looks closer to the Pixel’s Android experience than the Oxygen OS on the OnePlus 10 Pro, which is a tick in Nothing’s favor. However, the settings panel will have those dot matrix font headers. You can also access additional interface settings by long-pressing the Home screen. This will allow you to choose options such as app suggestions or whether the Google App should reside on the left-most panel.
I am a little concerned about the longevity of this particular smartphone, seeing that it’s a brand-spanking new release from a young device manufacturer. Nothing promises more than three years of Android updates, and four years worth of security patches every two months. We’ll have to see if it lives up to that.
We can’t forget the gimmicks
Before I conclude on this review for a smartphone that you can’t immediately buy in the U.S., I have to mention that this device wants to help you keep track of your NFTs. You can display non-fungible tokens in five sizes on the Nothing Phone (1) homepage screen, and you can track their market prices.
It’s clear from this feature alone that this phone is meant for a particular demographic of users. The Phone (1) is not for everyone who wants an Android smartphone that will last them the next few years. It’s for a person bored by the capable devices that Samsung and Google have launched over the years, not to mention the other major players in markets overseas. But I’m struggling to see the differentiation that Nothing Phone (1) truly offers apart from marketing and exterior design. Phone(1) is a new Android device in a saturated market. You have to really be bored with the current crop of offerings to choose this device over the so many others that have had time to bloom.
If you’re truly bored, the Nothing Phone (1) starts at £399 (or around $475) for the 8GB RAM variant with 128GB of storage. There’s also an 8GB/256GB variant for £449 and a 12GB/256GB variant for £499. But the biggest caveat to note before you shell out the shipping rate for this smartphone is that it doesn’t work on all major U.S. carriers. Nothing says the Phone (1) will work on T-Mobile and AT&T, though coverage is unpredictable on the former, and there’s no access to 5G or VoLTE/VoWiFi on the latter.