(Pocket-lint) - To say there's been hype around the Nothing phone (1) would be an understatement. While drip-fed leaks, snappy social media posts and an exclusive launch via StockX have helped play their part in building to a crescendo, though, the real test for Nothing begins now.
With just a pair of headphones to its name currently, the company is now preparing to break into an extremely competitive mid-range smartphone market. The Nothing phone (1), then, represents the real beginning of founder Carl Pei's ambitions with this new brand.
But has all the hubbub been worth it?
The Nothing phone (1) is a solid Android phone from a new company, showing maturity in the software and offering performance that many will appreciate in the mid-range. The battery life is good, with the reverse wireless charging being a little more unique at this price point.
Nothing's aim of delivering two decent cameras doesn't really come through, but you do get a competitive main camera and avoid the multitude of junk lenses that many rivals push, so that's a positive. Really, the only thing that makes this phone stand out is the design, and we're more drawn to the intricacy of the back than we are to the Glyph Interface, which - beyond the novelty - is of questionable use.
So, the experience when using the Nothing phone (1) is overwhelmingly positive. This is a competitive mid-range device offering good value for money, but we can't hand on heart say that this really changes the status quo.
Nothing phone (1)
- Quality design
- Glyph Interface is interesting
- Great display
- Value for money
- Bloat free
- No track record on updates
- Little difference to any other mid-range device
- Auto-brightness not great
- No 3.5mm or microSD
Design and build
- 159.2 x 75.8 x 8.3mm, 193.5g
- Aluminium frame, Gorilla Glass 5
- Transparent rear with Glyph Interface
The unique design of the Nothing phone (1) has been widely shared. Turning to a transparent back glass plate, the insides of the phone can be seen and have been carefully designed to provide interest and texture.
There's a deeply satisfying geekery to the Nothing phone (1), and, while we've seen similar transparent finishes from HTC and Xiaomi in the past, those mostly showed off fake components. Nothing, conversely, had to consider what you'd be looking at and design around it.
Adding substance to the design is something called the Glyph Interface. These lines of white LEDs are designed to illuminate the rear of the phone and can actually notify you of different things - notifications, the phone's charging status and more are all carefully synced with the geeky sounds that the phone offers.
We've seen rear LED displays on gaming phones before, and it lends a feeling that Nothing phone (1) is a slightly fringe option. It's a design that's very much sitting on the edge and looking in, rather than trying to appeal to a mass audience.
But the question is whether the Glyph Interface is actually useful and that's questionable. It's great for showing off to people and it certainly draws attention to the device, but once you're over the novelty it doesn't really do much - especially as we tend to put down our phone screen up to avoid scratches, so it's often hidden.
At the same time, though, there's still something controversially conventional about the phone (1).
The angular aesthetic is highly reminiscent of recent iPhone designs - even down the shape and location of the buttons. Is this Nothing's ploy, to reflect Apple's quality in a cheaper device and sell it to the fringe? Or was this an OEM design that was originally designed to look like the iPhone that's been adapted by Nothing?
There's an in-display fingerprint scanner which works well, unlocking the phone without issue, while there are decent stereo speakers built into the frame. These provide good audio, perfect for ad hoc video watching or gaming. There's no 3.5mm headphone socket.
The clear case is also welcomed. This is a phone designed around its looks, and the TPU case will protect it from scratches while also giving it a lot more grip - and we've found ourselves using it all the time to make it a little more secure in the hand.
- 6.55-inch OLED
- 2400 x 1080 pixels, 402ppi
- 60-120Hz adaptive, 240Hz touch sampling
- HDR support
The display on the Nothing phone (1) is flat and befitting of that iPhone-like design, with a neat bezel trimming the edges and equal on all sides. Unlike the iPhone, however, there's no ugly notch. Instead, we have a left-mounted punch hole for the front camera. This is our preferred location as when you rotate the phone to play games, it moves into a corner out of the way, rather than sticking to the centre and taking up useful space.
The display is generally bright and vibrant, but the auto-brightness seems to be a little sluggish - or confused, perhaps. First thing in the morning we've unlocked the phone to experience piercing max brightness from it and outdoors shooting photos in the sun, it's been at around 75 per cent, making everything look a little dark. Although the adjustment is only a swipe away in the Quick Settings pane, it does feel like the calibration isn't quite right.
But this is a good OLED panel, supporting HDR and it looks great, handling a full range of content nicely. Aside from brightness niggles, we have no complaints.
The adaptive refresh is also interesting. It's not the same as you'll find on flagship devices, as it only runs from 60-120Hz depending on the content you're viewing, designed to optimise efficiency. You can lock it to 60Hz if you'd prefer.
Hardware and performance
- Snapdragon 778G+, 8-12GB RAM, 128-256GB storage
- 4500mAh battery
- 33W charging, 15W wireless, 5W reverse wireless
The hardware loadout of the Nothing phone (1) sets it out as a mid-range device. The Snapdragon 778G+ is a 5G SoC, meaning you have fast connectivity for data and plenty of power.
This isn't sitting in the same space as flagship phones, neither in terms of the power or the battery capacity, but we've seen some really impressive mid-range devices over the past couple of years and from a performance point of view, the Nothing phone (1) is no different.
The difference between flagship and mid-range in daily use is usually minimal, and, in many devices, you'll find that the lower power hardware offers better stamina; it's often less power-hungry until you push it to run hard, like when playing games.
Hitting the Nothing phone (1) with long sessions on Call of Duty Mobile does see it working hard, but the phone stays comfortably cool, with the only real impact being on the battery life. This is common to mid-range phones, but the good news is that games run smoothly, look great and everything was responsive enough, so gaming was great.
There's a 4500mAh battery which isn't huge, but it will typically get you through a normal day in balanced usage and we've had no concerns about it running flat - until hitting those hardcore games.
With 33W charging it's not the fastest out there on paper and there's no charging brick in the box, just the USB-C cable. That means you'll need to use an existing PD charger to get the best out of your phone.
Support for wireless charging gives you another option, mind, while there's even reverse wireless charging available on the rear of the phone to help boost your headphones on the fly. Indeed, Nothing needed to customise the Snapdragon hardware to make this possible - and it's slightly rare on a mid-range phone to get this function.
In terms of performance, we can't fault the Nothing phone (1). It's a solid mid-range performer, hitting the same sweet notes as its close rivals, the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G and perhaps the OnePlus Nord 2T. That might change slightly with the arrival of the Google Pixel 6a at a similar price.
- Dual rear cameras
- Main: 50MP, f/1.88, 1/1.56in, 1μm pixels, OIS
- Ultrawide: 50MP, f/2.2, 1/2.76in, 0.64μm pixels
- Front: 16MP, f/2.45, 1.3.1in, 1μm pixels
There are two cameras on the rear of the Nothing Phone (1), with Carl Pei saying that the aim was to deliver two good cameras rather than one good camera and a lot of additional lenses that look good on the spec sheet. We're pleased that Nothing is keeping things realistic, but in reality, while the main camera is good, the ultrawide camera doesn't really elevate itself above what's typical for this segment of the market.
Starting with the main camera, it's capable enough with good detail and colour in daylight conditions and most people will be perfectly happy with the performance. There are some tonal differences between the main and ultrawide cameras, the ultrawide looking slightly cooler, or bluer.
The main camera gives a more realistic colour balance and is richer - and that may well draw people into using the main camera and swerving away from the ultrawide when taking photos.
All the expected functions are in place, such as night mode and portrait mode, with both producing decent results and helping the phone (1) remain competitive. The portrait mode includes a manual option to adjust the "aperture", changing the strength of background blurring. Edge detection seems pretty good - but it's also worth bearing in mind that with an f/1.88 main camera, there's decent natural bokeh from the main camera anyway.
There's no optical zoom, everything is digital. There's a tap to jump to 2.0x from the main camera, but the ability to zoom right out to 20x. That's a little extreme as once you reach 20x, it's all pretty mushy and not worth bothering with.
The front camera performs well enough in good lighting, also allowing access to the portrait function and again the edge detection is pretty good for those perfect selfies. The front camera doesn't perform so well in lower light conditions, losing detail and pulling in noise in shadow areas. It's advisable to use the night mode in low light, but it only appears if the camera judges it to be dark enough.
The front camera also seems to struggle with movement, so you'll have to make sure everything is still to get the best results.
Video is limited by the overall power of the Snapdragon chip, so it maxes out at 4K 60fps. There's some pretty effective stabilisation so it will handle movement and make things look great.
The other addition you have is the Glyph Interface. This can also be used as a fill light, giving you a lot more illumination than the LED flash. That's useful for closer work to get some details out when it's really dark. It's available both for video and still photos.
Overall, the Nothing phone (1) has a camera that's more or less competitive with its rivals - although the Google Pixel 6a is likely to have something to say about that. The aim of delivering two decent cameras doesn't really come through: but, from that main lens, you get a full range of functions, meaning you're not at a disadvantage.
Software: Nothing UI
- Android 12 at launch
- 3 Android OS updates
- 4 years of security updates
The Nothing phone (1) launches on an almost pristine version of Android. There's no bloat or additions, and, in that sense, it's closer to the experience of a Google Pixel than other mid-rangers. As we mentioned earlier, this will go head-to-head with Pixel 6a, which is where Nothing's tweaks want to win you over.
There are only minor changes and Nothing has infused the phone with its dot-matrix system lettering and a few cool wallpapers to try and define the Nothing experience a little better. There are little touches that reflect this retro-cool feel, like the tape-style voice recorder, but nothing too substantial.
There's a change to the Quick Settings to make connectivity a little simpler, elevating the cellular, Wi-Fi and hotspot settings - as well as Bluetooth. That's much simpler than the stock Android 12 offering, but it's not as exciting as it could be. Although you can swipe through to see what you're connected to, tapping it doesn't toggle that function, it instead just takes you through to the connectivity page in the settings. A little tweak here could make this change so much better.
There will be updates to bring more functionality, and one feature that Nothing has been talking about is seamless integration with Tesla, so you'll have a Quick Setting to get started with your car, as well as widgets, including a Nothing NFT Gallery. Do mid-range phone buyers also buy NFTs and Teslas or is this just a play to some sort of digital lifestyle?
More importantly, there's the commitment to three Android version updates and four years of security, which is pretty competitive for this level of phone. Of course with this being a new brand, we have no idea if those things will actually arrive or how timely they will be. With Samsung or Google, at least, you have a better idea of what to expect.
The Nothing phone (1) is a competitive mid-range device with the price and performance to make it of interest. The camera only really offers one lens worth getting excited about, and, while the Glyph Interface is unique and a talking point, we haven't really found it to do anything particularly useful. We like the clean software build and the overall geeky look of this phone, but it doesn't really do anything to disrupt the status quo.