Nothing Phone 1 Review: A Surprisingly Good Phone With a Party Trick


Rating:

8/10

?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price:
Starting At £399

The Nothing Phone with Glyph lights lit up
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek

After a lot of hype, the Nothing Phone 1 is here—unless you’re in the USA. Following the unexpectedly excellent Nothing Ear 1 earbuds, the Phone 1 had the challenge of delivering something unique in a crowded field. And you know what? I’m surprised how much I like this phone.

Here’s What We Like

  • Snappy display performance
  • Feels premium in the hand
  • The Glyph system is neat

And What We Don’t

  • No U.S. availability
  • Battery life is just so-so
  • The Glyph system is a party trick

Before we start, it’s worth revisiting that point about availability. The Nothing Phone 1 in its current form isn’t coming to the United States. It’s available in the U.K., parts of Europe, Japan, India, and a few other markets. You could perhaps theoretically import the Nothing Phone 1 at great expense, but it’s not certified by the FCC to work on U.S. towers, and you’ll find some things don’t work quite right. On T-Mobile, it won’t support long-range bands, and on AT&T, it can’t handle VOLTE services. And you can’t use it on Verizon at all.

Finding anyone willing to import will probably be challenging, thanks to that lack of FCC certification. Nothing did tell PCMag it plans to launch a phone in the U.S. in the future. Whether that’s a sequel to this one or a reconfigured version of the Phone 1 remains to be seen. I tested the phone while on AT&T towers and experienced very few issues, so long as I didn’t try to browse the internet while also on a voice call. That’s no surprise, though, and we’ll get into performance later.

Hardware and Design

The Nothing Phone seen from the front

  • 6.27 x 2.98 x 0.33 in, 193.5 g
  • USB-C, no headphone jack
  • Glass front and back, aluminum frame

Let’s just go ahead and say it. From the front, the Nothing Phone 1 looks almost exactly like an iPhone. And that similarity also extends to how it feels. If you blindfolded me and put an iPhone 13 in one of my hands and the Nothing Phone 1 in the other, I would probably have trouble telling the difference. Turn it over, though, and that all changes, thanks to the combination of “transparent” design and Glyph system.

The Nothing Phone 1 comes in either white or black, and I’m testing the latter option. I imagine the white variant does a better job of separating itself from the iPhone, but I rather like this black model. I generally prefer muted colors, especially knowing I’ll probably put a case on the device. Here though, I can’t make that same argument. After all, you can’t grab any old case. You’ll want a transparent case (which Nothing will sell separately) to take advantage of the Glyph system. And it’s also one of the few phones that doesn’t feel like a bar of soap ready to jump from your hands. So you may not feel the need for a case at all.

Check out the edges and the iPhone resemblance continues to show. You’ll find a mic hole and antennae bands along the top, a power button on the right, and volume buttons on the left. The bottom does give away the game thanks to USB-C, at least until Apple finally gets around to making the switch. The bottom is also where you’ll insert your SIM card—what you won’t find is an SD card slot. You either get 128 GBs of storage with 8 or 12 GBs of RAM or 256 GBs of storage with 12 GBs of RAM. Choose wisely.

Head to the back of the phone, though, and the iPhone similarities rapidly disappear.

A Semi-Transparent Back and Glyph System

With the launch of its Ear 1 true wireless earbuds, Nothing started showing off a design aesthetic around transparency. That continues here with the back of the Nothing Phone 1, thanks to a clear glass back. Sure, many phones have glass backs, but they’re usually a solid color. But even though Nothing went with clear glass doesn’t mean you’ll see the internals.

Instead, you’ll see some screws, the wireless charging coil, a few pads and ribbon cables, and the Glyph system. To be honest, it’s a little disappointing at first glance when you go in thinking “transparent phone.” When the company first hinted at that fact, I imagined something akin to those X-Ray skins several companies sell.

But past that, I do like the design. Despite the “visible” screws, this doesn’t appear to be any more repairable than other phones since those screws are below the glass. But the placement of the pads, the lines of the wireless charging coils, and the Glyph LEDs all come together to make something pleasing to the eye. It’s unique and probably stands out even more in the white version.

But the real standout point of the back of the phone is those aforementioned Glyph LEDs. That consists of 900 LEDs arranged in a couple of “C” patterns around the camera and wireless charging oil, a sort of accent mark in the top right, and an “explanation point” just above the USB-C port. They get incredibly bright, enough so I could clearly see them outside on a sunny day. I ended up turning the Glyph system’s brightness down to about 30% most of the time.

Warning: WARNING: The following video may potentially trigger seizures for people with photosensitive epilepsy. Viewer discretion is advised.

The idea here is that you can use the Glyph LEDs as a notification system. They light up in tandem with ringtones, blink when you get notifications, and the “exclamation point” even gives you a sense of your battery level when the phone is charging. It’s neat to look at, and everyone I showed the phone to wanted to see it in action. It’s a crowd pleaser.

But beyond serving as a fun party trick, I’m hard pressed to call the Glyph system useful. To get the most out of it, you need to keep your phone screen side down when it’s out of your pocket, and that’s not my usual habit. I made the point to switch, but then I found myself turning the phone over anyway. Because at the end of the day, the Glyphs only told me that I had a notification, and that’s it. If I wanted to know more, I needed to see the display.

In theory, you can change the notification for individual apps to the same ringtone the Glyph patterns use, and so get custom Glyph blink patterns for each app. And naturally, you can do the same for phone calls and individual contacts. But then you have to remember which pattern you chose for what. And in the case of apps, it still doesn’t tell you much. Sure, I know I got a Slack ping, but what about?

One potentially useful feature is using the Glyph system as a fill light for photos in low-light settings. Instead of using the hard flash, you can opt to light up the Glyph system instead. We’ll get into it more in the camera section, but suffice to say, it produces a better picture so long as the subject is close enough to the phone. But it’s not bright enough to help with anything but a closeup.

Partway through this review, I also found a hidden Glyph feature. If you create a contact named Abra (no other details required) and then assign it a Glyph ringtone, you’ll unlock a Music Visualisation option. That sounded fun and like another good party trick, but in testing, the patterns are pretty random. The video above is that feature in action, and while I can’t play the music in the video, it’s the opening to ‘My Shot’ from Hamilton. I defy you to match the patterns to the music.

Still, it’s a constant tech reviewer joke that all smartphones are the same today—make a slab, add touchscreen and cameras, and you’re done. I’m glad Nothing is trying something new, and it came up with something arguably lovely to look at. But I’m hard-pressed to think of an instance where I wouldn’t be better off leaving the screen side up instead. I do hope Nothing keeps trying because I like what it’s going for here.

Display

A Nothing Phone 1 displaying the Review Geek website
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek
  • 6.55-inch flexible OLED
  • 60 to 120Hz adaptive refresh rate
  • 1080 x 2400, 402 PPI
  • Corning Gorilla Glass 5

Before we get too far into how the display performs, let’s discuss a spec point. Nothing initially advertised its screen as being able to achieve 1,200 peak nit brightness in certain HDR scenarios. The company has now walked that back since while the hardware can technically get that bright, a software lock limits it to just 700 nits. That could potentially change at some point, but for now, the limit “ensure[s] a balanced user experience regarding heat and battery consumption.”

But here’s all that matters: the Nothing Phone 1 display looks nice. Yes, there’s a slightly larger than average bezel around the screen, but what I find impressive is that bezel is consistently sized the entire way around. If a manufacturer uses cheaper rigid hardware, you’ll get the classic “chin” look found on so many budget phones.

But Nothing opted for a flexible OLED that allowed it to curl the screen under and feed the cable ribbons back to prevent the “chin” effect. You technically have a “foldable screen” in this phone; it’s just hidden and used to make a better-looking device. That 700 nit peak isn’t quite enough on a sunny day, though. I found myself using my hand to cast a shadow so I could see the display better.

Nothing gets even more bonus points for the 120hz refresh rate paired with a 240hz touch response rate. Between the two, it’s hard to find any stutter or lag when using the device. Everything seems to instantly respond and feel “just right.” If I have one other complaint, that might be the fingerprint sensor’s location.

That sensor is very low on the display, much like the OnePlus 9, and it’s an awkward placement. You have to hold the phone at a pretty low point to use it, and it never feels quite natural. I wish it were higher on the screen like most other phones. When I first fired up the phone, it also gave me a lot of issues. I could unlock the phone well enough, but no app seemed to work with it correctly—a problem for me as I use banking, password, and authentication apps frequently. But eventually, it settled, and now it works fine. I’d take its response time over the Pixel 6 Pro, that’s for sure.

Software and Performance

  • Android 12 “Nothing OS”
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+ 5G
  • 8GB RAM + 128GB storage, 12GB RAM +128GB storage, or12GB RAM + 256GB storage

The Nothing Phone 1 runs “Nothing OS,” which is the company’s flavor of Android 12. Nothing should get high marks for showing restraint here. You won’t find bloatware, duplicate apps, or useless additions you’ll never use (save maybe that NFT widget). I’d rather have stock Android, but this is “practically stock Android,” so good enough for me.

The most noticeable change comes in the form of fonts, which look like some dot matrix throwback. It’s okay, although if you’re using the default weather widget, you may find the white dot font hard to read on many wallpaper options. Nothing promises three years of OS updates and four years of security updates, which is decent for an Android. But we’ll have to see if the company follows through with the promise; others have made lofty promises and failed after all.

The phone runs very well between the display advantages and the Snapdragon 778G+ chipset. You won’t want to do hardcore gaming on the Nothing Phone 1, but it does fine for everyday use and light gaming. This is an older chipset that won’t top any benchmark charts, but I’ve never once caught myself wishing for more power.

I do want to note, though (and this applies to batter life we’ll touch on as well), in some ways, I couldn’t test the full performance on the Nothing Phone 1. Again, it’s not certified for the U.S. and creates certain limitations. I’m on Consumer Cellular with AT&T towers. I stuck my SIM card in and used APN settings from my Samsung phone. With that in place, I  got 5G service and could make voice calls. But I couldn’t browse the internet while making a voice call.

To be honest, that it worked that well is a surprise. The Nothing Phone doesn’t support VoLTE on AT&T, and that’s a requirement at this point. 3G isn’t supposed to be an option anymore. I also got another surprise, though this one is pleasant: the Nothing Phone is the first entry I’ve tested that actually worked with Google’s Visual Voicemail on Consumer Cellular. Even the Pixel phones refuse to offer that. Things are worse on T-Mobile and Verizon; with the former, you’ll get “unpredictable coverage,” and the Nothing Phone won’t work with the latter at all.

Cameras

A closeup of the Nothing Phone 1 cameras
Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek
  • Main: 50 MP Sony IMX766 sensor, ƒ/1.88 aperture, OIS and EIS image stabilisation
  • UltraWide: 50 MP Samsung JN1 sensor, ƒ/2.2 aperture, EIS image stabilization
  • Selfie: 16 MP Sony IMX471 sensor, ƒ/2.45 aperture

Most budget phones make the mistake of trying to cram four rear cameras in at a low price. That only results in four bad cameras because none of them are high quality enough to do the job. I think budget phones should stick with just one really good camera instead. Nothing went closer to that route by omitting the telescopic and macro lenses, and that’s the right decision.

What you get is two 50-megapixel cameras in standard-wide and ultrawide formats. Are they amazing? No, of course not. Sure the Galaxy S22 Ultra and the iPhone 13 Pro take better photos any day of the week. But they also cost twice as much or more than the Nothing Phone. The Nothing does an admirable job for a sub $500 phone, especially in good lighting.

Low lighting results tend to suffer some, and that’s no surprise. You can expect more noise and the need to rely on a flash. You can use night mode, and it works better than I expected but it’s still not a Pixel. One interesting trick Nothing offers is the ability to use the Glyph lights instead of the standard flash. They don’t get super bright, so your subject must be close to the camera. But when that’s an option, I think the Glyph “fill light” leads to better, warmer photos. It’s certainly less harsh than standard flash photos.

As for the 16-megapixel selfie camera, it does the job and not much more. That’s no surprise really, and I can’t say it produces bad results. Just nothing wonderful either. Basically, what you’d expect with an affordable smartphone. If you don’t go in hoping for the wonders of a flagship smartphone, you’ll probably be pleased with the images the Nothing Phone 1 can produce.

Battery Life

A Nothing Phone 1 plugged into the wall
This is a handy little charge indicator.Josh Hendrickson / Review Geek
  • 4500 mAh batter
  • 33W PD3.0 wired charging
  • 5W Qi wireless charging with dual charging support
  • 5W reverse charging

The Nothing Phone 1 packs a 4,500mAh battery, which should be plenty in theory. In practice, maybe that’s not entirely true. I got through the day using the Nothing Phone 1 but typically found myself staring at a 15% or less charge when I set the phone down to go to bed. That’s not great, but it’s “good enough,” I suppose. At least for the day, but don’t expect to make it through a second day if you forgot your charger at home.

Again, I should note that since I’m using the phone on towers it technically doesn’t fully support that my results may not be wholly accurate compared to someone using the phone in Europe or Japan. You might think the Glyph light system is the culprit for the shorter battery life, but that’s not the case. The lights aren’t always lit up after all, and LEDs are battery friendly. Nothing says even if you kept the Glyph lights illuminated for 10 minutes straight, it would only drain the battery by an extra 0.5% or so.

Thankfully the Nothing Phone 1 supports fast charging (and reverse wireless charging). Alas, it doesn’t come with a charging brick, which is the norm, so you’ll need one that supports fast charging if you want to take advantage of that fact. I used it with a OnePlus brick, which is overkill, and the phone jumped from 15% to 100 in a little less than an hour. That helps offset the shorter battery life.

Should You Buy The Nothing Phone 1?

If you live in the U.S., there’s no way I can recommend trying to buy the Nothing Phone 1. Even if you could get your hands on one (which would be difficult at best), you’d probably overpay, and there’s no guarantee it will work well with your cell phone service at all. it’s more likely it won’t work well with your service.

Everyone else, though, should actually consider buying one. No seriously. After using the Nothing Phone 1 for a few weeks, I can wholeheartedly recommend it. It’s a solid phone with great features, especially for the price. Nothing did a great job of creating a good product that performs how I want it to.

And consider this: the Nothing Phone 1 starts at £399, or around $480. When’s the last time you held a phone in your hand that cost less than $500 and also felt as good as an iPhone? Practically never, I’d guess. That might be the story of the Nothing Phone 1—a phone that punches well above its price, tries a few new things, and lands on mostly solid ground. It’s not perfect, mind you. But no phone is, especially at this price. I’ve enjoyed my time with it and have been pleasantly surprised on more than one occasion by Nothing’s take on Android and hardware in general.

It’s true that the Glyph system is probably a party trick at best. But the rest of the phone adds up to a competent performer at a reasonable price while feeling practically premium in the hand. And that’s well … not nothing. I’ll see myself out.

Rating:
8/10

Price:
Starting At £399

Here’s What We Like

  • Snappy display performance
  • Feels premium in the hand
  • The Glyph system is neat

And What We Don’t

  • No U.S. availability
  • Battery life is just so-so
  • The Glyph system is a party trick





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