Carl Pei is out to shake up the smartphone market. The CEO of London-based tech startup Nothing has had enough of phones that look identical. And, we’ve got to admit, he’s got a point. There’s not much innovation with these designs in 2022. Most models seem like interchangeable glass slabs, and it’s refreshing to see something different for once. Nothing’s debut phone may look like an iPhone 13 from the front, but there’s nothing quite like the eye-catching transparent design of its rear panel.
The shiny new Nothing phone (1)’s promise to be “a wake-up call for the industry” might be a little too hyperbolic for us – but we can’t deny we haven’t seen anything that looks like as much of a conversation starter as this does in a while. And that’s before talking about the £399 starting price, which makes it more affordable than the Google Pixel 6 or Apple’s iPhone SE.
Nothing phone (1) key specs
- Screen size: 6.55in
- Resolution: 2400 x 1080
- Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+
- Cameras: 2 rear cameras (50MP main and 50MP ultra-wide angle) and 16MP front camera
- RAM: 8GB or 12GB
- Storage space: 128 GB or 256 GB
- MicroSD card slot: No
- Weight: 193.5g
Nothing phone (1) design
The Nothing phone (1)’s look is more of a selling point than any of the features on its spec sheet. A phone that’s designed to grab attention, the brand is positioning it as the antithesis to all the other copycat models out there. Look through the back and you’ll see that all the innards are visible (just make sure you’ve got a transparent case). The brand’s debut earphones shared the same approach too – and those Nothing Ear (1) earbuds are some of our favourite AirPods Pro alternatives.
The transparent design isn’t without purpose. It exists to showcase the “Glyph Interface”, an array of over 900 LEDs that light up to notify you when specific contacts are calling, the charging status of the device, or work as a portable ring light. We’ll go into a bit more depth on the functionality of the interface below, but the whole package is very sci-fi and looks like something straight out of 2001: A Space Odyssey or Tron: Legacy. We also wouldn’t want to skim over just how impressive it is to make the inner workings of a phone look aesthetic. Trust us, if you were to rip open your current handset, you’d find a mess of ugly components and screws.
Nothing phone (1) camera
We reckon it’s fair to say that most people prioritise camera performance when shopping around for a new phone nowadays. It’s also true that most smartphone cameras do a great job in favourable lighting conditions, and that the very best cameras from Apple and Google take advantage of computational improvements to get the edge on their rivals. Nothing hasn’t reinvited anything here – it has included a set of reliable cameras that will be good enough for most people, albeit not without their downsides.
There’s a pair of 50MP sensors – a wide angle and an ultra-wide angle lens – on the back of the phone, and a decent 16MP front camera. We’ve been out snapping with these and found them reliable in most situations (especially after Nothing’s just-in-time OS update ahead of the phone’s launch), but we don’t think anyone’s going to be blown away by these results. In good light, you’ll get snaps that are impressive enough to post on your Instagram feed – if perhaps a little oversharpened for our taste.
It’s a bit of a different story when you get into low-light conditions, where we found the Nothing phone (1) struggled with focus and detail, delivering results that were passable but too blurry for pixel-peepers. We also had some struggles when shooting with the portrait mode where the camera couldn’t quite find the edge of a subject, and we saw it have issues when bringing out all of the detail in scenes with a mix of dark shadows and bright sunlight.
Of course, these are some rare scenarios, though. In general use, the camera’s performance will be more than enough for most of us. If photography is a major factor for you, you’ll want to look at the computational enhancements available on Google’s Pixel 6 or the upcoming Pixel 6a.
Below we’ve included a selection of the photos we’ve shot with the Nothing phone. We made sure to take a mix of close-up shots and wider scenes, including some in portrait and some using the ultra-wide lens. Also, it’s worth noting these are all unedited and straight from the phone, so that you can see the colour treatment that you’ll get without any fine-tuning whatsoever:
Nothing phone (1) battery life
We’ve been testing the Nothing phone (1) for about a week or so and haven’t noticed any issues with the battery life at all. The phone comes with a 4500mAh capacity – pretty typical for most models out there – and promises 18 hours of use. In our tests, this felt accurate and we always got through a full day of normal use without it draining. It recharges in a hurry too, regaining half its battery in 30 minutes when powered up via a USB-C charger or power bank.
We like how the phone has both wireless charging and “reverse wireless charging” too, so you can pop a compatible earbuds case (like the AirPods or Nothing’s buds) on the back of the phone when it’s facing down, and they’ll recharge too. That’s ideal if your earphones die when you’re away from home.
Nothing phone (1) Glyph Interface
We’ve already mentioned that the fancy “Glyph Interface” on the back is more than a bunch of pretty lights, but it’s up to you how useful they’ll be in reality. We’ve got to be honest, if you don’t leave your phone lying face down on the table in front of you all that often, you’re unlikely to notice the light show. But, for those who do, you will notice how the feature tries to keep you from flipping it over.
When connected to a charging cable, the bottom light shines to show you how full of juice the phone is. It can light up when reverse wireless charging too, and you can pair a light pattern to a specific ringtone and then associate that with a contact. That way, you know who’s calling without having to look at the phone.
It all sounds cool but in practice, this involves memorising light patterns, so most people will turn their phone over to see who’s calling. And most of us get more messages than calls these days anyway, and the glyphs don’t help that much with identifying which app or contact is which. This may be improved with a future update, but there’s not much beyond the gimmick yet. On the plus side, we do think the charging indicators look fun and futuristic, as you can see below, and it’s helpful that you can light up all the glyphs for a fill light to brighten up the subject of your photo or video.
Nothing phone (1) software
Another selling point for this handset is that it runs Nothing OS, which the company is referring to as its own operating system. In reality, it’s Android 12 with Nothing’s user interface. But that doesn’t mean it has no benefits, and it’s great to see a phone other than the Pixel come without all the associated bloatware and apps you’ll inevitably delete. Nothing also confirmed that it will support the phone for three years of software updates, so the Nothing OS will adapt to any Android updates within that time too.
It’s also worth mentioning that the Nothing phone is equipped with 5G capabilities, like any smartphone worth your cash in 2022. Make sure you have an unlimited data SIM and you’ll be able to download shows, films and playlists to your device in a matter of minutes or seconds, even when you’re away from the router and can’t find a public wifi network.
Nothing phone (1) display
Look, there’s nothing to complain about when it comes to Nothing’s display (pun intended), especially at its sub-£400 price. It’s large, crisp and colourful, with more than enough brightness.
This OLED panel rivals flagship models like the Pixel 6 when it comes to resolution, and it delivers a dynamic refresh rate that can go from 60 to 120Hz – this is a fancy way of saying that it’ll make scrolling and animations look smooth and feel more responsive to your touch. If you haven’t had a higher refresh rate screen before, it’s hard to picture, but we put this side-by-side with our iPhone 13 mini and you can see the difference when swiping through your Twitter timeline.
Nothing phone (1) drawbacks
What you’re getting here is a decent midrange Android handset with a premium design that you won’t find from any other brand. Aside from the average camera performance, we did also find that the screen picks up scratches far more than we expected (you’ll want the £19 screen protector), sometimes the interface feels a bit laggy and buggy, the haptic vibrations are clunky, and this processor doesn’t compete when it comes to raw performance. These aren’t the biggest downsides, though, especially when we’re talking about something this affordable.
Nothing phone (1) verdict
Considering that Nothing is a new challenger to the smartphone market, there’s a lot it’s got right with its first handset. This is an impressive and capable model with a great display, solid performance and a decent camera that’s good enough for most shots.
We’d recommend it to anyone bored with most smartphone designs in 2022 or intrigued by the “Glyph Interface”, and any Android fans after a quality handset for under £400. Still, if you care a lot about the camera, we’d suggest either spending a bit more on the Pixel 6 (usually £599) or waiting for Google’s new midrange Pixel 6a, which will come in at the same £399 as the Nothing.
Available from retailers including Nothing, Amazon, Selfridges and O2.
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