All eyes are on Nothing, but does the Phone (1) live up to the hype?
- Unique clear-backed design
- Light-up Glyph Interface is refreshing
- Clean Android installation
- Broadly similar to rivals
- Some software bugs at launch
It’s easy to understand why the Nothing Phone (1) has generated so much hype for what is still a relatively small London-based company. Its founder, Carl Pei, is best known for co-introducing the world to OnePlus back in 2014, and while its phones may not achieve the same levels of chatter they once did, there was a time when OnePlus’ flagship-beaters were nigh-on unstoppable.
READ NEXT: The best mid-range smartphones
But you can’t sell a phone based on name alone. That’s where Nothing’s drip-feed marketing approach comes in, with its imposing claims about reinvigorating the smartphone industry. Promising an almighty shakeup, the Nothing Phone (1) is finally available for purchase, but does it live up to the hype or is it a victim of its own marketing brilliance?
Nothing Phone (1) review: What you need to know
The Nothing Phone (1) is unique in its approach to design. The mid-priced handset is transparent, allowing you to take a peek at the internal componentry, with an intriguing set of LED lights on the rear. Nothing calls this the “Glyph Interface” and it’s used for ringtones and notifications, as well as a charging indicator and a fill light for the rear camera.
Outside of this, there’s little else we haven’t seen already. The Nothing Phone (1) has a 6.55in FHD+ OLED display, with a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz and support for HDR10+ playback. It’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G Plus 5G processor, which is backed by either 8GB or 12GB of RAM and a choice of 128GB or 256GB of internal storage.
The Nothing Phone (1) incorporates a pair of rear cameras, consisting of a 50MP (f/1.9) primary sensor and a 50MP (f/2.2) 114-degree ultrawide unit. A single 16MP (f/2.5) selfie camera sits on the front of the phone. It launches with Android 12, with Nothing promising at least three years of future software updates.
Nothing Phone (1) review: Price and competition
Starting at £399 in the UK, it’s a smart move on Nothing’s part to launch its first smartphone at an affordable price. This entry-level version is only available in black, and comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. You can choose to boost the internal space to 256GB in both white or black variants for £449, or go all-in on the 12GB/256GB model for £499.
But the Nothing Phone (1) is launching into a crowded market. Google’s Pixel 6a is fresh off the assembly line, offering top-notch photographic skills, a remarkably colour-accurate display and a clean installation of Android for the same price. Samsung has recently been dipping its toes into mid-range waters as well, with the five-star Galaxy A53 5G.
Carl Pei’s previous company, OnePlus, also has an affordable behemoth on its hands in the form of the OnePlus Nord 2T 5G, which is slightly cheaper than the Phone (1) at £369. The Xiaomi 12 Lite (around £332) is worth keeping an eye on, too, although it’s yet to receive a proper UK release date.
Nothing Phone (1) review: Design and key features
I’ll discuss the Glyph Interface in a separate section of this review, but from the get-go there’s a lot to be said about the way the Nothing Phone (1) looks and functions. The white (or black) transparent rear is truly one of a kind, bringing back memories of clear games consoles and Apple computers from days gone by.
READ NEXT: Best phone camera
Nothing is clearly leaning heavily on nostalgia here and, like those devices, this see-through design lets you gawk at the various bits and bobs located inside, including the wireless charging coil, heat shield, ribbon cables and mounting screws.
Things are rather pedestrian elsewhere, though. The chassis of the Phone (1) gives off old-school iPhone vibes, with its straight-edged aluminium frame and horizontal, oval-shaped rear camera housing. A power button sits on the right side of the handset, with up/down volume buttons on the left, while a USB-C charging connector, single speaker grille and dual nano-SIM slot are located on the bottom.
The phone supports wired charging speeds of 33W, which in my tests delivered 50% charge from zero in just over 30mins. Wireless charging is rated at 15W, with accompanying support for reverse wireless power delivery – although this is rather slow at just 5W.
The Nothing Phone (1) is sandwiched between two layers of Gorilla Glass 5 for impact and scratch protection, with an IP53 water resistance rating. A fingerprint sensor is positioned underneath the screen.
Nothing Phone (1) review: Glyph Interface
Next up is the Nothing Phone (1)’s light-up Glyph Interface. This is a sequence of over 900 bright-white LEDs that light up the rear of the phone in interesting ways. These light patterns indicate app notifications, charging status (the bottom strip fills up as the phone charges) and are also used as visual ringtones.
With ten lighting styles and sounds to choose from, you can assign ringtones to specific contacts, all with accompanying bit-tune chirrups (when the phone isn’t on silent or vibrate). These options are accessed in the dedicated Glyph Interface section of the phone’s settings, where you can also adjust the brightness of the lights, set a bedtime schedule to pause the lights and sounds, and enable the “Flip to Glyph” silent, lights-only notifications when the phone is face-down.
The Glyph Interface is a neat addition, even if it does come across as a bit of a gimmick at times. I’d like to see Nothing open up the software for users to fully customise the lighting sequences and notification sounds to their liking, not just from a list of ten preset settings. Likewise, it would be fun if we could link the lighting effects with music apps, so that the LEDs can dance around as you listen to your favourite tunes.
Nothing Phone (1) review: Display
The large 6.55in display on the Nothing Phone (1) is an OLED number, with a resolution of 2,400 x 1,080, an adaptable 120Hz refresh rate and support for HDR10+ content. The default “Alive” setting is a bit heavy on the colour saturation, although not by a huge amount with a measured Delta E (colour accuracy) score of 1.62.
Switch to the Standard setting, however, and things get much better. In this mode, I measured an sRGB colour gamut coverage of 94.2%, a total volume of 94.7% and an astonishing 0.81 Delta E average. Colours are tonally perfect across the entire palette.
The panel itself could stand to be a little brighter, peaking at 469cd/m² with the brightness slider all the way to the right, and HDR brightness is a bit on the weak side, too, measuring a maximum 673cd/m² in our in-house HDR video test.
Nothing Phone (1) review: Performance and battery life
Nothing has equipped its first smartphone with a 2.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+ 5G processor, which according to the company is a specially tweaked version of the chipset to allow for wireless and reverse wireless charging. I was sent the model with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage for review, but the Nothing Phone (1) also comes in 8GB/128GB and 12GB/256GB flavours.
READ NEXT: Best phone battery life
As for performance, this is precisely what’s to be expected of a modern mid-ranger. In the Geekbench 5 test, the Nothing Phone (1) achieved broadly similar single-core and multicore processing results as its rivals. There’s a lot to like when it comes to speeds – it’s just that the comparison graph isn’t all that interesting to analyse.
Gaming performance is a different story, with the Nothing Phone (1) hitting an average onscreen frame rate of 82fps in the GFXBench Manhattan 3 test. That’s roughly 44% faster than both the Samsung Galaxy A53 5G and OnePlus Nord 2T 5G. One thing to note is that the Google Pixel 6a’s flagship Tensor chip is technically faster than the Snapdragon 778G+, but it is limited by a 60Hz screen.
Battery life is pretty good, although we have seen better in this price bracket. Lasting for a total of 20hrs 13mins in our video-rundown test, the Nothing Phone (1)’s stamina isn’t the longest we’ve seen, with the OnePlus Nord 2T 5G taking the crown at almost 24 hours. Still, there’s more than enough juice for a full day of use on a single charge, with enough residual for the following day as well.
Nothing Phone (1) review: Software
The Phone (1) launches with Android 12, albeit with the Nothing OS 1.1 skin layered on top. Here, you’ll find a handful of visual tweaks to the overall UI, wallpapers and fonts, but this is still a mostly clean and unobtrusive installation of Android.
There’s no bloatware, with only the usual selection of Google’s first-party applications. That said, it’s worth mentioning that there’s currently an experimental feature in the phone’s settings that allows you to connect to your Tesla – you can monitor air-con levels and remotely open your boot, among other things – and an NFT wallet app is scheduled to be released via a future update.
Perhaps the most useful tweak is a pair of bubbles in the notification drawer. Swipe through the left bubble and you can access mobile data, Wi-Fi and hotspot settings, with the right-most bubble listing your connected Bluetooth devices.
There are still a few software issues that need to be ironed out in future updates, however. The Glyph Interface menu doesn’t allow you to set notification sounds and lighting effects to specific applications – instead, you’re forced to do this in the settings of each individual app. I also encountered a few app crashes during the course of my review.
Nothing Phone (1) review: Cameras
Rather than packing the Phone (1) with unnecessary macro and depth-sensing lenses, Nothing has opted for a pair of 50MP cameras. The main one is a Sony IMX766 number and the ultrawide is a Samsung JN1 sensor with a 114-degree field of view. A 16MP selfie camera is nestled inside a hole-punch notch in the top-left corner of the phone’s screen.
Images captured in ideal lighting conditions are sharp and well exposed, with an abundance of intricate details. There’s great use of HDR, too, and shots are filled to the brim with colour. Even in darkly lit environments, such as the picture I’ve shared below of London’s The Shard skyscraper captured at night, there’s a lot to like. Brightness is boosted effectively without the algorithms altering the tint of the scene or increasing visual noise.
Meanwhile, the Phone (1)’s wide-angle camera produced mixed results in testing. If you’re blessed with plenty of natural light there’s not much to complain about, but as the sun begins to set the visual noise creeps in. The camera adds a warm hue to these low-light images as well.
The portrait mode could be improved – the background is efficiently blurred, but I did notice the occasional jagged line around my subject. One thing I did like, however, is that you can enable the Glyph LEDs in this mode to be used as a makeshift fill light. Meanwhile, the 2x zoom toggle in the camera viewfinder is a simple digital affair, but the cropping is rather impressive, with a surprising amount of captured detail when enabled.
The Nothing Phone (1) records video at a maximum 4K resolution at 30fps. 1080p recording opens the frame rate up to 60fps and this is the setting I would recommend using, since the increase in detail at 4K is let down by choppy footage.
Nothing Phone (1) review: Verdict
The Nothing Phone (1) is a remarkable first effort for the fledgling company. With a unique design, quirky LED lighting effects, a clean installation of Android and a sublime screen, the Phone (1) is well and truly on the way to becoming a hallmark of the mid-range scene.
Yet I’m curious to see how the Nothing Phone (1) is received by the average consumer. Primarily appealing to tech enthusiasts, it will be interesting to see whether the Phone (1) achieves a wider reach, including those less informed about the newest releases who simply want a new phone without having to pay too much.
Indeed, the next few years are going to be very interesting. Nothing as a company could become the breakout success it hopes for, or it might simply plummet into obscurity. I can’t wait to find out what’s next – but as it stands, the Nothing Phone (1) is a head-turning handset that can compete with the very best in the business.