The fun-filled Nothing Phone (2) stands out among the flagship crowd but some improvements could still be made
- Transparent design is lovely
- Dazzling light-up glyph interface
- Monstrous battery life in our tests
- Big price increase over Nothing Phone (1)
- Cameras are just fine
- Software still needs some work
When Nothing first entered the scene with its debut smartphone in 2022, the company became a breakout success. With a unique design, clean Android installation and some quirky LED lighting effects, the original Nothing Phone (1) set itself apart as a handset to admire – most notably as a great-value alternative to the latest Android competition.
Fast forward a year and the company’s second effort, the Nothing Phone (2), is sitting in my pocket. It comes, as you might expect, with a handful of design updates, various software improvements and faster performance; however, the Nothing Phone (2) isn’t quite the follow-up we were initially expecting.
Nothing Phone (2) review: What you need to know
That’s because the Nothing Phone (2) actually isn’t a direct successor to last year’s handset. Rather, the Phone (2) is launching alongside Nothing’s inaugural handset, as a flashier alternative for those on a higher budget. The Nothing Phone (1), which sits firmly in the mid-range space, remains on sale, at least for the time being.
So, what’s better about the Nothing Phone (2)? To start with, it comes with a slightly tweaked design, complete with a revamped Glyph lighting system on the rear. The software has also been updated to Nothing OS 2, which includes a new monochromatic visual style, widgets on the always-on display and the ability to clone app icons (more on that later).
Perhaps the biggest change is on the inside, however. The Nothing Phone (2) uses the far speedier Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset, replacing the Snapdragon 778G Plus of last year’s phone. As before, you get the choice of either 8GB or 12GB of RAM and the phone can be configured with either 128GB, 256GB or 512GB of internal storage.
The display has slightly increased in size from 6.55in to 6.7in but remains an OLED panel with a 1080p resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. Finally, the selfie camera is now a 32MP sensor (up from 16MP) and there’s a new Sony 50MP main sensor on the back. The 50MP ultrawide camera is the same as before.
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Nothing Phone (2) review: Price and competition
Of course, you’re going to have to pay more for all these extra bits and bobs. The Nothing Phone (2) starts at £579 for the base 8GB/128GB model, rising to £629 for 12GB/256GB and £699 for 12GB/512GB.
To put that into perspective, the original Nothing Phone (1) launched at just £399, dropping it away from flagship territory and into mid-range waters. At that price, it was an easy recommendation but with the Nothing Phone (2) adding an extra £180 to proceedings, it’s a little harder to justify.
Not to mention that the competition in the lower-flagship price range is fiercer, too. The terrific Google Pixel 7, which admittedly is due to be superseded very soon, is the phone to beat and is priced at £599. Spend a bit more and you’ve got the OnePlus 11 at £729, while the iPhone 15 costs £800 and the Samsung Galaxy S23 costs a pricier £849.
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Nothing Phone (2) review: Design and key features
The Nothing Phone (1)’s biggest draw was its head-turning transparent design, and that has been carried over to this new model. It’s a unique looking handset with the see-through rear (available in white or “black”) reminding me of the original Apple iMac G3 from the turn of the millennium.
The overall design does differ slightly from the original phone, however. The Nothing Phone (2) incorporates a slightly thinner 100% recycled aluminium mid frame and it’s a smidge taller at 162mm vs 159mm. The new curved back panel also feels much more comfortable to hold compared to the Phone (1)’s more blocky, harsh-edged design.
While some of the Glyph LED locations have shuffled around a bit, the interior of the phone looks mostly the same. The wireless charging coil, heat shield, ribbon cables and mounting screws are yet again on display here. Likewise, the dual rear camera module is again oriented vertically and positioned in the top-left corner of the handset.
The fingerprint sensor remains in place underneath the screen, which itself is protected by a layer of Corning Gorilla Glass and comes with a pre-applied plastic screen protector. The Phone (2) is also IP54 rated for dust and water protection, up from the Phone (1)’s IP53 certification. You can’t submerge it in water but it should survive a rain shower.
Nothing Phone (2) review: Glyph interface
Let’s talk about that light-up Glyph interface. As before, this selection of LED light bars can be used to indicate app notifications, as visual alerts for incoming calls, and can even reveal the charging percentage when the phone is placed on a desk and flipped on its front.
However, Nothing has taken things a bit further with the Glyph lighting system this time, with extra personalisation options and new third-party integrations. This includes, among other things, a set of ten new visual ringtones and the option for adaptive brightness, which uses the ambient light sensor located above the rear flash module.
Other new features include a Glyph Timer, which displays a light-up circle on the back that diminishes over time. There’s also an option to add specific applications to an “essential notifications” list in the Glyph Interface settings. This functions as a way of displaying the Glyph lights, until the notification(s) in certain apps are read and/or dismissed after unlocking the phone.
The new Glyph Progress feature is perhaps the most interesting. This is where the third-party integration comes in, and is currently only used in partnership with the Uber app: it uses the Glyph LEDs to indicate your driver’s progress, providing a visual indication of when they might arrive. It’s a bit of an odd feature, since you can obviously just unlock your phone and view the progress in the app itself, but I can see this working well with food delivery services and the like as well.
Glyph Composer is another new function and this allows you to record your own visual and audio ringtones via a small on-screen synthesiser. There are multiple electronic sound packs on launch, each with around five tones per pack, with the company also launching special sound packs from artists such as Swedish House Mafia.
Nothing Phone (2) review: Software
The Phone (2) launches with Nothing OS 2, which itself is layered on top of Android 13. Nothing has promised up to three years of core Android OS upgrades and five years of software patches.
There’s been a bit of a shakeup this time around, with Nothing mentioning that its in-house software teams in Taiwan and London have massively expanded since the launch of the Nothing Phone (1). The biggest change is that you now have the option to apply Nothing’s monochromatic visual style across all elements of the user interface, including every single app icon.
I didn’t like this and found it made locating apps by sight more difficult without the colours to identify them, but I can see it appealing to Nothing’s fan base. It’s certainly interesting to see full consistency throughout the entire OS.
What’s perhaps more interesting is you also get the option to clone applications. Essentially, this allows you to display two icons for the same application in the app drawer, assigning specific accounts to each one. I used this for both my work and personal Gmail accounts, and it works rather well.
It’s also possible to protect selected applications with a four-digit pass code, and to add widgets to the always-on display. However, at the moment that list is limited to just a few quick settings and Nothing’s slim selection of clock and weather widgets.
Nothing Phone (2) review: Performance and battery life
You can expect a huge boost to performance, too. Qualcomm has equipped the Nothing Phone (2) with the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor, which despite being a 2022 chip, is significantly faster than the Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G Plus inside the Nothing Phone (1) – its maximum frequency was 3GHz where the 778G Plus went up to 2.5GHz.
The performance figures demonstrate this nicely, with a huge 47% improvement in the Geekbench 5 multi-core benchmark. With scores of 1,243 in single-core and 4,022 in multi-core, this places the Nothing Phone (2) among the very best in the business, outperforming the Google Pixel 7 and roughly matching the iPhone 14’s speeds.
Gaming speeds are fast, too, but it’s here where I ran into some problems with our usual array of tests. Sadly, the GFXBench Car Chase test wasn’t able to identify the high refresh rate display and capped out at 60fps. We run into this problem from time to time, and instead we have to look at the off-screen figures for comparison.
In this test, the Nothing Phone (2) pushed out an average frame rate of 103fps, which is an even greater increase of 171% compared to the previous model. I put a variety of games to the test, including Minecraft, Stardew Valley and Mech Arena and they all ran without any noticeable dips in performance. The Nothing Phone (2) also performed exceptionally well in our in-house battery test. Almost too well, perhaps, since it blasted past every single other smartphone we’ve ever tested, lasting a total of 31hrs 28mins before needing to recharge – beating our previous record, held by the (now discontinued) Samsung Galaxy M31, by a full hour.
It’s an odd one, too, since there isn’t anything outlandish listed on the specs sheet that would suggest a result like this. The Nothing Phone (2) only has a 4,700mAh battery, and we haven’t seen this level of stamina from other Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 smartphones with similar battery capacities.
Real world use didn’t quite deliver the battery life I would expect from such a stellar performance in this test but it was still very impressive. After a day of use with roughly five hours of screen-on time, I had around 35% worth of charge remaining – which is better than what I usually get on my iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Nothing Phone (2) review: Cameras
The simple pair of lenses on the back of the Nothing Phone (2) consist of a main 50MP (f/1.9) Sony IMX890 sensor with OIS, as well as a 50MP (f/2.2) 114-degree ultrawide. The front-facing selfie camera has been upgraded from a 16MP unit to a 32MP (f/2.5) lens.
Other than the change in selfie hardware and the addition of a new Sony sensor for the main camera, there’s not much else that’s new on the camera front. The company says that the Phone (2)’s HDR algorithms have been improved – presumably courtesy of the new ISP offered by the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 – but that’s all there is to it.
And as far as I can tell, there’s little difference between the two in terms of image quality. Generally speaking, pictures look pretty good – they’re sharp and reasonably well-exposed with a pleasing amount of detail but there are some issues. The HDR can be a bit finicky, often blowing out the highlights of the image, and the dynamic range can look muted at times, especially in bright sunlight, with an annoying, washed-out presentation.
On the flip side, low-light performance is better than I expected. The overall brightness of the image is boosted nicely without much of a hit to finer details, and the colour representation looks spot on. I also enjoyed the macro mode offered by the ultrawide sensor, which allows you to shoot crisp, detailed images at distances as close as 4cm.
There’s definitely an improvement with the addition of the new 32MP selfie camera. The aperture remains the same at f/2.5, but I found that the increase in overall pixel count boosted the facial details in my portrait captures.
Finally, video can be recorded up to 4K resolution at 60fps, which is an increase from the 30fps limit on the Nothing Phone (1). The footage is fully stabilised in this mode and looks great, with loads of detail and rock-steady panning.
Nothing Phone (2) review: Verdict
It might not be the follow-up we were expecting, but the Nothing Phone (2) is still a solid effort as the firm’s first flagship. It’s cheaper than its competitors and improves on its sibling smartphone in a number of ways, particularly in terms of design, performance and battery life.
But it’s not without fault. The software, while updated, still needs some extra refinement, and it’s a shame that the camera offering has largely stayed the same as its cheaper counterpart. Yes, there’s a lot to like here, with the Nothing Phone (2) earning a recommendation overall, but I would like to see some bigger differences in these areas with the next iteration, especially considering the price increase.