To say there’s been some hype surrounding the Nothing Phone (1) would be, to borrow a cliché, the understatement of the year. The constant drip-feed of leaks around the debut smartphone from OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei’s new startup Nothing has reached a crescendo with its launch earlier this week – a launch that had both nerds and normobs alike following along.
A pair of well-priced wireless earbuds aside, this is Nothing’s first big hill to climb – breaking into the extremely competitive mid-range smartphone market with an unquestionably unusual design. Is there something about Nothing, or much ado about Nothing? Here’s our considered full review of the Nothing Phone (1).
As you slip the Phone (1) out of its slim tear-away packaging (a clear giveaway that the phone doesn’t ship with a charger in the box), you’re most likely to notice its Gorilla Glass-rear panel, which reveals the tastefully enclosed innards of the phone, along with 900 LEDs (split into five light strips) that light up in whole bunch of patterns when a notification comes in. Nothing calls it the Glyph interface, and it’s quite something to look at – so much so, the combination of lights, sounds and excellent haptics all going off in sync actively encourages you to keep the phone face down to see a call/notification come in! You can set the Glyph to light up in a particular pattern or to a custom ringtone for your favorite contacts, show you the battery level as you’re charging, light up when you place a pair of earbuds to wirelessly charge, or even serve as a fill-light for the camera. Gimmicky? Some may feel so. Unusual? Most certainly. Nothing like you’ve ever seen before? Absolutely. This is a statement product.
Of course, the glyphs only alert you to a notification and you still have to flip the phone around to actually deal with it. It’s a tough choice – keep it face down and enjoy the glyphs light up, or keep it face up and use the always-on display to keep an eye on your notifications. This is one of those things that will come down to your usage. Some may adjust, while for others, the novelty may wear off and they’ll go back to using the Phone (1) like any other smartphone.
So, it’s a good thing the phone is a well-engineered piece of kit, although you cannot miss its design inspirations from the flat-edged iPhone 12/13 series. More than once, this seasoned technology reviewer mistook the Nothing Phone (1) for the iPhone 13 Pro Max as it lay face up on a table – a huge testament to the fit and finish of the device, particularly when you’re comparing it to something that costs four times as much! It’s not too heavy in the hand (193g), unlike the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
With as much attention showered upon the rear panel, Nothing hasn’t scrimped on the 6.55-inch, full-HD+ resolution display – it comes packed with a 120Hz refresh rate, HDR10+ certification and a touch sampling rate of 240Hz, all of which ensure an experience replete with a wide gamut of colors, dark blacks, and snappy touch response. It’s not the brightest panel around, which had us squinting on the rare occasion the Bengaluru sun showed up outdoors, but it’s very usable otherwise. The stereo speakers get adequate loud for you to not have to connect a pair of wireless earphones (there is no headphone jack, though).
In fact, the only thing decidedly mid-range about the Phone (1), aside from its price ( ₹32,999 onwards), is the Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+ chip. Coupled with 12GB of memory and 256GB of storage, the phone is no pushover, with games like Apex Legends and Genshin Impact running at a steady clip, albeit often at reduced graphics settings. It’s plenty good to run a daily workload of social media, streaming music and video, messaging and the like. The phone runs Nothing OS 1.02. on top of Android 12. If you’re coming to this phone from another competing brand, you’ll notice a delightful lack of bloatware. While there are enough customization options like support for third-party icon packs and good widget support, the software experience is best described as restrained, though haters who love a phone with all the software bells and whistles may even go so far as to call it ‘basic’.
The upside is a stellar battery life on the 4500mAh battery. We ended most days with a little over 20% left in the tank, despite the heavy cocktail of photography and excessive screen use a review like this entails. Unlike competing devices, the phone’s charging speed tops out at 33W, which means it will take well over an hour to charge. Or you could drop it on a wireless charger as you go about your day.
The story of restraint continues on the cameras. Nothing has avoided padding the rear camera setup with the pointless macro cameras and depth sensor and stuck to kitting the Phone (1) with just the two 50MP sensors – a Sony IMX766 for the primary and a Samsung JN1 for the ultrawide – plus a 16MB Sony IMX471 for the selfie camera up front. The Phone (1) had us pleasantly surprised, avoiding the obvious pitfall of poor cameras on a first-generation device from a new brand. The primary camera takes excellent photos in good light, with accurate colors and tack-sharp images. The story continues as the sun goes down, with night mode turning out good low-light photos without significant noise – and without eliminating the night-time feeling to the photos. The ultrawide did show some color inconsistencies with the primary camera, but by themselves, photos were detailed and very usable for Instagram. The ultrawide doubles as a macro camera as well, which is a bonus.
Carl Pei built the OnePlus brand on the back of high-end hardware at an honest-to-goodness price, which may have led fans to believe that the Phone (1) would follow suit. Those folks are bound to be underwhelmed by its choice of hardware, but the Phone (1) is a breath of fresh air in a market that’s sadly obsessed with specs above all else. The story of the Nothing Phone (1) is a story of a phone done right, of a phone that feels carefully considered when it comes to the little details, both in software and design. This is a phone that feels a lot more premium than the price that it commands, and it makes for a compelling buy for folks who appreciate the extra spit-and-polish that has gone into making this device.
Tushar Kanwar, a tech columnist and commentator, tweets @2shar.
Also read: Should you invest in a flagship phone?