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Nothing Phone (2) Review: A phone with a personality

The Nothing Phone (2) may not deliver a spectacularly different performance from others in its range, but none of the others have as clearly defined a sense of style and design

In the Nothing Phone (2), the transparent glass rear is subtly curved on all four sides
In the Nothing Phone (2), the transparent glass rear is subtly curved on all four sides

We’re no strangers to the charms of the Nothing Phone (1), in fact, we called the Phone (1) a statement product. The Phone (1) had three major things going for it when it launched in July last year—a visually striking design with a ‘Glyph interface’ of LED strips on the transparent rear panel, a clear focus on user experience, and a premium build that belied its decidedly mid-range pricing. Yet, it was equally a victim of its own hype machinery, a polarizing device that left much wanting on account of performance, middling camera output and the questionable utility of the Glyph lights.

Also read: Nothing Phone (1) review: This is a statement product

All of this is set to change, with the Nothing Phone (2) crossing off items from the laundry list with a notable set of upgrades, while continuing to refine its rather distinctive design. In doing so, Nothing has moved the Phone (2) into a higher price bracket, with the base variant (8GB/128GB) retailing for Rs. 44,999 and the 12GB/256GB and 12GB/512GB variants coming in at Rs. 49,999 and Rs. 54,999 respectively.

Then again, this is a move straight out of founder Carl Pei’s playbook—Pei had previously successfully moved OnePlus from a flagship killer to well into flagship (in terms of specs and pricing) territory. Does the Phone (2) nail the landing or is it too much too soon?

Also read: OnePlus 11 5G Review: The 2023 flagship to bet your cash on?

You get to the Phone (2) after ripping open the gray outer box and pulling out the inner, sturdier cardboard box which also contains the USB-C cable and SIM ejector tool, both of which have transparent elements to match the phone’s aesthetic. At first glance, there are no big visual surprises with the Phone (2)—still all glass and metal like the Phone (1), with nips and tucks everywhere.

It’s marginally bigger, with the screen bumped up to 6.7-inches (from 6.55-inches), but the transparent glass rear is subtly curved on all four sides. The result is a more comfortable in-hand feel and excellent weight distribution for what is obviously quite a large phone, without fundamentally changing the iPhone-esque look that Nothing adopted with the first generation.

The attention to detail is evident, with symmetrical bezels around the screen and a much cleaner ‘innards’ view of the wireless charging coil and internal components through the rear panel. As phones get pricier, buyers tend to expect hygiene factors like wireless charging and some sort of IP dust/water resistance, and the Phone (2) delivers on both—15W Qi wireless charging and IP54 rating, though no IP67 rating as on phones like the Pixel 7a and Galaxy A54.

Peer through the transparent rear panel of the grey variant, and you’ll notice the Phone (1)’s Glyph LED light strip interface that signals calls and notifications or serves as a fill light for your next Insta reel.

The Glyph lighting has 33 separately addressable LED zones split into 11 sections
The Glyph lighting has 33 separately addressable LED zones split into 11 sections

Except, with the Phone (2), the number of individual LED sections that make up the Glyph lighting on the rear has more than doubled, with 33 separately addressable LED zones split into 11 sections. This has allowed the Glyphs to serve up some more functionality—for instance, the curved LED strip can now visually indicate how much time is left in a countdown timer or what your volume level is currently at. Works really well if you’re the sort who wants to focus on a task for a set duration with no distractions.

The other use case that Nothing is building out with third-party app partners is the idea of the Glyphs showing you a sense of task progress, say when you’re ordering a meal via Zomato or ordering a cab with Uber. Seeing the LED strip light up as your cab arrives seems like a good idea, but in reality, it’s way more useful to see where the cab is on the map or the exact time when the taxi is expected to arrive for which… you guessed it…you’d have to flip the phone and check the app anyway.

I get it, the idea of replicating the Live Activities capability on the iPhone seemed like a good feature goal, but its execution via an LED light strip may not have been the best way to do it.

Far more than this new feature, I liked the ‘Essential Glyph’ notification feature, which lets you set up notifications from specific actions within apps that need to be addressed to dismiss the LED strip. Say you want to be alerted for every DM on Twitter or a new mention on Threads—the LED strip will light up and not go away until you’ve viewed the notification. This feature could get even more useful when it allows for ‘essential notifications’ from specific contacts within your apps, say a WhatsApp message from a significant other. The other fun addition is the Glyph composer, which lets you create a custom ringtone with associated light patterns using a bunch of Nothing sounds.

As for the rest of the phone hardware, the step up to a higher price segment is evident in Nothing’s choice of hardware, and for the most part, the choices are solid, sensible picks. The Gorilla Glass-protected OLED display pushes out 2412x1080-pixels at 120Hz with LTPO, which means that the screen can dial down to 1Hz when it's displaying context like text but ratchets up to 120Hz for navigating the interface and in supported games. The display gets plenty bright, with 1600 nits of peak brightness for HDR content (1000 nits in regular use), but it’s a pity the HDR 10+ support extends only to YouTube for now. Haptics are strictly average, and while the stereo speakers are decent for podcasts and YouTube, they get a little tinny for music.

While the Phone (1) didn’t have performance issues on an everyday basis, it wasn’t the phone to push the envelope on gaming performance and so, performance sees some very visible upgrades with the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chipset. Sure, this chip is a ‘late-2022’ step behind the current Qualcomm top-tier chipset, but it is a legitimate premium flagship chip that expectedly performs extremely well, without running too warm (an issue that plagued the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 phones from early 2022). Multiple browser windows, games like Diablo, COD: Mobile and Genshin Impact work just fine on the 12GB/512GB model.

In my everyday use, which consisted of taking a bunch of photos, playing the odd game and responding to a ton of messages on email and social, the Phone (2) felt just like any other high-end phone that came out this year, with no real compromises to speak of, so you’re not going to be left wondering “what if this shipped with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 instead?”. Admittedly, the review unit I used has more memory and storage headroom than the base 128GB variant, which may be the better choice if you plan to use the phone over a 3–5-year timeframe.

Performance upgrades extend to the battery as well, with a larger 4,700mAh battery pack and faster 45W charging speeds. Coupled with the more emergency efficient chip, battery life saw an impressive jump to well over seven hours of screen-on time with my heavy workloads. Charging takes about an hour, a far cry from the mind-numbing charging speeds on competing phones that top up phones in 20 minutes or so… plus there’s no charger in the box, so you’re going to have to factor that cost into the purchase as well. Redemption comes via15W wireless charging and reverse wireless charging, the latter handy for charging up a pair of Qi-compatible wireless earbuds like the Ear (2) or AirPods Pro.

A lot of the fluidity and responsiveness comes down to Nothing OS 2.0.1, based on stock Android 13 with the monochrome launcher allowing you to pick a theme which is well, monochrome and, as Nothing claims, is driven by the concept of intentional consumption—the use of glanceable home screen/lock screen widgets and a monochrome look-and-feel (icons, folders) to reduce the allure that colorful app logos present.

The monochrome launcher theme is meant to encourage 'intentional consumption'
The monochrome launcher theme is meant to encourage 'intentional consumption'

I get the theory, but eventually after I settled into the phone, I wasn’t any less prone to mindless Instagram scrolling even with the monochrome icons. Maybe I need a software update, who knows? In any case, I liked the heavy touch Nothing has lent its widgets—Nothing is going for a particular look, and I like the consistency of its software design language across the board on the Phone (2). Worth mentioning is the experimental features section under Settings, which has native support for Apple AirPods, enhanced touch response for games, and third-party app support for the Glyph interface. Nothing has promised three years of major OS upgrades and four years of security patches, and from what I’ve seen so far on the Phone (1), they do seem to ship stuff out on time.

Finally, the camera, which sees modest upgrades by way of the 50MP Sony IMX890 sensor—no telephoto camera though. Instead, software optimizations have done their bit to boost images taken by the Phone (2). With its new HDR algorithm, the Phone 2 pushes out bright, punchy photos with great dynamic range that still retain a shade of normalcy on the skin tones and sky colors. With its improved processing and AI-assisted motion capture, the phone takes some excellent shots, with the odd issues of shutter lag and struggling to keep highlights in check that can be addressed in software. Night photos are solid and reliable as well. The unchanged 50MP Samsung JN1-sensor sporting ultrawide is adequate—it shoots decent images that could do with a bit more sharpness around the edges, does well for macros, but still needs a bit of work in matching the color science of the main camera. Selfies from the Phone (2) are great, in good light.

In every measurable sense, the Nothing Phone (2) is an upgrade over the Phone (1), but in moving to a higher price segment, Nothing is rightfully going to see some sections of its audience balk at the premium the Phone (2) is charging. On the one hand, at its Rs. 44,999 base price, the Nothing Phone 2 is getting closer to the Samsungs/iPhones 13/14 (on sale days) or the much-loved OnePlus 11, and on the other, you could argue you could get most of the same hardware in phones that cost a little north of 30,000.

Of course, none of the phones on the market in this price segment have as clearly defined a sense of style and design, a sense of personality, as the Nothing Phone (2), and if you find its hip branding or its Glyphs appealing, then this phone has no equal.

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