Nothing Phone (1) review: nothing… special

PRO

  • Unique design
  • Long battery life
  • Surprisingly bright AMOLED screen

CON

  • Disappointing camera performance
  • Green haze in the screen
  • Lacks unique software features

Nothing pretends to change the smartphone market with the phone (1) – apparently a new design is enough? No, of course not. But what could the first mid-range smartphone mean for the British start-up?

Ex-OnePlus CEO Carl Pei left the Chinese smartphone maker in December 2020 to “start his own business”. What followed was the launch of Nothing, a British startup that would conquer the technology market with simplified and affordable products. The first product was Ear (1), a pair of wireless headphones. For the second product, Pei returns to the smartphone industry with the Nothing Phone (1). It is also the product before us today. Nothing places the device in the middle segment with a suggested retail price of 469 euros.

It’s striking that Pei is primarily hoping to attract iPhone buyers. Better no iPhone SE than a phone (1) is the idea. Should you buy a phone (1)? We’ve been looking into it for you over the past few weeks.

Special design

Where the Nothing Phone (1) in particular excels is its design. You don’t see much of that at the front; the 6.55-inch screen looks like any other smartphone. However, it is notable that the thickness of the screen edges is always the same, which is a welcome change compared to many Android smartphones. It is also a flat copy and therefore you will not find rounded corners on this phone.

Furthermore, Nothing chose to use this screen in combination with a flat metal frame, which we also know from the iPhone. For me, the flat screen makes the phone easier to operate, and the flat bezel gives some extra grip if you’re using the device without a case.

No Phone (1) Glyph
The Glyph notification system consists of 900 LED lights that light up simultaneously

Only when we get to the back do you see why it’s such a special phone: It features a transparent back through which you can see the inside of the phone. In it, outlines of components are visible and – the most important aspect – you will find the Glyph notification system. It’s 900 individual LED lights that light up for notifications. It all stands out in a positive way; it’s a design you wouldn’t easily see from other manufacturers. Do you therefore want to buy the Nothing Phone (1)? Maybe not.

Fantastic AMOLED screen

The screen of the smartphone therefore measures 6.55 inches diagonally and is of excellent quality. Even in full sun, the brightness remained sufficient for reading text or watching videos. Of course, this is a bit easier on a high-end smartphone like the Galaxy S22 series, and you don’t have to set the slider to 100 percent, but it can’t be any other way in this price range. Visually, the colors on the screen of the phone (1) look fine. If you’re not happy with it: you can always adjust this to your liking in Nothing OS.

Furthermore, like many mid-range and high-end phones, the OLED panel offers you a higher refresh rate, which makes the interface fly by. This worked fine during our testing period. Please note that you are dealing with a fixed refresh rate of 120 Hz, so it does not change dynamically (per Hz) based on your usage, which in some cases leads to higher power consumption. However, this applies to all phones in this segment. What is not common on all AMOLED screens in this segment is a green haze when the brightness is at the lowest setting. This is a known issue with the phone (1) but it was not disruptive.

Mediocre cameras

Camera-wise, Nothing uses the right hardware, namely a 50 MP Sony IMX766 sensor that we know from OPPO Find X5 Pro and ASUS Zenfone 9. Still, the latter two phones deliver better photos and videos. Cameras on smartphones today rely more than ever on good post-processing, and nothing seems to go well with images from the Nothing Phone (1), which contain more noise, resulting in poorer HDR reproduction for scenes with a lot of light, and images that are practically useless at night and contain very little detail.

It’s a shame really, as this sensor, which we’ve seen on other smartphones, can deliver excellent performance. We are also not particularly satisfied with the wide-angle sensor. Like the main camera, photos from this sensor lack detail. Also, the colors are paler than the main camera. We are not completely satisfied with the camera setup, but for taking pictures during the day it is fast enough.

Lightning fast phone

You shouldn’t expect a high-end chipset on a mid-range phone, and we don’t see that on the phone (1). Nevertheless, the used Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+, bundled with 8GB of RAM, is always able to move the phone smoothly. Whether it’s simple actions like browsing or playing any game: everything just runs smoothly on Nothing’s first smartphone. You don’t need to try heavy games like Genshin Impact, but the more mundane games like Asphalt 9 or Candy Crush always run without problems.

Nothing OS, the software on the phone based on Android 12, contributes immensely to this and is almost vanilla Android without adding unnecessary apps or features. The clean software, combined with an efficient chip from Qualcomm, ensures that this phone can easily last a day on the battery. If you are a little more careful, you can even extend this to 2 days.

Fortunately, when the battery is empty, you never have to wait long for it to be charged. Nothing does not include a charger, but with a USB-C charger the phone can be charged with a maximum of 33 watts. Charging takes a little over an hour. Not a fast charging record and certainly not a competitor to OPPO’s 80 or 150 watt fast chargers, but it satisfies for what you can expect from a phone in 2022.

Final judgment

No, the Nothing Phone (1) is not revolutionary. And he is certainly not capable of changing or conquering the smartphone market. At the same time, the design of the phone is unique, you get a fantastic AMOLED screen, a powerful processor and a battery that lasts all day. That makes it a strong competitor to the Galaxy phones of this world; with the design, the phone even has an edge in our opinion. Is it an iPhone SE competitor? No, not that again. Sorry nothing: nice try, but maybe with the next phone… the phone (2)?

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