Nothing Phone 1 review: Android with funky lights on its transparent back | smart phones

TThe Phone 1 is the first smartphone from British tech startup Nothing, led by OnePlus Co-founder Carl Baywhich was created single-handedly with the goal of bringing a little interest and excitement back into the increasingly similar world of consumer electronics.

But the company’s follow-up to Unconventional Earbuds 1 Not a flashy high spec phone. At £399 (AU$749), it looks to compete directly with more affordable models like Samsung’s mid-range A-series and Google’s Pixel 6a. It does so while offering something unique: a series of white LED strips scattered across transparent glass back to create patterns of light that nothing called “glyphs”.

The Nothing Phone 1 is back showing off the transparent design and light strips.
Five separate light bars flash and pulse in time for the sound and vibration patterns of 10 different ringtones and notification sounds, and the charging status is shown when the phone is plugged in. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

It shows different lighting patterns from the caller, the app that notifies you or even different types of notifications from the same app without having to see the screen. You can set one style for a work email or one style for personal email in Gmail, for example, but, unfortunately, you can’t distinguish between messages from different contacts, only calls.

The glyphs and transparent back add a little interest to the somewhat minimalist design. The recycled aluminum sides and flat OLED display look remarkably similar to the Apple phone, leading more than one person to wonder if I had iPhone 13. However, the build quality is very good, and the 6.55-inch Full HD screen is excellent for the money: big, bright, crisp, and very smooth, thanks to the 120Hz refresh rate.

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Determine

  • Monitor: 6.55 inch 120 Hz FHD + OLED (402ppi)

  • Healer: Snapdragon 778G Plus

  • RAM: 8 or 12 GB

  • storage: 128 or 256 GB

  • The operating system: Android 12 with none OS

  • camera: 50 MP Main and Ultra Wide, 16 MP Selfie

  • Delivery: 5G, eSIM, wifi 6E, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2, GNSS

  • Water Resistant: IP53 (Splash Resistant)

  • Dimensions: 159.2 x 75.8 x 8.3 mm

  • Weight: 193.5 grams

mid-range fast slice

USB-C port for Nothing Phone 1.
The phone supports up to 33W wired charging, reaching 100% in just over an hour, but it doesn’t come with a power adapter. 15W wireless charging and 5W reverse wireless charging are also available. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The phone has a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G Plus chip, which is quite capable of everyday use, with the interface and apps feeling very fast.

However, it doesn’t quite live up to the raw performance of top-notch chips, which is most noticeable when processing images and slow switching between lenses in the camera after taking pictures. Only those mid-range phones with high-spec chipsets like iPhone SE from Apple or Google Pixel 6a phone It will perform significantly better for the price.

Battery life is good, lasting around 38 hours between charges including two hours on 5G, which puts it on par with most top-of-the-line devices. You will probably have to charge it once a day.

Sustainability

The Nothing Phone 1 displayed from above shows recycled aluminum striping around its sides.
The phone is made of recycled aluminum and plastic with a premium look and feel less common for mid-range smartphones. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Nothing rates the battery for at least 800 full charge cycles while maintaining at least 80% of its original capacity. Phone 1 can generally be repaired in the UK and the battery can be replaced with Nothing.

Phone 1 is made of 100% recycled aluminum with more than 50% of its plastic components made from bio- or recycled materials. The company plans to publish an environmental impact report for the phone, which it says has a carbon footprint of 58.5 kg of carbon dioxide2 Equivalent.

No operating system

Nothing Phone 1 quick settings panel.
The quick settings panel also has some custom features, with nothing intended to add more, like integration with Tesla cars, so you can unlock doors remotely. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Phone 1 comes with an abstract version of the back of Android 12 Nothing is called OS. It offers all the features you’d expect but without the bloat of duplicate apps, which mostly rely on those Google offers, which is a good thing.

The interface is filled with a touch of dot matrix nostalgia in UI elements, typeface and logos, as well as some custom backgrounds and a voice recorder app with a new record player-like interface. It is attractive without being too radical.

The company will deliver three years of major Android updates and a total of four years of security fixes every two months. That’s decent but less than a year than that offered by competing Google and Samsung devices, and it’s way too late Fairphone and Apple support for six to seven years.

There was no smooth and stable OS, but I did run into some small bugs, some of which were fixed during the testing period, so I have no doubts that these remaining issues will be resolved. When restoring the phone from a cloud backup of my data, the auto-rotate between portrait and landscape didn’t work, and the Glyph light showing Google Assistant activity didn’t work. Setting the phone without restoring my data fixed the issues.

camera

The Camera app on Nothing Phone 1 displays the viewfinder.
The camera app is easy to use and very similar to those on other Android smartphones, so it will be familiar to many. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Phone 1 has a refreshingly simple lens array on the back, with only two 50MP cameras – one regular and one ultrawide – forgoing the extra macro or mono cameras common in mid-range phones for marketing purposes.

Both cameras are good for the money. The main camera produces the best photos that generally have good color balance and detail. Images may lack a bit of sharpness and fine detail when viewed at full size, and it can be a bit tricky to get a sharp shot in low light. The ultra-fast screen produces images with cooler tones and smoother details but is still decent. The camera can sometimes oversaturate parts of the image, such as red flowers that lose all clarity and almost glow.

The phone doesn’t have a telephoto camera, but the digital zoom did produce usable 2x photos, and it’s pretty full of artifacts after the nearly 5x zoom. Avatars can be illuminated to create a fill light at night instead of using flash, which is new but produces a blue gradient for photos. The selfie camera is equally good, and produces detailed photos in good light.

Video recording was solid for the money but only up to 4K at 30fps, not 60 as is increasingly common.

Overall, the Phone 1 is able to produce really good photos, outperforming many mid-range competitors, but it won’t bother the best.

Image showing the fingerprint scanner lit at the bottom of the Nothing Phone 1 screen.
The fingerprint scanner at the bottom of the screen is fast and accurate. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

price

The Nothing Phone 1 costs £399 (AU$749) with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, £449 (AU$799) with 8GB and 256GB, or £499 (AU$849) With 12GB and 256GB, it is available in black or white depending on the model.

For comparison, the Google Pixel 6a costs £399Samsung Galaxy A53 costs £399The Verfone 4 costs £499and the Apple iPhone SE costs £419.

Rule

Phone 1 is a well-executed first attempt at a smartphone from scratch.

Its design is distinct from the back and is simple elsewhere. You might not like the iPhone-like look but the recycled aluminum sides definitely feel more premium than the competitive mid-range price might suggest.

The avatar lights on the back are certainly new and eye-catching but remember the hard style, I usually avoid putting phones down to prevent scratches. It’s good to see something different and interesting.

Although there is a weird bug to fix, the Android software is bloat-free, which helps the phone feel quick to use. Battery life is also very good. Four years of promised software updates are good but not the best, relying on nothing succeeding in their commitments, which is not guaranteed for any new entrant.

It has stiff competition from competitors like Google’s premium Pixel 6a phoneBut compared to a lot of boring mid-range phones, the £399 Nothing Phone 1 stands out.

Positives: New back design, different graphic lights, good screen, decent performance, solid battery life, recycled aluminum, Android 12 bloat free, competitive price.

Negatives: There’s no optical zoom, just four years of security updates, just splash-proof, nothing a bit of an unknown quantity.

Image showing cameras and other design elements on the transparent back of Nothing Phone 1.
The design of the back that shows the wireless charging coil, screws and other details is the phone 1’s distinguishing feature. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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