Rarely has there been such an unprecedented amount of anticipation for a smartphone. It is tough to drum up hype for a phone – especially in recent years when almost all smartphones have become homogenised slabs of glass and plastic. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Nothing Phone (1) has probably been the most hotly anticipated smartphone since renders of the iPhone X broke the internet a few years ago. With its unique secretive marketing, cryptic and mysterious brand name, and finally, the magic of 900 LEDs, the Nothing Phone (1) truly captured the internet’s imagination.
But the million dollar question – is the phone truly worth the hoopla? Underneath all the sparkle and dazzle of hype and bright lights, does the phone stand out in the highly competitive mid-range smartphone market? Can it compete with established players like Samsung, Realme, and Vivo? I have been using the Nothing Phone (1) for the past few weeks and have broken down my experience into the best and worst aspects of the smartphone.
First, let’s just run through the basic specifications. The Nothing Phone (1) is powered by Snapdragon’s punchy 5G mid-range chipset, the Snapdragon 778G+, and features a 6.55-inch FHD+ AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, up to 12GB RAM, up to 256GB internal storage, and a 4,500mAh battery with support for 33W wired charging. Our review unit was the top-of-the-line model with 12GB RAM and 256GB internal storage.
The Nothing Phone (1) runs Nothing OS on top of Android 12. The smartphone has a 16MP selfie camera and two rear cameras – a 50MP primary camera with Sony’s IMX766 sensor and OIS, as well as a 50MP ultra-wide with Samsung’s JN1 image sensor.
Unique design: Futuristic and sleek
There is no denying that the Nothing Phone (1) truly stands out from the crowd thanks to its Blade Runner-style futuristic design. The smartphone has a truly unique design, courtesy of a set of light strips underneath a semi-transparent back panel. There are 4 LED strips – one surrounding the rear camera unit, a C-shaped one around the wireless charging coil, one that looks like an exclamation mark at the bottom, and a diagonal strip at the top-right corner.
These LEDs – over 900 in total – can pulse to show notifications and the charging status. The lights can also flash in time with ten preloaded ringtones. This ‘GLYPH’ interface helps the phone look memorable. Is this truly useful? Not really – more about this later on in the review. But it indeed looks fantastic.
Nothing OS: No clutter, no ads
Nothing OS – the company’s skin atop Android 12 – offers many customisation options and is relatively clean with no bloatware, unwanted ads, or spammy notifications. It is truly refreshing to use a phone in this price range which does not bombard you with app install suggestions and ‘recommendations’.
Initially, Nothing OS had some optimisation issues – there was the odd animation lag and stuttering while navigating the interface. However, this issue seems to have been more or less solved with the three updates the phone has got since its launch. Navigating around the UI is a fast and fluid affair now.
Bright, crisp, and accurate display
The 1080p OLED display is decently bright and crisp. The colours are very accurate and not oversaturated like some rival AMOLED displays. The display supports up to 120 Hz refresh rate with a 240hz touch sampling rate; thus, the touch response is very fluid and fast. There is also support for HDR10, HDR10+ and Widevine L1. I had a great time watching a wide gamut of content – from live sports like Formula 1 on Hotstar to HDR-enabled videos on Netflix.
Fast and fluid
On paper, the Nothing Phone (1) seems quite underwhelming, with Snapdragon’s 5G mid-range Snapdragon 778G+ chipset under the hood when competitors like the iQOO 9SE 5G offer the flagship-grade Snapdragon 888 at the same price point. However, this is a perfect example of how specifications alone do not spell the whole story.
The truth is that even mid-range processors have come a long way, and the Snapdragon 778G+ is more than capable of handling everyday use. This, paired with the minimal, light, and well-optimised OS, results in a hassle-free user experience. The phone handles tasks like web browsing, social media applications, streaming media, and even reasonably hefty multitasking with aplomb. The phone can even run fairly graphically-demanding games like Apex Legends at 60fps – albeit at lower graphic settings (Normal mode). The FPS does drop now and then in such titles, but less intensive games like Asphalt 9 run flawlessly.
Solid battery life with wireless charging support
The Nothing Phone (1) has a decently sized 4,500mAh battery. While the battery life is not spectacular, it is decent. During my use, the phone easily lasted the whole day with heavy to moderate use. What this phone isn’t, though, is a 2-day or even 1.5-day marathon runner – you will need to top it up by the end of the day.
The icing on the cake is wireless charging support. The smartphone supports up to 15W wireless charging – a feature not common at this price range. It also has reverse wireless charging, which allows you to charge wireless charging compatible accessories such as your earbuds by simply plopping them on the phone’s decidedly good-looking back.
Above average cameras
The Nothing Phone (1) bucks the trend of useless macro and depth sensors to inflate the camera count and comes with just two cameras at the back. The primary 50MP sensor is above average and clicks great images during the day and when lighting conditions are favourable. Colours are also reasonably accurate, and detail retrieval is also good for the price. Low-light performance is also commendable – albeit with the night mode turned on. The resultant images are reasonably detailed, and noise is well within control. Out of the box, the night mode took ages to process images. Thankfully, Nothing rectified this in a significant update the phone recently received. The update also improved the ultra-wide angle camera’s colours – which were initially quite dull and drab.
ULTRA WIDE CAMERA
ULTRA WIDE CAMERA
The 50MP ultra-wide sensor produces sharp and accurate images as long as the lighting is good. As soon as the light dwindles, so does the image quality. As for videos, the phone does a good job thanks to the presence of OIS, which enable relatively smooth, jitter-free footage. The front-facing sensor is decent but nothing to write home about. Like the ultra-wide sensor, image quality fades significantly in low-light scenarios.
What doesn’t work
GLYPH : not very useful at the moment
The phone’s one standout feature is also one of its weakest links. The 900 LEDs-based GLYPH interface is simply too half-baked at the moment and is not very useful in day-to-day use. This is not to say the GLYPH interface is bad. Such a unique design is a breath of fresh air, but it needs to be much more customisable to be truly useful. At the time of this review, the GLYPH interface is pretty limited. These LEDs – over 900 in total – can pulse to show notifications and the charging status. The lights can also flash in time with ten preloaded ringtones. You can also use the GLYPH lights to illuminate your environment whilst using the camera.
There are no individual lighting patterns for specific users, you cannot appoint a unique pattern to certain apps like Whatsapp or Telegram, and the included ringtones sound too robotic and monophonic. To many, the lights can also come across as a bit garish. I actually forgot about the bright lights after the first week and was far more invested in the other more practical aspects of the phone, like the clean OS and fluid performance. The only GLYPH-based feature I found truly useful is the charging meter – which illuminates the exclamation mark at the bottom in tandem with the charging progress – providing a nifty visual guide to the remaining charging time.
Nothing OS needs spit and polish
While Nothing OS is fast, fluid, and devoid of bloat, it does come across as a first-generation affair. It needs some fine-tuning. The drop-down notification panel, for example, is not very intuitive – you need to swipe twice to access brightness controls, and the button for settings and accessing Wi-Fi controls takes three swipes. Another annoyance can be found in the multitasking menu – where the ‘clear all’ button resides all the way to the left of the open apps list.
The settings menu also needs work – the various toggles, settings, and sub-menus are laid out in basic drab lists without easy visual indicators.
- Thanks to the GLYPH interface and the corresponding 900 LEDs at the back, the Nothing Phone (1) is a bit thick. As a result, it is not easy to hold in hand or use one-handed.
- While the display is excellent, the stereo speakers are distinctly average. They are loud but can get shrill and tinny at high volume as the mids and bass are lacking.
- 33W wired charging is not the fastest you can get, but it is better than most Samsung offerings at this price point (25W). A full charge takes around 1.5 hours.
- The IP53 rating is quite mediocre. The phone should survive light splashes of water, but that’s about it. Similarly priced Samsung smartphones like the Galaxy A53 and Galaxy S20FE offer IP67 and IP68 water and dust protection, respectively.
- With the Nothing Phone (1), you are ultimately taking a chance with a new and upcoming brand. Only time will tell how Nothing fares regarding software updates and after-sales service. There is some disappointment on the updates front already, with the Android 13 update not arriving this year but scheduled for Q1 2023.
In a nutshell: Should you buy the Nothing Phone (1)?
The hype around the Nothing Phone (1) is intense, and it is easy to get lost amongst all the commotion. If you are buying it solely for the GLYPH interface, you might be disappointed as it is a bit half-baked at the moment. Also, charging speeds are mediocre, the phone is quite thick, and long-term updates and after-service are a question mark. Look past the lights though, and you will find a competent smartphone underneath.
Simply put, the Nothing Phone (1) is an excellent option for those who want to stand out from the crowd and are not hesitant to invest in a new company’s product. Beyond the design and sparkle of the lights, it is actually a very tidy, solid smartphone – with good but not earth-shattering performance, solid battery life, above-average cameras, and a clean and unobtrusive Android skin.
Pricebaba rating: 8/ 10