Nothing Phone 1 review: an android with funky lights on its transparent back – The Guardian | Hot Mobile Press

TThe Phone 1 is the first smartphone from British tech startup Nothing, led by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, who went into business for himself with the aim of bringing back a little interest and excitement to the ever-constant world of consumer electronics.

But the company’s successor to the funky Ear 1 earbuds isn’t a flashy top-of-the-line phone. Priced at £399 (AUD749), it appears to compete head-to-head with cheaper models like Samsung’s mid-range A series and Google’s Pixel 6a. In doing so, it features something unique: a series of white LED strips scattered across a transparent glass back to create light patterns that Nothing calls “glyphs”.

The back of the Nothing Phone 1 showcases the transparent design and light strips.
Five separate light bars flash and pulse in time to sound and vibration patterns for 10 different ringtones and notification tones, and indicate charging status when the phone is connected. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Different light patterns show who’s calling, what app is notifying you, or even different types of notifications from the same app, without needing to see the screen. For example, you can set a pattern for a work email or one for a personal email in Gmail, but unfortunately you can’t distinguish between messages from different contacts, only calls.

The glyphs and transparent back add a bit of interest to an otherwise fairly understated design. The recycled aluminum sides and flat OLED screen look remarkably similar to an Apple phone, which has more than one person asking if I’m holding an iPhone 13 for the money: big, bright, crisp, and super-smooth , thanks to a refresh rate of 120 Hz.

specifications

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

  • Processor: Snapdragon 778G Plus

  • R.A.M: 8 or 12GB

  • Storage: 128 or 256GB

  • Operating system: Android 12 with Nothing OS

  • Camera: 50MP Main and Ultrawide, 16MP Selfie

  • Connectivity: 5G, eSIM, WLAN 6E, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2 and GNSS

  • water resistance: IP53 (splashproof)

  • Dimensions: 159.2 x 75.8 x 8.3mm

  • Weight: 193.5g

A snappy mid-range chip

Nothing Phone 1's USB-C port.
The phone supports wired charging up to 33W and reaches 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. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The phone has a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G Plus chip that’s perfect for everyday use, although the UI and apps feel pretty snappy.

However, it falls short of the raw performance of top-of-the-line chips, which is particularly noticeable in image processing and the sluggish switching between lenses in the camera after shooting. Only mid-range phones with top chips like Apple’s iPhone SE or Google’s Pixel 6a will do significantly better for the price.

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

sustainability

The Nothing Phone 1 from above with the recycled aluminum band on the sides.
The phone is made from recycled aluminum and plastic with a premium look and feel that’s less common for mid-range smartphones. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Nothing rates the battery for at least 800 full charge cycles while retaining at least 80% of its original capacity. The Phone 1 is generally UK repairable and the battery is replaceable with Nothing.

The Phone 1 is made from 100% recycled aluminium, with more than 50% of its plastic components being made from bio-based or recycled materials. The company plans to release an environmental impact report for the phone, which it says has a carbon footprint of 58.5kg of CO2 equivalent.

Nothing OS

The quick settings panel on the Nothing Phone 1.
The quick settings panel also has some custom features, with Nothing wanting to add more such as: B. Integration into Tesla’s cars, so you can unlock the doors remotely. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Phone 1 ships with a stripped down version of Android 12 called Nothing OS. It offers all the features you would expect but without the bloat of duplicate apps that mostly rely on those provided by Google, which is a good thing.

The UI is sprinkled with touches of dot-matrix nostalgia in its widgets, fonts, and logos, as well as some custom wallpapers and a voice recorder app with a novelty turntable-like UI. It’s attractive without being too radical.

The company offers major Android updates for three years and security fixes every two months for a total of four years. That’s decent, but a year shy of competing devices from Google and Samsung, and well behind the six to seven year support provided by Fairphone and Apple.

Nothing OS was smooth and stable, but I did encounter a few small bugs, some of which were fixed within the testing period, so I have no doubt these remaining issues will be fixed. When restoring the phone from a cloud backup of my data, the auto rotate between portrait and landscape modes didn’t work, nor did the glyph light show any Google Assistant activity. Setting up the phone without restoring my data fixed the issues.

camera

The camera app on the Nothing Phone 1 shows 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. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Phone 1 has a refreshingly simple lens selection on the back, with just two 50-megapixel cameras – one regular and one ultrawide – and for marketing purposes forgoes the extra macro or monochrome cameras that are common on mid-range phones.

Both cameras are good for the money. The main camera produces the best images, which generally have good color balance and detail. Photos can lack a bit of sharpness and fine detail when viewed full-size, and it can be a little difficult to get a sharp shot in low light. The ultrawide produces images with cooler tones and softer details, but it’s still decent. The camera can occasionally oversaturate parts of an image, e.g. B. red flowers that lose all sharpness and almost glow.

The phone doesn’t have a telephoto camera, but the digital zoom produced usable images at 2x magnification and became riddled with artifacts after about 5x magnification. The glyphs can be lit to create a fill light at night instead of using the flash, which is novel but gives the images a blue tint. The selfie camera is just as good, taking detailed photos in good light.

Video recording was solid for the money, but only up to 4K at 30 frames per second, not 60 as is becoming more common.

Overall, the Phone 1 is capable of producing really good images, beating out many mid-range rivals but won’t bother the best.

An image showing the fingerprint scanner flashing under the Nothing Phone 1's screen.
The under-screen optical fingerprint scanner is fast and accurate. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Price

The Nothing Phone 1 costs £399 (AUD749) with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage, £449 (AUD799) with 8GB and 256GB, or £499 (AUD849) with 12GB and 256GB and comes in black or Available in white depending on the model.

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

Verdict

The Phone 1 is a remarkably well-executed first attempt at a smartphone from Nothing.

Its design is distinctive on the back and otherwise simple. You might not like the iPhone-like look, but the recycled aluminum sides certainly feel more premium than the competitive mid-range price suggests.

The glyph lights on the back are certainly novel and eye-catching, but it’s difficult to remember which pattern is which, and I usually avoid placing phones face down to avoid scratches. It’s good to see something different and fun.

Despite an odd bug that needs fixing, the Android software is pleasantly bloat-free, which helps make the phone feel snappy in use. The battery life is also pretty good. Four years of promised software updates is good but not the best, relying on Nothing to meet its commitment, which isn’t guaranteed for every new entrant.

It faces very stiff competition from rivals like Google’s excellent Pixel 6a, but compared to many boring mid-range phones it’s the £399 Nothing Phone 1 that really stands out.

Advantages: Novel back design, Glyph lights are different, Good screen, Decent performance, Solid battery life, Recycled aluminum, Android 12 bloat-free, Competitive price.

Disadvantages: no optical zoom, only four years of security updates, only splashproof, nothing a bit unknown.

A photo showing the cameras and other design elements on the transparent back of the Nothing Phone 1.
The back cover design, showing the wireless charging coil, screws and other details, is the outstanding feature of the Phone 1. Photo: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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