I was shopping for new kicks at an Adidas store a while ago. Unfortunately, while I didn’t get a good pair to take back home, I did end up having a fascinating conversation with one of the employees. You see, while I was browsing the store’s catalogue, he spotted the Nothing Phone (1) in my hand and immediately inquired if it was the company’s upcoming ‘transparent’ smartphone. Having piqued each other’s interest, I asked him if he followed tech launches routinely. Much to my surprise, he didn’t and yet, was still aware of the device regardless.
That’s not the only time I was asked about the Phone (1) during my stint with the device either, mind you. In fact, my less tech-savvy friends knew about the phone even before I showed it to them. Suffice it to say, the company’s co-founder Carl Pei has generated tremendous hype around the Phone (1) and the device has become somewhat of a household name. Understandably, the smartphone has a lot riding on its shoulders too and prospective buyers are undoubtedly expecting the Phone (1) to deliver on all fronts. This begs the question – is the Nothing Phone (1) a sound choice? Or, is it all bark and no bite? Well, let’s find out in this review.
While buyers looking for the most bang for the buck will be better off with a high-performance flagship killer, the Phone (1) makes for a compelling buy for those who value a handset’s aesthetics and software above all else.
I could be preaching to a choir here but smartphone designs feel – for the lack of a better word – boring. Now, I’ve been reviewing phones for a hot minute and the sheer number of devices that come across my table touting similar designs is mindboggling. The scenery takes a turn for the worse when you’re tasked with reviewing phones from sister companies, which, more often than not, recycle the same chassis for their offerings. That’s partly why I was excited to take the Nothing Phone (1) for a spin in the first place. You see, from the get-go, the company has been as keen as mustard to make tech ‘fun’ again. The brand delivered on its promise with the ear (1) TWS headset, which managed to stand out amidst a herd of humdrum offerings with its transparent design.
The Nothing Phone (1), on the other hand, is somewhat of a mixed bag, at least in the design department. You see, the back of the phone is unlike anything I’ve seen and the unit comprises a matrix of LEDs which the company calls the glyph interface. I’ll talk more about the LEDs in a bit but, to cut a long story short, the interface brings superb features to the mix and helps relay call/battery information when the phone is kept facing the screen down. More to the point, the Nothing Phone (1) is, at least in my books, the best-looking phone in its segment. The back of the device, while not truly transparent, acts as a window into the phone’s wireless charging coils, LEDs and the works. What’s more, the faceplates offer a gorgeous texture which makes the design stand out that much more. In fact, you’ll find the company’s logo etched on one of the backplates, which is a seemingly nice touch too.
More notably, the Phone (1) is a statement piece and it will attract a ton of eyeballs every time you take it out of your pocket. The device is available in two different hues and while you might fly under the radar if you opt for the black colourway, people will gravitate towards the white finish like moths to a flame. In fact, I’ve never seen passersby gawk at a phone so much. And, while the handset’s styling is a tad polarising, the smartphone’s aesthetics were lauded by my friends and colleagues alike. There were exceptions, of course, but folks who disliked the handset’s design were far and few in between.
Now, while all that’s good and dandy, it’s hard to overlook the design similarities between the Phone (1) and the latest iPhone range. In fact, from the unit’s flat frame to its rounded-off edges, the Phone (1) looks and feels eerily similar to say, an iPhone 13 Pro (review). To the brand’s credit, the device’s LED setup does make it stand out. Furthermore, much like an iPhone, the Phone (1)’s chassis feels dense and robust too, which speaks volumes about the unit’s in-hand feel. It also helps that the handset offers an even weight distribution and doesn’t feel top-heavy either. Suffice it to say, Phone (1) has really upped the ante in the design department.
Glyph interface and I/O
Coming to the meat of the matter, the Nothing Phone (1) ships with an array of LEDs on the back that make up the glyph interface. Apart from supplementing the smartphone’s good looks, the LED interface doubles up as an over-the-top notification light too. In fact, the handset ships with 10 different ringtones which have been synced with the phone’s haptics and glyph interface. Each ringtone offers a unique LED pattern which engages some or all of the lights positioned at the back of the device. Consequently, you can set up distinctive alerts for select contacts on your phone.
Truth be told, I don’t see many people memorising glyph patterns or melodies for up to ten different contacts. In fact, I would’ve liked to see the option to have customised notifications for popular messaging and social media apps like Instagram, WhatsApp, etc instead. That being said, I really like how the bottom-most LED lights up whenever you plug in the phone to a wall outlet. What’s more, the LED strip mimics the phone’s battery level and fills up with time, which is a neat touch. And, while Nothing couldn’t outfit the device with a OnePlus-esque alert slider to zip through various sound profiles, the handset comes with a flip-to-mute functionality aptly dubbed “Flip to Glyph”. As its moniker suggests, the feature mutes incoming notifications and instead, triggers the LED lights at the back whenever you get a call or a text.
All said and done, the Phone (1)’s glyph interface is decidedly more than just a party trick. That said, I would like to see the company introduce more ways to interact with the LEDs down the line. As for the rest of the I/O, the handset ships with a USB Type-C port at the bottom, along with a speaker grille. The phone features a power button on its right-hand spine, with the volume rocker taking up space on its left fascia. Unfortunately, Phone (1) doesn’t ship with a headphone jack, however, the device comes with a stereo speaker setup that gets adequately loud for watching movies on the fly.
I should also add that Phone (1) comes equipped with an in-display fingerprint sensor which got me into my home screen in the blink of an eye. The facial recognition tech, on the other hand, could do with some tweaks and the phone struggled to authenticate my face even in broad daylight. On the bright side, the smartphone ships with the best haptics I’ve used on a sub Rs 40K phone to date. So, if you are an avid texter, you’ll revel typing long messages and emails on the Nothing Phone (1).
The Nothing Phone (1) ships with a 6.55-inch, FHD+, OLED display. The panel offers a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz and touts a 10-bit colour depth. Consequently, the Phone (1)’s screen exhibits a wider gamut of colours than you’d typically see on an 8-bit panel. What’s more, the display responds to touches and swipes admirably as well, which can be accredited to its snappy touch sampling rate of 240Hz.
Unsurprisingly, the panel is a treat to look at and the screen evinces peppy colours, great viewing angles, and deep, dark blacks. With that said, the display’s brightness leaves something to be desired and I struggled to use the phone outdoors, under the sun. That’s quite alarming, seeing how the display’s peak brightness is rated at 1,200 nits. So, what gives? Well, I’m still awaiting a word from the company but from what I can gather, the display’s peak brightness might come into play for HDR content. Otherwise, the panel caps out at 500 nits, which can feel a bit too low, especially when you’re out and about. What’s more, while the panel can relay HD streams from OTT services, the device doesn’t support HDR playback from Netflix at the moment.
On the bright side, the Phone (1)’s screen comes layered with Corning’s Gorilla Glass v5, which should mitigate scratches and scuffs to a certain degree. Moreover, the display is bordered by symmetrical bezels on all four sides, which should keep your OCD at bay as well.
Performance, Software, and Battery life
The Phone (1)’s processor of choice might not sit well with most buyers. I say this because the device is backed by the mid-tier Snapdragon 778G+ mobile chipset which works alongside up to 12GB of LPDDR5 memory and up to 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage. Needless to say, the smartphone is not the fastest device in its segment. In fact, I ran a slurry of benchmarks on the set, the results for which can be accessed by scrolling through the slider attached below. Unsurprisingly, the handset’s scores paled in comparison to competing devices backed by Qualcomm Snapdragon 870, Snapdragon 888 and MediaTek Dimensity 1300 SoCs.
That’s not to say that the Phone (1) performs poorly, mind you. In fact, the SoC is capable enough to drive a user’s daily workload which usually involves browsing social media apps, running a dozen tabs on chrome, watching movies on Netflix or messaging on IM services like WhatsApp, Telegram etc. What’s more, the device can run graphically-demanding games at competent settings too. Apex Legends Mobile, for instance, runs at 60FPS, albeit at a lower graphics preset (Normal).
Turn the page over to something less demanding, like CoD Mobile and you’ll be able to run the game at ‘Very High’ graphics and ‘Max’ FPS presets respectively. And, for those wondering, I didn’t run into any major performance niggles whilst using the set either – apps opened swiftly, UI animations were rendered smoothly and games ran without a hitch. I did notice the in-game FPS drop every once in a while but barring that, I have no complaints with the Phone (1)’s performance chops.
Software-wise, the device boots Nothing OS v1.0.2 on top of Android 12. The near-stock interface has a lot going for it and is among the rare breed of custom skins to ship without any bloatware. What’s more, the UI comes with a truckload of customisation features and from changing the launcher’s grid size to enlarging the icons or using third-party icon packs, you can do it all. If anything, I would’ve liked to see a more intuitive drop-down menu with the phone. As things stand, I can’t add a quick access shortcut for the Wi-Fi menu, as Android 12 aggregates all connectivity features under one roof. Now, credit where credit’s due, Nothing OS features a dedicated Wi-Fi toggle, nestled inside a giant circle at the top of the menu. Unfortunately, you have to swipe a couple of times if you want to interact with it (three times, to be precise). Even then, tapping on the toggle doesn’t turn the Wi-Fi on or off – instead, it opens the Wi-Fi menu.
The same goes for the ‘clear all’ toggle in the multitasking tray too, which can only be accessed if you swipe all the way to the left of the app feed. To be clear, I have this gripe from most phones running stock Android. Regardless, the aforementioned niggles don’t take a whole lot away from the Phone (1)’s otherwise polished skin.
The Nothing Phone (1) has taken the road less travelled in the camera department and the device ships with only two sensors at the back. Per the brand, more cameras don’t translate to better image quality – something I wholeheartedly agree with as well. Consequently, the company has outfitted its first phone with two 50MP sensors, including a Sony IMX766 main shooter and a 50MP Samsung JN1 ultrawide lens. For selfies, the device gets a 16MP Sony IMX471 sensor up front.
So, how do the cameras fare? Well, for the price, the Phone (1) delivers a solid photography experience and the device overturns stunning photos, come night or day. I’ve summarised my experience with the Phone (1)’s cameras below, so take a gander:
- The Phone (1)’s 50MP main sensor clicks superb images during the day. Unlike most competing devices, photos snapped with the phone (1)’s primary camera exhibit reasonably authentic colours. Don’t get me wrong, the camera’s colour science favours warmer tones but the output doesn’t felt overtly doctored or edited. Instead, the scene looks mostly as-is and the composition offers bountiful details too. In fact, I pit the cameras on the Phone (1) against the OnePlus 10R and was in awe of Nothing’s offering. The in-depth camera comparison between the devices should be up shortly, however, for the time being, take a look at the slider attached below.
- Here, the Phone (1)’s composition has rendered the blue colour of the van much more accurately. Furthermore, the 10R’s camera favours a contrast-y look and as a result, the smartphone’s post-processing crushes the shadows in the shot. The same is evident if you look at the wheels of the van, which appear overtly darkened in the 10R’s shot. That’s not all, as, at a closer crop, the phone (1) offered slightly better corner sharpness too. Now, I will admit, I did run into some exposure metering issues with the phone (1), however, a recent update has fixed the same.
- The smartphone’s main camera clicks good-looking lowlight photos too. In fact, while the images snapped with the night mode utility disabled are nothing to write home about, the photos come out exceptionally detailed with the feature turned on. It also helps that the device brings out the details from the shadows admirably and keeps instances of lens flaring in check too.
- The same is true for the smartphone’s 50MP ultrawide angle sensor too. The unit clicks superbly detailed photos with ample sharpness around the edges of the frame, so no complaints here either. I was quite happy with the performance of the front-facing camera as well, which reciprocates the subject’s skin tone to a tee. That said, the output does falter by quite a bit in lowlight scenarios. As for videos, the device can record clips in up to 4K resolution at 30FPS. The smartphone even comes with OIS, which paves the way for smooth, jitter-free footage.
The Nothing Phone (1) starts at Rs 32,999 in India and for the price, goes up against a bunch of heavy-hitters in the market. Truth be told, I wasn’t impressed with the Phone (1)’s spec sheet when it was initially teased online. But, since then, the device has rubbed off on me. Don’t get me wrong, much like most of you reading this review, I too have an affinity for high-performance devices that don’t cost an arm and a leg. As a matter of fact, that’s why I enjoyed reviewing the POCO F4 (review) and the iQOO Neo 6 (review) so much. But, what the Phone (1) lacks in performance, it makes up for in other areas. To wit, the smartphone’s design and glyph interface comes across as a breath of fresh air. The device offers a tidy UI which is void of any bloatware as well. At the same time, the interface offers oodles of customisability and the company is guaranteeing three years of OS upgrades too.
The cameras deserve a mention as well and I was particularly happy with the output from the Phone (1)’s primary sensor. That’s not all, as the handset offers the best haptics in its segment and while the unit doesn’t ship with a wall charger, the Phone (1)’s battery backup is not too shabby either. The real kicker is that ‘middling, mid-tier’ SoCs have come a long way and while the Phone (1) is not going to smash any benchmarks, the smartphone doesn’t feel outrightly sluggish either. All said and done, the Phone (1) has been one of the most anticipated smartphone launches of the year and while the device isn’t perfect, it still makes for a compelling buy. Consequently, if you were looking for a phone that offers a polished end-user experience, the Phone (1) will not disappoint you.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Stylish, unique design
- Clean software
- Capable primary camera
- Decent performer
- Supports wireless charging
- Doesn’t ship with a charger
- Slow 33W charging speed
- Display’s peak brightness is not the best
- Facial recognition is finicky