Nothing Phone (1): Nothing Flashes More Beautifully

With the Phone (1), the British manufacturer Nothing wants to stir up the industry. What can the new Android smartphone with a transparent back and retro charm do?

A little hype never hurts when you want to sell a new product. Especially not if the product is a smartphone from a new manufacturer. The London-based company Nothing has done good groundwork in this regard: Investors in the company, which was only founded in 2020, include iPod inventor Tony Fadell, YouTube jack-of-all-trades Casey Neistat and Reddit CEO Steve Huffman. Over the past few months, Nothing has gradually teased the unusual design of the smartphone - and with success: 200,000 peoplehave been pre-ordering the phone (1) since June, according to the company, although full details were not yet known at the time. It was only officially presented this week, and the official start of sales is on July 21st.

Tehnologijaviews has already been able to test the Nothing Phone (1) for a few days. And so much in advance: The device is an eye-catcher in at least one respect.

The head behind the relatively large hype surrounding the device is Carl Pei. The Swede has been working in the industry for more than ten years and during this time has earned a reputation as an ambitious lateral thinker – in a positive sense. In 2013 he founded the Chinese smartphone manufacturer OnePlus together with Pete Lau. Its aim was to build Android phones that had hardware that was as good as the top models from other manufacturers, but only cost half as much. Curious people were able to purchase the first models from OnePlus via invitation and waiting list. Anyone who could get hold of one was allowed to brag about it; After all, not everyone had such a smartphone. The principle of artificial scarcity worked splendidly. Today, OnePlus still produces very good smartphones, but for several years they have been sold freely and the prices are similar to those of the competition.

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In October 2020, Carl Pei left OnePlus to found Nothing in London shortly afterwards. He then took over what was left of US manufacturer Essential Products, which was founded by former Android chief developer Andy Rubin and released a smartphone in 2017 that flopped despite a $100 million development budget . After Nothing released the Ear (1) wireless earphones last year, the young company is now launching its first smartphone.

The phone (1) is said to be the "most compelling alternative to Apple, " Pei said in March . The 32-year-old is not lacking in ambition, and the marketing material for the Phone (1) is not short of grandiose promises either. There is talk of "deeper interactions", a "new way of communication" and "bold simplicity". Is it all just rhetoric? Or is there really something behind it?

Design and display: a look inside the phone (1)

Anyone who pulls the phone (1) out of the box for the first time may initially be confused and wonder whether an iPhone 12 was accidentally sent here: The metal frame evenly enclosing the screen, the buttons on the left and right, the white antenna strips - all this is amazingly reminiscent of the models from Apple.

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This changes abruptly when you turn the smartphone over. The back of the phone (1) is transparent, which gives you a glimpse of the inner workings or the so-called glyph interface. Nothing has built a total of 900 white micro-LEDs into the back, which are arranged in a total of four light bands: around the two camera lenses, for example, is one of these bands, on the USB port and a large, almost circular one in the middle. They can light up independently, revealing different light patterns, i.e. glyphs. More on how useful that is in a moment. In addition, the glyphs can be used to illuminate photo motifs.

In any case, the transparent back is a unique selling point of the phone (1); there is currently no smartphone with a similar design on the market. And even if you might have hoped to be able to look a little more behind the covers into the inner workings of the device, the design is unusual and definitely a bit nerdy, which certainly says something about Nothing's target group. The processing of the phone (1) makes a good impression overall, but users have to be careful as soon as it gets wet: The device is only splash-proof according to protection class IP53. Diving should therefore be avoided. According to the company, one focus was on sustainability: 100 percent of the aluminum used and half of the plastic components should be recycled.

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The screen is comparatively compact with a diagonal of 6.55 inches and a resolution of 2,400 x 1,080 pixels. There is no larger version at Nothing, as offered by other manufacturers. The screen itself is decently bright and thanks to a refresh rate of up to 120 Hertz, the display is smooth even when quickly scrolling through apps. Under the screen is the fingerprint sensor, which is solid but doesn't quite measure up to that of the Samsung Galaxy S21 . The users have to press their thumb fairly precisely on it to unlock the device. The same goes for face unlock: it works most of the time, but not as reliably as, say, Face ID in an iPhone.

Camera: natural colors, lack of sharpness

The phone's camera (1) consists of two sensors, each with a resolution of up to 50 megapixels, a main camera and a wide-angle camera. Nothing does without an additional telephoto lens. The selfie camera on the front is 16 megapixels.

Compared to what is currently probably the best Android camera, namely that of the Google Pixel 6 Pro, the phone (1) takes slightly brighter pictures with a restrained contrast. That doesn't have to be bad, on the contrary: the iPhone is also known for preferring natural colors, while the camera systems from Samsung and Google are increasingly showing off with HDR effects, i.e. with increased contrast and saturation. The device from Nothing manages to balance well, especially in portrait mode; faces appear natural without accentuating every skin crease, as is sometimes the case in the Pixel 6 Pro's portrait mode.

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The phone (1), on the other hand, struggles a bit in situations with little light or backlighting. The smartphone from Google manages to capture more details overall. And when it comes to sharpness, the phone (1) can't quite keep up with the Pixel 6 Pro. The details are partially blurred, especially in the background or outside the focal point. But you can only see that if you look really closely. Overall, the camera system is on a good level, especially for a first-generation device.

Software: retro charm with manageable utility

The Nothing Phone (1) is based on its own version of Android called Nothing OS. However, this hardly differs from the standard Android, as used by Google's Pixel series. So it's not artificially bloated and doesn't get any pre-installed apps from any third party (other than Google, of course), which is a positive. Nothing has only adjusted its system optically: the time and the weather on the lock screen are in the style of a matrix display, the recorder app shows a tape machine, which also exudes a retro charm. This also applies to the integrated notification and call tones, which beep or rattle mechanically in the best R2D2 manner.

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Which brings us back to the glyph interface on the back of the phone. In the settings, it is possible to assign contacts their own notification tones and glyph patterns: when person X calls or sends a message, the glyph interface on the back flashes in a specific pattern. This way you can see who is calling, even when the phone is silent. However, you have to remember which glyph pattern represents which contact. At best, this could reduce how often you actively check your phone. But the usefulness of the Glyph interface is manageable at the start. It's a neat gimmick, no question, and when charging, the light bar on the USB port showing the current charge level is nice to look at and a nice party trick. But a "new way of communication", as Nothing calls it, it is far from it. Especially since Samsungwith EdgeLighting had a similar function for notifications using light effects years ago.

Founder Carl Pei announced in the spring that Nothing wanted to build an open ecosystem in which both its own products and third-party devices could be seamlessly linked, which are said to work "without separate apps". Nothing wants to build a kind of alternative to Apple's closed ecosystem, the phone (1) should become a hub for many different devices. It is difficult to say at this point in time exactly what that will look like. As a so-called experimental function, the Phone (1) only includes the option of connecting the smartphone to a Tesla at the start. According to the PR brochure, it should also be possible to see the battery status of Apple's AirPods. Both with the first generation AirPods and theAirPods Max did not work in the test.

Equipment and price: The phone (1) is available for less than 500 euros

Nothing presents the phone (1) as an ambitious mid-range smartphone. The Snapdragon 778G Plus processor does not belong to the top tier, which is evident from the fact that there can be slight delays when scrolling quickly when opening apps such as Instagram or Twitter for the first time. Nevertheless, the performance should be sufficient for most users.

The battery has a capacity of 4,500 mAh and can be charged with up to 33 watts, which is also a solid value and fully charges the smartphone in about 45 minutes. In the everyday test, the device lasted a good day and a half. The new 5G mobile communications standard is supported, as is a second SIM card. Unfortunately, as is so often the case these days, there is no SD memory card slot.

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Overall, the phone (1) comes in three versions: The basic version with eight gigabytes of RAM and 128 gigabytes of flash memory costs 469 euros. For 30 euros more, i.e. for 499 euros, there is twice as much hard disk space, namely 256 gigabytes. And 549 euros are due for the version with twelve gigabytes of RAM and 256 gigabytes of flash memory. With these prices, the Nothing Phone (1) competes with the upcoming Google Pixel 6A, Samsung's Galaxy A52 5G, the OnePlus Nord 2T or the Oppo Find X5 Lite.

Conclusion: is the Nothing Phone (1) worth buying?

The Nothing Phone is clearly aimed at people who are looking for a slightly different smartphone. The design is an eye-catcher and with its appearance Nothing takes on the role that OnePlus once had, namely that of the somewhat nerdy, rebellious manufacturer who wants to challenge the big companies with interesting hardware at comparatively lower prices. As the pre-orders show, Nothing seems to have struck a chord with this narrative, even though 200,000 pre-ordered devices are negligible in the global smartphone market. 

The glyph interface is fun, but the effect wears off quickly in everyday use. The camera is competitive, but lacks some software functions such as automatic object removal. The operating system is pleasantly slim, but contains hardly any surprises at this point in time. Of course, this can still change if Nothing should succeed in adding further integrations to the system and gaining further partners.

This leaves a solid smartphone with a special design at an acceptable price. In any case, the phone (1) is not yet the best Android alternative to Apple's iPhone, as other manufacturers are a little further along. But at least as far as self-confidence is concerned, Nothing is already at the forefront.

Note on transparency: The author tested the phone (1) described in the article according to professional criteria. It was made available to him free of charge by the manufacturer for the test period.

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