- The Phone (1) is the first smartphone to come from Nothing, OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei’s new initiative.
- Rather than its spec sheet, the Phone (1) literally shines in the design department, with 900 LEDs on the back that alert you to notifications.
- Although launched with a lot of hype and expectation, the device has been facing challenges on the product and supply front.
- At Rs 32,999, the Nothing Phone (1) is one of a kind – a phone you buy for being different, rather than the spec sheet and performance.
In 2003, almost twenty years ago, Motorola launched a phone that was very different from everything else in the market. Made of metal with a flip form factor that allowed it to be opened with a flick of the thumb, the Moto RAZR was nothing like many of us had ever seen. Yes, there had been flip phones before, but none of them had been this eye-catching. It brought back memories of the Communicators from the OG Star Trek series. In fact, so great was the attraction of the design of the phone that most reviewers excused its shortcomings (and there were quite a few of them). “Yes, it has its issues, but heck, at least someone has tried something very different,” was the thought in many parts of the tech community.
The first phone from OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei‘s new initiative, Nothing, evokes similar sentiments. At the very outset, it is only fair to point out that the Phone (1) is not without its share of headaches. And yet, it has grabbed attention like no phone has this year. Some would attribute it to Carl Pei’s ability to generate buzz, which was evident in his OnePlus years. But the buzz is of little use if there’s not much to buzz about, and in that regard, the Phone (1) is pretty much a tech beehive.
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Blinded by the lights…on the back
The queen bee in the Phone (1) beehive is the LED arrangement on the back. The back’s being semi-transparent makes it look different enough, but there are also 900 LEDs arranged on it. They not only light up but also light up in different patterns for different events – calls, notifications, charging, the works. We got the white unit of the device, and it was an instant head-turner whenever those lights went off. We hear it looks even more eye-catching in the black color variant. The semi-transparent back would have made the phone stand out as it was, but the addition of LEDs gives it another dimension altogether. This is the most distinct phone out there when placed face down on the table. By a mile. Period.
A rather routine front, with iPhone sides
The Nothing Phone (1) on the front sticks to broad smartphone basics. It is slightly broader than other phones, giving it a slight iPhone-like feel in that regard. That iPhone-likeness gets even more emphatic when you look at the straight metallic sides of the device – even the buttons seem rather similar to those seen on an iPhone. That might make some design purists frown, but we have no problems with it.
The front of the phone is relatively routine – you get a 6.55-inch display with slim bezels and a punch hole notch in the top left corner. Nothing claims to have taken special care to ensure that the ‘chin’ of the phone is almost as slim as its sides, using a flexible display. It does bring a certain symmetry to the front of the phone, but you will have to look closely to notice it.
Solidly built, with an IP53 rating, but for God’s sake, don’t drop it
The materials used in the Nothing Phone (1) are very good indeed. You get Corning Gorilla Glass 5 on the front and back. And the frame is made of 100 percent recycled aluminum. It gives a slightly chunky feel at 8.3 mm and 193.5 grams (the straight sides make it appear even more so, we feel). It is not a super small phone. It is slightly less tall than the iPhone 13 Pro Max and is about the same height as the OnePlus Nord 2T, but is not as big as the likes of the Poco F4 or the Redmi Note 11 Pro+.
The phone also has a pre-installed display protector and an IP53 splashproof rating, but there is no case in the box. We recommend getting one as soon as possible because Phone (1) is one phone you do not want to ever drop with that AMOLED display in front and those 900 LEDs on the back!
A steady performer, helped by frequent updates
We have been using the Nothing Phone 1 for a few weeks now, and while it started out as a bit of an eccentric performer with some features being hit and miss and some very good, it is a more steady one now. This is basically a mid-segment phone, driven by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 778+ chip, aided by either 8 GB or 12 GB of RAM.
The 778+ is a very capable processor, and you will be able to run even demanding games like Genshin Impact and Call of Duty with a few tweaks, and multi-tasking is generally smooth. There will be an odd lag from time to time, but that is to be expected.
The 6.55-inch full HD+ AMOLED display with a 120 Hz refresh rate is not the brightest we have used (Nothing says its brightness will be improved with yet another update at the time of writing). The stereo speakers started out as being a little on the low side in volume terms but have improved after … wait for it … a software update. The result is a phone that is pretty good for viewing content, and that slightly wider display makes typing and gaming a bit easier too. The in-display fingerprint display is reasonably fast, although not as swift as some of the new scanners on the sides of phones.
The 4500 mAh battery gets through a day of usage easily. The phone comes with support for 33W charging (a bit slow by recent standards) and 15W wireless charging, as well as reverse wireless charging. There is, however, no charger in the box. The phone took about an hour and a half to get charged using the 42W Nothing charger, which has to be purchased separately. The reverse wireless charging mechanism is cute for TWS, but you have to remember that you cannot use the phone while this happens.
LEDs that are often magical…
A lot of the talk around the Phone (1) has revolved around those 900 LEDs on the back. These light up in different patterns, in sync with notifications and other events, using what Nothing terms the Glyph UI. And while they might seem a bit like a party trick initially, they do have some utility. You can allot different sounds and lighting patterns to up to ten different contacts, letting you know who is calling even when you have the phone face-down (and yes, some of us do). You can also watch charging progress and get notified whenever you get a new message or mail or social media alert.
The sounds accompanying the LED patterns have a buzzy, retro touch to them and will polarise users – some will like them, and some will find them irritating. They are pretty sharp and loud, so we would advocate keeping volume levels relatively low if you intend to use the Phone (1) in public. You can also add your own ringtones if you wish – the phone will try to adapt LED patterns to them, but this does not work too well. If you tweak the settings a little, the LEDs can also light up in sync with the audio being played on the phone. Unfortunately, this is a little hit and miss, with the LED lighting patterns often not looking at all linked to the audio being played. Stick with what’s on the phone is our suggestion. A very cool touch is the Flip to Glyph option. Once activated, it puts your phone in silent mode whenever you place the phone face down, leaving all the notifications to the LEDs.
…but sometimes moody
Nothing deserves a lot of credit for bringing a whole new interface to our tech lives with Glyph UI, but it remains, like many first efforts, a little erratic and not very intuitive. We sometimes found the LEDs lighting up for no real reason, although a restart fixed matters. Also, remembering which combination of LEDs goes with which person or notification can be a bit of a hassle, especially as you will ultimately have to turn the phone over anyway to find out more about the notification or reject it. We have already remarked on how the LEDs did not play nice with external content. The charging LED indicator on the back also did not always seem to reflect the reading inside – it seemed to show more progress than was actually being made. Flip to Glyph also did not sometimes work, with the phone suddenly ringing when placed face down!
We would advocate using the Glyph UI in moderation, as having a phone lighting up every few minutes can be super distracting and might even defeat the purpose of keeping it face down for many. It will be interesting to see how the company takes the interface ahead. We would prefer it to be a little less complicated with more clear patterns and perhaps fewer lights, but then that is up to Nothing. Incidentally, you can totally turn off the Glyph UI if you wish (confession: we did, after a while).
Cameras that get the job done (mostly)
At a time when most phone brands insist on adding cameras with limited utility (2-megapixel mono and depth sensors, for instance) to their devices, Nothing deserves a round of applause for having gone with just two cameras on the back. They are good cameras too – 50-megapixel sensors both, with one being the Sony IMX766 with OIS, which we have seen on a number of flagships (including the recently released OnePlus 10T), and the other being ultrawide. A 16-megapixel camera handles selfies.
For the most part, and in good lighting conditions, these cameras deliver a good performance. They started out with a rather realistic color profile but have got increasingly more saturated and pleasant looking with updates. The cameras are a little inconsistent, though, and sometimes, you get different colors in snaps taken a few seconds apart. While both cameras have a similar megapixel count, we found a distinct difference in the performance of the main sensor and the ultrawide. We found ourselves sticking increasingly to the main sensor for most snaps as it delivered better colors and slightly sharper detail.
For the most part, you end up getting good shots with plenty of detail in well-lit conditions. The cameras’ performance takes a hit when the lights get dimmer, though. You can use the LEDs on the back as an additional flash, but their utility is limited as they tend to light up part of the shot very vividly, leaving the rest in the dark. Videos are good, without being exceptional, and so are selfies, although they do smooth skin out a bit. The Nothing Phone (1) ticks most camera boxes but is a steady rather than spectacular performer. It will seldom disappoint you as long as you do not expect crazy good results and are ready for the occasional odd shot.
Android is in stock mode (even if the phone is often out of stock)
While launching the Phone (1), Carl Pei claimed that stock Android was good enough and wondered why other brands placed elaborate skins over it. The Phone (1) reflects this line of thought and is basically stock Android 12 with hardly any bloatware on it. Nothing has added its own camera and a recorder app to the device, and they are both minimalistic, giving off very Pixel-ish feels. Whether that is good or bad depends on your preference.
While we know that a number of people will like the “clean and uncluttered” NothingOS, we think that the brand missed an opportunity when it comes to software. The rather plain front provided too bland a contrast for a phone whose back sparkled with brilliance. Perhaps the brand could have used its font a little more, perhaps made a Glyph app instead of parking it in the settings, or even provided more seamless connectivity with the Nothing Ear (1) and Nothing Ear (Stick) TWS – you still have to download the Nothing Ear (1) app to get the most out of them. There was nothing very uniquely Nothing-like while using the Phone (1) phone, all puns intended. It will be interesting to see if the brand stays with its plain UI approach in the coming days – the purists would love it, but we feel it does not give a phone a very distinct identity.
A lot is also going to depend on the frequency of the software updates on the Phone (1), as that would also reflect the level of commitment of the brand towards the device. At the time of writing, the Phone (1) had received three software updates in less than a month since its launch. The brand has committed to three years of Android OS updates and four years of bi-monthly security patches. If it delivers on that, it could well emerge as a power Pixel alternative, given its near-stock Android UI.
Nothing Phone (1) Review: Is the Phone (1) worth it?
All of which brings us to the big question: is the Nothing Phone (1) worth purchasing? If one goes purely by its specs and general performance, the price tag of Rs 32,999 (8 GB/ 128 GB), Rs 35,999 (8 GB/ 256 GB), and Rs 38,999 (12 GB /256 GB) might seem very much on the higher side. After all, one is getting devices with the Snapdragon 870, such as the iQOO Neo 6 and the Poco F4, and with the extremely powerful MediaTek Dimensity 8100, like the Redmi K50i for under Rs 30,000. These devices are better overall performers than the Nothing Phone (1) and come with chargers and cases in the box as well. The Nothing Phone (1) has also been facing supply issues, with some consumers claiming they have not received the device in spite of having booked it. Some questions have also been raised on product quality. All of which might make the Nothing Phone (1) seem like not the greatest deal out there.
But then, as we said at the very beginning of this review, the Nothing Phone (1) is one of the few devices out there that is not really about specs and general performance. The Phone (1) is all about a very different smartphone experience, the courtesy of that ‘lit’ back and the functions it brings with it.
Some phones might be better at doing everything else it does, but in one regard, the Phone (1) is totally in a zone of its own. Just like the Moto RAZR was so many years ago. Just like the RAZR, that one special quality is a strongly visual one. The Phone (1) is not perfect, but right now, it is perhaps the one phone that stands out from the routine smartphone crowd. Do you want a phone that screams “different” and delivers a decent but not exceptional performance? There’s nothing like the Nothing Phone (1). But if you are looking for something more conventional and mainstream, then perhaps something like the Redmi K50i, the OnePlus Nord 2T, the Poco F4, or the iQOO Neo 6 would be a better option.
It is not perfect, but with Phone (1), Android finally has a phone that goes beyond a mere spec readout and does not cost a bomb. Here’s hoping it inspires others to go hiking on less-traveled smartphone tech roads.
- The most distinct phone out there
- Striking semi-transparent back
- LEDs on the back with Glyph UI
- Clean interface
- Decent performance
- A little expensive for the specs
- No case or charger in the box
- Cameras could have been better
- Some issues around availability and quality
|Design & Appearance||
At Rs 32,999, the Nothing Phone (1) is one of a kind - a phone you buy for being different, rather than the spec sheet and performance. Here's our Nothing Phone (1) review.