LED Glyphs Are Cool but Not Killer
The Nothing Phone (1) is finally here. Amid the bonkers hype and drip-feed of information over the past few months, the Phone (1) has built a massive following—which isn’t always easy to appease. Thankfully, the Nothing Phone (1) hits the right spot in many places, not least the pocket, with Nothing powering the Phone (1) into the mid-range phone market with aplomb. The Phone (1)’s big selling point, the transparent case and unique LED glyph are interesting but not killer features. Still, they’ll turn heads and get people taking about the Phone (1) and about Nothing, which is what the company wants.
- Brand: Nothing
- CPU: Snapdragon 778G+
- Display: 6.55-inch OLED (1080×2400), 60-120Hz
- RAM: 8/12GB
- Storage: 128/256GB
- Ports: USB-C
- Camera (Rear, Front): 24mm 50MP Sony IMX766, plsui Ultrawide 114˚ 50MP Samsung JN1
- Front camera: 16MP Sony IMX471
- Colors: White, black (both transparent)
- Charging: Up to 33W fast-charging (charger not included)
- IP Rating: IP53
- Price: £399 to £499
- Good performance for mid-range phone
- Great camera quality, performs well in different lighting levels
- 120Hz screen looks great
- Unique glyph… is interesting
- Long support period
- Battery life is okay
- Glyph is somewhat gimmicky and needs more functionality
When you name your burgeoning startup “Nothing,” some would argue you’re looking for trouble. At the very least, you’re lending yourself to a host of jokes with your company name as the punchline.
The hype and intrigue surrounding Carl Pei’s Nothing and the Nothing Phone (1) is nothing short of phenomenal. With hundreds of thousands of pre-sales for what amounts to an untested smartphone outfit, Pei certainly knows how to build a captive audience.
So if you’re wondering about Nothing Phone (1) reviews, you’re in the right place. The Nothing Phone (1) is a smartphone meant to capture an audience fed up with the all-glass and metal smartphones we’ve known for the past decade, where all development has pushed us into a single realm: the reflective sheet of technology in your pocket.
The biggest question remains, though: has Nothing pulled it out of the bag with the Nothing Phone (1)? Does it capture the imagination as CEO Carl Pei’s former company, OnePlus, did with its first smartphone, the OnePlus One, or does the Nothing One (1) fall a little short?
Find out in our comprehensive Nothing Phone (1) review.
Nothing Phone (1) Design and Specs
The Nothing Phone (1) has a single standout feature responsible for most of the hype surrounding this new smartphone.
I am, of course, talking about the unique LED glyph pattern found on the back of the device that lights up when you receive a notification, phone call, or otherwise. It’s undoubtedly one of the big talking points for the Nothing Phone (1), but we’re going to look at the tech and specs Nothing has crammed into the Phone (1) before taking a closer look at the glyph in a moment.
So, the Nothing Phone (1) features a rather nice 6.55-inch OLED display that comes with an 85 percent screen-to-body ratio. There is a very small bezel around the 1080×2400 pixel screen, but it doesn’t detract at all from the screen. As the bezel runs around the screen at equal width for its entirety, it’s actually a decent style feature. You definitely wouldn’t want it any larger than though.
It has a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz and includes an adaptive refresh rate that runs from 60Hz to 120Hz. While that isn’t as wide as you’ll find on flagship devices, it’s still a top-tier feature to find on a phone retailing at this price point.
Furthermore, with up to 500 nits of brightness (ramping up to 1,200 nits at absolute peak), the Nothing Phone (1) screen is an excellent starting point for the device. The pixel density of 402 PPI is lower than something like the iPhone 13 at 460 PPI or the Oppo Find X5 Pro at 525 PPI—but the Nothing Phone (1) also costs a fraction of those two devices, so it’s not something I’m particularly worried about.
The Nothing Phone (1) screen also supports HDR10+ and comes with 10-bit color support.
You will inevitably draw some small comparisons between some iPhone models and the Nothing Phone (1). The smooth aluminum frame is very similar to the iconic iPhone design. I’m not complaining; it looks nice, and I put any smartphone in the case almost immediately anyway. On that, the case provided by Nothing is absolutely welcome, as I hate the idea of destroying a phone through a clumsy fumble, but wow, the case provided is the ultimate fingerprint magnet! The front of the screen features a small pinhole cut out for the front camera, found in the top-left corner, and there is an under-screen fingerprint scanner that works just as it should.
One spec that turned more heads than most was Nothing’s choice of processor for the Phone (1).
Rooting the new smartphone firmly in mid-range land, the Phone (1)’s modified Snapdragon 778G+ is a slightly older Qualcomm chipset from the previous generation. The Snapdragon 778G+ is an octa-core chip with an interesting configuration, including one 2.5GHz Cortex-A78, three 2.4GHz Cortex-A78, and four 1.8GHz Cortex A55 cores. It also includes an integrated Adreno 642L graphics chip, which is reasonable enough. You’ll note the “modified” qualifier there; Nothing (or rather Qualcomm) fine-tuned the Snapdragon 778G+ to allow wireless and reverse charging on the Phone (1), both of which are handy features.
Now, one thing that does let the Nothing Phone (1) down a little is its mediocre IP rating: IP53. The industry standard for smartphone water and dustproof protection is IP68, which offers protection against full submersion at a depth of 1.5m for up to 30 minutes. The Phone (1) has no such waterproof protection, meaning you really should keep it well clear of water of all kinds. IP53 offers protection against dust, so you should be okay at the beach, so long as you stay away from the surf.
Nothing Phone (1) Battery Life
Powering the Nothing Phone (1) is a 4500mAh Li-Po battery that supports 33W fast-charging—provided you buy the first-party fast-charger from Nothing. As with almost every smartphone these days, you will not receive a power adapter in the box, just the USB-C cable. You can pick up the Nothing Power 45W charger directly (£35/$41). Doing so will enable you to charge your device from empty to full within one hour.
However, I don’t have one of these. Still, the charging situation is fine, taking one to two hours to reach a full charge. As the battery lasts around 18 hours (Nothing’s claim—we found it closer to 15 or 16 hours while gaming, browsing, and watching videos), you should get a full day’s use on a single charge.
You can read more about the Nothing Phone (1) glyphs in the next section, but the big question centers on how they affect battery life. Surely running a huge array of LEDs that light up with any given opportunity will rinse through the battery like a hot knife through butter?
It’s not as cut and dry as you might think. During our review period, using the Nothing Phone (1) as a daily driver, with regular notifications and phone calls, the LEDs didn’t appear to have much of an effect on battery life. Nothing reckon that using the LEDs for half an hour non-stop would only reduce the battery percentage by a fraction. Given each notification spurs the LEDs into life for seconds at a time, we agree.
Transparent Rear Display and Glyphs
The Nothing Phone (1) has a transparent rear display, the reason being to show off the LED strip array on the rear of the device—the main feature and talking point of the Phone (1). The rear display, made of toughened Gorilla Glass 5, protects the statement feature from intrusion, damage, or otherwise, and doesn’t stop the five LEDs from completing their elaborate lighting arrangements when your phone rings or you receive a notification.
Each preprogrammed ringtone comes with a unique glyph arrangement that jumps into life in the blink of an eye. But that’s not all the Nothing Phone (1) glyph does. You can also use it for:
- Unique caller pattern and ID: Although at the time of review the glyph interface is limited, future updates to the Nothing Phone (1) and Nothing OS—that’s the name of Nothing’s version of Android, by the way—are expected to bring extensive customization options, including individual glyph patterns for specific users.
- Charging status: When you put your phone on charge, the bottom-most glyph lights up and shows you how much charge your phone currently has, providing a visual guide as to your remaining charging time.
- Wireless charging: You can reverse charge other devices using the Nothing Phone (1), and when you do, the glyphs will light up. You can also reverse charge other wireless devices, like your earbuds, and again, the glyphs will burst into action when you do so.
- Lighting for pictures: If you don’t want to go with the harsh lighting of the phone torch, you can set the glyph lights to a low level and use those to light your scene instead.
I like the glyph interface. It’s not necessarily a killer feature, and it’ll become more useful when it does receive an update adding those additional customization options. The transparent back and LED glyph area have split the MUO staff, just as it has divided opinion among those following the smartphone market. For some, it’s a welcome change of development and direction, with Nothing at least attempting to make a product that differs from the common smartphone designs we’re all familiar with.
For others, the glyph is nothing but a silly gimmick design to grab headlines, delivering style over substance. “What’s wrong with a regular notification light, anyway?” is a regular question. To which the only real answer is, “You do you!”
The big question comes down to remembering each glyph. Was that a call from mother? Or was that a work glyph that I want to avoid? Keeping track of each different glyph, especially if you set several different options for different contacts, could become tricky. Add in the idea of extensive customization down the line, and who knows where we’ll end up.
Nothing Phone (1) Camera and Video Quality
The Nothing Phone (1) has two rear cameras, and rather than going all in with one main camera and sacrificing performance on the secondary, Nothing opted for a 24mm 50MP Sony IMX766 at the top (also found in the OnePlus Nord 2), and an ultrawide 114˚ 50MP Samsung JN1 at the bottom (also found in the OnePlus 10 Pro). It’s a powerful combination that delivers some sublime photos and videos.
For comparison’s sake—and as it’s the only other phone I currently have bar an old iPhone 7 or an even older OnePlus One—you can check out some side-by-side images shot with a OnePlus Nord, starting with some outdoors shots. One Plus Nord is on the left; Nothing Phone (1) on the right:
Not a huge difference, but the OnePlus Nord definitely seems more vibrant. However, the Nothing Phone (1) picks out greater detail.
Next up, portrait mode. Again, the Nothing Phone (1) delivers a cleaner, more precise image that picks out specific features, rather than the Nord’s decent but somewhat featureless attempt.
Dusk and nighttime photography are also worth considering. The difference between the two cameras in the nighttime shot is quite something.
Overall, the rear cameras combine to deliver clear, precise photos, and I’m impressed with the quality delivered by the Nothing Phone (1) in this department.
The front-facing camera is a 16MP Sony IMX471. It’s decent enough and does a good job in a variety of lighting situations, but it is limited. Compared to the OnePlus Nord, the Nothing Phone (1) front-facing camera seems to add a significant amount of contrast. The bags under my eyes aren’t that big, honestly.
Nothing Phone (1) Benchmarking
Of course, all the specs in the world tell you nothing about actual performance nor how it compares to other devices on the market. In all tests, a higher score is better unless stated otherwise.
If you’re not fussed by the seemingly random numbers put forth by benchmarking apps, know this: the Nothing Phone (1) performs as expected—even decently in some places—and I would say it’s launching with an eye on the mid-to-upper end of the mid-range smartphone market. The slightly older Snapdragon 778G+ SoC cannot compete with flagship models, but that was completely expected.
PC Mark 3.0
- Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra 5G: 10882
- Nothing Phone (1): 10830
- OnePlus 8 Pro: 10829
Geekbench 5 CPU (Single Core)
- Samsung Galaxy S21 5G: 876
- Nothing Phone (1): 817
- Samsung Galaxy S20+: 789
Geekbench 5 CPU (Multicore)
- Samsung Galaxy S21 5G: 2996
- Nothing Phone (1): 2948
- Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra: 2612
3DMark Wildlife (Standard)
- Vivo iQOO Pro 5G: 2887
- Nothing Phone (1): 2886
- Samsung Galaxy M62: 2666
3DMark Wildlife Extreme Stress Test
The Nothing Phone (1) scored an okay-ish 776 on the 3DMark Wildlife Extreme Stress Test, which tests device stability while under load. However, the 99.2 percent Stability rating is good, suggesting that while you might not use the Phone (1) for heaps of high-level multitasking, it is a well-balanced device that doesn’t overheat or become unstable under stress.
Is Nothing OS Better Than Stock Android?
Another area that Nothing has opted for a custom design is the Android experience. Now, most of the time, when a manufacturer starts fiddling with the stock Android experience, it usually translates to bloatware. Take the Oppo Find X5 Pro, which ships with more than 20 pre-installed apps.
Thankfully, Nothing OS is a very close approximation of the stock Android experience. Throughout Nothing OS, you’ll find Nothing’s branding flourishes, like its dot matrix typeface and backgrounds, but the launcher itself works really well. Slight modifications come through things like the addition of a dedicated Glyph menu (in the Settings app), and you can adjust the size of folders and app icons to cover a 2×2 square to give specific options prominence on your screen.
Nothing has committed to delivering three years of updates to the Nothing Phone (1), with a further year for security updates. That instantly pushes Nothing towards the top of the Android device support pile, with many companies frustratingly now opting for just two years. So, hat-tip to Nothing for that.
There are also additional Nothing Phone (1) features that I didn’t have the pleasure of testing as they’re not up and running yet. Specifically, Nothing is working with Tesla to bring a unique integration and partnership between the two companies. The Nothing Tesla link-up will allow Tesla owners to unlock their car, switch on the AC, and some other bits. I don’t own a Tesla, so this is a little lost on me, and despite the UK’s exceptional 2022 summer, switching the AC on before getting into my car isn’t something that typically causes me concern.
What’s So Special About the Nothing Phone (1)?
Let’s start with the most important question of all: how much does the Nothing Phone (1) cost?
The Phone (1) is launching with three different configurations, in black or white.
- 8GB RAM/128GB storage: $475 (£399)
- 8GB RAM/256GB storage: $535 (£449)
- 12GB RAM/256GB storage: $595 (£499)
It’s a good price for a mid-range smartphone featuring some interesting features. Love or hate the glyph, you cannot deny it’s something different from the glass-slab in your pocket right now. Nothing has drip-fed the world tidbits of juicy information on the Phone (1) for months and the hype surrounding the device is real. It all feels very OnePlus One, for those that remember the launch of that “flagship killer” (which remains one of my favorite smartphones!), even down to the invite system to both limit sales to control manufacturing output and curate an air of exclusivity.
However, we arrive at the biggest issue facing the Nothing Phone (1)—it isn’t available to the North American market at all. It will launch in the UK, mainland Europe, Japan, India, and a host of other countries, but the US and Canada (and Mexico) will not have a chance to buy the Nothing Phone (1). So, while pre-sales have been strong in those countries, the lack of a North American market will definitely hurt ongoing sales unless something changes. Remember that Tesla integration? That would be awesome for those living somewhere permanently imbued with blue skies and everlasting warmth, like, say, California.
Should you buy the Nothing Phone (1)? If you can, and you need a phone, and it’s available, I wouldn’t say no. The unique features make it a fun alternative to everything else on the market, and it packs some decent specs and features that make the outlay worthwhile. With the promise of future updates to bring more features to the Nothing Phone (1), there could be more yet to come for this brand new to-market smartphone.
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