Nothing Phone 1, review of an unseen smartphone

Nothing Phone 1: In an industry full of clones where novelties are mostly performance improvements, managing to come up with a smartphone that stands out from the rest is a small feat. Launching a somewhat unique one on the market is, therefore, a big coup, especially if it is the debut of a brand.

For this reason aloneNothing Phone 1 is a success because it is a phone that focuses on the look and feels and gets people talking. Offering a beautiful object is a mantra for Carl Pei, former co-founder of OnePlus and creator of Nothing, a company born in London in late 2020 that has only Nothing Ear (1) to its credit, true wireless earphones launched last year that leave a mark thanks to their aesthetics: a transparent case and translucent earbuds to impress fans, surprised by the novelty.

nothing phone
Nothing Phone camera

Nothing Phone 1Inspiration from the iPhone

As a great lover of Steve Jobs, Pei has a precise approach to consumer technology: obsessive attention to detail, the search for the knockout punch, and also experience after years at OnePlus. He has traced the style (and marketing) to create hype around a smartphone, one of the skills with which he has won the support and money of a group of investors that unites Tony Fadell, creator of the iPod and the Nest thermostat, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin, Reddit CEO, and co-founder Steve Huffman, Web Summit creator Paddy Cosgrave, Youtuber Casey Neistat and GV, a fund linked to Alphabet, Google’s holding company.

What is most striking about Nothing Phone 1 is its design, the primary element around which the smartphone was conceived. At first glance, one immediately notices the many aesthetic similarities with the iPhone 13 because, apart from Apple’s notch, which is missing here, there are many references to the world’s most popular smartphone: the curvature of the corners, the finishes, and even the recycled aluminum with which it breaks away from the plastic that abounds in models in the same range. Yes, because while iPhone is the example that Nothing Phone 1 takes its inspiration from, there are many differences in technical specifications, as the Android smartphone looks at the mid-range and has a starting price of 469 euros.

Returning to the design, however, the highlight is the 900 LEDs placed on the back, transparent as in the case of the earphones, to show off the internal components. The lights that make up a Glyph, which for a change refers to the more famous Apple, are useful for indicating notifications, battery status, and incoming calls, with ten preset patterns that can be associated with as many contacts.

Again, this is nothing new, but previous attempts to illuminate the back shell to give a glimpse of the smartphone’s components proved a flop. In contrast, in this case, Nothing has done an excellent job, regardless of the taste in the solution, which is a matter of subjectivity. The customer’s search for wonder is centred on the unprecedented rectangular packaging, which in its wide and flat shape is reminiscent of a compact disc. As with Nothing Ear (1), here, too, one has to tear the wrapping paper to get one’s hands on the object, which is placed horizontally in one of the two slots (in the other, there are instruction manuals).

 Nothing Phone
Nothing PhoneNothing Phone 1 & Ear Nothing Phone 1 & Ear 

Tech specs

8.3 millimeters thick and weighing 193.5 grams, Nothing Phone 1 is not among the featherweights in its category. Still, on the other hand, it gives the immediate impression of a sturdy body made of excellent materials. The arrangement of the elements on the bezel winks once again at Apple: on the right is the on/off button, on the left the two for adjusting the volume, while at the bottom are the USB-C port for charging, the SIM slot, and the stereo speakers, the effectiveness of which needs work to improve.

Excellence is not the prerogative of a smartphone devoted to the satisfaction of possession for those looking for something to show off without worrying too much about performance. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+ processor is from last year and cuts to the chase without making waves, with the addition of support for wireless charging. The 6.55-inch Oled display with 1080p resolution and 120 Hz refresh rate has a peak brightness of 1200 nits, HDR10+ support, and Gorilla Glass 5 glass, also found on the back. Integrated under the display is the fingerprint reader, which is accurate and fast.

Carl Pei

Nothing Phone 1

Less is more is one of the concepts that Steve Jobs left to posterity, and Carl Pei has made his own, also for the Nothing Phone 1’s photo compartment. No multiple lenses to make up the numbers, but useful lenses to get quality shots. That’s why there are two cameras on the rear, with the main one mounting a 50 MP Sony IMX766 sensor and optical stabilisation, while the ultra-wide angle relies on a Samsung sensor, also 50 MP. Better results in daytime shots with both cameras, while there are limits at night, even though there is a night mode for both lenses. On the front, there is a 16 MP Sony lens for good photos, while on video, it can do better, although the results are still good.

One of Nothing’s merits is having barely touched the operating system, which is Android 12 with Nothing OS customisation that deviates very little from the original: few frills to get down to the nitty-gritty, in the name of speed and responsiveness, without hiccups even when playing games. However, the important point for those interested in buying the smartphone is the three years of Android updates and four years of security patches, with bi-monthly updates guaranteed by the company.

The 4500 mAh battery has never given any problems reaching the end of the day, and the company promises 18 hours of autonomy on a single charge. Tests say less but enough to avoid nasty surprises, also thanks to the charging time: 30 minutes for a 50% charge. There is support for wireless charging and reverse charging, but the power supply has to be bought separately (for the test, we had a 45 W power supply, which cost 35 euros).

To buy it or not?

As far as we have seen, touched, and tested, Nothing Phone 1 is also an excellent product for the price: 469 euros cost the 8GB ram and 128GB internal memory model, 499 euros for the 256GB storage version, available in white and black. To buy it or not depends, because if you look at performance and power, you can find better alternatives in the mid-range. There is no water and dust certification and no 3.5mm jack either, but if you want a smartphone that is first and foremost beautiful and functional, then Nothing Phone 1 is a good choice.

Alessio Caprodossi is a technology, sports, and lifestyle journalist. He navigates between three areas of expertise, telling stories, experiences, and innovations to understand how the world is shifting. You can follow him on Twitter (@alecap23) and Instagram (Alessio Caprodossi) to report projects and initiatives on startups, sustainability, digital nomads, and web3.