Want to fool others into thinking you have the new iPhone 14 prototype? Pick up the Nothing Phone (1) and, chances are, those around you will ask, “Is that an iPhone?” or exclaim, “Nice case!”
The Nothing Phone (1) is the follow-up from Carl Pei’s British technology startup, which released the Nothing Ear (1) wireless earbuds a year ago. Sporting a similar design that espouses transparency, the device boasts a new method of notifications through its Glyph interface: flashing white LED strips located on the transparent glass back.
The design will capture your attention right away. The transparent back exposes the aforementioned LED light strips that flash and pulse according to 10 different ringtones and audio notification cues. Plugged in, you can check your charging status by looking at how much of the bottom LED strip is lit.
When the handset is flipped over, you will be able to tell who is calling based on different light patterns, as well as the specific app notification. Emails for work and play, too, can be distinguished by pattern – now, how’s that for avant-garde?
You might get the itch to unscrew the back cover and inspect the innards but, unfortunately (or fortunately?), the Phone (1) does not allow this as the back is fused to the recycled aluminium sides. There are no curved edges to bother yourself with, while two camera sensors protrude ever so slightly from behind.
Nothing does not deviate too far from the standard formula of modern phone design. A 6.55-inch (17cm) Full HD Oled display at 402-ppi pixel density delivers everything you would expect from a 2022 smartphone.
A tiny perforation at the top left corner holds the selfie camera with all-round protection in front provided by Gorilla Glass 5. Nothing has included a thin, pre-applied film to protect the display from unwanted scratches, which is a welcome move.
Choose from two refresh rate modes: high (120Hz) and standard (60Hz). With the high setting, the 120Hz refresh rate is applied across the user interface and system apps, although it is smart enough to halve the refresh rate when the device is displaying static images, playing video, or streaming a movie.
There is an under-display fingerprint sensor that is sensitive enough to unlock the device in an instant.
Hardware and software
Powered by the mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G Plus processor, the Phone (1) has more than enough processing muscle under the hood to get your day-to-day jobs done. You would not find the handset wanting if you rely on Google Maps while Spotify runs in the background; everything remains responsive and smooth as butter.
Connectivity options include 5G support, eSIM capability, Wi-Fi 6E, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2, GNSS, and a USB-C port at the bottom. It is unfortunate that Nothing offers just the IP53 splash-resistance rating for the Phone (1), so you’d still need to be extra careful when you are around the pool or at the beach.
The stereo speakers are decent for personal use in a room, although earphones are always recommended to obtain maximum audio quality.
The operating system is based on the latest Android 12 version, where Nothing claims to offer up to three major Android updates and four years of security updates. As such, the Phone (1) will remain relevant, software-wise, until Android 15, which is tipped to be released in 2024.
You will easily be able to use the camera app without having to go through a lengthy tutorial, as it does not differ from any other Android-powered handsets. A pair of 50MP sensors keep the Phone (1) going, ditching the pretty useless macro and monochrome lenses that other manufacturers love to pile on to pad up the specifications sheet.
The primary Sony IMX 766 50MP lens delivers great colour balance and detail under most lighting conditions, while the 50MP Samsung JN1 ultra-wide lens captures images that seem to experience a drop in colour temperature.
You will miss out on the versatility of a telephoto lens here, but at least there is 2x digital zoom that renders captured images usable. The 16MP Sony IMX471 selfie camera works just fine for social media.
If you’re a content creator, the Glyph doubles up as a ring light. This is certainly a novel inclusion, although there might be instances where blue hues dominate the subject.
The Phone (1) is suitable for an entire day’s use with some juice to spare before you retire for the night. Of course, each person’s usage patterns determine how quickly the battery empties itself, but with an hour of GPS navigation, two hours of Spotify streaming to a Bluetooth speaker, an hour’s worth of instant messaging, and six hours of screen time, the Phone (1) is left with approximately 20% of battery at the end of the day.
The device comes with a charging cable but does not have a charger, and supports up to 33W wired charging that translates to a wait time of approximately an hour. It can also power itself up wirelessly at 15W, while the 5W reverse wireless charging capability is perfect for keeping your earbuds powered up while you are on the move.
There are two different models to choose from – one with 8GB of RAM, and the other with 12GB. Both come with 256GB of storage space without any room for memory expansion.
The 8GB RAM/256GB model retails for RM2,399, while the 12GB RAM/256GB model is RM300 more expensive, with white or black shades to choose from.
The bottom line
If you love being the centre of attention, then the Nothing Phone (1) fits the bill perfectly as a midrange handset with a long update policy that is powerful enough to handle most daily tasks.
The Glyph system, however, might quickly lose its novelty factor. One of the reasons you would flip your handset over is to be undisturbed while you attend to another task – imagine being visually reminded of messages and emails through the constant blinking. You just might end up disabling it in the end.
All in all, this is a higher-tier midrange Android smartphone that boasts a futuristic design, a clean user interface without unwanted bloatware, and above-average camera performance. If it did not go beyond RM2,000, Nothing would have really hit the mark.
Edwin Kee dreamt of being a pro-gamer only to have circumstances mould him into a programmer in a past life. He has since moved on to write about consumer electronics and other topics. Check out his blog at manatau.com.