Our review has finally landed, and there's good news for anyone looking for something a little different at a competitive price.
While some may think we've reached what Marques Brownlee calls "peak smartphone", the realisation that material science needs to make something of a quantum leap before we can improve on the form the modern phone takes, real innovation is still happening every year. Already, screens can be folded, allowing for more usable space in less space, and development continues on everything from cameras that can hide under the display glass, to charging so fast you never have to worry about a dead battery again.
At the same time, it's partly true that we've been a bit dead in the smartphone game for many years now because all the new presentations are usually about "better cameras, higher price", and not much more than that.
Designer Carl Pei, and his relatively new consumer electronics company, Nothing, are not changing the static form that the modern smartphone has come to take. It has a touch display, stock Android operating suite, two camera lenses, a fingerprint reader under the glass, volume buttons and a competitive price. It is, in other words, conventional. And yet not. The Nothing Phone 1 is actually innovative, and different. Just not in the way you might expect.
Okay, that sounds like the start of a video novel, so let's take a step back. Nothing Phone 1 costs about £400 for the cheapest version. That's an aggressive price, one that reflects a set of middle-of-the-road specs, and one distinctive feature that Pei and company hope can get them noticed.
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Before we get to those two aspects, it's worth appreciating the shape itself here. The 6.55-inch 1080x2400 OLED display is solidly calibrated. It can output up to 1200 NITS brightness and offers an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate, and it's surrounded by a handsome aluminium frame with rock-solid volume buttons and a generally understated aesthetic that's immensely reminiscent of... well, an iPhone - in the best possible way.
Inside we find a 4500mAh battery that can easily give you something like two days of use, and there's 33 watts of wired charging and 15 watts of wireless - there's even reverse wireless charging so you can charge your Nothing Ear 1 on top. The fingerprint reader is solid, and the stereo speakers are surprisingly spacious.
But we need to look on the back to see the real differentiating factor. Just like the Ear 1, the entire back is transparent with Gorilla Glass 5 on it (which, by the way, remains IP53 certified). That doesn't mean you get a completely raw and brutal look at the phone's components, but more of a curated, colour-coordinated look at the various components. It's striking, no doubt about it, and is also a lot nicer than the teardown skins you can stick on existing competing phones from the likes of Dbrand. We received the white version, which really catches the eye. Because of the transparent back alone, several people asked about the Nothing Phone 1 during the review period, and pretty much everyone had nothing but nice things to say.
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We can only agree, this is a tasteful way to give the consumer something that if nothing else is genuinely different. And we haven't even started talking Glyph. The spine isn't just transparent for fun, it paves the way for the Glyph system, a series of LED stripes that can emit patterns with white light. There's one big circular LED stripe around the wireless charging zone, an apostrophe of sorts in the upper right corner, one encircling the two camera lenses, and an exclamation point of sorts at the bottom. These can be programmed quite extensively, for example to show a certain pattern when you get a specific notification, gradually fill in as you charge the phone, or even be used as an alternative to a flash in low-light situations.
You might be thinking: "wait a minute, don't I always put my phone face down?" And yes, from an overly functional perspective, the whole notification thing is hard to judge, since both we here at the editorial office, and others, won't really be able to see the cool Glyph light show the majority of the time. But such is the nature of the design and aesthetics, and most importantly Glyph is actually quite fun, and different. And that, in a way, is enough.
But if you end up placing your phone with the screen down, there's quite a lot Glyph can do. There's a Google Assistant animation that indicates whether it's heard your command, the aforementioned charging - and the lights are really nicely done.
Then there's Nothing OS. This is pretty much just stock Android, which many will probably be happy with without any unnecessary fat. Sure, there are some fonts here and there, a few unique widgets that are all pretty great, and cool ringtones that of course work with the Glyph system. Everything Nothing has added makes sense, and while there's nothing quite as useful as Motorola's Moto Display, Nothing should be commended for holding back here.
The phone all around is quite excellent too. The Snapdragon 778G+ processor never made me wait or get frustrated, and the 8GB of RAM is also plenty for most usage scenarios. And it doesn't actually cost that much more to get 256GB of UFS 3.1 space. All in all, if you think about it, it's a pretty exciting list of specs for the price. Excellent build quality, solid battery life, IP certification, wireless charging, nice specs and a genuinely innovative design that isn't just the run-of-the-mill Motorola G phone. Set next to a Samsung Galaxy A53? Well, the Nothing Phone 1 is just more... exciting. On all counts.
On the back, we then find the two lenses. More specifically, there's a 50 megapixel standard wide at 24 millimetres with optical stabilisation, and a 50 megapixel ultra-wide at 114 degrees. It's nice that it's not a wide and a silly macro camera, but at the same time 114 degrees is just narrow enough for an ultra-wide. It can shoot in 4K/30fps (not 4K/60fps, sadly), but there's live HDR and gyro-stabilisation. What does all that mean? Well, the pictures they are... fine. For £400 there's sharpness, especially if you give the lenses enough light, but yes, you'll get lots of noise. Exactly as expected.
To be honest, it's quite a bit inferior to the iPhone SE and Pixel 6A, for example, even the aforementioned Galaxy A53 has a pretty significant advantage, but Nothing has made a camera that neither confuses nor produces results that are below the average OnePlus North or Motorola phone.
Overall, though, it's worth commending Pei and company for hitting so much of the mark on the first go. The innovations here make sense, and the rest of the phone seems so focused that all the sacrifices are made strategically. It is, in other words, one of the year's most recommendable phones.