You’ve heard the puns, seen the transparent back and those lights, and you’ve probably assumed you know exactly what the Nothing Phone (1) is. It’s a hype phone, nothing more, nothing less. But is that all there is to it? Is there actually a good phone underneath it all?
The hype train has been building steam ever since Carl Pei left OnePlus and started Nothing in 2020. The company attracted a slew of big-name investors even before it launched its first product, the striking Ear (1) wireless earbuds, last year. It’s no wonder that the new phone launched to such fanfare.
And that’s before you get to the phone itself. I mean, just look at it. We haven’t really seen companies innovate how smartphones look like in a long time. Usually, you get new colours and materials, and nowadays you have folding phones, too. But a transparent phone? With those lights? That’s a first.
The clear glass back immediately links the Phone (1) with the Ear (1), and while you don’t actually get to see much of the internals – because everything’s been tidied up with lots of colour-coded plastic panels – it’s still a very unusual design. You’re not going to mistake it for someone else’s phone when you put it face down on the table.
Now, I usually prefer darker colours, but I have to say I actually like the white version better, as it showcases the back of the phone to full effect. That’s despite the fact that the black model showcases the lights better, which we’ll get back to in a sec.
While the back of the Phone (1) is certainly unique, the rest of the design is a different story. Let’s be real here – this looks like an iPhone 12, with the aluminium rails, the dual camera setup and the flat front and back.
It doesn’t feel as solid as an iPhone, however, even though, at 193g, it’s barely any lighter than a 13 Pro. The matte finish on the aluminium frame also isn’t quite as smooth as I remember an aluminium iPhone to be. Then again, you’re not paying flagship prices for this, so I guess I can let that slide.
What I do like is the front. Like the iPhone, the bezels are symmetrical all the way around – except here, you don’t get a notch. This is what I had always wished the iPhone would look like, even though the location of the 16MP hole-punch selfie camera isn’t quite aligned with the top left corner, which is a little bit annoying.
But you’re not here for the clear glass back or the slightly derivative design. No, you’re here for the Glyph interface, which lights up the entire back of the phone. There are over 900 LEDs back here, creating a distinctive pattern that takes the phone’s Cyberpunk look and runs with it.
No, you can’t set it to be lit up all the time, so the phone won’t attract so much attention in real life, for better or for worse. What the Glyph can do is play a light show whenever you get a call, and it syncs up to whatever ringtone you have set.
The preset ringtones are very aggressive, and they’re a bit screechy for my taste, but that’s personal preference. What’s good is that it appears a software update has already been pushed out to allow the Glyph to respond to custom ringtones, although we obviously couldn’t test it on the display units.
Other features include bespoke notification sounds with their corresponding Glyph patterns, a silent Flip to Glyph mode that uses only the Glyph lights for notifications and a charging indicator. None of this will be particularly useful if you tend to put your phone face up, like most people do, but props to Nothing for trying something different.
Okay, let’s talk specs. The pricing of the Phone (1) puts it about on par with higher-end versions of the iPhone SE as well as affordable flagship Android phones like the Samsung Galaxy S21 FE, Motorola Edge 30 Pro and Poco F4 GT. But whereas these phones mostly carry top-of-the-line specs for the price, the Nothing Phone (1) is decidedly midrange. You get a Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+ processor, which is just okay.
Obviously, the demo phones at the launch event felt fast and responsive, but it’s hard to get a proper feel for the speed from just a few minutes of using it. The Phone (1) uses the latest LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.1 storage, with all models getting 256GB of storage and either 8GB or 12GB of RAM. Unlike in other markets, you can’t get the device in Malaysia with 128GB of storage.
Sitting at the front of the phone is a 6.55-inch OLED+ display with a 2400×1080 resolution, support for HDR10+ and an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate. It’s a joy to use – it’s sharp, with vivid colours that emphasised the red used in the interface, and the animations are buttery smooth.
That said, we’ve seen complaint about a green tint on early units, as well as dead pixels. There have also been instances of the diffuser strips on the Glyph lights starting to peel already. These issues seem to be limited to units sold in India; Nothing says the incidences are rare and that the peeling in particular was on a pre-production unit; none of the demo units we looked at exhibited the same problems. Still, it’s something you’ll need to bear in mind before you get one.
If something does go wrong, there will be a local Nothing office for servicing, which is being set up. As yet, the company has not made known if it will have dedicated service centres. More information regarding warranty and servicing will be announced later on.
The Phone (1) also comes with two 50MP cameras, and neither of them are particularly outstanding. The main camera uses a 24mm lens with a f/1.88 aperture, along with a Sony IMX766 sensor – the same unit found on the new Oppo Reno 8 and Reno 8 Pro – to capture the available light. Meanwhile, the ultrawide has a Samsung JN1 sensor and an f/2.45 aperture – it’s labeled as 0.6x zoom in the camera app and is claimed to offer a 114-degree field of view.
Credit where it’s due – the main camera actually did a decent job when the space was brightly lit, producing sharp photos with natural colours. Once the lights were dimmed, however, it did start to struggle a little bit, slowing shutter speeds right down even when not in night mode. It also had difficulty focusing on closer subjects.
The photos from the ultrawide camera, on the other hand, turned out to be quite soft when I zoomed in, so don’t expect world-beating image quality here. Portrait mode also did okay considering the cluttered background of the event space. All this is to say that the Phone (1)’s camera’s won’t please pixel-peepers like me, but they’re generally good enough for taking photos for social media.
As for videos, the Phone (1) shoots in 4K at 30fps and 1080p at 30 and 60fps. It can also take slow-mo videos at 120fps. We didn’t get to test the video performance during our short time with the device, but given that the main camera uses both optical and electronic image stabilisation, it should be fine for most use cases.
Aside from the usual (and rather harsh, as is usual for smartphones) flash, the Phone (1)’s Glyph lights can also be used as a gentler fill light, according to Nothing. We found the usability to be rather dubious, however, as it’s not actually powerful enough to illuminate subjects unless you get real close.
The Phone (1) ships with Android 12, lightly skinned with the Nothing OS. There are custom fonts, widgets and wallpapers, as well as a few redesigned apps – most notably the voice memo app, which looks like an old tape recorder, which is a nice touch. Other than that, it’s the usual pleasant Android experience with no bloatware to speak of, and that’s always a good thing.
Nothing does claim that the launcher is open-source, letting other developers add new functionality to the Quick Settings menu. For instance, you’ll be able to unlock, turn on the air-conditioning and check the range of your Tesla – not that that’s particularly relevant for the Malaysian market, given that Tesla isn’t officially sold here. You can also apparently check the battery life of a pair of AirPods, which is funny considering Nothing sells its own wireless earbuds.
A big promise being made is three years of Android updates and four years of security patches every two months, which is rare in this price range. That’s good going, but this is a new company we’re talking about, so we’ll have to wait and see if it keeps its word.
Finally, we come to battery life. The Phone (1) gets a 4,500mAh battery, which is claimed to offer 18 hours of use. There’s also 15W of wireless charging and 5W of reverse wireless charging, and the cool thing is that the part of the Glyph around the charging coil lights up when you’re reverse charging. The phone’s wired fast charging isn’t particularly, um, fast, however, peaking at 33W.
So, is the Nothing Phone (1) the right phone for you? That depends on what you’re looking for. Obviously, the specs are a little underwhelming for the price, and that’s before you consider the discounts dealers are throwing for similarly-priced devices. That won’t be the case for the Phone (1), at least while demand is sky-high.
The fact of the matter is, this is a mid-RM2,000 phone and, the transparent back and Glyph lights aside, you can get a similar user experience for under two grand. Often, as is the case with Samsung phones, you’ll get better features like Samsung Pay.
But it’s hard to deny how compelling the Phone (1) looks. It’s just different, and behind all that, there’s actually a solid if rather unspectacular smartphone. And it’s great that Nothing’s first phone isn’t some unobtainable, super expensive device made out of gold, diamonds and adamantium.
Let’s be clear. Most people who want a Nothing Phone (1) aren’t going to care about the specs, as long as it works well. They’re not going to play a lot of games on it and they’re certainly not expecting Sony A7 IV-like image quality. Hell, they’re probably not even going to read this article.
No, they’re going to buy this phone for the way it looks. They want it to stand out, and this thing delivers in spades. And frankly, there’s nothing wrong with that.