It’s important to note that Nothing is a proper startup company, made up of 300-400 people, and relies on external investment (a big portion of which comes from individuals). For reference, Samsung Electronics has nearly 300,000 employees, and Apple employs over 150,000 people. You do the math.
As Pei has stated numerous times, the idea behind the Nothing company and the Nothing Phone 1 is to bring “a breath of fresh air” in an industry that “isn’t fun anymore”. Carl Pei & Co want to challenge the status quo, which sounds admirable. However, I think it’s fair to judge the Nothing Phone 1 for what it is, and not their its creator’s ambition. In the end, the Nothing Phone 1 won’t exist in isolation.
And my current judgement is that… the Nothing Phone 1 is an amazing mid-range phone, which (probably) exists in the wrong time. But let me elaborate…
Nothing Phone 1: Design and software experience (Glyph interface and Nothing OS) can go a long way, and Nothing knows that
Pick your fighter!
Just like the Nothing Ear 1 earbuds, the Nothing Phone 1’s main selling point is the standout design. Remember – this is a phone that’s meant to look different (but also good), and that’s mission accomplished for Nothing.Interestingly, Carl Pei & Co have combined some iPhone design elements with some Android design features and then sprinkled their own Nothing flavor on top to make a device with its own identity, but also one that seems familiar enough – especially from the front and sides, which make it look like… an iPhone.
However, then we have the transparent back of the Nothing Phone 1, which is truly unique and unlike anything we’ve seen before. It gives home to 900 individual LED lights, used for notifications and “visual ringtones”, which makes them somewhat functional.
The Nothing Phone 1 isn’t so unique after all
As mentioned, you can only be as bold and brave as the industry allows you to be, which means that Nothing had to (or at least chose to) adhere to certain design trends.
For example, the satisfyingly symmetrical bezels around the screen (which we see for the first time on a mid-range phone – so it’s a big deal) and completely flat design obviously take after the iPhone, despite the fact that Pei has called Apple’s phone “boring and stagnant”. Ironically, if it wasn’t for the Nothing Phone’s transparent back, it would’ve looked like an iPhone 12 running Android…
That being said, Nothing’s cleverly replaced the iPhone’s humongous notch with an in-display fingerprint reader (for the unlocking part) and a tiny punch-hole camera (for photos and videos). These, of course, are the Android genes that make up the Nothing Phone’s identity and I like the choices Pei & Co have made.
Nothing Phone 1’s Nothing OS is vintage OnePlus
However, something else that stands out, especially for a mid-range Android device, is that the Nothing Phone 1 comes with Nothing OS, which is very close to what you’ll find on Google’s Pixel phones in terms of software. Nothing’s opted for only a handful of original UI elements like oval notification center buttons (which look more square on Pixel) and a dotted font for some text and widgets.
When it comes to apps, the most notable thing is that Nothing relies on Google’s original apps and doesn’t add any bloatware or twin apps, which we see on phones from Samsung and Xiaomi, for example. In fact, the only two apps that are different from what you’ll get on a Pixel are the Camera app and Voice recorder.
Anyway, if I had to summarize what the software on the Nothing Phone 1 looks like to me, I’d say it’s… vintage OnePlus, which is a compliment! Before OnePlus and Oppo became one company with shared software teams and “values” (safe to assume something that Carl Pei didn’t like), OnePlus was this Android phone that took the Pixel’s version of Android and turned it into the best version of itself by adding a few touches that made it even better. Well, Pei had the chance to continue doing that with the Nothing Phone 1, and he took it!
Nothing Phone 1: The price is great and the features set is even better
Some truly flagship features for half the price!
Now, on to probably the most important bit of information about the Nothing Phone 1 – price…
For example, thanks to Carl Pei’s seemingly good relationship with Qualcomm, which agreed to modify the existing Snapdragon 778G chipset, specifically for the Nothing Phone 1, the device comes with wireless and even reverse wireless charging! These are features that quite literally no other phone priced at £400 or even £500 has.
On top of that, as mentioned earlier, the Nothing Phone has perfectly symmetrical bezels, an ultra-wide-angle camera with autofocus which enables macro mode, and IP53 dust and splash resistance (not to be submerged under water!). Again, such features can’t be seen in other phones in this price category, or they are extremely rare (some mid-rangers include IP53 rating).
Speaking of cameras, the camera hardware on the Nothing Phone 1 seems very promising for the price. Notably, the phone has only two rear shooters – it doesn’t come with any gimmicky 2-5MP sensors. My early impressions from sample photos and videos that I’ve seen are mostly good, considering the price and early software of the phone, but you’d have to wait for our full review for conclusive comments!
The Nothing Phone 1 is all about that balance
To conclude my feature set talk, I’d say that the Nothing phone is a mid-range Android phone with a mid-range price – there are no two ways about that… However, the key additions and omissions (in terms of features) Carl Pei & Co have made feel intentional. That’s the key word.
The Nothing Phone 1 is all about that balance – trying to find a sweet spot (that probably will never be found…)
Nothing Phone 1: Three potential problems – the processor, the cameras, and Nothing’s fierce competition
From Carl Pei’s Twitter page.
What’s the catch here then? Well, if you’ve guessed the processor and the camera, you’d probably be right!
The Snapdragon 778G+ is a very efficient chipset and should result in very good day-to-day performance, as seen on phones like the Motorola Edge 30. That being said, it’s not the A15 Bionic from the iPhone SE or the Snapdragon 870 that’s used in many Android mid-rangers nowadays. You’ll play games but not at the highest settings; you’ll take photos and videos, but the camera experience won’t be as nippy, and you might see some lag here and there when the phone is pushed too hard. We already know that because we’ve seen enough phones with this processor.
The Nothing Phone 1 has competition from hell
Speaking of the Pixel 6A, that seems like a fair time to turn to the topic of competition…
For example, Samsung’s Galaxy S21 FE can now be found for £430/€500, which makes it barely more expensive than the Nothing Phone 1. However, the much more powerful Snapdragon 888 chip, more versatile and better cameras, lighter and more compact design, IP68 water/dust resistance, and four years of OS updates must be more than enough to convince those who are looking for better value. On top of all, you’d be buying a phone from a brand with a proven track record.
The Google Pixel 6 is now priced similarly to the Galaxy S21 FE in Europe and the UK, and (it’s quite safe to assume) this one will get you a much better camera than that on the Nothing Phone 1. Google’s swift software updates, and the Tensor chipset that sits somewhere between the Snapdragon 778G+ and the Snapdragon 888 will also make a difference!
In the end: Carl Pei’s new recipe feels right, and Nothing Phone 1 excites the tech nerds, but what about “normal people”?
Nerdy talk aside, I quickly noticed something special about the Nothing Phone 1…
I haven’t seen tech nerds on YouTube get so excited to unbox a phone in a while, and the Nothing Phone isn’t even a foldable phone! I don’t know – it must be the flat box that opens up from the side or the rear design with all the lights, but Carl Pei’s hype-assisted marketing worked! Just like it did with OnePlus.
Still, I wonder… Would this be enough for “normal people” who are looking for the best deal out there? Like your cousin or your parents? One of the reservations I have about the Nothing Phone 1 is exactly its bold rear design. It looks really nice if you ask me, but I’m afraid it might scare some people away, and that’s not a good thing if you want to sell phones. Also, the phone’s literally called “Nothing” and that might be “too camp” for most.
- Will people buy a phone from a brand without an established track record of making phones?
- Will Nothing manage to make enough phones for those who do want to buy a Nothing Phone 1?
- Will the next Nothing Phone come to North America, where it looks like it’d sell well? If yes, when and would that be “too late”?
- Will Nothing ever go down the OnePlus path and make a flagship phone? Would this be the “right thing to do” or would it be a mistake?
- What’s Nothing’s next addition to the Nothing ecosystem that, according to Carl Pei, is supposed to challenge Apple’s, and will it make the Nothing Phone more appealing in the long-term?
I know, I know… I’m being extra…
Anyway, for now (and forgive the shameless pun), it looks like Pei & Co have managed to make something out of Nothing. The Nothing Phone 1 has individuality, and it’s well-balanced. I’m looking forward to seeing it go up against the Google Pixel 6A very soon. Stay tuned!
Until then, tell me if the Nothing Phone seems appealing enough to make you pick it over a phone from an established brand!