An Attempted Marriage of Design and Function

The Nothing Phone 1 is the newest product from U.K.-based tech company Nothing. As a follow-up of the Nothing Ear 1 earbuds, this android phone aims to use design to help users eliminate distractions. It doesn’t do everything perfectly, but it’s a good start from a new company.

I had the Nothing Phone 1 for nearly two weeks, and during that time, I tested everything that I could. The phone is a charming, sleek, and unique addition to the smartphone market, but don’t let that fool you. This phone has its fair share of quirks and features that are very clearly aimed at a specific demographic. In short, this phone isn’t for everybody.

Android Paired With A Not-So-Android Design

  • Display: 6.55in (166mm) OLED (2,400 x 1080), 120Hrz adaptive refresh, 402 PPI
  • Build materials: Gorilla glass 5, metal alloy frame, recycled aluminum
  • Security: Under display fingerprint sensor
  • Ports: Dual-SIM port and USB-C
  • Water and dust resistance: IP53
  • Dimensions: 6.2in x 2.9in x 0.32in (159mm x 75mm x 8mm)
  • Weight: 193g (6.8oz)

I can’t describe the design of the Nothing Phone 1 without addressing the elephant in the room; it looks like an iPhone. Its dual cameras, sharp edges, recycled aluminum, and rounded rectangular buttons aren’t fooling any of us. But that isn’t a problem. The phone looks fantastic and feels great to use. The first thing I noticed was the weight. It’s light. And, perhaps more interestingly, Nothing has still managed to make the device feel premium.

The Nothing Phone 1 also includes a pleasantly small front-facing camera. When watching videos, playing games, or scrolling through apps, it quickly fades into the background. But the real party is around back. The Nothing Phone 1 has received a lot of attention because of its transparent design and LED light display. The transparency means that screws and components are easily visible, as is the “Nothing” monogram in a Matrix-like font.

I tested the black version of the phone, which I feel presents a more cohesive design from front to back. There is one downside right off the bat, however. The Nothing Phone 1 does not come with a charger, a frustrating development that many companies have started to deploy.

Display: Colors Galore

The front display is one of the most important design elements of any phone. Fortunately, the Nothing Phone 1’s display is great. With 1,200 nits peak brightness and “Alive” color, the screen immerses you instantly. Alive mode makes images and apps more vibrant, which also helps photos appear bolder and sharper. Currently, the Nothing Phone 1 does not support high-resolution video on apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, but for all other forms of streaming, the screen looks great.

And those of you who are daring enough to use your phone without a case won’t have to worry. The glass is gorilla glass 5, and the phone is highly rated against dust and water contamination. It’s a tough thing, I’ll give it that.

Glyph Interface

The Nothing Phone 1 glyph interface illuminated.
Dominick D’Agostino / How-To Geek

And then, of course, there’s the glyph interface. Within the glass enclosure at the back of the Nothing Phone 1 is a set of five lights, each one a different shape. This is the handset’s feature that makes it stand out, and the company has done a good job with it.

The LEDs can get bright, but don’t worry; you can adjust the brightness in the phone’s settings. The LEDs will alert you of notifications when your phone is upside down, but you can turn that function off if you so wish. They can be customized to illuminate in different patterns for different callers, chime with notifications (though the default notification sound is, perhaps, the most annoying noise in existence), and will even show you what battery percentage you have via a small strip of lights near the charging port. In short, the LEDs are completely customizable, but you’ll find their stock settings are relatively adequate.

Nothing claims that the glyph interface allows customers to detach from their devices by providing a different form of communication. In that, they have succeeded. From across the room, I know if I’ve gotten a text or call, and who from, without turning over my phone. This feature is perfect for people who find themselves doing a lot of work on their mobile devices because the LEDs can be customized to sync with work-related contacts and notifications.

But there’s more to the Nothing Phone 1 than the lights and an attractive design. After all, even though the back works as advertised, it isn’t much more than a gimmick. At some point, you’ll have to turn over your phone and actually use it. So, how does it perform?

Nothing OS: Android Becomes Simpler

The Nothing Phone 1 Home display.
Dominick D’Agostino / How-to Geek

  • Operating system: Nothing OS and/or Android 12
  • RAM: 8GB or 12GB
  • Storage: 128GB or 256GB
  • CPU: Snapdragon 778G Plus
  • Updates: Three years of updates

The Nothing Phone 1 comes with an operating system that is reminiscent of iOS but full of classic android features. You can also disable the Nothing OS touches if you want, to immerse yourself in a basic android interface. The design of the operating system is fine, and customizing the phone is a breeze.

But this phone has some serious operating issues. I can’t tell you how many times I spanned my apps, hoping to delete my tabs, only to find that the phone had frozen. I would then have to shut it off and turn it back on before I could go about my tasks again.

At times, when I turned the phone on, it would display my last open app for a few moments before loading and allowing me to sign in. This was incredibly frustrating, especially when I saw something I wanted to take a picture of or needed to jot something down in my notes.

But I don’t want to claim that everything about the OS was bad. The phone downloaded my apps quickly, seamlessly synced my contacts and data, and was easy to customize. You can add widgets to the home screen in seconds (I went for a neutral clock in a classic rounded font) and editing the glyph interface is as easy as opening an iPhone’s control center. After inserting my SIM card, the phone worked effortlessly both on and off Wi-Fi.

Unfortunately, Nothing doesn’t officially sell the Phone 1 in the United States. If you choose to import the smartphone, know that it won’t work on some 5G and LTE bands.

I did notice that the audio quality on phone calls wasn’t perfect—certainly not as good as other mainstream options—but it will definitely be fine for most users. The microphone makes things sound a little bit grainy, which didn’t bother me much, but you might find it a bit annoying. Speaking of sound, The Nothing Phone 1 has some loud speakers. And that’s a good thing. When watching videos in landscape mode, with both the base and earpiece speakers working together, the phone delivers a pretty well-balanced experience.

There are lots of other little things on the phone that work well. The fingerprint scanner is lightning quick, certainly faster than Face ID, and swiping between tabs on web browsers is a breeze with help from the Snapdragon 778G Plus processor. Nothing allows users to simply swipe right from the edge of the screen to move between apps and the home screen, or sites and the search bar, and it works well.

But the operating system needs to be improved, and anyone who is considering The Nothing Phone 1 is very clearly a first-generation product, but most of these issues can be resolved before the launch of a follow-up.

Battery Life: Fast Charging isn’t Everything

  • Battery size: 4,500mAh
  • 33W PD3.0 wired charging
  • 15W Qi wireless charging

There are other things about The Nothing Phone 1 that need to be addressed. Namely, the battery. Honestly, it isn’t bad. I’ve found that it drains quickly when using demanding apps, like Call of Duty Mobile, for example, but the low-power mode definitely helps.

The true success of the battery, though, is the charging. Nothing says that its phone can reach 50% in half an hour with a fast charger. That statement has been accurate during my testing, if not a little conservative. The phone charges fast, and you can easily check on the fullness by wiggling the device until the bottom LED exposes the battery percentage.

It is annoying, of course, that the phone doesn’t come with a charger, so you’ll have to add it to the list of smartphone accessories you’ll need to purchase in tandem with your Nothing phone.

So, is the battery the best thing in the world? No. But if you are the type of person who uses simple apps, like email and social media content, the battery will work fine for you. And the charging is a thing of beauty.

There’s also something else about the phone; wireless charging. It doesn’t charge nearly as well as traditional chords, but it’s a nice feature. The Nothing Phone 1 also supports reverse charging. Place a set of wireless earbuds on the back of the phone and you’re good to go. Don’t expect the wireless charging to be fast, though. It’s good in a pinch, but not industry-leading by any means.

Cameras: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

  • Rear primary camera: 50MP Sony IMX766 wide-angle, ƒ/1.88 aperture
  • Rear secondary camera: 50MP Samsung JN1 ultrawide, ƒ/2.2, 114-degree field of view
  • Rear video recording: 4K at 30 frames per second, 1080p at up to 60fps
  • Front-facing camera: 16MP Sony IMX471 wide-angle, ƒ/2.45 aperture
  • Front facing video: 1080p at 30fps, 1080p at 60fps

On to the cameras. The Nothing Phone 1 has two rear cameras, both 50MP models from Sony and Samsung. The ultrawide lens has a 114-degree field-of-view, and the phone can record in 4k at 30FPS. In my experience, the rear cameras were amazing.

The Nothing Phone 1 comes with all the great features you’d expect a smartphone to have: portrait mode, night mode, panorama, Google Lens, and a ton of other great additions. And, because of the vibrant color resolution from the display, everything looks fantastic.

The same cannot be said for the 16MP front-facing selfie camera. The photos were often blurry, which doesn’t entirely make sense. The 16MP camera is a higher resolution model than what is used on many premium phones. Apple still clings to a 12MP model for their iPhones. And yet, there’s simply this sheen on the photos that make them look as though they were taken on a disposable camera (and not in a good way).

As with many of the other features of the Nothing Phone 1, this isn’t a dealbreaker. But, as I noted above, this phone is not for everyone. These little foibles continue to narrow the potential customer for this product, which likely wasn’t Nothing’s goal with this phone. So, who exactly is The Nothing Phone 1 for? Who is Nothing’s likeliest customer?

Should You Buy the Nothing Phone 1?

Who is the Nothing Phone 1 for? I’ll tell you. The Nothing Phone is for people who want a cheap foray into the world of Android. It’s for those who care about good (rear camera) picture quality, ease of use, and a simple interface. It’s for those who like the Android OS and want something similar to an iPhone at half the price. If you want a phone that charges quickly, with a few of the new bells and whistles, this product is for you.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that Nothing has been marketing the Phone 1 to the wrong customers. It is not a smartphone for those that want a hip and flashy device but for those who care more about simplicity and long-term reliance than they do statistics or a smooth OS.

Indeed, if you use your phone constantly, and are looking for something that can help you become more productive, Nothing is not going to be a good fit. At the very least, I would suggest you wait until the device’s next generation. While the pictures, display, and call quality are good enough, the OS issues, battery draining, and glyph interface won’t be impressing anyone.

In truth, I have a hard time truly recommending this phone to anybody. If you want an inexpensive, good Android phone, you should consider a Google Pixel 6 over the Nothing Phone 1. This interesting design concept is a few steps away from a device that can actually be justified, which is a shame, considering the interesting new take Nothing has brought to the Android space. Perhaps future generations will be more refined.


Nothing Phone 1

  • Fast charging
  • Great rear cameras
  • Bright and durable display
  • Unique and functional design

  • OS bugs and performance
  • No charger
  • Odd notification sounds

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