The Nothing Phone 1 is easily one of the most anticipated smartphones of recent years, a combination of serious hype, the presence of OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, and for that having flashing lights at the back. There’s also the promise of unique software, a disruptive effect on the smartphone world, and plenty of savvy marketing. Did I mention the hype? Well, it’s worth mentioning again, because there have been a lot.
So there’s a lot to say about the Nothing Phone 1, but you’ll have to wait for the full review to learn more about camera performance and battery. In the meantime, we’re going to talk about the design, the software, and, of course, those flashing lights. But as I discovered, behind the garish illuminations is an unassuming, beautiful and very usable everyday smartphone.
Phone Specifications 1
Let’s start with what you need to know about the specifications of the Nothing Phone 1. It has Gorilla Glass on both the front and back of the phone, the chassis is made of 100% recycled aluminum, and it measures 8 .3 mm thick and weighs 193 grams. The flexible OLED display measures 6.5 inches and has a resolution of 2400 x 1080 pixels, HDR10+ certification, 10-bit color and a refresh rate of 120Hz.
The processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+ and it comes with 8GB or 12GB of RAM, plus 128GB or 256GB of storage space. On the back is a 50-megapixel Sony IMX766 main camera with optical image stabilization (OIS), electronic image stabilization (EIS) and an f/1.88 aperture. There’s also a 50MP Samsung JN1 wide-angle camera with EIS and an f/2.2 aperture. Finally, on the camera side, there’s a 16-megapixel selfie camera in a punch-hole cutout in the display. There’s a fingerprint sensor under the display, a 4,500mAh battery with Quick Charge 4.0 support, 15W wireless charging, as well as a 5W reverse charging system for the compatible devices.
It’s all wrapped up in an eye-catching transparent design, complete with the Glyph interface, which is Nothing’s name for the flashing LED lights on the back of the phone. The light show is the focal point of Nothing OS, the software installed on the Phone 1. It’s based on Android 12 and Nothing promises three years of Android updates and four years of fortnightly security updates.
Flat sides and that see-through back
At this point, I can’t tell you much about the Nothing Phone 1 due to embargo restrictions. But I’ve been using the phone for a few days and have an idea of what it’s going to be like living with it and the Glyph interface. Certainly nothing pushes the transparent design and bright lights as a reason to buy it over any other Android phone or even an iPhone. So what does this all look like?
The flat-sided metal body looks very smooth and is exceptionally well made. The buttons have a nice movement with a solid click, I think the transparent back of the phone looks awesome. All of the phone’s innards are actually covered, leaving the wireless charging coil as the only bare component on display. This may disappoint some at first, but it’s actually a good thing. Components are generally ugly and aesthetics are not considered when laying out a phone’s interior. In my opinion, covering them with differently shaped panels under the glass gives the phone a cool, sci-fi look.
Unfortunately, the flat, angled sides mean the Nothing Phone 1 isn’t as comfortable to hold for long periods of time, as is the iPhone 12 and iPhone 13 it is so clearly imitated. There’s a hint of a chamfered edge, but that’s not enough to make the phone as comfortable to hold as the Xiaomi 12 Lite, which shares a similar design. The 193 gram weight of the phone is just right, making it compact and never tiring to hold. I was sent a clear case for the Nothing Phone 1, which I think reduces how the phone digs into your palm.
What else? The flexible OLED screen has been mounted against the glass, the viewing angles are wide and the uniform bezel around the edge makes the phone look ultra modern and really well designed. The fingerprint sensor is lightning fast and has worked flawlessly so far. In the black color seen in our photos, the Glyph lights really stand out when flashing, but at all other times it’s pretty anonymous. There’s a white model if you prefer a less stealthy approach.
Flashing lights, unusual sounds
Let’s talk more about Glyph lights. There’s a dedicated section in the Settings menu for the Glyph interface and various options, and the show is mostly on when the phone rings or a notification arrives. There are 10 different special ringtones and notification alerts, all of which flash lights in different patterns, vibrate the phone in different ways, and make different sounds when something happens. Otherwise, the LEDs light up to indicate charging status, when Google Assistant is listening, and can be used as an alternative to the flash in the camera app.
On the plus side, Nothing has the perfect combination of lights, haptics and sound. They’re distinctive and unique, and the way the phone lights up and vibrates means there’s no confusion with any other phone. It definitely has its own characteristic, but don’t expect the Glyph to give the Nothing Phone 1 any personality. The Glyph interface is also very bright, and even at 75% brightness some of the sharpest notification alerts look like lightning in a dark room. It’s a good thing that you can set a Do Not Disturb schedule.
Now the downside. The Nothing Phone 1 has to be face down to see the flashy light show of the Glyph interface, and that’s just not very practical. Here’s how my time went: I put the phone face down to see the cool lights, then when a notification came, I picked up the phone to see what it was. After several times, I left the phone face up so I could see the always-on screen when the notification arrived or tap it to instantly see what was new. I’m just not sure how often I would realistically keep the phone face down, and that means missing out on one of the things that makes the Nothing Phone 1 special.
The haptics are very noticeable and well-designed, and the sounds they go with are a great mix of cute (the “Oi!” and Tennis sounds), nostalgic (either of the light bulb sounds), and quirky. (the excitables Scribble and Squirrels). However, these face the same problem as the lights. I don’t mind having the sounds on at home, but I’d turn them off in public – and probably won’t remember to turn the volume back up soon enough.
Everyone will accept the Nothing Phone 1’s attempt to bring sound and light back to phones differently, and some may deliberately adjust their lifestyle to suit the phone. Personally, I suspect the novelty will wear off and I’ll return to the more convenient and established way of a phone alerting me to calls and notifications – a buzz generated by haptics and the always-on screen.
What does NothingOS look like?
And the rest of the software? I’ll have more in-depth information for the full review, but if you’ve ever tried the Nothing Launcher on a phone, this is what NothingOS looks like on the Phone 1. There have been some negative comments about the experience of the launcher and Nothing’s design choices, but I don’t think they’re justified as there’s absolutely nothing obnoxious or overtly stylized about it. It’s generally neat, quick, clean, and in places even borders on the trivial.
I expected it to have more personality than the Nothing Launcher, but no, the experience is basically the same. If you have used and enjoyed a The software of Google Pixel 6, and fondly remember OnePlus’ OxygenOS before it was assimilated, you’ll love NothingOS on Phone 1. It’s got the speed of a Pixel and the quirks of OxygenOS before it only becomes a facsimile of ColorOS, plus some very weird UI making (like a shortcut to Google Pay on the lock screen where you might expect to find a shortcut to the camera app).
For a more in-depth discussion of the software, you’ll have to wait for the review, at which time we can also give our verdict on the camera and battery life. The camera so far is good, but you’d expect that from a fairly simple dual-camera layout, while the battery – despite the small capacity – coped admirably with normal use.
The hype around the Nothing Phone 1, especially related to the Glyph software and interface, made the phone something truly amazing, but it overshadowed the phone’s welcome simplicity. For all its good looks, the Nothing Phone 1 is actually refreshingly spartan, something people won’t expect from marketing or gasping online expectations.
This is not a criticism at all. Nothing could have really ruined the phone by pushing its pixel-art font and going all out with a minimalistic approach. While I was having fun with lights and sounds, when I started using the phone like a phoneI found the gimmicks hid what’s shaping up to be a very well-made, user-friendly and fun-to-use Android phone at an excellent price.
The Nothing Phone 1 will not be released in the US but will be available in the UK, India and Japan. There is nothing to say that this is due to the fact that it is a new brand, and establishing relationships with operators in the United States is not realistic at this stage. However, he wants to launch a phone in the US in the future.
In the UK the Phone 1 starts at £399/$473 for the 8GB/128GB, £449/$533 for the 8GB/256GB model, and later this summer there will be a 12 version GB/256GB for 499 pounds/$592. Nothing will sell the phone through its own online storethrough the O2 network, and retail partners including Selfridges.