It was perhaps the most talked-about and leaked phone of the year by the time it was released in July 2022. And the hype around it was understandable – after all, it was the first phone that came from Nothing, the new initiative of OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, who had promised to bring back excitement into the tech world with the brand. While the Phone (1) received generally positive reviews on its launch, it came (like so many debutants) with its share of issues and problems. The much talked about Glyph UI was erratic, the promising-on–paper cameras seemed inconsistent and there were bugs lurking underneath that oh-so uncluttered interface. Some even felt that the starting price of Rs 32,999 was a little too steep for what the phone brought to the table.
To its credit, Nothing worked to fix the issues that surrounded the Phone (1), so much so that we think that at the time of writing, it was one of the most frequently updated phones of the period since its launch. What’s more, the price of the phone also has seen a decline, after an actual price rise in the middle, due to an increase in component costs. So, almost five months after it officially saw the light of the day, does the Nothing Phone (1) live up to its hype, and more importantly, should one be considering buying it? We give you the answers to that and the most-asked questions about the Nothing Phone (1) based on our experience of it over all these months:
Ok, let’s get this straight – why are we still talking of the Nothing Phone (1) more than four months after its launch? That’s a long time in tech.
The reason is simple – because it remains an interesting and rather unique proposition. Unlike other brands in the smartphone space, Nothing has not gone on a launch spree. The Phone (1) remains its only smartphone and as per its founder and CEO, Carl Pei, there are no plans to launch its successor in the coming days. The phone has stayed in the news because it still remains rather unique in terms of design and interface. What’s more, Nothing has been updating it frequently, quashing bugs that were there in the original and adding features. Round that off with changes in prices and offers, and the Phone (1) remains in the news and a phone worthy of consideration even months after its launch.
But this is the same phone that was released in July 2022, isn’t it? Have there been any new variants?
Well, yes. And no. Of course, the hardware and design of the Nothing Phone (1) remain unchanged and no new variants in terms of design and RAM/storage have been introduced, so it is the same phone in that regard. And yet the phone is different from the one that was launched in July, because it has had no fewer than NINE updates in this period. Many of these updates are not just security patches and bug fixes but also add new features to the device or improve existing ones. So actually in terms of performance, the Nothing Phone (1) right now is a very different creature from the one that hit the stands at launch. There had also been concerns as to whether the brand would be able to provide service and update the device as it was new in the field. We feel we are better placed to answer that question now.
One of the most remarkable features of the Nothing Phone (1) was its design and appearance. But that was in July 2022. Quite a lot of time has passed since. Does the phone still get stares and queries? Does it stand out?
Yes, it does. There is still nothing – pun intended – quite like the Nothing Phone (1) in the market in terms of design and appearance. That is because no other phone brand has actually tried to borrow the design of the Phone (1). The Phone (1) remains the only phone in the market with that super distinct transparent back that shows you some of the components within it. Of course, that back is also home to hundreds of LEDs that light up to show you different activities from charging to notifications to calls. There is simply no other phone out there that does this. The Phone (1) still will get stares and will not be confused with any other device, which is quite an achievement.
It also still looks very premium, with the Gorilla Glass front and back and the metal frame. Those straight sides still give us very iPhone feels, but that is hardly a bad thing, is it? If you are looking for a phone to flaunt, this remains very much an option.
Which one looks better – the black or the white variant?
This is a tough call. We think the black variant looks better when the LEDs on its back light up. But the white variant gets our vote for appearing generally better – simply because the whole effect of being transparent is more visible on it. It is really a matter of individual taste, though.
Is its hardware showing its age? It has been a long time since July. Would you call this a well-specced phone now, considering the other devices that have been released since?
Rather remarkably, the Nothing Phone (1) even now compares very favourably with most devices in its price segment in spec terms. The 6.55-inch full HD AMOLED display with 120Hz refresh rate remains a very good one, although its maximum brightness has now been fixed at 700 bits as compared to the 1200 nits that was claimed at the launch. In our opinion, 700 nits more than suffices even in harsh sunlight. The display also has an in-display fingerprint scanner which, while not as swift as the side-mounted fingerprint scanners that are the rage in the segment, actually works better than the one on the Google Pixel 7.
The Snapdragon 778+ chip powering the phone is still a very good upper mid-segment proposition at this price point, as are its RAM and storage variants of 8GB / 128GB, 8GB / 256GB and 12GB / 256GB RAM. You also get a 4,500mAh battery, which while not being the largest out there, is definitely not a small one either. Yes, it charges only at 33W and there’s no charger in the box, but on the flip side, it comes with wireless charging, which is almost non-existent at this price point. You also get two very good 50-megapixel rear cameras, one of which has OIS (again rare at this price), and a decent 16-megapixel selfie camera. In short, it still ticks hardware boxes months after its release, and it also supports 5G and has NFC on board. The fact that there have not been too many phone releases in recent months helps its cause, but all said and done, we think spec-wise, the Phone (1) remains in a good place.
What about the software? It had a few bugs when the phone was released.
We would say that five months since its launch, the software has emerged as one of the key strengths of the Nothing Phone (1). The phone continues to come with a very clean UI, perhaps the closest thing to stock Android this side of the Pixel series. With no bloatware – it is even cleaner than the OxygenOS devices of the pre-OPPO-alliance era. What, however, is incredibly impressive is the kind of attention Nothing seems to have paid to adding features and fixing bugs. The Phone (1) has received nine updates in the period between July 12th and November 30th. These have not just added necessary security updates and removed bugs, but have actually improved the performance of the Phone (1) – the glyph interface has been tweaked, the camera performance has improved, support for Jio 5G has been added, face ID has been improved, heating issues have been fixed and much more. Basically, you are seeing the phone evolve in front of you. All the frequent updates can be a little irritating, but on the other hand, they show the brand’s commitment to the device, so they are reassuring too.
Has the Phone (1) been updated to Android 13 yet?
No, at the time of writing, the Phone (1) still runs on Android 12. However, beta testing for Android 13 is on, and an update is expected in early 2023. Given the frequency with which the Phone (1) is being updated, we would trust the brand on this.
As per most initial reviews, the cameras were the weak points of the Phone (1). Have they improved?
Yes, they have indeed. Nothing had rather bravely gone with only two cameras on the back, bucking the trend of three and four sensors on the back. Those two cameras were, however, formidable – both were 50-megapixel sensors and one of them was the flagship-level Sony IMX766 with OIS. On the front was a 16-megapixel selfie camera. As per our initial impressions, the cameras were capable of great photography but were inconsistent, with some shots coming out better than others snapped in almost similar circumstances. That has been fixed to a large extent, with greater consistency in terms of colours and details from the rear cameras.
The colours, rather unusually for the segment (where “bright and poppy is beautiful” is the mantra), also generally tend to be towards being realistic than artificially pleasant. Interestingly, while low-light performance has improved too, we think the colours in low-light conditions seem just a little more saturated. Thankfully, though, there is no attempt to “manufacture” brightness for low light snaps – so you do not get the yellowish tinge or the pasty textures that one often does in many other phones. Video stability too has improved significantly. The colours of the selfies tend to be a little saturated, but even the selfie camera has been tweaked and we felt that image quality has improved significantly since the launch.
The result? We do not think that the cameras of the Nothing Phone (1) can be considered its weakness any more. They can take on all comers in its price segment, especially in good light conditions. We would not call these Pixel-level snappers, but they do enough to make the competition sweat, which was not the case when the phone was launched. If we have a complaint, it is that the camera app is perhaps a little too plain, when compared to the feature-rich offerings from other players – you have to look around to find options. Low light performance in general remains slightly erratic as bright lights tend to produce flares, but then that is common in this segment.
The Glyph UI, those LEDs at the back, were seen as a bit of a stunt at the time of the launch. Five months down the line, are they actually useful?
Truth be told, we always found the LEDs on the back of the Nothing Phone (1) super useful. This was because one of us prefers keeping the phone face down on a table, and getting notifications in these conditions was a huge bonus. The Glyph UI had also seemed initially a little buggy, with sometimes the LEDs not lighting up the way they were supposed to. However, that has been largely addressed, and the lights on the back also now work very well in sync with music being played on the phone, which was not the case earlier.
We also love the way they light up in patterns depending on who is calling, and yes, flip to glyph, which makes the LEDs light up whenever you turn the phone face down is a crowd puller. The battery charging indicator on the back is much more accurate now and is a very good feature for those who do not like to leave their phone face up at charging points (we do not, not unless they are near us). Yes, it is still a little bit of a show-off thing, but it is actually getting more useful by the day.
What about gaming and multimedia?
The Phone (1) was a very solid performer in the gaming department, as long as you remember to tweak settings. And that is something that has not changed much. This is not a phone designed for hardcore gamers, but you can play most games on it and get a very good experience as long as you remember to keep an eye on the settings – you will see lags creep in if you max out settings on something as heavy as Genshin Impact. The stereo speakers have, however, actually improved since the launch, so we would say this is a very good multimedia device. The phone can heat up a little during intense gaming and video shooting sessions, but this never reaches alarming proportions.
Have all those updates made a difference to the battery life?
The battery life of the Nothing Phone (1) is pretty much the same as it was. You will get through a day of normal to heavy usage without too many problems. There has been some talk of optimisations but we have not noticed anything spectacular here. A lot depends on your LED situation on the back – if you get lots of notifications or keep flipping your phone over, you might find battery life suffering. But even then, you should be able to get through a day on a single charge. That’s not really exceptional when you consider other devices that come with bigger batteries, but is good enough for most of us.
The big question: Would you say the Nothing Phone (1) is still good value for money? Should one consider purchasing it?
We would say that the Phone (1) is actually better value for money than it was when it was launched. At the time of writing, it was available on Flipkart at Rs 27,499 for 8GB / 128GB, Rs 29,499 for 8GB / 256GB and Rs 33,499 for 12GB / 256GB. This is lower than the Rs 32,999 starting price at which it was launched. Considering that it has actually improved in terms of software and general performance, and has got rid of many of the bugs and issues that plagued it initially, we think it would have been better value for money even at its original launch price now as compared to when it was released. At its current price, it is a very good deal for anyone wanting a phone below Rs 30,000.
You will get more processor muscle on the likes of the Redmi K50i and the iQOO Neo 6, and those wanting a great camera and clean interface might also be attracted to the Google Pixel 6a, whose price is in the region of Rs 30,999 at the time of writing. But none of them can match the overall experience and design feel that the Nothing Phone (1) brings to the table. That transparent back and Glyph UI put it in a zone of its own. It remains the most flauntable mid-segment phone and its performance is improving consistently as well. With no successor in sight, and Nothing also having ironed out some of the early service and support issues, we think the Phone (1) is a great buy for those who want a phone that looks and works differently from the run-of-the-mill smartphones out there. There is – pun alert – literally Nothing like it out there.