The Nothing Phone 1 was one of the most anticipated and best Android phones of 2022, and US folks were understandably upset that the device didn't make it across the pond. That is finally changing. Nothing has opened up a new Beta Membership that allows you to buy a Phone 1 to experience the company's Android 13 beta for the sweet sum of $300 — even though the phone doesn't work on all US carriers.
Beta software and incomplete carrier compatibility are tough pills to swallow, so let's find out how the Nothing Phone 1 stacks up, especially with phones like the Google Pixel 6a dominating the US budget market.
The Nothing Phone 1 is the first smartphone from Nothing. It does a lot of things right, but there are a few wrinkles that still need to be ironed out.
- SoC: Snapdragon 778G+
- Display: 6.55-inch 2400x1080 OLED, 120Hz, 700 nits (peak)
- RAM: 8, 12 GB
- Storage: 128, 256 GB
- Battery: 4,500mAh
- Ports: USB Type-C 2.0
- Operating System: Android 13 / Nothing OS 1.5
- Front camera: 16MP
- Rear cameras: 50MP f/1.9, 50MP f/2.2 114˚ ultrawide
- Connectivity: 5G, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC
- Dimensions: 159.2 x 75.8 x 8.3mm
- Colors: White, black
- Weight: 194g
- Charging: 33W wired, 15W Qi wireless, 5W reverse wireless
- IP Rating: IP53
- Price: £400, £450, £500 / €470, €500, €550
- RAM and Storage: 8GB RAM + 128GB memory / 8GB+256GB / 12GB+256GB
- Micro SD card support: No
- Unique, premium design
- Clean Android skin without bloatware
- Good photos in daylight
- Decent performance
- Fewer accessories in the box than comparable phones
- Poor and loud vibration motor
- Unbalanced stereo speakers
- Unsatisfactory night photos
Availability & network
Nothing initially decided not to bring the Phone 1 to the US. Instead, the company said it wanted to focus on markets that aren't as carrier-centric as the US, as it doesn't have to build a relationship with network providers before reaching consumers. As such, the Phone 1 is officially available in the UK, Europe, Japan, and India.
However, Nothing seems to realize that there is great interest in its phone, and the company has already vowed to bring future products to the US. In an attempt to test the waters and see how people in the US respond to the Nothing Phone 1, the company opened a "Beta Membership" in January 2023 that allows people in America to enjoy the Nothing Phone 1 running an Android 13 beta for $300. More specifically, you can get a black model with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage; it's yours to keep even after the Beta Membership program ends on June 30, 2023.
The Nothing Phone 1 is primarily made for international markets, and it shows. For instance, in its FAQ, Nothing makes it clear that the Phone 1 has limited support for US cellular bands. Here is the full compatibility overview from Nothing:
As you can see, you can join the Nothing Beta Membership program, but be prepared not to be able to use the Phone 1 like other handsets. It only supports a handful of the radio bands it would need to work well in the US.
T-Mobile is your best bet, but 5G still isn't 100% compatible. My colleague Zach confirms as in his video review below. Using the phone on T-Mobile, he doesn't run into bigger issues with normal usage comprised of navigating, downloading videos and music, and more.
On AT&T, you won't get VoLTE, VoWi-Fi, or 5G, so you can expect a worse experience. Verizon customers should steer clear of the Phone 1, as it doesn't support CDMA or 5G bands, and they will have to contact Verizon to manually add their Nothing Phone 1's IMEI to its records to make it work.
Our review was conducted in Europe (in Germany, to be exact), so we can't comment on how bad the problems are in the US. Still, don't expect the phone to work normally.
When we talk about the Nothing Phone 1, there is no way we can ignore its unique design. Looking at the front, it may not seem too special. Still, it immediately gives the impression that it can't possibly cost as little as £400. The screen has small, evenly sized bezels all around, with Nothing opting for a flexible display that bends into the phone itself at the bottom—much like what Apple has done since the iPhone X, and still a rarity on Android phones today. The sides feel equally premium. They're made from recycled aluminum, which helps keep the not-so-small phone manageable in weight. Overall, this could as well be an iPhone 13 Pro based on the build quality, even down to the size and design of the two volume buttons on the left side and the power button on the right.
Once you look at the back, you get to see the true highlight of the Phone 1's design. The back is covered by transparent glass, revealing a look inside the phone — this goes for both the white and black versions. In contrast to the full transparent effect Nothing used for the Ear 1 earbuds, the company went for a more elaborate approach for its phone.
While you can make out individual components under the glass, they're all covered by white plates. This still gives you all kinds of different textures and layers, but it looks much cleaner than what you would get if you would just expose the components, like what the Fairphone 3 did.
The transparent back doesn't make the Phone 1 any more repairable than most other modern smartphones. The glass back is held in place with adhesive like any other glass sandwich smartphone. It feels a bit ironic that you can see the screws holding everything in place without an easy, non-destructive way to touch them yourself. This feeling only gets stronger when you consider that Nothing proudly proclaims its environmental responsibility, saying that it sourced 100% recycled aluminum and made 50% of its plastics bio-based, built from recycled materials—a good step, but nothing compared to what products like the Fairphone 4 do.
I've also spotted a barely visible discoloration in the top plate next to the camera that I'm not sure was there when I first received the unit. This doesn't affect the experience, but it's still weird to see it in a spot that doesn't have any contact with the outside world. My guess is that this is where the SoC is placed, and it might have gotten a little hotter during some of my tests. Only a longer-term test will show if this is cause for concern regarding aesthetics, though.
After publishing the initial review, a teardown revealed that the panels that make up the rear are held in place with adhesive, which makes sense for elements like the stickers on top of the LEDs—which we will get to in a moment.
The Glyph interface
As if the transparent back itself wasn't enough, Nothing went a step further and added LED strips to some of the components. The company tells me that it had to place over 900 individual LEDs and use a protective layer held together with yellowish glue to neutralize blue wavelengths and light bleeding. You wouldn't think adding a few LEDs to the back of a phone would be that involved, but apparently, it is.
Together, these LED strips form what Nothing calls the "Glyph" interface. As you've undoubtedly seen by now, thanks to Marques Brownlee's early hands-on, the light strips flash in sync with your notification and call sounds. You can assign different light shows and sounds to different callers, helping you get an idea of who is calling you when you've got the phone face-down on the table. The same idea also applies to app notifications, though you can't select your preferred contacts or apps in the Glyph settings pane.
Nothing promotes the Glyph interface as an advantage to help you focus more on the world around you than on your phone. The idea is that rather than having your phone face up on the table while you're out and about with friends or while you're focusing on work, you're putting it face down. This is supposed to avoid distracting notifications from coming in, but the lights should still help you identify when an important call from, say, your mother or partner comes in.
As much as I enjoyed playing with the light show in the early stages of testing, I'm finding it increasingly distracting. With the Glyph interface activated, it feels like there is no escaping from notifications anymore. Usually, I turn my phone face-down to avoid seeing any notifications that could distract me from the moment. The Pixel series solves this elegantly, with phones optionally automatically turning on the Do Not Disturb mode when placed face-down.
However, the Phone 1 alerts me about incoming notifications face down and face up. In the Glyph settings, there is even a section that allows you to turn on "Flip to Glyph," which, much like the Pixel's "Flip to Shh," turns on silent mode but leaves the Glyph light show on for notification. Given that this means you'll still get visual cues on new notifications, this isn't an escape from notification overload.
In the long term, this means I will probably turn off the Glyph interface, which is easily done in settings or via a quick settings toggle. Once I do this, this whole engineering feat will be wholly in vain for me. And I reckon I'm not the only one to think of my phone usage in this way. In any case, those who want to stay connected at all times will probably leave their phone face-up anyway and see what notifications are coming in on the always-on display, or turn on Do Not Disturb mode.
In summary, Nothing created an overly complicated solution for a problem that has been sufficiently solved already. That leaves only one conclusion: The Glyph interface isn't for those who own the phone but for those who don't have it yet. It merely serves as a marketing vehicle setting the Phone 1 apart from the competition. However, I have to admit that it's working. It's a fun feature to demo and play with, even though it doesn't really serve any purpose for me beyond that, and it already helped Nothing set itself apart from the midrange competition from a design perspective. If a unique, flashy phone is what you need in your life, then the Nothing Phone 1 is an excellent choice.
At least the Glyph interface doesn't tax the battery much, either. Nothing tells me that in its testing, the Glyph interface only drained 0.5% of the total battery life running on full brightness for 10 minutes straight. With the light mostly flashing for notifications and calls only, this shouldn't be a concern at all.
Hardware & what's (not) in the box
The Nothing Phone 1's hardware is fairly standard for a mid-range phone, with one key difference. This Snapdragon 778G+ phone supports wireless and reverse-wireless charging, a capability that is usually limited to higher-end devices. Nothing worked closely with Qualcomm to enable this feature for the 778+, which usually doesn't support it. The processor is joined by up to 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The entry-level model comes with 8+128GB, while the unit we've got for review is the middle ground with its 8+256GB configuration. As for pricing, you're looking at £400, £450, and £500 for 8+128, 8+256, and 12+256GB, respectively.
Moving on, the Phone 1 ticks the usual boxes. It supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2, has NFC on board, and can work with up to two SIM cards simultaneously. There are also stereo speakers on board. Although, as with many phones that use a combination of a bottom-firing speaker and an earpiece, the sound coming from them isn't quite even. The bottom-firing speaker is noticeably louder and clearer.
The other bummer is the lack of proper waterproofing. The Phone 1 only has an IP53 certification, meaning it's protected from splashes and dust. Under normal conditions, this should be fine, but definitely don't take the Phone 1 to the pool or the beach.
We also need to talk about the haptics. While the Phone 1 itself feels incredibly solid and sturdy in hand, it seems like the company cut corners with the vibration motor. This is particularly noticeable when typing. The Phone 1 makes sounds when vibrating, making for a less haptic and a more audible experience. The vibration also isn't very punchy, either, trending toward the mushy side. This is probably all you can expect out of a fairly standard x-axis motor, and software updates haven't done much to improve this, either.
Nothing went for an interesting design when it comes to packaging, too. The box is so flat that it is barely as high as the phone itself, which means that the company had to spread it out to make room for the USB-C cable, the SIM ejector tool, and the usual paperwork, making the packaging look more like a special edition album box than a phone box.
That's all there is to the box, too — no other accessories or a charging brick. The company will sell you these accessories, though. A 45W charger can be purchased separately for £35 or $35 (yes, available in the US, too). A clear polycarbonate case can be had overseas for £25, and a tempered glass screen protector for £19. The latter is quite unnecessary when you just got the phone, though. A plastic screen protector is pre-applied, which should be good for a few months at the least.
While the lack of additional accessories might not be anything weird when you consider flagship phones in the US, the reality is that a lot of other phones, from the likes of Xiaomi, Realme, and Oppo ship with all of these accessories in the box. You may not have access to these brands in the US, but for those in other places, the Phone 1 is going to be a more expensive option even at the same price. With Nothing selling the Phone 1 in highly competitive markets like India, this omission could hurt its sales.
The Nothing Phone 1 has a crisp and fast OLED panel with a resolution of 2400 x 1080. It gets plenty bright in daylight with a maximum brightness of 1,200 nits. The refresh rate is dynamic and can go from 60 to 120Hz, depending on what content you're viewing. A year ago, this would have been stand-out hardware for a £400 device, but many phones in the price range offer comparable or better specs these days.
While the screen is good, it isn't perfect. When the brightness is at its lowest, you notice slightly uneven areas and a slight green tint, with pixels lit at varying degrees of brightness. With dark mode activated by default out of the box, this becomes extra noticeable. I've seen this issue much more pronounced on other phones, though, and it's a problem inherent to OLED technology in this price range.
In addition to the Glyph interface, the Phone 1 also has an optional always-on display. It's similar to what you get on the Pixel, down to the fade-in and fade-out animation you get when you hit the power button. It always shows you the current time and date along with the weather and will light up briefly for new notifications.
Nothing pitched its Nothing OS as a big differentiator compared to other manufacturers, but in the end, it almost feels too bare-bones to be that differentiator. However, I think it's good that Nothing started with a clean slate rather than trying to one-up busy skins like Oppo's Color OS or Xiaomi's MIUI right out of the box. It is definitely refreshing to see a mid-range phone without any bloatware to speak of that isn't a Pixel.
The biggest change Nothing OS makes to Android 12 and 13 can be found in the quick settings toggles in the notification shade. The Internet and Bluetooth toggles are always up top, with no option to switch them out for something else. Once you fully expand the quick toggles panel, these two toggles will balloon in size and become properly rounded. It's possible to swipe through mobile data, Wi-Fi, and hotspot in the Internet toggle. Over time, the Bluetooth toggle will also have different quick shortcuts as Nothing introduces brand partnerships. Right now, the toggle can be used in conjunction with a Tesla car, with quick actions in it that let you lock the car or check the battery status. It also neatly integrates with Nothing's own earbuds, the Ear 1 and the Ear Stick.
The Nothing Launcher is pretty close to the Pixel Launcher, too, down to the Google Discover panel on the left, the permanent Google Search bar at the bottom, and an At a Glance-like weather and calendar widget at the top. While you can easily remove the latter and replace it with anything else, the search bar will always be part of the experience. You can also install and use custom icon packs with the launcher and, on the Android 13 beta, enable themed icons.
Nothing has added a few custom widgets to the launcher, too, mostly to show off its dotted typeface. You can add an analog or digital clock, a weather widget, and, yes, an NFT wallet via WalletConnect, which is also pre-installed. Thankfully, this stays out of the way unless you connect your crypto wallet with it.
The rest of the software is decidedly basic, save for Nothing's typeface ornamenting the home and lock screens and settings. Material You support is also on board, and it behaves very much like the Pixel implementation, though it doesn't support more than four wallpaper-based options in the Android 13 beta. On Pixel phones, you can choose from up to 16 different color palettes.
The Nothing software doesn't have some of the other smarts that Pixel phones have, either. For example, you can't copy text from the Recents overview, and Gboard's advanced on-device dictation also isn't there. Let's not even mention car crash detection, automatic song recognition in the background, and automatic subtitles for any audio source imaginable.
In the initial Android 12 release, I ran into occasional glitches like weird lock screen animation and even a locked-up interface on occasion, but this was much improved with subsequent Nothing OS version releases. In many ways, even the Android 13 beta feels more stable than the initial Android 12 release. The reason behind that was shared by Nothing itself. The company admits that it had to use a lot of off-the-shelf software components to get started and is only now rebuilding parts of its OS with custom code. These changes all happen in the background, but they're supposed to lead to an even more stable experience, and I'm inclined to believe it. That's not to say that the initial Android 12 release was bad; it felt unpolished more than anything.
Nothing promises three years of Android updates and four years of bi-monthly security patches with its software. This puts it just behind Google when it comes to software support, as new Pixel phones receive three years of updates and five years of monthly security patches. For a brand-new company still spinning everything up, this is not too bad — if it can keep up with the promises.
Battery life and performance
The Nothing Phone 1 wirelessly charging the Honor Earbuds 3 Pro
While I had serious issues with standby battery drain the first day or two that I used the phone, this was quickly fixed by two software updates, bringing my unit up to Nothing OS 1.0.2. Since then, battery life has been consistent and predictable, with about five hours of screen time leaving me some juice at the end of the day.
This is still true with Android 13. Paired with fast 33W charging that brings the Phone 1 up to 50% in half an hour, there isn't much to complain about in this department. Sure, Xiaomi and Oppo phones support much faster charging, but 33W is a fine middle ground in 2022—especially for a phone sold in the US.
The performance the Snapdragon 778G+ gives the Nothing Phone 1 is also ample. While I'm sure Nothing could have eked out a few milliseconds of faster app load times and slightly better website performance with the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 (the top-notch processor at release time), it is definitely fast enough for all everyday tasks you can throw at it in the foreseeable future.
The Phone 1 has a flashing red video recording light
I was initially quite impressed with the cameras, but the longer I'm testing the Nothing Phone, the more it's clear to me that it offers the usual midrange performance, despite the dual 50MP shooters Nothing opted for. Here, we're looking at a 50MP Sony IMX766 camera as the primary and a 50MP Samsung JN1 sensor as the ultra-wide. On the front, there is a 16MP Sony IMX471.
In daylight, images are pretty consistent, at least when you stick with one of the two cameras for all subsequent shots. However, as you switch between the primary and the ultra-wide, you will notice quite some difference in the color temperature and sharpness. With subsequent Nothing OS releases, the company was able to match colors across cameras much more closely. These days, you need to look hard to spot a difference between the two lenses.
Color temperature isn't so consistent across the main and wide-angle camera
In low light, the cameras still can't keep up with the competition from Google, Samsung, and Apple. Night mode doesn't turn on automatically, so you will have to remember to manually turn it on whenever you want to take images in the dark. From my limited testing so far, the night mode also looks grainier than on other phones and isn't as good at eliminating unwanted movements.
From left to right: Standard, night mode, night mode with Glyph light, Glyph light without night mode, flash
The Glyph lights on the back are also an interesting aspect for the camera. You may not think it's the case based on images and videos, but the lights get very bright, to the point where they can serve as an alternative to the LED flash in low brightness or serve as a ring light replacement for video. At least for photos, the results are mixed, though.
Compared to a regular photo taken with the flash, the Glyph light images err on the cooler side, which makes sense given the pure white light the Glyph interface produces. Only when you combine the Glyph light with night mode do the results speak for themselves. The Glyph light definitely introduces a fun new element to photography and videography, and this is something that I have to play with a little more over the next week or so. Stay tuned for our update to this review.
Overall, the camera app feels pretty bare-bones and like off-the-shelf software. Switching between modes takes the software an extra second, and there are some limitations that you don't see on other phones. For example, you can't zoom on portrait images, which is something I do all the time with my Pixel phone. Seeing that the camera app is supposed to run on some version 12.x, it's very likely that it's based on some pre-existing software.
Should you buy it?
You probably shouldn't buy the Nothing Phone 1 if you're in the US. I get it, getting your hands on a new phone is exciting, and compared to what other manufacturers charge for their flagship phones, it could feel like a bargain. You're still better off with the similarly priced Google Pixel 6a, which works as expected on cellular networks. It also comes with a clean version of Android and is guaranteed to get security updates for the next five years. And the camera blows the Phone 1 out of the water.
However, if you want a unique looking mid-range phone that will turn heads, the Phone 1 is an interesting choice. That's doubly true if it's fully functional in your part of the world. It offers some of the most unique designs at a sub-£500 price, and it does a lot of things right, which is impressive for the first phone from a new company. I'm particularly pleased with the progress the company is making in the software department, fixing a lot of the camera and interface issues that plagued me when I first reviewed the Nothing Phone 1. If it wasn't for the limited US compatibility right now, the Phone 1 would almost certainly make it to our list of best budget Android phones.
Q: How does the Nothing Phone 1 compare to the Google Pixel 6a
The Google Pixel 6a is just around the corner, and Google already shared key details on the phone with the public, so we can get an idea of how it will compare to the Phone 1. The Pixel 6a will be slightly smaller than the Phone 1, coming with a 6.1-inch screen rather than one with 6.5 inches. It also only gives you a refresh rate of 60Hz and only 6GB of RAM rather than 8. Despite these weaknesses on the hardware side, the Pixel 6a will have a lot of software smarts up its sleeve. You can expect almost all the Pixel-exclusive features you know from the Pixel 6 and 6 Pro, like supercharged on-device dictation, auto-generated subtitles for all audio content, and more. Given Google's track record, you can also be sure to receive new software updates as early as possible.
Q: How does the Nothing Phone 1 compare to the Samsung Galaxy A53?
On the Samsung side, the Galaxy A53 comes closest in price and specs to the Nothing Phone. It offers a similarly-sized 6.5-inch 120Hz OLED panel, and its battery is even bigger at 5,000mAh. It has a more versatile camera setup, too, with a dedicated macro lens on board and Samsung's software expertise in the area. It also has proper water resistance thanks to an IP67 certification. However, the Galaxy A53 can't compare when it comes to hardware design and build quality. In our review, we note that it feels a bit cheap.