Nothing Phone 1: Android’s iPhone is half the price and twice as cool, but might have 3 problems

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Nothing Phone 1: Android’s iPhone is half the price and twice as cool, but might have 3 problems
After an entire season of leaks, rumors, and teasers, the Nothing Phone 1 is finally officially official...

In case you didn't know, the Nothing company was started by Carl Pei - one of OnePlus' co-founders, and their first product was a pair of relatively affordable TWS earbuds, the Nothing Ear 1.

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

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.

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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.

The Voice recorder app has an almost analog feel to it and a note of nostalgia, which I think is a really lovely touch! However, the Camera app on the Nothing Phone 1 is a shameless iPhone rip-off (which, again, is ironic), but I can see why Nothing has chosen to go with it. The Phone 1's Nothing OS software is all about simplicity, and the iPhone's camera app is about as straightforward as it gets.

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

Now, on to probably the most important bit of information about the Nothing Phone 1 - price...

The phone will be sold for £399 in the UK and €469 in Europe (it won't be available in the US as of now). I'll leave the "competition talk" for the end, but for now, I can say that this price feels right. The Nothing Phone 1 is a well-rounded mid-range phone, which also gives you some premium features that no other phone in this price category will offer.

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).

The Galaxy S22 and S22+ are the only new Android phones that have symmetrical display borders (quite thinner than the Nothing Phone's), and they are twice as expensive. And for reference, the cheapest iPhone with an autofocus-enabled ultra-wide camera for Macro Mode is the $1,000 iPhone 13 Pro.

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.

That's important because this isn't the case with many (if any) other mid-range Android phones or the iPhone SE. They give you two-three standout features and then those phones are all about trying to hit a certain price point, which often ends up compromising the rest of the experience.

That's why the iPhone SE comes with a flagship processor and five years of iOS updates but looks like a five-year-old phone. And that's why some Xiaomi phones priced at around £400 come with big batteries, super-fast charging, and "four" cameras on the back but don't necessarily deliver a great software experience and omit features like wireless and reverse wireless charging.

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

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.

When it comes to the cameras, the 50MP Sony IMX766 main camera and 50MP Samsung JN1 ultra-wide shooter look very strong on paper, but the truth is that Nothing lacks the computational expertise that companies like Google and Apple have in order to squeeze the most out of those two sensors, and the photos will probably show that. Again, you'd have to wait for our full review, but my early impressions are that the Nothing Phone 1 will struggle to compete with the likes of the Pixel 6A.

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...

That's a tricky one because certain mid-range Android phones which used to cost £400 at launch have now gone down in price, and so have flagship-ish phones that launched at £600-700 months ago. Anyway, right now, Amazon Renewed and general discounts in both the UK and Europe put the Nothing Phone 1 against some really tough 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!

Speaking of Pixels, the aforementioned Google Pixel 6A is now a couple of weeks away from launch, and this one will go toe-to-toe with the Nothing Phone 1 in Europe and the UK price-wise. It depends, but if Google's managed to iron out the numerous Pixel 6 bugs, the Pixel 6A might actually turn out to be the better buy compared to its older brother, which would certainly mean it'd easily edge out the Nothing Phone 1 too.

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.

Also, the Nothing Phone 1 appears to be very well suited for western markets, but not so much for other markets like China and India, where the competition is extremely aggressive, and demand is high. After that come even more questions, such as:

  • 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!

Would you buy a Nothing Phone 1 over another Android phone if it is/was available in your region?

Yes! (Tell us why with a comment)
No! (Tell us why with a comment)
I'm not sure because… (leave a comment)

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