Nothing Phone 2a: Carl Pei’s masterclass in “distractingly stunning design” - enough to beat Pixel?

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Nothing Phone 2a: Carl Pei’s masterclass in “distractingly stunning design” - enough to beat P
Mid-range phones are incredibly tricky to “get right”, because they try to be “affordable” and “flagship-y” at the same time, and if you’ve lived long enough, you’d know that one of the hardest things to achieve in life is… balance.

Of course, this doesn't stop phone-makers from trying, with the current (and arguably undisputed) value champ being Google’s Pixel 7a, which (remember) was a pretty sizable upgrade compared to its predecessor.

Of course, you also have the best-selling mid-range phone (according to some stats), the Galaxy A54, which is about to be replaced by the Galaxy A55 any minute now. Samsung knows how to give its mid-range fanbase “just enough” to keep them coming back, but that doesn’t really “do it” for a phone nerd like me.

Which… Is why I find Carl Pei’s latest lightbulb moment more interesting to talk about (at least right now). It’s already confirmed that the “Nothing Phone 2a” will be a mid-range offering (much like the original Nothing Phone), and what’s new is that we now seem to know the actual (!) design of the phone, as well as the SoC it’s going to be powered by, and even… exactly what features it might be missing, which could end up being a dealbreaker.

The Nothing Phone 2a is scheduled for release on March 5 but I think I already know what I think about it. Spoilers ahead.

Carl Pei’s bet on design before anything else is the best way to market a $400 phone, but is it the best way to make one?

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First of all, I must start by saying that I’m very glad the recently leaked design of the “Nothing Phone 2a” turned out to be a complete hoax, because it looked like a toy you find in a chocolate egg. Not to mention, it didn’t include any Glyphs, which is Nothing’s whole thing, really.

But the actual design of the Nothing Phone 2a? Honestly, it looks at least as good as the flagship Nothing Phone 2, if not better! Of course, that’s all subjective, so pick your winner down in the comments.

For the record, the Nothing Phone 2a is rumored to start at €350 (no US launch in sight for now), and you can tell a good chunk of the budget has gone into the look of the phone. The attractive (glass) back aside, the display (which includes symmetrical display borders) makes the Phone 2a look every bit as good as the $1,000 Galaxy S24+.

That’s a very unusual, and different approach to making an affordable phone. To give you some context, the Pixel 7a looks OK for a $400-500 Pixel, while the Galaxy A54 looks more like a 2020 mid-range phone - of course, only trumped by the iPhone SE, which belongs in a whole different era.

That being said, while the $600 Nothing Phone 2a sits comfortably below the likes of the $1,000 Galaxy S24+ and Pixel 8 Pro in terms of price, the Nothing Phone 2a… won’t find itself in the same circumstances in the mid-range segment, which is arguably the most abundant and competitive one there is.

In turn, this means the Phone 2a must deliver in other ways too. But can it get the right balance?

Bad or badass? The “Panda” Nothing Phone 2a almost makes me forget about the lack of some “essential” features

I must preface this by saying I’m working with leaks/rumors, as well as some specs already confirmed by Nothing, but here’s more or less what you can expect from the Nothing Phone 2a:

  • 6.7-inch 120Hz OLED display, glass back
  • Dimensity 7200 Pro SoC
  • 50MP primary camera with OIS, 50MP ultra-wide, 32MP front cam
  • 4920mAh battery (45W wired charging)
  • Android 14, Nothing OS 2.5
  • In-display fingerprint reader
  • Stereo speakers
  • €350-400 starting price

To be perfectly fair, this spec sheet looks fine considering the rumored price of the phone. However, there are a few things to consider:

  • Nothing says the Dimensity 7200 Pro is a custom SoC built by MediaTek for the Phone 2a but we’ve already seen this “trick” before, when the Nothing Phone 1 featured a custom Snapdragon 778+, which turned out to be extremely similar to the standard 778 - in other words, don’t expect the Phone 2a to win any benchmark battles or fly through games

  • No wireless charging expected - you’re either OK with this or not (for example, I don’t use wireless charging)

  • No official water/dust resistance rating expected - although, I feel like it might include a basic IP53/54 rating, which is good enough for rain showers

  • Potentially, a plastic frame, which is what the frame in the official renders looks like; the use of plastic isn’t uncommon for phones in this price range but it’d be somewhat surprising given Nothing’s overall focus on premium design

  • For how flagship-y it looks on photos, it’s quite unlikely the display in the Phone 2a won’t be one of the brightest out there (which is fine as long as it’s visible outdoors)

The design-centric Nothing Phone 2a could’ve been the mid-range phone to beat in 2024 but it’ll choke on “A” tasty Pixel sandwich

Looking at the potential pros and cons of the Nothing Phone 2a’s design and spec sheet, there’s one particular detail that stands out to me, and this is the processor Nothing has chosen.

The rumored Nothing Phone 2a will be facing the competition of the Pixel 7a and Tensor G2, which score 20-40% higher than the standard MediaTek 7200 depending on which benchmark you’re looking at. Google’s GPU is particularly more capable, scoring nearly 60% higher.

To be clear, MediaTek chips are now far more reliable than they used to be, and I do believe you can trust Nothing to optimize the Phone 2a’s software to run as smoothly as possible - something we’ve seen with the Phone 1 and Phone 2.

However, this doesn’t change the fact that Google’s phone will have a higher ceiling, which should help it stay faster for longer, even two Android versions later. Not to mention, Tensor G2 might be better fitted for some of the AI features Google will eventually bring to Pixel 7a.

Another area where the SoC plays a huge role (which many forget) is the camera. In fact, Tensor G2 and Google’s computational photography are what enable the Pixel 7a to compete with flagship phones in terms of photo/video quality - despite the weaker sensors. And I hope I won’t be right, but I doubt the MediaTek 7200 Pro-powered Phone 2a will be able to compete with the Pixel 7a in this area.

The discounted Pixel 7a and upcoming Pixel 8a are the worst sandwich Nothing could hope for

In the end, the discounted Pixel 7a (which can be found for as low as $350, which is how much the Phone 2a should cost) will be a tall bump in the way of the Nothing Phone 2a, and even if I like the design of Nothing’s mid-ranger about a million times more.

Of course, the Phone 2a fights back with a far more premium design and a larger battery, which (paired with the efficient SoC) must give you noticeably better endurance than the Pixel 7a, which is very mediocre in that area.

But then comes the second part of the Google sandwich - the upcoming Pixel 8a, which should be even faster, better looking, and “more AI” than the Pixel 7a. Of course, there’s a while until the Pixel 8a becomes official (probably late summer), but it’s still a threat.

Honestly, despite all of that, I believe the Nothing Phone 2a could make a good case for itself - mostly because it looks incredible, and should have a stronger battery than the Pixel 7a. Would this be enough to attract you? Leave a comment!

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