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The Nothing Phone (1) is a mid-range Android that puts on a hell of a lightshow

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Launched in a trendy East London event space earlier this year by CEO and founder Carl Pei, the Nothing Phone (1) is now available for all to experience first-hand at the challenger brand’s new boutique Soho store.

The Nothing Phone (1) will be on show alongside the Nothing Ear (stick) earphones at Nothing Store Soho, located at 4 Peter Street in one of the city’s most fashionable postcodes. The two-storey space will also host curated collections from Nothing’s partners in the fashion and design world.

We’re impressed with the Nothing Phone (1). It’s a genuinely striking device, festooned in flashing LEDs and finished in a semi-transparent casing – though peel back the ridiculous bravado and hype around the launch and the debut smartphone brushes with cold, boring, inevitable reality.

As anyone should have guessed, behind all of the revolutionary bluster, the Nothing Phone (1) is just a phone. An excellent mid-range Android phone with some unique features and a tantalising price, but still just a phone.

Keep reading to see our full review of one of the weirdest new tech launches we’ve tested in years.

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How we tested

We tested the Nothing Phone (1) in the weeks leading up to the phone’s launch, as well as using the phone regularly ever since. We paid close attention to its standout features and custom Android software, testing the camera in a range of lighting conditions and putting the battery through its paces, using high-drain gaming apps.

(Steve Hogarty/The Independent)

  • Rating: 7/10
  • Dimensions: 159.2mm x 75.8mm x 8.3mm
  • Weight: 193.5g
  • Display: 6.55in OLED, 120Hz
  • CPU: Snapdragon 778G+
  • RAM: 8GB / 12GB
  • Storage: 128GB / 256GB
  • Cameras: 50MP wide, 50MP ultra-wide, 16MP selfie

Nothing founder Carl Pei made a name for himself when he helped launch OnePlus almost a decade ago. The brand is now best known for its premium flagship Android devices, but OnePlus was once a disruptive outsider infamous for producing super-optimised, smartly designed phones costing a fraction of the competition.

As OnePlus phones matured and began to conform to the mainstream mould set by the likes of Xiaomi and Huawei, there was a new opening for a truly interesting entry-level smartphone costing less than £400. Enter the Phone (1), only the second product launch from London-based Nothing, following the launch of its popular Ear (1) wireless earbuds last year (£85.35, Amazon.co.uk).

We’ll start with the Phone (1)’s stand-out feature, which Nothing is calling the glyph interface. The back of the phone is transparent, revealing not only the phone’s apparent innards, but a configuration of segmented white LEDs that can be illuminated in all sorts of ways and in concert with the notifications appearing on the phone.

The largest is a ring light surrounding the wireless charging coil, which hovers above an exclamation mark by the charging port. Around the camera module is a C-shaped indicator. To the right an energetic forward-slash. These lights all ring and flash in tandem with the Nothing Phone (1)’s unique library of notification sounds, a set of snickety-snackety pings and whistles that are utterly unlike the gentle digital chimes of more boring phones.

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(Steve Hogarty/The Independent)

One sounds like a frozen pea being spat into a wine glass. Another sounds like a 1950s robot being startled by a ghost. One sounds like you’re tuning an old radio. When accompanied by the synchronised flashing LEDs, the audio-visual spectacle is a bit like being trapped inside The Cube while Philip Schofield chases you around doing sound effects.

With your phone face down on a table, specific patterns of flashing lights let you tell at a glance whether you’ve got an email or an incoming call, and by assigning patterns to contacts you can (with some practice) tell who’s trying to reach you without touching your phone. Of course, both of these tricks can be achieved on any phone simply by leaving it face up on the table, so you can see the screen.

Nothing Phone (1) display and design

The Nothing Phone (1) has an excellent display, boasting a 6.55in Full HD OLED screen and a 120Hz refresh rate. That’s a smoother display than the identically priced Google Pixel 6a.

The phone has a flat screen, but uses a flexible OLED panel to “tuck” the bottom edge of the display underneath itself, creating extra room along the bottom of the phone. This means the device has evenly thick bezels all around – a small (and expensive) design touch that gives the Nothing Phone (1) a polished and refined appearance and should please perfectionists.

(Steve Hogarty/The Independent)

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The uniformly flat-edge design is reminiscent of the iPhone 12, so much so that you’d easily confuse the Nothing Phone (1) for an Apple device if it weren’t for the wild lightshow happening behind the back glass.

The phone is also super-lightweight and feels secure in the palm, with clear attention paid to the placement of antenna bands and the machining of buttons and speaker grilles. It’s a great looking phone, no matter which side you’re looking at.

Nothing Phone (1) camera

As part of a £349.99 phone, the cameras aren’t here to compete with super high-end flagships, but they’re functional enough thanks to a pair of 50MP sensors. This gives the Nothing Phone (1) great picture quality in daylight and indoors, and decent enough results in low light conditions.

The glyph interface can be used as a makeshift ring light when shooting in portrait mode, and even features a blinking red recording light when filming, just in case you ever find yourself in the early 1990s tracking down a witch in the woods.

Nothing Phone (1) software

Just as OnePlus was on a mission to strip away all of the garbage software so many Android phones come bundled with, the Nothing Phone (1) takes stock Android and streamlines it to within an inch of its life. Unlike the average Samsung phone, which has a litany of Samsung apps alongside almost identical stock Android apps, there’s no duplicated software on Nothing OS.

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(Steve Hogarty/The Independent)

Out of the box the software experience feels squeaky clean and fuss-free, and we like the option to tweak things such as the sizes of icons in the settings tray and of folders on the home screen. The default wallpaper reminds us of our nan’s front door, too, which we appreciate.

Nothing Phone (1) performance

Performance is where the Nothing Phone (1) takes its foot of the gas and reminds you that, beyond its flashy and premium stylings, it’s still a £349.99 mid-range device. The phone is powered by a cheaper and older generation Snapdragon processor and starts with a just-about-adequate 8GB of RAM.

That’s a decent enough specification for most users today – apps open quickly, the phone doesn’t heat up and multitasking isn’t an issue – but in a few years this will be old technology. And as software becomes more demanding, we could notice the Phone (1) slowing down more quickly than a better equipped device.

(Steve Hogarty/The Independent)

Battery life is another weak spot for the Nothing Phone (1). With heavy usage throughout the day – gaming, filming, looking at dogs on TikTok – the phone would run out of juice well before we could make it back to the bedside charger. Charging is quick however, and Android software should be capable of squeezing more efficiency out of hardware as the phone learns and adapts to your usage patterns.

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The Verdict: Nothing Phone (1)

We love a phone that catches attention, and the Nothing Phone (1) does exactly that. Whether it’s sitting on a table and flashing aggressively like an alien spaceship coming in to land, or it’s making sounds like a Yamaha keyboard falling down the stairs, the phone will never fail to elicit a “what the actual hell is that?” from friends, family and concerned bystanders.

But beyond the pomp and hype of the phone’s big launch, and looking past the novelty glyph interface, the Nothing Phone (1) is a perfectly decent mid-range Android phone with a great design and a premium finish. Proof that affordable needn’t mean boring, it’s perhaps the most exciting cheap phone we’ve ever tested.

Buy now £349.99, Amazon.co.uk

Looking for more smartphone options? Check out our Apple iPhone 13 pro and iPhone pro max review

Source: Independent

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