Now that the hype train for the Nothing Phone 1 has slowed down a bit, it's time to take a long, hard look behind the light show to find out whether this is indeed a game-changing smartphone in its segment, or whether all the hype was overblown. I've been using the Phone 1 as my primary phone for about a week and I think it's safe to say that most people should be happy with what it offers, especially those who appreciate attention to detail.
The Phone 1 might not have the over-the-top specifications that some of the competition loves bragging about but it's the combination of little things that add up to a good experience. It's not perfect and there are some kinks that require ironing out, which we'll explore in this review.
Nothing Phone 1 price in India
Prices for the Nothing Phone 1 in India start at Rs. 32,999 for 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. For Rs. 35,999, you get double the storage (256GB) with the same amount of RAM, and finally at Rs. 38,999 you get 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. These prices seem fine for the sort of features and specs on offer but keep in mind that the Phone 1 doesn't come with a charger or a case, which are accessories that most of the competition offers.
The Nothing 45W charger is sold separately for Rs. 1,499 and the transparent case also costs the same. The price of the charger is not bad and if you add its cost, the Phone 1 effectively starts at roughly Rs. 34,500. The phone is available in white and black.
Nothing Phone 1 design
We have already gone over the design of the Nothing Phone 1 quite extensively in our first impressions piece but I do want to point out a few things that I really like after using it for a longer period. The Phone 1 is a very comfortable phone to live with, and in a lot of ways, feels like an iPhone 12 or iPhone 13. The completely flat sides, front and back look very industrial, especially for the black variant.
Nothing has used Corning Gorilla Glass 5 for the display and the back panel, and so I didn't observ any scratches on the rear glass during the review period. However, the pre-applied screen protector over the display managed to pick up plenty of scratches on both my review units after just a week of fairly careful use. Unsurprisingly, Nothing will happily sell you a tempered glass screen protector for Rs. 999.
The display on the Nothing Phone 1 is good, but the pre-applied scratch protector isn't
The display of the Nothing Phone 1 is nice, and if you look closely, you'll notice that the borders on all four sides have the same width. Nothing has used a flexible OLED panel which can be folded inwards at the bottom, allowing for the narrow chin, similar to an iPhone. However, not everyone might have favourable things to say about the Phone 1's display. Some early adopters reportedly faced a green tint issue on their screens, while others noticed dead pixels near the selfie camera. Nothing has since acknowledged this and clarified that an upcoming software update should help fix the tinting problem. While defects are not uncommon for a newly launched product (just ask Google), it's definitely not a good look for a startup that's launching its very first smartphone.
I didn't notice any of these display issues on the units sent to me, but I did observe purple fringing when swiping between the toggle switches in the notification shade at low brightness. OLEDs generally tend to struggle transitioning from black to darker greys at low brightness and this is quite apparent on the Phone 1.
It's time to talk about the Glyph Interface. This is Nothing's way of differentiating itself from the competition and I do appreciate the way it has executed this idea. In my opinion, the lights look better on the black variant solely because white LEDs contrast better with the darker aesthetic. I also love the little red LED here for video recording. However, in terms of actual functionality, I haven't gotten any meaningful use out of it yet. Nothing's default ringtones and notification sounds are quirky and the lights flash in sync to the beat of each tone, plus there's very good haptic feedback.
With a back this unique, there's really no mistaking the Nothing Phone 1 for anything else
I can maybe see the Glyph Interface being useful for phone calls – you can have a different light pattern for different people so you know who's calling you just by looking at the lights. But for alerts from apps, there's no way (right now) to bind a glyph to a specific app, so there's no telling if its an important alert or not. Also, if you miss seeing the alert, the lights don't flash a second time which means it might look as though you haven't received any notifications. In fact, Nothing has created a very cool-looking always-on display that I found to be way more functional than the glyph lights.
Besides these main functions, the glyph lights can also be used to check the charging status of the phone and when Google Assistant is triggered. The ‘Flip to Glyph' gesture automatically puts the phone on silent mode and uses just the lights to alert you.
Nothing Phone 1 specifications and software
The Nothing Phone 1 competes in a space that's filled with phones sporting Qualcomm's 800-series SoCs. The Snapdragon 778G+ SoC in the Phone 1 doesn't have the same brute power, but it's by no means a weak chip. It delivers a decent level of grunt and is fairly power efficient too thanks to its 6nm fabrication. Its performance falls somewhere in between the MediaTek Dimensity 1300 and Dimensity 8100 SoCs.
Other noteworthy hardware features of the Nothing Phone 1 include its IP53 rating for dust and water resistance, stereo speakers, in-display fingerprint sensor, and wireless charging. The latter feature really helps the Phone 1 stand out as this is the only current-gen smartphone in this segment to have it. The Phone 1 has a 4,500mAh battery and supports up to 33W wired charging, 15W Qi wireless charging, and 5W reverse wireless charging. The Phone 1 has support for up to 12 5G bands, dual-band Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, NFC, and the usual array of sensors.
Nothing OS on the Phone 1 is based on Android 12. The company has promised a healthy three years of Android updates and four years of security updates. The software is free of any and all bloatware as you only get Google's suite of apps. The Recorder app has been given a retro skin and the design of the camera app has clearly been inspired by iOS, but everything else is pretty much untouched. Nothing OS has some cool animations for locking and unlocking the display, and for when the phone is charging. I quite like the dot-matrix font that's used throughout for menu labels and the always-on display.
My experience with the software was pretty good overall but I did encounter a few random bugs during my review period. There were times when the glyph lights would randomly get disabled and I had to manually re-enable them. The tap-to-wake setting for the display would not work at times, forcing me to press the power button. Auto brightness adjustment was a bit wonky when using the camera app as even under bright daylight, the brightness level would be too low for me to see the viewfinder clearly and manual intervention was needed.
Nothing OS is free of bloatware and only has a few customisations in place
These issues were not persistent and I wasn't able to replicate them. The most recent software update (v1.1.0) dropped just a day before publishing this review, and seems to have fixed most of these bugs.
Nothing has also created a widget to display your NFT collection and has partnered with Flipkart in India to offer ‘Nothing Community Dots' NFTs for all those who pre-ordered the phone. These redeemable tokens are said to unlock special benefits such as early access to new products and offline events. There's an ‘Experimental features' section in the Settings app which currently only has a ‘Connect to Tesla' feature. This is supposed to let you control various functions of a Tesla car without actually needing to install the Tesla app.
Nothing Phone 1 performance and battery life
Apart from these initial software glitches, general performance of the Nothing Phone 1 was very good in my experience. In my week of using it as my primary phone, I didn't face any issues with calls, alerts, or display legibility outdoors. The haptics add a nice premium touch to any interaction, and the 120Hz refresh rate makes everything feel smooth. HDR videos on YouTube looked good but Netflix was not able to detect any HDR capability even after the latest update. The speakers get quite loud and sound decent, but the bottom speaker is audibly more powerful than the earpiece, so the stereo effect is not very balanced.
The Nothing Phone 1 is a good performer and doesn't heat up much when gaming
The Nothing Phone 1 handles games like a champ. Racing titles such as GRID: Autosport and Asphalt 9: Legends ran fine and looked great. More competitive titles such as Apex Legends and Call of Duty: Mobile also ran very well with good touch response and graphics. Framerates remained steady though the Phone 1 got slightly warm after about 20 minutes of gaming without a case. Demanding titles such as Genshin Impact also ran decently well on the mid-range SoC. There's a basic Game Mode feature for blocking calls and alerts while playing.
As for battery life, the Nothing Phone 1 struggled to last a full day when I initially began using it but things got better over time. With medium to light usage which included mostly Slack and browser use along with a few calls, the Phone 1 easily sailed past one full day and lasted for half a day more before I needed to charge it. With gaming and camera use, battery life dropped a bit but I still managed to get nearly a full day's worth of use.
The quickest the Nothing Phone 1 can charge is 33W, which is actually slow going by the competition's ability to charge at 80W and even 120W. If you purchase Nothing's 45W charger or have a compatible USB-PD charger, you should be able to get the battery to 65 percent in half an hour, which is not bad. The phone can also be charged wirelessly with any Qi wireless charger.
Nothing Phone 1 cameras
The Nothing Phone 1 has a good primary camera and decent secondary ones. The 50-megapixel Sony IMX766 sensor of the primary camera is optically stabilised (OIS) and has an aperture of f/1.88. The ultra-wide camera also has a 50-megapixel resolution but it's based on a Samsung JN1 sensor, which as we've seen in our OnePlus 10 Pro review, is not as good as the Sony one. It does have autofocus though, which means macro photos are actually usable. The 16-megapixel selfie camera uses a Sony IMX471 sensor which is decent as long as you give it ample light.
The camera app on the Phone 1 has a simple design and a familiar layout, since it closely resembles the iOS camera app. I'm glad that Nothing hasn't crammed a silly number of shooting modes in, which most of us would probably never use. There are some useful ones such as Timelapse, Panorama, and Expert, in addition to the basic ones such as Portrait and Slow-mo. There's no separate Night shooting mode; instead you can tapping the crescent moon icon in the viewfinder if you need it when shooting stills and videos, including selfies.
Nothing Phone 1 primary camera sample (tap to see full size)
Nothing Phone 1 ultra-wide camera sample (tap to see full size)
The colours from the primary camera were a bit too saturated when I initially began using the Nothing Phone 1, but this improved a bit after two firmware updates. Landscape shots taken in daylight had a good amount of detail and colours had a pleasing warm tone to them. Details were slightly weaker on objects towards the sides of the frame, but you'd have to really go looking to spot this. Close-up photos had excellent detail along with rich and vibrant colours. Reds and greens tended to be a bit too punchy at times but nothing that couldn't be fixed with a quick edit. Shots captured in Portrait mode had good edge detection for both objects and pets.
Nothing Phone 1 camera sample (tap to see full size)
Ultra-wide landscapes in daylight were not as good as those taken with the main camera. The wider perspective was helpful but the colour tone was generally on the cooler side and details were comparatively weaker. Macro photos looked good but the camera app doesn't switch to the macro shooting mode automatically, or even give you a suggestion to do so when you're close enough to your subject.
Nothing Phone 1 low-light photos (tap to see full size)
Photos taken in low light showed a good bump in image quality after the latest update. Colours were true to the scene and objects had a decent level of detail. There was a bit of grain in some parts of images but this was only noticeable after zooming in. Night mode makes a big difference to images as the exposure is infinitely better and there's more detail in the shadow regions. One small side effect of having a brighter image is a little distortion around the edges of objects. but once again, this is only noticeable if you tightly crop the photo. The ultra-wide camera is pretty weak in comparison in low light, even with Night mode. Detail was lacking and photos looked much darker compared to ones taken with the main camera.
Nothing Phone 1 selfie camera samples (tap to see full size)
The front camera did a pretty average job overall of capturing selfies. Exposure was handled well in daylight and skin tones were decent, but low-light photos were quite poor with weak detail and skin tones. Night mode wasn't of much help as it further degraded the quality of the photos.
The Nothing Phone 1 can capture video at up to 4K 30fps with the primary and ultra-wide cameras, while the selfie camera is limited to 1080p. The strange thing is that video captured by the main camera doesn't seem to be optically stabilised when shooting at 4K or even at 1080p, and if it is, this phone doesn't do a very good job. Stabilisation can be toggled on but this is just electronic stabilisation which crops the frame and adds unwanted distortion in footage when you're walking and recording.
The ultra-wide camera also supports 4K video recording but the quality is noticeably weaker. Something else that's missing is the ability to switch between the two rear cameras while recording, at any resolution. Low-light video recorded with the main camera is good, but stabilisation performance needs to improve. Night mode for video is decently effective but is limited to recording at 1080p, and audio tended to get heavily suppressed.
The Nothing Phone 1 does not break any records, but it offers a unique enough set of features to help it stand out
The trouble with having this level of hype around the Nothing Phone 1 is that it automatically sets unrealistic expectations in the mind of the buyer. If you peel all of that away, you're still left with an above-average smartphone that manages to offer enough unique features to stand out. Wireless charging is the one defining feature of the Phone 1 that no other recent offerings in this segment have managed to crack, unless you count the older but still relevant Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G (Review).
Some of the features of the Phone 1 that really stood out to me were its premium build quality, vibrant display, good primary camera, and clean Android experience. The glyph lights are a nice differentiator but I personally didn't get much use out of them. The one thing that needs the most improvement right now is the secondary cameras, especially in low light. Video recording could also benefit from better stabilisation and features.
If you're looking for something specific in your next smartphone, such as the fastest charging or great gaming performance, there are better phones in the sub-Rs. 40,000 segment that fulfil these needs. The Samsung Galaxy A53 5G (Review) is one of the only newer models in this segment to have an IP67 rating, apart from good all-round performance. If you're looking for very good gaming performance, phones such as the Xiaomi 11T Pro (Review) and iQoo 9 SE (Review) would be better picks. The Motorola Edge 20 Pro (Review) should keep photography enthusiasts happy with with its 5X telephoto camera.
All these phones also have better specs and features in one or more areas compared to the Nothing Phone 1. However, if you want a phone that looks completely unique while still having all the essential features, there's nothing quite like the Phone 1 right now.
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