Nothing Phone 1 Review 1 Month Later: Not Perfect, But Still A Head-Turner

Nothing Phone 1 Review 1 Month Later: Not Perfect, But Still A Head-Turner

It has so far been the most talked about phone of the year. By quite some distance. And that is after factoring in the efforts of the hype machines around high-profile launches from established brands. Call it clever or over the top, what one cannot deny is that OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei got the tech world buzzing about the first phone from his new venture, Nothing, in a manner that has been unmatched for a while. Right from the announcement that Nothing would be making a phone to carefully controlled “leaks” about its design and its interface to its launch, Pei gave the tech world a masterclass on how to not just get your product in the spotlight, but to park it there for months.

As a result, the Nothing Phone 1 was being talked about months before its release. And when it was formally launched in mid-July, it was very much the talk of tech town for a while. It polarised opinions, with some hailing the device as revolutionary and praising its performance, while others called it overpriced and raised quality control issues. Even as all this was happening, the phone got a number of software updates and even a price rise. 

More than a month has passed since the Nothing Phone 1 officially came into our lives. And after all the build-up, and the hoopla around the launch, reality has finally checked into the Nothing building, even as hype takes a well-deserved vacation. This then is perhaps the best time to evaluate what the first phone from Nothing is really like. 

Still turns heads like Nothing else

One of the biggest attractions of the Phone 1 was its back panel, which was not only semi-transparent but also home to 900 LEDs that lit up in different patterns to indicate notifications from different people and events, which Nothing called the Glyph Interface. More than a month after we started using the Phone 1, those LED lights on the back panel still get a fair bit of attention, although their novelty is beginning to wear off a little now. 

In fact, there are times when all those blinking lights can be a little distracting when you are working. But make no mistake about it, this is a phone that still turns heads, and the LEDs have a lot to do with it. We have the White model, but the LEDs look way more spectacular on the Black one. 

One thing that we have definitely discovered is that the Phone 1 needs a case — this is a phone that runs the risk of taking damage no matter whether it lands on its face or on its back. And in both cases, you risk losing functionality. Cases remain in short supply and are of the transparent plastic-type, which is a bit of a pity as it limits just how much you can change the appearance of the device. But in terms of design and appearance, the Nothing Phone 1 still looks like nothing else out there. It is not the slimmest or most sleek phone we have ever seen, and our hearts stop whenever it slips out of our hands or gets bumped, but it will get you stares — especially when that back panel starts blinking.  

A steady performer with those ‘Never Settling’ feels and updates (including a ‘dope’ update)

There is a saying about phones from OnePlus, a brand that was co-founded by Carl Pei: judge a OnePlus phone only a few weeks after its release. In that period of time, the phone would have received a number of updates, which would have fixed a number of issues and bugs and would have also improved performance, especially in the camera department. Well, we can safely extend the same saying to the phone from Pei’s new venture as well.

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The Nothing Phone 1 was not marketed as a record-setting, benchmark-busting performer but as a device that would be more than enough for all your day-to-day tasks and even the odd bit of heavy-duty gaming. 

The phone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 778+ processor, with 8GB and 12GB RAM variants, and while it is not a good choice for playing Genshin Impact or Call of Duty: Mobile with maxed-out settings, it sails through tasks like browsing social networks and the Web, emails, messaging, and watching videos and shows, without any hitches at all. 

There were some issues with the display and sound quality initially, but Nothing has largely fixed them with software updates. We still do not think that the 6.55-inch AMOLED display is the best at this price point, but it is definitely among the better ones, and the sound over stereo speakers is now impressively loud with no distortion. 

For the record, we are not sure the ‘folding’ of the display to ensure consistently slim bezels around it makes that much of a difference. 

Software updates have come to the Phone 1’s aid in the camera department too. The Phone 1’s dual 50-megapixel cameras were a little inconsistent and often produced slightly washed-out colours, but a few updates, including the latest one (which Pei called a ‘dope update’) have improved its performance considerably. 

Again, we would not place the cameras as among the best in their price segment, but they are not too far behind either. Battery life too has received a boost and the 4,500mAh now comfortably goes past a day following the updates, which have also eased out some of the bugs that initially plagued the Glyph UI interface on the back of the phone.

We must confess to hardly ever having used the phone as a charger, in spite of the presence of reverse wireless charging. In fact, we wonder if it would have been better to have included a charger in the box at the cost of keeping out wireless charging from the device — we used conventional chargers to top up the battery of the Phone 1 more often than wireless ones. 

The phone runs on Nothing OS, which is very close to stock Android and has no bloatware. The experience of using it is a little too plain at times, but its smoothness and uncluttered nature matched that of stock Android on the Pixel 6a. Yes, there were a few bugs there too, but they seem to have been fixed with a few software updates.

So many updates are good, right? Or are they?

The Nothing Phone 1 has received four updates since its release at the time of writing — Nothing  OS 1.0.2, Nothing OS 1.1.0, Nothing OS 1.1.2, and Nothing OS 1.1.3. The phone has been updated to the July 2022 Android security patch. Depending on your perspective, this either shows the brand’s determination to improve the phone’s performance or its tendency to ignore bugs in earlier versions. 

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We think the truth is somewhere in the middle — Nothing is incredibly quick with software updates to iron out rough spots but is not quite as adept as spotting the rough spots themselves. Shades of that “Never Settling” company Pei was associated with not so long ago. 

In terms of performance, we would say that the Nothing Phone 1 has actually improved since we started using it. There is still the odd glitch, especially on the Glyph UI on the back which sometimes can do odd things, and you will encounter a few lags now and then if you push the phone into very extensive Genshin Impact sessions, but all in all, the Phone 1 does more than enough to be a daily driver for most of us.

It is a bit like the bestselling Redmi Note series in that it does everything well rather than excelling in one or two departments. And if you encounter a problem, there is a fair chance that a software update will fix it in the coming days. It will be interesting to see if this “update momentum” lasts beyond the first few months of the device’s existence — a lot of brands lose their enthusiasm in the long run, but then most brands have multiple phones in their portfolio, while Nothing still has just one. Which is reminiscent again of another One, with a Plus.


Dust and dead pixels: Not all smooth sailing 

But while the performance of the Phone 1 itself has improved in the period since its launch, the same span of time has also seen the device attract a lot of criticism. 

It began with software glitches, which the brand to its credit remedied swiftly with updates and patches. However, there have also been complaints about dust getting inside the back of the phone and moisture getting into the camera unit, which is surprising considering that the phone comes with IP53 dust and water resistance. Some even found the cameras to be poorly aligned in the camera unit, not what one would expect in a phone marketed for its attention to design detail. 

The display of the device has also attracted its share of controversy, with users alleging green tint, black crush issues, and even dead pixels in some cases. The brand is believed to have responded with replacement units,  but the very presence of such problems has led to murmurs of quality control issues with the phone. 

We have not encountered any such issues with our unit of Phone 1, but have met people who have. 

The frequent release of software patches has only strengthened the belief in some quarters that the brand might perhaps have focused too much on the hype around the product rather than the product itself. 

The fact that Nothing had to concede that the brightness of the display on the phone was capped at 700 nits after having advertised it as 1,200 nits did not help matters. The brand has also had to deal with supply issues with many consumers who had booked the Phone 1 not getting the device on time. 

Price hikes, Android 13 blues, and the perils of hype

Nothing’s decision to increase the price of the Phone 1 citing economic factors such as “fluctuating currency exchange rates and rising component costs” has also not gone down too well with many consumers, who are more accustomed to phone prices dipping rather than rising with the passage of time. Even the ardent followers who have largely stayed loyal to the brand was surprised when Carl Pei announced that the Phone 1 would get a stable Android 13 update only next year.  

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Pei’s hyping up the Phone 1 as a revolutionary and high-quality product has in fact been a bit of a double-edged sword. It did get the brand a lot of attention but it also drove up expectations to an unreal level. Its relatively higher price tag (in terms of processor) also made the audience less forgiving of errors and bugs. 

Most people are ready to oversee the odd blip when they have got something at a bargain price. The Phone 1, however, came with a starting price of Rs 32,999, when devices with similar specs were available for lower prices. This meant that people who encountered any problems with a Nothing Phone 1 were more likely to be vocal about them. 

The brand has also not been nowhere near as vocal in addressing claimed problems about the device as it was in hyping up the device itself, and this has led many to accuse it of being a product that is more about marketing than manufacturing. 

Worth purchasing? Definitely, if you want to be different  

So more than a month after we started using it, our Phone 1 works significantly better than it did when we started using it, especially in the camera department. 

The Glyph UI still makes the phone a great head-turner and conversation starter. Based totally on our experience, we would have no hesitation in recommending it to anyone who wants a phone that looks and works differently. 

Nothing definitely deserves a round of applause for bringing an entirely new element to the smartphone table at a time when both design and usage are increasingly following broadly similar lines. That said, there is no denying that the Phone 1 seems to have its share of issues. 

The brand claims to be working hard to address them and it certainly seems to be swift in the software update department. But until it gets its act together, perhaps choosing the Phone 1 as your primary phone would be an act of valour as much as wisdom. 

The Phone 1 is also not the phone you are looking for if you are mainly seeking a very high level of performance. Devices like the Redmi K50i, the Poco F4, and the iQoo Neo 6 come with far more powerful chips, comparable cameras, and better and faster-charging batteries — they also have chargers and cases in the box, for good measure. 

At Rs 33,999 for the 8GB+128GB storage model, Rs 36,999 for the 8GB+256GB storage variant, and Rs 39,999 for the 12GB+256GB, the Nothing Phone 1 is not your regular value-for-money smartphone. But then, it was not meant to be. 

This is the phone for those who want a different phone experience both in terms of function and form. It is not perfect, but then what is? Even Achilles had that heel.