Nothing Phone: a very successful smartphone despite the hysterical tricks

Carl Fay may not be a name known outside of the phone enthusiast community, but he is one of the most interesting entrepreneurs of the last decade. In 2013, he founded the One Plus project in partnership with Pete Law and under the auspices of Oppo, which resulted in a series of devices that are still considered to be the only serious competitors of Samsung and Apple in terms of branding and quality. However, last year he decided to leave his baby after the mother’s company finished taking over him for good and eliminated the independence Fay and his partners enjoyed. He took the opportunity and moved to London where he founded a new venture – Nothing he named – with the mission of recreating the hype of One Plus only without the heavy excess baggage of a conservative Chinese parent company behind him.

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Carl Faye is CEO and co-founder of Nothing

Carl Faye is CEO and co-founder of Nothing

(Photography: Nothing)

The first product the company launched was a pair of headphones – the ear 1 – whose role was to reveal the company’s design statement. This is important because, as we will see later, this is a major part of the brand and its products. The headphones were not the best – but they provided good value for the price. Fei went on to reveal his next product – the Nothing Phone – which can be translated into a Klomphone or Shumedberphone. In itself it is already a strange, clever and problematic name. Why would an entrepreneur call his main product nothing or nothing. But apparently the design, marketing and branding team thought it was very cool, I don’t know about that but it’s definitely unusual and even amusing for a few minutes and mainly leads to the writing of not always successful jokes in this text – so I apologize in advance. So does this clompone have anything to offer? Surprisingly the answer is yes, and nothing.

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All or nothing

(Raphael Kahan)

Design and structure: transparent body reveals almost everything

A product with such unique branding must have a design that corresponds with the statement. And Nothing did go out of their way to produce one. It is not easy to design a unique smartphone these days. The so-called “soap bar” configuration with a device that looks like a piece of soap and its legacy from the first iPhone hasn’t really changed since Steve Jobs introduced it. With the exception of the devices with the foldable screen – which also jealously guard the configuration – there was no real attempt to reinvent the smartphone except at LG, and we know how it ended there (hint: very badly). The public doesn’t really want devices they fear they won’t know how to operate, just like we don’t want a car with a faucet-shaped steering wheel or a round TV. So the people of nothing did something – they simply took the external design of the iPhone but stripped it down – meaning they stuck a transparent glass on the back that reveals the external guts of the device. Don’t get me wrong, this is not the first phone with a transparent back, there were a few of these at Xiaomi for example or at Nubia and Lenovo. But it was always about special or limited series. At Nothing this is the standard, and it is certainly an interesting statement at least visually.

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Reveals everything

(Raphael Kahan)

But beyond visibility, the transparent back also has a role that involves the device’s innovative notification system – glyph – designed to show the user the light, literally. This consists of a series of LEDs that, depending on the caller or alert, produce a pattern of flashing lights. It’s an interesting idea, it even allows you to adjust the blinking patterns for the different contacts or notifications from the apps. But it may seem a little excessive to those who are not looking for unnecessary attention. Beyond the glyph bulbs, you can also spot the wireless charging coil and above it on the left side the camera lenses. When viewed from the front or from the side, the phone (1), as it is officially called, is very reminiscent of an iPhone. The chassis is made of high quality brushed aluminum. The front and back glass are Gorilla 5th generation – it’s strong but not the strongest out there.

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Brushed aluminum chassis

(Raphael Kahan)

The device itself weighs about 193 grams, which is quite a lot for its size. But the assembly quality is excellent. Every detail of his body is designed in such a way that it fits exactly in its place without shifting or rattling. It is a device that transmits premium. Although it is intended to be sold as an intermediate device. Think of a family car that thinks it’s a luxury car. It is also not very thin – 8.3 mm – but it feels good in the hand. While a glass back makes it inherently slippery, because it will probably be covered at some point, maybe even sealed to the chagrin of the built-in light system, it won’t interfere with regular use. For dessert, it is quite sealed and has an IP53 standard – meaning it will handle very well with pouring rain and some dust. But not beyond. All in all the first Clomphone shows a lot of design and thought for originality – but with the exception of the design of the transparent back it still looks like an iPhone. Not that it’s a bad thing, the iPhone is a device with an iconic design. But I would have expected a little more effort in the area of ​​originality. Especially if coolness is one of the main statements of the brand.

Hardware: outdated processor and excellent screen

When a company invests a lot in the design of the product, especially if it is a young company, sometimes there is not much left for its hardware. That is, what makes a phone a smartphone. Let’s start with the good part. the screen. It is an OLED panel with support for the display of up to a billion shades, it has a high-rate refresh mechanism for smooth navigation in the operating interface up to 120 Hz and support for HDR10 Plus for a high-quality display of media content. It’s not the brightest out there – which can be a bit of a problem in daylight – but it’s enough for everyday use in offices, university halls or parties where it’s likely to star. Beyond that, the quality of the display is really excellent, the colors are vibrant and full of life, the resolution is only FHD, but between us it is enough for 95% of the users in the world. Movies or photos are displayed very nicely and if you like to watch videos on YouTube or Netflix on the way to work or school, you will enjoy the quality of the display very much.

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The screen is excellent

(Raphael Kahan)

The least cool part here is the processor – Snapdragon 778G Plus – a year and a half old, which is a long time in smartphone terms. It does do the job, but the device is not as fast as mid-range phones and their competitors have more modern processors. Apps load more slowly, and it takes longer to calculate things. From retouching a photo to playing a game. When questions come up later everything runs smoothly, but it is still relatively slow. In any case, it is not designed for tasks that require advanced calculation capabilities. But mostly for regular everyday use – ie social media, media display and simple phone tasks like running Wise, Spotify or booking an appointment by mail. And this he does well. It is backed by a generous RAM of 8 GB and there is even a version with 12 GB. In terms of storage, there are 128 or 256 gigabytes, while only the latter is currently being brought to Israel. Note that there is no slot for an external memory card.

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The speaker is less

(Raphael Kahan)

In terms of other features, there is nothing very unusual here. There isn’t even the famous One Plus mute button here (which, unfortunately, has also started to disappear from its devices). There is a pair of stereo speakers of reasonable quality, especially in the bass section. The main speaker resides at the bottom of the device and may be blocked if placed in a car cradle or on a desk stand, the secondary speaker built into the earpiece is not loud enough to cover this up. Perhaps Nothing will improve the quality of sound separation in a future update, as currently they are not capable of much more than being used as a speakerphone or playing music with a lot of bass. The 4,500 mAh battery lasts very well. It can easily be used for a day and a half without charging, but the fast charging it boasts is not so – its power is only 33 watts, which is enough to charge half of it in half an hour. There’s also wireless charging here – something you don’t see in many mid-range devices.

Software: Android is almost clean and designed

As with One Plus, here too the smartphone benefits from an almost clean operating interface. Here you will get an Android experience that is closest to Google’s Pixel devices. This is a huge advantage since adapting the interface to the next versions of Android will be very easy and it also makes it possible to launch software and security updates quickly. Let’s see if Nothing can live up to this promise. While the device was with me, it received one such update, so it seems that at least in this respect the company is trying. In terms of the interface itself, there are not many changes compared to the regular Android versions. There are unique settings for the backlight interface, as well as versions of Nothing for the weather and clock apps. The design of the phone’s unique font is reminiscent of pin printers from the 80s – another hipster reference to the glory days that Generation Z would like to experience. Style strange things. For dessert, hipsters have a thing for Tesla, so there is a built-in app that allows you to control all kinds of vehicle settings directly from your phone.

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The glyph interface in action

(Raphael Kahan)

Another thing about the glyph interface, it doesn’t really work as expected, i.e. it’s very bright and it sometimes really bothers the eyes. It is programmed for different lighting patterns that work well with the built-in set of notification sounds. But if you want to add your own ringtone, he didn’t really know how to combine it in a unique way. This means that if you have a unique ringtone for each user, he will not always get his own unique pattern. And even if you do, it is not certain that you will remember the pattern in the letter to identify the caller only by the flashing of the lights afterwards. But other than that the system works well. Android 12 ran fast and if there’s something nice here, it’s the haptic response – that is, the vibration when you press the buttons – it’s really close to what you get on the iPhone, which is quite a compliment. Another compliment? There are no unnecessary apps here, everything is clean and tidy. Here is the basic set of Google apps and that’s it. You will have to add the rest and that is actually good. There is also a built-in recorder that provides quite a few useful features but it cannot be used to record conversations. In short, the user experience of the interface is excellent.

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In the style of the 80s

(Raphael Kahan)

Camera: simple but excellent

The camera is often what differentiates a good device from a great device. I’m glad that Nothing preferred to focus on the important features of a smartphone camera instead of silly and useless gimmicks. Sony’s main sensor offers a resolution of 50 megapixels. This is a sensor that can be found in most Chinese flagship devices and it provides excellent performance. The photos are detailed and have pleasant colors thanks to successful color separation and a photo algorithm that was apparently copied directly from One Plus and Oppo. In any case, the photo application is the same one you will find on BBK devices. But it is quite convenient to use – so why not. The wide angle sensor is from Samsung and also provides a maximum resolution of 50 megapixels. Its image quality is also excellent and the colors come out very natural.

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The camera is really impressive

(Raphael Kahan)

The main strength of the camera in my opinion is in portrait photography. It manages to capture the depth of field in a very successful way and the blurring of the background looks natural just like on a professional camera. It’s really impressive in a device at this price. On the other hand, there is no zoom here – only a digital magnification of up to 2 times that does a good job and does not destroy the image. The 16-megapixel selfie camera, however, is not one of the best I’ve seen, the photos are not very sharp. They are perfectly fine, but I have already seen selfie cameras with better performance even in cheaper devices. Taking a portrait with it also works well but not as well as with the main camera. The night mode here is successful and allows you to shoot in the dark effectively, also thanks to the optical stabilization mechanism (OIS) in the main lens. The video recording quality is good and it is capable of a maximum resolution of 4K at 30 frames per second.

Summary and alternatives: a smartphone less unique than it transmits but very successful for its type

The clompone is sold for about NIS 2,000 in our districts. At this price you won’t get anything in the package except for the device, a cable and a pin to open the SIM tray. But it also supports virtual SIM, so the pin might be unnecessary as well. That’s a lot of money for a device that ends up offering fairly outdated mid-range specs, a unique but not groundbreaking or useful design and trendy-hipster branding. But if you look beyond the cold analysis of its collection of features – the Nothing Phone is equipped with something that many manufacturers try to put into their devices and very few if any succeed. It has an excellent global user experience.

It flows very well, there is almost no situation where we got stuck in something that didn’t work, and the interface responds with lightning speed to every gesture and click. In this respect it is very reminiscent of the iPhone and that is the biggest compliment you can give it. For less than its price, you will find devices such as the Xiaomi 12 Lite, the Realme 9, the Samsung Galaxy A53, or the One Plus Nord 2, which on paper provide (much) more. But I enjoyed using this device more than them despite the technical advantages they offer on paper. The Nothing Phone is very satisfying to use and even if it’s not the most powerful in the neighborhood or the most beautiful, it’s the one they’ll end up going home with after a night out because it’s just more fun and flowing, which is ultimately what most of us are looking for.

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