Four months and multiple updates on, the Carl Pei-helmed Nothing Phone (1) continues to thrill with its glyph interface. And what is the point of technology if not to make our lives more fun? But how does the Phone (1) stack up performance-wise now — is it still the buttery-smooth experience it was on day one?
Late July, Nothing — the company started by OnePlus Co-Founder Carl Pei — took the world of smartphone by storm by releasing the Phone (1), sporting easily the most innovative design in years, to wide acclaim. Critics, including yours truly, praised its stripped-down, efficient software experience while also applauding its bold design choices — the transparent glass back, the unique and fun glyph interface and the retro-chic systemwide dot matrix font.
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It’s been a few months since then, and Nothing has released a slew of “dot” updates fixing various bugs and making systemwide performance tweaks. There was a rough patch in the middle when Nothing raised the prices of the smartphone by a bit, which attracted criticism from some corners of the internet, but considering that Flipkart has been on a spree of festive sales, the Phone (1) has near constantly been on sale for considerably lower than its current MRP, or even its launch retail price. So that argument is moot. As you read this, the highest-end Nothing Phone (1), featuring 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, is on sale for just over Rs 34,000 on Flipkart.
Now, moving on, how does Phone (1) stack up a few months down the line? It was expectedly a top performer in its price bracket when it first launched, but that’s to be expected of a smartphone in the first couple of weeks. It is always buttery smooth, everything works without a hitch and the overall experience is positive.
The true measure of a phone — especially in the Android world — comes a few months down the line, when the device has had time to collect data residue that will inevitably clog up its plumbing, making it that much slower, laggy, choppy, et al.
The Phone (1), I can confidently report, manages to jump over most of these hurdles. There are a couple of bugs — apps freezing, unexpectedly crashing — that I do not remember experiencing my first go-around, but then again, this is not a deal breaker.
As always, I break up my smartphone reviews into four categories — user experience, battery, cameras, performance. I’ll throw in one extra for the Phone (1) — the ‘it’ factor.
In the four odd months since release, Nothing has released a few software updates — 1.1.7 being the current one — and, cheekily enough, has expanded support to outside its own ecosystem. As of right now, it gives you better support for Apple’s AirPods and even lets you check their battery percentage, albeit as an experimental feature.
Since the initial launch, Nothing has greatly fine-tuned a lot of the phone’s features and added others, such as augmented reality (AR) support.
The 6.55-inch, 120 Hz OLED display is still beautifully crisp, now with the added benefit of HDR that makes streaming supported videos a true pleasure.
Honestly, given that it sports an aluminium frame and comes in at nearly 50 grams lighter than my 240-gram iPhone 14 Pro Max, I’d say I prefer watching videos on the Phone (1), as it’s simply easier on my wrists.
The haptics remain some of the best in the business, nearly rivalling Apple’s, as the motors give you great tactile feedback that makes it feel like you’re interacting with physical buttons, rather than static current off your fingers interacting with the touchscreen. Overall, the user experience is just as smooth as I remember it being the day I unpacked the Phone (1) for the first time, and that’s something I cannot say for many phones that are not named iPhone.
The Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+ chipset is not the most powerful currently, but it’s more than enough to get you through the day. I can’t speak for you, but I stop playing games and stress-testing my phone after the first couple of weeks and just get on with it, and in that respect, I have yet to be let down by the 778G+. To steal a line from Apple’s marketing, “It just works.”
This has been — in my experience — the weakest part of the Phone (1). The 4,500 mAh battery just about lasts me a day, which in itself is not bad, but can definitely do better. Maybe this is something that can be fixed through future software updates. But of course, your mileage may vary. I don’t have to worry about reaching for the charger while getting through the day with moderate-to-heavy usage.
I’ll be honest. I’m not the best photographer around, but I love shooting photographs on my smartphones, and the Nothing Phone (1) always did right by me in that department, as I noted in my original review. However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the company has constantly been tweaking its camera experience, turning the image processing until we are at a stage where the device shoots colour-accurate photographs with plenty of details, thanks to its 50-megapixel primary shooter. The secondary ultrawide lens, which also packs a 50 MP sensor, also holds its own, making this a competitive camera array. The night shots are brilliant, the daylight shots can compete with the best. Where it struggles is in the twilight — show me a smartphone that doesn’t.
With some phones, I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that the camera quality degraded over time, but it’s the opposite with the Nothing Phone (1).
The ‘it’ factor
You know what it is — the unique glyph interface that makes the Phone (1) easily the most identifiable phone out there currently. True, there are some truly great smartphone designs, but they tend to get lost in the crowd. Here, the glyphs — comprising 900 LEDs — on the back do their magic and can be customised by notifications and ringtone. There's even a charging indicator replete with a meter when the Phone (1) is plugged in, and now the meter more accurately represents how much of the battery has been charged. The customisation options are few, but Nothing tells me this was on purpose as they didn’t want to confuse the user with too many options that could ultimately detract from the experience.
And yes, the ringtones are still delightfully quirky, evoking nostalgia for the days of ye olde feature phones with similar-sounding ringtones — remember the original, iconic Nokia ringtone? The Nothing Phone (1) has ringtones that, while yet to become iconic, are just as memorable.
The glyph interface, as it stands, is more gimmick than utility, but who cares? You can’t tell me it’s not fun to look at, and what else is the point of technology if not to make our lives more fun?
The Nothing Phone (1) has improved with age — all of four months — and continues to be a compelling device, especially in its price range. There are few phones that give you value for money and turn heads at the same time, and Nothing Phone (1) does just that — I’ve yet to get bored of it.
And with the company promising Android 13 in 2023, who knows what else is in store for us? You can count on one thing, though. I’ll be back with a long-term review in a few more months.