You put a status symbol where my Android phone is supposed to be!

That’s kind of the vibe I get from the Nothing Phone (1), the first smartphone from OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei’s new startup, Nothing. The company made a big splash on the tech landscape last year with the Ear (1) headphones, which flew like hell, but wouldn’t destroy your bank account and didn’t have all the performance benefits you’d get from more expensive headphones like the Beats Fit Pro.

The phone (1) takes a similar route and ends at a similar location. It is primarily a mid-range Android phone. You won’t get top-end performance or specs like you’d get from a Samsung S-series handset with a four-digit price tag. It starts at just £400 (around $475), and if you’re wondering why I started with sterling, it’s because you can’t buy the phone (1) in the US right now. Nothing said that there were no plans to bring the phone to the US or Canada ahead of launch. That said, people in other markets can get one through a retail partner or even special kiosks in London, according to Nothing’s website.

If you can get your hands on one, the phone (1) is definitely one of the coolest phones out there. Whether or not it’s worth buying in a cluttered mid-range Android environment is harder to grasp.

Like a cheap sedan engine in a Ferrari

what’s outside

Reveal everything.
Credit: Molly Flores/Mashable

The first thing anyone will notice about the phone (1) is its see-through back casing, which gives you limited insight into the technical inner workings of the device. Ear (1) did the same. It was extremely endearing to me then, as someone who grew up at the age of clear Game Boys, and it’s still extremely endearing to me now. Being able to see things like the large circular wireless charging coil in the middle pushes all the right buttons for me.

And if you look at it long enough, you’ll see a series of lights scattered around the back that serve to give the phone (1) something that hardly any other phone provides: light-based notifications. It’s what Nothing calls the Glyph interface, which can be customized from the settings menu. There are a bunch of different Light Dance patterns to choose from for phone calls and other notifications, and you can even sync different patterns to different contacts. Heck, you can even have the phone turn on all the lights at once when the camera is open, turning it into what they call a portable ring light.

Nothing Phone (1) with glyph lights on

Can your phone do this?
Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable

The idea here is that you will be able to flip the phone (1) on its face and minimize screen time without compromising your ability to answer calls or respond to important messages. I didn’t have a compatible SIM card (with my stay in the US and all) during my work time, so I can’t comment too much on this feature. But based on swatches in the settings menu, the lights flash a little quickly and can be hard to notice out of the corner of your eye.

Whether or not the Glyph interface is actually useful, it’s at least still pretty cool. I like a phone that looks like tron, directly. It also feels great in the hands, with a sturdy aluminum frame that feels like it could withstand a lot of physical trauma. There’s a power button on the right and volume buttons on the left, making it functionally identical to an iPhone in that regard.

At 6.55-inches, the OLED display is sizable without requiring the use of two hands (at least for me), and the HDR10+-enabled display looks really crisp and fluid, thanks to a variable 120Hz refresh rate. It’s a shame, then, that the performance isn’t quite as smooth.

What’s inside

As far as interior specs go, the phone (1) is a little less flashy than its exterior would indicate:

Those RAM and storage numbers are certainly adequate (I’m not a photographer enough to fill even a 64GB phone), but the mid-range Qualcomm chipset powering the phone (1) was the most disappointing aspect of my time with him. This is an older chipset than the one that powers newer Android flagships like the Moto Edge+ and the Galaxy S22which isn’t terribly surprising given the more affordable price, but it produces somewhat mediocre performance.

Even with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, some activity on the phone (1) just feels right slow. Twitter, in particular, hangs on for milliseconds at a time while just scrolling through my timeline. Just be entertaining. It even takes a few seconds to load my DMs. I haven’t had this issue with other recent Android phones, so I don’t think it’s just a matter of poor Twitter app optimization.

I even ran the phone Geekbenchbenchmarking software to make sure I wasn’t crazy. Sure enough, it came out with a lower performance score not only than the Galaxy S22, but even the Galaxy S21 from two generations ago. I will say that other social apps, like Facebook and Instagram, performed a bit better, and basic things like web browsing and watching YouTube videos were certainly adequate. But nothing really impressed me about how fast the phone (1) does anything.

Nothing Phone (1) lock screen

Nothing about the operating system is pretty, even if it’s a bit bare bones.
Credit: Screenshot: Alex Perry/Mashable

Which is a shame, because I like the philosophy behind Nothing OS, the proprietary fork of Android that Nothing built for this phone. It’s not horribly different from vanilla Android, which is for the best; there’s an almost complete lack of bloatware, so as soon as you get past the basic requirements, you’re in business. No need to spend minutes deleting or sorting manufacturer apps off your home screen. It also has a cool dot matrix font on its home screen widgets, but I couldn’t take advantage of its ability to remote control a Tesla or show NFTs because… I don’t own one Tesla and I sure as hell don’t own any NFTs.

However, one of the potential benefits of running with a less powerful chipset is battery life. I a m impressed with the phone’s longevity (1) on a single charge, which the company rates at around 18 hours. Using it primarily as a social media/web browsing/YouTube device, I was able to get through about 18 hours of use (more or less) before I felt the need to charge again. Whatever it lacks in top speed, it makes up for in gas mileage.

But the camera looks good

We’ve established that the phone (1) looks really sleek, but is just fine as an Android phone. And while there are certainly better cameras out there in this price range, I will say that some aspects of the phone’s 50MP dual-lens setup (1) pleasantly surprised me. Namely, its night mode can really brighten up dark images without eliminating nighttime ambiance. Sometimes software-based night photography can make photos look artificially lit, but in this case, my backyard hammock and grill came out appropriately at night.

hammock at night

It was impossible to see without night mode.
Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable

I won’t even share the non-night mode equivalent as it’s almost entirely black. Same goes for this photo of my grill. The two still carry a nighttime vibe without looking like they have studio lighting draped over them.

Grill at night

Like this.
Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable

There is also a macro lens to get real near things like flowers or, in this case, a feather in a flowerpot.

potted feather

Birds of a feather.
Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable

And when you just need to take regular shots, the default lens also produces sharp, vibrant images.

Bottles on wood

Frankly, superb composition on my part.
Credit: Alex Perry/Mashable

Americans, Ditch FOMO

I can’t offer a full review of a phone that’s not available in the US, but based on extensive hands-on time with the Nothing Phone (1), I’d advise Americans not to feel too torn by his lack of availability here.

To be clear, this is quite an admirable first attempt at a mid-range Android device from a startup with only headphones to its name so far. It has a super fresh look and putting a bunch of flashing lights on the back of a phone adds a cyberpunk vibe that I can really appreciate. I don’t know if these lights are actually useful, but hey, it’s just me. Nothing OS also strips Android down to the bare essentials and brings a nice aesthetic, even if the performance profile is nothing out of the ordinary.

It even has a solid camera system. But the Pixel A-Series telephones, which are available in the US at very nice prices and works great.

Nothing’s first smartphone might be decent, but there doesn’t seem to be much reason for us Yankees to feel FOMO about it.

SEE ALSO:

Nothing’s Ear headphones (1) are buggy but beautiful