Nothing Phone (1): Don't expect 'spoil market' configurations for the price

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Specifications-wise, the Nothing Phone (1) isn't particularly outstanding; but you'd have guessed as much anyway, so what makes it tick?

In a nutshell, this mid-range phone is still able to walk the price-performance tightrope despite devoting so much time to aesthetics.

Aesthetics

Inevitably, it's the main thing that we all talk about.

We all know that the transparent rear is THE talking point, along with the eye-catching Glyph notification system. Nothing makes it a point to talk up the phone's design pedigree, pointing out nods to Massimo Vignelli's classic subway system signage in the exposed rear.

The White version is no doubt the designated show stealer of the two colours, but the lack of details on the materials (i.e. texture) when viewed close-up doesn't sell the high-end vibe-in my opinion anyway.

For this reason, I gravitated towards black, which gave it a slightly industrial look. You don't need expensive materials to look edgy.

Do note that the Glyph does look different on black and white backgrounds; white for a subtle look and black offers a monochrome contrast.

Overall, Nothing generally did a good job of creating an eye-catching phone with a decent finish.

And more so than that, it's a very comfortable phone to hold. It's not a small phone by any means with its 6.55" display but all 194g of its weight is well-distributed.

The iPhone 4-esque design also helps it feel secure in your hands.

Can't beat a classic: flat is in and it looks better than ever these days.
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Glyphs

The Glyphs are pretty cool in their own right but ultimately it requires you to buy into their philosophy.

The notification lights are conspicuously attention-grabbing without being distractingly annoying.

But you will need to memorise the patterns and the ringtone to know exactly who is calling you, for example.

I suppose it's helpful for people who are very private and prefer to place their phones face down and don't want to clue anyone in on who's calling and whom they choose to answer the phone.

Sorry, I tried, but I really don't see the point in using it. But I suppose what I can say is that the system works and it's cool that way.

You need to buy into it and it's just not for everybody.

System-on-a-chip (SoC)

The Nothing Phone (1) features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+ chipset that is customised to enable wireless charging (and reverse charging).

You typically don't get a Snapdragon in this price bracket and it's far more likely you'll see a Dimensity SoC.

In terms of performance, the Snapdragon 778G+ is pretty close to the Google Tensor found in the Pixel 6a, although the Tensor fundamentally is different.

Either way, you're not likely to see any slowdowns unless you're editing video or playing visually demanding games like Genshin Impact turned up to near-maximum settings.

Everyday use

Despite the modest hardware, Nothing Phone (1) gives you precious little to whine about.
PHOTO: Potions.sg

If you are into having a distinctive design language across bespoke widgets, fonts, sounds and wallpapers, Nothing certainly has that well-covered-they certainly didn't hire a fresh design school graduate, that's for certain.

For some reason, the Nothing Phone (1) is a pretty snappy Android phone even though it doesn't have a flagship processor in it, and this is perhaps its most endearing quality for the price.

It feels a lot like a Google Pixel in terms of how lean the software is.

In some ways, I find it smoother than the Pixel 6a, but that subjective view is somewhat muddied by the fact that this has a display with a 120Hz refresh rate.

I really do like using this as an everyday phone.

Multimedia capabilities

The 6.55" OLED display supports HDR10+ as well as a 120Hz refresh rate; the brightness is adequate as well.

The Dirac-tuned speakers sound pretty loud and clear and are quite impressive in terms of clarity, although it must be said there's almost no bass to speak of.

All the same, Phone (1) is quite nice if you love watching videos on your phone. And with the 240Hz touch polling panel, it doubles up as a decent enough phone for gaming.

Cameras

Panned at launch, the camera is now pretty dependable (resized).
PHOTO: Potions.sg

The Phone (1) is equipped with a 50MP (Sony IMX766) wide-angle main camera and a 50MP (Samsung JN1) ultra-wide angle camera (with 4cm macro), along with a 16MP (Sony IMX471) camera at the front.

For a mid-range phone, it sounds like a decent lineup.

At launch, Nothing's main camera felt quite underwhelming but things have improved tremendously since then. I can dare say now that the image quality is reasonably good - it's an IMX766 sensor after all.

You get a fair bit of detail thanks to the high megapixel count, which is a real treat.

At night, it tends to be overly aggressive in trying to bring up the highlights to the point of exaggeration, which arguably can be a matter of taste.

The wide-angle camera is nothing to shout about, however, but the macro shots look decent.

One glaring limitation is that you can only shoot 4K videos at 30fps and 1080p at 60fps with HDR turned on.

Granted, it's not a big problem in most use cases but it feels a little underwhelming when the competition has this as standard.

Quality-wise, there's little to complain about as the content is generally passable and the video stabilisation works well enough.

Nothing brightens up night shots considerably, and the images still look relatively clean. 
PHOTO: Potions.sg

Battery life

All-day battery life is no problem here, and I easily made it through the next day in some instances, and it's generally ahead of the Pixel 6a in this case.

Charging isn't quite as speedy as you would expect from a phone that flatters to deceive for the most part. Perhaps that's the upside of using an SoC that isn't a Hungry Hungry Hippo (boomer reference for those who remember).

Furthermore, you won't find many phones at $750 that offer both wireless and reverse charging.

Ultimately, the Nothing Phone (1) isn't really handicapped by a less-than-fashionable processor for its class.

Sure, it's not a phone for users that love to push limits, be it via video editing or gaming, but it's really enjoyable everywhere else.

The Glyphs are its most noticeable misstep if you can call it that, but otherwise, I'd recommend the phone for those who want a capable, minimalist phone that won't break the bank.

The Nothing Phone (1) is available in 8GB/128GB ($769), 8GB/256GB ($869), and 12GB/256GB ($949). There are two colours, black and white, though the 8G/128GB model is only available in black. The 8GB/256GB model looks like the sweet spot.

ALSO READ: Google Pixel 6a review: Finely-balanced suite of performance and affordability

This article was first published in Potions.sg.