The Nothing Phone’s fair price, ambitious design and incredible price-to-performance ratio make it one of the most appealing devices I’ve used in a long time.
The phone isn’t officially available in Canada, but with Nothing’s recent launch of a U.S. beta test, there’s hope it might soon be available here. If you manage to import one, I can confirm it worked well on Bell’s and Telus’ networks in Ontario.
How it felt to use
The model Nothing sent us features 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, and while it isn’t the top spec, it felt good to use and, in most cases, is snappy enough. What is immediately noticeable is the Nothing Phone’s great size-to-weight ratio. At 193.5g, it clocks in at slightly lighter than the iPhone 14 Plus (203g) with a very similar in-hand feel. I found it a pretty appealing screen for watching videos or reading social media feeds on the couch, but it was big in my pocket.
For its price, there’s nothing out there like it. The company is smartly giving everything it’s got with its first phone to make a good impression, and it’s working. Coming from the mind of Carl Pei, it’s not surprising that the Nothing Phone is running the same playbook as OnePlus. It’s a good strategy, and if Google weren’t constantly discounting the Pixel 7, it would likely be the best deal in phones.
The metal sides are premium, the design is stellar (if you’re into sci-fi), and there’s a capable chipset under the hood. The phone also has good haptics, which can be hit-and-miss in the mid-range space, so it’s nice to see here.
The other standout feature is the Glyph light, which is fun to use and cool to show off, but beyond being a notification light, there isn’t much to do with it in normal use. It’s the first thing people noticed in many cases, so it helps the phone make a splash in a crowded phone market. It can also be used as a sizable flashlight for videos, and it’s fun to customize to give contacts special light patterns, but at the end of the day, I don’t like putting phones face down since it runs a risk of getting a scratch on the screen.
A phone built with the right tradeoffs?
My main pain points with the phone stem from a few personal issues and the fact that Nothing is a new entry into the handset market. For instance, the Nothing Launcher is super minimal to the point where the Nothing (1) feels like a Pixel with a custom weather app. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but temper your expectations accordingly.
Other design inconsistencies include the device’s use of greys throughout. For instance, the Nothing widgets in dark mode are dark grey, while the folders and other dark aspects of Android are light grey. As a design nerd, I was hoping small visual issues like this wouldn’t be a problem, but instead, it still feels a little fractured. It’s not bad since it’s basically the same great-looking version of Android as Pixel phones, but don’t expect the software to match the cyber-punk aesthetic of the hardware without a lot of modding.
The other issue several other reviewers have already touched on is the Nothing Phone’s camera. Under perfect lighting conditions scenarios, it’s great, but as with other phones in this price range, it’s slower than the flagships I’m used to. With this in mind, catching fast-moving subjects like cars and people walking can be a problem in auto mode. As a photographer, I enjoy the colour science, which is a nice base for editing, and the fact that the video has a fun red light on the rear to show people when you’re recording like a real camera is a fun touch. The video mode also seemed decent in the few instances I tried it.
The last thing I wish the Nothing (1) featured was some level of water resistance. Since many phones sport at least IP67 in 2023, this isn’t a piece of mind I like sacrificing.
Where that leaves me
After walking away from the Nothing Phone 1, I miss it. The phone felt like it was made for me. The size and design are perfect, and my love for Teenage Engineering makes the design side of me drool over this device. The reviewer inside of me feels really happy with the price/performance ratio of this phone. If I were a gamer, maybe I’d be tempted to get the 12GB RAM model, but for me and my standard social media habits, the 8GB version works just fine.
If you can get your hands on a Nothing Phone and you don’t think you’ll need to ride it for more than two years, then I think this is a stellar device. If you do want to buy a phone to invest three years or more into, then the Pixel 7 still feels like a safer choice if you can get it on sale.
Regardless, I know I’m waiting for this phone to become available in Canada because our market is ripe for disruption from a new contender. I also hope that the next Nothing phone can build on this aggressive ‘style and substance’ approach and not give in and chase the flagship crown like OnePlus did years ago.