Nothing Phone 1: Hands-on with Glyph Notifications and Nothing OS

From the back, the Nothing Phone 1 is unmistakably different. Even before the light strips light up, it’s quite obvious that it’s not an Apple, Samsung or Motorola cell phone. If the “glyph” flashes to signal a notification or an incoming call, then it’s you definitely know that’s something else. It’s the definition of attention grabbing.

Otherwise, the Phone 1 is awfully familiar. And that’s not really bad.

Before we get into what is Not differently, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: OnePlus. Nothing is Carl Pei’s new company after retiring from the company he co-founded in 2020. With Nothing’s style-first focus, it doesn’t seem like he’s trying to take OnePlus’ flagship specs directly for a cheap one Clone Formula, but it’s not too far off. The Phone 1 has existed in a cloud of nothing-generated hype – no doubt a holdover from OnePlus. It also lacks the typical specs of a true flagship: there’s no Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, telephoto camera, or IP68 water resistance. But the price is right: it starts at £399 (about $475). Sounds kind of familiar.

There’s also a literal elephant in the room – Nothing spokeswoman Melissa Medeiros said some people see the shape of an elephant in the coils and components on the back of the Phone 1. The phone’s unusual back was the focus of Nothing’s early first looks and promotional materials, and features a transparent glass revealing the guts of the phone – painted white or black depending on the model ordered. The elephant isn’t the first thing I would see in this Rorschach test, but once you know where to look, it’s there.

Do you see it?

The strips of light scattered around the back flash in combinations called glyphs, and they’re both functional and decorative. You can assign specific glyphs to individual contacts and app notifications. Glyphs are each paired with their own signature sound, a combination of old-school tech-inspired pings and chirps with quirky names like “Squiggle” and “Isolator.”

By enabling a feature called “Flip to Glyph,” you can turn off notification sounds automatically by placing the phone screen on a flat surface while the glyph-light notifications remain active. You can also turn off the glyph lights entirely, but what’s the point? (The glyph lights are very bright by default, but you can dim them in the settings.)

Everything is lit.

The Phone 1’s homage to retro technology carries through to the operating system, with a dot-matrix font spread across the menu screens and used in some of the preloaded clock and weather widgets. The pre-installed voice recorder app is designed with a nod to analog tape recorders, and the alarm tones are reminiscent of the digital bedside clocks every dad had in the ’80s.

There’s a lot of forward-thinking about Phone 1, too. One of the homescreen widget options — alongside the retro dot-matrix weather widget — is a place to view your NFTs. I don’t have any monkeys and personally find the inclusion a little off-putting, but the widget isn’t enabled by default, and it’s easy enough to pretend it doesn’t exist. The wallpaper options provided by Nothing are also futuristic with a touch of mystery. There’s also system-level integration with Tesla as an experimental feature at launch, allowing access to certain vehicle controls from quick settings without downloading a separate app. You know, for all the Tesla owners out there. I won’t hold my breath for the integration with my Honda Fit.

But with one foot in the past and the other in the future, Phone 1 lands squarely in the present. Outside of those features (some would say gimmicks) and some custom widgets and alarm tones, there’s not much that sets it apart from a number of other recent Android phones. Setting Android 12 to nothing is a light touch, free from unnecessary pre-downloaded apps and duplicate virtual assistants. The phone’s 6.55-inch OLED is comfortable to use and offers smooth scrolling with a 120Hz screen. Its Snapdragon 778 chipset delivers good everyday performance with 12GB of RAM in the version I tested. Overall, it’s a very good, very unobtrusive mid-range Android phone.

Something old, something new.
Photo by Allison Johnson / The Verge

The Phone 1’s camera hardware is also respectable, but not revolutionary. There is a 50-megapixel standard rear camera with an f/1.8 lens and optical stabilization. It’s paired with a 50-megapixel ultrawide camera, and there’s a 16-megapixel selfie camera on the front. Promotional materials from Nothing make a big deal Not including depth or macro sensors to fill out the number of lenses on the back of the camera. Incidentally, OnePlus is notorious for putting such sensors in its phones. As it stands, there’s nothing (ugh) on the Phone 1’s spec sheet or in the first few photos I took to suggest its cameras are remarkably good or bad.

Aside from the very obvious design differences on the back, the phone’s shape and finish look very similar to the newer iPhones. The edges of the aluminum frame are straight and the screen is rounded at the corners. I’ve reached for it more than once, thinking it’s the iPhone 13 Pro Max, which is what I’m using at the moment. If you can’t see the flashing lights on the back, Phone 1 is a very common, familiar-looking device. Without the glyph feature, this phone could have been a launcher.

We’re working on more in-depth testing of the Phone 1, but the first impression it makes is good – if not exactly what Nothing and its hype machine hope to convey. What Phone 1 offers are very good specs for a mid-range phone with a clean user interface and a novel notification system. It doesn’t strike me as the revolutionary device the company is marketing it as. It’s not pure retro nostalgia, and it’s not the phone of the future. That’s okay, because it has a good chance of being an excellent mid-range phone at the moment.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verand

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