Nothing Phone (1) Australia Review: Stiff Competition for Pixel 6a and ASUS Zenfone 9

Nothing Phone (1) Australia Review: Stiff Competition for Pixel 6a and ASUS Zenfone 9

Nothing is a brand that has been around for less than two years, but has made a lot of noise in the world of technology in recent months.

The company’s founder is Carl Pei, who previously ran OnePlus, a brand famous for its ‘Never Settle’ tagline. Pei left OnePlus in October 2020 to focus on a new hardware business called Nothing.

Based in London, Nothing has all the backing, including an inventor of the iPod, co-founder of Twitch, CEO of Reddit and a huge YouTuber, and the launch of their first phone has certainly caused a lot of buzz.

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How do I get it and how much will it cost?

Nothing Phone 1 is now available in Australia through the official website.

In black and white colorways, the starting price is $749 for the 128GB model.

Who is it good for?

Nothing aims to provide “technology that just works”, which was the initial philosophy of a certain successful technology company.

The company has already released its own wireless earphones called Ear 1 with a striking transparent design language. Its smartphone follows that same direction with a transparent back and a familiar design – more on that soon.

Phone 1 is definitely a product for technology enthusiasts. It would be hard to find someone who doesn’t read the latest tech news to find out about this smartphone. So if you love trying out the latest gadgets and want something a little different, Phone 1 is perfect for you.

The entire phone is complete and offers a touch of familiarity and innovation with its Glyph illuminated back. Overall, it’s a practical option, rather than something that has top-tier specs, and that might be part of the Nothing Phone 1’s appeal.

How does it work?

There was a common conversation between friends and co-workers while using Phone 1. They had never heard of the Nothing brand, let alone Phone 1, but they were intrigued by this “new iPhone”.

Yes, the design is extremely familiar for an iPhone 12 or 13 and that’s not necessarily a bad thing considering Apple makes some of the best products out there.

However, Nothing’s design also has a few different elements that tend to enhance what Apple has to offer. The phone is more comfortable in the hand due to slightly softened edges, there’s no big cutout at the top of the screen, and the back is unlike anything we’ve seen in a smartphone before, with what Nothing calls the Glyph interface.

The back is covered with Gorilla Glass 5, however there is a fingerprint magnet, especially on the black version. White may be the best option if this is something that concerns you.

The talking point here is the Glyph lighting system, which is an array of 900 white LEDs that cover the back of the phone. These run around two camera lenses, the wireless charging coil, and into the USB-C charging port, which creatively doubles as a battery indicator.

There are several glyph patterns that can be customized according to different contacts, for phone calls, but there are currently no options to customize them for individual app notifications. The LEDs can also be activated to provide a near ring lighting effect for photos and videos.

Nothing Phone 1 has a 6.55-inch OLED display with a high refresh rate of 120Hz and HDR10+ support. A single hole is located at the top left of the screen to house the selfie camera.

The screen is decent and can be viewed in direct sunlight, which can be problematic with smartphones in this price range. There are two color profiles that can be selected to suit your tastes, and these can be further tweaked with a color temperature slider in settings.

A high dynamic refresh rate and touch sampling make the Phone 1 look and feel very responsive, and the software, while fairly basic, keeps things close to stock Android. On the software side, Nothing promises three years of Android updates and four years of security updates, which is more than most manufacturers offer in this price segment.

There’s an under-display fingerprint reader and it works very well, which is nice for a device that costs less than $800. But the least secure method of face unlocking is a mixed bag and is inconsistent at best.

The haptics on Phone 1 are also something to watch out for. For some reason, when it’s quiet it’s very loud. It has a mechanical buzz rather than just a quiet vibration, and this might be a turn off for most people. I also turned off vibration when typing because it was more of a nuisance than a pleasure.

When it comes to performance, Phone 1 uses an older Snapdragon 778G+ chip. While it’s definitely a controversial decision, the chip is reliable. Handle multitasking, casual gaming, and multimedia content with ease. The real test will be how this chip holds up over time with feature and OS updates, as well as security patches.

While Nothing has said they wanted to focus on including two great cameras rather than adding lenses you won’t use, there’s a bit of work the company needs to do here.

The 50MP main sensor (Sony IMX766) delivers some sharp, bright and eye-catching photos, but can struggle when there’s movement. The 50MP ultrawide (Samsung JN1) tends to be a bit soft when looking at pixels. While this is good enough for posting on social media, it doesn’t quite match Google’s latest Pixel 6a, which is the same price but offers much better photos.

This is to be expected from a newcomer’s first phone and hopefully some work can be done on these cameras with software updates in the future.

Phone 1 has dual stereo speakers, however they are not exactly balanced, with the bottom speaker being louder than the earpiece speaker. While the clarity is good, they don’t have much bass.

In terms of battery life, while it’s very subjective how different people use their devices, I was impressed with how the Nothing Phone 1 performed over almost two weeks of use. It’s definitely not class leading, but almost six hours of screen time is acceptable to me. However, you will not spend more than one day. Standby time is also pretty good, and you won’t lose as much power as more expensive devices.

There’s fast charging (up to 33W), wireless charging, and reverse wireless charging, all available on the Phone 1.

Finally, it’s worth noting local network connectivity, which can be hit and miss between our top three telcos, especially on new devices from unpopular brands. However, the phone 1 works on Telstra, Optus and Vodafone networks with 5G, VoLTE (HD voice calls) and VoWiFi all working as it should.

What we think

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding Nothing Phone 1, and while it won’t compete with the iPhone 13, Pixel 6, or Galaxy S22, it tends to balance most things out pretty well while keeping the price relatively low.

If you are someone who wants a powerful and feature-rich smartphone, the Phone 1 will not be for you, and you are better off looking at Apple, Samsung, Google and OPPO. However, this will also come at a cost to you.

While the camera isn’t the strongest, you can take good photos with the main lens, and that’s more than enough to share with family and friends on social media. But if you want to start creating framed prints, you’ll start to notice what’s missing.

Nothing Phone 1 is an impressive first release, and it will be exciting to see what comes next for this new brand. But you’re in a tough spot with Google’s tried and tested Pixel 6a being the same price in Australia, and Samsung’s A73 series just a few dollars extra.

Our reviews are always independent of the manufacturer and the first time they will see the review is at the same time that you are reading it.

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