Nothing Phone (1) Australia review: Tough competition for the 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 tech world the past few months.

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

Based in London, Nothing has quite the backing, including an iPod inventor, Twitch co-founder, Reddit CEO and a big YouTuber and the launch of its first phone has certainly caused a lot of hype.

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How do I get it and what will it cost?

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

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

Who is it good for?

Nothing aims to provide “tech that just works,” which was the early philosophy of a certain fruity tech company.

The company has already released its own wireless earbuds called Ear 1 with a very striking see-through design language. Its smartphone follows the same direction with a transparent back, and a familiar design – more on that soon.

Phone 1 is certainly a tech enthusiast’s product. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t read the latest tech news to know about this smartphone. Therefore, if you love trying out the latest gadgets and want something a little different – Phone 1 is right up your alley.

The entire phone is well-rounded and offers a sprinkling of familiarity and innovation with its Glyph lighting back. Overall, it’s a practical choice, rather than something that has top-tier specs – and that could be part of the appeal for Nothing Phone 1.

How does it work?

There was a common conversation happening between friends and work colleagues while using Phone 1. They’d never heard of the Nothing brand, let alone the Phone 1 – yet they were intrigued by this “new iPhone”.

Yes, the design is extremely familiar to an iPhone 12 or 13 and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing considering Apple make some of the best products around.

However, Nothing’s design also has some different elements that tend to improve on what Apple offers. The phone is more comfortable in the hand due to slightly smoothed edges, there is no big cutout at the top of the display, and the back is unlike anything that we’ve seen from a smartphone before, with what Nothing call the Glyph interface.

The back is covered in Gorilla Glass 5, however is a fingerprint magnet – especially on the black version. White may be the better option if this is something that would trouble you.

The conversation starter here is that Glyph lighting system, which is a series of 900 white LEDs that cover the back of the phone. These run around two camera lenses, the wireless charging coil and towards the USB-C charging port – which creatively doubles as a battery indicator.

There are multiple glyph patterns that can be customized according to different contacts – for phone calls – but there are currently no options to personalize these for individual app notifications. The LEDs can also be activated to provide an almost ring lighting effect for photos and video.

Nothing Phone 1 has a 6.55-inch OLED display with 120Hz high refresh rate and compatibility with HDR10+. A single hole sits to the top-left of the display 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 bracket. 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 the settings.

A dynamic high refresh and touch sampling rate makes Phone 1 look and feel very responsive, and the software – while pretty basic – keeps things close to stock Android. While on the software side, nothing promises three years of Android update 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 this works very well, which is pleasing for a device that costs under $800. But the less secure face unlock method is a mixed bag and is inconsistent at best.

Haptics on Phone 1 is also something to note. For some reason, when on silent it’s very loud. It has a mechanical whirring sound rather than a simple silent vibration, and this could be a turn-off for most people. I’ve also turned off vibration when typing because it was more an annoyance 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. It handles multitasking, casual gaming and multimedia content easily. The real test will be how this chip holds up over time with feature and operating system updates, as well as security patches.

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

The main 50MP sensor (Sony IMX766) offers some sharp, bright and punchy photos but can struggle when there is movement. The 50MP ultrawide (Samsung JN1) tends to be a little soft when pixel peeping. While this is good enough for social media posting, it doesn’t match the likes of Google’s latest Pixel 6a – which comes in at the same price point but offers up much better photos.

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

Phone 1 has dual stereo speakers, however they aren’t exactly balanced, with the bottom-firing speaker louder than the earpiece speaker. While the clarity is good, they don’t have a lot of bass.

In terms of battery life, while it’s very subjective on how different people use their devices, I have been impressed with how Nothing Phone 1 has been performing from almost two weeks of use. It’s definitely not class-leading, but almost six hours of screen time is acceptable to me. You won’t get through more than a single day, though. Standby time is quite good too, and you won’t lose as much juice as more expensive devices.

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

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

What we think

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

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

While the camera isn’t the strongest, it can take some good photos with the main lens, and that’s more than good enough for sharing with family and friends across social media. But if you want to start creating framed prints, you’ll start to notice what is lacking.

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

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

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