Hyping a product is fair game. Nothing, the UK smartphone company, has done everything right on that end, and now it's time to see if they'll be able to play that buzz out.
The Nothing Phone (2) – stylised as such – is its latest device and, quite frankly, has generated a lot of hype. Why? Because their pitch is that they want us, the ubiquitous smartphone users, to cut our screen time with light features they call "glyphs".
Arguably, not since the original Google Pixel smartphone in 2016 has a device generated this kind of hype. In India, for instance, pre-orders outran supply, and more than 500 customers lined up for a Nothing Drop, a pre-launch sale for early birds who picked up freebies as a bonus.
Another buzz on this is the fact that it resembles the latest iPhone. If you recreate something from Apple, you will probably attract attention.
That said, it all comes down to what a smartphone can do and if it can do it well. It's time to find out if all that hype is warranted – especially those glyphs. Are they actually useful or just a gimmick?
Why is the Nothing Phone (2) being compared to the iPhone?
The short answer is that it borrows obvious cues from the iPhone's design, the iPhone 12 onwards. The Nothing Phone (2), similar to its predecessor, has flat edges and curved corners. It also shares the same 6.7-inch display found in the Pro Max versions of the iPhone 12, 13 and 14, as well as the iPhone 14 Plus.
The Nothing Phone (2), however, has a transparent back cover that lets you see the casings of its innards and, crucially, those glyphs, which are LEDs spread all over it (more on this later). The rear is also slightly curved from the edges – similar but nowhere near close to the Samsung Galaxy Edge devices – unlike iPhones, which are completely flat.
To be fair, there are other smartphones that have taken cues out of Apple's design playbook, including the Oppo F21S Pro, Redmi 12, Realme C55, LeEco S1 Pro (which really resembles the iPhone 14 Pro Max) and a bunch of other lesser-known models. Some of these even have their own take on Apple's Dynamic Island, the shape-shifting space at the top that shows a variety of information.
Case in point: if you rotate the phone anti-clockwise to use it in landscape, the volume down button goes right into the centre and puts it out of reach of either of your thumbs, meaning you'll have to stretch out a little to press it. Quite inconvenient.
However, this doesn't take away from the fact that the Nothing Phone (2) looks very premium. We like its style and overall build, plus it has a refreshing look compared to the rest of the field that has stuck with the same aesthetic formula.
Why is it being dubbed as a 'flagship killer'?
By definition, a flagship killer is a device that has competitive specifications – not necessarily the highest end – and a lower price, which is capable of competing with the most premium handsets, or flagships, in the market. Think the HTC One and OnePlus when they emerged in the early to mid 2010s.
The Nothing Phone (2) uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chip, which was released last year. Gen 3 is scheduled to come out this year, meaning in its first months the device will be two cycles behind the latest top-end processor. The Samsung Galaxy S23 and Galaxy Z foldables use Gen 2.
It also has only two cameras, yet both have 50MP sensors, which sounds like a good deal. That's compared to the iPhone's three and the top-end Galaxy S23's four.
So the Nothing Phone (2) ticks the box when it comes to not having the latest specs all around. As for the price, it does as well: it'll set you back $599 for the 8GB RAM/256GB storage model, $699 for 12GB/256GB and $799 for 12GB/512GB.
For comparison, both the entry-level iPhone 14 and Galaxy S23 are priced at $799.
To be fair, Nothing itself hasn't explicitly marketed its device as a flagship killer, but given what's being put on the table, some quarters couldn't help but dub it as such, which is reasonable.
Amid all that, the device is blazing fast with no noticeable lag. That's the first sign that you have a good smartphone in your hands.
What are those glyphs?
Now for Nothing's big pitch: those glyphs.
As previously stated, the glyphs are LEDs scattered all over the see-through rear of the device that light up for various reasons, such as to alert you of a call or notification (the former with a matching light dance show), to display a countdown timer, and for use as a torch. If you order food or a taxi, you can also track those using glyphs, and they can also serve as a volume or charging indicator.
When using the camera, you can also use the glyphs as fill light; for video, a red light flashes when you're recording, similar to what we're used to in camcorders.
Nothing says the glyphs are here to help users reduce screen time, which is a noble cause: studies have shown that being glued to devices has been associated with various health risks, including poor sleep, chronic neck and back problems, obesity, and even impaired interpersonal skills.
That being said, it begs the question: how often do you actually peek at the back of your phone?
Probably, the only time you'd do that is when you clean your camera lenses. Other than that, all interaction is done on the actual display. To see the glyphs, the phone must be face-down, which means you need to flip it over when you receive a notification or call.
The glyphs also limit your choice of protective cases. Either you use a clear one, or don't use one at all, or you can't use the glyphs.
The Nothing Phone (2) is reminiscent of the YotaPhone that ran through the mid-2010s, which had a similar mission of reducing screen time by having a second screen on the back that used e-ink, similar to the Amazon Kindle line. But it didn't catch on. The YotaPhone only had three iterations before being discontinued in 2017.
We really get it, and the glyphs add some entertainment value (a dancing Tesla, anyone?), but at the end of the day we may just go ahead and ignore using the glyphs altogether – at least most of their functions.
How good is the camera?
The Nothing Phone (2) sports two cameras, and both have 50MP sensors, which places it on a par with the original, except that its main sensor has been updated to a Sony IMX890, which is typically found in mid-range devices.
Nothing promises the the ability to process up to 4,000 times more camera data than its predecessor, using new algorithms for "incredible levels" of accuracy. Let's see.
The Nothing Phone (2) shines in this department: the photos are well lit, aren't overexposed and feel natural. Granted, you get the usual smudge in lower light, but overall it's done a great job.
We particularly like how detail has been accurately retained, and it is a straight shooter, so to speak, without any gimmicks, which is highly appreciated. Even at night, it doesn't take that long to process a shot, so Nothing seem to have made good on their claims.
How long does the battery last?
We can verify that the device can last a solid day and a half, and that's with good mixed use. In our standard one-hour YouTube-at-full-brightness test, the phone lost only 6 per cent of its battery, which is pretty impressive.
Nothing says the device will fully charge within 55 minutes using a 45W charger – which tops its predecessor's 33W.
However, since we don't have one of those, we tested it with a 30W brick: it charged about three-quarters of the way in an hour before finally settling at max capacity 45 minutes later. Not bad.
It also supports wireless charging, and Nothing claims that using Qi wireless charging with dual support, the device can reach 100 per cent in just 130 minutes.
The Nothing Phone (2) is a solid mid-tier smartphone, and it definitely has the makings of being a flagship killer. You'll get value for your money on all fronts – performance, camera, battery – even though it is more expensive than its predecessor and comparable devices, like the Google Pixel 7a.
The glyphs are a novelty, and you can most likely do without them, but they are a good diversion. Nothing has a very laudable reason for adding them, but ultimately, refraining from extended screen time solely rests on the user. If you feel you're spending too much time on your phone, take a break; there's a whole lot of other things you could be doing.
We're all for competition and choice, and Nothing seems to have provided these things. Kudos to all the hype and interest it has generated – but we're looking for more than just dancing lights.