Nothing was founded on a simple premise: phones are boring. This wasn’t always the case, of course. There was a time before the smartphone became a commodity when the tech world waited with bated breath for the latest device from Apple and Samsung.
Ultimately, however, these companies painted themselves into a corner. Phones got too good. For years, new devices have felt incremental, people have started holding onto their phones longer and sales began to plateau and eventually decrease.
In late 2020, Carl Pei announced his exit from OnePlus, the handset company he co-founded in late 2013. He promised the world something new: a tall order in a field that’s felt oversaturated for so long.
Nothing’s first product launched in the summer of 2021. The Ear (1) was straightforward, just as one might expect from a first hardware release. There were tweaks to be ironed out, but they were solid and well priced at $99, while their transparent design with industrial elements established the company’s signature aesthetic.
Phone 1 followed in March of last year to good reviews, ourselves included. They didn’t definitively answer why the world needed another phone company in 2022, but in a category that seems to be controlled by increasingly few players, Nothing’s entry on the scene has been a nice shot in the arm. Sure, the company may be focused on building its own sneaker-style hype cycles around its products, but at the end of the day, it’s the devices themselves that matter the most.
It’s true that the company has a strong team and solid funding (including a healthy $96 million round announced toward the end of last month), but it’s nevertheless impressive how quickly Nothing managed to come to market with strong products. Last year’s Phone (1) was a flag in the sand — a sign of a company looking to breathe a little life into the market. It’s a tall order, of course — especially when most smartphones are built from the same components with the same supplies.
One can only color outside the lines so far in this industry, but Nothing has found some success as an exciting upstart. The firm doesn’t break out specific figures, only saying that it’s thus far sold 1,500,000 combined units across its different lines. We’re not talking anywhere near Samsung or Apple numbers here, but it’s a promising start in a space where the first several products are very much make or break.
Nothing’s Phone (2) aims to outdo its predecessor, in part, by cutting fewer corners. Chief among them is the inclusion of a more premium processor. The Phone (1) was famously powered by a mid-tier Snapdragon 778. Nothing wrong with a mid-tier processor, of course — not everyone needs to pay high shelf prices for the latest and greatest, but the component did belie the company’s positioning of the product as a kind of flagship killer.
In February, Pei told TechCrunch, “We’re going to be using the [Snapdragon] 8 series. Earlier, I said it was going to be a premium device. But we’ve never officially acknowledged whether it’s Qualcomm or MediaTek.” Today the device was revealed to be running on the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, which Qualcomm introduced last May. In December, the chipmaker announced the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2. The line is seemingly due for another refresh, as well, with rumors pointing to a potential reveal around Samsung’s upcoming event.
Nothing is seemingly taking a page out of OnePlus’ book here. It’s not the latest, but the 8+ Gen 1 is still an excellent chip. In fact, a vast majority of potential users almost certainly won’t notice a difference — even among those who are up on such things. Being one or half a generation behind affords the company the ability to price aggressively. With a $599 starting point, the device is priced well below other companies’ flagships.
In the past Pei has seemingly avoided positioning Nothing as a budget device maker. After all, the company clearly sees its products as a fashion statement — a kind of luxury item worthy of limited edition drops. But pricing has been a huge factor in the decline of smartphone sales, with flagships regularly running above $1,000. If you’re looking to distinguish yourself in a difficult economy, price is a good place to start.
Here $599 will get you 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. If you want to spec it out at 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, that will run you an extra $200 — again, still well below flagship prices, and closer to the Pixel 7 Pro’s starting price of $899.
The other top-line upgrade here is the camera. Again, Pei couldn’t help himself, encouraging testers to upload their images to social media prior to today’s official unveiling. The system sports a hefty 32-megapixel front camera, and a pair of 50-megapixel sensors on the rear. The primary sensor is Sony’s Sony IMX890, which can also be found on the OnePlus 11, and various other phones from Oppo and fellow Chinese handset maker, Realme.
You don’t always see device makers touting the sensor number, but it’s clearly important that Nothing lets you know it’s not skimping there.
“Equipped with an advanced 18-bit Image Signal Processor (ISP), Phone (2) has the ability to process camera data up to 4,000 times more than its predecessor, Phone (1),” Nothing writes in a release. “This empowers Phone (2) to leverage cutting-edge algorithms, resulting in incredible levels of accuracy for both photos and videos. Capturing three times more data than before, the new Advanced HDR algorithm takes eight frames with varying exposure levels within the RAW domain of the sensor.”
The system can also shoot 4K video at 60 frames a second with the rear camera and 1080p at the same rate using the front-facing camera.
The display is 6.7 inches — a bit larger than the (1)’s 6.5 inches. Like its predecessor, it supports refresh rates up to 120Hz. The battery, meanwhile, has been bumped from 4500mAh to 4700.
Like the Phone (1), the new model bears more than a passing resemblance to the iPhone from the front. True story: I thought I’d misplaced the Phone (2) for a bit, but it turns out I was mistaking it for an Apple handset while it was sitting on my desk the entire time. Things, of course, get a lot clearer on the other side.
The Glyph Interface was the one thing everyone talked about on the last version. It even inspired some fast-follow knockoffs. It’s back here, with some improvements. There are more LED segments, allowing for further customizations. Design remains the place where Nothing can most clearly distinguish itself from the competition, and the company’s leaning in. There’s also a subtle curve to the rear glass now, which adds a more premium feel.
“The Glyph Interface can now serve as a visual countdown and progress tracker for ride or delivery services,” Nothing notes. “It also offers additional functionalities such as a volume checker and timer. With Essential Glyph Notifications, users can stay focused without missing what matters the most. When receiving a notification from selected contacts or apps, the top-right LED segment will remain on until it has been addressed.”
The phone’s mid-frame, buttons and SIM slot are made from 100% recycled aluminum, while 80% of its plastic parts are recycled/“bio based.” Nothing adds, “Despite incorporating more advanced features and components compared to its predecessor, Phone (2) achieves a 5 kg reduction of CO2, exemplifying Nothing’s ongoing commitment to sustainability across the years.
The aesthetic touches now reach beyond the hardware design, with the addition of Nothing OS 2.0, which sits atop Android 13. The skin adopts a dark, monochromatic language with hints of red and text spelled out in circuit board etched style. Think of it as something akin to a brand specific Material You, with some added flourishes. “Nothing has reimagined home and lock screen utility with widgets so users can access key functions without having to even open their apps,” the company writes. “Nothing OS 2.0 empowers users to customize grid design, widget size, and color themes, while introducing new folder layouts and illustrated covers.”
The handset arrives in both the standard white color and a dark gray in the place of last year’s black. It’s up for preorder today in the U.S., U.K. and the rest of Europe, with general availability on the 17th. Folks in New York City can get their hands on the phone early through a pop-up at 69 Gansevoort St. in Manhattan.