OPINION: This week we’ve had a lot of buzz around the Trusted Reviews office thanks in large part to the arrival of the Nothing Phone (1).
In case you missed the months of marketing, this is the first smartphone from Nothing, the latest start up from OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei.
The reason it’s caused such a buzz is because Pei, who undeniably had great success with OnePlus in growing it from a small unknown brand into a household name in tech, pulled a lot of the same tricks he used to get people interested in his old company’s early handsets.
Specifically, he put on a black t-shirt and did the best Steve Jobs impression I’ve seen in the past half decade, releasing a series of cryptic promotion “leaks” and using buzzwords like “revolutionary” without revealing any hard details about the phone for months ahead of its launch.
Admittedly, I found the whole circus rather entertaining – especially his use of Jobs’ speech patterns at the phone’s unveiling where he claimed “phones are boring” and that he and his firm “would make them fun” and “interesting” again without saying anything concrete about how – and there’s no denying it seems to have worked.
When he pulled some of the same tricks he did with OnePlus, from limiting the device’s initial availability to select pop ups and a raffle-like early sign up system on Nothing’s site, pre-orders rocketed through the roof. This wave of excitement even broke through to my personal life, with the Nothing Phone (1) being the first handset that’s not a Samsung Galaxy or Apple iPhone that has even gotten my non-tech friends excited enough to send WhatsApp messages asking about it.
But now that our mobile editor Max Parker has finally gotten his hands on the handset, I have to say… I just don’t get it.
Whether it’s the series of late nights I’ve spent looking at deals spreadsheets for Prime Day 2022, or the fact the UK’s currently going through a heatwave that white-walker-like Scots like me are simply not made to survive, I just can’t find anything to get excited about with the Phone (1).
To be clear, I haven’t used it yet. Our review unit is with editor Max Parker. But, as far as I can tell it’s just a bog standard mid-range handset with a fairly heavy new Android skin and a see-through back with LED lights that can be set to play different patterns. There’s no never-before-seen features (gaming phones from the likes of Asus and Black Shark have had pointless RGB lighting for ages), and the parts are all off the shelf. There’s no custom Tensor silicon like the competing Pixel 6a, and looking at the feature list I’m genuinely flummoxed how this is so much more exciting than all the other £399 handsets flooding the market.
This is especially true when I look back at other newcomers to the phone market and the innovations they brought. Let’s take Razer as an example. When it attempted to enter the phone market it at least came with a unique selling point. Specifically, the firm hit the market running releasing the Razer Phone – the first phone I’d ever seen with a high refresh rate screen bespoke made for gaming.
Sure the handset didn’t sell, but at least it was unique. Nowadays there are loads of gaming phones, like the recently launched ROG Phone 6 Pro, which debatably picked up where the Razer Phone left off. Most phones also now have high, sometimes variable refresh rate screens by default, showing the firm was at the very least ahead of its time.
The Nothing Phone by comparison at best reminds me of Wiley Fox’s efforts. For those too young to remember, this was a short lived phone company that made a series of distinctly average phones using off the shelf cobbled together mid-range phone parts. Their only unique selling point was that they were “British”, a fact they thought was enough to drive sales and interest – hurrah…
That’s why, despite the hype, I’m currently finding Nothing to get excited about with the Phone (1). Hopefully this will change when Max Parker finishes reviewing it for us and delivers his definitive verdict – but I’m not holding my breath.