Nothing Phone (2) - Six month review

A Review in Technology - 05/03/2024

  • £632.58 (with case)
  • online
I've never been one to spend money and resources on buying the latest and greatest phone year after year with the only actual noticeable difference being the +1 they add to the model name, and I've never understood people queueing outside the Apple Store to get their device with 1000 million megapixel cameras and 400TB of RAM to just take pictures of themselves with their balls out in front of a dirty mirror. Guess I'm getting old...

Anyway, I've rocked hand-me-down phones (iPhones and then Samsungs) graciously gifted to me by my partner and I'd stick with them until she decided to upgrade which would be every few years or so, and these phones served me well. I don't watch Netflix or YouTube, play games, edit pictures, digitally control heavy machinery, or hack into government networks on my device, so just having something that can mute every call I get, ignore the occasional message, check and disregard emails, and take pictures of my dog or public WiFi passwords suits me fine. But sadly, my last phone, the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, needed to be replaced as the battery would last half a day or so even with my sparse use.

Here comes Nothing

Upon a rare sunny day in Kings Cross, London, I happened upon an arty design store in Coal Drops Yard, a rather hip regeneration of London's history now frequented by people who wear beanie hats that stop 3 inches above their ears and roll up their trousers halfway up their shins in winter then complain to anyone that listens that it's freezing outside. On one of the tables between £1000 glass blobs that were non-practical vases and petrified wooden ring holders that looked to be scooped-up flotsam from a shit beach, were several units of the Nothing Phone (2) on display. I hadn't heard too much of the London-based brand before, much less seen one of their devices, so curiosity twisted my arm and I took one of the units and swiped around.
Coming from the much smaller Samsung, I struggled to wrap my paws around its hefty size comfortably, but apparently the slab's dimensions have been the norm in the digital phone world for a while. Guess I'm getting old...
What hit me initially was the smoothness, the speed, and the unstrikingly striking visuals of their Nothing OS - a reskinned Android OS with no bloatware or preinstalled shite al la Samsung's One UI. Black on black on slate black with the occasional pop of red scrolling around on its adaptive refresh rate was a glimpse into the future for me; again, I was coming from a "Fan Edition" of a Samsung Galaxy S20, and yes, I had to Google what FE stood for as I didn't even know it was an FE version until I got an email back from Amazon's phone trade-in department admonishing me that the device was not a normal S20 as I had indicated, but an S20 FE and therefore reduced my trade-in price by almost 100,000%...

I left that shop like Cillian Murphy's character at the end of Inception - tired from a long day travelling and also with a little seed planted in my head. Unfortunately, that seed grew into a dilemma: the latest flagship Samsung Galaxy S-Whatever with my partner's student discount plus Samsung's trade-in and their own further discounts was almost the same price as the mid-range Nothing Phone (2). I had to mull it over in my smooth brain for a few weeks. Why would I get a Ford Fiesta when I could get a battle-tested rocketship with all the bells and whistles that a flagship phone presents? Well, a change from the norm I suppose. And glyph lights.

Taken on a Samsung Galaxy S20 FE

The phone arrived in its cardboard box wrapped in paper proudly informing me that 53 parts of it were made with sustainable materials. That's all very well, but I don't know how many parts this phone is made from. It could be 1, or it could be 100,000,000,000,000. I'm assuming the latter due to them not going with a percentage as it would probably make for a very tiny number. It also came with a clear plastic SIM card ejector tool and a similarly styled USB C cable. No charging brick in here, which I support, as the amount people must have from when every phone came boxed with them is quite possibly uncountable. I got the phone set up in the usual Android way (by linking my Google account and having everything get imported) and went on customising my phone to as much as my liking that a predefined bunch of components could let me. I had to install some software from Nothing on the Google Play store (there are 2 app stores on Samsung phones, so this was a 50% reduction in app store knowledge context) such as their own icon pack and a few other things I can't remember, nor am I willing to look up.

A slightly widgeted lock screen - Home screen 1 - Another home screen- App drawer

With Nothing OS's flavour of Android, you can add the brand's dot matrix-themed icons onto folders of different shapes and sizes, make app icons massive for some reason, and then have everything in black and white. No more unlocking your phone to a candy-coloured blast of light melting your skin. Although some people seem to dislike not being able to spot their favourite social media app icons from 100 paces away, I much preferred this subdued look. Nothing (the noun, not the brand) was screaming for my attention anymore with Nothing (that brand, not the noun). Widgets can be placed on the lock screen such as pictures, buttons that act upon several settings, a torch, a compass, and other such useless things. The only one I get use from is the weather one, but because I currently live in the UK, I can take a very precise guess that it will be/is/was shitty.


The most stand-out feature of the Nothing Phone (2) is the Glyph Interface. Strips of LED lights adorning the back of the phone in, well, a glyph-like shape. Some might say it's a gimmick, others might say: 'a curious phone case you have there, young fellow', but it's still something different in today's homogenous blend of smartphones. I think Nothing originally banked on app developers to go nuts and integrate the Glyph Interface into their products in some way or another, but the uptake has been 1 app, at least where I reside, and that's Uber using the countdown timer section of the interface to let you know how far away your ride is. But let's face it, everyone will have their phone in their hand looking at the Uber app instead of having their phone face down on a table, so yeah. Quite pointless. But hey, that countdown timer - the Glyph Timer - personally is very handy. You pop in a countdown time, put the phone face down, marvel as the lights do a boot-loading sequence type thing and then the longer of the two top curved LED strips lights up and burns down as it nears the end. I bake bread like the hipsters that frequent Coal Drops Yard (that realisation just hit me. That must be my place. My people...) so having a timer I can glance at from a distance when waiting for my crap loaf to bake is pretty handy. Other things the Glyph Interface is used for are essential notifications where you can mark certain people in WhatsApp or other messaging/calling apps, and any correspondence from them lights up the top diagonal light. All other notifications are a tiny little blip of a flash at the very bottom. Perfect for ignoring harder by not always glancing at your phone whenever anyone messages you, only when somebody branded as important does.
This phone, with its black-and-white aesthetic and Flip to Glyph feature (which rewards you with a retro-cool light cycle and puts your phone on do not disturb), moves you from a phone-face-up to a phone-face-down lifestyle but still lets you know when essential contacts contact or phone calls come though by a simple strip light or a full-on light show of which you can stare at as their emergency passes.


Although the 50MP main and 50MP wide-angle cameras certainly do the job, I've sometimes discovered myself to be somewhat deflated that I can't zoom in on some fanciful subject (my dog) without it looking like crap (using the 12MP default setting, no zoom on the full-fat 50MP). Yes, this is mostly in part due to the post-processing that Nothing does to make up for the lack of focal quality, which seemingly slams up the sharpen slider to 100% making every little detailing (leaves on trees, dog hair, words on a reclaimed tomb) look like a screenshot of a magic mushroom trip - swirly, blurry but artificially sharp, and blending into each other. Also, the current lack of a native gallery took a while for me to ignore. The Phone (2) just uses Google Photos as its only source of image viewing/sorting/editing which means if you don't have a Google Account, you're not going to be able to use that, nor around 90% of the rest of the phone. Then again, if you don't have or want a Google account, then let's face it, you won't be getting an Android.

Still, if you're not using the overly processed digital zoom, then the pictures are not that bad at all. Below is a sample of images taken in different lighting conditions, but let me preface them by saying they were taken with the 12MP default camera setting, then uploaded to Google Photos with the 'space saver' setting, downloaded and resized and compressed again, and then uploaded and possibly compressed even more to this it's not a fair gauge of quality. Then again, none of my reviews are.

I did take a picture, again all compressed to shit like the ones above, side-by-side with a Samsung Galaxy Flip 5 to laugh at the difference between the two, but it slightly shocked me how close they ended up being in comparison. This was taken with the same optical zoom setting, both at 10x.


Finally, the one below was taken with the 50MP setting but still in the default shooting mode.

There's also a pro mode where you can dial in your aperture, ISO, and f-stop to get much better images, but I have an actual camera for that nonsense and a phone is for situations when you can't be bothered to use your 'real' camera. All in all, the post-processing grates me to my very core somewhat, but the pictures are not that bad at all so long as you never ever zoom in on anything. I will try the pro photo mode and manually get the settings to see the difference between that and the 12MP default point-and-shoot settings and update below (I most definitely won't) as I am curious about it.


Even though a burning match lasted longer than the battery life of my previous device, the Nothing Phone (2) started out as comparatively some sort of alien technology with infinite power. But as the weeks wore on, the phone and the adaptive battery setting grew to learn my usage and it worked its magic further. Suddenly, I was getting over 2 days of life before having to charge. The large battery and well-optimised OS just tickle those depletion digits ever so slightly, although, since the latest Nothing OS update, the battery performance has noticeably worsened. A quick glance on the World Wide Web shows that some of us unlucky fools have been experiencing this while others have claimed to have gained more battery life, but I mark these men as liars.

One thing that slightly unnerves me still, is the haptic feedback. After the first few days, I spent a bit of time rooting around the menu to lower the volume of key presses. It turns out it was the sound of the vibration motor within the phone, and with no way of lowering its intensity, I just had to understand that it's now a part of my life. Unlocking the device with your face or using the optical fingerprint is quite rapid and for those that complain that the processor is 'last year's flagship one so it isn't gonna be as fast' need to get out more. It's a phone, not a live TV broadcasting workstation. 

For me, the Nothing Phone (2) and its focus on putting your phone face down and not touching it is exactly what I was after. Speedy fingerprint/face unlock, super smooth UI, retro/Teenage Engineering design of the hardware, and its silly glyph lights all come together to make this phone shine. My gripes with the camera and its lack of a local gallery are among the things I'm still trying to deal with in my own mind, then again, this is the second phone from a new kid on the block who is dealing only with the mid-range and below market. Now, should I have gone with that Samsung Galaxy S23 when I was considering between the two? Probably. But it certainly wouldn't have been as cool.


Lights, mid-range camera, action!