Any new brand in tech has a tough enough time to break into the cut-throat market of mid range smartphones, let alone follow it up with a successor with the same amount of hype and interest. Somehow Nothing has managed to not only hold the interest for its second generation of products, but has also increased its reach to newer territories, thereby garnering a whole new lot of fans.
Nothing Phone (2) review
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The Phone (2) may appear similar to the outgoing model but look closer, or better still, get one in your hands and the difference is instantly tangible. The slightly curved (2.5D) back glass makes all the difference in catapulting it from “trying too hard” to “truly premium” and the see-through body in dark grey is much easier to appreciate this time around. Nothing has undoubtedly gone to great lengths in manufacturing and sourcing suppliers to ensure its vision of making tech fun again rings true every time you pick up one of their devices and the Phone (2) is its most accomplished piece of engineering yet.
From the symmetrical bezels all around to the aluminium frame and even the transparent termination on the USB-C cable and SIM-ejector tool, it reeks of an entire design philosophy rather than just a one-off flash in the pan. The exposed screws, the neatly packaged internals, the minimal branding and most of all, the Nothing OS itself ensures that for an Android device, it feels like the most cohesive and homogenous phone yet.
But there’s more to it than just a see-through dress to invoke a second look. The screen has grown marginally without adding to width, thanks to slimmer bezels and a 6.7in AMOLED display that uses LTPO tech to throttle refresh rates between 1-120Hz. With HDR10+ support and peak brightness rated at 1600nits, it certainly has the chops to keep up with the big boys costing twice as much. Colours are accurate with deep immersion levels and impressive contrast, be it on video or photos and the viewing angles are generous too.
Sonically, it gets the job done without shattering any benchmarks and that’s fine really. The stereo speakers get loud enough but aren’t the most full-bodied or balanced while churning out the tunes or busy action scenes. But the Bluetooth AptX Adaptive wireless support makes up for it and saves the day!
But Nothing earned its notoriety through its Glyph interface, the unique array of LEDs mounted on the rear, underneath the transparent back. The idea is to reduce the reliance on the main screen for simple notifications like timer, messages, battery charging status, alarm etc. But in this new version, Nothing has tweaked the Glyph LEDs to offer more granular and real-time information. Split up in 33 different zones, the Glyphs now can show the progress of an Uber ride or your Zomato order. You can even assign “essential” notifications to keep the LED on until you’ve read and dismissed them.
Teaming up with supergroup and investors Swedish House Mafia, there’s a fun Glyph composer mode that lets you make your own ringtones too. It has five different sound packs that the user can create sounds with, record them and use them as ringtones. Use the LEDs as a fill light for portraits, to keep a track of your order or get notified of various alerts, but in the end, it still feels like a gimmick more than game-changing.
Nothing OS 2.0.1 brings a real congruence to the offering here, making hardware and software feel like it came from the same brand, much like Apple. Widgets can be added to the Always-on display, app icons can be sized-up differently, grouped in folders of different colors and shapes or can be entirely monochromatic to give the OS a clean, minimalist look. All these customisations make the Glyph interface less of a functional add-on and more of just an add-on. The screen does everything more quickly, without the learning curve or memorizing which pattern of LED does what!
Cameras have seen a big improvement over the previous gen too. Twin 50MP shooters at the back along with a new 16MP front cam, all with better dynamic range and image processing means there is better contrast, more detail and the ability to go macro through the ultra wide lens. The primary sensor is a new Sony IMX890 unit and although it may have the same megapixel count as before, the Phone (2) now comes with better OIS and phase detect autofocus. Stacking eight shots into one, instead of the previous count of three has yielded visible improvements to the HDR performance. In daylight conditions, the results are great, with sharp segmentation and vivid depiction of colours, even in portrait mode. It struggles a bit in darker areas against the light though. Low-light shots are infused with much sharpness and spectacular focus without generating noise, but again shadow details are crushed in the process. Textures are affected the most due to this and while the brighter areas exhibit rich colours and perfect focus, zooming in for a closer look shows some deficit.
The selfie cam is par for the course but isn’t as obvious as the Chinese counterparts in skin smoothing and preserves more naturalness to mugshots. Video is considerably improved too, thanks to the OIS that levels out walk-around shots pretty well and the HDR doing its thing to add the zing to the bright highlights. 4K is possible up to 60fps and it even throws in 4K HDR for a lower frame rate, so choose wisely depending on your requirement and platform. Overall, it’s a step in the right direction and while not the benchmark in any area, any owner of the Nothing Phone (2) won’t have too much reason to complain about the camera performance when seen and used in isolation.
Moving up to flagship level Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor does help justify the bump in price, even though it’s not the most current of its kind. Performance, thanks to Nothing’s polish on the OS. The dot matrix font, the greyscale icons and the lack of any bloatware really emphasize what Nothing is trying to do here - to create a fun to use product. Pity that not all apps or developers yet support the grayscale theme so you will have some oddities if you have any monochromatic OCD.
Performance is swift enough for everyday use and even 8-10 apps open simultaneously don’t hold back Nothing. Where it does get its knickers in a twist is during video editing and taking photos in burst mode. At best, you can get two shots every five seconds and that feels slow after using some flagship level mid priced phones. Portrait and low-light mode only slows things down further and the Nothing Phone (2) doesn’t like to be hurried with its image processing. Video has improved considerably too, especially in HDR mode and provides a fantastic tapestry of colours to feast your eyes on. The OIS serves well although the best in the business won’t be worried.
Games, videos, social media consumption posed no issues for it though and the experience was super smooth , thanks to the slim and even bezels. Even the selfie cam cutout having moved to the centre of the display helps in making for a more immersive experience. Battery size has been bumped up too, from 4500mAh to 4700mAh and it’s marginal, but enough to extend usage to a full day of power use. Charging speeds of 45W with a PD charger should be possible and it does show as “rapid charging” icon while doing so.
It’s hard not to applaud the attempt and direction that Nothing has taken for its products and the Phone (2) is the epitome of their philosophy thus far. Extremely refined in hardware and software, decent cameras, great display and a unique Glyph system that while debatable in functionality, does add a big dollop of personality. When you start looking at the Nothing Ear (2) as part of the ecosystem, it does start making sense and only makes the wait more exciting for their next product. And that can only be a good sign for a tech start-up and its fans.
Stands out from the crowd in design, execution and intent, the Nothing Phone (2) is the best from the brand so far.
|6.7in, OLED w/120Hz
|50MP primary + 50MP ultra wide+32MP selfie
|8 or 12GB