Nothing Phone 2 Review: Is This 2023's Most Ambitious Phone?
There are a lot of big ideas in the Phone 2.
Nothing's Phone 1 had two major things going for it: an eye-catching transparent design with a "Glyph Interface" of LED strips and a sub-$500 price.
The rest of the Phone 1 — the mid-range chip, average cameras, middling battery life, vanilla Android software, and limited global release that didn't include the U.S. — were more experimental than competitive. Together, the Phone 1 wasn't budget nor was it premium. It was mid-range in every aspect except for design.
That will all soon be in the past because the Phone 2, launching on July 17 (including in the U.S.), crosses off all of the aforementioned complaints while refining its distinct design. I've been using the Phone 2 as my daily driver for the past three weeks and have found almost nothing (no pun intended) to dislike, not even its "last-gen" Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 chip.
The pricing is pretty good, too. The Phone 2 starts at $599, which puts it in direct competition with Google's Pixel 7 and the OnePlus 11. These are two of the best-value phones released in the last year, but neither of them feels like a bigger movement the way Phone 2 does.
Upgrades Across the Board
There are no surprises with the Phone 2's design. It's still a metal and glass sandwich, though, Nothing has made a bunch of small improvements that add up in daily use. The edges of the flat transparent glass backside are curved to fit better in your palm and to mask the fact that the phone is thicker and heavier than the Phone 1. You could have fooled me, the weight distribution feels really good for a phone that's in the same size class as the iPhone 14 Pro Max.
The number of individual LED sections that make up the Glyph Interface has doubled, too. There are 11 parts that light up compared to five on the Phone 1. And like I said in my hands-on, some of these Glyphs are more functional. In addition to serving as notification indicators or fill flash for taking photos, there's now an "Essential Glyph Notification" feature that lets you set the forward-slash-looking LED strip to only show notifications from specific contacts or apps; the light remains on until you've opened the notification. It's a clever feature that's supposed to reduce notification overload, but I just found it a distraction. There's also a new "Glyph Timer" that lets you use the longest LED strip along the top as a timer countdown; this feature was inspired by the Pomodoro Technique.
The same LED strip also functions as a volume indicator when you press the volume buttons. Honestly, I didn't use either feature after trying them out. I'm a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique for getting work done, but I prefer to see the exact amount of time during productivity sprints. For the volume controls, the LED strip only displays when the Phone 2 is face down and the lock screen is turned on, which just isn't intuitive. And then, there's the "Glyph Progress" bar, a beta feature that shows a "rough estimation of the ongoing progress." During my review period pre-launch, Uber was the only app that worked. Seeing an LED strip light up as an Uber (or in the future, a food delivery) as it gets closer to you seems like a useful idea on paper, but in reality, it's just more practical to see an exact duration or a map on the screen. I often found myself opening the app, anyway, defeating the purpose of the strip. Frankly, the Live Activities feature for tracking Ubers on iPhone lock screens makes more sense.
It's nice to see Nothing is expanding the utility of the Glyph Interface, but in all seriousness, the added functionality comes off as gimmicky. The only new Glyph feature that left a lasting impression on me was the Glyph Composer, which lets you create a custom ringtone using a bunch of Nothing sounds. It's a gimmick, but at least it's a fun one.
As for the rest of the phone hardware, it's all really good. The flat display is a bigger 6.7-inch (2,412 x 1,080) 120Hz OLED with LTPO this time around, which means the screen isn't wasting power at the highest refresh rate when content, like text, can display fine at a much lower one. The display is also brighter (1,000 nits of regular brightness and 1,600 nits at peak brightness for HDR content); I had zero issues seeing the Phone 2 in direct sunlight.
Performance is much faster, especially for 3D games like Honkai: Star Rail and Diablo Immortal, both of which I've spent more time playing recently. The chip inside the Phone 2 being the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, it's got none of the overheating issues that plagued the non-plus version before that came it. In other words, the 8+ Gen 1 chip is still really good and any naysayers are in the single-digit percentile of tech enthusiasts. Not once did I think Wow, this phone isn’t good because of its older chipset that’s not the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 2.
Battery life on the Phone 2 is fantastic and naturally so thanks to the larger 4,700 mAh battery. A single charge got me through one and a half days and I sometimes could go two days with lighter usage. There's no charger in the box, the Phone 2 does support 45W fast charging. It also works with Qi wireless chargers at up to 15W, which is as fast as my iPhone 14 Pro goes for wireless charging. One thing the Phone 2 does that my iPhone 14 Pro doesn't is reverse wireless charging — handy for charging up a pair of Ear 2 or any other Qi-compatible wireless earbuds like AirPods.
The cameras on the Phone 2 are also pretty solid. The main camera lens uses a Sony IMX980 image sensor, which is the same one in the OnePlus 11. It's a major upgrade in terms of image quality compared to photos taken with the Phone 1. See for yourself in the photos below. The 50-megapixel ultrawide uses the same 50-megapixel Samsung JN1 sensor in the Phone 1. On the front, the new, center-aligned selfie camera is a 32-megapixel shooter versus the 16-megapixel one in the Phone 1.
Is the Phone 2 the very best smartphone camera? Absolutely not. The cameras in the iPhone 14 Pro, Galaxy S23 Ultra, Pixel 7 Pro, and Xiaomi 13 Ultra destroy the Phone 2, but unless you're really pixel-peeping, I think most people will be satisfied with the photos. Pictures are neither too neutral nor saturated. Dynamic range and sharpness are pretty good.
Fast and Smooth
Not that the Phone 1 ever felt slow to me, even though it was powered by a custom mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 770+ chip. However, the Phone 2 glides. Nothing OS 2.0, which is a customized version of Android 13, is the smoothest version of Android that I've used on any Android phone. More fluid than on the Pixel 7/7 Pro, Galaxy S23 Ultra, and OnePlus 11.
Everything feels instant. I've tested Android phones with the newer and more powerful Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip that don't feel as responsive as the Phone 2. Apps launch without delay, animations are simple and speedy, and swipes are very smooth. At OnePlus, Pei stressed the importance of tuning the software and hardware to create a fast and smooth experience and it's great to see that philosophy carried over to the Phone 2 because it's noticeable.
My review unit was the mid-tier model with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage ($699). The $599 version comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage and the $799 model has 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. I can't tell you how performance on the 8GB RAM version compares, but if past OnePlus phones launched under Pei are any indication, there should be a very negligible difference.
Nothing OS 2.0 is worth a deeper look. Similar to the original OxygenOS on past OnePlus phones (the software is now reminiscent of Oppo's ColorOS), Nothing OS 2.0 is mostly stock Android 13, which is both good and kind of boring if you ask me. Stock Android is familiar and makes it easy to update and maintain, but it feels like Nothing could do more with its own software design language.
I think Nothing should lean into the Teenage Engineering-esque fonts and line-based symbols present in the Weather and Recorder app — yes, essentially skin all of the apps and software. Right now, even with a boatload of ex-OnePlus software engineers and Software Creative Director Mladen Hoyss (of Android skin, Blloc Ratio, fame), Nothing OS 2.0 feels like a half-step towards something bigger.
In the same way that The Browser Company's Arc web browser looks completely different on the surface but underneath it's still Chromium, Nothing should go all-in and make every corner of Nothing OS fit its design language. Sure, Android skins fell by the wayside many years ago, but it's all the more reason to bring it back in a tasteful way. Otherwise, Nothing OS just looks like any other stock Android phone with half of its makeup applied.
Setting that aside, I do like the idea of more "intentional consumption" and "more living, less digging" that Nothing OS 2.0 is pushing. More cynical reviewers will say the biggest ideas in Nothing OS 2.0 basically amount to prettier widgets, a monochrome icon pack, and larger folders with launchable apps.
That may be true, but looking at my screen time since daily driving the Phone 2, the steep decline in getting distracted — mindlessly scrolling social media or watching videos or just searching for an app to mess around with — suggests I'm forming a healthier relationship with my phone. Anecdotally, in the past three weeks, I found time to ride my bike almost every day after work, build the two Lego sets I purchased almost a year ago, and replace the battery in the old iPod nano that I had cracked open months ago but could never find time for.
Yeah, I could easily turn the home screen on my iPhone 14 Pro to black and white to make the colored icons less attractive. And, of course, I can organize my apps and widgets, and create shortcuts, so that I spend less time swiping between home screens. But other phone makers aren't encouraging any of this up front and center; monochrome mode on an iPhone is an accessibility feature and iOS's widgets are way more limited than on Android.
I know, I know, baby steps. But between Pei, Hoyss, Teenage Engineering's Jesper Kouthoofd and Tom Howard, and former Dyson design lead Adam Bates, I don't feel it's unfair to expect more. People are looking for strong reasons to choose a Phone 2 over another phone and Nothing should come hard. The good thing is, Nothing can always add more via software updates. Just look at how the Nothing X app has completely evolved. A more likely reality, however, is that Nothing will save any bigger software ideas for the Phone 3 (and beyond).
I get this a lot when I share my enthusiasm for Nothing's products. Why should I buy a phone — the most important device we own — from a company with no track record other than selling a bunch of transparent wireless earbuds?
It's a valid question and my answer — just like it was when Pei was building OnePlus — is the way it makes you feel. In the early days of OnePlus, when the brand wasn't a household name, buying a OnePlus phone meant you were part of the disruption — the change breaking up the Apple and Samsung duopolies around the world. You were creating a revolution by getting more and paying less. It was fun and exciting to be part of a growing community.
With Nothing and the Phone 2, it feels like a concerted effort to break up the status quo with a fun design that's genuinely different (even if it's gimmicky) and purposeful software that nudges us away from our digital hellscapes and back toward reality. The Phone 2 is a great all-around phone, but you're also buying into the values of the brand. Values like making tech fun again, or using sustainable materials, or digital well-being that you might not have considered before, but maybe are important to you now.
The truth is, there is no guarantee — even with $96 million in new funding — that Nothing will exist tomorrow. That's just the risk of supporting a startup with ambitious ideas and goals. Nothing's assembled an all-star team of designers and investors so at the very least they seem to have a plan. The bumps along the way are all part of the journey, and you have to be okay with that, even if it means fewer options for repair or carrier support for only T-Mobile and AT&T in the U.S.
The pressure has been on to deliver a phone that competes in the big leagues so that there’s a central hub for Nothing’s accessories to orbit. It’s no foldable, but the Phone 2 delivers.
Photographs by Raymond Wong