Nothing Phone (2a) Review: Nothing Beats the Beauty of Essentials

PROS:

  • Beautiful and distinctive semi-transparent design
  • Decent dual 50MP cameras, 32MP front camera
  • Huge 5,000 mAh battery
  • Good value for its price

CONS:

  • No dedicated telephoto camera
  • Average mid-range performance

RATINGS:

AESTHETICS
ERGONOMICS
PERFORMANCE
SUSTAINABILITY / REPAIRABILITY
VALUE FOR MONEY

EDITOR’S QUOTE:

The Nothing Phone (2a) distills the smartphone experience to its most important essentials and wraps it in a gorgeous design you will never get tired of.

Smartphones are getting more and more powerful every year, but that power comes at the cost of complexity and cost. While there’s nothing wrong with a super powerful, uber-luxurious, and expensive device, it’s just not for everyone. Unfortunately, those who prefer to stick to the important basics are often left compromising in terms of performance and especially aesthetics. Nothing is a young brand that is trying to shake up the status quo with a heavy focus on thoughtful design, transparent practices, and accessible technology, and it has already been making headlines with its smartphones and accessories. With the Phone (2a), it’s dipping its hands into a different segment of the mobile market, so take it for a spin to see if it has anything substantial to offer or if it’s nothing at all, pun totally intended.

Designer: Nothing

Aesthetics

Nothing made a name for itself with the distinctive design of its products, especially its phones. While it was not the full transparency idealized by risky DIY hacks or printed skins, Nothing’s decision to have a semi-transparent design actually made better sense. It gave the phone a cleaner look, without the distracting noise of electronics and labels, but still had enough character to stand out from the crowd quickly.

The Nothing Phone (2a) is clearly a member of this family but also differs in significant ways. The arrangement of components is very different, with the camera bump now lying horizontally in the middle, surrounded by a Glyph Interface that’s also completely new and unique to this model. The camera array is enclosed in a circular area from which a covered path snakes down to the bottom, almost like the ribbon connectors between components you’d see inside phones. This distinctive design gives the phone a facsimile of a robotic face, friendly and welcoming like those in cartoons and kids’ shows.

Nothing Phone (2a) Review: Nothing Beats the Beauty of Essentials

Unlike earlier rumors that worried Nothing fans, the Phone (2a) does indeed have the Glyph Interface, except it’s also simplified like the rest of the phone’s design. There are only three components this time, two asymmetrical arcs on the left of the cameras and a vertical bar on the right, that delivers that same dynamic lighting but with less fanfare. Considering how you’re usually holding your phone, this makes sure that the glyphs will always be visible to everyone in front of you when they light up, rather than having parts of it covered by your hand.

The Nothing Phone (2a)’s aesthetics pretty much reflects the overarching theme of the phone. It delivers the essentials for a pleasing user experience without being showy but still having enough impact to be worth your while. It strives to strike a balance even harder than its older siblings in order to cater to a market that has long been in need of that kind of design that doesn’t compromise too much for the sake of driving down costs.

Ergonomics

The Nothing Phone (2a) is also an anomaly in the sense that it’s actually a large phone that weighs almost like nothing. With a 6.7-inch screen, it’s definitely one of the bigger slabs in the market, yet its 190g weight feels almost nothing in your hand. And that’s despite the large battery it hides inside, which makes the phone a bit of a mystery.

Nothing Phone (2a) Review: Nothing Beats the Beauty of Essentials

This means that the Phone (2a) is quite comfortable to hold, even for long periods of time. It doesn’t weigh down on your hand that much, though you might also be worried its lightness can become a liability instead. Fortunately, the flat edges of the phone do provide a bit of grip to aid your hand. All in all, it was a pleasurable experience to hold the phone, perfectly matching its pleasing aesthetic.

Performance

There’s no going around the fact that the Nothing Phone (2a) is not your super-powerful high-end premium flagship. Nothing partnered with chipmaker MediaTek for a custom Dimensity 7200 Pro chip, but that is also two tiers from MediaTek’s own top-of-the-line series. Even the GPU technology is from back in 2021, and benchmark scores seem to paint a rather disappointing picture. It’s theoretically better than its peers, the Snapdragon 7s Gen 2 and Snapdragon 782G, but those are mid-range processors as well.

Nothing Phone (2a) Review: Nothing Beats the Beauty of Essentials

The good news is that it hardly really matters because the Phone (2a) still manages to hold its own with most tasks you throw at it, especially with 12GB of RAM. Gaming is going to be less impressive, of course, so you’ll have to dial down the settings a bit, but it’s still a decent experience. The Nothing Phone (2a) is meant to be an everyday phone for everybody, rather than a hyper-focused tool for gaming or photography, and when it comes to general activities, it thankfully does quite well despite those numbers being stacked against it.

As mentioned earlier, the Nothing Phone (2a) has quite a sizable battery, specifically a 5,000 mAh pack. That’s actually very generous even by premium smartphone standards, and given the rest of the specs, it’s sure to give you more than a day’s worth of use, at least with reasonable measure. Charging is capped at 45W, which isn’t exactly the fastest but still an upgrade over previous technologies. As expected, there is no wireless charging, which is one of the very few compromises this design does make.

Nothing Phone (2a) Review: Nothing Beats the Beauty of Essentials

In addition to its unique semi-transparent design, the Nothing Phone was characterized by its Glyph Interface, basically a light-based notification system that adds a bit of flavor to the user experience. Some considered it gimmicky at first, but it’s actually a useful tool for minimizing distractions. You can keep your phone face down on your desk and only see the glyphs light up for important events, like a call, an important message, or a timer. You don’t have to glance at your phone’s screen every time something comes in, reducing the risk of you getting distracted when you other notifications as well. And because the glyphs are confined to the upper portion of the Phone (2a), they’re also less invasive and more restrained, focusing on just the essentials of the function rather than the glamour.

When it comes to the cameras, the Nothing Phone (2a) is a bit of a mixed bag. As you may have noticed, there are only two cameras, but both of them, fortunately, have 50MP sensors. The main Samsung GN9 camera features OIS and autofocus, while the ultra-wide Samsung JN1 has a 114-degree field of view. Both perform rather well, even at night, with clear details and low noise. Unfortunately, there is no dedicated telephoto camera, so you’ll have to settle for the main wide camera’s cropped 2x zoom, which is less impressive than regular shots.

Nothing Phone (2a) Review: Nothing Beats the Beauty of Essentials

Nothing Phone (2a) Review: Nothing Beats the Beauty of Essentials

Nothing Phone (2a) Review: Nothing Beats the Beauty of Essentials

The front-facing camera has an impressive 32MP sensor, and it definitely shows in the quality of selfies you can take. There’s no aggressive beautification like what you’d find in other brands, so what you see is really what you get. That means this camera isn’t just great for social media but, more importantly, for video calls and meetings as well.

Nothing Phone (2a) Review: Nothing Beats the Beauty of Essentials

Sustainability

Right from the start, Nothing wanted to be different from the way it ran its smartphone business, which also included its commitment to sustainability. From the use of recycled materials to the packaging, Nothing has been ensuring that its products reduce their negative impact on the environment. The Nothing Phone (2a) thankfully follows that practice, and although it’s not yet on the same level as bigger brands, it’s definitely a strong start.

That commitment to sustainable design is helped by the fact that the Nothing Phone (2a) is also made to last longer. With an IP54 dust and water resistance rating, it’s guaranteed to hold up against most accidents. It’s not the highest rating, of course, but just that mark goes a long way in assuring owners that their fun-looking mobile partner isn’t going to abandon them at the slightest incident.

Nothing Phone (2a) Review: Nothing Beats the Beauty of Essentials

Value

Given all the specs and features, it’s perhaps pretty clear that the Nothing Phone (2a) is the brand’s foray into a segment traditionally considered to be mid-range or mid-tier. In fact, its $349 price tag confirms that classification and that figure is nothing to scoff at. There’s a certain negative connotation to the phrase “you get what you pay for,” but this is a case where you’re actually getting a whole lot more than that price value.

Yes, performance is decent at best, but the Phone (2a) has enough power to get you through the day and more, both in terms of raw power as well as battery life. The cameras are serviceable, though you’ll definitely feel the absence of a proper zoom camera. Best of all, you’re getting all of that in a distinctive and eye-catching design that’s pleasing to the eyes and light in the hand. In other words, you’re getting a beautiful, no-nonsense smartphone that feels worth more than what Nothing is asking for.

Verdict

Nothing has definitely stirred up the waters by challenging the market giants with an ambitious vision and a visionary design. But while the first two Nothing Phones served to put the brand on the map, there was still a segment that was left underserved by these premium products. To bring its design to everyone, Nothing also needs to target different tiers, tiers with different needs and budgets.

The Nothing Phone (2a) was clearly made to address that need, offering an experience that focuses on the essentials without all the bells and whistles that, in the end, could also burden the user. It packages that in a design that is bare-bones yet distinctive and characteristic of Nothing’s design language. It distills the Glyph Interface down to its core purpose, to provide a distraction-free way to get notified of important events. The Nothing Phone (2a) is a laudable example of a design that deftly balances features and costs to craft an experience that is clearly made with the user in mind.

Nothing Phone (2a) Review: Nothing Beats the Beauty of Essentials

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