When Carl Pei broke off from OnePlus, there was a bunch of excitement about what the budding industrial designer would do next. It didn’t take long for rumors about a new smart device company to pop up, and it was later confirmed to have an unusual name. Continuing OnePlus’ rebellious spirit, Nothing would paint itself as a contrarian, one that thinks outside of the box and breaks from the mold of traditional smartphone and accessories manufacturing. Its first product, the Nothing Ear (1) buds, mostly captured that personality with its partly transparent and minimalist design.
The startup is now embarking on its most ambitious product yet, and it seems the Nothing Phone(1) is already splitting camps, at least based on what we’re seeing and hearing so far. Nothing has definitely mastered the art of hype, taking a few pages out of Apple’s book. Pei has waxed philosophical about the problems in the smartphone industry — stuff ranging from complexity to obscurity — and how Nothing is working on setting things right again. Promises of minimalism, literal and figurative transparency, and a focus on design have been thrown around, setting the stage for the Nothing Phone (1)’s debut.
So far, however, the rumors and even the official teasers we’ve received present conflicting impressions. For example, some consumers were disappointed with the early revelation of the Phone(1)’s design, which revealed a phone back that is indeed transparent but still occluded by a white plate. However, the model did receive some applause when Nothing demonstrated how that back lights up for notifications. The Nothing OS custom Android experience has also been divisive, embodying the company’s minimalist vision — perhaps a little too much. Now we’re also seeing some lukewarm benchmarks.
The specs are lackluster, but the design remains impressive
To be fair, Nothing never really said that its first phone would be a high-end premium device, but many probably expected it would at least be competitive. According to an entry on Geekbench, however, the Nothing Phone (1) will run on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G+ 5G, a mid-range chipset that was launched last year. This will be accompanied by 8GB of RAM, which, though not exactly lacking, also sounds modest for a much-hyped flagship.
This is more of a problem of managing expectations and balancing hype. Again, through no fault of the company, people have come to expect that the Nothing Phone (1) would at least boast the more recent Snapdragon 7 Gen 1 chipset. It would seem that aside from its novel back design, the Nothing Phone (1) has yet to present something that really sets it apart from its peers. We’ll have to see when it launches if the overall experience will match its hype.
Unfortunately, not many will be able to get that first experience. Mirroring the start of OnePlus’ own journey, Nothing is making the Phone (1) available through an invite-system only. As proven by its spiritual predecessor, this kind of constrained availability successfully helps drive up hype, excitement, and even desire for a limited edition product. Then again, this is also nothing new, and many people were burned by OnePlus’ system before. Hopefully, Pei has learned enough from that not to repeat the same mistakes.