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Nothing Phone 2 review: If 'being extra' was an Android phone

Nothing's first phone for the U.S. is a promising start with plenty of room to grow.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor

Nothing Phone 2

3.5 / 5

pros and cons

  • A Glyph Interface that does more
  • Nothing OS 2.0 is software bliss
  • All-day battery life
  • Priced to compete at $599
  • Slippery to hold
  • No telephoto lens and shutter lag impedes the camera
  • No Verizon support is a dealbreaker for some

Nothing has made quite a name for itself since its 2021 debut, launching a catalog of consumer products and just recently raising $96 million for further expansion. But no business decision may be more significant than what the company has done this week.

Nothing has launched its first smartphone in the U.S., the Phone 2 -- a move that's been on everyone's mind since the company was founded by Carl Pei, who previously led phone maker OnePlus to domestic (and global) success. It's also a move that's historically proven difficult for newer manufacturers outside of the country.

Also: Humane's smartphone-killer 'Ai Pin' may be the most 2023 product yet

So, the question now is whether or not Pei and Co have done enough to convince a market heavily comprised of iPhone and Samsung Galaxy users to make the switch. From my week of testing, I'd say the Phone 2 is off to a promising start, but there's still plenty of room to grow.



6.7-inch OLED display with 120Hz LTPO




Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1


8GB/12GB with 128/256/512GB


4,700mAh with 45W charging and 15W wireless


50MP f/1.88 wide, 50MP f/2.2 ultra-wide (114° FOV), 32MP f/2.45 front




Starting at $599

What's new with this model

In ZDNET tradition, I'll start by covering the newest, distinguishing features of the Phone 2, followed by a breakdown of what features and improvements I'd like to see in the next model.   

1. Glyph Interface gets a glow-up

Nothing Phone 2 Glyth Interface

There's a more intricate arrangement of LEDs on the Phone 2, from the camera bump to the center glyph.

June Wan/ZDNET

The Glyph Interface is the Nothing Phone's killer feature. From this point forward, any other phone that has something even remotely similar to the Glyph Interface is considered a copycat. And I can see the company riding that dominance for as long as possible.

With the Phone 2, there's now an assembly of 33 LEDs compared to last year's 12, as evident by the additional isolated strips throughout the backing. For the unacquainted, the Glyph Interface serves as an LED indicator, pulsating depending on the notifications you receive, from phone calls to text messages. It also flexes as a charging status indicator and fill light for photos and videos.

This year's version gets even more functional. For example, you can now customize your own Glyph patterns via Glyph Composer, where Teenage Engineering's influence is most prevalent. With more LEDs on the back, one of the longer strands of light serves as a progress bar for timers and volume levels. Personally, I found the more granular lighting system to be the perfect Pomodoro timer, a productivity technique that encourages incremental breaks every 25 minutes.

Nothing Phone 2 Glyth Interface

The right-side glyph bar functions as a progress bar.

June Wan/ZDNET

Nothing has also opened up its Glyph system to app developers so that the progress bar effect can also represent incoming Uber rides and other services. It's very neat, whether you see yourself using it or not.

Ultimately, my perception of the Glyph Interface remains neutral. I love that I can get a sense of what's happening without flipping to my phone screen, but that also requires me to pay attention to what pattern is pulsating on the back, which I often find myself missing by the time I glance over.

Also: How to set app time limits on your Android phone

Nothing's fix for this issue is a new "Essential notifications" option that allows you to designate the upper right LED strip to a specific app or set of apps. I currently have it paired with Messages and WeChat, since that's what I mainly use to communicate with my family and partner. Now, whenever the Phone 2 goes all disco party mode on me, I look for that particular LED indicator to decide if it's worth flipping the device over or not.

2. Nothing OS 2.0 makes software fun again

Nothing Phone 2 Homescreen

This light-themed home screen with Nothing app icons was achieved without any third-party services. 

June Wan/ZDNET

Over the past few years, Android manufacturers have slowly but surely retreated from heavily-skinned user interfaces to more neutral appearances, giving up uniqueness for broader appeal. With Nothing OS 2.0 (layered over Android 13), the company strikes the perfect balance of customizability and burdenlessness. I'd go as far as to say that this is my new favorite approach to Android.

For one, most software elements like settings menus and quick panel toggles remind me of Google's Pixel phones, and bloatware is pretty much non-existent. Where Nothing really flexes its software muscles is through lock screen and home screen customizations.

Also: Change this Android setting to instantly double your phone speed

The native widgets for weather, clock, and quick settings are surprisingly adequate, the ability to revisualize app folders makes them easier to discern, and the latest Nothing Icon Pack ties everything together with both light and dark color schemes. The most impressive thing to me is how virtually every app that I downloaded, including the more niche ones, was automatically treated with Nothing's monochromatic look and feel. 

Oh, and about the lock screen: The Phone 2 lets you place widgets within a 2 x 4 grid, similar to the interactive lock screen on iOS 16. From all the various Android phones I've tested over the years, this is easily the best implementation of lock screen widgets I've used, and I'll likely miss having it after my review period ends.

3. Improvements in virtually every way

Holding up the Nothing Phone 2 while it's glowing.
June Wan/ZDNET

From the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 to the larger 4,700mAh battery to the brighter display, Nothing upgraded virtually every facet of last year's Phone 1's internals. And that tallies up to a well-rounded, no-fuss Phone 2 that both iOS and Android users will enjoy using.

For the record, I don't look to the usual performance benchmarks to judge how capable a phone is. The difference in scoring between the Phone 2 and, say, Samsung's Galaxy S23 Ultra means nothing if your use cases revolve around web browsing, messaging and calling, taking photos and videos, and playing games. 

In fact, I tested the same Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 on the more recent Motorola Razr Plus, and the chipset proved to be reliable enough to handle quick app changes and multitasking. The same can be said about the Nothing Phone 2.

Review: Motorola Razr Plus (2023): The best flipping foldable right now

The display now ramps up to 1,600 nits of peak brightness (from last year's 1,200), which I've found very reliable for outdoor use and navigation when docked in my car. The 120Hz OLED panel gets impressively bright and remarkably dim when you need it to be, which is not something I can say about all modern-day phones. I often find adaptive brightness settings to be too aggressive or delayed, but the ambient sensor on the Phone 2 is both reactive and tunes things just right. 

More importantly, I've been able to squeeze about a day and a half with the Phone 2, something I wasn't expecting to do when I first saw the 4,700mAh value and compared it with most flagship Androids that field 5,000mAh ratings.

What I'd like to see in the next model

That said, it's not all sunshine and rainbows with Nothing's first phone in the U.S. In fact, some of its drawbacks spring from the fact that this phone is now being sold to an American audience. Here's the lowdown.

1. A more reliable camera system

An image of a shrimp and mango salad, captured with the Nothing Phone 2.

A shrimp and mango salad, captured by the 50MP main lens.

June Wan/ZDNET

There are two upgrades to the Nothing Phone's camera system this year, and that's the Sony IMX890 sensor on the main 50MP lens and improved software processing. (The front-facing camera has also been upped to a 32MP lens now, but I didn't notice a drastic difference in performance and color reproduction.)

Also: This thumb-sized camera is my new 'must-have' for traveling

With the new Sony sensor and what Nothing calls Motion Capture 2.0, the Phone 2 is able to capture lifelike images while keeping the primary subject(s) in focus at all times. That's mostly true, as seen in the sample below. The 50MP lens produces well-sharpened, true-to-life images that I wouldn't hesitate to share with my friends and family or on social media. Night-time photos are adequate, too, though the occasional lamp post or car light can be more overexposed than I'd prefer.

The main problem that I have with the Phone 2 camera system lies in the lack of a true telephoto lens. For portrait photos and distant shots, the absence of a telephoto lens means the phone relies on AI processing to blur the background of subjects. That means you won't get the best, natural-looking bokeh effects when taking photos of people or pets.

A portrait mode photo of a cat

Notice how the ears of the cat and parts of its fur are more blurred out than normal.

June Wan/ZDNET

There was also the occasional shutter lag when capturing in more timely scenarios. When switching from the gallery app back to the camera viewfinder, a quick tap on the shutter button didn't always register a capture, leaving me with shots of blurrier subjects or ones with none at all.

2. A less slippery phone would be nice

Nothing Phone 2 with Phone 1

The Nothing Phone 2 (left) and Nothing Phone 1 (right)

June Wan/ZDNET

From the unboxing experience to the hand feel, the Nothing Phone 2 is everything you'd expect from the successor of the Phone 1. It's a similarly large 6.7-inch slab with rounded corners, flat edges, a flat display, and an intricate layout of LED strips underneath the transparent back cover.

Review: Nothing Phone 1: You ain't seen Nothing yet

Nothing tells me that retaining most of Phone 1's design was intentional, valuing brand identity over excessive innovation. That unfortunately means that, like the Phone 1, the Phone 2 is by no means a compact phone, let alone a mid-sized one. I've found myself babying the device more than most testers due to how slippery the smooth sides are. And with the curvier back frame, you'll want to think twice before setting the phone down on glossier surfaces.

3. Broader carrier support

It's easy to overlook just how many people in the U.S. buy phones from carrier stores, opting for two to three-year installment plans instead of slapping down $1,000 upfront for the newest iPhone or Android flagship. For many, including my parents, carrier stores are their source for knowing what the latest phones are, and what's worth buying. There's also a large set of loopholes that a manufacturer, especially one that's still new, must jump through in order to distribute their phones via carrier channels.

This, I believe, is the biggest detriment to Nothing's domestic success -- at least for now. In the meantime, the company will have to bank on word-of-mouth, catchy marketing, and hope that its glowing phones can spark up more, impactful conversations in public.

Bottom line

The Phone 2 will officially go on sale on Friday, July 17, starting at $599 for the 8GB of RAM and 128GB variant, and going up to $799 for the 12GB of RAM and 512GB configuration. No matter which end of that spectrum you look at, the device is clearly priced to compete with the likes of the OnePlus 11, Google Pixel 7, and base models from Samsung and Apple's flagship series. I'm curious to see how the market reacts, and whether or not Nothing will remain as competitive as it slowly builds a following in the U.S.

Should I buy one?

Price aside, you should buy the Nothing Phone 2 if you consider yourself an early adopter and/or want to try a new phone from an up-and-coming brand. The Glyph Interface makes the Phone 2 one of, if not the most, interesting slab-style phones on the market, and it's genuinely useful if digital well-being is something you value. But, if you're seeking the best camera system in this sub-$600 price range, Google's Pixels will serve you better.

Alternatives to consider

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