Nothing Phone 2 review: the vibes abide

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Form, function, and a good midrange phone.

The Nothing Phone 2 is better than the Phone 1 in a lot of small ways. But I’m still not exactly sure what it is.

By the numbers, it’s a well-equipped midrange device. It costs $599 and comes with a capable Snapdragon processor, a big, smooth-scrolling screen, and a few extras like wireless charging. So far, so good. But then, there’s the vibe, which is at least half of the attraction. It’s harder to quantify but lives somewhere among the translucent rear panel design, the light strip notification indicators, and the distinct Nothing OS launcher. It’s not like a regular phone — it’s a cool phone.

Woven into that vibe is Nothing’s origin story for the phone: it’s for people who want to be less distracted and more intentional about how they use their device. It’s for people who want technology to be fun again. It helps you focus on what matters. 

Here’s where all that lands in reality: the Nothing Phone 2 is a stylish phone for people who want their tech to stand out. It’s not going to make you a more focused, intentional person. It’s fairly priced, thoughtfully designed, and if its vibe aligns with yours, then I think you’ll enjoy using it — as long as you’re not expecting a transformational experience.

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The Phone 2 feels like the device the Phone 1 was meant to be. Nothing seems to have ironed out some earlier issues — battery life is much improved, for starters. It lasts through a day of moderate use thanks to a more power-efficient Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset and a bigger 4,700mAh cell (up from 4,500mAh). 

The 8 Plus Gen 1 is snappy; my review unit has 12GB of RAM, and I can cruise between apps seamlessly. The base model comes with 8GB of RAM, but I don’t think that would make any significant difference in day-to-day use. The 6.7-inch 1080p screen is one of the nicest you’ll find on any phone this far south of $1,000. It’s an LTPO screen capable of running up to 120Hz and all the way down to 1Hz.

It’s bigger than the 6.55-inch display on the Phone 1, and the bezels are just a little slimmer this year, too. It gets brighter in direct sunlight — allegedly up to 1,600 nits, though Nothing isn’t exactly a reliable narrator on that front; it initially claimed the Phone 1 could hit 1,200 nits before walking it back to 700. In any case, I was able to use the screen comfortably on a hike while framing photos in bright sunshine.

Nothing Phone 2 in hand showing home screen with monochrome widgets and app icons.

Nothing Phone 2 in hand showing home screen with monochrome widgets and app icons.

The screen is a little bigger and better this time around.

The Phone 2’s overall build feels quite durable — there’s Gorilla Glass on the front and back and sturdy aluminum rails around the sides. The edges are flat, as on last year’s model, but there’s a slight curve to the back panel so it sits more comfortably in your hand. That’s nice, but I think it contributes to another problem: this phone is slippery as heck. Like, Google Pixel 6 and 7 slippery. It slips around in my hand more than I’d like, and if I set it down with the screen side up on a smooth counter, it’s liable to shimmy right off the edge.

Despite its sturdy build, the Phone 2 is still not quite as water- or dust-resistant as other phones around this price. It’s IP54 rated — up from IP53 on the Phone 1 — which means it offers quite a bit of dust resistance but is only splash-resistant. The Samsung Galaxy A54 5G and Google Pixel 7A, both of which cost less than the Phone 2, offer more robust IP67 ratings. Kind of a bummer. On the software side, Nothing is promising three Android OS updates and four years of security updates every other month. That’s not the very best policy out there, but it’s Good with a capital G. 

In other good news: the Phone 2 is fully launching in the US, which the Phone 1 only kind of did through a beta testing program. This is great because we sorely need variety in our midrange phone diet here. It won’t be sold directly through any carrier, but it will be available unlocked and will work on T-Mobile and AT&T — but it won’t be certified to work on Verizon. That pretty dramatically cuts down the number of people in the US who can consider the Phone 2.

Wired charging is even faster this year: up to 45W compared to 33W. Just be sure to BYO charging brick. Wireless charging is still supported at up to 15W, and I think that’s a smart inclusion. A phone that looks this high tech and gadget-y just needs it, and I appreciate being able to set it down on my charging stand at the end of the day. 

One note though — my charger seems to reengage charging every so often throughout the night to keep it topped off at 100 percent, and that makes the Glyph lights blink to confirm charging is happening. I do not want a strobe light on my bedside table, but it’s easy enough to toggle the glyphs on and off in the quick settings.

Nothing Phone 2 on a table top showing translucent phone back.

Nothing Phone 2 on a table top showing translucent phone back.

I’m forever grateful when companies stick to two good cameras rather than cramming in pointless extra low-res sensors.

The Phone 2 comes with a similar rear camera hardware setup as the Phone 1: a 50-megapixel f/1.9 main camera with optical image stabilization and a 50-megapixel ultrawide. There’s a new 32-megapixel selfie camera on the front. The company says that its HDR processing has been improved, as it now uses more individual frames for each shot. Testing this out in bright midday sun, I can confirm that the Phone 2 avoids committing HDR crimes, though it loses more highlights than I’d prefer. Overall though, they’re nice-looking images.

Nothing says that part of its camera software improvements includes better recognition of moving subjects — in turn, boosting the shutter speed so you’re more likely to get a sharp shot. That’s critical if you’re taking pictures of a moving kid or pet, particularly in dim light where cameras like to use longer exposures to let in more light. You tend to get a lot of blurry photos from smartphone cameras in those situations.

Sample photo of toddler on a couch.

Sample photo of toddler on a couch.

This isn’t super low lighting, but the Phone 2 still had to work to freeze the motion of my toddler throwing pillows around on the couch.

I’m honestly very impressed with how well this works on the Phone 2 — it cranked the shutter speed up to 1/500sec for a series of photos of my toddler jumping out from a pile of pillows, and all of them are sharp. Detail is a little smoothed out from noise reduction since it also had to use a higher ISO, but I’ll take that over a straight-up blurry photo any day. I’d love to see other phone camera makers copy this move from Nothing.

At least part of Nothing’s stated mission is to help you take control over how much you use your phone, and the Phone 2 comes with both software and hardware tweaks to help you do that. On the hardware side, there are the glyphs: they’re broken up into more sections this time around, and you can compose your own morse code-like combinations of blinks and bloops. There’s still the handy Flip to Glyph feature, which silences notifications and just uses the glyphs for notification alerts. 

This time, there’s also something called the “essential” Glyph: you designate certain notifications as essential, and when one of those alerts arrives, a Glyph light will stay illuminated to let you know. That’s handy if you want to go heads-down on some work but you still want to be interrupted to read a text from your partner or a Slack DM. But it’s not quite as useful as having different focus modes for different situations since your definition of “essential” interruptions is likely different at different times of day. If you want to change which apps can interrupt you, you have to go into the Glyph settings every time.

The Phone 2 does actually offer Android’s traditional Focus mode, which lets you disallow certain apps from sending you notifications for a period of time, but the controls are less granular than what Nothing offers with essential glyphs. You can allow certain types of notifications to show as an essential Glyph — whereas, with Focus mode, you can only allow or disallow the entire app. 

Nothing Phone 2 on a stack of books showing progress indicator bar half-illuminated.

Nothing Phone 2 on a stack of books showing progress indicator bar half-illuminated.

One of the Glyph lights serves as a progress indicator and visual timer.

Another new Glyph feature is the ability to show progress and track certain time-based events — one of the light strips illuminates or dims progressively, like a progress bar. This is limited to a few things at the moment, including a silent timer and an integration with Uber. I like using the timer when I steep my morning coffee in the French press: it’s the same four-minute timer every day, and it’s silent so it doesn’t wake the rest of the house when time’s up.

The Uber integration is neat, in theory, but I’m not sure when I’d actually want to use it. The Glyph will light up as your Uber driver gets closer, but to use it, you’d need to have your phone face down on a table while you wait. I tend to be doing four other things on my phone as I’m waiting for an Uber, so it doesn’t seem that useful to me. Nothing anticipates bringing more third-party apps on board, and I can see myself using it for something like tracking a food delivery, which seems to be on the roadmap. 

On the software side, Nothing’s Android OS skin now includes an option to turn all of your app icons to monochrome, and it lets you organize them into folders with little dot-matrix cover icons. The idea is to tamp down the distractions from colorful app logos. Personally, I felt a little bit lost every time I opened up the app drawer looking for something specific and came face-to-face with a wall of black-and-white icons. I guess I rely on color to spot the app I’m looking for quickly, and unfortunately, the lack of colorful logos didn’t make me any less prone to mindless Instagram scrolling. 

Nothing’s updated always-on display is much more helpful: you can now add some basic widgets to your lock screen, and they’ll remain visible on the AOD. There are a few weather widgets you can add for more detail on the day’s forecast, a clock you can set to keep tabs on another time zone, and quick settings shortcuts. Notification icons appear below all of this as they normally would. If there’s one thing that was most effective at preventing me from picking up the phone and getting sucked into an unscheduled social media scrolling session, it’s the information-rich AOD — not the glyphs.

Nothing Phone 2 in hand showing monochrome app icons in app drawer.

Nothing Phone 2 in hand showing monochrome app icons in app drawer.

Nothing OS comes with a new option to change all your app icons to monochrome.

What this boils down to is that the Phone 2 has two systems for notifications: one based in software and one based in hardware. The company seems to want us to embrace the latter more, but I had a hard time with it myself. It’s such a reflex to set my phone down with the screen facing up that I had to remind myself to flip it over.

And I generally want more information than less — even when the essential Glyph lights up, I pick the phone up and usually end up just dismissing the notification that triggered it because it wasn’t all that important after all. It feels like less of a distraction to just glance at the display, read the Slack notification that just arrived, and dismiss it. 

I asked Nothing CEO Carl Pei why he felt it was important to develop this hardware-based notification system on the back of the phone rather than something like Apple’s Dynamic Island, putting progress indicators and updates on the screen, where your attention usually is. He said that if notifications are on the screen, “Then there’s always the temptation to just do something else in conjunction to checking for that status.” The many hours of screen time I log every day tend to agree with that statement.

The Phone 2 is designed to gradually “nudge” people toward Nothing’s vision of putting your phone down more often, Pei told me. The two-ish weeks that I’ve been using the phone aren’t really enough time to say whether I’ve changed my phone habits significantly. But so far, I haven’t. Maybe it’s my anxious brain demanding more information when I see an “essential” Glyph appear. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m also using a Pixel Watch that already lets me triage notifications without picking up the phone. Maybe I’m too used to having all of my notifications visible at once. It’s probably all of the above. 

Nothing Phone 2 sitting upright on a reflective black counter showing light strips illuminated.

Nothing Phone 2 sitting upright on a reflective black counter showing light strips illuminated.

The Phone 2’s whole deal would be tiresome if it wasn’t also a good phone.

I think you probably already know if the Nothing Phone 2 is for you. If you appreciate the eye-catching design and a no-screen focus mode sounds appealing — and you’re not on Verizon — then you’ll be plenty happy with this device. The little upgrades throughout the hardware and software make a significant difference. I didn’t feel quite as much like a beta tester using Phone 2 as I did with Phone 1.

Going back to the numbers for a minute, the Nothing Phone 2’s clearest competitor in the US is probably the also-$599 Google Pixel 7. I can’t think of a phone more unlike the Phone 2. If Nothing wants to make your life easier using hardware and good old-fashioned blinking lights, then Google’s more-software-is-better approach is about as far away as you can get. So we could go down the spec list, but I think your personal tech ideology is probably a better compass here. In case that doesn’t suffice: the Pixel 7 has an IP68 rating and a better overall camera system but a worse screen.

The Phone 2’s whole deal would be a little tiresome if the device itself wasn’t good. That’s not the case. This is a thoroughly good midrange phone, and it’s trying to do something a little different. I appreciate that. I just don’t think it’s for me — but maybe I’m a lost cause. At the very least, I appreciate having Nothing officially on the scene in the US, even if the Phone 2 isn’t quite my vibe.

Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge

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