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Only two things stop me from using the Nothing Phone 2 as a daily driver
Regardless of how you feel about it personally, there’s no denying that the Nothing Phone 2 is one of the most talked-about phones of the year. Thanks to CEO Carl Pei’s relentless hype machine, the phone is a hot topic across the techverse. Now that it’s reached general availability, fans are finally getting a taste of what it’s like to use the phone themselves.
I’ve had the pleasure of using the Phone 2 for a few weeks now. I can tell you with unabashed confidence that it’s easily one of the best phones of 2023 so far. Beyond its very competitive price, the phone’s design, features, and overall reliability put it neck and neck with some of the best Android phones available.
Unfortunately, the Phone 2 is just shy of true greatness. There are two things about it that stop me from putting my current daily driver (the Google Pixel 7 Pro) in a drawer and going all-in on the Nothing Phone 2.
Did you buy a Nothing Phone 2?
The Nothing Phone 2 still has an awkward fingerprint scanner
The first phone from Nothing — the aptly named Nothing Phone 1 — was pretty divisive. The lights on the back, known as Glyphs, were seen as a gimmick. The design was too reminiscent of iPhones, the camera wasn’t all that great, and its mid-range processor left much to be desired. Despite all this, I was a fan of the phone. I appreciated its quirks as unique flourishes and respected it for what it truly was: a statement of intent from Nothing.
However, I absolutely loathed the fingerprint scanner placement on the Phone 1. It was only millimeters above the bottom bezel, making it awkward to use without letting the slippery beast slide out of my hands. You can imagine my disappointment when I unboxed the Nothing Phone 2 and found the fingerprint scanner to be in basically the same place.
The fingerprint sensor is one of the most-used features of any Android phone, so Nothing's bungling of it stops me from falling in love.
I am not sure why Nothing thinks people prefer this sensor placement. The company’s major competitors put the sensor at or near the top of the bottom third of the display. Samsung, Google, and OnePlus all do this. In fact, OnePlus tried to move the sensor further down with the OnePlus 9 series and then immediately moved it back to the proper position with the OnePlus 10 Pro.
Granted, not every manufacturer agrees with me. Xiaomi is one of the world’s biggest smartphone makers, and sometimes it puts fingerprint sensors toward the bottom of the display. Case in point, the regular Xiaomi 13. Interestingly, the Xiaomi 13 Pro does not do that; its sensor is around where you’ll find a Pixel’s or a Galaxy’s. Is Xiaomi trying to say that higher placement is reserved for more premium phones?
Regardless, the placement of Nothing’s sensor is so awkward that unlocking the phone becomes a chore. I unlock my phone dozens of times daily, and grumbling to myself every time I do so will not make me fall in love with a product. It seems like a little thing, but it’s a big enough annoyance that it stops me from fully embracing the Phone 2.
The cameras simply can’t compete with the big boys
Before I get into my camera gripes, I want to say that I understand a phone with a $599 price tag simply can’t ever be the best camera phone of the year. At that price point, the hardware won’t compete. For example, pretty much no phone under $600 offers a telephoto lens, which immediately makes zoom photos inferior.
That being said, the Nothing Phone 2’s cameras still need some work to compete with some similarly-priced phones. A perfect example of this is the ultrawide lens, which we had serious problems with during our Nothing Phone 2 review. Nothing decided not to upgrade that hardware from the Phone 1, so it’s still using the Samsung JN1, an aging sensor. This produces muddy textures and other image problems, especially when you put the phone into challenging lighting conditions. Granted, Nothing’s constant stream of software updates has milked a lot of power out of the JN1, but that can only take you so far. In the end, the hardware needs to be upgraded.
In this hyper-competitive market, one great lens out of three isn't good enough.
Likewise, the selfie camera isn’t all that great, either. It captures decent enough shots under ideal conditions, but it has some bizarre limitations that go directly against the target audience of this phone. For example, selfie video is capped at 1080p/60fps. Even the Google Pixel 7a — a cheaper $449 phone — offers 4K/30fps video using the selfie camera. Nothing’s core demographic is a generation that captures selfie videos all the time for TikTok and Instagram, so why the company wouldn’t prioritize 4K video capture is beyond me.
That only leaves the primary camera, which uses the well-received Sony IMX890 sensor. This is still a mid-ranger by definition, but Nothing OS makes it shine. At a $600 price point, it’s a sweet deal. But one good shooter out of three isn’t going to cut it in this incredibly competitive industry.
Let me be clear: The Nothing Phone 2 is almost perfect
I know this article might seem negative at first glance. The headline seems to say, “Nothing has lost my support because of these two issues!” However, that’s not how I feel. The nuance I am trying to point out is that, on its second try, Nothing has done nearly everything right. The Nothing Phone 2 is so good that it made me think about putting away the Pixel 7 Pro, the phone that both Android Authority and our readers agreed was the best phone of 2022.
I did not feel this way about the Nothing Phone 1. That phone had the same problems I’m mentioning here in addition to an inferior primary camera lens, an anemic Android skin in Nothing OS 1.0, a mid-range processor, and only a handful of features for The Glyph. When you combine that with the lack of full band support in the US, it was never even in the running to live as my daily driver.
I won't be using the Nothing Phone 2 as my daily driver, but the phone is a major win for the brand that you simply can't ignore.
The Nothing Phone 2 has brought so much more to the table. The Glyph is no longer a gimmick, the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor is a beast, Nothing OS 2.0 is a revelation, and I now have complete band support in the US. I mean, how often do we see that many fixes for a second-generation product in the tech industry without a huge price increase? Not often, I assure you.
Despite these advancements, the Nothing Phone 2 is not going to replace my Pixel 7 Pro. The cameras need to be better, and the fingerprint sensor needs to be less awkward. But pretty much everything else about the phone is terrific. If you don’t care much about the camera and aren’t a stickler for fingerprint sensor placement like I am, the Phone 2 is an excellent choice at any price, let alone the perfectly reasonably $599 price tag it sits at today.
Myself, I’m waiting with bated breath for the Nothing Phone 3. If it improves on the Phone 2 even half as much as this, the Phone 3 is going to be a direct threat to even the most established competitors.