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Nothing Phone 2a vs Nothing Phone 2 hands-on: What's the difference and which should you buy?

A $250 saving seems like a steal, but there's more to consider.
By

Published onMarch 6, 2024

The Nothing Phone 2a is a unique new phone in the Carl Pei-led brand’s lineup, as it’s the first truly budget-minded phone from the startup. It’s not aiming for premium flagship territory, and it’s also not going for value flagship territory either. This is a phone designed for folks who want to spend as little money as possible while still getting all the basics. But how does it compare to the Nothing Phone 2? I spent time with both to find out.

See price at Amazon
Nothing Phone 2a
Nothing Phone 2a
Quirky design
Crisp AMOLED display
Punchy speakers
See price at Amazon
Nothing Phone 2
Nothing Phone 2
Expertly crafted, effortlessly cool design
Flagship-tier performance
Excellent value

Nothing Phone 2a vs Nothing Phone 2: What’s the same?

Nothing Phone 2a with Nothing Phone 2 Standing

With a name like Nothing Phone 2a, it’s no surprise this phone shares a lot of DNA with the Nothing Phone 2, which came out in 2023. You’ll be surprised to know that there are actually a lot of similarities between the two, even though they have drastically different prices.

These phones are almost the same size. In fact, I would go so far as calling them exactly the same size. They may not measure exactly the same size on paper, but when you hold one up to the other, there’s very little difference between the two. As you would expect, since the phones are basically the same size, their displays are basically the same size as well. Nothing even went so far as to continue using slim symmetrical bezels all around. This is usually a premium feature that you only see in higher-end phones, so the fact that Nothing has brought it to this cheaper phone is pretty cool.

The displays also have the same glass: Gorilla Glass 5. This is an older glass, so it’s not going to be as durable as something like you would see with the new Gorilla Glass Armor on the Galaxy S24 Ultra or anything like that, but it’s going to get the job done and is far more tolerable at the Phone 2a’s price tag. Even the buttons are basically the same size and in the same location. It’s very clear that Nothing just took the basic concept of the Nothing Phone 2 and transferred it to the Nothing Phone 2a.

Nothing Phone 2a Rear Camera

You may think that the Nothing Phone 2a and the Nothing Phone 2 have different cameras because they look drastically different, but they’re not entirely. The camera specs are exactly the same, though the Nothing Phone 2a uses a Samsung sensor rather than a Sony sensor like the Phone 2. More notably, though, it’s moved to this very interesting eyeball-like position. The bottoms of the phone are also the same, with the SIM tray, speaker grill, and USB-C ports all being there, and they even both share dual-SIM card trays.

With a name like Nothing Phone 2a, it's no surprise this phone shares a lot of DNA with the Nothing Phone 2.

Durability ratings are also the same. They are both IP54 rated, which means the two phones can handle light water splashes and some basic particles like coarse sand. I would not recommend taking this to the beach because if it takes a dip into the ocean or gets into some fine sand, you’re going to have problems. The fingerprint sensor is also under the display, just like on the Nothing Phone 2, and it’s also in the same spot, which is a controversial move. The fingerprint sensor is a lot lower than on lots of other phones. This might be nice if you have smaller thumbs so that you can get to the bottom of the phone easier, but for most people, you’re going to find that you have to get used to moving your thumb down just a little bit.

And the software is the same too! Both are currently running Nothing OS 2.5 based on Android 14. That’s all the things that are the same, and you might be thinking: what’s left to be different? Well, there is quite a bit.

Nothing Phone 2a vs Nothing Phone 2: What’s different?

Nothing Phone 2a angled light on

The first major difference is the Glyph, the lights on the back of the phone. You’ll note here on the Nothing Phone 2a that there are only three lights compared to the 11 different sections on the Nothing Phone 2. Like it’s bigger brother, however, there are actually multiple zones of lighting. This enables it to do things like countdown timers and Uber timers even with the reduced number of lines. So you can see when your Uber car is coming to pick you up just by looking at the light. However, the charging light at the bottom is not going to be there because the light’s simply not there.

Speaking of the back of the phone, this back is polycarbonate, not glass. One cool thing on Nothing’s part is that the plastic actually comes from scraps used when making the Nothing Ear earbuds. That’s pretty environmentally conscious of Nothing, and kudos to them for that.

The Glyph isn't quite so impressive on the Phone 2a, and the performance takes a hit for gamers.

One of the most significant differences between these two phones, though, is the processor. Inside the Nothing Phone 2a, you’ll find the MediaTek Dimensity 7200 Pro. This is a decent chipset that Nothing and MediaTek worked together to fine-tune specifically for this phone. However, no matter how you slice it, it’s not nearly as good as the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 that you’ll find in the Nothing Phone 2. If gaming and processing power are what you want, this one is not going to cut it nearly as well as the Nothing Phone 2 will.

That all being said, the Nothing Phone 2a is still going to be good enough to do everything you need it to do on an everyday basis, such as checking your email, browsing the web, checking social media, taking photos, uploading photos — all that stuff’s going to be fine. But if you really put this through its paces, the Nothing Phone 2 is going to beat it hands down.

Another major difference between these two phones is connectivity. The Nothing Phone 2 is designed to work well in the US on pretty much every carrier and all the network bands that you need, but the Nothing Phone 2a is not. There are tons of common US bands missing on the budget phone. That isn’t an issue for Europe or India, but if you use this phone in the United States, you’re not going to get the same coverage as you would with the Nothing Phone 2.

RAM and storage for these two phones are also nearly the same with an 8GB/128GB model and also a 256GB model with 12GB of RAM. However, the Nothing Phone 2 has a further 512GB option, which the Nothing Phone 2a does not have. So make your decision really well because whatever storage level you decide on, that’s what you’re stuck with forever — no microSD slot here.

Earlier, I told you that the displays are basically the same, but the actual hardware isn’t. On the Nothing Phone 2, you have an LTPO OLED panel, which means that it can go from 1Hz to 120Hz and every stop in between, depending on what you’re doing on the phone. If you’re reading text, it’ll drop way down because you don’t need 120Hz for that. But when you’re gaming, it’ll jump right back up to the maximum possible when supported. With the Nothing Phone 2a, you only go as low as 30Hz. That’s not a big difference, but if you’re somebody who likes to make sure that you’re saving as much battery power as possible, you’re not going to get the same battery efficiency on the Phone 2a.

Nothing Phone 2a Welcome Screen

That may well be offset by the fact that the Nothing Phone 2a has the biggest battery of any Nothing Phone ever, with a 5,000mAh cell packed in. That’s pretty big, and also 300mAh bigger than the Nothing Phone 2. If battery life is of major concern to you, you might want to go with the Nothing Phone 2a, which is kind of strange, considering this is supposed to be the lower-end model. However, while both phones have the same wired charging power, the Phone 2a doesn’t support wireless charging.

The Nothing Phone 2a is also not going to get quite as bright as the Nothing Phone 2. The Nothing Phone 2 goes up to 1,600 nits as its peak brightness, whereas the Nothing Phone 2a only goes up to 1,300. In your day-to-day life, though, both phones are going to be bright enough for what you need.

The Phone 2a will be supported for longer, but its processor might not stand up so well over time.

Jumping over to the cameras, I did say that they have the same specs, but that doesn’t mean they have the same features. The Nothing Phone 2a only does up to 4K 30fps, while the Nothing Phone 2 can go up to 4K 60fps. This comes down to the chipset, as the Nothing Phone 2a’s processor doesn’t support 4K at 60fps. Elsewhere, the selfie cameras on both the Nothing Phone 2 and the Nothing Phone 2a have the same sensor size and resolution, but the Nothing Phone 2a has a slightly larger aperture for letting in more light — perfect for darker conditions. As well as the aforementioned main sensor difference, there may also be some changes due to the change in ISP.

The software commitment for the phones is also the same, with three years of Android upgrades and four years of security patches. That’s already not the best update policy around, but it’s worth noting that the Phone 2a has an advantage here as it launches with Android 14. That means it’ll stop at Android 17. Meanwhile, the Nothing Phone 2 launched with Android 13, so it’ll only get Android 16. If you’re in this for the long haul and you want to keep the phone as long as possible, the Nothing Phone 2a might be the better buy, though the Phone 2’s processor should hold up better over time.

Nothing Phone 2a vs Nothing Phone 2: Price and the US availability conundrum

Nothing Phone 2a and Nothing Phone 2 Standing Back

Finally, the most significant difference between these two phones is the price. The Nothing Phone 2 starts at $599 here in the United States, while the Nothing Phone 2a starts at $349. A $250 difference isn’t peanuts. However, there is a big asterisk here, which is that the Nothing Phone 2a is not technically available in the United States. In order to get it, you have to sign up with Nothing as a developer in their new program. You basically apply, and then Nothing sends you a link to buy the phone. You’ll have to accept some terms and conditions that tell Nothing that you understand that this phone is not designed to work in the United States. And if you face any problems using the phone in the United States, that’s your problem, not Nothing’s.

Is a $250 saving worth sacrificing peace of mind?

You’re going to have to decide if that $250 is really worth it. But when taken in isolation, the Nothing Phone 2a and Nothing Phone 2 are very similar to each other. That should mean that saving $250 to get what is essentially a very similar phone could be worth it. You just have to decide whether you want to jump through those hoops to get it in the US and live with the risks. For those in Europe and India, it’s a much simpler decision, so long as you can deal with the downgrades elsewhere.

Nothing Phone 2aNothing Phone 2a
AA Recommended
Nothing Phone 2a
Quirky design • Crisp AMOLED display • Punchy speakers
MSRP: $349.00
The first true budget phone from Nothing.
The Nothing Phone 2a aims to deliver all the core features and style of the Nothing Phone 2 at a cheaper price point.
Nothing Phone 2Nothing Phone 2
AA Recommended
Nothing Phone 2
Expertly crafted, effortlessly cool design • Flagship-tier performance • Excellent value
MSRP: $599.00
The Nothing Phone gets a power boost.
Building on the success of Nothing's debut Android handset, the Nothing Phone 2 features the same unique transparent look and Glyph lighting but adds more processing power, a larger screen and battery, and makes some subtle design tweaks. You can also buy this one in the US!