One of the most noteworthy updates Apple brought to the iPhone 14 series this year is Emergency SOS via satellite. It lets you send text messages to emergency services over satellite if you're in need of help and outside of cellular coverage. The company hopes you don't need to use the service, but in case you find yourself hurt and needing rescue in the wilderness, it can be frustrating if you're unfamiliar with a tool you were expecting to be helpful. Today, Apple is rolling out a demo mode of Emergency SOS via Satellite so members of the public can see how it works.
After updating your iPhone 14 (or 14 Plus or 14 Pro or 14 Pro Max), you'll need to navigate to the Emergency SOS section of Settings to find the Demo. It's worth checking this out since not many people will know what to expect nor that the first step is to dial 911, instead of looking for an app. If you're using demo mode, you won't be connected to a real emergency services agent or relay center — the company's system will navigate demo users to a server that sends canned responses. This prevents people from overloading actual call centers.
In addition to a controlled preview at Apple's campus earlier this year, I also tried the satellite communications feature for myself at a special demo last week in Brooklyn's Prospect Park. Using iPhones that Apple tweaked to disable cellular services, I was able to locate and connect to passing satellites and experience how long it would take to have a text conversation with an agent. Not only was it insightful to get a sense for how much slower satellite transmissions took compared to cellular, I also learned how best to concisely convey information about my situation in as few words as possible.
Apple doesn't recommend that you try this yourself (i.e. find a place without any cellular coverage just to see what the experience is like). Instead, if you're curious about the interface and how this works, that's what this demo mode is for.
Emergency SOS via Satellite and the demo mode both roll out today in the US and Canada. Apple is also announcing that it's expanding the service to France, Germany, Ireland and the UK in December.
caa47972-4b4f-4731-b726-2d3fdda5f604The iPhone 14 series is at once controversial and underwhelming. With its latest phones, Apple chose to ditch the physical SIM card slot but continued to avoid adopting USB-C, and on the non-Pro models there's still the notch. At the same time, the iPhone 14 looks nearly identical to its predecessor — at least on the outside. It has slightly improved cameras, a new high-g accelerometer for crash detection and the ability to connect to satellites for emergency communication.
Apple also decided to revive a larger Plus model this year in lieu of a new iPhone mini, and kept the same A15 Bionic chip instead of upgrading to the A16 Bionic powering the iPhone Pro line. The Plus won’t be available until October and we only have the smaller $799 model in for review right now. So far, save for some controversial changes and emergency applications, the iPhone 14 is the very definition of an incremental upgrade.
The best way to distinguish between the iPhone 13 and 14 is by looking for the SIM tray on the left. The new phone doesn’t have one. Other than that, the only difference this year are the new color options (purple and blue). I like them, but they don’t inspire the same sort of lust in me that the green iPhone 12 or pink iPhone 13 did.
The lack of change isn’t a bad thing, by the way. Apple’s handsets may seem predictable, but they still feel expensive and well-made. They also have the same IP68 rating for dust and water resistance, as well as the same ceramic shield protecting the display from scratches. It feels like the company has settled on a design for the foreseeable future and won’t be deviating from it much.
In fact, the iPhone 14 has nearly the same dimensions as the iPhone 13. Despite being a hundredth of an inch thicker, it’s two grams (or 0.07 ounces) lighter. For comparison’s sake, the iPhone 14 is also heavier than the Galaxy S22, but otherwise the same size.
Although not much on the outside has changed, Apple did say at its ‘Far Out’ event last week that it redesigned the iPhone 14’s internals by separating the aluminum housing and the glass of the phone’s back so they’re no longer one enclosure. This brings two benefits: more efficient heat dissipation and improved repairability. If you crack the iPhone 14’s back glass, you’ll no longer have to get the entire housing replaced. This makes fixing a broken iPhone not only easier, but also cheaper, especially when your phone is out of warranty. Of course, destroying my review unit just to test this out doesn’t make sense, but it’s a welcome change regardless.
Display and audio
I’m kind of upset that Apple still hasn’t upgraded the iPhone 14’s screen. It still runs at 2,532 x 1,170 and a mere 60Hz. What gives? The last generation was already woefully outdated with its slow refresh rate. When I switch between the iPhone 14 and the 14 Pro, I immediately notice how much choppier scrolling is on the regular phone.
The iPhone 14’s display is brighter than before, but only slightly. It now goes up to 1,200 nits when showing HDR content, which makes things easier to see in sunlight. Colors are rich and details are crisp — no surprises here. If you’ve seen one iPhone display, you’ve seen them all. At least in recent years.
The same can be said for the iPhone 14’s speakers. Blackpink’s Pink Venom sounded adequately clear and loud, with a focus on the trebles and mids and lacking in bass. The iPhone 14’s quality won’t wow your more persnickety party guests, but it’s serviceable.
The bulk of the improvements on the iPhone 14 have to do with its cameras. Specifically, there’s a larger 12-megapixel sensor with bigger 1.9-micron pixels than before, as well as updated low light processing that Apple is calling the Photonic Engine. This should make for better pictures not just in low light, but also greater clarity in all conditions.
Compared to the previous generation, though, this year’s cameras aren’t a huge step up. Photos I shot with the iPhone 14 and 13 were very similar. A furry plush toy bear on a table looked slightly cooler in the iPhone 14’s picture than on the iPhone 13’s, and its furry paws were slightly clearer on the new phone’s shot.
An unlit neon sign saying in a pitch black room also appeared cooler on the iPhone 14 than on the 13, with both rendering the striped wallpaper in the background equally clearly. These results were the same when I used the ultrawide cameras to capture the scene, too.
In low light, the iPhone 14 was slightly better at showcasing details like my highlights and individual strands of my hair in photos shot with the rear camera. But otherwise, things like brightness and color were about the same between the iPhone 14 and its predecessor. Even the portraits I shot of a glass of liquor in low light looked so similar they were impossible to identify without labels. Oddly, though, the iPhone 14 sometimes took pictures that were less saturated.
The iPhone 14 did produce mildly improved selfies in low light. While autofocus is a new feature this year, it didn’t make my pictures dramatically better. Details like the scarring on my cheeks were clearer in low-light selfies from the new phone, but the two devices were on par in daylight.
The iPhone 14 also features the new Action mode for improved stabilization in videos, and like most of the other updates this year, this provides only a small enhancement. That’s in part because Apple’s video stabilization was already pretty effective, and the benefits brought by Action mode aren’t as obvious. But if you’re into shooting extremely shaky footage with your iPhone 14, Action mode should be handy.
Emergency SOS via satellite and crash detection
Thanks to a new high-g accelerometer and a high dynamic range gyroscope, Apple was able to add a crash detection feature to the iPhone 14 series. This isn’t something I can safely test, unfortunately.
All iPhone 14s, Pro or not, will also be able to connect to satellites so you can send emergency messages when cellular or WiFi signals aren’t available. This feature is rolling out in November in the US, and based on a private demo I saw following the Apple event, it appeared to work.
First, when you’re away from cellular and WiFi networks, you’ll see an SOS graphic that lets you know you can still dial 911 and the iPhone will use any other available network to place your call. But when none of those are available and you want to use Emergency SOS via Satellite, you’ll first have to use the Phone app to dial 911. When the device is unable to connect and you’re in a situation with satellite access (i.e., you’re not surrounded by buildings and are in the wilderness with a clear view of the sky), Apple will prompt you to use satellite communications.
Having to first dial 911 seems unintuitive if your focus is trying to send a text or connect to a satellite, but Apple wants you to think of this feature as more of a last resort when trying to contact emergency services fails. The company has relay centers set up, too, with staff who are trained to help users get in touch with the closest emergency responders in case there aren’t any nearby that accept text messages.
During my demo, an Apple rep showed what it would look like when communicating with one such relay center (presumably aware that we were in a hypothetical situation). After failing to reach 911, the iPhone 14 showed a few multiple-choice questions that the rep answered quickly, describing their condition and environment. The system then sent a report summing up the situation and providing the latitude and longitude of our location.
While that message was being sent, our demo iPhone 14 appeared to lose connection to the satellite it had first latched on to and we had to wait until another came by to finish sending the report. When that was done, the phone brought up the conversation that it had started in Messages with emergency services.
Texts that were sent over satellite were in gray bubbles, while the responses came back in green. We went back and forth with the responder until a theoretical team had been dispatched to our location.
The satellite communications tool can also be used in the Find My app to share your location with family and friends. I was able to test this out during my demo, and I followed the directions on an iPhone 14 to point at a satellite coming over the horizon behind Apple Park. I was told to stay still while a connection was established, after which my location was sent to a contact on the sample iPhone. The system will tell your friends that your position was shared “via Satellite” — in case those bragging rights are important to you. Then, you won’t be able to send your location via satellite again for 15 minutes.
While I can see some people potentially abusing this as a stunt, I can also imagine how it might be useful to keep your loved ones abreast of your whereabouts as you wander out in the wilderness. This shouldn’t be something that features heavily in your daily life, but it could be very helpful if you’ve lost your signal while exploring.
Farewell, physical SIM cards
Another change to the iPhone 14 line is the removal of the SIM card tray. I’ve long felt that a SIM-less world is a seamless world, and when carriers worldwide support it we will be able to more conveniently roam globally. The problem is, I’m not sure we have the infrastructure yet.
Apple may have been premature in getting rid of the SIM card tray, but it could give US carriers the push they need to adopt the format. Apple has offered eSIM support since the iPhone XR in 2018, and the company states it’s had a lot of adoption growth. With the iPhone 13 last year, Apple started using eSIM as the primary method of activation in all US retail stores, too. In general, setting up my review unit’s service was painless; all I had to do was wait two minutes for Verizon to activate my line. Apple also offered the option of converting my existing physical card to a digital one without having to leave my apartment.
It’s funny that Apple has thrown caution to the wind and fully embraced eSIM before it adopted USB-C, though. The charging standard is more prevalent and would make many people’s lives more convenient. This is one area where the iPhone 14 feels stuck in the past.
Performance and battery life
The iPhone 14 may use last year’s A15 Bionic processor, but it’s still a capable phone that holds its own against this year’s flagships. My feverish rounds of Royal Match while messaging fellow reviewers my thoughts on the iPhone 14 Pro all happened smoothly, and in general the phone stayed cool to the touch. It got warm when I repeatedly tested the selfie camera’s autofocus in low light, but didn’t get alarmingly hot.
It also managed to last an entire day that started with an 8am workout class. At about 10pm, I was down to less than 15 percent and had to activate low power mode before I could get home and charge it. That got me to 12:30pm with 6 percent left, and I was still able to snap some pictures during that time.
The iPhone 14 is very similar to the iPhone 13, which itself was very similar to the iPhone 12. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad phone — it’s just less of an upgrade for anyone using a phone that’s only two years old. You’ll notice a bigger difference if you’re going to the iPhone 14 from the 11 or older, since new features like Emergency SOS via Satellite and crash detection are hopefully things you won’t need to use much. For those people, the iPhone 14 will be a satisfying daily driver.
Probably the biggest new features for the iPhone 14 and 14 Plus isn't one you'll use ever day, but you'll be glad you have it if you need it. The new phone has a built-in satellite connection that people can use to send emergency SOS messages in places where there's no available cellular signal.
First, your iPhone will help you orient your phone in the direction you need to point it to get the best signal. Once you have a connection, you can open up a message interface that lets you communicate with emergency service providers. Apple says that because of satellite connectivity limits, it'll take much longer to send messages than you're used to, so the feature includes some automatic questions it prompts you to answer, like "is anyone hurt?" It'll have auto-populated answers that you can tap to respond. Apple is also compressing messages to a third their normal size to make sending them a little quicker.
Apple say that once the message it sent to the satellite, it then gets sent to emergency response centers; if those centers are only set up for voice calls, they'll first be routed to a response center that'll then get in touch with emergency response.
This feature will be included for free for two years with all iPhone 14 and 14 Pro models; it's not clear how much it'll cost after that. For people who are frequently away from cellular signals — perhaps the same people who are looking at an Apple Watch Ultra — this feature could be extremely useful in a tough spot.
Follow all of the news from Apple’s iPhone event right here.
HMD’s Nokia has continued to roll out serviceable but unremarkable smartphones for the last few years. Forgoing attempts to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Samsung and Apple, it’s settled into a groove of releasing solid mid-range and entry-level smartphones, wireless headphones and even tablets. Now it’s announced a new subscription plan that it says will “reward users” for keeping their phone for longer.
Its new Circular subscription, launching in the UK and Germany to begin with, centers around the environment and sustainability. It’ll appear alongside four new devices, including what HMD calls its most eco-friendly smartphone yet. The Nokia X30 is made of 100% recycled aluminum, including both the frame of the device and speaker grills, and uses 65% recycled plastic.
The X30, which for now isn’t coming to the US, has a 6.54-inch screen and a 50-megapixel camera with optical image stabilization (OIS). However, despite those recycled material bona fides, HMD confirmed that there’s still no removable battery, one of (several) issues when it comes to electronics waste.
The Circular service itself is more interesting than the phones. The subscription fee will cover the phone itself, and any accidental damage, loss or theft will be taken care of without a separate monthly cost. The monthly pricing is reasonable, if not groundbreaking. For now, two devices (and they’re not even the new Nokia phones) will join Circular; The Nokia XR20 will cost £20 (roughly $23) per month with a £30 (around $35) setup fee. It’s a ruggedized 6.67-inch 5G smartphone with dual cameras, including a 48-megapixel primary sensor.
There is also the Nokia T10 LTE, an entry-level 8-inch tablet, for £10 (roughly $12) a month with the same £30 (around $35) setup fee.
While the aforementioned X30 won’t be on Circular at launch, those concerns about a reduced footprint when the battery isn’t removable are at least partially addressed. When you return a phone to them, either when you upgrade or leave the service, the company will recycle or refurbish the device. It will also donate devices that can’t be resold to charitable causes, although details were scant on what these would be. There will be longevity incentives for holding onto your Nokia phone for longer too, it’s just not a financial one. Instead, you’ll gain credits for every six months you continue to use your phone, with these increasing the older the handset gets. These can then be put towards ‘buying’ some tree saplings, or carbon offset credits.
Given the structure (and power) of US mobile carriers, this model is unlikely to carry over with similar prices, if at all, but the company said it will roll Circular out globally in the coming months.
T-Mobile and SpaceX have announced a new technology alliance they're calling "Coverage and Above and Beyond" that aims to end mobile deadzones. In an event at SpaceX's Starbase facility, the companies have revealed that they're working on integrating a slice of T-Mobile's mid-band 5G spectrum into the second-gen Starlink satellites launching next year. It's like putting a cellular tower in the sky, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert said during the event. He also said that they're envisioning a future wherein if you have a clear view of the sky, you are connected on your mobile phone — even if it's the middle of the ocean. No more getting worried that you won't be able to get in touch with first responders or friends and family while driving or hiking in places where there's typically no coverage.
The companies are making it so that your existing phones can connect to the service, which will enter beta as soon as late next year. It will start with messaging (SMS, MMS and select messaging apps), allowing you to send and receive messages in real time, and Sievert said the companies will keep going until the service can also offer data and voice. While the partners didn't exactly launch a product during the event, the T-Mobile CEO promised that the service will come free with T-Mobile's popular plans. For low-cost plans that don't include it, the carrier may charge for the service, but for far lower prices than satellite services do.
SpaceX chief Elon Musk tweeted that connectivity will be 2 to 4 Megabits per cell zone, which isn't a high bandwidth, but will work great for texting and for voice calls.
Note, connectivity will be 2 to 4 Mbits per cell zone, so will work great for texting & voice calls, but not high bandwidth
On stage, Musk said the service will save lives, as it will allow people to call for help even from the most remote places. When asked how his company had to tweak Starlink satellites for the service to work, Musk said SpaceX had to design a very big, extremely advanced antenna that has the ability to pick up very quiet signals from your cellphone. The company is still currently working on it in the lab, but Musk said SpaceX is confident that it's going to work in the field.
The company chiefs have issued an open invitation to carriers around the world to make the service available everywhere. In the US, international carriers can team up with T-Mobile so that visitors to the country will also be able to connect to Starlink satellites with their mobile devices.
It’s tempting to import the Nothing Phone 1. The combination of eye-catching design, well-rounded performance and a reasonable price can make it more appealing than other mid-range smartphones, and even some pricey flagships. But is it really worth the effort to bring the Phone 1 to the US? Not necessarily. There are a number of challenges you’ll have to overcome, even once the device reaches your hands.
Importing may cost more than you think
The Phone 1 is priced at £399 in the UK and €469 in EU countries, or about $478 US as of this writing. However, you can’t just send one to an American shipping address. We haven’t found a major UK or EU retailer that will ship Nothing’s product to the US, and it’s unlikely that you will given the Phone 1 hasn’t received the FCC certification needed for legal sales inside the country.
Unless you know someone willing to serve as a go-between, you’ll need to enlist the help of a package forwarding service that will ship the Phone 1 to a US address. In the UK, your options include companies like Forward2Me, MyUS and Reship. Many of them will handle single shipments, but you may need to sign up for a membership (typically $10 per month). And an individual order can be expensive. Forward2Me, for instance, currently estimates that you’ll pay between $29 to $47 to ship a common smartphone box.
You might not have to pay significant import fees, at least. While US Customs and Border Protection does require a Merchandise Processing Fee (between $2 and $10 for informal entries like this), you can import personal-use products duty- and tax-free when they’re worth less than $800. Package forwarders will handle the paperwork, and will frequently quote the true shipping price. With that said, be sure to read the terms for these services and prepare for the possibility of extra charges.
The phone might not work properly
The expenses may not be the real dealbreaker. If anything, you’ll need to worry more about network compatibility. While the Nothing Phone 1 does support some US carriers’ 5G and LTE frequencies, it lacks long-range bands for T-Mobile and Verizon. You won’t get as robust coverage, and the performance may fall short. In testing, PCMag’s Sascha Segan noticed that the Phone 1 only managed 100Mbps downloads on 5G in areas where other phones reached 400Mbps.
This is assuming you can get the handset to work in the first place. Without certification from the FCC or American carriers, there are no guarantees you’ll get connected. Nothing warns that the Phone 1 can’t place 5G or LTE calls on AT&T as an uncertified device, and Segan lost Verizon service after two hours of use. Don’t expect the functionality to improve, either. As Nothing founder Carl Pei explained to PCMag, US certification wasn’t worth the trouble without a local carrier agreement; any broken connectivity is likely to stay broken.
After-sale support is a problem, too. Nothing’s warranty only covers service within the original purchase region, so you can’t ask for official help. We also wouldn’t expect independent repair shops to fix the Phone 1. You’ll probably have to buy a brand new phone if something breaks, in other words.
What are the alternatives?
Pei has indicated that community investors in the US might get the Phone 1 through a closed beta program. Nothing also has “big plans” to launch a US-friendly phone at some stage. If you’re not part of that beta and aren’t willing to wait for a sequel, though, you’re probably better off buying an alternative device. Thankfully, there are a few viable models in the sub-$500 range.
Google’s Pixel 6a (launching July 28th) may be the easiest choice. It won’t have the Phone 1’s smooth 120Hz screen, wireless charging or dual 50-megapixel rear cameras, but you will get a speedy processor and the latest Google software features for a modest $449. If you crave a high-refresh screen, Motorola’s 144Hz-capable 2021 Edge is on sale for $400 as we write this. And yes, the iPhone 11 is still surprisingly capable if you don’t mind the three-year-old specs.
We’d advise against Samsung’s sluggish Galaxy A53 5G, but it is an option if you’re determined to get a 120Hz display or simply prefer the safety of a large brand’s ecosystem. You might also want to wait awhile. Apple should have a better $500 device when it updates the iPhone lineup in September (possibly the iPhone 12), and the solid Galaxy S21 FE may see further price cuts.
When I first pulled the Nothing Phone 1 from its slender retail box, I just stared at it, flipped it over in my hand and scrutinized the see-through bits and pieces. Nothing’s attention to detail was noticeable everywhere. I’ll admit it outright: I love how it looks.
The company may be pushing a narrative of epoch-defining design, but its first phone also comes with decent, if not groundbreaking, specifications and, gasp, a competitive price point. While the aesthetics scream flagship device (and there’s definitely some iPhone DNA here), the price tag, around $476 (£399 here in the UK, no availability in the US), puts it in the arguably more competitive midrange weight class. That puts it up against the iPhone SE, Samsung’s Galaxy A series and Google’s Pixel A devices – don’t forget, the Pixel 6a is just around the corner. Can a literally flashy phone steal your attention away from all these heavy hitters?
Both colors of the Nothing Phone 1 are eye-catching. And, while the white version looks cooler, the black really emphasizes the unique glyph lights. Gorilla Glass covers the front and back, and Nothing has curated what components you can see and smoothed out some of the lines.
Let’s talk about the Glyph interface, as Nothing has coined it. It uses over 900 LEDS to create four different light-up elements across the back of the phone. Some have extra features, which I’ll come back to, but collectively they light and flash to signify phone calls or notifications… and prompt strangers to ask, “what’s going on with your iPhone?” The only thing it attracts more than onlookers is fingerprints. You’ll buff this phone a lot to ensure the transparent design can be properly shown off.
Yeah, it’s eye-catching to all humans within 10 feet, but fortunately, you can reduce the brightness and, well, the severity of a phone call or text from someone. There’s also a thoughtful warning that the Glyph Interface may not be safe for anyone with epilepsy or other light-sensitivity conditions. As I have a history of seizures myself, it’s a nice consideration, but as someone noted, what about the people around me?
Nothing has made 10 unique ringtones with dedicated Glyph patterns that light up in sync to the lo-fi chippy noises – one of several signs that the Teenage Engineering DNA runs deep here. Most of the ringtones and patterns are somehow... just plain cool? I think it’s something to do with the perfect synchronization or the fact that it’s not the hollow, orchestral stirrings of a corporate audio sting.
A light strip at the bottom of the Phone 1 doubles up as a charging gauge when the device is plugged in. You will have to enable the feature within the phone’s Glyph Interface settings. I wish the battery gauge also worked on the power strip even when it wasn’t plugged in. Perhaps we’ll get more Glyph functionality in the future.
Now, for all those claims of a unique smartphone paradigm, besides the back, the phone looks and feels like an iPhone – especially the edges of the recycled aluminum frame. Unlike Apple’s phone, there’s no mute switch, and that might be an intentional design choice to put some distance between Nothing and OnePlus. (Nothing boss Carl Pei co-founded the latter and I’ve made my feelings on the OnePlus alert slider known for some time.)
Like the iPhone, the power button is on the right side, while the volume buttons are along the left. At the bottom edge, you have a single-firing (but loud!) speaker, SIM card slot and USB-C port.
There’s a red LED on the back of the phone to indicate when Phone 1 is recording video, like a camcorder from the ‘90s. It’s equal parts privacy feature and intentional retro nod. Another cute touch: The SIM card remover handle is resin-tipped, and looks like a little transistor.
The Phone 1 is a big phone. It dwarfs my iPhone 13 Pro. Its 6.55-inch 1080p screen puts it closer to the iPhone 13 Pro Max and the Pixel 6 Pro. Though, at 8.3mm thick, it’s more substantial than Apple’s biggest iPhone.
The midrange spec creep starts at the display, which has a relatively substantial bezel similar to the Galaxy A53 but it’s unlikely to be a dealbreaker for many. There’s a holepunch camera, (16-megapixel) and the display itself is vivid and bright (up to 1200 nits), while refresh rates can reach 120Hz. Adaptive refresh rates are one of the modern touches that help devices feel (and, well, look) premium.
The Phone 1 feels premium then, despite the next compromise: the mid-range Snapdragon processor ticking away inside. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 778G+ chip has been lightly customized for Nothing, meaning the Phone 1 can offer wireless charging (and reverse wireless charging) capabilities, unlike phones using the standard Snapdragon 778G. The Phone 1 was still able to handle some battles and exploration in Genshin Impact, though it did get rather warm in the process.
Nothing says you can 33-watt fast-charge the Phone 1 to 50 percent battery capacity in 30 minutes, and my testing pretty much replicated this. Wireless charging tops out at 15W, while you can reverse charge at up to 5W from the Phone 1 itself. I wonder if wireless charging is all that desirable? Or was it an issue of having something nice to show off on the transparent back? Something to frame a Glyph around? Perhaps I’m just a cynic. (Ok, definitely.)
In our battery rundown tests, the Phone 1 was able to play a video on loop for just over 16 hours, which is better than several Android phones we’ve tested in the last year, including the OnePlus 10 Pro, although it’s worth noting that Nothing’s has a lower-resolution display.
In typical use, I managed to get a day and half out of a full charge. With more video recording, or gaming or streaming, this would mean I’d be under 10 percent by 9PM. This is ameliorated a little with the fast charging, but a bit more battery life would have been nice.
The dot-matrix ‘Nothing’ font that arrived with the company’s debut earbuds, is peppered around the company’s take on Android 12. There isn’t much different about this “bespoke” interpretation of Google’s mobile OS, though. There are those Glyph-connected ringtones, some monochromatic wallpapers, and unique widgets in the drop-down menu, but otherwise, it’s mostly the Android you know.
A Nothing spokesperson told me that they’re working on expanding features through third-party APIs — one example currently live is the ability to unlock your Tesla from this dropdown menu. You can turn on the AC in advance, flash the lights and a few more lightweight features. But that’s an incredibly tiny slice of Venn diagram overlap: Tesla driver and Nothing Phone 1 owner.
Another obvious display of the company’s partnership with Teenage Engineering, is its voice memo app, which has a minimalist tape deck aesthetic. You can rewind and fast-forward, and there are several noise-canceling options to better isolate voices. It’s not podcast-ready but if you’re recording a meeting or leaving a note for yourself from a loud pub they should at least help.
If there’s one thing I can’t get on board with, it’s Nothing’s addition of a native NFT Gallery. I don’t have any NFTs, but if I did, I’d be able to track their prices and “show them off” in five different sizes on the Phone 1. Let’s move on.
As it’s a new phone from a very new company, I had my reservations about stability. But so far, I’ve had no major issues. Resource-intensive apps may take slightly longer to load compared to flagship phones, but that’s about it. The company has also vowed to bring three years of Android updates to the Phone 1, which should help keep things secure and stable.
If you‘ve been checking out many of our phone reviews over recent years, you’ll have noticed that multi-camera setups often include a dud – a monochrome sensor here, a 2-megapixel macro camera there. There’s a reason why the Pixel 6 and iPhone 13 are still capable of decent photography, despite “only” having two cameras – diminishing returns. This phone also has a dual-camera system. At this mid-range price, this is where things often go awry. But, thankfully, that’s not the case with the Nothing Phone 1.
Nothing has gone for Sony’s IMX766 sensor and combined it with f/1.9 lens with optical image stabilization. If you’re a smartphone obsessive, that might sound familiar, because that’s what you got on Oppo’s Find X3 Pro, a flagship Android phone from last year that was double the price of the Phone 1.
The secondary ultrawide camera uses a 50MP Samsung JN1 sensor with an f/2.2 lens. This doubles as a macro camera, but don’t expect incredible macro photography from a phone.
You can expect crisp images in good lighting, though. I’ve been impressed with the still quality from the Phone 1. There seem to be some image software tweaks here, but they’re relatively light. Comparing daylight shots from the Phone 1 against the Pixel 4a, Google’s seemed to offer more contrast, but it’s hard to call a winner between the two. Both offered up 12-megapixel images, so detail levels were generally a match, Nothing just seems to have gone for slightly more muted colors.
With brighter parts of the image, you will notice some chromatic aberrations: a purplish hue around those bright spots. Night-time photography is decent enough, with the usual night shooting mode in attendance. It didn’t best the top smartphones, but it was able to rescue a few lowlight shots that would have otherwise been a dark patchy mess. Despite the algorithms at work, results were a little noisy.
The Glyph Interface can also be used as a sort-of ring light, to illuminate nearby subjects without the oomph of a standard flash. It added a gentle, slightly blueish hue to photos when enabled. It’s a clever idea but the execution is a little lacking. If Nothing could offer finer color temperature controls, like many ring lights do, this could be genuinely useful.
The camera app offers all the usual imaging features of a phone in 2022: HDR, Portrait mode, timelapse and even an expert mode for finer controls over white balance, ISO and more. I found the basic photo mode more than versatile enough. The biggest limitation was the 2x zoom, which crops part of the image sensor. There’s some digital zoom thrown in if you’re desperate. I started to miss the more expansive telephoto options on other – usually more expensive – smartphones.
The Phone 1 can capture 4K video at 30FPS or 1080p at 60FPS. Video quality was smooth and serviceable. There’s a little bit of rolling shutter wobble when you’re panning around, and in lower light I noticed it hunting for focus if I was moving while recording. It also struggles to balance exposure between a pinkish sky at dusk and a darker street.
At the Nothing Phone 1’s launch event, Carl Pei said that “stability [was] way more important than a ton of flashy features.” It was an odd choice of words when the biggest differentiator of your company’s new phone is literally a flashing feature.
The good news is that all this effort into how the phone looks – and it’s certainly eye-catching when the Glyphs light up – hasn’t been undone by wobbly software, mediocre cameras or disappointing build quality. It’s a competent Android phone.
The price, the style and the attention to detail are all impressive. Nothing is walking a fine line between gimmick and feature at times, but as a new company, it gets to do that. There’s no predecessor phone to replicate, and this goes in Nothing’s favor. Having said that, its biggest rival could be Google’s Pixel 6a, with a similar price point, and its own unique look.
This is a new phone from a new company, so I’ll be keeping an eye on this phone longer term. But, Nothing has made an impressive debut. Don’t believe all the hype, but the Phone makes a compelling argument for mid-range shoppers and anyone that wants a phone that looks different but does things pretty much the same.
Choosing your next smartphone can be challenging. With so many brands offering similar features at similar prices, it can be hard to understand what device actually has the things you want. If you’ve already determined you only want an iPhone, your decision-making process is slightly easier. (And even then, Apple’s lineup offers more options than ever.) Those also considering Android will have even more options to choose from, and likely more questions. Do you want a camera that can zoom into subjects that are extremely far away, or do you want intuitive AI that can screen your incoming calls for you? Here at Engadget, we test smartphones all year round and can help you make sense of what’s available and what to look out for. And, of course, we’ve included our favorite phones to help you whittle down your shortlist.
Android or iOS?
Each OS has its pros and cons. Apple’s tight-knit ecosystem makes it super easy to share data between iPhones, iPads and Macs or seamlessly hand-off phone calls or music from one device to another. At the same time, you’re effectively locked in, as services like Apple Messages aren’t available on other platforms.
As for Android, there’s a much wider range of handsets from companies like Google, Samsung, Sony and more. However, Android phones don’t enjoy that same length of software support and often have lower trade-in values. In short, there’s no wrong answer. However, you will want to consider how your phone will fit in with the rest of your devices. So unless you’re really fed up with one OS and willing to learn another, it probably doesn’t make a lot of sense to switch from iOS to Android (or vice versa) – especially if everyone else in your household is using the same platform.
Since people’s phones often pull double duty as their primary camera, figuring out what kind of photo tools you want is key. Nowadays, practically every phone can take a great picture in bright light. But if you want a long optical zoom, you’ll probably have to upgrade to a more expensive device like the S22 Ultra (which has 10x optical zoom), a Pixel 6 Pro (3x optical zoom) or an iPhone 13 Pro (3x optical zoom). (Note: The standard iPhone 13 doesn’t have a dedicated zoom lens.)
Mid-range phones often only have two rear cameras (a primary wide-angle lens and a secondary ultra-wide camera) and can sometimes struggle in low-light situations. Each phone maker also has various features that might be a better fit for your style, with Apple offering four different color presets on the iPhone 13 (warm, vibrant, cool and rich contrast), while Google’s Pixel 6 comes with neat tools like dedicated long exposure and action pan modes.
Will you get 5G or Wi-Fi 6?
The good news is that in 2022, most phones have at least 802.11ac Wi-Fi and support for one or more types of 5G connectivity. However, if you want the fastest wireless speeds you can get, it’s going to cost you a bit more. For example, on certain networks, mmWave 5G offers up to gigabit download speeds, less latency and better bandwidth. But mmWave 5G also requires more sophisticated (and pricier) modems, which means support for it is often missing from budget and mid-range handsets like the iPhone SE and Pixel 5a.
On the bright side, mmWave 5G isn’t as widely available as other versions of 5G, so depending on where you live and what network you’re on, you may not be missing out on much if you buy a phone that doesn’t support it. It’s a similar situation for Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6e, which are available on a number of high-end devices, but harder to find on less expensive handsets. Wi-Fi 6 also requires you have to have a compatible router, so unless you know you need it or have a specific use case in mind, the lack of support for mmWave 5G or Wi-Fi 6E shouldn’t be a dealbreaker when looking for a new phone.
Other features to consider
Because not everyone agrees on what makes an ideal phone, you should think about any other specs that might be extra important for you. Mobile gamers will almost certainly appreciate the 120Hz refresh rates you get on phones like the Galaxy S22 or the iPhone 13 Pro. Alternatively, if long battery life is important, you’ll probably want to go with a larger iPhone or an Android phone with a battery that’s between 4,000 and 5,000 mAh in size. Meanwhile, if you find yourself juggling a lot of devices, it can be really nice to have a phone that supports reverse wireless charging, which on Samsung phones even lets you recharge the company’s Galaxy Watches.
Best iOS smartphone: iPhone 13 Pro
Picking the best iPhone is fairly easy. Of the current lineup, the iPhone 13 Pro offers the best balance of features, size and price. It has a fast-refreshing 120Hz ProMotion screen that makes scrolling a breeze, as well as a versatile camera system and great battery life. I prefer it to the Pro Max since the latter is an absolute anvil of a phone that will probably fracture your skull if it falls on your face. And though the Pro is heavier and pricier than the regular iPhone 13, the additional camera and faster screen is worth the extra money.
All the iPhone 13s are equipped with Apple’s capable A15 Bionic chip, which provides powerful performance. If you don’t need something as high-end as the Pro, consider the iPhone SE 2022, which also uses the same chip but costs a lot less. Though I’m a fan of the iPhone 13 mini’s compact size, I can’t recommend it to anyone looking for a daily driver that will last all day; its limited battery life means you’ll need to at least charge it again in the afternoon for it to stick around till you need to order that Uber at midnight. – Cherlynn Low, Deputy Editor
As Samsung’s latest flagship phone and the spiritual successor to the Galaxy Note line, the Galaxy S22 Ultra has every feature power users and more mainstream shoppers could ever need. Its 10x optical zoom camera offers the longest reach you can get on a phone today, while its huge 6.8-inch 120Hz OLED screen makes everything look smooth and colorful. It also has IP68 dust and water resistance, not to mention durable Gorilla Glass Victus+ panels in front and back. And of course, there’s the built-in S-Pen, whose latency has dropped to just 2.8 milliseconds for 2022. This makes drawing, sketching and anything else you do with its stylus feel incredibly responsive. And, thanks to expanded support, Samsung’s Galaxy S will get at least four years of Android updates, which is longer than what Google has pledged for the Pixel 6. – Sam Rutherford, Senior Reporter
If all you want is a simple, affordable and easy-to-use phone without any unnecessary bells and whistles, the Pixel 5a is the perfect choice. Starting at $459, the 5a features a colorful 6.34-inch OLED display, while Google’s excellent photo processing produces pics that match what you get from phones that cost twice as much. You also get super handy IP67 dust and water resistance, along with good performance thanks to Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G processor, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. And, unlike a lot of other mid-range phones, the Pixel 5a enjoys strong software support, with Google promising regular Android and security updates until August 2024.
The main things you won't get compared to more premium handsets are a dedicated telephoto lens, wireless charging and support for mmWave 5G (though you do get sub-6GHz). It’s worth noting that the Pixel 6a is around the corner, and it’ll use Google’s own Tensor chip that uses AI to improve photography, voice recognition and Material You. We’d need to test it to see how it performs in the real world before recommending it, but if you’re not in a hurry to get a new phone, it might be wise to wait for the Pixel 6a. – S.R.
With an A15 Bionic chip and iOS 15, the latest iPhone SE is possibly the most powerful phone you can find for under $450. Sure, it has a dated design, but some folks might actually appreciate the retro look. The best thing about the iPhone SE is its home button: It’s the only new iPhone to have Touch ID. And though it only has a single rear camera, the SE still takes solid pictures. If you can get over the small, low-res screen, the iPhone SE will serve you well. It’s also really the only sub-$500 option for iOS diehards.
If you’re open to considering Android and want to spend less than $400, consider something from Samsung’s Galaxy A-series or the OnePlus Nord N20. Those looking to spend even less can check out the Moto G Power – just be prepared to compromise on features like display and cameras at lower prices. – C.L.
It’s hard for me to leave the house without the Pixel 6 Pro. As long as there’s a chance I might want to take photos, I make sure I’ve brought Google’s latest flagship. The Pixel 6 Pro’s triple rear camera system is versatile enough to capture anything from the largest group shots or wide landscapes to faraway animals (like that time I thought I spotted a whale when staring at a distant blob from Acadia National Park). Google’s Night Sight still outperforms the competition when taking pictures in low light, too, and its computational photography delivers clear, vivid photos.
Of course, Samsung and Apple’s flagships are closing the gap, and these days there is little difference between the photos they deliver. Some people might even prefer the warmer tint on Galaxy devices. But special features like Google’s Magic Eraser and Motion effects make the Pixel 6 Pro the most fun to shoot with. Plus, I love the additional tools you get on Pixels, like Call Screening, Material You theming and Live Captions, among others. The Pixel 6 Pro has some small flaws, including a quirky in-display fingerprint sensor and some early software bugs. But if you’re willing to put up with those issues, in exchange you’ll get the best camera experience around. – C.L.
While you won’t find as many options for foldables in the west as you would in Asia, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is widely available in Europe and North America and remains an excellent pick regardless of market. That’s because while its starting price of $1,800 definitely ain’t cheap, the Z Fold 3 has the ability to adjust to your needs. Its exterior cover screen makes it easy to quickly check notifications or a map when you’re on the go, while its huge 7.6-inch main screen delivers a more immersive video experience than practically any other phone out right now. You can even prop the phone on a table and use it as a mini tripod/camera combo.
On top of that, its OLED panel allows the phone to serve as an excellent gadget for reading comics or books, while stylus support lets you sketch or take handwritten notes with ease. (Just remember, the Z Fold 3’s S Pens are optional extras.) And thanks to its innovative hinge, the phone can switch between modes in a snap while still offering five feet of water resistance. In a lot of ways, the Z Fold 3 is a phone, a tablet and an e-reader – all rolled into a single device. Alternatively, if you’re intrigued by flexible screens but prefer something more compact, the $1,000 Z Flip 3 offers similar tech in a smaller device at a more approachable price. – S.R
Telecoms have been slow to hop on the 5G bandwagon — your smartphone normally relies on 4G or LTE for old-fashioned phone calls. But T-Mobile is venturing forward by launching its commercial today in limited areas of Portland and Salt Lake City. For now, only customers with Samsung Galaxy S21 5G phones will be able to access the technology. So while this is a truly small sample size, T-Mobile says it plans to keep rolling out the feature to other areas and other brands of 5G phones later this year. Support for the Samsung Galaxy S22 will arrive later this year.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 with 5G has , but as some customers have , there’s no ability to use this nifty feature over 5G. For customers who don’t use T-Mobile, you’ll likely face an even longer wait for 5G voice calls. As FierceWireless noted, both AT&T and Verizon haven’t made 5G voice calls a priority yet. “We plan to implement VoNR when we believe we can offer a voice experience that rivals our HD Voice capabilities,” AT&T Fierce in a statement.
It’s unlikely customers will notice a wild difference in sound quality between 5G voice calls and LTE voice calls. According to T-Mobile, callers may notice “slightly faster call set-up times," or a shorter amount of time between when they dial a number and the phone starts to ring. But as more carriers build standalone 5G networks, we’re likely to see major advances in voice technology to follow, such as the use of 5G in immersive audio and conference calls.
There's won't be a big revival for BlackBerry phones anytime soon. OnwardMobility, the Austin-based startup that announced its plans to release a 5G BlackBerry device with a physical keyboard back in 2020, is shutting down. The company posted a notice of its closure on its website, making it clear that it won't be proceeding with the development of the smartphone. This comes a month after it responded to people asking about the status of the project with a blog post entitled "contrary to popular belief, we are not dead."
While OnwardMobility didn't expound on the reason behind its closure, Android Police reported a few days ago that its license to use the BlackBerry name had been canceled. Apparently, BlackBerry wants to distance itself from its past as a smartphone manufacturer after it sold off its remaining mobile patents for $600 million in the beginning of February. OnwardMobility reportedly decided not to push through with the development of a new smartphone without the BlackBerry name, especially since it won't be easy entering the market with an ongoing global component shortage.
OnwardMobility was never able to release images of the phone it was developing, but it was reportedly going to take design cues from the BlackBerry Priv. As Android Police notes, the Priv was BlackBerry's first Android phone and the only one it designed in-house before it outsourced the production of its mobile devices to TCL. If BlackBerry, in its current form, truly does want to distance itself from its past, then we might never see a new BlackBerry-branded phone again.