Nothing Phone (2a) Review: All Budget Phones Should Be This Good

Nothing Phone (2a) – Starting at $349

Nothing’s Phone (2a) is an affordable mid-range smartphone that punches way above its weight.

Product Pros

  • Solid performance
  • Cool design
  • Beautiful display
  • Decent cameras
  • Outstanding battery life
  • Clean, responsive software

Product Cons

  • No 4k selfie video
  • Limited US band support
  • No wireless charging
  • No charger brick in the box

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It’s been almost four years since ex-OnePlus exec Carl Pei launched Nothing, and in that time, the company has shipped three pairs of earbuds, three smartphones, plus a line of affordable products (more earbuds, a smartwatch, and a charger) under its CMF brand. The company’s most recent offering is a new affordable handset – Nothing Phone (2a) – which was revealed at MWC 2024, and launched last month.

At just $349, Phone (2a) aims to deliver the same polished user experience as the company’s flagship Phone (2) we reviewed last year, but with mid-range specs, and for a fraction of the cost. Here in the US, Nothing is only targeting developers, since this phone isn’t optimized for 5G bands in North America. That being said, we’ve been using this handset for a few weeks now from California to Canada without any problems.

So, does this MediaTek Dimensity 7200-powered mid-range phone with a budget price tag deliver the goods? Read our review to find out…

Nothing Phone (2a) Hardware And Design

Unlike Phone (2), which iterated upon Nothing’s iconic Phone (1) design, Phone (2a) shakes things up with a unique new rear layout. The Glyph interface remains, but it’s been simplified, with just three LED strips (vs. eleven) surrounding the NFC coil and camera pod. It only covers the top 1/3 of the back panel, the rest consisting of faux ribbon cables, screws, and even a red accent, that give the back some depth and texture.

Phone (2a)’s materials are more pedestrian, too, with the rear glass and aluminum frame giving way to more affordable plastic. But, fear not – contrary to most other mid-range handsets, Phone (2a)’s plastic frame doesn’t look like cheap imitation metal. Instead, Nothing chose a finely textured finish with precise openings that appear to be machined, just like Nokia did with its polycarbonate clad Lumia phones.
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The plastic back isn’t perfectly transparent. It’s mildly smoky on the Black model, and slightly pearly on the Milk (white) version. But what really makes Phone (2a) really special are the two perfectly centered 50MP shooters mounted horizontally inside the NFC coil, and surrounded by the Glyph interface. This camera pod bulges out like a drop of water on a flat surface, and each lens is protected by a circular black aluminum rim.

We’re big fans of this new design. It gives the Phone (2a) a face reminiscent of the Minion characters. Plus, this handset feels great in hand thanks to slightly rounded off edges where the frame meets the back panel. And while we’d prefer metal and glass, the plastic back on our review unit is still scratch free after a few weeks of use. Speaking of durability, the Phone (2a) offers basic dust and splash resistance (IP 54).

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The rest of Phone (2a) is familiar, and follows in Phone (2)’s footsteps. In front, the 6.7-inch AMOLED display has reasonably thin, uniform bezels all around, and a center punch-hole for the 32MP shooter. You’ll find the power/lock key on the right side, and the volume rocker on the left (made of metal). There’s a speaker grille, USB Type-C port, primary mic, and dual nano-SIM tray along the bottom edge, and a secondary mic on top.

Nothing Phone (2a) Specs And Features

Processing and 5G Platform MediaTek Dimensity 7200 Pro
Display 6.7″ FHD+ (20:9) AMOLED, 2412×1080 resolution, 120Hz
Memory 8/12GB
Storage 128/256GB
Rear-Facing Cameras 50MP f/1.9 Main OIS, PDAF – 50MP f/2.2 114º Ultra-Wide
Front-Facing Cameras 32MP f/2.2
Video Recording Up to 4k @ 30fps, 1080p @ 60fps, 1080p slow-mo
Battery 5000 mAh, 45W wired charging, no wireless charging
OS Android 14 with Nothing OS 2.5
Dimensions 161.7 x 76.3 x 8.6mm
Weight 190 grams
Connectivity 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.3+LE, NFC, USB-C, LTE, sub-6GHz 5G
Colors Black, Milk
Pricing Find the Nothing Phone (2a) On Amazon

Nothing Phone (2a) Display Quality

Phone (2a)’s display is almost identical to Phone (2)’s. It’s a perfectly flat, 6.7-inch 10-bit FHD+ (2412 x 1084 pixels, 394ppi, HDR10+) AMOLED screen with a 20:9 aspect ratio, a 30-120Hz variable refresh rate, and 2,160Hz PWM dimming. This is a beautiful display – the best we’ve seen on a $349 phone yet. Blacks are deep, colors are vibrant, and viewing angles are excellent. Plus, it’s bright enough (1300 nits peak) to read in the California sun.

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Nothing Phone (2a) Camera Performance And Image Quality

As we already mentioned, Phone (2a) features a pair of 50MP rear cameras. You’ll find a f/1.9 1.0-micron main shooter (1/1.5-inch Samsung ISOCELL GN9) with dual-pixel PDAF and OIS, alongside a f/2.2 0.64-micron 114-degree ultrawide (1/2.76-inch Samsung ISOCELL JN1) without AF. Both combine (bin) four pixels into one to output 12.5MP images. In front, there’s a 32MP f/2.2 0.8-micron selfie camera (1/2.74-inch Sony IMX615).

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Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that these specs are very close to the Phone (2)’s, but with a different main sensor, and without autofocus on the ultrawide. Despite these similarities, Phone (2a) delivers mixed results. While daytime images, night photos, videos, portraits, and selfies are generally fine, dynamic range is somewhat limited, and zooming beyond 3-4x magnification results in a significant loss of detail.

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Nothing Phone (2a) Ultrawide

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Nothing Phone (2a) Main Camera (1x)
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Nothing Phone (2a) Main Camera (2x)
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Nothing Phone (2a) Main Camera (3x)
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Nothing Phone (2a) Main Camera (5x)

On the plus side, Nothing’s latest software update did improve Phone (2a)’s imaging performance. Color balance and exposure are accurate and low-light performance is solid. The automatic night mode (which can be overridden) is pretty effective. Video recorded with Phone (2a) is stabilized and tops out at 4k 30fps / 1080p 60fps with the rear shooters, but maxes out at 1080p 60fps with the selfie camera. Audio is captured in stereo.

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Nothing Phone (2a) Ultrawide (auto night mode)

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Nothing Phone (2a) Main Camera (auto night mode)

Photo and video modes include portrait, night (auto), expert (manual), panorama, motion photo, slow motion (main, selfie, 1080p 120fps), HDR video (main, 1080p 30fps), action (main, 1080p 30fps), and time lapse (main, selfie, 4k/1080p 30fps). There’s no macro mode, but zooming in with the main shooter and pulling back achieves similar results. Nothing’s fun lenticular filter and Glyph Interface ring light feature carry over from Phone (2).

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Nothing Phone (2a) Selfie Camera (portrait mode)

Phone (2a) even supports Android’s new Ultra HDR image format. The only thing missing here is 4k selfie video recording, but we can excuse it at this price. In all, this camera system – while not quite as refined as the rest of Phone (2a) – gets the job done.

Nothing Phone (2a) Audio, Data, And Call Quality

We used Phone (2a) on T-Mobile, AT&T, and Telus’ sub-6GHz 5G and 4G LTE networks in San Francisco and Vancouver (Canada), and didn’t experience any problems. Calls sounded loud and clear, and data speeds matched our expectations. Unfortunately, Phone (2a) isn’t compatible with Verizon’s network, so keep that in mind. It also lacks mmWave 5G, which isn’t really surprising considering the price.
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When it comes to audio, Phone (2a) packs decent sounding stereo speakers consisting of a side firing driver along the bottom edge and the earpiece above the screen. Unlike many other affordable handsets, Phone (2a) lacks a headphone jack. Instead, it supports both digital and analog USB Type-C dongles for wired listening, plus high-quality codecs like aptX HD, LDAC, and LHDC for Bluetooth wireless audio.

Nothing Phone (2a) Performance And Battery Life

Phone (2a) is powered by MediaTek’s 7200 Pro 4nm mid-range SoC, and is available in two RAM and storage configurations – 8/128GB or 12/256GB (like our review unit) – without microSD expansion. We ran a few benchmarks (see our results below) and, as you’d expect, the results are decidedly mid-range. Still, Phone (2a) scores better than most of its competitors, with sustained performance being particularly solid.

But that’s only half the story. Nothing worked closely with MediaTek to optimize its software to run as smoothly as possible on the Dimensity 7200 (hence the Pro suffix). The results speak for themselves. Phone (2a) feels buttery smooth when navigating the UI, launching apps, and doing day-to-day tasks – from entertainment to productivity. And while this phone wouldn’t be our first choice for gaming, it handles most games just fine.

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3DMark Wild Life Stress Test: Midrange Performance, Excellent Stability

Phone (2a)’s battery life is phenomenal. The 5000mAh battery managed to last an impressive 17 hours and 54 minutes in our PCMark Work 3.0 battery test. In fact, this handset often keeps on going for two days on a charge. Speaking of, Phone (2a) supports 45W wired fast charging (USB PPS), but lacks wireless charging – unlike its predecessors. While Nothing includes a fancy USB Type-C cable in the box, there’s no charging brick.

nothing phone 2a battery life

As for the rest of the specs, Phone (2a) boasts dual-SIMs, sub-6GHz 5G, CAT 21 LTE, dual-band WiFi 6 (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.3 (LE), NFC, A-GPS/ GLONASS / BDS / GALILEO / QZSS positioning, and the usual array of sensors (light, proximity, accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass). Haptics of the device feel great, thanks to a linear vibration motor, and the optical in-display fingerprint sensor is fast and reliable. Ditto with face unlock.

Nothing Phone (2a) Software And User Experience

On the software front, Phone (2a) follows in Phone (2)’s footsteps by focusing on beauty, purpose, and simplicity. Nothing OS 2.5 – which is built on top of Android 14 – provides a delightful and responsive user experience that’s close to stock Android. Smart design choices and helpful customizations abound, including a monochrome icon theme and fun widgets for both the lock and home screen.

As you’d expect, Nothing’s cool dot-matrix branding is still prevalent throughout the UI. But there’s more to this skin than just style. Phone (2a) also delivers some unique functionality. For example, support for Apple’s AirPods (beyond the default Bluetooth functionality) and Nothing’s earbuds is built right into the OS – no additional apps required. Strangely, though, Phone (2)’s clever Tesla integration is missing here.

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We’ve written about Nothing’s Glyph interface in depth before, so we suggest you read our Phone (2) review for a rundown. The main difference with Phone (2a) is that you only get three LED strips – vs. eleven on Phone (2) – and 26 addressable zones (vs. 33). Besides the missing charge indicator, everything else is still there, and the Glyph progress feature now supports Google Calendar, in addition to Uber and Zomato.

Glyph interface aside, you can mimic many of Nothing’s UI tweaks with third-party launchers, icon packs, and fonts. But it’s the seamless integration between hardware and software that makes Phone (2a) really shine. When it comes to long-term support, Nothing promises four years of security updates and three years of OS upgrades. It’s also worth noting that our Phone (2a) review unit came free of bloatware.

Nothing Phone (2a) Final Review Verdict

Simply put, Phone (2a) punches way above its weight. While it competes directly with other mid-range handsets abroad, here in the US, it delivers fantastic budget phone value. You get a standout design, beautiful display, decent cameras, solid performance, phenomenal battery life, and a wonderful user experience thanks to clean and responsive software – all for just $349 (hopefully Nothing offers this price on Amazon soon). The Glyph Interface is just the icing on the cake, though of course that’s a subjective opinion.
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Find the Nothing Phone (2a) @ Amazon

In other words: every budget smartphone should be this good. Still, this doesn’t mean the Nothing Phone (2a) is perfect. Its shooters could benefit from further tuning (especially the zoom) as well as 4k selfie video recording. Wireless charging is missing and there’s no charging brick in the box. Also, Phone (2a)’s US band support is limited (no 600MHz Sub-6 and no Verizon support), making it harder to fully recommend. This might not be a problem in your area, and it wasn’t for us, but it’s worth mentioning.

If you can live without the Nothing Phone 2a’s Glyph Interface (or you’re a Verizon customer), here are some worthwhile alternatives. One of the best mid-rangers from 2022, Google’s Pixel 6a, is still available ($295 on Amazon, last year’s sleeper hit, the Moto Edge (2023), is currently on sale ($349 on Amazon), and the excellent OnePlus 12R can be purchased for just $399 by trading in any handset in any condition.

For everyone else looking for a solid, budget Android handset, the Nothing Phone 2a will not disappoint.

hothardware recommended