Nothing Phone 2a review: beneath its appearance lies a true champion

Nothing recently unveiled its very first “low cost” smartphone, the Nothing Phone (2a).

Nothing Phone 2a review: beneath its appearance lies a true champion

Nothing recently unveiled its very first “low cost” smartphone, the Nothing Phone (2a). We were able to test the latter in preview to deliver our exclusive test to you.

Nothing is still a young company. In just a few years, the small brand founded by Carl Pei (ex-CEO of OnePlus) has managed to make a name for itself in the tech industry. First with its semi-transparent Ear (1) and Ear (2) headphones, then with two very promising smartphones, the Nothing Phone (1) and Nothing Phone (2).

At the start of 2024, Nothing decides to tackle a new market: “low cost” smartphones, with a just announced product: the Nothing Phone (2a). Available from 349 euros from us, the Phone (2a) therefore rubs shoulders with big names like Samsung with its Galaxy A or Google with its Pixel a.

We were able to test the Nothing Phone (2a) for several weeks to check whether or not it is a good entry-level smartphone, and it hides many surprises.

It's difficult to talk about a product from Nothing without talking about its design. The firm has made a point of offering devices that are easily recognizable and which stand out from the competition aesthetically speaking. The Nothing Phone (2a) is no exception to this rule and sports a transparent glass back at the top of which sit the two photo modules housed above the NFC coil. Whether you like it or not, the design of the Nothing Phone (2a) is original and clearly contrasts with what we are used to seeing at the entry level.

This is also the first time that a Nothing smartphone has a photo block located in the center of the device, and not in a corner. This allows the Phone (2a) to stand out radically compared to the firm's previous phones, the Phone (1) and the Phone (2). If we had some reservations about the fact that the Phone's photo block (2a) was not completely flat, our doubts were quickly put to rest since this small bump provides a more pleasant grip when holding the phone. with both hands (to play or watch a video for example).

The edges of the Nothing Phone (2a) are, unlike its back, well representative of the entry level. Equipped with a white/black plastic coating, these edges are pleasant to use, but still feel very "cheap" to the touch. We feel that Nothing must have made some savings on this coating. However, the buttons remain very well placed and fall well under the thumb. The presence of a single speaker does not guarantee a very good audio experience, however, but we will come back to that later.

On the front, we find a 6.7-inch AMOLED display with a selfie camera integrated into the top center of the Nothing Phone (2a).

The Nothing Phone (2a) screen has a 120Hz refresh rate that can adapt depending on the content you're watching. The latter oscillates between 60 and 120 Hz which allows you to have a nice fluidity, especially when you launch a video game rich in action and/or animations. Nothing also announces that the Phone (2a) has a maximum brightness of 1300 nits and a high brightness of 1100 nits (compared to 700 on phone 1). We are far from the champions in the field, but it is enough to enjoy your content with good readability, even in direct sunlight. It's a shame that the automatic brightness is sometimes completely out of sync with the ambient light and that you have to adjust the latter yourself frequently.

The Nothing Phone (2a) offers two display modes for the colors of its screen:

That's on paper. Unfortunately, in reality, it is extremely complicated to see a real difference between these two display modes. However, it remains possible to calibrate the Phone screen (2a) with more or less warm colors.

The Phone (2a) is the first smartphone from Nothing not to integrate a Snapdragon processor. For its first entry-level smartphone, the firm chose to trust Mediatek with a Dimensity 7200 Pro chip specially designed for the Phone (2a). For reference, this is a chip similar to those present in the already very good Redmi Note 13 from Xiaomi, the most advanced model of which we were able to test.

On a daily basis, the Phone (2a) reacts very well. We were able to launch multiple apps and navigate between multiple windows without experiencing any slowdown or complete phone freeze. The animations follow each other fluidly.

But the most surprising thing remains regarding the game. Basically, a resource-intensive title like “Genshin Impact” launches with the graphics set to “low”. However, it is possible to push them to "high" and play without feeling any slowdown. Better yet: we hardly noticed any heating of the processor even though we played the game for almost an hour! If we have more doubts about the autonomy of the Phone (2a) over long hours of gaming, it is clear that the phone does extremely well for casual gaming.

To the question: does the Nothing Phone (2a) take good photos, the clearest answer is yes. But we are not going to finish this analysis here otherwise our tests would be much shorter.

The Phone (2a) does not have a telephoto lens (the opposite would have been surprising), but is equipped with two lenses for taking photos:

The main sensor delivers good results when the ambient brightness is correct. The details remain quite good and the sharpness of the image is good. However, we may notice some small anomalies in terms of light and colorimetry. A criticism that we will often see in the photo performance of the Nothing Phone (2a) which tends to overexpose its scenes and force a little too much on the brightness and bright colors.

The ultra-wide angle suffers from more or less the same problems. The photos obtained are still widely usable as is or with a few small edits to appear on social networks.

The lack of a telephoto lens unfortunately prevents the Nothing Phone (2a) from shining during zooms, even when the ambient light is good and your subjects are still. Shots taken with a x2 or x3 zoom may still work, but beyond that, expect to see a lot of blurring as well as digital noise appear in the image.

The “portrait” mode of the Nothing Phone (2a) does quite well. There is always a certain exaggeration on the part of the phone which will try to smooth your subject too much and brighten your shot. The result is rather successful results, but which differ somewhat from reality.

Night photos are a complicated exercise for many entry-level smartphones. The Nothing Phone (2a) is no exception. If the photos taken remain fully usable, blur effects appear very easily when your subject is moving or your hands shake a little too much when taking your photo. Light sources such as street lamps and neon lights are also difficult to manage and often reveal numerous streaks of light which spoil your photos.

We mentioned it above: the Nothing Phone (2a) only has one small speaker to listen to your music directly from the phone. The latter is unfortunately not enough to guarantee a very good hearing experience since the sound coming from the Phone (2a) quickly tends to saturate.

The Nothing Phone (2a) also does not have a jack port to plug in your headphones. You will therefore need to use an appropriate adapter or a Bluetooth connection to pair your device with it.

The new "low cost" smartphone from Nothing has a 5000 mAh battery which, on paper, should give it good autonomy. We used the Phone (2a) as our primary smartphone for almost two weeks of testing and never felt a lack of battery on any particular day. Our tests were based on the use of multiple applications: messages, Whatsapp, X (formally Twitter), Facebook messenger, Twitch, YouTube, Genshin Impact and TikTok.

Unplugged at 8 a.m., the Phone (2a) still showed a solid score of just over 40% battery at the end of our day. In standard use and without video games, it is possible to approach two days of use before having to go through a recharge.

The Nothing Phone (2a) is compatible with 45W fast charging with the ability to recover just under 50% battery in around twenty minutes. It's a shame that no charger is provided in the box, but such a decision would certainly have had an impact on the final price of the device. The Phone (2a) charges fully from 1 to 100% in just under an hour and is not compatible with wireless charging.

We were able to try the Nothing Phone (2a) for several calls with different listening conditions. Whether you are in a quiet environment or in the middle of an incessant hubbub, you will have no trouble hearing your interlocutors. Nothing's latest phone is also compatible with 5G communication bands as long as you have a suitable plan.

In terms of connectivity, the Phone (2a) is compatible with Wi-Fi 6 bands. It is hardly surprising not to find compatibility with the seventh and latest generation. We have not experienced any connection problems, whether with an internet box or even with other connected devices.

Would Nothing finally produce its best smartphone with the Phone (2a)? This is the question we asked ourselves throughout our test. Sure, their latest high-end phone, the Phone (2), is better in many ways, but it also costs a lot more.

For only 349 euros, the Nothing Phone (2a) offers everything you would expect from a very good entry-level smartphone: good performance, solid battery life, decent photos, original design... Nothing seriously overshadows the market leaders such as the Samsung Galaxy A, the Google Pixel a and the Xiaomi Redmi Note.

We can only regret its overall feeling which is very "cheap" due to its plastic coverings as well as its night photographs which remain quite disappointing overall.