I can't take Nothing seriously as a phone maker — here's why

Nothing Phone (2) held in the hand.
(Image credit: Future)

You try to keep an open mind when it comes to phone makers, but lately, when I hear about Nothing — makers of the original Nothing Phone (1) and Nothing Phone (2) follow-up as well as the forthcoming Nothing Phone 2a —  I have to fight the urge to roll my eyes.

It's not because of the company's name, even if to talk about Nothing runs the risk of launching into your own personal Abbott & Costello routine. It's certainly not because of the phones themselves, which have proven to be quite striking and snappy. And even the company's drip-drip-drip style of announcing details about its devices, while excessive, is just the cost of grabbing attention in a very crowded smartphone market.

No, my beef with Nothing boils down to the phone maker's release strategy. There's simply no rhyme or reason to what it does.

The original Nothing Phone didn't ship in the U.S. when it debuted in 2022. Fair enough — the U.S. phone market is tough to break into, especially for a fledgling company. And Nothing did decide to bring its follow-up device to the U.S. last year, even if it wasn't offered through any wireless carriers. (Like it or not, that's how most people buy their phones in this country, so unlocked phones don't really have much of a chance of making a ripple in the market.)

Now, Nothing is about to launch a new phone, the Nothing Phone 2a, which sounds like it's going to be a lower-cost version of the Nothing Phone (2) aimed at appealing to a more general audience. Nothing confirmed the existence of the phone earlier this month and just this week, it set a release date of March 5.

Not that any of this should matter in the U.S. — the Nothing Phone 2a isn't going on sale here.

Or to be accurate, it's not going to be available to a wider audience here. You will be able to purchase the phone, but only through Nothing's Developer Program. The idea is that app makers will be able to get their hands on Nothing Phone 2a and use Nothing's Glyph Developer Kit to retool their software to work with Nothing's Glyph interface. Presumably, that means more apps optimized for the Nothing Phone (3) when that device arrives later this year and becomes available... well, who knows where, really.

Look, it's a big wide world out there, and plenty of phone makers do very well for themselves without ever releasing devices in the U.S. But launching some phones here while making others available only in a beta program seems like a scattershot approach to building an audience — especially when you're talking about reaching new kinds of phone users, as Nothing's Carl Pei does in a video announcing the Nothing Phone 2a's launch date.

"We've also heard from our community that there are different needs when it comes to a smartphone, and that was the inspiration behind the Phone 2a," said Pei, adding that Nothing is looking to bring its approach to design and mobile software to people who don't necessarily need premium specs. 

"How do we fulfill the needs of a different type of consumer while still staying true to who we are in terms of our innovation?" Pei added. "That was basically the idea behind the Phone 2a."

Specifics about the Nothing Phone 2a remain sparse. But comments like the ones Pei has made give the impression the new phone is going to offer some of the Nothing Phone (2)'s more noteworthy features — like the Glyph Interface that uses lights to deliver notifications and alerts — while scaling back some of the internal specs to keep costs down.

If that sounds familiar, it's the same general approach OnePlus uses with its flagship phones and R series devices. A flagship like the OnePlus 12 delivers premium capabilities, some of which — fast charging and bright displays — find their way into the cheaper OnePlus 12R. That way, OnePlus not only has a device for people willing to pay up for flagships but also a less-expensive model to appeal to a a broader, more budget-minded audience.

Nothing could do a lot worse than follow that strategy — especially now that OnePlus has released R series phones in the U.S. for the first time ever with the OnePlus 12R. But it doesn't sound like that's going to happen.

And that's a shame. There's a lot of good midrange phones out there, with the OnePlus 12R just the latest to join the mix. But there's always room for another device, particularly one built with Nothing's well-established flair for design.

"At Nothing, we just want to create the best products, irrespective of which product so our users can always be sure when they buy a Nothing product, it's going to be the best in its class," Pei said. "So with the Phone 2a, I think what's really important is a great performance and a great camera, and that's what the team has been really focused on whilst not forgetting about what makes us unique — our design innovation and our software."

Which all sounds great. Maybe one day U.S. phone buyers will be able to discover all that for themselves.

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Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.