Nothing Phone 2a is everything I want in a budget phone — except for this huge drawback

Nothing Phone 2a review.
(Image credit: Future)

Everyone knows that budget phones have their own sets of drawbacks. Whether it’s an underwhelming camera performance or a flimsy design paired with chintzy materials, there’s always something about them that reveals their low-budget nature. And yet, the low-cost Nothing Phone 2a defies that expectation.

That’s because the latest phone from Nothing impresses me in a lot of ways, making it one of the best cheap phones money can buy right now. In my Nothing Phone 2a review, I mention how there are few compromises that come with the package — including how the Nothing Phone 2a flaunts one of the most premium design in a budget phone, along with the endurance to land it a spot on our best phone battery life list.

However, there’s just one drawback that’s proving to be a thorn in the Nothing Phone 2a's armor. I’m referring to its U.S. availability, which isn’t broadly available to consumers. Unlike last year's Nothing Phone 2 which anyone could buy, Nothing is offering its A-series phone only through a developer program in the U.S. That's a huge drawback for the phone in my opinion.

Nothing Phone 2a review.

(Image credit: Future)

I’ll be first to admit that the the phone's $349 cost through the developer program is irresistible, undercutting other devices like the Google Pixel 7a, Apple iPhone SE (2022), and the recent OnePlus 12R. The latter comparison is especially intriguing because OnePlus has spent years breaking into the U.S. market to get its phones into the hands of consumers. Even now, most of the major wireless carriers only sell its budget phone — like the Nord N300. If you want its flagship models, such as the OnePlus 12, you’ll need to look at OnePlus directly or go through other retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon.

Nothing is facing the same challenge with the 2a, seeing that it could be a long while before its phones becomes broadly available for purchase in the U.S. I asked the company directly if Nothing has any intention of a wider release in the U.S., but things don't look promising in the near term.

We're not committing to US availability beyond the Developer Program at this time.

Jane Nho, Nothing

I reached out to Jane Nho, Nothing's communications lead in North America, who responded by saying, “We're not committing to US availability beyond the Developer Program at this time.” It doesn’t totally remove the possibility of a wider release in the U.S. from happening, but then it becomes a matter of how long before such a change would happen.

While it’s not entirely out of the question for the average Joe to import the phone, doing that typically incurs a higher cost than just buying it directly from the source or through an authorized seller in the U.S. And price is exactly what makes the Nothing Phone 2a compelling over most of the other best cheap phones I’ve tested.

Another reason why limiting the phone to a developer program at launch is doing more harm than good is that it’s not helping to bring the brand recognition Nothing needs to be critically successful in the most lucrative market. Again, Nothing could learn from OnePlus in how it’s important to get your foot in the door as early as possible.

This is basically the Nothing Phone 1 on repeat because despite all the hype around that phone, it too had a limited release that took several months before its official stateside launch. The Nothing Phone 2a could end up having the same fate, unless the company can make it happen sooner. 

We’re now at this lull in the phone space where we probably won’t see major new phone releases anytime soon, which would’ve been perfect for the Nothing Phone 2a to keep the spotlight on itself until something newer — like the Pixel 8a — comes out and possibly steals its thunder.

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John Velasco
Senior Channel Editor for Phones

John’s a senior editor covering phones for Tom’s Guide. He’s no stranger in this area having covered mobile phones and gadgets since 2008 when he started his career. On top of his editor duties, he’s a seasoned videographer being in front and behind the camera producing YouTube videos. Previously, he held editor roles with PhoneArena, Android Authority, Digital Trends, and SPY. Outside of tech, he enjoys producing mini documentaries and fun social clips for small businesses, enjoying the beach life at the Jersey Shore, and recently becoming a first time homeowner.