Nothing Phone 1 puts its defining feature on the back, but is it worth it?

For years, phone makers have focused on their device screens by increasing resolutions while increasing refresh rates and screen brightness. But Nothingthe consumer tech startup led by Carl Pei, founder of OnePlusplay on the other side.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but the Phone 1, launching with much anticipation this month, has its defining feature on its back. That defining feature is the glyph interface, which consists of flashing light strips displayed on the transparent back of the device. There are over 900 LEDs powering the light strips, which flash rhythmically to the rhythm of a ringtone when you receive a call, for example.

It’s not just a cool light show. The glyph interface is also designed with the goal of minimizing screen time, according to Nothing. Since you can associate individual contacts with a specific ringtone, and therefore a corresponding light pattern, you won’t have to glance at your screen to see who’s calling. This still means you’ll have to memorize the light pattern, and in my experience this resulted in a negligible reduction in screen time. Phone 1 has a “Flip to Glyph” mode, which only activates when Phone 1 is flipped, with the screen facing down. This mode silences the device, but still flashes the lights to indicate an incoming call or notifications. There is also a notification light on the back.

Read more: Nothing’s Phone 1 does not lack this important feature: waterproofing

The back of the Nothing Phone 1, featuring an LED

You are looking at the phone 1 glyph interface. It has various light patterns which can be selected from the control panel.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

What is the use of the glyph interface?

There is an unmistakable novelty in the glyphs interface, for which Nothing certainly deserves credit, but I didn’t find it very useful. It was more like a flashy extra. It’s because for something to be useful to me, I would have to be inclined to use this. Because I get a lot more messages than calls, I haven’t used the glyph interface frequently. It’s also the fact that I often haven’t used it everything because I usually put my phone with the front face up. As such, I had to consciously make the effort to lay it down with my back up. That said, I think this habit would be pretty easy to pick up.

Read more: Why the Nothing Phone 1 may not be as durable as its peers

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So, while the feature is cool, I can’t guarantee that Phone 1 significantly reduces my screen time, which is one of the supposed goals of the glyph feature. Almost every time the notification light flashed, I immediately flipped the phone over to check if the source was my Nanit, the camera app I use to monitor my 4-month-old. It would be great if Nothing allowed you to customize app light patterns, like you can with personal contact calls. (It would be even better if I could customize the glyph patterns to prioritize notifications over calls.) That way I would just know by looking back when I got important notifications, like from my Nanit . However, nothing said to expect software updates to bring additional features to Phone 1, so the glyph interface may evolve into a more useful and less fancy feature.

Along with the Phone 1’s funky back, the Phone 1 has a solid set of specs to back it up. It’s also available for a reasonable price at just £399 (around $480 or AU$700). For more details on what the phone has to offer beyond the glyph interface, be sure to read our in-depth article. Nothing Phone 1 review.

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