With its Phone (1), London-based Nothing Technology has certainly made an impression. The company’s first phone stands out from the competition by being a flashing, glowing rectangle in a sea of black rectangles. But has the newcomer also seized the opportunity to distinguish itself from the field when it comes to repairability?
Short answer: No. The transparent back of the Nothing Phone (1) is deceptive. Its attention-grabbing complexity actually makes it more difficult to repair.
Like the Ear (1) we tore down last year, the second product released by the start-up is partly see-through. A transparent rear glass allows a glimpse into the innards of the Phone (1). Aside from the charging coil and a few Torx screws, the most prominent feature of the back is the so-called Glyph Interface, consisting of an array of LED elements mainly used for notifications, but also as a camera fill light.
Nothing Phone (1)
The Nothing Phone (1) is the first phone produced by the Nothing company.View Device
While the light show is rather unique, (semi-)transparent back covers are actually nothing new. All the way back in 2014, LG and Mozilla launched the Fx0, a Firefox OS phone with a fully transparent shell. Even iPhones sporting the transparent look were an option in the early 2010s, thanks to iFixit’s transparent rear panels for iPhone 4/4S .
Closer to the present day, Xiaomi released limited editions of at least two models featuring transparent back variants—although a cosmetic plate, rather than the true circuit board is made visible. Arguably the most conspicuous examples of smartphone transparency has been Nubia’s Red Magic S Pro series, niche high-end gaming phones featuring a RGB-illuminated fan visible through a partly see-through backplate.
Transparency ≠ Repairability
A smartphone you can actually look into sounds like a great starting point for a repairable phone. After all, it’s all laid out there, how hard could it be to get to and replace the components? Still, the Nothing Phone (1) has a few surprises in store.
During disassembly, it quickly becomes clear (pun intended) that most of the components visible from the outside are not actually functional and only serve as covers or design elements. Thus, the transparent glass back functions more like an exhibition showcase than a real glimpse inside the technology of the phone. Not only that, those design choices make it a hassle to disassemble.
The Glyph Interface, the distinguishing feature of the device, requires you to painstakingly take apart the back surface by removing every individual element if you, e.g., want to replace standard components like the battery or the screen. This adds a bunch of steps—and with it time—on top of every repair, making replacements a lot more complicated.
The additional repair steps become very noticeable when comparing the Phone (1) with other devices. For example, one of the most time consuming repairs of a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is the screen replacement. In total, 38 single steps are necessary for this task—the same number of steps it takes to just get past the Glyph interface on the Phone (1). Altogether, the Phone (1)’s screen guide contains a tremendous 55 steps.
Another common repair is the smartphone battery. Although the battery in the Phone (1) is equipped with pull tabs, this otherwise simple removal procedure clocks in at 43 steps. In contrast, even repair-adverse Apple’s iPhone 13 Pro Max, manages a 36 step battery swap—granted it’s a display-first opening procedure.
Additionally, as others have noted, the Glyph Interface itself doesn’t bode well for repairs. Replacing individual LEDs within the assembly of more than 900 LEDs (as counted by Zack from JerryRigEverything) is a non-starter and even changing the LED strips is not really an option – apart from the LED strip on the bottom that acts as a charging indicator.
A missed opportunity
As a company pledging to remove “barriers between people and technology”, Nothing Technology is missing a huge opportunity by launching its first smartphone without official guides and replacement parts. The omission is compounded by the fact that sustainability is one of the main selling points in their marketing material and an increasingly important aspect due to regulations like the French Repair Index: the Phone (1) is made from 100% recycled aluminum and 50% of its plastic components are either bio-based or recycled. Even the packaging is recycled.
Unfortunately, in the case of the phone itself, what most distinguishes it from the rest of the pack is also what makes repairs harder than necessary.
However, not all is for nothing: If you want to know how to replace the screen, battery or charging port in the Phone (1), you are in luck, as we just published a set of step-by-step guides. Remember, the best way to break down barriers is by sharing information, and the greenest phone tends to be the one that lasts longest.