Nothing Phone 2a review: A budget phone that’s packed with personality

Nothing Phone 2a review: A budget phone that's packed with personality

Nothing says its latest device – the Phone 2a – is a mid-range handset. And just going by its specs, which include a 6.5-inch 120Hz OLED screen, up to 12GB of RAM and a big 5,000 mAh battery, that seems right. But starting at $349, it’s positioned more like a budget offering which makes it even more appealing. That’s because in a category where device makers often cut corners to hit a specific price, the Phone 2a combines solid components with a unique design to deliver a handset that looks good and is big on value. So while there are a couple of hiccups for potential buyers in the US, Nothing has created an engaging option in a sea of boring budget phones.

Design and display: Definitively distinctive

Nothing’s aesthetic is unmistakable. It’s inspired by ‘90s retro gadgets with translucent plastic like old Gameboys but remixed with a more modern and cohesive finish. This lets you see a number of its components like NFC antennas (which is the disc surrounding the rear cameras) without it becoming distracting. That said, on the Phone 2a, Nothing switched things up by moving its cameras to the middle and rearranging its Glyph lights, which gives the back more of a face while a small red accent provides a pop of color. It’s available in black and white color schemes, with the former sometimes making me feel like I’m looking at Wall-E’s emo cousin.

The Nothing Phone 2a features a 6.5-inch OLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Another departure from Nothing’s previous handsets is that the Phone 2a features a polycarbonate back instead of a glass one. Now this might seem like a bad thing, but this device is a reminder of how nice plastic can be when it’s done well. Nothing says the phone’s subtly rounded edges wouldn’t be possible to do with glass. While I’m not sure that feature is a bona fide selling point, it does feel good. Additionally, the choice of material results in something that feels a lot lighter than it looks, which is nice compared to traditional glass bricks. The Phone 2a weighs just 6.7 ounces (190 grams), which is less than a Pixel 7a (6.82 ounces/193.5 grams) despite the latter boasting a significantly smaller 6.1-inch display.

As for the screen itself, the 6.5-inch OLED panel delivers punchy colors and surprisingly good brightness of around 700 nits during normal use with peaks of up to 1,300 nits. The only thing I struggled with was the in-screen fingerprint reader, which took a few registrations to get it dialed in before it would unlock every time.

Performance: More than good enough for the money

The camera placement on the back of the Phone 2a gives the device a face that reminds me of Wall-E.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Nothing is bucking conventional wisdom by opting for a Mediatek Dimensity 7200 Pro chip instead of something from Qualcomm. Memory starts at 8GB, though in the US, the only config features 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. And while its Geekbench 6 scores (1,123 single-core and 2,603 multi-core) were a bit behind what I got from a Pixel 7a (1,442 single-core and 3,639 multi-core), it felt speedy and responsive during normal use. The only small issue is that sometimes scrolling through websites or social media wasn’t quite as smooth compared to more expensive rivals. But unless you’re hoping to do some serious mobile gaming, the Phone 2a has more than enough oomph to go around.

Cameras: Better than your average budget handset

A challenge for both budget phone makers and smaller companies like Nothing is keeping up with big names like Samsung and Google. But unless you’re a real stickler for image quality, the Phone 2a is good enough. It did a fine job during the day of producing pics that you won’t be embarrassed to post on social media. Both the main and ultra-wide cameras are based on 50-megapixel sensors that capture warm tones and produce color saturation that’s a touch richer than what I got from a Pixel 7a. That said, if you zoom in, you’ll notice that Google’s phone delivers slightly sharper photos with more detailed textures. At night, when budget phones tend to struggle a bit more, the Phone 2a’s images were slightly darker than similar shots taken with a Pixel 7a, as expected, but they were still more than serviceable. Sometimes, Nothing’s pics were actually less grainy than Google’s.

Battery life: 5,000 mAh goes a long way

The bottom of the Nothing Phone 2a features a speaker and a USB-C port for charging and data transfer.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

Thanks to its large 5,000 mAh battery, the Phone 2a turned in one of the best times we’ve seen from a budget handset. On our video rundown test, it lasted 23 hours and 47 minutes, which is just shy of the Nothing Phone 2’s mark of 24:25 and way better than similarly priced rivals like the Pixel 7a (17:41).

When it comes to charging, though you don’t get support for wireless power (which is understandable on a phone in this price range), the Phone 2a does support wired charging at up to 45 watts, which is faster than some flagship phones like the Pixel 8.

US availability and carrier info

One of the biggest bummers about the Nothing Phone 2a is that while it will be readily available online in Europe, folks in the US should know that there are a few extra hurdles to jump through. The first is that in order to buy one, customers will need to sign up for the company’s Developer program. Thankfully, this can be done for free and as soon as you do, you’ll get a link to purchase the Phone 2a directly from Nothing. Additionally, while the handset does support 5G on T-Mobile via the N41 band, you won’t get any 5G on AT&T or Verizon, which severely limits the appeal for people on those networks.


Like a lot of more expensive Android handsets, the Phone 2a features an in-screen fingerprint sensor.
Photo by Sam Rutherford/Engadget

On paper, the Phone 2a has pretty much everything I look for in a good budget device. It’s got a solid build including IP54 water resistance, a bright screen and excellent battery life. While its performance isn’t earth-shattering, it still feels snappy even when compared to slightly more expensive rivals. But what really elevates the Phone 2a is that it accomplishes all this without erasing its personality in the name of cost-cutting. There simply isn’t another handset in this price range that looks this good. Nothing also pays attention to small details like the phone’s crunchy pseudo-analog sound effects that help marry its distinctive design with its custom UX and dot-matrix-inspired widgets. I just wish the Phone 2a was easier to buy and had better 5G support in the US.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

By John Routledge

Founder and owner of - I'm an avid tech junkie, a lover of new gadgets and home automation. You will often find me reading, writing, and learning about new technologies. I've been featured in many leading technology magazines where I've written about my favorite topics.