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Nothing Phone 1 review: an Android with funky lights on its transparent back | Smartphones

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The Phone 1 is the first smartphone from the British technology startup Nothing, led by the OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei, who set up on his own with the aim of bringing back a bit of interest and excitement to the increasingly samey world of consumer electronics.

But the firm’s follow-up to the funky Ear 1 earbuds is no flashy top-spec phone. Priced at £399 (A$749), it looks to compete directly with more affordable models such as Samsung’s mid-range A-series and Google’s Pixel 6a. It does so while offering something unique: a series of white LED strips strewn across a transparent glass back to create patterns of light that Nothing calls “glyphs”.

The back of the Nothing Phone 1 showing the transparent design and light strips.
Five separate light bars flash and pulse in time to sound and vibration patterns for 10 different ringtones and notification sounds, and show the charging status when the phone is plugged in. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Different light patterns show who is calling, which app is notifying you or even different types of notification from the same app without having to see the screen. You can set one pattern for a work email or one for a personal email in Gmail, for instance, but, unfortunately, you can’t differentiate between messages from different contacts, only calls.

The glyphs and transparent back add a bit of interest to an otherwise fairly understated design. The recycled aluminium sides and flat OLED screen look remarkably similar to an Apple phone, leading more than one person to ask if I was holding an iPhone 13. Still, the build quality is very good, and the full HD 6.55in screen is excellent for the money: big, bright, crisp and super-smooth, thanks to a 120Hz refresh rate.

Specifications

  • Screen: 6.55in 120Hz FHD+ OLED (402ppi)

  • Processor: Snapdragon 778G Plus

  • RAM: 8 or 12GB

  • Storage: 128 or 256GB

  • Operating system: Android 12 with Nothing OS

  • Camera: 50MP main and ultrawide, 16MP selfie

  • Connectivity: 5G, eSIM, wifi 6E, NFC, Bluetooth 5.2 and GNSS

  • Water resistance: IP53 (splash-resistant)

  • Dimensions: 159.2 x 75.8 x 8.3mm

  • Weight: 193.5g

A snappy, mid-range chip

The USB-C port of the Nothing Phone 1.
The phone supports up to 33W wired charging, reaching 100% in a little over an hour, but does not come with a power adaptor. 15W wireless charging and 5W reverse wireless charging are also available. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The phone has a mid-range Qualcomm Snapdragon 778G Plus chip, which is perfectly capable in day-to-day usage, with the interface and apps feeling pretty snappy.

However, it falls short of the raw performance of top-class chips, which is most noticeable when processing images and its sluggish switching between lenses in the camera after taking photos. Only those mid-range phones with top-spec chips such as Apple’s iPhone SE or Google’s Pixel 6a will perform markedly better for the price.

The battery life is good, lasting about 38 hours between charges including two hours on 5G, putting it on a par with most top devices. You will probably have to charge it once a day.

Sustainability

The Nothing Phone 1 viewed from above showing the recycled aluminium band around its sides.
The phone is made of recycled aluminium and plastic with a premium look and feel less common for mid-range smartphones. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Nothing rates the battery for at least 800 full charge cycles while maintaining at least 80% of its original capacity. The Phone 1 is generally repairable in the UK and the battery is replaceable by Nothing.

The Phone 1 is made of 100% recycled aluminium with more than 50% of its plastic components made from bio-based or recycled materials. The company plans to publish an environmental impact report for the phone, which it says has a carbon footprint of 58.5Kg CO2 equivalent.

Nothing OS

The quick settings panel on the Nothing Phone 1.
The quick settings panel also has some custom features, with Nothing intending to add more, such as integration with Tesla’s cars, so that you can unlock the doors remotely. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Phone 1 ships with a stripped-back version of Android 12 called Nothing OS. It provides all the features you would expect but without the bloat of duplicated apps, mostly relying on those provided by Google, which is a good thing.

The interface is sprinkled with a touch of dot-matrix nostalgia in its widgets, typeface and logos, plus some custom wallpapers and a voice recorder app with a novel record-player-like interface. It is attractive without being too radical.

The company will offer three years of major Android updates and a total of four years of security fixes every two months. That’s decent but a year short of that offered by Google and Samsung’s competing devices, and well behind Fairphone and Apple’s six- to seven-year support.

Nothing OS was smooth and stable but I encountered a few small bugs, some of which were fixed within the testing period, so I have no doubt these remaining problems will be sorted out. When restoring the phone from a cloud backup of my data, autorotation between portrait and landscape did not work, and neither did the Glyph light showing Google Assistant activity. Setting up the phone without restoring my data fixed the problems.

Camera

The camera app on the Nothing Phone 1 showing the viewfinder.
The camera app is simple to use and very similar to those on other Android smartphones, so will be familiar to many. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The Phone 1 has a refreshingly simple lens lineup on the back, with only two 50-megapixel cameras – one normal and one ultrawide – forgoing additional rubbish macro or monochrome cameras common on mid-range phones for marketing purposes.

Both cameras are good for the money. The main camera produces the best images that have generally good colour balance and detail. Photos can lack a little sharpness and fine detail when viewed at full size, and it can be a little difficult to get a sharp shot in low light. The ultrawide produces images with cooler tones and softer detail but is still decent. The camera can occasionally oversaturate parts of an image, such as red flowers losing all definition and almost glowing.

The phone has no telephoto camera but the digital zoom produced usable images at 2x, becoming full of artefacts after about 5x magnification. The glyphs can be lit up to create a fill light at night instead of using the flash, which is novel but produces a blue hue to the images. The selfie camera is equally good, producing detailed photos in good light.

Video recording was solid for the money but only up to 4K at 30 frames a second, not 60 as is increasingly common.

Overall, the Phone 1 is capable of producing really good images, and beats many mid-range rivals, but won’t trouble the best.

An image showing the fingerprint scanner lighting up beneath the screen of the Nothing Phone 1.
The optical fingerprint scanner under the screen is fast and accurate. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Price

The Nothing Phone 1 costs £399 (A$749) with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, £449 (A$799) with 8GB and 256GB, or £499 (A$849) with 12GB and 256GB, and is available in black or white depending on the model.

For comparison, the Google Pixel 6a costs £399, the Samsung Galaxy A53 costs £399, the Fairphone 4 costs £499, and the Apple iPhone SE costs £419.

Verdict

The Phone 1 is a remarkably well-executed first attempt at a smartphone from Nothing.

Its design is distinctive on the back and simple elsewhere. You might not like the iPhone-like look but the recycled aluminium sides certainly feel more premium than the competitive mid-range price might suggest.

The glyph lights on the back are certainly novel and eye-catching but remembering which pattern is which is difficult, and I typically avoid putting phones face down to prevent scratches. It is good to see something different and fun, though.

Despite an odd bug due to be fixed, the Android software is pleasingly bloat-free, which helps the phone feel snappy in use. The battery life is pretty good, too. Four years of promised software updates is good but not the best, and relies on Nothing succeeding in fulfilling its commitment, which is not guaranteed for any new entrant.

It has very stiff competition from rivals such as Google’s excellent Pixel 6a, but compared with a lot of boring mid-range phones, the £399 Nothing Phone 1 stands out.

Pros: novel back design, glyph lights are something different, good screen, decent performance, solid battery life, recycled aluminium, bloat-free Android 12, competitively priced.

Cons: no optical zoom, only four years of security updates, only splash-resistant, Nothing a bit of an unknown quantity.

A photo showing the cameras and other design elements on the Nothing Phone 1’s transparent back.
The design of the back showing the wireless charging coil, screws and other detail is the Phone 1’s standout feature. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

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‘A sweatshop in the UK’: how the cost of living crisis triggered walkouts at Amazon | Industrial action

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Amazon workers say they are working in a “sweatshop” as safety concerns and worries about the cost of living crisis have triggered walkouts at warehouses around the country.

The Observer has spoken to four staff involved in the walkouts, who work at three Amazon warehouses, including Tilbury in Essex, where protests began on 4 August. All say they will struggle to survive this winter with pay rise offers between 35p and 50p an hour – far less than the rate of inflation, which is currently at 9.4%.

The workers, who spoke anonymously for fear of reprisals from Amazon, said they were speaking out to highlight how the firm’s ultra-cheap, ultra-convenient, super-fast delivery model works.

Amazon employs more than 70,000 people in the UK, adding 25,000 staff in 2021 alone. Many work at the company’s 21 fulfilment centres, where some workers say they are asked to carry out long, physical shifts, with difficult targets, for low pay.

Starting pay in Amazon warehouses will shortly be increasing to between £10.50 and £11.45 per hour, depending on location. An Amazon spokesperson said this was a 29% increase in the minimum hourly wage paid to staff since 2018. They said it is also augmented by a comprehensive benefits package worth thousands of pounds a year, and a company pension plan.

But staff say it is too low for the type of work being done and given the current economic crisis, especially at a company that just posted $121bn (£100bn) in revenues in the second quarter of 2022 alone.

“When we heard the news, it was shocking,” said one worker at Amazon’s warehouse in Tilbury. “It’s ridiculous. Inflation is [forecast to reach] 13%, and our salary increases barely 3%.” The worker rents a house with her husband for £1,350 a month without bills. “My salary is £1,600. … I’m lucky I’m married, otherwise I’d be homeless.”

Some staff are seeking a pay rise of £2 an hour from the tech giant.

Hundreds of Amazon employees stop working over disputed pay rise – video

Another worker at Amazon’s warehouse in Tilbury said they were “petrified” about how they would survive this winter. “We had a scenario recently where someone was living in [an] Amazon [warehouse],” he said. “If I’m honest, I can probably see that happening again.

“I can see people staying in the canteen all the time because they can’t afford to go home.”

The worker is protesting against the poor pay offer, as well as conditions that lock staff in cages for entire shifts at the warehouses, from where they pick items to be delivered to customers. (Amazon says the workstations are to protect workers from moving robotics.)

“It’s a Chinese sweatshop in the UK,” said the second worker at Tilbury. “It’s how they set up their model.”

The worker has struggled with his mental health while working for the company. “I’ve realised how bad Amazon is for my mental health,” he said. “The anxiety of going into work, knowing you’ve got to do the same stuff day in, day out, is horrible.”

That concern is echoed by a worker at an Amazon facility near Bristol, who has worked there with his wife for three years. “It was good initially,” the worker said. “There was a lot of safety consciousness, and the targets were pretty reasonable. But now they’re just pushing it higher and higher, and exploiting people.”

Around 100 Amazon staff at Bristol staged a sit-in at the company canteen on 10 August – action for which they say they were docked pay by management at the site. “The vast majority of people went back to work at that point, because at the end of the day, as much as they want to fight for it, they have to think about themselves financially.”

The Bristol warehouse worker says that managers used to stop employees from lifting heavy items from bins on high shelves in the warehouse without a ladder. “If you overstretched yourself for 10 hours, you’d end up with a bad neck and a bad back,” he said.

That has subsequently changed as staff said they felt pressured to meet ever-escalating demand. Staff pushing carts around the warehouse used to be limited to using one cart at a time for safety reasons; now it is claimed managers turn a blind eye to staff pulling two carts at once. “They don’t say nothing because all they care about is getting the work done as fast as possible,” he said. “Safety just goes out the window.”

He says he has personally lifted items weighing up to 25kg by himself, despite rules saying anything heavier than 15kg should be lifted by two people.

A worker at an Amazon facility in the north-west of England said that managers at his warehouse similarly ignored rules around not running on site and lifting down heavy items from high areas in an attempt to meet targets, which at his site require two items to be picked every minute.

Amazon declined to respond to specific claims.

Martha Dark, director at Foxglove, a non-profit organisation working to highlight issues within tech companies that supports Amazon workers, said: “None of the workers we’re supporting wanted to protest.

“They’re desperate and can’t survive on these wages. Meanwhile, Amazon threatens to dock pay and send workers to HR for revealing the truth about life in the warehouse.”

She added: “Amazon needs to respect workers’ rights to organise, stop penalising people who are fighting to survive and provide a real pay rise now.”

Two workers said they plan to leave the company because of the conditions and pay. However, some hope to stay put – to change things.

“If a lot of us who are experienced leave Amazon at this point they’ll get a new group of people in who they can mould into this depressing way of work,” said the Bristol worker. “That’s the problem.”

This article was amended on 14 August 2022. Inflation is at 9.4%, not 13% as stated in an earlier version; the latter is a forecast rate.

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AI could save future firefighters from deadly explosions • The Register

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AI could help save firefighters’ lives by predicting fire flashovers before they occur, according to new research published this week. 

Flashovers occur when combustible material in a room suddenly starts igniting all at once, leading to a huge surge of heat and flammable gases that can break walls and burst windows. Around 800 firefighters have been killed and more than 320,000 injured on the job in the US over a 10-year period, from 2008 to 2018, and it is estimated that 13 per cent of those accidents are the result of flashover events.

Firefighters have to rely on their experience to predict if a flashover is about to happen, such as judging from levels of smoke and heat, but it’s not easy considering how quickly they can creep up. Computer scientists have tried to develop methods capable of detecting flashovers in real time for the last two decades, but it’s a difficult task to model something so erratic.

Researchers from the US government’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Google, as well as the Hong Kong Polytechnic University and the China University of Petroleum, built a system using graph neural networks (GNN) to learn relationships between different sources of data, represented as nodes and edges, from simulated fires.

“GNNs are frequently used for estimated time of arrival, or ETA, in traffic where you can be analyzing 10 to 50 different roads.” Eugene Yujun Fu, the study’s co-first author and a research assistant professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said in a statement.

“It’s very complicated to properly make use of that kind of information simultaneously, so that’s where we got the idea to use GNNs. Except for our application, we’re looking at rooms instead of roads and are predicting flashover events instead of ETA in traffic.”

The team simulated all sorts of data, from building layouts, surface materials, fire conditions, ventilation configurations, location of smoke detectors, and temperature profiles of rooms to model 41,000 fake fires in 17 different building types. A total of 25,000 fire cases were used to train the model, and the remaining 16,000 were used to finetune and test it.

The GNN’s performance was assessed by whether it was able to predict whether a flashover event would occur within the next 30 seconds. Initial results showed the model had an accuracy of 92.1 percent at best. 

The system, dubbed FlashNet, is more advanced than the team’s previous machine learning model P-Flash.

“Our previous model only had to consider four or five rooms in one layout, but when the layout switches and you have 13 or 14 rooms, it can be a nightmare for the model,” said Wai Cheong Tam, co-first author of paper and a mechanical engineer at NIST. “For real-world application, we believe the key is to move to a generalized model that works for many different buildings.”

FlashNet may seem promising, but it is yet to be tested with data from real fire rescues. That would require the model to analyze data from thermostats, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, in smart homes, Tam explained to The Register. How firefighters could then be alerted to the model’s predictions is unclear.

“The focus of the research was to rely on building data that is or could easily be provided from available building sensors. One way to translate the research into reality is to integrate the model into a smart fire alarm control panel that would gather the temperature data from installed heat detectors and includes a computer module that can process the data and make the real-time predictions.”

“From the fire alarm control panel or other suitable piece of equipment, the prediction would be sent to the incident commander, or individual firefighters if deemed suitable. The exact mechanism of providing such predictive analytics is not decided and would require input from the fire service to develop a consensus,” Tam concluded. ®

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Enjoying the sun? So could our national grid with more solar power

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The Irish Solar Energy Association has called on EirGrid to not let sunny days go to waste and connect solar farms to the grid at scale.

Thousands will be flocking to beaches across the country this weekend as Ireland continues to experience what many are calling a heatwave for days in a row.

But a refreshing swim and a light tan (hopefully not a sunburn) are not the only benefits of the scorching sun so rarely seen on this island. With amber alerts issued for two days in a row this week, Ireland’s electricity market could do with a much needed solar power boost.

“As the country is enjoying a prolonged spell of sunny weather, it is worth remembering that the sunshine can be used for more than recreation,” said Conall Bolger, CEO of the Irish Solar Energy Association (ISEA).

“Ireland has huge potential to generate solar energy to support the national grid. This will be most important in periods of fine weather as, typically speaking, it is less windy.”

‘The sunlight falling on Ireland is a natural resource. Every day we are not making use of it, is a lost opportunity’
– CONALL BOLGER

Bolger is calling on EirGrid, which operates Ireland’s electricity grid, to develop the network necessary to connect solar farms at scale. The aim is to address the narrow gap between electricity supply and demand highlighted by the amber alerts, which are likely to get more frequent in coming years.

“There is no shortage of daylight and no shortage of ambition to utilise this to generate solar energy,” he went on.

“However, one of the most significant factors impacting solar’s delivery is the ability of the national grid to take that power. EirGrid needs to be developing the backbone of the network so that it can accept that green electricity.”

When the Government published the €125bn Climate Action Plan 2021 last November, Bolger welcomed the ambition of an up to 81pc reduction in emissions for the electricity sector, but was quick to warn that it must be backed by action. The success of this plan will depend on the pace of its delivery, he said.

“Achieving this target will require a strong contribution from solar,” he said at the time, adding that a target of 1.5 to 2.5GW for solar energy “underestimates” the potential of the sector. “ISEA estimate Ireland could deliver 6GW of solar this decade if the right conditions are provided.”

Last month, the Government announced a significant increase in its target for solar energy, now aiming for 5.5GW by the end of the decade. The move was welcomed by the ISEA.

Bolger said 2022 has been a major year for solar energy in Ireland so far. The first-ever solar farm was connected to the national grid in Millvale, Wicklow earlier this year, with several others in progress.

“The sunlight falling on Ireland is a natural resource. Every day we are not making use of it, is a lost opportunity,” said Bolger.

“In the context of the climate emergency and security of supply issues, this is no longer acceptable, and we need firm commitments on actual network delivery to avoid future problems.”

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