I installed the Nothing OS beta preview, and now I’m worried

Bespoke as a concept is alien when it comes to smartphones. Unlike other strains of consumer tech, there’s so little a phone’s hardware can be adapted to. So, software customization remains an integral and inclusive part of smartphone personalization.

Android has traditionally symbolized the freedom of customization. But with so many brands going wild for the sole purpose of increasing market share, the practical use of wearable technology is overshadowed by features like super-fast charging speeds and whimsical photography skills.

Nothing on the OS splash screen.

Nothing, a baby smartphone brand, aims to change that by emphasizing meaningful smartphone use and empowering users to control their phones instead of being controlled by them. But how does he manage his first attempt? Not as impressive as he would like, I’m afraid.

Here’s why the Nothing OS doesn’t fit anything at first glance.

How Nothing Labels Minimalism

nothing was founded in 2021 by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei. From the beginning, it has sought to provide consumers with a tasteful experience with technology while minimizing distractions and making these experiences less boring than what is already available. Consequently, its philosophy — as its name clearly indicates — thrives on the lines of minimalism, even though its first product, the Ear (1) headphones launched in August 2021, only follows this approach in an aesthetic sense.

In March 2022, Nothing held a special event to announce their plans to launch a new phone. Although prolific the leakers gave us a glimpse of the phoneNothing stressed the experience is what distinguishes the Phone (1). The opening speech featured token references to Star Trek and was narrated by a Carl Sagan lookalike.

At the short – and ironically enough, dimly lit – event, Nothing promised to build an iconic product ecosystem dedicated to seamless connectivity. The company also gave us a look at its custom Android skin – called “Nothing OS” – hailing it as a solution that allows its phone to seamlessly connect to Nothing’s products, as well as other big brands. technologies in the world.

According to Pei, Nothing from the operating system will capture the best of Android in pure form in “Distill the operating system to the essentials” for a targeted, relentless and personalized experience with the smartphone. The company aims to forge an experience with a marvelous harmony of UI elements, colors, and sounds in its custom skin.

As promised at the event, Nothing opened a new beta preview of Nothing OS in the form of a custom Android launcher, currently only available for Samsung Galaxy S21, Galaxy S22 and Google Pixel (Pixel 5 and newer) devices. . I tried out the launcher to gauge how it gives a sense of minimalism that Nothing approves of.

What the Nothing OS beta preview offers

The Nothing OS launcher is available on the Google Play Store on the devices mentioned above. Contrary to what the company aims for, the Nothing Launcher looks quite dull and uninteresting. These are the features spotted in the Nothing Launcher.

A rudimentary launcher

The Nothing Launcher replicates the simple menu options of the Pixel launcher, which is limited to Google smartphones. The home screen menu options are classic (read boilerplate). At the same time, the launcher settings have only two rudimentary options – to show notification dots on app icons and to add newly installed apps to the home screen.

Screenshot showing home screen and app drawer of Android Nothing OS launcher.

The Nothing launcher allows users to resize application icons. But unlike a host of other Android launchers that let you adjust icon sizes, Nothing offers the ability to enlarge icons to a gigantic footprint. I don’t see the value behind an abnormally elongated icon.

Screenshots showing Android Nothing OS launcher with app icon magnification feature.

The unusual size of the icons becomes even more awkward when you realize that the padding between two enlarged icons is the only thing that adheres to minimalism. Tightly wedged icons rob the home screen of empty space in a way that can only be classified as a soulless massacre of minimalism.

The app drawer with its fixed icon grid and lack of options to change that, again, feels like a trifle.

A wallpaper

The Nothing Launcher offers only one wallpaper, even though the company claims he has three. This is the same wallpaper with jagged lines that was first shown as part of the OS preview in March 2022. screen is quite distracting and reduces the visibility of text and widgets. Speaking of widgets, there are some nice additions here but, again, nothing out of the ordinary.

Screenshot showing icon selection menu in Android Nothing OS launcher.

I spotted another wallpaper in one of the settings menus, but couldn’t apply it as the system background.

Some Widgets

The only compelling aspect of Nothing Launcher is the assortment of custom widgets it brings. There are only three widgets – a digital clock, an analog clock, and a weather widget. The digital clock and weather widget boast of Nothing’s characteristic dotted font.

Screenshots showing widgets in the Android Nothing OS launcher.

I don’t understand how Nothing associates this font with minimalism. Instead, its retro aesthetic hints at classic imagery paired with futuristic technology. To me it reminds of digital billboards and therefore visual noise.

Special ringtones

Nothing says it added three special audiophile-designed ringtones, but I couldn’t find them when running the Nothing launcher on my Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra.

What I wish he had

While there’s nothing to back the removal of the standard Android interface in favor of its less intrusive Android skin, I think a few features could have helped the company convey the message better while making it stand out.

Smarter integration

Contrary to what Nothing insists, its launcher does not look like a step towards an ecosystem of transparent interconnection between devices. What could have made more sense is a widget or subsection of the app to manage everything in one place. This could include options to manage wireless connections and Bluetooth devices, switch sound profiles and control smart home devices via Google Home integration.

Nothing misses not only the brand with its unconvincing “minimal” design, but also gives up – at least on first impression – the opportunity to set an example for other brands while assuring users that it does something of significant.

Nothing Operating System Quick Settings.

To Nothing’s credit, it teased an inclusive quick settings interface at the March event. But that wouldn’t be possible unless it releases the full firmware for the devices to test.

Take-out minimalism mode

Google and Apple have been kicking around the idea of ​​Digital Wellbeing for a few years now. While Android offers the possibility of hide notifications while you work, iOS lets you set multiple intervals, after which it offers a notification summaries. OnePlus – and its sister companies such as Realme and Oppo – have also bet big on the work-life balance mode which allows users to categorize aspects of the personal and professional fronts of their lives. Meanwhile, Xiaomi offers a Lite mode which automatically increases icon size (within bearable limits) to make it easier to use for inexperienced users.

Screenshot showing Lite mode of MIUI 13.
Lite mode (left) and standard mode in Xiaomi’s MIUI 13

Nothing offers such a solution to allow users to tune out unwanted noise. Simple gestures or shortcuts to enter a less distracting mode would have made a lot of sense.

Brands should promote minimalism, not monotony

Although Nothing markets itself as a brand to help users dodge the relentless stream of digital distractions, it doesn’t take a step in that direction. Instead, Nothing’s approach of stripping Android’s options feels unwelcoming and lackluster. If there is an aspect in which Nothing succeeds, it is that it is called unique; the first glimpse of Nothing OS is particularly dry. The first draft lacks skill, maturity, and most importantly, enthusiasm for technology – and that’s unquestionably dismal for a tech company.

For now, I’ll be guided by Austrian psychologist Victor Frankl’s famous and highly relevant quote – with a few changes to make it gender-neutral and better suited to modern times. “Anything can be taken from a [human] but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. Nothing has chosen its way, and that’s what worries me.

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