Is it worth importing the Nothing Phone 1?

The cost and lack of support make importing a challenge.

Mat Smith/Engadget

It’s tempting to import the Nothing Phone 1. The combination of eye-catching design, well-rounded performance and a reasonable price can make it more appealing than other mid-range smartphones, and even some pricey flagships. But is it really worth the effort to bring the Phone 1 to the US? Not necessarily. There are a number of challenges you’ll have to overcome, even once the device reaches your hands.

Importing may cost more than you think

The Phone 1 is priced at £399 in the UK and €469 in EU countries, or about $478 US as of this writing. However, you can’t just send one to an American shipping address. We haven’t found a major UK or EU retailer that will ship Nothing’s product to the US, and it’s unlikely that you will given the Phone 1 hasn’t received the FCC certification needed for legal sales inside the country.

Unless you know someone willing to serve as a go-between, you’ll need to enlist the help of a package forwarding service that will ship the Phone 1 to a US address. In the UK, your options include companies like Forward2Me, MyUS and Reship. Many of them will handle single shipments, but you may need to sign up for a membership (typically $10 per month). And an individual order can be expensive. Forward2Me, for instance, currently estimates that you’ll pay between $29 to $47 to ship a common smartphone box.

You might not have to pay significant import fees, at least. While US Customs and Border Protection does require a Merchandise Processing Fee (between $2 and $10 for informal entries like this), you can import personal-use products duty- and tax-free when they’re worth less than $800. Package forwarders will handle the paperwork, and will frequently quote the true shipping price. With that said, be sure to read the terms for these services and prepare for the possibility of extra charges.

The phone might not work properly

Nothing Phone 1 home screen
Mat Smith/Engadget

The expenses may not be the real dealbreaker. If anything, you’ll need to worry more about network compatibility. While the Nothing Phone 1 does support some US carriers’ 5G and LTE frequencies, it lacks long-range bands for T-Mobile and Verizon. You won’t get as robust coverage, and the performance may fall short. In testing, PCMag’s Sascha Segan noticed that the Phone 1 only managed 100Mbps downloads on 5G in areas where other phones reached 400Mbps.

This is assuming you can get the handset to work in the first place. Without certification from the FCC or American carriers, there are no guarantees you’ll get connected. Nothing warns that the Phone 1 can’t place 5G or LTE calls on AT&T as an uncertified device, and Segan lost Verizon service after two hours of use. Don’t expect the functionality to improve, either. As Nothing founder Carl Pei explained to PCMag, US certification wasn’t worth the trouble without a local carrier agreement; any broken connectivity is likely to stay broken.

After-sale support is a problem, too. Nothing’s warranty only covers service within the original purchase region, so you can’t ask for official help. We also wouldn’t expect independent repair shops to fix the Phone 1. You’ll probably have to buy a brand new phone if something breaks, in other words.

What are the alternatives?

Google Pixel 6a in Sage color

Pei has indicated that community investors in the US might get the Phone 1 through a closed beta program. Nothing also has “big plans” to launch a US-friendly phone at some stage. If you’re not part of that beta and aren’t willing to wait for a sequel, though, you’re probably better off buying an alternative device. Thankfully, there are a few viable models in the sub-$500 range.

Google’s Pixel 6a (launching July 28th) may be the easiest choice. It won’t have the Phone 1’s smooth 120Hz screen, wireless charging or dual 50-megapixel rear cameras, but you will get a speedy processor and the latest Google software features for a modest $449. If you crave a high-refresh screen, Motorola’s 144Hz-capable 2021 Edge is on sale for $400 as we write this. And yes, the iPhone 11 is still surprisingly capable if you don’t mind the three-year-old specs.

We’d advise against Samsung’s sluggish Galaxy A53 5G, but it is an option if you’re determined to get a 120Hz display or simply prefer the safety of a large brand’s ecosystem. You might also want to wait awhile. Apple should have a better $500 device when it updates the iPhone lineup in September (possibly the iPhone 12), and the solid Galaxy S21 FE may see further price cuts.

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