As someone who grew up in the heyday of Nokia devices, I’ve seen my fair share of unique mobile phone designs. Now that industry is churning out even more, and there’s a sameness to many of the devices we see. It’s a bit difficult to completely flip the mobile phone design on its head, especially since this candy bar shape has worked so well for us for years.
Foldables are probably the most non-traditional form factors in recent memory, but that isn’t the focus of this story (I am a fan of that form factor, though). Instead, I want to discuss changes made to the more conventional devices. I’ve seen little yet exciting tweaks in mobile phone design this past year (including one from Nokia) that I hope the brands keep getting inspiration from.
Nothing’s take on mobile phone design
One of the more talked about devices to come out recently is from a newcomer in the space. The Nothing phone (1)’s most significant talking point is its striking design. It looks like it takes inspiration from the time when transparent cases were all the rage for different kinds of electronics.
It’s not as outlandish, but the spirit is there. Nothing calls the design the “Glyph.” According to Carl Pei, Nothing co-founder and former OnePlus director, the unique series of lines and curves on the back of the phone should resemble the kanji character for ‘love.’ He tells TechCrunch, “but I call bullshit on that. I can’t see it.”
Nevertheless, the design makes it stand out in the sea of the same. Some components of the phone are visible. It’s a design choice Nothing has done with its first pair of earbuds, the ear (1). That visible part has a series of 900 LEDs spread and overlaid with a diffuser. Corning Gorilla Glass 5 keeps this rear panel safe.
Meanwhile, these lights are designed to pulsate and flash at an extreme brightness. If you have epilepsy or are averse to bright lights, you might need to tweak this setting as soon as possible. You can adjust the brightness in the settings. It’s basically a more “flashy” (pun unintended) notification light. It lights up depending on what app or phone feature calls for your attention.
It shouldn’t have too significant an impact on battery life, but it does give you different functionality. I’m the type to place my phone face down when I work, so this will come in handy. Nothing calls it an interface, but Pei admits its use is pretty limited right now. He said they just wanted the concept out into the world.
Right now, it can only alert you for calls and notifications and serve as a charging indicator. But there is room for it to be more customizable; whether that comes to this version of Nothing’s phone is something I can’t answer. The company does hope to turn this into a different kind of interface for your smartphone.
vivo’s changing the back of mobile phones
If I have to think about something from an aesthetically pleasing perspective, the vivo V23 immediately comes to mind. Instead of just slapping on a fancy paint job, as I’ve described in my hands-on story, it uses a Fluorite AG glass with a coating material that makes this magic happen. When UV rays hit the back of the phone, it changes the pigment from sleek gold to ocean green.
This unique design allows you to use stencils and other materials to decorate the back of the vivo V23 temporarily. Think of it like a temp tattoo for your smartphone. And yes, you might consider it a party trick. But I’m all for mobile devices that can be conversation starters.
Nokia’s still playing with mobile phone design
This last one is a feature phone instead of a smart one. But it certainly makes an intelligent decision for what’s becoming an essential accessory. HMD recently debuted new Nokia feature phones, including this new Nokia 5710 XpressAudio. The back of what looks like a conventionally designed feature phone hides a little secret.
When you slide down the top part of the phone, it hides a compartment/charging case for an included pair of wireless earbuds. I haven’t seen established mobile phone makers play with this idea. But as The Verge pointed out, there was a phone called the Servo R25 released in 2019 that has a similar concept. But I’m wondering if this is something that manufacturers can integrate into smartphones. I am aware it would make the phone bulky. But I’m really curious to see if it’s something that could make its way to more premium phones.
The latter half of the year will bring more new smartphones/feature phones. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that some more interesting ones might be coming our way (maybe I can do a part 2). I still have mixed feelings about the Xiaomi 12S Ultra‘s look, but that’s another one of the more eye-catching handsets we’ve seen.
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