Can Apple learn from Nothing? The CMF Phone 1 has one glaring advantage over iPhone

Four of the CMF by Nothing Phone 1s standing on a white table with orange accessories
The Nothing CMF Phone 1 with its variety of modular backplates and accessories (Image credit: Nothing)

I've been a diehard Apple user for years, but Nothing's budget brand, CMF, might convince me to step out of Apple's walled garden. 

On Wednesday, Nothing launched a trio of new budget-friendly devices, although you wouldn't know it by looking at them. The new CMF Phone 1, CMF Buds Pro 2, and CMF Watch Pro 2 all cost less than $400 total but feature creative, minimalistic designs that set them apart from other devices in this price bracket. 

The trio is the beginning of a Nothing ecosystem, too, which begs the question: Could CMF by Nothing be Apple's next budget rival? Apple devices have only gotten more expensive over the past several years despite the addition of lower-cost models like the iPhone SE and Watch SE. These devices sport older designs, though, and lack innovation. In contrast, Nothing took a unique approach with the design of the CMF Phone 1. 

I have an older iPhone, so I only have another year or two of software updates. I wasn't planning to leave the Apple ecosystem. Still, Nothing's new CMF line-up is the first collection of Android devices that has me questioning that decision, almost enough to convince me to opt for a Nothing phone instead of another iPhone. 

Apple and Nothing's other Android competitors might want to pay attention to how the new CMF lineup rethinks tech design. 

Nothing launches the sub-$200 CMF Phone 1

An orange CMF by Nothing Phone 1 standing on a white table with an extra black back plate and orange tool

(Image credit: Nothing)

CMF is a sub-brand of Nothing, the Android brand founded by OnePlus alumnus Carl Pei. It's marketed as the budget-friendly branch of Nothing but maintains the minimalistic, industrial design aesthetic Nothing is known for. Before this week, the only CMF products on the market were a couple of pairs of wireless earbuds and a smartwatch with clear design cues from the Apple Watch

However, Nothing finally put CMF on the map on July 8 with the CMF Phone 1 launch. Priced at just $199, the CMF Phone 1 features a MediaTek Dimensity 7300 5G processor, a 6.67-inch Super AMOLED display, and a Sony 50 MP camera, all running on Nothing OS 2.6, Nothing's reskin of Android. What makes the CMF Phone 1 stand out most, though, is its chassis design. 

The CMF Phone 1 has modular backplates, so you can freely unscrew one backplate and replace it with another featuring a different color or material. The screw holes for the backplates also allow you to attach various accessories like a magnet plate for a cardholder, a kickstand, or even a lanyard (which would make the CMF Phone 1 great for carrying around safely at concerts or music festivals).  

Close up of two face to face orange CMF by Nothing Phone 1s

(Image credit: Nothing)

There are only a few accessories and backplates available at launch, but it's easy to imagine the potential for countless others. The modular backplates also mean that the CMF Phone 1 doesn't need a case. If you scratch up your original backplate, no problem — just remove it and swap in a new one. The backplates are only $29, which is less than many premium phone cases.

You can also mix and match pieces of different backplates. For instance, you can use a black SIM card slot and thumb screw with an orange backplate.

Nothing's careful balance of price and design in the CMF line-up

A woman holding the CMF by Nothing Phone 1

(Image credit: Nothing)

I love modular design, but that's not the only reason the CMF Phone 1 caught my eye. The overall design is minimalistic with just enough industrial details to make it interesting. Plus, Nothing added pops of color, like the orange accessories or orange backplate. It's refreshing to see a design that's not an iPhone clone or pastel glass. 

Nothing infused some originality and creativity into the CMF Phone 1, allowing it to stand out in a smartphone market that has become saturated with similar designs. The CMF Phone 1's aesthetic might not appeal to everyone, but at least it offers something different — and does so at a price that's hard to beat. 

In fact, it's this combination of price and design that's making me second guess whether or not my next phone will be another iPhone. 

Apple products have always been premium, from build quality to price. Unfortunately, Apple hasn't shown much interest over the years in making the Apple ecosystem accessible to people who can't afford to spend over a thousand dollars on a new phone. Even the "budget" offerings Apple currently has on the menu pale in comparison to Nothing's CMF line-up: 

  • CMF Phone 1: $199
  • CMF Watch Pro 2: $69
  • CMF Buds Pro 2: $59
  • Total: $327

That total is $100 less than the price of the base iPhone SE, which features a design grandfathered in from the iPhone 8 and includes half as much storage as the CMF Phone 1. If you want a similar trio of devices from Apple, the price gap grows even more: 

  • iPhone SE: $429
  • Apple Watch SE: $249
  • AirPods (2nd generation): $129
  • Total: $807

So, you can get a phone, smartwatch, and wireless earbuds for $480 less with the CMF by Nothing line-up. Do these devices have some drawbacks compared to Apple's line-up? Sure. They obviously lack iOS-only apps and the CMF Phone 1 is only guaranteed for 2 years of Android updates while Apple usually promises 5 to 7 years. 

Even so, Nothing's CMF line-up competes with Apple in terms of design. Apple's budget line-up is nothing new. In fact, usually the brand's budget-end devices are simply recycled designs from older versions of its more premium products (which is most evident in the outdated iPhone SE design). 

Meanwhile, Nothing is doing something fun and unique with its budget devices while still offering a slick minimalistic aesthetic at a fraction of the cost. Nothing put effort into its budget designs in a way Apple rarely does. 

Is this a CMF by Nothing ecosystem?

A man wearing the CMF by Nothing Watch Pro 2 while holding a basketball

(Image credit: Nothing)

The CMF Phone 1 is the star of Nothing's new budget line-up, but it also launched two accessories this week, as well: the CMF Watch Pro 2 and CMF Buds Pro 2. Both are redesigns of CMF's earlier accessory offerings. They feature some design and performance improvements but maintain the low prices of their predecessors. 

The Watch Pro 2 comes in at just $69 while the Buds Pro 2 cost $59. Both are compatible with Android and iOS, so you can use them independently of the CMF Phone 1. They do look great alongside the Phone 1, though. Nothing appears to be creating a distinct, cohesive aesthetic for the CMF line-up to build toward its own ecosystem. 

All three products are strong contenders in the budget space already, but there are still some areas for improvement. For instance, the CMF Phone 1 lacks NFC or wireless charging. The modular backplates also mean it's not waterproof. If Nothing can find a way to polish those flaws with the second iteration of the CMF Phone, it could be a no-brainer, no matter what price bracket you're shopping in. 

I may not have been paying attention to Nothing before this week, but that's certainly not the case anymore. Apple and Nothing's Android competitors may want to keep an eye on what this smaller band is doing because it could be the key to Nothing's success: infusing much-needed originality in a world of recycled smartphone designs. 

More from Laptop Mag

Stevie Bonifield
Freelance Writer

Stevie Bonifield is a freelance tech journalist specializing in keyboards, peripherals, gaming gear, and mobile tech. Outside of writing, Stevie loves indie games, photography, and building way too many custom keyboards