Nothing's unscrewable CMF Phone 1 is here, but did it live up to its unrelenting hype cycle?

CMF Phone 1 cases
(Image credit: CMF by Nothing)

What you need to know

  • CMF by Nothing, a sub-brand of tech startup Nothing, has been hyping up the release of the CMF Phone 1 for months.
  • The phone officially launched today, offering customizable backplates with support for accessories, and is priced at $199.
  • It’s a neat device, but Nothing‘s Beta Program is a lackluster way to get around making the company’s phones fully-available in the U.S. 

Nothing, the tech startup built by OnePlus co-founder Carl Pei and comprised of many former OnePlus employees, is all about hype — and it's not hard to see why. The smartphone industry has been boring for a long time, and even new form factors like folding phones haven't shaken things up enough. Nothing and its sub-brand CMF by Nothing — which stands for color, materials, finish — wants to bring back character in tech. 

It's doing that with CMF Phone 1, a device that was teased for months prior to its official launch on Monday, July 8. The cryptic teasers for the device showed off a large knob that was eventually revealed to be a screw. Later, Nothing revealed that the CMF Phone 1 features many exposed screws. That led some fans to speculate that the CMF Phone 1 might have a removable battery or a repair-friendly design in general, like the Fairphone 5

To put it simply, that was never going to happen. It's expensive to design a phone that has modern features and old-school repairability in mind. That's why the Fairphone 5 costs over $700 (though it isn't available in the U.S.), and Framework laptops aren't any cheaper than their competitors. CMF is a budget brand, and it's virtually impossible to design a device like a Fairphone or Framework laptop on a budget.

So, what did Nothing give us with that giant screw? It's all about customization. There are different-colored backplates that can be swapped in or out as you please. You can screw in a stand, card case, or lanyard loop into the back of the phone. 

The accessories for the CMF Phone 1.

(Image credit: CMF by Nothing)

It's almost like having MagSafe or Qi2, except instead of magnets, the CMF Phone 1 uses real screws. There are real advantages to this method of attaching accessories. People who like industrial design will appreciate the look of the CMF Phone 1 more, and it also means the accessories won't go anywhere.

If you kept your expectations in check — and didn't dream of a removable battery or an upgradable phone for $200 (which would be cool, by the way) — then the CMF Phone 1 lives up to the hype. 

CMF Phone 1 screen and back

(Image credit: CMF by Nothing)

Even if you think the customization and design features are a gimmick, there is still a lot under-the-hood for $200. The display looks to be one of the more impressive parts of the CMF Phone 1, since it sports a 6.67-inch AMOLED screen with support for 120Hz refresh rate, HDR10+ support, and a 2000-nit brightness. It also has a MediaTek Dimensity 7300 5G chip, 8GB of RAM, and a 5,000 mAh battery. To get all that for $199 feels like a true bargain. 

However, there's a catch. The CMF Phone 1 lives up to the hype, as long as you don't live in North America. While it seems to be a stellar option in other parts of the world — like India, where it starts at  ₹15,999 for a 6GB RAM model — it's just not a good one in the U.S., and it's not even available in Canada.

The problem with the CMF Phone 1

CMF Phone 1 Nothing OS

(Image credit: CMF by Nothing)

The problem with the CMF Phone 1 is that Nothing isn't making it for the U.S., but it's still selling it here. To be clear, I'd have no problem if the CMF Phone 1 were only sold in regions other than North America. There are plenty of things that are available in the U.S. and not elsewhere, so it'd be nice for Europe and Asia to get their own exclusives for a change. However, it's not cool that Nothing wants to kind of sell the CMF Phone 1 and other products in the U.S. Either go all in, or all out. 

Nothing skirts full U.S. sales by selling products like the CMF Phone 1 as part of the "Beta Program." When you buy the CMF Phone 1, you're really buying access to the Beta Program, and you get the CMF Phone 1 for free as a result. It's the lazy way of bringing a phone to the country without doing the work required to sell a phone in the U.S. normally. 

I take exception to the fact that the CMF Phone 1 is sold in the U.S. at all, because it's a bad phone in this country. It barely supports any of the major cellular carriers due to its old and, frankly, bad modem. It doesn't support 5G on AT&T, nor does it support VoLTE and VoWiFi. Verizon isn't recommended to be used with this phone at all, and only T-Mobile works with some 5G bands. None of the three major U.S. cellular carriers are fully featured on CMF Phone 1.

Nobody wants to think about whether the phone they're buying has the right cellular bands to work with the major networks. But they're important, and they could determine whether your phone works or it doesn't. Nothing, by selling this phone as part of the "Beta Program," is trying to shift the responsibility on the user to know what they're getting into before they buy CMF Phone 1. 

I want more Nothing products to be available in the U.S., but it has to be done the right way. After an unrelenting hype cycle, the CMF Phone 1 lives up to the excitement, as long as you're in the right region. Unfortunately, North America isn't one of the right regions.

Brady Snyder

Brady is a tech journalist covering news at Android Central. He has spent the last two years reporting and commenting on all things related to consumer technology for various publications. Brady graduated from St. John's University in 2023 with a bachelor's degree in journalism. When he isn't experimenting with the latest tech, you can find Brady running or watching sports.