The Nothing Phone (2a) is turning out to be one of the best options if you want a budget phone in 2024. The phone has the same bold styling as the Phone (1) and Phone (2), and it even includes LED lighting at the back that’s mated to the Glyph interface. Having used the phone for just under a week now, it’s clear that Nothing wanted to deliver a similar level of experience as its costlier phones, but in the budget segment.

There’s just one problem: the Phone (2a) isn’t launching in the U.S. Nothing made the Phone (2) available to purchase via its U.S. website last year, but the Phone (2a) is being sold in limited quantities in the region, and you have to sign up as a developer to be eligible to pick up the device. Even then, there’s no official warranty.

I asked Nothing co-founder Akis Evangelidis the reason for not launching the Phone (2a) Stateside, and he said that it isn’t the “right time to go all-in” in the U.S. just yet. “We’re still just a three-year-old brand, so we have to be strategic about our efforts. While we need to maintain a level of presence in the U.S., it isn’t the right time to go all-in just yet considering the size of the market.”

As for the limited presence, Nothing sells its audio products in the U.S., and Evangelidis confirmed that the ear (1) and Ear (2) sold really well in the region. But when it comes to the phone segment, there’s a similar refrain that I’ve heard from just about every phone manufacturer that doesn’t have a major presence in the country: dealing with carriers.

Holding the Nothing Phone (2a) with Nothing Phone (1) and Nothing Phone (2) in the background

(Image credit: Nicholas Sutrich / Android Central)

Unlike most global markets, Nothing can’t just sell the phone via its website and hope to make any sort of dent in the budget segment. Carriers control the U.S. smartphone industry, and Evangelidis noted that the brand isn’t “in a rush,” and that it is looking to secure the right carrier partnership before making a full-fledged debut in the country. “The unlocked market is quite limited, so there’s only so much you can do as a standalone brand. We need to find the right partner that understands our strategy and believes in the brand. You can only enter the market once, and we want to get that right — we’re not in a rush.”

Regarding the Phone (2), which was available unlocked on Nothing’s website, Evangelidis said that as the device was aimed at early adopters, it was a straightforward decision to sell it directly. But the Phone (2a) is intended as a mass-market device, and without a carrier partnership, it didn’t make sense for the brand to launch it in the country.

There’s good reason for Evangelidis to be wary when it comes to partnering with a U.S. carrier. Evangelidis and Carl Pei were at OnePlus when the Chinese manufacturer teamed up with T-Mobile to launch the OnePlus 6T in the country, and what was lauded as a major win for the company turned sour as T-Mobile’s requirements didn’t line up with OnePlus’s strategy at the time.

The way I understood it, T-Mobile wanted phones to be available for at least 12 months after month, and OnePlus would only sell its devices for six months — this was during the T series refresh. The result was that the OnePlus 7T was available on T-Mobile well after stock ran out just about everywhere else in the world, and these days, OnePlus only sells its entry-level Nord N series with the carrier, with its flagships like the OnePlus 12 sold unlocked on its website and Amazon.

As for Nothing, Evangelidis said the brand would take its time choosing a carrier partner before selling its phones in the region. He talked about how the partnership works in other regions, hailing India’s Flipkart as the “benchmark” in this regard. Ultimately, the Phone (2a) is one of the best budget phones of 2024, but U.S. users miss out on the device — like dozens of other phones — because of the unique carrier-dominated ecosystem.

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