Nubia Red Magic hands-on: Budget-conscious gaming phone
Gaming phones are all the rage these days, with most companies either having a gaming phone in their portfolio or planning to launch one in the near future. The Razer Phone, the ASUS ROG phone, the Xiaomi Blackshark, and the Nubia Red Magic have all brought mobile gaming to a new level with their unique gaming features and visuals to match the part.
In the case of the latter, the Nubia Red Magic, we even get a very gamer-ish LED strip at the back which is very in line with most of the gaming gear you could go out and buy right now. Joking, of course - real gamers don't waste time going out when they can simply order online while fragging newbs. In case they need to head out, however, a gaming phone like the Red Magic will tell just about anyone what kind of person you are.
But does it still have the performance to match its cool visuals?
There's nothing that yells "gaming" more than an RGB LED strip, but when paired with edgy hexagonal details and a slew of red vents for extra heat dissipation, you get a phone that is best suited for a single purpose - making your gaming heart happy when you're away from home. The back is not flush, but convex, which looks different enough to be interesting to the eye; thankfully, it also makes the device easier to hold and use as the aluminum body is not exactly grippy.
As an added bonus, it helps with cooling by adding more surface area to the rear of the device, which improves heat dissipation through the four red-colored vents. Truly, it will be rather hard to mistake this device for anything else, and we actually liked the excessive gaming styling of the Red Magic - it certainly stands out from the hordes of glass iPhone X look-a-likes that have become the norm.
With a 6.0-inch LCD display and somewhat thick bezels, the Red Magic is a big and somewhat heavy phone, but I am happy to report it feels just right in the hand. The bezels at the top and bottom are actually a cool feature that lets you rest your thumbs while you're watching a long cut scene.
You are likely to notice a small red button on the upper right side of this gaming trooper, and you will be forgiven for mistaking it for a mute switch or a mode selector - it has nothing to do with sound as it enables the Red Magic's GameBoost feature. What it does is rather simple: it maximizes performance so as to deliver smooth gameplay, mutes the notifications, and disables the navigation bar of the device. Overall, we didn't notice any immediate difference between the enabled and disabled states of GameBoost, but we'd take Nubia's word for granted that it really "promotes" the performance.
It also turns on the RGB LED strip at the rear, alerting just about anyone in your immediate vicinity that you mean business. There are a couple of different lighting effects like Rainbow, Laserwave, and others, but our favorite features of the strip is that it can be customized to light up for various phone notifications. Slightly more useful, if you ask us.
But enough with the design, it's time to turn our heads to the single-defining functionality of a gaming-oriented device - its performance. The Red Magic comes with a Snapdragon 835 chipset, 6 or 8GB of RAM for gaming-friendly multitasking, 64 or 128GB of native storage to store your files, and finally, a 3,800mAh that should easily last you a few hours of heavier gaming. The glaring thing here is the Snapdragon 835 chipset, which was one of 2017's best chips, but still.... 2017?
Why didn't Nubia go for the much-faster and newer Snapdragon 845? Simple - at the time of the phone's release back in April 2018, the Snapdragon 845 chipset was rather hard to come by as the bigger fishes in the pond were hoarding it for their flagships. Thus, the Red Magic had to cope with a slightly older silicon. It's still a fast flagship-grade chip, but it will soon be showing its age. Luckily, Nubia has announced plans for a Snapdragon 845 version of the phone in the near future, which should be a much more frenzied beast altogether.
We played a couple of games on the Red Magic, and while heavy newer titles like Asphalt 9 frequently struggled to keep up with the coveted 60fps target, older games like Asphalt 8 and World of Tanks Blitz played admirably on the phone. It also seems that the complex cooling systems inside the phone does its job just fine, because the phone remained comfortably cool during gaming.
As far as some other phone features are concerned, yes, you get a rear and a front camera, and yes, you get Android 8.1 out of the box. Oh, a reversible USB Type-C port is also on deck.
At $399, the Nubia Red Magic is definitely a winner. Granted, it's not suitable for everyone - folks that are not into gaming might find its design too off-putting, while many gamers themselves might not be into the meme RGB gaming styling. However, those who do will certainly appreciate the attention to detail that's been invested in the appearance of this handset.
As a gaming device, the Nubia Red Magic is slightly hindered by its older chipset, but the upcoming Snapdragon 845 version should significantly increase the performance and the price of the device. We'd pick that one for sure, but this doesn't mean that the Red Magic, in its current state and form, should fly away from your radar.