RED Hydrogen One Review
Review indexDesign | Display | Interface and Functionality | Processor and Performance | Camera | Multimedia | Battery life | Call Quality | Conclusion
In the box:
- RED Hydrogen One
- Wall Charger
- USB Type-C charging cable
- Startup Guide
While the phone itself is bulky, the aluminum and Kevlar frame makes it feel built like a tank – able to endure some brutal punishment! The scalloped grips around its sides indicate again the phone’s preference for utility with its design, allowing for additional texture for grasping tightly onto the phone. We do like how it doesn't have the same kind of fragileness that accompanies today’s all-glass phones. Despite the tank-like construction, the phone has no water-resistant properties. Nevertheless, in an era of glass-covered smartphones, the metal/Kevlar construction of the RED Hydrogen One is a refreshing change of scenery.
Even though we haven’t checked it out for ourselves, it’s a module that enthusiasts are sure to be excited about because it’s mentioned to include a dedicated, high-quality image sensor and a lens attachment allowing users to use lenses with it from Canon, Nikon, Sony, Leica, and other brands. This is no doubt unique in the space, but it’s something that diehard camera enthusiasts are sure to be receptive of when it comes to fruition.
For now, the pins on the back of the Red Hydrogen One will remain there unused until we get word from RED about the mods. Given how the phone is shaping out to be hyper-focused on entertainment, the lineup may turn out to be selective.
Knowing that history, you may be wondering how the 5.7-inch QHD (1440 x 2560) 4-View holographic display in the Red Hydrogen One performs. For starters, it's really cool seeing it in action for the first time when images, video, and other content created specifically in this format “pop out” on the phone’s holographic display, which is able to achieve the illusion of depth without the need for glasses. Better yet, there’s no eye fatigue in viewing holographic content for long periods of time. Now, it’s worth noting that the 4-view mode is only enabled for certain content – so don’t expect to navigate through the interface in 4-view.
Although it definitely brings the wow factor when you show it off to people, it’s still novel at best for the majority of users, but this niche feature will certainly strike a nerve for those in the VR/360-degree community. As for the display’s actual characteristics, it’s not one to really catch our attention over other displays because of its extremely cold color temperature, inaccurate color reproduction, and visible distortion at angles. The only bright spot is its strong 519 nit output, which makes it visible under direct sunlight.
Interface and functionality
RED doesn’t meddle all that much with the interface, seeing that it’s running a clean Android 8.1 Oreo experience out of the box. The only point of contention for some users may be the bloatware that AT&T adds with the phone, which are simply some of the carrier’s apps. Beyond that, anyone familiar with the Android 8.1 Oreo experience will find themselves at home right away.
In order to emphasize the phone’s cool 4-view holographic display, RED packages several apps that provide relevant content to really encapsulate users. Take for example the Hydrogen Network app, which offers several videos, movies, and short clips that have been tailored to showcase the 4-view holographic display. Another app, the RED LeiaLoft, is a portal where we can download apps and games that have been optimized to support the display. We tried out Asphalt 8, Flippy Knife, and Modern Combat 5, which all translate smoothly to the holographic display.
In order to view 4-View holographic photos and videos captured by the phone’s dual cameras, the “RED Player” app is the only one to show the content in holographic form, seeing that Google Photos doesn’t do it. It’s a minor annoyance, but we hope that the option will be something available down the road.
Processor and Performance
Due to the phone’s long development and numerous delays, there was no working around to switching out the processor to match its contemporaries. It’s running the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC coupled with 6GB of RAM, which suffices enough even now for all the basic things, but the chipset is without question dated at this point. When you think how just about every major flagship is accompanied with the Snapdragon 845, having last year’s hardware doesn’t do much to justify its worth over those options. Yes, the phone’s performance is still responsive, but it doesn’t offer the same kind of split-second responses we’ve seen in phones like the OnePlus 6 and the new Pixels.
As one would expect from a company known for its high-end video production cameras and gear, there’s a huge focus on the camera experience with the Hydrogen One. Speaking of that, yes, the phone is fashioned with a dual-camera system in the rear, but it’s also rocking a pair around the front! The rear combo breaks down to a pair of 12.3MP “stereo” cameras, while the front shooters are a pair of 8.3MP cameras. The dual-camera implementation allows both the front and rear cameras to produce stereoscopic images and videos, as well as portrait shots that blur backgrounds and retain focus on the subject.
Considering RED’s reputation in filmmaking, we’re a bit disappointed by the camera interface because it’s lacking in many regards. For one, it does take a longer amount of time to capture content, but this is obviously due to the processing that is necessary to produce holographic content. Secondly, the camera’s manual mode only allows modification to the shutter speed and ISO, which is a far cry from the rich controls offered by the competition. We’re told though that updates are on the way to enhance the shooting experience, but as of right now, it’s seriously underperforming – even against what some mid-range phones offer!
The front-facing camera actually performs rather well when the conditions are suitable. Not only does it capture some solid details, but it’s complemented by its strong dynamic range and sharpness. The end results look pretty sharp when there’s great lighting around! Even portrait shots manage to do nicely as well, as the cameras are able to distinguish our face from the background – allowing it to properly add the appropriate amount of blur around the edges of our face.
When your brand is renowned for capturing cinema-grade video, you’re going to be scrutinized a lot more. Sadly, the RED Hydrogen One fails to deliver any substance with its video-recording performance. At 1080p resolution, visuals appear extremely soft – lacking any sort of fine details. At the maximum resolution of 3840 x 2176 (4K, approximately), video does look good, but not any better than what you'd get out of any other high-end phone. Furthermore, the video stabilization makes things appear very wobbly and jittery, especially at night. Over on the audio side, the mics are easy to cover by accident and sound is mediocre in general. To tell you the truth, the entire thing makes for a very forgettable experience!
The option to shoot in 4-View (RED's own holographic 3D video format) is there as well, which kicks on the moment the icon is pressed on screen and is captured at the resolution of 3840 x 2160. Now, the nice thing about this is that you get a real-time preview of what the composition looks like – so it’s able to deliver a believable level of depth in the scene. Again, the novelty of shooting in this mode is something we appreciate, but the unfortunate thing is that you really can’t share these videos with anyone else. Instead, you can only view these videos with the RED Hydrogen One’s holographic display. And yes, it’s cool how some things pop out in these videos, but it’s really tough to discern the actual video’s quality because of the distortion that comes into play with 4-View mode is on.
Over on the audio side, enabling the 3D effect applies this sort of spatial mode with the built-in speakers, but the overall volume output is rather weak. In comparison, it gets a bit louder when the mode is off, reaching a peak output of 73.3 dB, but it’s still underperforming against the competition. Then again, we’ll give it kudos for continuing to employ a headphone jack for the convenience.
Recharging is also speedy using the included charging adapter, which takes 129 minutes to fully recharge back to full capacity. As hinted by the aluminum construction, there is no wireless charging option on board.
Despite the distortion that’s evident in voices through the earpiece, it’s still okay enough to handle phone conversations. Volume is at least potent through the earpiece, which makes it still easy to discern voices – while on the other end of the line, our callers didn’t face any major issues in trying to make us out. However, the lackluster volume output of the speakerphone pretty much prevents it from being used in noisy conditions.
While most consumers may not be enchanted by this, we certainly know that camera buffs are digging the prospect of being able to attach their existing lenses to this phone. However, we still don’t have a direct time frame for its release, nor a price point at that, which means yet another substantial out-of-pocket cost to the user. Still, it’s something that we feel has more purpose in the long run than the 4-View holographic display. Unless you’re a diehard cinema buff, you may want to invest your money elsewhere.