RED Hydrogen One Review



Hyping a product naturally does well to generate interest, especially when it's something so different and ambitious. But the RED Hydrogen One has been going through a rollercoaster ride ever since it was first revealed back in July 2017, and multiple delays kept on pushing back its release. RED, for those not familiar, is a company that specializes in making professional video cameras – as in cameras used to shoot actual, feature-length movies, cameras that command a 5-digit price tag. 

The release of the RED Hydrogen One is finally here, and knowing what RED and its cameras stand for, we're eager to see what this phone's dual-camera system is capable of. However, this is not a phone following the trends, so it might have a harder time capturing the interest of consumers, unless they have a taste for the unconventional. Let's see what the deal is.

In the box:

  • RED Hydrogen One
  • Wall Charger
  • USB Type-C charging cable
  • Startup Guide

Design



Today’s trends tend to favor phones with skinny frames and slick aesthetics that charm people at first glance. Well, that’s not what the RED Hydrogen One is all about, as it towers over today’s smartphones favoring utility more than aesthetics. It’s a beastly sized thing that’s not afraid of showing off its girth, one that’s packing a considerably large frame with some serious weight behind it as well.

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.


Other standouts with the design include its power button/fingerprint sensor combo, dual front-firing speakers, 3.5mm headphone jack, dedicated camera shutter key, and a handy, easy-to-access SIM/microSD slot that doesn’t require any pin tools to access. This is great for those looking to quickly transfer photos and videos captured by the Hydrogen One to their PCs and laptops.

Modular design



Just like Motorola and Essential, RED is hoping to capture interest with the modular aspect of the Hydrogen One, which is achieved through the pin connectors located on the back of the phone. Very little has been revealed in regards to the lineup of attachments we can expect to see the RED Hydrogen One supporting, but only one has been previewed – the cinema camera module.

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.

Display



Packing quite a bit of unconventional tech, the RED Hydrogen One’s biggest standout has to be the “4-View” holographic display it’s rocking. Naturally, the first thing to come to mind after briefly checking it out were the glasses-free 3D displays we saw in phones like the HTC EVO 3D and LG Optimus 3D (Thrill 4G) several years back. Not surprisingly, that trend was relatively shortlived, mainly because it was more of a novelty than anything else.

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.


Our particular model is boasting 128GB of internal storage, a generous tally no doubt, especially when there’s expansion courtesy of its easy-to-access combination SIM/microSD slot. This accessible slot doesn’t require the aid of a pin ejection tool that most phones implement, which is great as we detailed already because it gives users that extra layer of flexibility.

AnTuTu Higher is better
RED Hydrogen One 190269
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 244787
Apple iPhone XS Max 336882
LG V40 ThinQ 246715
JetStream Higher is better
RED Hydrogen One 42.659
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 63.24
Apple iPhone XS Max 265.74
LG V40 ThinQ 65.759
GFXBench Car Chase on-screen Higher is better
RED Hydrogen One 13
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 26
LG V40 ThinQ 16
GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 on-screen Higher is better
RED Hydrogen One 29
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 56
Apple iPhone XS Max 59.3
LG V40 ThinQ 23
Geekbench 4 single-core Higher is better
RED Hydrogen One 1890
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 3612
Apple iPhone XS Max 4821
LG V40 ThinQ 2007
Geekbench 4 multi-core Higher is better
RED Hydrogen One 6396
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 8927
Apple iPhone XS Max 11299
LG V40 ThinQ 8310

Camera


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.


However, the neat-o factor here is in how the 4-View holographic display takes the content and delivers those holographic views. When switching to 4-View mode, the holographic display kicks in to provide us with a real-time look at the composition. In our experience, there are certain factors that contribute to achieving the best results with depth with these holographic content – like the contrast of the main subject from the background, lighting conditions, and textures. In some instances, images come out amazing, but in others, the feeling of depth is lacking.

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!

Image Quality



RED may have the experience and reputation in the cinema world, but when it comes to smartphones, it’s quite indicative that they still have a long way to go before being remotely considered a contender. Yes, those 4-View holographic photos are cool and slick, but when they’re viewed as 2D images, they’re lacking fine details and are often soft. If you’re looking for better results, just stick to the 2D mode. When there's ample lighting, photos come out with more detail and neutral-toned colors. However, HDR adds a bit of improvement by boosting the shadows and saturating the colors by a little bit. The downsides, however, are that it takes an even longer amount of time to capture HDR images, and many of them turn out blurry, especially in low light.

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.

Taking a pic Lower is better Taking an HDR pic (sec) Lower is better CamSpeed score Higher is better CamSpeed score with flash Higher is better
RED Hydrogen One 2.8
3.4
No data
No data
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 1.1
1.4
No data
No data
Apple iPhone XS Max 0.9
1.4
No data
No data
LG V40 ThinQ 1.7
1.8
No data
No data

There’s nothing pretty to look at with the camera’s performance under low light, as predictably so, it results in very muddy-looking images void of detail. It also struggles with dynamic range, seeing that highlights are often blown out to the point that details are absent. Furthermore, there’s just too much noise in the shadows when there’s little lighting around.

Video Quality


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.


For all the notoriety, it’s rather disappointing that the RED Hydrogen One can’t even deliver average results with its video-recording performance. Sure, the 4-View holographic capture is neat-o looking with its ability to define depth in the video, but it’s still a novel feature at best for now. We’d prefer to have an outstanding 2D video performance first and foremost.

Multimedia



Thanks to its 4-View holographic display, the RED Hydrogen One certainly is an entertainment gadget that’s sure to garner attention. Videos and photos pop really nicely in 4-View holographic mode, which is even made better when we can view the screen for significantly longer periods of time without feeling fatigued. And best of all, there are no special glasses or anything required! What’s really intriguing is how much better this technology is than the 3D movies played at theaters, mainly because the feeling of depth is far more prominent here. It’s not simply distinguishing foreground and background elements, it’s able to add in several more in between to really heighten that feeling of depth.

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.

Battery life



If there’s one thing going right for the RED Hydrogen One, it’s without question its long-lasting battery life. That’s attributed to its massive 4500 mAh battery, which in our day-to-day use manages to get us almost a couple of days from a full charge. By the end of the first night, it was still hovering around the 45% mark! In our battery benchmark test, it reaffirms our real-world experience, as it topped out at 11 hours and 10 minutes – easily breezing past most of the flagship competition!

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.

Battery life (hours) Higher is better
RED Hydrogen One 11h 10 min (Excellent)
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 8h 56 min (Excellent)
Apple iPhone XS Max 9h 34 min (Excellent)
LG V40 ThinQ 6h 21 min (Average)
Charging time (minutes) Lower is better
RED Hydrogen One 129
Samsung Galaxy Note 9 109
Apple iPhone XS Max 209
LG V40 ThinQ 109

Call Quality


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.

Conclusion


Those looking to pick up the RED Hydrogen One will have to shell out some serious dough to snag it, especially at the rate of $43.17/month for 30 months through AT&T, which brings its cost of ownership to a staggering $1295.10! We’re all accustomed to seeing smartphones in the $1000 range, but they all generally have proven to be well-rounded performers. That's not particularly the case here with the RED Hydrogen One which, for a general smartphone, can’t even come close to competing against the current top phones in the space.


RED’s ambitious approach undoubtedly needs to be applauded regardless, just because they’re daring enough to take a gambit on innovation – even when everyone else has seemingly settled on following the trends. Indeed, the 4-View holographic display and camera capture are unique in the space, but just like the short-lived 3D displays and 3D recording that smartphones went through several years ago, it’s a novelty that quickly wears off. However, the RED Hydrogen One does possess one imposing feature that may potentially win the hearts and minds of enthusiasts – the cinema camera module.

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.

Pros

  • Longer-lasting battery life than most of the competition
  • Built like a tank
  • Easy-to-access microSD/SIM slot

Cons

  • Disappointing camera performance
  • 4-View holographic display is unique, but little more than a party trick
  • It’s really expensive
  • Camera interface is pretty generic
  • Extremely cold color temperature & unrealistic colors with the display

PhoneArena Rating:

4.0

FEATURED VIDEO

70 Comments

1. dubaiboy78

Posts: 455; Member since: Sep 19, 2014

Poor mobile as you went on a wrong site!!!

36. sgtdisturbed47

Posts: 969; Member since: Feb 02, 2012

It's a trash phone with old hardware. The name alone will not sell it if it can't come close to performing as well as the competition.

55. cheetah2k

Posts: 2271; Member since: Jan 16, 2011

Just like Apple?? always old hardware :P

56. whocar3s

Posts: 20; Member since: Oct 28, 2014

So you mean 7nm SoC, TrueDepth camera, Samsung allmighty OLED panel are old hardware? Are you from the future?

63. Penny

Posts: 1860; Member since: Feb 04, 2011

Having a generation old processor does not make ALL of the hardware suddenly old. Is a lightfield display with 4V old hardware then? Following similar logic, should I declare the Pixel 3's hardware categorically subpar because it has 4GB of RAM, while this has 6GB? Spec wars are great for those with no idea what they actually want out of a phone. Just give me the "best," as someone out there might perceive it at least. Anyway, not going to try to change minds here. Nobody here even has it, but everyone's biases have been confirmed. That's not a party I care to join. Just wish people weren't so shortsighted.

66. sgtdisturbed47

Posts: 969; Member since: Feb 02, 2012

Tech ages like dog years. Last year's SOC on this year's flagship makes zero sense. That has no bias attached, neither did my original comment.

67. Penny

Posts: 1860; Member since: Feb 04, 2011

"Trash phone with old hardware..." I'd argue that the word "trash" is hyperbolic with a pretty negative connotation, indicating bias absent a very strong reason for that description. Fair enough that you don't agree with the use of last year's SOC. But as I was trying to point out, that's only one (albeit central) piece of the hardware. Classifying all of the hardware as old for the sake of that one component seems lazy at best, disingenuous at worst. The display, the front and rear stereo cameras, and the speakers are all important elements of hardware that are NOT old. The display is DECIDEDLY not old as it's brand new tech that no other manufacturer is currently using.

68. Mobjo

Posts: 12; Member since: Sep 03, 2016

Aaah here you are... We had a conversation a while ago on a post about this phone... Seems that (unfortunately for the company you represent) i was right. Cpu aside the screen is a good lcd panel (not in the so called 4v mode) the battery is good the sound is average the camera is below average at best. The so called 4v is bad old and unreliable technology that was renamed in order to create a hype around it. Its the same(bad) old 3D tech that LG and HTC offered many many years ago. And its something to be expected. No screen manufacturer continued the development of that tech. At least not the top dogs. So you end up using the brand name RED to overprice and sell a piece of crap. If RED wanted to do that they should take lessons from the rest. Look at oneplus. They had the brand name (oppo) instead they went with a completely new brand that offered flagship specs for midrange price. You did the exact opposite in every single way. Well done. Its a good lesson for RED and everyone else that plans to do the same thing. Smartphone market is very competitive and buyers/users are very well trained. Also they are not forgiving (look at Essential). When you are new you only have one chance to shine if you blow it its gone. Now go back to video cameras and let smartphones to the ones that know what they are doing

70. sgtdisturbed47

Posts: 969; Member since: Feb 02, 2012

Gawd there's always a warrior out there to needlessly defend garbage because they just like the idea of the product and don't care about the product itself. Yes, compared to the competition it's trash. You listed nothing in your silly response about how it's not trash, instead insisting on validating my complaint.

50. Phonehex

Posts: 767; Member since: Feb 16, 2016

Why 4 PA ? I think you guys are being too generous for once ! This phone for its price/specs and performance purely based on reviews should get a negative score.

62. bucknassty

Posts: 1353; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

saw this phone in person this weekend... it is HUGE!!!

2. Wickedsamaritan

Posts: 84; Member since: Aug 11, 2017

its true this phone was a Major Letdown . but dammit this rating make me feel like someone took their Time to Find every single Flaw this Phone Has

3. Tech-shake

Posts: 213; Member since: Nov 14, 2016

Isn’t this what they supposed to do tho. I mean we read reviews to find about the flaws of a phone and know whether we can live with them or not.

4. Wickedsamaritan

Posts: 84; Member since: Aug 11, 2017

Yes I agree on that but isn't it too much of a scrutiny when the reviewer mentioned *camera interface is generic* yet the person that reviewed the iPhone Xs/Xs max never mentioned why iPhone users don't even get camera settings in the camera app. Yet someone was clever enough to see a generic camera interface on this .

39. mootu

Posts: 1530; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

Probably because Red are a camera company, Apple are not. You seem upset that the phone got the score it deserves.

57. cocoy

Posts: 463; Member since: Oct 30, 2015

This is a phone like any other phone, if you want a better camera go buy their stuff because they are the best. If someone is reviewing camera on the phone they should have thesame standard whic includes the app itself. The comment above is true.

40. mootu

Posts: 1530; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

Probably because Red are a camera company, Apple are not. You seem upset that the phone got the score it deserves.

53. hazard1

Posts: 236; Member since: Feb 11, 2017

Sorry, the criticism seems harsh. i could understand if the criticism were that the interface was too complicated.

9. maherk

Posts: 6965; Member since: Feb 10, 2012

I am usually the first to criticize PA for their ratings, but they got it right this time around, although I find that they were a bit generous. I watched couple of videos already about this phone, and not only that it's not worth half of it's price, it deserves this much criticism because of all the hype they built around this phone. I accept it being average in all aspects but the camera department, we expected much much more from them.

16. Wickedsamaritan

Posts: 84; Member since: Aug 11, 2017

I agree we all know this phone is a Letdown as I have said . But for these phone to function properly as a mobile phone with a long-lasting battery .. That's 5.0. Automatically. The other 5.0 should be based on how outstanding every other features are , which isn't limited to the camera , screen , speaker/sound quality , battery life. And I'm sure this phone has some good speakers , long-lasting battery, and some OK screen . 4.0 is farfetched. Yes it's true that this phone has snapdragon 835. But I will take a last gen chip with a good screen over the latest chip with an HD screen(iphone xr which yet scored 9.0 and it was strange phonearena failed to tell us about the XR battery life because they knew it was poor ) and yet they came with full force to tell you everything that's bad about this phone ..

28. Tech-shake

Posts: 213; Member since: Nov 14, 2016

Tbh, I don’t think it deserve a 5. It would have deserved a 5 if it costed less. This phone costs ~1300$ yet losses in every way to a phone that costs 400$.

31. BamaBoi89

Posts: 26; Member since: Jan 06, 2015

xr battery is far from poor and out lasts my pixel 3 xl by a long shot

19. bucknassty

Posts: 1353; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

i think it shows that a phone.... can not be a camera... the damn things are too small bottom line... size matters at some point just like sound.... you can have the highest quality 2" speaker but it will never move the same amount of air as an 8"... a little weird analogy but RED should probably just install an operating system on their cameras....

58. perry1234

Posts: 648; Member since: Aug 14, 2012

I would personally love to see that (camera+Android) from RED. I had previously used Samsung Galaxy K Zoom for a week, I definitely liked the idea, and I got used to the heft (I realize it is not everyone's cup of tea) but in return, the camera was not that stunning. I am sure if RED made a point and shoot camera (to the best of their ability, of course) with SD845 and Android pre-loaded it will sell well in the enthusiast crowd. MKBHD will buy one for his personal use for sure.

29. SYSTEM_LORD

Posts: 1168; Member since: Oct 05, 2015

The SD835 is definitely not dated. I wish these stupid reviewers would stop acting as if all of a sudden once a new SoC is out that the previous one is junk. Stop trying to get people to be always trying to buy the newest hardware on the market.

34. AmashAziz

Posts: 2934; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

You should probably go buy that new $5000 vertu with a Snapdragon 660. So what if it has a 1.5 year old midrange processor?? It's not suddenly junk just because an 845 exists.....right? So WHAT if it costs 5000??? That still doesn't make the processor junk.... so

46. Mobjo

Posts: 12; Member since: Sep 03, 2016

As i said in every post about this phone before the long awaited release. It will be a total flop. And guess what... It is... i think that a vidcamera company could have done more than a crappy camera phone. Its not about the SOC its not about the bezels its not about the price. It should have been the greatest camera phone in the market at any cost period. Huawei Samsung Apple even Xiaomi and LG have greatest camera offerings with third party HW. All i see here is a below the average device (at best) trying to use a well established name to sell smth expensive. All this crappy last decade screen tech and old SOC and mass produced camera sensors for what? Imagine the surpise at sony getting an email from RED saying "we need camera sensors for our phone" i believe the are still laughing with that. And all this 1300$. It see people getting fired

47. doublestandardz

Posts: 103; Member since: Jul 06, 2018

Put a fruit on it then the price will be justified and the score will go to 9.3 from eyephone arena.

5. syntaxlord

Posts: 239; Member since: Oct 01, 2018

A 4?!

15. dimas

Posts: 3382; Member since: Jul 22, 2014

Even cheap xiaomi phones got better reviews than this red phone.
Hydrogen One
  • Display 5.7" 1440 x 2560 pixels
  • Camera 12.3 MP / 8 MP front
  • Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, Octa-core, 2450 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB + microSDXC
  • Battery 4500 mAh

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