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Review 9 min read 2 comments

Nubia Red Magic: the gaming smartphone that won't break the bank

2018 was the year of the emergence of gamer smartphones. Razer started things off with its smartphone and was then followed by Xiaomi with the Black Shark, Asus with the ROG Phone and the Honor Play. Nubia is now also offering its alternative. Known as Red Magic, the smartphone wants to offer a complete experience for gamers and is finally arriving in Europe and the United States. Will it be a success? Find out in our full review!

Rating

Good

  • Design
  • Good LCD display
  • Mini-jack port
  • Attractive price
  • Cooling system

Bad

  • Last year's processor (Snapdragon 835)
  • Mediocre camera

A more affordable price than the Razer Phone 2

The device was made official in April 2018, but it wasn’t until the end of September that it was officially on sale via its website. It will cost you 449 euros (around 510 dollars) to get it. Some import sites also offer it for a more attractive rate, but customs fees may apply.

Clearly, the Nubia Red Magic is one of the cheapest gaming smartphones. This is several hundred dollars less than the recently unveiled Razer Phone 2 (certainly with a faster processor) or Asus’ ROG Phone. Only the Honor Play is really in this same price range.

Nubia Red Magic design and build quality

Most gaming smartphones have chosen to offer a clear-cut design. The manufacturers want to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack and offer an original look. They tend to have aggressive contours to appeal to gamers, with the Honor Play, of course, being the exception to the rule.

With the Red Magic, Nubia wants to play both sides to attract as many users as possible. The smartphone has a classic front panel (with no notch) and a more eccentric backside with more marked lines, red speakers, a vertically oriented fingerprint reader and an RGB LED bar that lights up with each call or notification (it’s possible to disable it in the settings). There’s also a red button to activate the “Game Boost” mode on the right side.

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No, it’s not a notch. It’s a screen protector. / © AndroidPIT

Personally, I appreciate the overall style of the device. The combination of red and black is successful and gives the smartphone some originality without sinking into the eccentricity of gamer smartphones . Despite its rather large format (6-inch screen), the handling is excellent since the edges are completely rounded.

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Despite its shape, the fingerprint reader is easy to use. / © AndroidPIT

Its weight (185 grams on the scale) gives the impression that it’s a robust smartphone. It exudes quality as a result of the very good workmanship.

No AMOLED but an LCD screen

Protected by Dinrex T2X-1 mineral glass, the Red Magic’s 6-inch IPS LCD screen with an 18:9 ratio has a 6-inch diagonal that is comfortable for all uses, including gaming. The absence of the notch is particularly noticeable and avoids problems with games that aren’t optimized. Its Full-HD+ resolution makes it comfortable to navigate and also enjoy games .

The screen has a nice contrast ratio and the brightness is also excellent. The only real defect is that the Red Magic tends to pull in the blue direction. Fortunately, Nubia offers some options in the settings to mitigate this phenomenon with the natural mode. Of course, the colors aren’t as bright as on an OLED display, but that’s the other side of the coin on an LCD. As a consolation, the visibility in outdoor lighting conditions is pleasant.

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The Nubia Red Magic features an 18:9 ratio screen with no notch. / © AndroidPIT

In the absence of AMOLED, the LCD screen of the Red Magic is a pleasant surprise, but it’s still lagging behind what many gaming competitors are offering in this area. The Red Magic also doesn’t have a 120 Hz display.

Pure Android

The international version of the Nubia Red Magic that I tested offers Android Oreo 8.1 in the purest version we know . The manufacturer promises an update to Android Pie, but no date is available at this time. The experience with the pure Android software is quite classical. Fans of Android stock will appreciate this, and others will always have the option of installing an alternative launcher.

As a gaming smartphone, Nubia offers a few more features than its competitors. There’s a game mode that can be activated via the button on the right side of the terminal. It optimizes the device’s performance for gaming, blocks app notifications and activates LED lights on the back of the device. All these elements can be adjusted in the settings.

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The Red Magic offers a few customization options. / © AndroidPIT

The options for LED lights can also be disabled if you want to avoid any light play during calls or when receiving notifications. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to change the color and you’ll have to get used to the green and blue LEDs. These lights are only for decoration and aren’t used in games.

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Do you like LEDs? / © AndroidPIT

The Nubia Red Magic offers a quite classic user experience. Compared to a Razer Phone or ROG Phone, there are fewer customization options available. The gaming aspect is a little neglected from this perspective.

Nubia Red Magic performance

Performance is obviously one of the most important points for a smartphone dedicated to gaming. The Red Magic doesn’t come with Qualcomm’s latest processor, the Snapdragon 845. Instead, it comes with the processor that equipped last year’s high-end phone, the Snapdragon 835 . To compensate for this, the smartphone has 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal memory (expandable with a microSD card) and Nubia sells it at an attractive price.

One thing is for sure: the Red Magic is fast enough and has responded perfectly to all my requests. I tried to push it to its limits and I didn’t see any problems. Its back and its screen will warm up, but only to a moderate extent. It won’t disturb gaming systems, however, thanks to the cooling system.

Overall, the device’s capabilities put it in competition with smartphones with a more powerful processor. The differences are indeed quite small. Only the game PUBG Mobile with its HDR frequency posed some problems. Its large amount of RAM allows you to enjoy a truly smooth experience, even during intensive use and multitasking.

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The red button activates the game mode for better performance. / © AndroidPIT

You find the results to our benchmark test below. I performed all the tests with the Gaming Boost mode activated.

Nubia Red Magic: our benchmark tests

 Smartphone  3D Mark Sling Shot Extreme ES 3.1 3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.0 3D Mark Ice Storm Unlimited ES 2.0 Geekbench 4 - single core Geekbench 4 - multi core
Nubia Red Magic 3780 5034 44922 1951 6628
Razer Phone 2 433001 5084 63325 2352 7953
OnePlus 6 4073 5583 62113 2448 8970
Samsung Galaxy S9+ 3257 3910 38302 3771 8923

No stereo sound, there's a mini-jack port

The audio experience is also very important for a gaming smartphone. However, the Nubia Red Magic doesn’t offer stereo sound . There’s a single loudspeaker located in the back that’s hidden in one of the red notches. Its placement means that it will rarely be obstructed when you’re gaming and it’s a good idea on the part of the manufacturer. This is a little less true if you watch a video and then put the camera on the table.

The audio experience provided by the Red Magic is quite disappointing. The sound quality isn’t very good, even when the volume isn’t pushed to the max. It provides the correct power, but the final result tends toward the high frequencies. It’s not all bad news, however, since the Red Magic comes with a mini-jack port, a feature that many of its competitors have abandoned, and the quality of the audio output is very good.

Nubia Red Magic camera

I might as well say it right away: t he camera clearly isn’t the device’s strong suit , especially in low lighting, but it’s not a disaster. The Red Magic is more for a gamer audience than for photo fans.

The quality of the photos is generally good in daylight. The 24-megapixel camera (Samsung 5K2X7SX sensor with f/1.7 aperture) gets the job done, but that’s it. The colors are quite realistic and there’s a good level of detail. Indoors and at night you’ll notice the lack of light, despite the sensor’s good aperture. So it’s all a bit up to the chance.

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Against the current trend, the Red Magic has only one main photo sensor. / © AndroidPIT

You can also enable HDR mode (which is disabled by default) to improve things, but the rendering is a little slower, so you’ll need to be patient. There’s no bokeh effect on the Red Magic, and focusing isn’t its strong point (4K is possible at 1080p and 60 fps). The 8-megapixel front camera (f/2.0 aperture) performs quite well and the light management is better.

Nubia Red Magic battery

The 3,800 mAh of battery capacity led to pretty decent autonomy . The battery life has really impressed me. From my testing period, it was clear that on most days the device could survive an entire day with intensive use, even with an hour or two of gaming time. For example, one hour of Asphalt 8 will consume about 15% of the battery.

This impressive battery life can be attributed to the Red Magic’s use of the Snapdragon 835 processor, which uses less energy than its successor. If you’re a really demanding user (like me) and abuse the boost mode, you might have to recharge the device before the end of the day. In the PC Mark battery test, the Red Magic obtained a result of 9 hours and 5 minutes.

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There’s a Type-C USB port for charging. The smartphone is also compatible with fast charging. / © AndroidPIT

Nubia Red Magic technical specifications

Dimensions: 158.1 x 74.9 x 9.5 mm
Weight: 185 g
Battery size: 3800 mAh
Screen size: 6 in
Display technology: LCD
Screen: 2160 x 1080 pixels (402 ppi)
Front camera: 8 megapixels
Rear camera: 24 megapixels
Flashlight: LED
Android version: 8.1 - Oreo
User interface: Stock Android
RAM: 8 GB
Internal storage: 128 GB
Removable storage: microSD
Chipset: Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Number of cores: 8
Max. clock speed: 2.35 GHz
Connectivity: HSPA, LTE, NFC, Dual-SIM , Bluetooth 5.0

Final verdict

All in all, the Nubia Red Magic is a good gaming smartphone. Its attractive price will appeal to many users looking for good performance without breaking the bank. Its original look, pure Android interface and solid autonomy are all by your side. This smartphone has all the features you’d expect from a gamer smartphone. If I wasn’t convinced from the outset, after this test I was assured of one thing: Nubia has made a great device.

Despite everything, there are a few things that aren’t great about the device, starting with its old processor and photo quality. In the end, this phone leaves something to be desired. It doesn’t really stand out from its competitors in the same price range like the F1 Pocophone and the Honor Play.

What do you think of the Nubia Red Magic? Let us know in the comments!

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