Nubia Red Magic 5G review: 1st (gaming) smartphone with 144 Hz display
Nubia’s Red Magic series has been feeling at home in the gaming smartphone niche for a few years now. With the brand new Red Magic 5G you can also put the Samsung Galaxy S20 or Asus ROG II in your pocket, after all, the Red Magic is the world’s first mobile phone with a 144 Hz display! But after the review, only one thought remains: The Red Magic 5G is not only an interesting choice for gamers.
- Nubia Red Magic
|Nubia Red Magic 5G|
|Display||6.65 inch Full HD+ (2400 x 1080 pixels) 144 Hz AMOLED display|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 @ 2.84 GHz + 2.42 GHz + 1.8 GHz|
|Graphics chip||Qualcomm Adreno 660|
|RAM||8/12 GB LLPDR5|
|Internal memory||128/256 GB UFS 3.0|
|Camera||Sony IMX686 64 MP sensor + 8 MP ultra wide angle camera + 2 MP macro camera|
|Front camera||12 megapixels|
|Battery||4.500 mAh with 18W charger | up to 55W with separate charger|
|Connectivity||AC WLAN, Bluetooth 5.0,USB Type-C, GPS/GLONASS/BDS, Dual-SIM, NFC, SA/NSA 5G|
|Features||fingerprint sensor in display, headphone jack|
|Operating system||Red Magic OS 3 based on Android 10|
|Dimensions / Weight||168.56 x 78 x 9.75 mm / 218 g|
Who needs a punch-hole?
The manufacturer does without a waterdrop notch, punch-hole or pop-up camera – nothing should distract from the large 6.65 inch AMOLED display. That’s why the panel is located between two “normal” screen edges, which are also not extra, but pleasantly thin. In the upper edge is the front camera – yes, it still works and even looks good! The corners are rounded, of course, and the Red Magic almost looks like a pixel 4. In my opinion, the design is still very contemporary, and it’s not about the looks, but about the power of the Red Magic 5G.
On the back you have the choice between over- or understatement. The “X-design” of the previous generation is kept, so the black version comes with subtle red accents and a reference to 5G. The bright red or gradient version, which is supposed to symbolize fire and ice and is a real eye-catcher, is much more striking! The RedMagic lettering is an LED stripe on all versions and there is also an LED integrated behind the Red Magic logo at the bottom. Both can be controlled in the settings.
The back of the glass is not even that susceptible to fingerprints. Also the, compared to the other two, black Colorway offers some nice details. These include the Powered by Nubia lettering, for example, but also the different nano structures between the red color accents. The back is slightly bent towards the sides, the metal frame is curved outwards.
Handling & Processing
Nubia has been in business for a long time and you can see that in the current Red Magic. Due to the many additional hardware units on the case, there are potentially several sources of error, but the 5G doesn’t let anything burn. A total weight of 218 g is a bit above average, but this also speaks for the good workmanship. The cut-outs for all ports are pleasantly milled, the keys have a nice pressure point and the capacitive shoulder keys are also well adapted to the haptics. The game boost switch doesn’t go smoothly either, which is an advantage for its function.
Only the ventilation slits on both sides are felt to be a little more susceptible to breakage. Here however a hard blow on these fins would have to take place, otherwise I do not expect any lasting damage. The power button and the volume rocker have moved down a bit through these vents. This is still acceptable but noticeably further down than with other devices. Another positive feature is the camera module, which is only half a millimeter from the back of the case.
Additional buttons on the Red Magic 5G
The Red Magic 5G requires a ventilation slot on both sides of the housing frame. It’s also interesting that Nubia integrates two capacitive keys on the right side as shoulder keys during gaming. On the left side there is also a magnetic 7-pin gaming port, which serves for connecting additional hardware. A bit above that is the Game Boost switch, which immediately takes you into the Red Magic Game Space, where you can manage games and settings.
Additional hardware keys and features like an AI key always make sense, but especially on a gaming smartphone. Nubia does this especially well here, the different functions make a lot of sense and are very well integrated into the phone. We will go into the software optimization of these features later in the review.
144 Hz refresh rate ftw!
The 144 Hz display is THE highlight of the new gaming smartphone, and quite rightly so. In addition to the integrated fingerprint sensor, the AMOLED display offers a refresh rate of 144 Hz and a FullHD+ resolution of 1080 x 2340 pixels, making it the only one on the market with such a rate. This means that the image is repeated 144 times per second, which makes for a more pleasant, fluid and faster experience when using the device. You can also adjust the settings down to 90 Hz or 60 Hz. For comparison, the more expensive Xiaomi Mi 10 also offers 90 Hz, and the Samsung S20 even 120 Hz.
But do you notice the 144 Hz? Are they an elementary difference? No, at least not if you compare it to a 120 Hz display like the Oppo Find X2 Pro. The jump between 60 and 90 Hz is huge, the jump between 90 Hz and 120 Hz is already significantly smaller and the jump between 120 Hz and 144 Hz is even smaller. With the 144 Hz Nubia makes a similar marketing move as Xiaomi with the 108 megapixels. Nevertheless, the 144 Hz refresh rate and especially the 240 Hz touch sample rate is noticeable when you pay attention to it. But it’s not a decisive criterion.
But a high refresh rate alone is not enough for a good display. The AMOLED display is undoubtedly good, but there are better ones. The maximum brightness is not on the level of a Find X2 Pro or Realme X2 Pro and the saturation is a bit too much of a good thing for me. On the other hand, the Red Magic OS interface does leave some options for adjusting the color temperature. The blinking angle stability is also to be evaluated as positive.
A small highlight is definitely the always-on display. Nubia leaves countless setting options here. Besides many possible presets, you can also create your own Always-On Display. Videos and .gifs are supported, you can determine the position, there is a small editor for filters, text and much more.
Fingerprint sensor in the display
Due to the AMOLED panel there is the possibility of an optical fingerprint sensor under or in the display. In my experience this is unfortunately one of the weaker sensors I have tested so far. The speed is satisfying, not quite on the level of the Find X2 Pro, the unlock time is about exactly one second. But with the Red Magic 5G I have a slightly higher error rate than usual, in some cases the sensor only recognized my finger in the third attempt.
Gaming Smartphone with gaming features
Nubia gives the Red Magic 5G only the best of the best. Thus, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 on the board is no surprise, the top octa-core CPU with up to 2.84 GHz clock frequency is found in almost all flagships and should not be missing in the gaming smartphone. In addition, there is LPDDR5 memory and UFS 3.0 memory, optionally 8 GB and 128 GB or 12 GB and 256 GB.
The mobile phone can only laugh tiredly about everyday tasks such as social media apps, messengers or mails; only when you start PUBG or Call of Duty does the hardware come out of its shell. But even this is no challenge, even on HDR and ultra-graphics settings I could not notice any frame rate drop in several rounds of PUBG. Even in multitasking I couldn’t push the Red Magic 5G to its limits, 8 GB RAM is still more than enough even in 2020.
This is not only due to the hardware, but also to the combined cooling that Nubia integrates here. Even if Nubia speaks of “liquid cooling” here, it’s not quite accurate. It uses heat dissipating components such as heat pipes and heat conducting paste as well as several layers of graphite. But the manufacturer combines this with an active fan. The Turbo Fan 3.0 achieves 16,000 revolutions per minute and can be adjusted manually and automatically. To allow the heat to escape from the case, ventilation slots are integrated on both sides of the case. This keeps the phone pleasantly cool, but the volume is not so easy to ignore.
Especially in combination with the 144 Hz display this results in a very smooth performance. The Nubia Red Magic 5G delivers the highest benchmark results we have seen in a review so far. Even the OnePlus 8 Pro, which is optimized for performance with the same processor, has the disadvantage here. The Red Magic delivers about 20,000 points more in the AnTuTu benchmark, the Geekbench 5 benchmark turns out a bit stronger in the single core and the PCMark benchmark turns out exorbitantly high with 14,000 points.
Benchmark results should only serve as a guideline, but confirm the undisputed power of the Red Magic 5G in this case.
Not only the special cooling and design make the Red Magic 5G a gaming smartphone. We’ll go into more detail about the shoulder buttons, the game space and 4D-Shock, but there are also smaller functions like an Aiming Assist for shooter games, the possibility to connect an additional Red Magic controller and an integrated screen recorder, which should automatically record kills or other interesting moments.
On the one hand, there are the two shoulder buttons (L/R), which were positioned on the right side of the housing. If you use the mobile phone horizontally for gaming, the capacitive keys result as shoulder keys like on a Playstation controller. In opposition to the display, they even offer a 300 Hz sampling rate and a 2 ms latency. The shoulder keys actually provide a “real” gaming feeling and work really well!
These can be individually mapped using the Game Space 2.1’s quick menu. The virtual L- and R-Button must be placed on the respective virtual function button and the shoulder button takes over that function. Luckily, the Nubia saves this for each game, so you don’t have to re-mapping for each game – handy. But for that you have to flip the Game Space switch while playing or before the game.
Game Space 2.1
Game Space 2.1 is one of the mentioned combination of hardware and software. If you flip the red switch at the top of the left side of the housing, you get into the program “Game Space”. Apparently this can’t be opened by an app, but only by the switch. In Game Space you can manage games, activate the fan, connect the Red Magic Controller and more.
With 4D-Shock the manufacturer implements a revised vibration effect, which is supposed to be “realistic” and is currently only supported by some games like PUBG. The functionality here is similar to that of the shoulder buttons. You have to place the two red circles on the functions where you want to have a haptic feedback, for example when shooting.
With 4D-Shock, Nubia doesn’t just mean the vibration feedback, but also the stereo speakers that can be heard. The loudspeakers are louder in comparison to an iPhone 11, for example, but are not quite as differentiated in the trebles. All in all, however, the sound is very powerful, which is especially fun when playing games.
A short lived entertainment
Gaming at maximum performance, an integrated fan and a 144 Hz refresh rate require a correspondingly high amount of power. Nubia integrates a 4,500 mAh battery here for this. This seems big at first glance, but we could have definitely imagined a 5.000 mAh capacity. The mobile phone only reaches a benchmark value of a good seven hours with an enabled 144 Hz and an active fan. If the refresh rate is already set to 90 Hz or even 60 Hz, the runtime can be improved a bit.
An 18W charger is included in the scope of delivery. Therewith, a charging from under 10% to 80% takes almost exactly one hour, thus, in total, it takes a good one and a half hours for a complete charging. However, the Nubia Red Magic 5G supports up to 55W fast charging! In this case I took the laptop charger and charged the phone from 20% to 100% in about 40 minutes.
Good sensor choice, despite the gaming focus
With a gaming smartphone, the camera is rather secondary, but of course not unimportant for the relatively high price. So we’re happy about the Sony IMX686 sensor with 64 megapixels, which already did a really good job in the Redmi K30. This is combined with an 8 MP ultra wide angle camera and a 2 megapixel macro sensor. There are 12 megapixels on the front.
The fact that you don’t have a dedicated camera smartphone in your hand is already noticeable in the almost conservative triple camera. You made the right choice with the Sony sensor, but you can see a lack of software love in the pictures. The sharpness isn’t as convincing as in our Redmi K30 review, and the photos aren’t quite as detailed overall as in the competition. But the Bokeh is very soft and natural. The colors tend to be a bit more saturated, which I like here. All in all, I’m really happy with the photos and with enough light you can take nice pictures.
The 8 megapixel ultra wide angle camera is absolutely average and for a change and for the fish eye effect quite nice. However, the details are missing here, the colors look a bit washed-out and the picture is muddy overall. We are currently observing the trend in the premium flagships, such as the OnePlus 8 Pro, to also use better sensors in the ultra wide angle camera, which is something we would have liked to see here. The same applies, by the way, to the macro camera, which delivers the desired macro effect with 2 MP, but with a clear loss of quality.
Selfies with the 12 megapixel front camera require a lot of light, otherwise the Red Magic tends to show skin tones very pale. But with enough light the selfies can really be seen.
The camera app
The only thing we would like to criticize here is the camera app, which needs a rework. About the somewhat old-fashioned look one can surely argue, but it is currently still completely in English and rather confusing. In the normal photo mode, neither the ultra wide angle camera nor the macro camera can be selected. For the ultra wide angle, you have to switch to the pro mode, the macro mode is hidden under “Camera-Family”. But there, one still finds many, partly interesting picture modes as light painting, panorama, 3D or slow-motion.
As the name suggests, the Red Magic 5G supports both standalone and non-standalone 5G thanks to the Qualcomm X55 modem. In addition, LTE is of course also supported. For this, Nubia integrates a dual SIM slot, but a memory expansion is not possible with it. NFC and the current WiFi and Bluetooth standards, such as WiFi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1, are also supported.
Accordingly, we didn’t have any problems with the mobile connection or phone calls. The GPS fix was also very fast and accurate, with one second and an accuracy of 3 meters. Not even Dual GPS seems to be in use here.
For a gaming surface very close to stock android
On the internal memory, the own Red Magic OS surface of the third generation has been put on the Android 10 base. The security patch is from March, the mobile phone should be updated immediately upon startup, otherwise the Google Play Store won’t work at first. After that it should work without problems. All important Google services like YouTube, Drive or Maps are pre-installed.
However, surprisingly, the Google Play Store is not certified. Since everything else is pre-installed and it is a global version, we are surprised. In practice, we haven’t noticed any disadvantage on any device, since you can use the Play Store normally. Only Widevine Level 1 is missing. Thus, video streaming content from Netflix can’t be viewed in Full HD.
The operating system is in English. Two OTA updates for the Red Magic 5G were released in advance during the review period, so we are relatively confident that Nubia will continue to provide the phone with good updates.
The Red Magic OS interface is actually, especially for a gaming smartphone, relatively close to Stock Android. Beside the Google services, the Google SMS app is also used, for example, but there are of course also own Nubia apps like the calculator or calendar. But there is actually no separate service like a cloud or app store. The App Drawer is preset, but can also be easily uninstalled again.
All in all, Nubia succeeds extremely well in implementing the gaming hardware in the software: Countless setting options, custom options and so far everything has worked. That’s what we would like to see, and only in this way does a gaming smartphone make sense from our point of view.
Gaming settings in Red Magic OS
Here Nubia solves almost all additional settings via the gaming apps in the preferences and not via app. On the one hand, there are the LED settings for the RGB strip under the RedMagic logo and the RedMagic logo on the bottom of the back. The RGB strip turns on, for example, as soon as you enter the game space, get a notification, play music or when you charge the phone. For these scenarios you can choose one of nine color (gradients) and the style: pulsating, permanently on, flow or flashing. This is of course great as a notification LED.
Further settings for the fan can also be made here. You can also set a schedule, but also the speed or intensity of the cooler. Generally, all of these settings added by Nubia are completely and only in English. This is no problem for me, if you have problems with it, either just try it out or wait for an update!
Conclusion: More than just a gaming smartphone
The Nubia Red Magic 5G breaks records. The first 144 Hz display on the market and then benchmark results that make OnePlus, Xiaomi and Samsung look stupid. Nubia has been around for a long time, and the Red Magic series hasn’t just been around for a while either, you can see that in every pore of the Red Magic 5G. The device brings the concept of a gaming smartphone to the point. Top hardware with a really successful integration through the adapted software. Not every manufacturer is able to make this interplay so perfect.
And this complete package is not just for gamers! After my test week with the Red Magic 5G, I find that we are dealing with a strong competitor for the current flagships. Why? Apart from the reasons mentioned, the fast charging, the connection possibilities, the good, though not perfect display and the high-quality workmanship are convincing.
For the price you get here an almost still affordable flagship. But compared to the other flagships you have to make compromises, the biggest one might be the camera. Except for some lack of detail, there is not much to criticize in the pictures of the main camera, but ultra wide angle and macro leave a lot to be desired and a telephoto camera would have been nice, too. Moreover, the battery life is below average, here you have to get used to “charging every night”. Also the design is not as “modern” as the competition, no pop-up, no punch hole, no notch.
But if you like that, you will get an all-round successful performance mobile phone. The Nubia Red Magic 5G can compete with all current flagships in good conscience and has the price on its side.To the gadget