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Hands-on with nubia's latest gaming phone, the Red Magic 3

Gaming smartphones only really became a thing when Razer launched the Razer Phone in 2017, making waves with its 120Hz refresh rate display and otherwise high-power specs. But Razer's move inspired a few other companies to start making their own. ASUS has the ROG Phone, Xiaomi funded the Black Shark brand, and nubia came up with Red Magic.

The third iteration of the Red Magic series was released to the world last month, and it stood out from the pack because nubia actually built a fan into the phone. Smartphones, even the gaming-dedicated ones, rely on passive cooling (granted, the ROG Phone did have an accessory that included a fan), so this was a very interesting move from the Chinese company. I've had the Red Magic 3 for about a day, and these are my initial thoughts.

The first thing I noticed when I picked up the Red Magic 3 was how massive it is. It's not bulky or anything - it's actually fairly slim - but that massive 6.65-inch display is not easy to get a hold of. I've been getting a little more used to it, but I constantly feel like I have to use the phone with two hands at all times. That's not just because it's hard to reach both sides of the screen, but because so much of the phone's body isn't directly on my palm, it feels like it could just tip over and fall from my hand.

The sheer size of the phone also makes it hard to get to the rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and I often need to move my hand unnaturally to reach it.

The upside to that size is that you get this gigantic AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate which is fantastic for games. I don't have the keenest eye, but scrolling and playing games feel incredibly smooth. Something as simple as opening the menus in Pokémon GO feels like a whole different thing now just because of how smoothly the animations play out.

The gaming focus is evident on the Red Magic 3. Up on the left side of the phone is a toggle, and at first, I thought it was a mute switch, like the one on the OnePlus 7 Pro or the iPhone. It turns out this is the "game key" or "competitive button" - nubia's nomenclature isn't really consistent. Toggling this on takes you into a gaming-dedicated environment when you can see the games installed on your phone and adjust a variety of settings.

You can adjust the fan speed settings, screen refresh rate, and RGB lighting for the strip on the back of the phone. It also makes the Android navigation buttons disappear completely, and swiping from the bottom of the screen instead brings up a quick control panel with gaming settings. It lets you adjust the brightness, turn the fan on or off, change performance modes, and so on. nubia seems to be taking its gaming focus seriously here.

Other gaming features here include touch-sensitive triggers on the side of the phone, which let you remap game buttons to the triggers so you don't have to block your screen. The fingerprint sensor can also double as a third trigger for some games, which is an interesting idea.

On the other side of the phone, there's a custom connector, which is meant to be used with nubia's Magic Adapter. I wasn't sent this accessory, but it adds USB Type-C, Ethernet, and 3.5mm headphone ports, so you can get the most out of your gaming experience. Speaking of accessories, there's also the Pro Handle, which adds an analog stick and some buttons to your phone, if you prefer physical controls. Again, nubia didn't send me this, so I won't be able to review it.

Beyond gaming, the Red Magic 3 is pretty good for media consumption in general, with two front-facing speakers that can get really loud. I feel like it's probably not the loudest on the market, but it's the loudest I've heard, which is great. As for media capture, there's only one camera on the back, which seems lackluster for a phone in 2019. It is, however, Sony's IMX586 48MP sensor, so there's some potential for good shots. My initial experience with it has been a bit hit and miss, but I can't say I dislike the camera so far.

I didn't mention the specs so far because, as you'd expect from a gaming-oriented phone, the Red Magic 3 has top-of-the-line hardware. A Snapdragon 855 with a fan to keep things cool should be pretty good, and the phone has up to 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage - though I got the base 8GB/128GB model.

I'll be testing the Red Magic 3 more extensively over the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned for the full review to know just how well nubia has done with its latest gaming phone.

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