Over the past couple of years, a variety of gaming-dedicated smartphones have entered the market, coming from high-profile and lesser-known companies alike. nubia's Red Magic brand has released three gaming smartphones of its own, but the Red Magic 3 is different from everything else out there.

What makes this phone really stand out is the fact that it comes with a built-in cooling fan. Whether we're talking about gaming phones or not, fans are not something you expect to find in a smartphone. Sure, the ASUS ROG Phone could be cooled with a fan provided you bought the separate accessory, but no device has ever had it built-in. The Red Magic 3 is also one of the few gaming phones that has a Snapdragon 855 chipset, so it's truly a captivating device.

CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
GPU Adreno 640
Body 171.7x78.5x9.65mm (6.76x3.09x0.38in), 215g (7.58oz)
Display 6.65 inches, 1080x2340, 19.5:9, 387.5ppi, AMOLED
Camera 48MP with Quad Bayer technology, Front - 16MP
Video 8K - 30fps, 4K - 60fps, Front - 1080p - 30fps
Aperture f/1.79, Front - f/2.0
Storage 128GB
RAM 8GB
Battery 5,000mAh, 18W fast charging
Material Metal
Price $479

It's worth pointing out that I got the base model in black, though it's also available in red. There's also a camo version that bumps up the RAM to 12GB and the internal storage to 256GB for $599.

Design

When you look at it, the Red Magic 3 certainly exudes a gamer vibe, with vivid red accents in many parts of the body, and an angular look to most of the elements of the back, including the fingerprint sensor. The edges of the phone itself are rounded though, so holding it in your hand isn't uncomfortable in that regard. On the back, there's also an RGB lighting strip that can be customized through nubia's software.

The phone has a lot of elements you'd expect to find, and some that you probably wouldn't. On the right side, you have the power button and volume rocker, as all as a vent from which hot air is expelled when the fan is turned on. The vent forced nubia to move the buttons down, and while the placement isn't terrible, it feels just a little bit off from where I would expect it to be. On this side, you also find two touch-sensitive areas which serve as triggers for playing games in landscape mode.

On the left side are a couple more interesting things. At the top, a red toggle (which is black, if you have the red model) puts you into a sort of gaming mode and opens Game Space. This app lets you quickly access the games on your phone and adjust a variety of settings related to gaming. Below the toggle is a set of pin connectors meant to be used with the Magic Adapter, which adds Ethernet and charging ports, plus a 3.5mm audio jack.

That's not to say the phone doesn't have its own headphone jack, but its placement on the top edge of the phone makes it inconvenient if you're playing in landscape mode. That's all you can find on that side, and at the bottom, there's the USB Type-C port for charging.

In regards to the design, I maintain some of my criticism from my initial hands-on experience. With a 6.65-inch display, this thing is hard to hold. A lot of the body of the phone is often out of my hands, and that's resulted in a few hits against objects I'd otherwise avoid. It also makes me feel like the phone could fall off at any time.

What really frustrates about this phone is the lack of NFC, and to get this out of the way right now, if there's any reason for me to not use this phone in the long term, it's this. I've gotten so used to NFC payments at stores that being forced to pull out my wallet to use my card is truly annoying. This is probably not a concern for most people, though.

Display and sound

At the front of the device sits the massive 6.65-inch AMOLED screen, flanked by a pair of stereo speakers at the top and bottom. For a phone that has a big focus on media and gaming, the choice of a Full HD+ display may be questionable for some people, but to be honest, I'm fine with it. The default UI scaling is a little bigger than I'd like, but it can be adjusted.

At this size, the large screen makes for a very immersive experience, be it for gaming or media viewing, and I loved using it for that. I do think that the corners of the screen are too round, though, to the point where content might actually be cut from the frame.

This is an AMOLED screen, which means it can get you true blacks and more vivid colors since each pixel can be turned on or off individually, rather than having a backlight for the whole screen even when only some pixels are being used. It also has a 90Hz refresh rate, and though I don't even a very keen eye for this, everything does appear to flow very smoothly on this screen, more so than any other I've tested.

Nonetheless, there were some things I didn't think were great. For example, the night light feature on Android doesn't seem to be capable of being as intense as on my Nokia 7.1, for example. The range of colors you can choose from isn't quite as wide. It doesn't get quite as bright as the Nokia, either. That's not to say the phone was ever uncomfortable to use because of this, but there are certainly better things out there in that regard.

Another problem I noticed with the display was that the colors are uneven throughout the panel. This isn't something that I found to be easy to notice, but looking at an image with a dark (but not pure black) background, I noticed some color shifting between the middle area of the screen and the lower corners. However, this was never something that bothered me during normal use, and it was only noticeable when I was looking at the screen in the dark.

The two front-facing speakers are also pretty good. They can get very loud, and they certainly help in adding to the immersion in games. The fact that they're front-facing is also great for media consumption. However, maybe because of the ringtones included with the phone, notifications can go unnoticed if you're listening to music from another device, for instance. The phone also has a "4D vibration motor" to make games more immersive, and while it feels good while playing, it isn't very strong for notifications either.

Performance and battery life

The Red Magic 3 is all about performance, be it for the high-end specs or the inclusion of a cooling fan. To me, testing this was about more than just running a benchmark or even some games. nubia claims the cooling fan allows the chipset to run at its maximum speed for up to 900% longer. So, instead of running the AnTuTu benchmark once, I ran it three times in a row to see how performance was maintained over time.

First run (screenshot) Second run (screenshot) Third run (screenshot)
CPU 120302 118977 118535
GPU 173190 172298 169887
Memory 17352 17346 17373
UX 79927 79293 78306
Total 390771 387914 384101

It's worth noting here that, for some reason, AnTuTu would sometimes not record a score after the benchmark ran, so the second run listed here is actually the third time I ran the benchmark, and the third run was the fifth time. The first run was performed after some time to cool down and off a fresh reboot, and all of them were run with "game mode" turned on, with the fan running and the RGB lighting turned on. As you can see, the performance degradation over time was minimal, and even on the third run, the Red Magic 3 sat at the top of the ranking. This phone is a beast.

These results are backed up by real-life results, and in testing both Asphalt 9 and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds Mobile at the maximum allowed graphics settings and at 90FPS, I never noticed a slowdown. The phone did feel warm, but that seemed to be more around the battery and the RGB light strip, which I always had turned on. The built-in monitoring tool usually measured the temperature to be around 40ºC during longer gaming sessions.

While we're on the topic of gaming, I'd like to mention that the shoulder triggers are incredibly useful for playing games without obstructing your view. In both Asphalt 9 and PUBG Mobile, they made it much easier to play the game, and the former felt especially immersive since I never had to touch the screen. For the latter, I felt like the triggers gave me a huge advantage - even though I had never played the game, I won a couple of matches. Aiming, moving, and shooting at the same time was just much easier than someone without the assistance of triggers on their device could achieve.

With a massive 5,000 mAh battery, you'd expect the Red Magic 3 to last pretty long, and it does. On days where I played more games, it still easily got me through long days. On days with no gaming, it was easily a two-day phone, even with some YouTube videos in there. Two of the screenshots below are from a day where the phone was unplugged from the charger for just over 17 hours, and it included at least a couple of PUBG sessions. The third is for a period of over 32 hours with no charging, which included about 45 minutes of Skype video calls.

Camera

You probably wouldn't expect a gaming phone to have the best camera out there, and you'd be right to do so. The Red Magic 3 does pack the popular Sony IMX586 48MP sensor with Quad Bayer technology, so four pixels are combined into one to get more light. You can take a 48MP shot as well, if you want, but those will take up a lot more storage. You also can't use HDR at that resolution. The last two pairs of pictures provide some comparison between the 12MP and 48MP modes.

The biggest shortcoming here is, predictably, taking pictures at night. Low-light pictures are still a thing few phones can do really well, so don't expect to have your mind blown. One thing I appreciate about the camera app is that the button that takes me to the gallery actually works if I use a third-party gallery app. I found this to be a big problem with my Nokia phones, which try to force me to use Google Photos.

As for video, you can record either 1080p or 4K at 60 frames per second, or go for 8K at 30 frames per second. The camera app labels 8K recording as a beta feature, and rightfully so. Recording at this resolution causes a very weird effect when the camera moves, as if the image is elastic and being dragged along with the phone, bouncing as it moves. Other resolutions seem to record fine, though.

One thing I didn't like about the camera is that it doesn't seem to capture with a lot of quality if you're using with third-party apps. Office Lens would capture some hard-to-read text unless I was very still, and I also had a lot of trouble the phone to read some QR codes. The AnTuTu benchmark above does test the phone's ability to recognize them, and it seemed to work fine on the screen. But using the camera, the phone failed where even much cheaper phones succeeded. nubia tells me a fix is being worked on.

Software

The Red Magic 3 runs a near-stock build of Android Pie, though it does have some differences. One thing I found really weird was that the phone comes with a bunch of clones of Google apps from some time ago, but they're not actually Google's apps, and they don't get updates. When I synced my old apps from my previous phone, I ended up with a ton of duplicate apps, where one of the variants would be Google's latest version, and one was nubia's clone.

Given that it's running Android Pie, I don't understand why there's no way to enable the gesture navigation that was introduced with that version of the OS. Plus, the button that allows you to rotate the screen only when you want to doesn't show up when you rotate the phone, so you need to turn on auto rotation as needed. Also, the phone just received the May security patch from Google, which isn't the most recent one there is, but nubia does say it expects to update the phone every six weeks.

The phone does come with some custom software, including Game Space, the app that opens when you turn on the game button. This lets you adjust the fan speed, turn RGB lighting on or off, block incoming notifications while gaming, and customize the shoulder triggers, in addition to other things. nubia says you can record game videos with it, but for now, I was only able to take screenshots.

The RGB light customization is good and it provides a ton of options and effects, allowing you to select which colors to show, as well as animation and transition speeds for the effects. There's also a mode for games and media where the strip lights up according to the sound coming from the phone, which is pretty neat. What I find weird is that all of this is customizable for different scenarios, but not for notifications. For that, you're stuck with green for every app and notification you get. I asked nubia, and was told that the Chinese version of the phone has received updates to address this, as well as the video recording mentioned above. The global version should get it soon as well.

Conclusion

All in all, I truly love the Red Magic 3, despite all of its missteps. Most of them are, in my opinion, pretty minor, and the performance and general experience you get for $480 are an incredible value. A lot of these issues could be fixed with software updates, too, so there's always a chance that things will get better.

As I mentioned above, if there's anything that stops me from really loving this phone, it's the lack of NFC. If you don't care about that or any of the other flaws I consider to be minor, the Red Magic 3 is an absolute bargain for its asking price. The performance you'll get out of it is likely unmatched, and it offers a fantastic gaming experience if you're looking for it. You can buy it from nubia's online store.

 

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