nubia's RedMagic brand has only been around for a couple of years, but the company puts out some impressive gaming-oriented phones. I first came into contact with them last year, when the company announced the RedMagic 3, which I found to be a terrific phone with top-tier performance backed by an active cooling fan and a high refresh rate display.

This year, the company is going in a significantly different direction in terms of design, and that can be said for both the hardware and the software in the RedMagic 5G. But the core philosophy of RedMagic is still very much prevalent, and gaming takes center stage with the world's first 144Hz display on a smartphone and a further improved cooling system.

This year, though, that performance comes at a much higher cost, with prices for the RedMagic 5G starting at $579. Let's see if it's worth it.

Specs

CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
GPU Adreno 650
Body 168.56x78x9.75mm (6.64x3.07x0.38in), 218g (7.69oz)
Display 6.65 inches, 1080x2340, 19.5:9, 387.5ppi, AMOLED
Camera 64MP with Quad Bayer technology, Front - 8MP
Video 8K - 30fps, 4K - 60fps, 1920fps Slow Motion; Front - 1080p - 30fps
Aperture f/2.0, Front - f/2.0
Storage 128GB UFS 3.0
RAM 8GB
Battery 4,500mAh, 18W fast charging
Material Metal and glass
Price $579

Day one

Design

RedMagic's design language remained mostly unchanged in the first two years of its existence, using an all-metal construction, a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and an RGB light strip that made it clear it was a "gaming" phone brand. With the RedMagic 5G, the company stepped away from most of its trademark design elements in favor of a glass back, while still leaning into the gamer aesthetic. The glass back is smooth, but the angular design elements are still visible under the glass, complete with the red highlights. The camera module is also still pretty angular.

With the switch to glass, there are other changes, such as the removal of the air intake on the back, the fingerprint sensor now being under the display, and the addition of NFC support, something that I complained about with previous RedMagic phones. Most notably, the RGB light strip is gone in the traditional sense, and instead, you get a RedMagic logo smack in the center of the rear panel. The logo serves as this phone's RGB lighting, and while it may seem like a weird choice, I actually like it more. It's brighter than the traditional strip, and even though it's smaller, the gradients still work really well. Further below that, the RedMagic logo still lights up in a solid red color if you want it to.

Going around the phone, there are some smaller changes. The air intake vent that was removed from the back is now on the left edge of the phone, above the pin connector for the Magic Adapter. This accessory isn't included in the box, but nubia did send it to me and I'll explore it later. Possibly due to the phone not being quite as tall, the fan vents are a little lower on the phone.

This becomes a problem because it forced RedMagic to push the power button and volume rocker down, too. It's unfortunate, as they are now in a position that requires some time to get used to. The buttons themselves are pretty clicky though, and they feel nice to use. Of course, the touch-sensitive triggers are also still here, and just as useful as ever.

On the top edge, there's the headphone jack, an increasingly rare sight, especially in flagship-level smartphones. You'll also notice that there are more antenna bands around the edges, a result of the 5G support the phone now comes with. It only supports sub-6GHz 5G, though, specifically 2.5GHz (n41) and 3.5GHz (n78) bands.

The bottom edge has the USB Type-C connector for charging, a speaker grille, microphone, and the SIM card slot, which has moved from its previous position on the left edge.

On the whole, the RedMagic 5G feels more sturdy, maybe because it's slightly shorter and not as wide, but still a little heavier. It just feels more reassuring when you hold it.

Display and sound

As you'd expect, the front of the phone is where the display is, and it's a 6.65-inch Full HD+ display in the 19.5:9 aspect ratio, just like last year's models. Also just like before, the corners of the screen are more rounded than I would like, but the new RedMagic UI does a much better job of adapting to it, so at least the status bar icons don't get cut off. The fingerprint sensor is now under the display, and it works well enough. I received a software update during my time with the handset, that seemed to improve the fingerprint recognition, which was a welcome change.

This time around, RedMagic is using a 144Hz display, a notable upgrade from the 90Hz in the previous models. In fact, it's the highest refresh rate on any smartphone display right now. Naturally, it's a very smooth experience, and RedMagic actually was thoughtful enough to include three refresh rate options - 60Hz, 90Hz, and 144Hz - so you can balance power usage and smoothness. I'll admit I'm not the best at spotting the difference between different refresh rates, so I wouldn't necessarily say this is a lot better than 120Hz, but it does feel great in everything from UI navigation to games that support high refresh rates.

I've mentioned in previous reviews, specifically on phones with OLED displays, that there's a noticeable color shift at low brightness levels, and that still applies here - but it's not nearly as bad as it was on the RedMagic 3S, and you really only notice it with darker flat colors. It also seems to be more noticeable at higher refresh rates.

Above the display, just like before, is the earpiece that doubles as a second speaker for stereo sound, The speaker grille is a little smaller now, as are the bezels in general, thanks to the phone being ever so slightly shorter. Unfortunately, there's no speaker directly below the display this time, and it's down-firing instead. I've found that I rarely have my hands in a position where I cover up the speaker, but I did like having both speakers facing me directly. They're plenty loud though, so I really don't have a major problem with them.

Though not directly related to sound, I do find the viration engine on this phone to be pretty disappointing. It's really not very good, a particular annoyance when using haptic feedback while typing.

Camera

This year, RedMagic has upgraded the camera setup quite significantly, for the first time in a while. Instead of a single camera, there are now three cameras on the back, and the main sensor is now a 64MP Sony IMX686, a notable upgrade from the 48MP sensor in last year's models. There's also an 8MP ultra-wide-angle camera, and a 2MP macro camera, which I personally still don't understand the need for.

Despite not being a major focus for a gaming phone, I actually don't dislike the camera on RedMagic phones, and that stays true here. The main camera produces what I consider to be very pleasant shots, and while some pictures can be slightly oversaturated, they're far from the worst I've seen. You will want to disable the AI scene recognition, though, since it tends to brighten the colors too much, especially with plants and flowers, as you can see in the first set of pictures below.

The night mode here seems to have been toned down a bit compared to previous RedMagic phones, but I generally like it. The majority of shots will be a lot more visible with night mode on, but it's also a lot easier to get blurry shots due to the additional processing needed. The ultra-wide-angle camera also gets the job done just fine, and there's not much that stands out about it. Likewise, the macro camera works fairly well, and if you're into macro shots, you can get some cool pictures out of it.

My problems with this camera have more to do with the software. Aside from the the exaggerated AI features, the UI just isn't ideal. The ultra-wide-angle camera can only be used through the camera app's Pro mode, and the Macro mode constantly defaults to this UI that has a sort of zoom lens on the screen. You can disable it, but it doesn't remember that setting, so you have to disable it every time, and it really adds nothing to the experience.

In terms of video, it's pretty much what you'd expect. It supports up to 8K recording, and it also has super-slow-motion video recording up to 1920 frames per second. This feature turns a two-second recording into one minute and four seconds, and it's really fun in the right conditions. The higher the frame rate, the more light you'll need for it to look good, but that's not new. The company did add a 960fps option, too, which is more common and was missing on previous phones.

Performance and battery life

The name of the game for RedMagic phones has always been performance, and the ReMagic 5G doesn't change that. Being that it's powered by the top-tier Snapdragon 865 chipset, it's about as fast as you can get, and that's only improved by the high refresh rate of the display. The base model here is backed up by 8GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 128GB of UFS 3.0 storage, so everything is pretty fast.

Every game I've tried to play on this phone works to perfection, even on the highest settings the phone allows, and that's not really surprising. I tried my usual games: Pokémon GO, PUBG Mobile, and Asphalt 9, and I had to go a little further to find games that support 144Hz, including Bullet Force, Dead Trigger 2, and Subway Surfers. Everything was handled with ease, though the phone tends to feel quite warm if you have the RGB lighting on.

AnTuTu Benchmark

All this is reflected by benchmarks, with AnTuTu ranking it in second place on the global ranking, trailing only the Xiaomi Mi 10.

What's impressive about it isn't just achieving that score, it's the fact that it can maintain that score in consecutive runs thanks to that active cooling fan, which promises 30% more airflow in this year's model. In a second run, the score went up slightly, and while it lowered in a third run, it was very much in the same ballpark. It seems like the biggest failing for this phone is its memory, specifically the storage

GeekBench 5

The story doesn't change in GeekBench 5, where the phone scores highly and it stayed very consistent in the second and third runs. This test is focused on the CPU.

GFXBench

Finally, GFXBench tests the GPU, and once again, the score is not only high for a single run, it stays high for the second and third runs. GFXBench is the longest and most intensive of the benchmarks, with each run lasting around 30 minutes, so this is the best example of how the phone manages to sustain its performance.

In terms of battery life, the RedMagic 5G is pretty solid. RedMagic did cut back on the battery capacity, and 4,500mAh isn't quite as great as the 5,000mAh unit in last year's models. Considering I usually have the refresh rate set to 144Hz, I can't get the two-day battery life I like to have. It still lasts me through a full day easily, and that includes watching a lot of YouTube videos, texting, browsing the web, and some gaming every now and then. You can always lower the refresh rate if you need it to last longer. The battery also supports 55W charging, but the included charger only supports 18W.

Gaming and accessories

There are lots of flagship phones out there with top-tier specs, so that isn't the only distinctive factor you need to be a "gaming phone". RedMagic knows this, and in addition to a unique active cooling system, it has the built-in touch triggers plus an array of accessories to make gaming better. We've looked at the touch triggers in previous RedMagic phones, and they're still a fantastic addition. I really do feel like they give me a huge advantage in games, especially shooters such as PUBG Mobile, in addition to leaving more of the screen visible, which makes the experience more immersive.

This time, though, RedMagic sent me a bunch of accessories that it sells separately. I got the whole set, containing the 55W charger, the Magic Adapter, and the Pro Handle, the latter of which includes both a controller and a special case that allows it to attach to the sides of the phone, similar to a Nintendo Switch. There isn't much to say about the 55W charger other than it's really fast, as you'd expect. You can buy it with the Type-C to Type-C cable for $34.90, or save $10 by buying it without the cable. This charger isn't available in Europe, though.

The Magic Adapter is a much more interesting accessory, because it addresses a fairly common problem: having cables stick out from the sides of the phone while gaming. The Magic Adapter connects to the pins on the side of the RedMagic 5G, and it adds not just a USB Type-C connector on the back, but also a 3.5mm headphone jack and a 100Mbit Ethernet (RJ45) port. The pins on the phone are typically disabled, so you'll need to be in game mode to enable the Magic Adapter and its ports.

This, of course, makes it way more convenient to game while charging the phone or using headphones, because none of those cables get in the way. And if you don't trust the Wi-Fi performance in your house, you can plug in the Ethernet cable for a more stable connection to online games. It's not a necessity for everyone, but it definitely has a purpose, and $46.90 isn't an outrageous price if you have a use for it. It's worth keeping in mind that the Magic Adapter's USB Type-C port can't handle fast charging or data passthrough, only regular charging.

My favorite accessory is the Pro Handle, though. The basic set you'll want includes a case and a little controller that's very reminiscent of the Joy-Cons for the Nintendo Switch. The case isn't so much meant for protection, but it adds rails on the sides of the phone if you're using it horizontally, and these rails let you attach the controller to either side of the phone, also similar to Nintendo's Switch. This is only for comfort, since the controllers actually connect via Bluetooth.

The controller is designed so that you can attach it on either side of the phone, so it has shoulder buttons on top and bottom, but it's mostly meant to be on the left side of the phone. LR and LB, the shoulder buttons you'll use when it's on the left side, are much bigger and easier to use than their right-side equivalents. You can also buy a second controller and have one on each side, but I didn't get to try that out.

The ideal way to use the Pro Handle is by enabling game mode, which then lets you configure the controller to correspond to any area of the screen. Using it on the left side makes the most sense, because that's where movement controls usually are, including in games like PUBG Mobile. Playing PUBG with this made the experience even better. You can also separate the Pro Handle from the phone and use it horizontally, which is useful, for example, with emulators for consoles with simpler controls, like the GameBoy Advance. Of course, if you have two Pro Handles, you'll probably have that many more possibilities.

You really need to know what you want the Pro Handle for, though, since it can be hit or miss. In PUBG Mobile and many other shooters, aiming doesn't use a virtual stick, it relies on how much you move your finger on the screen, which the controller can't emulate. That's why it's best to use it on the left side for movement, instead of on the right for aiming. It's best suited for titles with well-defined on-screen controls. I tried it with some emulators and GeForce Now, and given the limitations of having a single controller, it worked alright. Complex games will definitely be better if you have one Pro Handle on each side. Outside of game mode, the controller will still be recognized as a gamepad, but with a limited number of buttons. It's really up to each game how they recognize each input.

The base Pro Handle set costs $39.90, including one handle and the case. You can buy an extra handle standalone for $31.90. If you like both the Pro Handle and the Magic Adapter, you'll need to know that the case for the Pro Handle adds some thickness to the phone, so you can't use the two accessories at the same time.

Software

The last thing I want to talk about is, sadly, one of the things that also holds this phone back from getting a wholehearted recommendation from me. RedMagic decided to adopt a radically different approach to its Android implementation this year, and it's a bit of a mixed bag.

To start with the positives, I'm glad the company has created its own visual identity this year. I complained at length about how the software on previous RedMagic phones was confusing due to a duplication of Google apps, and thankfully, that's all gone now. This time, you either have apps designed by RedMagic or true Google apps, and the latter group thankfully includes Android Messages and all the features you expect from it.

From an aesthetic standpoint, I very much appreciate that RedMagic is now a little more consistent, and the Game Mode interface now fits right into the design language for the rest of the software. Plus, using more customized software means the company can account for the extremely rounded corners of the screen, and the status bar icons don't get cut in half anymore.

The story starts changing a little bit as we turn to the RGB light strip settings. There are positive changes here - if you want to use the RGB light for notifications, charging, and more, you can now customize what color you want to the light to be, whereas it used to be stuck in green. Before, only certain scenarios, such as gaming, media playback, and incoming calls, could have customizable effects.

However, the company took some steps forward and some backward, as you only get nine color options for the RGB light (five solid colors and four preset gradients). Before, you could fully customize what colors you want with a rainbow color picker, and you could even set a custom range of colors for the gradient effects to go through. This is a somewhat more limiting experience.

There are some more serious issues at play here, though. Most frustrating of all, I can't change my home screen launcher. The option is there in the settings, but the list of options doesn't populate with third-party apps. I also, once again, wish there was a setting for display scaling, since UI elements are huge at this display size and resolution. I've also noticed that, while RedMagic added NFC support for the first time, I haven't been able to make payments with it.

There are other, smaller issues, such as the gesture navigation not behaving exactly like on stock Android 10 - so I can't swipe quickly over the bottom of the screen to switch apps -, and the task switcher taking longer to open. Notifications that should pop up at the top of the screen don't do that, so I always have to open the notification shade to see them, and the notification list doesn't let me scroll, so I have to dismiss some notifications to see the rest.

These small things add up and make for an experience that's just slightly too frustrating. With a little effort, I think RedMagic can still improve things. Hopefully, some of the translations through the UI are also improved, since there are a few areas where the English text doesn't sound natural or just doesn't make sense.

Conclusion

nubia's RedMagic phones have always left a great impression on me due to their hardware, and this one is no different. It retains most of what made the previous phones unique, with the active cooling system, the RGB light strip, high refresh rate, and stereo speakers. I would also say the transition to a glass and metal sandwich ends up being good for the phone, as it feels more sturdy than the previous models, and I actually prefer the new implementation of the RGB lighting. The camera is also good enough for me, and the new sensors do add some versatility.

However, the software experience is what holds the RedMagic back from perfection the most. Aside from being unable to use my preferred launcher, there are a lot of little issues that add up to make the experience frustrating in more than one way. With the right software updates, the RedMagic 5G could easily earn a wholehearted recommendation, but right now, you definitely need to be aware of the software choices before you take the plunge.

On the whole, I maintain my general liking of the RedMagic 5G, and I think the positives easily outweigh the negatives. I can also see that some of the software issues I had with previous RedMagic phones were addressed here, so I wouldn't put it past the company to make even more improvements to the software. If you need the performance or the high refresh rate, you won't find anything better than this for $579. If you're interested, you can buy it here.

 

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