Last year we reviewed the REDMAGIC 6, so when ZTE reached out to me to take a look at the REDMAGIC 7, I was pretty hyped to check it out. This was going to be my first hands on with a gaming smartphone, even though I am largely a PC gamer, the idea of a high end gaming phone with a 165Hz display needed to scratch that tech itch.
Leaked details have been drip fed through the wire over the last few months, but surprisingly, nothing much in the way of concrete info or media. I found it very hard to find anything reliable instead of just rumored specs and semi-vague details. So as soon as the review documentation and handset arrived, I knew that this could be a bit of a hit for those that spend long lengths of time gaming on a phone.
Pricing appears to be competitive, too, with flagship core specs we are looking at $799 / €799 / £679 for the Supernova model being reviewed here. Global availability is through the REDMAGIC website.from March 10th 2022.
Let us kickstart the review by checking out the specs, spoiler alert, they're pretty damn beefy as you would expect for a gaming phone.
|Chipset||Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 (official full feature rundown)|
|Battery & Charging||4500mAh (11A dual battery cells in series), 65W PPS (Programmable Power Supply) compliant Type-C charger included for the global version|
|Gaming Triggers||Touchpad Dual shoulder trigger (500Hz)|
|Designs||Supernova (Transparent), Obsidian (Black), Pulsar (Gradient)|
|Turbofan||Low Power Consumption, High-Speed Fan 20K RPM/min with Fluorescent Fan. Supernova version has an RGB fan|
|Cooling||VC cooling + Graphite + Thermal Gel + Copper Foil + Cooling Aluminium + Cooling Air Duct + High-Performance Composite Phase Change Materials|
|Screen||6.8" 2400x1080 FHD+, AMOLED, 165Hz, 720Hz Touch Sampling Rate, DC
Dimming, Magic GPU 2.0 Image Enhancement, Gorilla Glass 5
Supernova: 18+256GB (with 6GB expandable virtual RAM)
Rear 64MP (Samsung ISOCELL GW3) + 2MP (Omnivision OV02A10) + 8MP (Hynix HI-846)
|Game Space||REDMAGIC OS 5.0|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth 5.2, Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n/ac/ax 2x2mimo, WIFI6E, Type C, 3.5mm jack, NFC, 7th Gen optical fingerprint sensor with heart rate detection, dual nano SIM|
|Audio||Dual smart PA, stereo speakers, 3 mics, DTS sound, 3.5 mm jack|
|RGB lighting||REDMAGIC Logo Light, RGB Breathing Light (Obsidian & Pulsar), Colorful Fluorescent Fan RGB (Supernova)|
|Android version||12 (REDMAGIC OS v5 UX)|
|Size & Weight||170.57 x 78.33 x 9.5mm, 215g|
|In the box||REDMAGIC 7, 65W USB-C PPS fast charger, TPU translucent case, USB-C cable, papers, SIM ejection tool, screen protector (pre-applied)|
|Price||Supernova 18+256 - $799 / €799 / £679
Pulsar 16+256 - $729 / €729 / £619
Obsidian 12+128 Black - $629 / €629 / £529
There are three designs in the REDMAGIC 7 series. Each one comes with a slight variation in spec. The top model in the trio is the Supernova (this review) which comes with 18GB RAM and 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage, with the Pulsar and Obsidian versions (shown below) coming with 16GB+256GB and 12GB+128GB respectively.
The visual styling is what differentiates them most, but it is a shame that you cannot pick and mix the exterior styling with your choice of internal specs. If you don't care about having 18GB of RAM but want a transparent back panel, then your only option seems to be the Supernova, or if you want the higher specs but prefer the colours of the Pulsar, then you are out of luck it would seem.
The Supernova's styling is quite cyberpunk it has to be said. I recall HTC doing something similar with the U12 having a semi-transparent back years ago, but it did not really catch on for them. The ZTE's take on this aesthetic gives the illusion of 3D depth with the way they have managed to layer the detailing below the transparent glass.
The brushed Aluminium bar that runs down the centre is a nice touch, too, and everything sits below the glass panel which looks futuristic and high quality.
There is a REDMAGIC logo LED which can be set to on/off/auto which turns it off when the battery gets too low. It has a couple of modes from static glow to a "breathing" pulse effect. It only has one colour, which unsurprisingly, is red.
Some hardware specs are crisply printed on the underside of the glass as well. Normally this sort of thing feels cheesy, but it has been pulled off tastefully and matches the cyberpunk aesthetic once again.
We see the return of stereo speakers once again, the earpiece is where the left channel speaker hides and in my usage I found no problem with sound quality. The low end extension and high frequency details of the speakers were not as deep or as crisp as my Galaxy S20 5G with a custom EQ and Dolby Atmos enabled, but they were good enough to be useful.
REDMAGIC OS 5 does not offer any options to tune the sound with custom EQs. There is DTS support but no Dolby Atmos, so this explains the lower dynamic range compared to other flagship phones, regardless of a dedicated chip taking care of sound.
We see a continuation of the vertically stacked camera layout, the LED flash sits behind a triangle porthole. There is a very small camera hump but it is pretty insignificant in size.
The grille visible to the right of the LED flash is the intake for the active cooling fan. When it is on, the airflow goes from this vent, through the fan and out of the right side of the phone where the LEDs of the fan are also visible.
There is a grille on the opposite side, too, and according to documentation, this increases air volume by 35%. The power button and capacitive shoulder triggers are on the same side also.
The fan operates largely on an automatic and dynamic basis, but can be activated at any time through the settings screen or quick panel toggle button. It will generally kick in when a game is launched, or when the Game Space mode is activated using the red toggle switch on the left side of the phone. The only other time you will see it turn on is when the fast charger is connected, but not when any other charging speed that is not fast charge is detected.
There are two speed modes to the fan, Intelligent and Fast. Both modes are quite audible,take a listen to the below video to get an idea how loud it is compared to the typing noise of a membrane keyboard.
Aside from the SIM tray, the underside simply has the bottom speaker and USB-C port. Nothing much out of the ordinary here. It is worth mentioning though that whilst the phone has no water resistance rating, the SIM tray does have a rubber gasket to seal the port, and this is almost certainly just to secure the tray in place and protect from loose dirt ingress.
On the left side of the frame is a previously mentioned red toggle switch which puts the OS into the Game Space mode. This is an area of REDMAGIC OS dedicated to gaming. Here, you can configure specific profiles for the shoulder triggers on a per game basis, the performance mode of the chipset, as well as various other settings. Not all options are available, as it depends on the games installed, or the mode the phone is in.
The REDMAGIC 7 ships with a TPU case which appears to be good quality. It offers a greater level of control when gaming as the shoulder triggers are more easily touched since the phone surface itself is quite slippery without the case on, and the hole cutouts act as feeler guides.
The case does add some bulk, though, which is the last thing you want in an already bulky phone.
Fit and finish wise, the whole phone feels tough and made of premium metal and glass. It is a heavy phone though, and the dimensions make it a very hefty phone to carry around. You will definitely feel it in any pocket it slips into.
Lastly, it has to be mentioned that the inclusion of a headphone jack (shown below) is a design choice. In a time where the 3.5mm port is being removed across the board, it is welcome to see this is here still on the REDMAGIC 7.
REDMAGIC OS 5
On first glance it might appear that the REDMAGIC 7 is running stock Android. But with a closer look, it all becomes clear that this is just a UX skin baked into Android 12. Just like OneUI on Samsung phones, or Galaxy Experience on Pixels.
ZTE's approach is to keep things looking clean, and in accordance to stock Android. Whilst I like the clean and simple direction here, I found myself being annoyed by missing basic functions, like not being able to customise the home screen properly. Whilst widgets and icons can be placed where you want, I could find any way to remove an empty home screen, and the grid layout only offers the minimal customisation.
The quick panel toggles, likewise, offer no additional customisation beyond adding and removing toggles. You are stuck with the 4 toggle layout per row. And unlike the home screen layout which can be replaced by installing a new launcher like Nova Launcher, there simply is no way to customise the quick panel toggle layout without rooting.
Thankfully, the simpleness of REDMAGIC OS 5 continues in the pre-installed apps department. Apart from the REDMAGIC specific apps like Game Space, there are only four additional apps which can be uninstalled with a long press, the remaining apps being all Google's own as per a stock Android experience.
One feature that is missing that would otherwise be very handy, is the ability to add an eSIM. Quite why this isn't available is a mystery, as it is not like the chipset does not support it. My primary SIM is an eSIM, so I was unable to use my main data package during testing as a result.
Now this might be nitpicking, but my OCD was in overdrive when I noticed that the volume sliders do not behave in a consistent manner when using the side buttons to adjust volume. At least not to the kind of precision I am used to with other phones.
Check out the short video below to see if you can spot what I am referring to:
Did you spot it? On my Galaxy S20 I can tap either the mute/vibrate button on the expanded volume panel, and then if I press the physical volume up/down buttons, it will adjust the volume of whatever slider I touched last which is the logical and expected behaviour. I can also put each slider to the exact same level using the physical volume buttons.
On REDMAGIC OS 5, this is impossible to do, you can see the volume level indicator in the above video is always one step above or behind the volume level on the middle indicator for the ringtone. Slightly annoying!
Performance - Display and hardware
Whilst I do have a Galaxy S22 Ultra (Exynos) on order, it will not be with me by the time this review goes live due to choosing the Graphite colour. I would have liked to have compared the AMOLED on that with this as they are in similar size class, but for now the Galaxy S20 5G will do just fine.
Both have HDR AMOLED panels, and both can get pretty bright, though the REDMAGIC 7's maximum brightness is specified at 700 nits, though it should be noted that the nits ratings are not linear.
When watching HDR content on YouTube, it was clear that HDR was working as you are unable to adjust the screen brightness during HDR playback as expected. Visually, the REDMAGIC 7's AMOLED display has a slightly cooler white balance than the Galaxy S20. Both offer very good HDR playback even when setting the resolution in the YouTube app to 2160p HDR out of curiosity.
There are a number of Display options to tweak, although I found it strange that there was no option to adjust the screen zoom density which I have been used to on other phones for years. You can however adjust this if you know the value you wish to apply, via the DPI setting under Developer Settings. I found a value of 384 to be comfortable compared to the default 360.
Whilst the display does have a 165Hz refresh rate, to my eyes, between 90Hz, 120Hz and 165Hz, I could spot minimal to no difference. This is the same reason I run the Galaxy S20 at 90Hz, too, as 120Hz just drains too much battery without actually being a noticeable improvement over 90Hz.
With these high specs, though, I would have liked to have seen a dynamic refresh rate mode that ramps up when needed, and down when idle or on static images. The thick top and bottom bezels are also an unwelcome sight to the eyes these days as we are spoiled by nearly zero bezels on even mid-range phones.
Overall, the display is clear and bright. The touch sampling rate is rated up to 720Hz, but in normal operation it is 500Hz. I found the touch response and general display performance to be exceptional, and scrolling, tapping and dragging stuff felt just that bit snappier than on my Galaxy S20 even when both were set to 90Hz refresh rates.
Having said that, the colours and overall quality are more accurate and natural on the Galaxy S20.
The shoulder trigger areas can be seen above, as the finishing over them is slightly different where the capacitive touch areas are. The whole mid-frame is "Space grade" Aluminium according to ZTE. All I can say is that it feels really good in the hands, but is also quite slippery. Activating the shoulder triggers is easy in games due to the fast response, but keeping your hands put without using the case could be tricky as the phone likes to slip downwards.
Another thing to mention here is that because of the position of the camera bar on the back, your fingers will rub against the lenses when gaming, and thus end up smudging them.
Benchmarks and gaming
This is what this phone is all about. An outright gaming powerhouse. The first thing I wanted to do was get a baseline score, so fired up Geekbench and AnTuTu. Both returned scores that put it well up in the top rankings with the AnTuTu score even beating the Galaxy S22 Ultra, which also has a Snapdragon 8 gen 1 outside of Europe.
I also tested out the Game Space part of REDMAGIC OS, and some of the more advanced features such as an OSD that displays statistics during gameplay. Flicking the red switch to Game Space also activates the fan and puts the phone into gaming mode. From here you can swipe in from either edge corner in any game to load the Game Space control panel to adjust on-the-fly.
This side of REDMAGIC OS is genuinely very useful, especially for those who would be gaming a lot. The shoulder triggers also have some nice haptic feedback which was quite welcome. The high quality haptics kicking in is exactly as you would expect thanks to the super quick sampling rate.
I also played some PUBG: Aftermath which is a graphically demanding game in HD mode. It was able to maintain a consistent 30fps which resulted in a smooth experience on a phone screen. I was also able to map the shoulder triggers over the left and right action on-screen buttons easily.
Firing up 3D Mark's Wildlife stress test, I found the thermals and performance to be good. With the fan enabled and running the 20 loop test, the phone got so hot that unless the case was installed, then the frame was simply too hot to handle.
Not only is the fan exhausting a lot of heat, but the Aluminium frame is acting as a passive heatsink, which on one hand is a good thing, but on the other hand, you cannot actually have the phone in your hand...
We can see that there is some thermal throttling involved going by the numbers between the fan being on and off. Even still, this does not change the framerate range as the lowest fps is only out by two, and it appears there is a 75fps cap for the maximum.
Thankfully the kind of heat mentioned above is not evident in actual gaming, since games do not generally stress the whole phone to the same level as a benchmark.
In short, excellent. During a walk-around the city with the camera being used heavily, I returned home 4 hours later with not even 10% battery drained. I specifically wanted to test the battery drain of the new Snapdragon chipset in isolation when the camera and display were being used a lot in daylight, so had the phone data connection off, but WiFi enabled and connected to my S20's hotspot the entire time.
I found the Snapdragon 8 gen 1 to be quite power efficient in normal day to day use. With 4500mAh, the battery lasts more than a day with mixed usage. And when the juice does run low, a 65 watt PPS GaN charger is included for super fast charging. Samsung and others, please take note here, because including a fast charger is surely more environmentally friendly than selling a new one at more cost, with more packaging and shipping that is then unnecessarily required.
Whilst the global version of the phone supports 65 watt charging via the PPS standard, the Chinese version supports 120 watts. it is unclear on what standard this is, although Chinese models come with a 165 watt charger in the box.
For charging speed, I found that charging even from 76% to 100% took a mere 10 minutes flat. Past 80% on most phones, the charging speed slows down but there seemed to be no issue here which could be down to it having two smaller batteries which charge individually, but are seen as one big battery by the OS.
The fan automatically turns on when "Neocharge" is showing on the screen. Neocharge being equivalent of Dash Charge (OnePlus) or Super Fast Charge (Samsung) as opposed to just normal fast charge. When a non PPS compliant charger is connected, the phone defaults to slow charging and the fan does not activate. There does not appear to be a middle speed charging status, for example, with a Samsung Galaxy you may see "Charging", "Fast Charging" or "Super Fast Charging" depending on the standards capability of the charger connected.
In terms of charging speed, the 4500mAh battery charges very quickly, I watched as it reached 24% in just a handful of minutes. From 1% to 100% it was 30 minutes flat. I had a Type-C power monitor connected between the phone and charger cable, and noted that for the first few percent charged, the charging power was not far off 60W, not quite 65W, but I guess headroom has to exist somewhere. After 5%, the charge rate dropped to 16v at 3.09A, (50W).
At +90% charged, the monitor was reading 17.1v at 1.59A (27W). it seems the REDMAGIC 7's charging circuit behaves much like other smartphones out there, in that it lowers the current the closer the charged capacity gets to 100%, but where most phones drop to a paltry 10W or less, the REDMAGIC 7 continued past 90% at over 20W. Very impressive, and gives Oppo, OnePlus, and Xiaomi a run for their money considering this is not a proprietary system, but instead PPS, a USB Power Delivery 3.0 standard that a number of phones have been supporting since the Samsung Galaxy S20 series.
This seems possible by using two smaller battery cells, less heat is generated, and both batteries can charge fast at the same time resulting in a more efficient charging rates and healthier battery cells.
There is also cool feature in the advanced battery settings screen called Charge Separation. It is exactly what it reads like from the screenshots above. By de-coupling the battery from the charging circuit, you are hardwiring the phone directly to the mains and, prolonging battery wear cycles and generating no additional heat from the battery.
I have no personal use for such a feature, but those who game a lot, or use their phones as a satnav, or even 24/7 home security, should find this feature very useful.
Even though the latest Snapdragon boasts a new ISP and AI powered imaging features, the camera on the REDMAGIC 7 is just average from my testing, and it does not come close to the kind of resolving quality my Galaxy S20 5G has been capable of, let alone anything newer.
A quick message to our REDMAGIC representative revealed that the main 64MP camera is Samsung's GW3, a sensor found in many Asian market Android phones, as well as Samsung's entry level Galaxy A32.
The HDR feature in the camera app appears to not be working as expected either. When it is left on Auto (the default setting), it does not appear to use HDR at all. The only way I could see HDR being used was if I manually enabled the HDR mode.
Below is an example of one scene where HDR was a problem in low lighting but with window light coming in on one side. The Galaxy S20's HDR is left on Auto and does a fine job of capturing what the scene looked like to my eye whilst retaining plenty of fine detail on the speaker cone. Whereas the REDMAGIC 7's HDR is non existent in Auto. When I manually switched HDR to on, it produced a murky mess of an image.
Now take a look at the below close-up shot of the back of a watch. There is direct window light coming in from the right, I then tapped the brightest area of the movement on the screen to let the camera app expose for that and lock focus on both phones. Notice how much more detail the S20 image has, and the improved image quality as a whole. The white balance on the REDMAGIC 7's image has a subtle but distracting tinge to it.
It is a bit of a shame that this is the main stumbling block on an otherwise excellent high powered phone. It seems the optical components used, combined with poorly implemented camera software results in poorly controlled dynamic range, and generally dull-looking images.
In video mode, you cannot choose the wide angle lens, and whilst 8K video recording is supported, it is only 24fps, and because the optics are poor, you probably don't want to go anywhere near such a settings anyway when recording video.
There is little point in spending much more time talking about the camera setup on this phone. It simply is not flagship spec, even though it should be. Corners have been cut in this area for sure, and I'm not sure if there is even OIS, because when shaking the phone, you do not hear the telltale clicking noise an OIS lens makes.
My first experience with a REDMAGIC series phone has been a decent one. As a gaming and media consumption phone, it ticks all the boxes most people could want. Short of some missing features, like Dolby Atmos and screen zoom density under display settings, it is made up for by having a 3.5mm headphone jack and excellent gaming performance. For emulation it is also a great experience as you can remap the shoulder triggers to behave as expected by adding your chosen emulator app into the Game Space system.
The UX, aka REDMAGIC OS, should have been better I feel. It is missing some features that have been standard on other phones for years.
As a photographer, I am disappointed by the camera. When I am not carrying a DSLR around with me, the majority of my social media shared photos are shot with the Galaxy S20. Had I only had the REDMAGIC 7 with me in those situations, I would feel embarrassed to attempt salvaging through editing and then sharing photos to Instagram, for example.
Credit where due, though, as ZTE does include a quality 65W standards compliant charger where other brands do not, and because it does not use its own special form of fast charging, the charger will super fast charge other phones capable of up to 65 watt USB-PD/PPS charging as well.
The inclusion of a case that aids gaming ergonomics is also nice to see, but the elephant in the room is definitely the camera and software. Other functions like using it as a phone showed no problem at all and audio was perfectly acceptable.
I have yet to mention that the fingerprint sensor fails to accept my thumbprint more often than it does, or that there is no water resistance or wireless charging. Although to be fair, with wired charging speeds this quick, wireless top-ups are not necessary.
From a performance perspective, the REDMAGIC 7 slots in next to the Galaxy S22 Ultra, but it has a lower and fixed screen resolution at the same time, so this kind of comparison is not entirely a fair one from a technical standpoint as the Snapdragon 8 gen 1 in this handset does not have to work as hard to achieve a high performance output.
The design of the back panel is very nice, though, and sets an aesthetic standard that looks premium with the way it gives an almost 3D layered depth as mentioned earlier. It is hard to capture that in a still photo, but the video below will give a good idea.
I just cannot help but return to the thought that this is a flagship phone, so the whole hardware and software package should reflect that of a flagship phone. Things like the shoulder triggers, if there was a way to remap both triggers to do other things around Android, like gesture actions, then that would have offered a nice USP to factor into a buying decision. A 6.8" screen is big enough to benefit from such a useful feature and we have seen back and side mounted fingerprint sensors having gesture customisations before from many brands which proved quite popular.
For the price, it is a great gaming phone for sure. I would have liked to have seen more software features though. Throughout my usage I kept feeling that the hardware is there, it just needs those extra bells and whistles being added from within the software.
For example, the camera app being ditched in favour of Google's GCam which produces excellent results from even mid-range camera sensors thanks to computational photography.
An argument can be made though that at this price it isn't even a worry that the camera doesn't match up to phones costing twice as much, and to that end I have to agree. As a photgrapher though, I just cannot help but see the latest chipset being used that has a lot of enhancements for photography, sitting there untapped.