Nubia RedMagic 5G review: world's first 144 Hz smartphone display
Here is an anomaly in the world of gaming smartphones: offering a price-to-performance ratio unlike any other, this is a flagship killer by any other name. In fact, I can think of many superlatives for the Nubia RedMagic 5G. It is interesting that it remained under-the-radar prior to its release. In this review, I would like to explore the advantages of this high-end gaming smartphone with an industry-first 144 Hz display, liquid cooling, and amazing performance.
This review by me, as a die-hard Apple user, does not mean I have changed my allegiance and will use an Android-powered smartphone on a permanent basis from now on, no matter how fantastic the hardware specifications are. Android is simply not my thing, it's too colorful, too versatile, and has basically too many options. I usually prefer a device that works well right out of the box, where it will be able to function as it is supposed to for several years while receiving new features and security patches in the form of software updates. I do not need to have Comic Sans as a system font or the choice to fiddle around with a lot of settings. Hence, I was skeptical of our Nubia RedMagic 5G review unit and didn't have high expectations for it. In my last attempt to switch over to an Android device in 2018 (the Samsung Galaxy Note 8), it was more out of curiosity than anything else. However, it remains to be seen whether the Nubia RedMagic 5G can convince me otherwise this time around, what more a handset from a non-mainstream brand.
- Fantastic display
- Elegant design
- Well placed buttons for a gaming smartphone
- Poorly positioned speaker
- OS lacks customisation options
- Non-expandable memory
Nubia RedMagic 5G release date and price
You can order the Nubia RedMagic 5G exclusively from Nubia, beginning April 21 onwards. There are different color schemes to pick from, and the colors depict the difference in available memory storage space:
- Eclipse Black with 8GB of RAM/128 GB: $579
- Blue and Red Pulse with 12 GB of RAM/256 GB of internal storage: $649
The Hot Rod Red variation is slated for a May release.
A presentable gaming smartphone
In my time as a tech editor, I had reviewed numerous gaming smartphones, be they from Asus or Razer. Oftentimes, I did not like the exaggerated gaming design that was simply too loud . This also applies to the hardware and OS design alike. When it felt as though the current consumer climate seemed to point to the end of the road for gamer-centric smartphones, the Nubia RedMagic 5G turns things on its head with unmistakable gaming specifications that are clearly workable.
The back of our black review unit boasts of slightly curved glass that felt incredibly comfortable in my hand. Accompanied by a few dark red accents, the RedMagic symbol, and a larger 5G lettering gives the phone a very unique design. The highlight is located right down the middle. Here, the holographic "RedMagic" lettering appears in rainbow colors, depending on which angle light falls upon it. Even if you were to take a closer peek at the logo, the LED underneath the lettering is hardly noticeable, where it functions as a notification LED if desired. The same goes for the RedMagic symbol - where it is garish and yet beautiful at the same time.
I spent an eternity just to configure the LED with numerous notification options and colors, so much so I ended up liking the process. In all seriousness, I am beginning to feel that the Apple logo on my iPhone should also light up!
I already emphasized that the glass back is very comfortable to hold. For a device of its size, it is surprisingly ergonomic, although at first glance it does look rather unwieldy and long. On the right side lies the volume rocker and the power button, which is too sensitive for my liking. Throughout the review, I often turned off the display by accident. Located above the buttons is one of the two ventilation grills. There are cleverly positioned capacitive shoulder keys at the top and bottom with a 300 Hz sampling rate. Moving on to the left, there is a dock for accessories that will surely draw attention to itself, as you can attach separately sold accessories to the RedMagic 5G for an enhanced mobile gaming experience. Slightly higher lies the other ventilation grill and a toggle switch which would be familiar with iPhone users, although it does not turn silent mode on but rather launches the proprietary Game Space 2.0 function.
An insane 144 Hz display
At the heart of the Nubia RedMagic 5G is the 6.65-inch AMOLED-eSports display with a maximum refresh rate of 144 Hz. Considering this is a first in the smartphone market where high refresh rates are concerned, I am extremely excited. Even during the set-up process, the downloading of numerous apps and services for review purposes, I could not believe that a smartphone display can be visually this smooth while reacting with lightning-quick precision. When compared to the OLED display on my iPhone, the refresh rate on the RedMagic 5G has proven to be the clear winner, especially when one is scrolling fast.
Text and images remain extremely readable and crisp. Reading the news or simply surfing around and indulging in social networks is a whole new experience due to the display. It is really out of this world! While I have not made a direct comparison to other flagship Android devices, the Nubia RedMagic 5G's display is one of the best available in my books where the smartphone market is concerned .
Beneath the display's glass, there lies a fingerprint sensor that unlocks the handset consistently. Personally, I do not have much faith in the security of this technology as I feel as though it has yet to achieve maturity. However, the whole idea of an in-screen fingerprint sensor is practical, assuming it registers swiftly. The faster the display is, the faster it will react to any input. Nubia claims a sampling rate of 240 Hz in the RedMagic 5G's spec sheet.
Android 10 and RedMagic OS 3.0
With Android 10 running underneath the hood and Nubia's RedMagic OS version 3.0 as the skin , the software will take some getting used to. RedMagic OS experience offers what Android users love - numerous customization and setting options. I admit that I like the system-wide dark mode as well as the ability to select my choice of gestures and navigation keys. Other than the standard settings in Android 10, there are additional options for the built-in fan and refresh rate settings. Whether Nubia will work on improving the translation of the user interface remains to be seen after getting in touch with them. "Our team is constantly working on the further development of the system," is what I consider to be a standard PR statement, with a high probability of meaning: "No". Hopefully, I am wrong on this count.
Snapdragon 865, 5G, and lots of RAM
The Nubia RedMagic 5G is powered by the latest processor from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 865. This is one chipset that has impressed us by appearing in several high-end smartphones over the past few weeks. The octa-core processor includes a 5G modem, and also sees action in the OnePlus 8 Pro, Oppo Find X2 Pro, and the Xiaomi Mi 10 Pro. Benchmark results prove that the Nubia RedMagic 5G belongs to the high-end segment as shown in the table below. The big difference to its competitors would most probably be the price. Hence, the Nubia RedMagic 5G turns out to be a dark horse by taking over the place of previous Xiaomi smartphones, which for the first time this year is no longer considered to be a flagship killer.
Nubia RedMagic 5G benchmark scores comparison
|Nubia RedMagic 5G||OnePlus 8 Pro||Galaxy S20 Ultra|
|3D Mark Sling Shot Extreme ES 3.1||7330||7122||6752|
|3D Mark Sling Shot Volcano||6685||6613||5925|
|3D Mark Sling Shot ES 3.0||9417||8864||7403|
|Geekbench 5 (Single / Multi)||905 / 3188||887 / 3313||747 / 2690|
What was apparent on paper was confirmed by the Nubia RedMagic 5G in practical testing. I focused mainly on gaming due to the nature of this device as well as the ease of doing so due to its docking station. I went through the motions with Fortnite, PUBG Mobile, Real Racing 3, and other less demanding games like Animal Crossing and Super Mario Kart over the weekend. I normally get my gaming kicks on the iPhone 11 Pro Max, but I already like the performance here. The display of the RedMagic 5G truly makes a difference for me, as I have never experienced such a fast and smooth display in everyday smartphone use.
We already liked the toggle switch on the side that launches the gaming interface in the RedMagic 3, and the same applies here. All games installed on the handset can be found here. The Nubia RedMagic 5G's Game Space 2.1 also enables me to quickly switch between 60, 120, and 144 Hz refresh rates on-the-fly. Visually, there is a very noticeable difference during the change, especially in racing titles where things move around so quickly on the screen. For everyday use, this is also noticeable when your scroll through web pages quickly - 144 Hz certainly spoils the eye.
However, not all games support the high refresh rate. During my review, I decided to run Real Racing 3. Other compatible games are Dead Trigger 2 and Vain Glory. Do take note that the shoulder buttons of the Redmagic 5G are also not compatible with all games. In the Game Space settings, you will be able to see just which features are compatible via greyed out (incompatible) or clickable (compatible) options.
I never noticed any problems while playing on the RedMagic 5G, but rather was given a decent gaming experience so much so that it did not feel as though I was playing on a smartphone but rather, on a dedicated gaming console. The fan noise that often makes itself known when gaming on the Nintendo Switch is also evident here, greatly contributing to a similar experience. These noises don't bother me. However, if you would like to game without any fan noise, you can do so by turning off the active cooling ability in Game Space.
A word of caution - your fingers will be able to feel the warmth quickly as heat begins to build inside, beginning from right above the camera module. However, with the cooling fans turned on, it will keep your smartphone chugging along at a comfortable temperature. I didn't measure it, so you'll have to rely on my subjective feeling.
What you won't notice at all with the Nubia RedMagic 5G is the liquid cooling feature. Here the manufacturer uses their ICE 3.0 cooling technology that comprises of the fan, several layers of graphite, thermo gel, copper foil, and the liquid cooling unit itself. As we were not allowed to prise open the smartphone, the presence of these components could not be proven. The esteemed teardown professionals from PBKreviews did that on our behalf:
The capacitive shoulder buttons on the right side of the smartphone offer another aspect of gaming that gamers are familiar with. In landscape mode, they are easily accessible with the index fingers and can be enabled for selected games. I imagine those with larger hands will have problems reaching the shoulder buttons though. In theory, they worked perfectly for me, and the 240 Hz sampling rate of the display does not result in any lag during my gaming sessions. What bothered me frequently was the placement of the speakers - when using the shoulder buttons, my index fingers will cover the speakers, resulting in poor sound performance when not gaming with a pair of headphones.
5G testing is not possible (yet)
Even though I'm sitting in the old capital of Bonn and the headquarters of Telekom is only a stone's throw away, I still couldn't get on board with a 5G test. That would have been possible with the Nubia RedMagic 5G and my location - unfortunately, we were told by Telekom that all employees are currently working from the home office and they couldn't provide me with a SIM card. So maybe I will have to do so at a later time this year. I would have been very interested to see what effect 5G has on battery life and data transfers.
Dual stereo speakers
As mentioned earlier, I was not too pleased with the placement of the dual stereo speakers on the Nubia RedMagic 5G. Otherwise, they deliver rich and high-quality sound when they are not obscured by my index fingers during gaming sessions. Then again, hardcore gamers will probably most play with their headphones on anyway. Apart from that I, really like the audio playback quality of the device.
Nubia claims that this handset delivers 7.1 surround sound, so I put it to the test. With this capability, the Radio.de app is welcome to accompany me during my morning shower; while voices in audiobooks and podcasts are played back crisply without any cracking. If I may draw a comparison at this point, the two built-in speakers are unable to come close to the audio quality of my iPhone 11 Pro Max.
A triple camera setup
Nubia uses a triple camera with its main sensor from Sony. The IMX686 has a resolution of 64 megapixels and is flanked by an 8-megapixel ultra-wide angle sensor and a 2-megapixel macro lens. This gives you an average camera performance for a smartphone that is focused on performance and gaming. We have not planned for a detailed camera test by Stefan for the Nubia RedMagic 5G device at the moment, and so I took the liberty to capture some shots using this device as an amateur, which wasn't that easy considering the lockdown restrictions.
I immediately liked the numerous modes and possibilities that came within the camera app which are unavailable to me on the iPhone as an iOS user. There are plenty of combinations to choose from: including numerous filters, light painting, cloning of objects, and of course, something I am familiar with - portrait photos with the bokeh effect. In addition, there is a pro-mode that allows me to perform all kinds of manual adjustments. White balance, ISO, focus, and other settings can be fine-tuned here. With my iPhone 11 Pro Max, I need a separate and often paid software to do so. The Nubia RedMagic 5G also comes with a night mode, which is supposed to produce respectable results even under unfavorable lighting conditions or at dusk.
But even in daylight, the image quality of the RedMagic 5G is not very good. The images look pale with the default settings. Even with HDR mode enabled, the low dynamic range ensures that moderately high-contrast shots drown out shadows with eroded highlights. While the 64-megapixel sensor has the potential for good detail rendition, fine textures get muddled up even under optimal lighting conditions, which is a pity.
Is there a saving grace? The portrait mode spices up colors a little and delivers more respectable results. We advise against using the "AI", as the software processing is seemingly limited to increasing the color saturation. By the way, there is no optical zoom in the RedMagic 5G, while the digital zoom feature obviously delivers poor results. Even at "a mere" tenfold magnification, my balcony photos look more like a Monet painting than my neighbor's flowerpot.
I could not use the ultra-wide-angle lens as specified by the manufacturer in the datasheet even after several attempts. It cannot be selected manually or activated by a zoom gesture. Hence, I am still waiting for a statement from Nubia. There is not much to be said about the 8-megapixel front-facing camera. The usual selfie snapshots don't allow a bokeh effect, but instead, it comes with numerous selfie gimmicks, as one can naturally expect from an Android smartphone.
A 5,000 mAh battery
In comparison to its predecessor, the Nubia RedMagic 5G's battery has 500 mAh less battery capacity. In a conversation with Nubia, the team informed me of the reasoning behind that: the current Snapdragon 865 processor requires more space due to the 5G modem. Apart from that, fans and a liquid cooling system also takes up additional space underneath the hood. In my opinion, I would have preferred a 5,000 mAh battery to cater for a gaming smartphone that carries such a sophisticated display, cooling system, and the latest processor.
The battery drains quickly when playing processor-intensive games like Fortnite or car racing titles. Taking into consideration the LEDs at the back, the fan and the 144 Hz display working in tandem, it is highly recommended to have a power bank or charger and power outlet nearby if you want to indulge in extended gaming sessions. However, it's pleasing to note that the RedMagic can be charged via a 55-watt adapter for fast charging. Unfortunately, this power adapter is not included and has to be purchased separately.
Nubia RedMagic 5G technical specifications
With the Redmagic 5G, the Nubia team has developed a very exciting, powerful device that comes with a few teething issues. Throughout the review, this proved to be a respectable all-rounder. It is only the disappointing camera performance that makes me wonder whether Nubia cut some corners here. If we compare it to Xiaomi's previous smartphones, which carried flagship killer specifications at a far more affordable price, the RedMagic 5G unfortunately does not fall under that category.
Still, this could be nitpicking on my part because as a gaming smartphone, the RedMagic 5G does deliver. The AMOLED is a clear winner with a refresh rate of 144 Hz. Whether you need this or not is a matter for debate, as usual. I found it useful for both gaming and everyday use, and I do wonder if an iPhone were to integrate this refresh rate into their displays, how much higher would the price be.
Considering the starting price of $579, making it a wee bit more expensive than the iPhone SE with an LCD display and 128 GB of internal storage, the Nubia RedMagic 5G is definitely a dark horse. You will not only get the latest Android 10, but also high-end components and an ingenious gaming interface that simply works. However, I'll dock points for the non-expandable memory, middling camera performance, bad OS language translations, and a smaller capacity battery. Nevertheless, as an iOS user, I am already sad that I will have to stop using this device soon.
To the reviewer: As stated in a few YouTube reviews I have seen, the ULTRAWIDE camera can only be activated in the camera app's PRO mode. You will find the toggle there.