The Nubia Red Magic 5G ($579) is the latest of a small faction of smartphones built specifically with gamers—particularly esports enthusiasts—in mind. In
addition to flagship-quality hardware and a 144Hz refresh rate, the phone has capacitive touch buttons for gameplay, immersive speakers, and a special cooling system. Unfortunately, it falls short on more general categories, including camera performance and network support, making it a decent choice for die-hard gamers, but a tough sell for everyone else.
Design, Display, and Durability
The Red Magic 2 sports a similar design to its
predecessor, borrowing a bit from the modern gaming PC aesthetic. It’s nice to see something different from every other phone on the market, but if you’re not a fan of breathing
LEDs and the like, you probably won’t be too keen on the look.
Available in black, red, or red and teal, all three colors have a prominent X across the
back with a contrasting trim, a large 5G logo, and a pulsating RGB strip with Red Magic branding. The phone measures 6.63 by 3.08 by 0.40 inches (HWD) and comes in at 7.69 ounces.
The top edge is home to a headphone jack, while a
USB-C charging port, speaker, and dual-SIM slot sit on the bottom. The right side has two capacitive buttons for gaming, an air vent, a power button, and a volume rocker, while an additional vent, an accessory port, and a game mode slider are on the left.
On the front of the phone you’ll find a 6.65-inch AMOLED
display with a variable 144Hz refresh rate for super-smooth performance (more on this in a bit). Resolution comes in at 2,340 by 1,080, for a just-average density of 338 pixels per inch, though the screen is bright and has excellent color accuracy.
While we’re generally not fans of optical
in-display fingerprint sensors, the Red Magic 5G has the poorest implementation we’ve used to
date—it didn’t work at all in testing, no matter what we tried. Hopefully this will be fixed in a future software update.
The phone has a Gorilla Glass body, so it should be able to withstand minor drops
and dings. But it lacks any form of waterproofing or dust protection, and the extra vents make it more vulnerable to spills. And while we recommend a case,
there are so many ports, vents, and buttons, it’s questionable as to just how much protection it will provide.
Audio, Call, and Network Quality
While the Red Magic 5G is marketed and sold in the US, the
decision almost seems like an afterthought. The phone supports LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/17/18/19/20/26/34/38/39/40/41, so it should work on every major US carrier, but band support is so spotty that reliability
and network speeds are a serious concern.
Sub-6GHz 5G is supported on bands n41/78. While that means
the phone can theoretically work on Sprint, which will integrate with T-Mobile’s network in
the coming months, we haven’t been able to confirm this. A T-Mobile a spokesperson told PCMag that Nubia didn’t work with the
carrier to develop or test the phone and cannot confirm any specs or network
We tested it on AT&T’s network in Downtown
Brooklyn and recorded average network speeds of 28.4Mbps down and 11.6Mbps up. That’s
slower than what we normally see on AT&T, and likely due to current stress on the network and the fact the phone doesn’t support
LTE band 66.
On a positive note, call quality and noise cancellation were excellent in testing. Maximum earpiece volume clocks in at 87dB, which is loud enough to hear on a busy street.
Audio quality via the phone’s stereo
speakers is also good. Even at a maximum volume of 96dB, timbre is rich with smooth mids and a hint of bass.
Connectivity is rounded out by the presence of Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1, and NFC.
The big sell here is the AMOLED display
with a variable 144Hz refresh rate. By default the refresh rate is set at
90Hz, but you can easily change it to 60Hz or 144Hz by toggling the Game Boost
switch by swiping up from the bottom of the phone. There’s also a persistent icon
in the status bar that shows the current refresh rate. A higher refresh rate makes for a smoother experience, and one that can give you an edge in competitive gaming (though it drains battery to the tune of 25 percent per hour).
In addition, the phone’s aforementioned capacitive buttons features a 300Hz touch sample rate. We found them to be well placed and responsive when playing Asphalt 9 Legends, but you
can easily map them to work with any game.
4D vibration is similar to the controller vibration you find on most current gaming consoles and is
triggered by specific actions and movements in the game. It’s a fun addition that works on a handful of games including Asphalt 9, Knives
Out, and PUBG: Mobile.
And thanks to the vents and cooling features, the phone never became overly warm.
Specs and Performance
The phone is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor. We tested the base model, which features 8GB of LPDDR5 RAM
and 128GB of UFS 3.0 storage, while an upgraded version comes with 12GB of RAM and
256GB of storage.
In addition to extensive gameplay, we ran our regular battery of productivity tests on the phone as well. Apps
opened instantaneously, even with more than a dozen running in the background.
We managed to have 32 Chrome tabs open simultaneously before we noticed
See How We Test Phones
On PCMark Work 2.0, a
suite of tests that emulate typical smartphone tasks, the Red Magic scored 13,988.
That’s well beyond the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra’s score of 11,488. On 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme (Vulkan), a benchmark used
to measure gaming and graphics performance, the Red Magic again pulled ahead at 6,598 to the S20 Ultra’s 6,402.
In our battery drain test, which streams HD video over Wi-Fi at full
brightness, the Red Magic’s 4,500mAh battery lasted 11 hours and 31 minutes with a 60Hz refresh rate.
There’s an 18W adapter in the box for relatively fast charging, and the phone supports 55W charging with an optional adapter.
A triple-camera stack sits flush on the back of the phone.
The primary lens clocks in at 64MP, while the ultra-wide lens is 8MP. There’s
also a 2MP macro lens. The front-facing camera is 8MP. All the lenses have an
The rear cameras can snap decent photos in good light. Test
shots with the 64MP shooter show nice depth of field and color accuracy, though we noticed a little detail loss in the background. With the ultra-wide lens, details
become mushier and edge distortion starts to creep in. The macro lens actually performs well enough, but tends to oversaturate
colors and lack detail in the foreground.
Low-light photos with the Red Magic are disappointing. Shots
with the 64MP lens look flat, with over-aggressive noise cancellation creating blur around hairlines and glasses. Photos with the ultra-wide lens look muddy, with significant noise and edge distortion. And since macro lenses do best
with proper lighting, we didn’t perform any low-light tests.
The front-facing lens fails to impress in any lighting scenario.
In good light, our test shots lack fine detail and look flat. In low light,
photos are muddy and full of noise.
The Red Magic 5G ships with a nearly stock version of
Android 10 and without any bloatware.
The phone’s Gaming Hub and Game Boost switch are the only things that set it apart from a software perspective. They’re thoughtful inclusions that makes it easy to
access all of the phone’s gaming-specific features, but can be a little
buggy. On a few occasions the phone failed to recognize when we swiped up to access the Game
Boost switch until we reset it, though shortly before publishing this review Nubia pushed an over-the-air update that seems to fix the problem.
While the Red Magic 5G features a lot of power for the price, it’s hard to recommend
for all but the most serious gamers. Simply put, it doesn’t offer extensive
band support for any US carrier, and 5G will never be an option for most US users. While there isn’t a direct alternative with all of the bells
and whistles for gamers, the OnePlus 8 features similar hardware, more extensive 5G
support, and a better camera for a similar price. And if you’re willing to spend more, the LG V60 ThinQ 5G offers sub-6GHz support for
all carriers (and mmWave support on Verizon), as well as solid gaming
features including dedicated buttons on its optional second display.
Nubia Red Magic 5G Specs
|Operating System||Android 10|
|CPU||Qualcomm Snapdragon 865|
|Processor Speed||2.84 GHz|
|Dimensions||6.63 by 3.08 by 0.40 inches|
|Screen Size||6.65 inches|
|Screen Resolution||2,340 by 1,080 pixels|
|Camera Resolution (Rear; Front-Facing)||64MP, 8MP, 2MP; 8MP|
|Battery Life (As Tested)||11 hours, 31 minutes|