Nubia Red Magic 3 Review – More gaming, less phone

Nubia Red Magic 3 Review – More gaming, less phone

The Red Magic 3 is the newest gaming smartphone from the Nubia brand. Nubia has been around for a while now, but their Red Magic series has recently caught our attention. The Red Magic series are gaming phones for gamers on a budget, and the Nubia Red Magic 3 is no exception.

The Nubia Red Magic 3 has the latest specifications, the latest features, and one of the lowest prices we’ve seen for a device of this caliber. It has the powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 paired with a 90Hz AMOLED screen and a huge 5,000mAh battery. The specifications suggest this is an amazing gaming phone, however, I consider the Red Magic 3 to be a mobile gaming device that also happens to be a phone. Nubia seems to have missed the mark on the important phone parts, focusing specifically on the gaming aspect of the device.

Specification Nubia Red Magic 3
Display 6.65-inch FHD+ AMOLED display with a refresh rate of 90Hz, 19.5:9;

Support for DC Dimming, HDR

SoC Qualcomm Snapdragon 855
RAM and Storage
  • 6GB LPDDR4 + 64GB UFS 2.1;
  • 6GB + 128GB;
  • 8GB + 128GB;
  • 12GB + 256GB
Battery 5,000 mAh with 30W fast charging support
3.5mm Headphone Jack Yes
Rear Camera 48MP Sony IMX 586, f/1.7, 1.6μm pixels
Front Camera 16MP, f/2.0
Extras
  • IP55 dust and water resistance;
  • Internal fan for active cooling;
  • Two shoulder buttons plus button support with rear fingerprint sensor;
  • Stereo front facing speakers
Network
  • GSM: 850MHz/1900MHz
  • WCDMA: 850MHz/1900MHz/1700
  • CDMA: BC0/BC1
  • LTE Band: 2/4/5/7/12/17/25/26/30/41/66
Android Version Android 9 Pie with Nubia’s software additions

Note: Nubia PR lent us the device for this review. They had no say in any material or information written and were not given a draft of the review before it was published. 

Design

The Red Magic 3 is designed from the start as a gaming phone. Nubia took the classic “gamer aesthetic” of RGB and dark colors with red or green accents to heart. It has an aluminum body (though it feels like plastic) with red accents implanted into the corners. Going straight down the center is an RGB light. In the top fifth of the display, there is a 48MP camera and fan exhaust port. Right underneath that is the capacitive fingerprint scanner.

The left side of the device houses the SIM card tray and “Gaming Port.” This gaming port connects to the gaming dock (sold separately) and connects to a computer for game streaming. Above the SIM card tray is a “Game Space 2.0” switch. This lets you enable the game mode controls.

On the right side, we have two capacitive triggers. One is at the top of the phone, the other at the bottom. These are similar to what you would see on an Xbox controller but capacitive instead of mechanical. Right under the top trigger is another fan exhaust port. Below that is the volume rocker and power button.

The top of the phone is simple with a 3.5mm headphone jack (yes, a real headphone jack in a 2019 flagship) and at the bottom the USB Type-C port. To the right of the Type-C port is a single speaker. At the top of the display is a speaker grill that is both an earpiece speaker and a top speaker, as the phone does have stereo speakers.

Display

The display on the Red Magic 3 is not what I would call a bezel-less display by 2019 standards. It has slim bezels on the left and right side. The top and bottom bezel are by no means small or large. The top and bottom bezels are about 6.5mm. The top bezel has a single 16MP camera along with some sensors and an RGB notification light.

The Nubia Red Magic 3 has a 6.65-inch AMOLED display at 2340×1080 resolution (387.5ppi.) The Red Magic 3’s display is also one of the few to support a 90Hz refresh rate. Even though these specifications might not seem impressive, the very large display does a great job at providing immersion.

Nubia Red Magic 3 review design

The 90Hz refresh rate of the display is super nice to have. It is always enabled and has no mode to turn it down to 60hz. That’s not an issue because the 5,000 mAh battery can push this thing for days even with 90Hz always on. The only thing is, however, few games support 90Hz. The 90Hz is only available in apps and in the SystemUI. You only notice it in scrolling and animations. That’s it. It feels like a waste to have such a high refresh rate display where the main selling point of the phone can’t support it. This is by no means a bad addition, but Nubia should have tried to work with game developers to get more 90Hz support in apps.

It does support HDR so the colors on the display are great. The Red Magic 3 has two display modes: Colorful mode and Natural mode. The natural mode uses sRGB which means the colors are almost the same on any other platform that uses sRGB. The Colorful mode supports wide color gamut.

It’s worth noting that the Nubia Red Magic 3 does have an included plastic screen protector. It isn’t the best screen protector, but it isn’t the worst either. It isn’t centered on the device, which could easily just be a botched install but it’s not great.

Red Magic 3 Performance

The Nubia Red Magic 3 is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 and Adreno 640 GPU. These are both the best of the best when it comes to mobile processors. As a gaming phone, it needs to be fast and fast it is. Below are some benchmarks I ran to try to figure out just how fast it is.

Before we get into benchmarks, I want to talk about real-world performance in that I had absolutely no issues. The Nubia Red Magic 3 worked perfectly fine with little to no hiccups or hitches. Throughout the UI, it stayed at a nice constant 90fps throughout the UI. It is an all-around smooth experience.

Below are some of the most popular performance benchmarks. These might not show day-to-day performance well, but they show how well the device can theoretically perform.

In AndroBench, the Red Magic 3 did decently well. These are about the speeds we would expect from any other non-UFS 3.0 flagship device. It’s nothing to call home about, but it’s not the best we’ve seen. That crown goes to the OnePlus 7 Pro.

In AnTuTu, the Nubia Red Magic 3 is faster than 92% of devices. This is pretty good for a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 device. The Snapdragon Samsung Galaxy S10+ was around an average score of 357,162, which is around 10,000 points lower than the Red Magic 3.

In Geekbench, the Nubia Red Magic 3 performs well. It isn’t getting into the 5 figure range, but it’s still not bad. It is slightly lower than what we saw on the Galaxy S10+.

In the GFXBench tests, we can see the phone hit a good 30fps in a very graphics intensive benchmark. This is a gaming phone, so it’s important to test those scenarios where it is rendering high-quality graphics. The Red Magic 3 does seem to handle OpenGL a bit better than Vulkan, but that’s something we are seeing with a lot of modern Android phones.

In PCMark, we see some of the highest scores I’ve ever seen on an Android phone. These are consistently over 10,000 points. PCMark tests the overall system performance of a smartphone and the score is proof of the Red Magic 3’s prowess in general performance.

In Hitman Sniper we get a smooth 59fps. This was very smooth while playing. We got almost no frame drops either, with a 92% FPS stability. The phone handled this game like a breeze, using only 6.81% CPU usage average during my time playing the game. The game is likely capped at 60fps, not taking advantage of that 90Hz display.

ARK Survival Evolved is one of the more demanding mobile games I know. The phone was able to keep it at a nice 30fps with a 95% fps stability. This game is a bit more demanding than Hitman Sniper using almost 1.2GB of RAM and 12% GPU usage on average. I believe ARK is capped at 30fps, but I believe it could have easily been pushed to a nice 60fps.

The performance in PUBG surprised me a bit. I didn’t spend much time going in to optimize every setting to squeeze the most fps out of the phone. Instead, I kept default settings besides setting the resolution to HD and Frame Rate to Ultra. With these settings, the Red Magic 3 hit 40fps with 100% fps stability.

Red Magic 3 Camera Quality

There is only one way to describe the Nubia Red Magic 3 camera performance: bad. The phone uses the same Sony IMX 586 sensor as many other flagships with great cameras like the Honor 20 Pro, Xiaomi Mi 9, and OnePlus 7 Pro. The difference between the Red Magic 3 and the others comes down to camera software. The tuning on the Red Magic 3 camera results in pictures with terrible HDR and no detail when zooming or cropping.

I had a pretty limited time with the phone, so below are just a few samples of the camera. This first picture is my front yard during sunset. At first, it might look like a good picture, and while it may be “Instagram worthy,” it’s not great. While looking at the leaves of the tree there is an insane amount of HDR blooming causing a sort of outline around the tree that doesn’t match the sky.

Now, if we zoom in on some leaves, we can see how bad this picture is while cropped. We get a sort of oil paint effect on the leaves. It has absolutely no detail while cropping. Zoom has a similar effect with a sort of watercolor effect.

Red Magic 3 Zoom

As for the front-facing camera, you can guess the result will be similar. There is no detail in the picture and there’s this sort of beauty filter, even though I fully disabled the software one. It also looks as though it has some sort of blur on the lens, distorting the focus. It is as though there is a fingerprint on the camera lens. I checked multiple times just to make sure it wasn’t just me causing this.

Three pictures are hard to judge an entire phone by, but there is nothing special about this phone camera. I wouldn’t even consider it an adequate camera for a 2019 smartphone. Nubia really needs to work on their camera tuning in a future update.

The phone doesn’t have any interesting camera modes like other phones. It does have an “Electronic Aperture” mode which I couldn’t get to work. I think this is a portrait mode type mode, but I couldn’t figure it out. Taking a picture of someone didn’t enable it nor did it work while taking a picture of an object. Otherwise, there are no modes we are accustomed to in most cameras. There is no slow-mo, no portrait mode, no night mode.

The video part of this phone is interesting, at least on paper. It has one very special feature: 8K video at 15fps. For a demo, below is a 3-minute video showing off the 8K 15fps mode.

Software

The software UI on the Red Magic 3 is very AOSP-like. The default launcher is the basic Quickstep, the AOSP launcher for Android Pie. The phone, messages, contacts, and calculator apps are all also AOSP default.

The only non-Google or non-AOSP parts are the camera app and gaming features. In Settings, there are two new options: Gaming Dock Station and Multi-Color LED Strip. These are just the settings for those two features.

The Multi-Color LED Strip is right on the back like I talked about earlier. It can be used as a notification LED if your phone is flipped over. It can glow while the device is charging, change depending on the rhythm of the music, or it can glow when you get a phone call. That’s about all it does.

The more extensive software additions and changes come in the form of gaming enhancements. There is a little red switch on the top left of the phone which enables a gaming mode. This gaming mode opens a launcher which shows all the games you have installed. This allows you to edit the internal fan settings, LED strip, and block distracting messages.

In games, the gaming mode has a panel that you can swipe out to show. This panel gives you access to the fan settings, 4D shock, touch buttons, brightness, and a few other settings. It also shows the CPU temperature and battery percentage.

Red Magic 3 Gaming Experience

This phone is all about gaming. From the design to the software to the internals, Nubia designed the Red Magic 3 with gaming in mind. That’s why it has the capacitive triggers on the side of the phone, an internal fan for cooling, and a 90Hz AMOLED display. Altogether, these components make the Nubia Red Magic 3 one of the best gaming devices you can buy.

In the video linked below, I describe the experience of using the triggers in a game of Fortnite Mobile. These features make Fortnite so much more playable on mobile. There is no more four finger claw required; just hold the phone like you would a console controller. This makes the game so much easier to play and makes mobile gaming much more enjoyable compared to any other flagship phone.

The focus on gaming leads into the software as well. The gaming tools with the toggle on the side do really help. It helps in making these features something you need to manually enable compared to being automatic. The swipe over panel really helps for controlling the fans, RGB strip, and 4D shock.

The Nubia Red Magic 3 can also handle any game you throw at it. It has the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 and performs like a beast. As the benchmarks above show, it has really amazing performance across the board. Most games can easily push 60fps, as long as the frame rate isn’t capped below that.

The gaming experience does take away from the phone experience though. The phone is so big that it doesn’t fit in my pocket. A large screen might be great for gaming, but it doesn’t really work when it’s so big that you can’t bring it around. The device also gets very hot if the fans aren’t turned on. The fans can only be enabled while playing games so they become useless in any normal scenario.

Nubia also has these really cool gaming accessories for the Red Magic 3. While writing this review I did not have the accessories. TK Bay did a great video showing them off over on XDA TV, so I highly recommend watching that to learn all about how those make gaming on the phone better.

Final Thoughts

This phone is probably less of a phone and more of a gaming device. It’s lacking NFC and has mediocre speakers, but it has amazing battery life and the “gamer aesthetic.” The Nubia Red Magic 3 doesn’t feel like it’s designed to be a device for the masses, instead, it seems as though it’s designed to be a secondary device specifically for gaming.

Buying a secondary device isn’t really practical for many. That makes the $479 price tag a bit steep, as it is advertised as a full-featured flagship phone. It does not have enough of what makes modern flagships worthwhile to be paying what is very close to flagship level prices.

Nubia Red Magic 3 XDA Forums

If you are interested in purchasing this device for gaming, you can do it directly from the Red Magic store. They ship throughout most of the world, so purchasing the device in your specific region shouldn’t be a problem.

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