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Nubia Red Magic 5G review

Magic for gaming, less so for some other things

Nubia Red Magic 5G
(Image: © TechRadar)

Our Verdict

The Red Magic 5G is a top-tier gaming phone with the world’s first 144Hz refresh rate display. Only a handful of games can make the most of that tech, but the list will expand over the next year, making this phone fully future-proof. You’re also getting top-end specs at a mid-range price, but the software lets it down.

For

  • 144Hz display is ideal for gaming
  • Shoulder triggers are handy
  • Impressive battery life

Against

  • Screen isn’t the most high-res
  • OS lacks customization options
  • Software bugs

The Red Magic 5G is Nubia making a statement. The Chinese company has released a few phones under the Red Magic name without leaving a lasting impression, and 2019’s Red Magic 3 was a brilliant gaming device but mediocre for day-to-day-use. Now, less than a year later, Nubia has put out a phone with a specs sheet that might make you do a double take.

The Red Magic 5G has 5G connectivity (obviously), pairs a Snapdragon 865 chipset with an Adreno 650 graphics processor (the same pairing as used in US versions of the Samsung Galaxy S20), and is the world’s first smartphone with a 144Hz refresh rate display. And all that sets you back less than $600 / £550: basically, you get flagship specs at a relatively affordable price.

Every aspect of the Red Magic 5G has been built with gaming in mind. Along with impressive specs, the handset has an internal fan with vents on either side of the display, liquid cooling, shoulder buttons that make controlling mobile games easier, loud dual stereo speakers, and RGB lighting on the back. 

All this considered, the Red Magic 5G should add up to one of the best gaming phones on the market. But does it? And how does it fare when you’re not gaming? Let's dive in.

Price and availability

  • Available globally now
  • Starts at $579 / £539 (around AU$910)

The Red Magic 5G was made available in April 2020, and it's available in four models: the Eclipse Black and Hot Rod Red versions (colored accordingly) have 8GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, and cost $579 / £539 / AU$579 (around AU$910).

There's also a slightly higher-spec version of the Eclipse Black that has 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, which will retail for $599 / £559, and will be available globally on June 16, though North America will have to wait until June 22 to get it.

The blue and red Pulse model has 12GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage, and costs $649 / £599 / AU$649. This is the model we tested. None of the models have expandable storage.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Design

  • A flashy, chunky design aimed at gamers
  • Customizable RGB lights on the back

The Red Magic 5G is a chunky phone. It has a big, bright 6.65-inch AMOLED display and a deep body to accommodate all the internals, making it heavier than most handsets. It weighs 218g – as a comparison, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus, which has a bigger screen, weighs 186g.

But the Red Magic 5G doesn’t feel too heavy. The whole point of this phone is gaming, and when you’ve flipped it on its side to play games, you’ll want it to feel solid and substantial in the hand, which it does.

The sides of the phone are busy, with two shoulder buttons on the right-hand side alongside a power button, volume rocker, and one of the fan vents. On the left edge, you have the other fan vent, a port for a docking station, and a toggle switch for Game Space, which is Nubia’s dedicated game launcher.

On the bottom, you get one of its speakers, the SIM tray, and a USB-C charging port, while the top of the phone has a welcome headphone jack. The second speaker sits at the top of the screen.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

On the back, you have a triple camera setup, with a 64MP main camera as well as an 8MP ultra-wide shooter and a 2MP macro camera, all arranged in a vertical line. There’s also a customizable RGB lighting strip and a Red Magic icon.

You can tune the strip to just light up when gaming, but you can have it light up for notifications or when the phone is charging too. The lights are bright, and you get plenty of ways to tweak them to your tastes (or you can just leave them off).

There’s nothing sleek about the way the Red Magic 5G looks, and that’s deliberate. It leans into the flashy, gamer aesthetic, and it’s definitely a phone that people will want to talk about when you pull it out of your pocket.

Even the Eclipse Black version, the most subtle of the three, is loud compared to most phones, accented by red lines and a giant X shape on its back. Whether you like the design is a matter of taste: as we said, this isn’t the phone to pick if you want an understated device, but if you want a conversation starter, look no further.

Display

  • 6.65-inch 1080 x 2340 AMOLED screen
  • Super high 144Hz refresh rate makes everything smooth
  • Bright and vibrant

The Red Magic 5G’s most unique feature is its 144Hz refresh rate display, the first ever in a smartphone. The previous high was 120Hz, seen on phones such as the Razer Phone 2 and the OnePlus 8 Pro.

A higher refresh rate means the screen updates more often, which should lead to a smoother picture. And it works: you get wrinkle-free scrolling across the UI and silky performance in games (which we’ll cover later in this review).

(Image credit: TechRadar)

It feels as zippy as any phone we’ve used, and we never noticed any hitching or juddering while browsing the web, watching videos, or navigating menus.

The 6.65-inch AMOLED display is bright and vibrant. Dark colors are properly dark – we used it in Android’s dark mode most of the time – and colors pop, especially in 'colorful' mode, which is one of three options you can choose from (the other two are the standard DCI-P3 mode and sRGB mode).

It’s not the most detailed screen, though. Don’t expect Samsung levels of crispness: it’s a Full HD+ display with a resolution of 1080 x 2340, which works out at 387.5 pixels per inch, which is less than phones like the OnePlus 7T. If you’re a stickler for the sharpest possible image, you might be disappointed, but we never felt like pictures, text or videos lacked clarity.