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Nubia Red Magic 5G review

Magic for gaming, less so for some other things

Nubia Red Magic 5G
(Image: © TechRadar)

Gaming

  • 144Hz screen and shoulder buttons are both handy
  • Not many games support 144Hz yet
  • Dedicated 'Game Space' for launching and tweaking games

As you’d expect with its powerful hardware, the Red Magic 5G can handle any game you throw at it on the highest possible settings. We spent most of our time playing PUBG, Real Racing 3 and Fortnite with the graphics turned all the way up, and we never met any slowdown or juddering.

The 144Hz display makes a difference. It’s not life-changing, but the games that support it feel as smooth as anything you’ll experience on your mobile phone. The catch is that, at the time of writing, only four games support 144Hz: Real Racing 3, Dead Trigger 2, Full Force and Vain Glory. But that list is bound to expand over the next few years, meaning you’ll be future-proofed for the entire life of the handset.

Even for the games that don’t support 144Hz, the display – which automatically switches between 144Hz and 90Hz, or can be set to run at 60Hz to save battery – will make the most of them. It matches refresh rate to a game’s frame rate to avoid any stuttering.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

The Red Magic 5G has plenty of other ways to improve your gaming hours too, starting with the shoulder buttons. When you turn your phone on its side, they sit at the top left and top right edges of the device, accessible with your index fingers.

You can map them to mimic any touch button on the screen: for example, in PUBG we mapped the right trigger over the shoot button, and the left trigger over the aim down sights button. It’s intuitive to set up, and being able to fire weapons with those triggers is so much easier than tapping your screen. It noticeably improved our in-game score.

The shoulder buttons are responsive, and you can switch between three levels of sensitivity if you’re having trouble (we found the default to be the sweet spot). The one issue we had with them was that the headphone jack gets in the way of the left trigger. When we had headphones plugged in, we had to hold the phone in a way that didn’t feel natural, which is hardly ideal for longer sessions.

The Red Magic 5G also supports '4D Shock' in PUBG, Fortnite and Call of Duty: Mobile, which basically means it will vibrate in time with in-game actions, such as firing a gun. You can turn it off if you want, but we enjoyed having that feedback, and found it helped us stay focused on the action.

You access all games on the Red Magic 5G through a launcher called Game Space, which you turn on with a physical toggle on the side of the phone.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

In-game, you can swipe from the right-hand side of the screen to change all your settings, mute notifications, change the screen refresh rate, turn on 4D Shock, and switch between different CPU and GPU settings. You can force the CPU or GPU into turbo modes, but we were happy to let the phone handle it for us in the 'auto mode'.

We don’t love Game Space’s interface, which feels dated and overly flashy, but it is at least clearly laid out, and everything works. We enjoyed having all our games accessible at the flick of a switch, and the in-game swipe menu gives you plenty of options to fiddle with. It really makes it feel like this is a phone made for gaming.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Lastly, we have the fan and liquid cooling combination, designed to take heat away from your phone as quickly as possible. If you’re a heavy gamer, you might have noticed your phone gets hot when you’re gaming, to the point where it can be painful to hold it, especially on the back around the camera lens. That’s not an issue, here.

The phone still heats up, and the back gets warm, but it’s never uncomfortable. The fan is loud, but not so loud that it’s annoying, thanks in no small part to the dual stereo speakers.

They don’t produce the cleanest sound (as always, we’d recommend headphones or an external speaker for music), but they are impressively loud. At max volume, they were uncomfortably loud for in-game explosions, so we ended up playing at two-thirds volume, which was more than enough.

Overall, the Red Magic 5G feels like a top-tier gaming phone, with rapid performance matched by its world’s-first display. As more games begin to support 144Hz, the argument for buying this will grow stronger for gaming enthusiasts.

Software and OS

  • Buggy software
  • Lacks customization options

While the Red Magic 5G is a treat to use in games, its OS unfortunately lets it down when you’re not playing. It runs RedMagic OS 3.0, based on Android 10. It’s a relatively stock setup, and if you swipe left from the home screen you’ll reach your Google Now feed, just like with Google’s own launcher.

But it takes its minimalism a bit too far. It’s missing some basic features and settings that on their own seem minor, but add up to be disappointing.

For example, there’s currently no way to show battery percentage as a number alongside the battery icon on your notification bar, so the only way to see exactly how much juice you have left is to tap through various menus (Nubia says it plans to fix this in an upcoming update).

There’s no way to change the display refresh rate from your notification bar, either: you can only do that in Game Space. You can’t even set the notification bar to show at all times, which is how we usually set our phones up. The lack of customization can be summed up by trying to tinker with 'launcher settings', where you’ll only find two things you can change. It’s far behind phones like the OnePlus 8, which is comparable in price, in this regard.

(Image credit: TechRadar)

We also found regular bugs and glitches with the software. Something as simple as adding apps to the home screen was a struggle. The phone kept insisting a shortcut already existed on our home screen when it didn’t. Restarting fixed it, but the problem returned five minutes later.

We also couldn’t add apps to folders from the app drawer, and when we tried to add apps from inside the folders themselves using the 'add application' option, only certain apps showed up. Long pressing on the home screen brings up an indecipherable 'arrange icons' menu, which gives you the instruction: “Click icon,put oneditpanel” (typos and all). It’s simply not pleasant to use.

The software version we had when first received the phone was essentially broken because we couldn’t open the Google Play Store, making downloading apps and games impossible.

This was fixed by an OS update, and some of the issues described above could also be fixed down the line. But what we’ve seen so far doesn’t inspire confidence. The software is simply not as good as the hardware it’s running on.

5G performance

  • 5G is supported but not widespread

It’s well worth noting that the Red Magic 5G supports 5G networks, which will be a selling point for some, and which further future-proofs the device. Exact speeds and availability of 5G will of course vary based on your area though, so make sure you check your area's 5G coverage before committing.