Home / Android / Red Magic 3 review: Great value in a fun phone

Red Magic 3 review: Great value in a fun phone

The Red Magic 3 is the latest gaming device from Nubia. It’s an absolute beast considering the price tag, bringing several “firsts” and generally top-tier performance.

The spec sheet certainly got my attention! Just to whet your appetite, consider these few points in the context of a sub-$500 phone (prices start at $479): Snapdragon 855 chipset, 8-12GB of RAM, 5,000mAh battery, the first ever 8K video recording, a built-in fan, 90Hz refresh rate, 6.65 inches of screen real estate, hardware buttons, and a dedicated gaming launcher.

First ever 8K video recording, built-in fan, 90Hz refresh rate

That’s crazy value, and numerous other features make the Red Magic 3 an even more appealing proposition for gamers. Does it compete with the Black Shark 2? Is it a practical device for everyone else? What exactly is the point of all this power?

Red Magic 3 Logo Splashscreen

I’ll attempt to answer all those questions and more in this comprehensive Red Magic 3 review.

About our Red Magic 3 review: This review was written after testing the device for one week. The handset was unlocked and was tested on O2’s network in the UK. The Red Magic 3 review unit was supplied by Nubia.

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The big picture

Red Magic is a slightly less-known gaming brand from Nubia, a Chinese OEM that itself started as a subsidiary of ZTE.

Red Magic Logo

With more and more manufacturers taking a stab at this kind of device — Xiaomi, Honor, Asus, Razer, and more — Nubia has its work cut out for. Thankfully, it’s managed to do this fairly well, thanks to generally impressive performance, a striking design, and shoulder buttons. I reviewed the Red Magic Mars and it managed some impressive horsepower beyond its peers, including the significantly more expensive Razer 2.

Razer Phone 2 review

Gaming phones are definitely a niche, but it’s one manufacturers seem determined to grow. And with this latest entry, Nubia might just be able to generate some buzz outside of the small cohort of Android gamers.

What’s in the box?

  • Charger
  • Phone
  • Instruction manual

Red Magic 3 With Box

For such an over-the-top phone, the Red Magic 3 doesn’t come with any surprises. There’s nothing in the box you wouldn’t expect, and it’s a shame not to see some wired headphones or similar. Still, given the generally amazing value on offer here, it’s fair enough. The presentation is actually really good, too.

Design

  • 171.7 x 78.5 x 9.7mm, 215g
  • Metal build
  • RGB LED Strip
  • Shoulder buttons
  • Built-in cooling fan
  • Dedicated game mode switch

Nothing about the Red Magic 3’s design is boring. This is an extremely “gamer-fied” design, so you’re probably either going to love it or hate it.

Red Magic 3 Gamer Aesthetic

It feels well-made, with a hefty weight, thanks partly to the size and partly to the aluminum construction with matte finish. The screen is huge too, with slim side bezels and an 80.5 percent screen-to-body ratio. That’s not a crazy figure, but gaming phones can actually benefit from having a little border to hold onto.

Red Magic Mars review

As with previous Red Magic devices, the Red Magic 3 has a triangular back panel that tapers to a point, where you’ll also find the RGB LED strip. The strip can pull off all kinds of neat effects controlled in the settings, though it isn’t particularly bright during the day.

The Red Magic 3 is one huge piece of phone and a very noticeable pocket-bulger. It also rocks wildly when placed flat on a table, and may be prone to slipping off things.

However, this isn’t a case of form over function. The design here accommodates the serious cooling going on inside. For the first time on a Nubia phone we have a physical fan, making the large, presumably empty space a very logical choice. That also means it’s easy to get a good grip on it while gaming.

Red Magic 3 Cooling

Also around the back is the gem-shaped fingerprint sensor, diamond-shaped camera lens, a bulky vent, the Red Magic logo (evocative of Ferrari or MSI), and tons of color accents. On the sides are the shoulder buttons, a switch for entering Game Space, and a pin connector.

Perhaps the most notable thing here is the inclusion of the capacitive “shoulder triggers.” I tried these triggers on the Red Magic Mars and found them totally underwhelming, being far too flush with the device to find while gaming. I’m very happy to report they are now slightly recessed into the side of the Red Magic 3, which significantly improves usability.

Thanks to very smart software implementation, the buttons are also surprisingly useful. You can map literally any point on the screen to the shoulder buttons in seconds, and save the settings on a per-game basis. Games like Metroid Prime or Mario Sunshine on Dolphin go from being exercises in frustration to actually quite playable with those accessible triggers. However, they can still be a little tricky to reach, and they don’t quite sit comfortably under my fingers.

Emulation on Red Magic 3

The large connector for peripherals sits on the other side of the phone. It isn’t the most attractive thing, but is certainly intriguing. Right now, you can get an “esports” dock that provides charging and extra ports — probably useful for playing with a controller. The software also hints of an upcoming “Red Magic Handle” which appears to be a Switch-style extension to provide more physical buttons. That is very interesting.

The fingerprint sensor works just as you expect it to — it’s very quick, though the shape feels weird. Of course, you do miss out on the likes of water resistance and wireless charging, but these are sensible omissions to keep the device so affordable. What stings a little more is the lack of NFC.

There’s a lot going on in the design department, but there’s a good reason for mostly everything here. Whether or not you like it very much depends on how you feel about the “gaming” aesthetic generally. The Red Magic 3 certainly has a somewhat aggressive, futuristic appeal for the right audience.

Red Magic Pin Connector

The Red Magic 3 comes in a black, red, or camo color scheme. The black version is arguably the least ostentatious, though that’s not saying much.

Display

  • 2,340 x 1,080
  • 90Hz refresh rate

The display is one of the most important aspects of a gaming phone, and thankfully the Red Magic 3 doesn’t disappoint.

Red Magic 3 Display

For starters, the screen is gigantic at 6.65 inches. I would’ve preferred to see a less reflective panel on a gaming phone, but the screen gets really bright, which makes up for it somewhat.

Then there’s the 90Hz refresh rate, which is below the Razer’s 120Hz refresh rate and equal to the OnePlus 7 Pro, but above nearly every other device. Only a smattering of games actually support this feature, so your use will be somewhat limited. Still, it’s great to have, and looks amazing when it works. You might find yourself seeking out the games where it does work! The panel is also very sensitive with a 240Hz touch response rate, which makes everything feel silky smooth, including the UI.

In short, when you combine all these features, the result is a really beautiful, colorful, and massive image that makes games and media pop. The huge size will be off-putting for some, but for me it’s a big selling point. Screens like this aren’t just good for gaming and media, but also for productivity tasks. Typing is  easier, and multitasking is also more useful. If you reduce the display size in the settings, you can cram a ton of information onto the screen.

Red Magic Homescreen

If I had to make a complaint, it’s that the rounded edges at the top actually cut off a tiny bit of the UI, which looks awkward.

Performance

  • Snapdragon 855
  • Adreno 640
  • 128/256GB storage
  • 8/12GB RAM
  • Active liquid-cooling
  • Internal cooling fan

Seeing a Snapdragon 855 in a device under $500 is remarkable this early in the chip’s lifecycle (though not unheard of). And what a performer that Snapdragon 855 is. I had the privilege of using it recently in the Xiaomi Mi 9, and that device made incredibly short work of GameCube emulation through Dolphin – even Wii emulation! That was in a very slim device that was not primarily built for gaming.

In the Red Magic 3, it’s now backed by 8-12GB of RAM, liquid cooling, and impressively, a physical fan. In theory, that means we should be looking at some insane performance.

Red Magic 3 Fan

The Red Magic 3 is the first actively cooled smartphone, which means it uses a fan, rather than a static element like a heat sink. The result should be more stable framerates long into gaming sessions, and a lack of heat while playing.

The phone does seem to run pretty cool. Pushing the device with an emulator seemingly doesn’t add much extra heat, certainly not enough to feel. This may be helped by the physical space between the back panel and the internals.

You can easily check the temperatures at any point while playing. I was playing Wipeout Pure on PPSSPP with the fan off, and the internals were at 32.1C. That said, switching on the fan doesn’t seem to drastically lower the temperature. You can hear it whirring away though, which is kind of cute. At first, I thought the vibration engine had gone mad!

Red Magic 3 Game Settings

Like a proper gaming PC, Nubia also lets you tweak your performance profile at any point while playing, switching between Auto, Super performance, Performance Priority and other modes. Again though, I didn’t really notice a difference between them.

For all of those features and options, the Red Magic 3’s performance doesn’t seem markedly superior to the Xiaomi Mi 9, which perhaps was even slightly smoother when playing Wii games. Indeed, AnTuTu scores are actually slightly higher on the Xiaomi Mi 9, even with Red Magic 3’s fan going and performance mode switched on.

Red Magic 3 Antutu

The reason behind this is a mystery to me. I have had good experiences with Red Magic phones boosting performance – the Red Magic Mars, for instance, significantly outperformed a number of other Snapdragon 845 devices I tested.

Red Magic 3 PUBG

The other disappointment is the lack of expandable storage. While 128-256GB gives you plenty of room to play with, it wouldn’t have hurt for a device built for media consumption to let users top that up.

Regardless, you won’t be left wanting when it comes to performance, and benchmark scores cement the Red Magic 3 as among the most powerful phones out there. I’m sure you can eek even more power out of it with some tinkering, too.

Camera

  • 48MP rear camera
  • f/1.79 aperture
  • 8K video capture
  • 16MP front-facing camera

When I got the Red Magic 3 out the box and spotted the single camera lens on the back, I assumed it would be the same old story when it came to gaming phone shooters. Wrongly, I assumed no thought or effort had gone into the camera, so more resources could be directed elsewhere.

Red Magic 3 Camera

The Pixel has a single lens, and that’s widely considered to be the best camera on the market. The Red Magic 3’s camera isn’t as good as the Pixel, but it’s not a complete no-show either. It’s actually sporting a 48MP Sony IMX586 sensor. I recently got to try this out in the Realme X and Xiaomi Mi 9, and was very impressed.

Red Magic Camera Shot of Trees

Images are sharp. You can zoom right in without losing any quality, and there’s a nice contrast and drama to the shots. The fairly wide angle and wide aperture were good additions here — the latter makes it possible to pull off some nice depth-of-field effects even without a depth sensor. The large megapixel count means you can zoom in close and achieve this from a distance without too much data loss, though you’ll need to know what you’re doing.

There’s also a pro mode, as is becoming increasingly standard.

Red Magic Camera Sample Flower

However, the Red Magic 3’s camera doesn’t perform as well as other phones, likely due in part to the lack of secondary sensor and the software. I had some occasional trouble with exposure and auto focus. A few shots looked better in the viewfinder than when they were processed, which was a shame.

The camera UI isn’t particularly intuitive, and finding what you’re looking for can be tricky. That said, if you dig deep, there are some fun features hidden away. Light Draw is basically a long exposure that also records a short video. I always loved this feature on Honor and Huawei phones, so it’s great to see it here. The Multi Exposure effects are also a nice touch, letting you layer images to achieve some artsy results.

The real standout camera feature is support for 8K video recording, which is another industry-first. It’s in beta right now, and the camera app advises you use it outdoors, but it’s there. I don’t actually have any display capable of showing 8K in all its glory, but output doesn’t look particularly rich in detail, and the framerate is low.

I wouldn’t recommend buying the Red Magic 3 for 8K video unless you have some specific use case. In a phone that already does so much, it’s just another neat bragging point.

Red Magic 3 Upshot

There’s a super-slow motion setting available too, which is always fun to play with and which works well in this case. Features like this help to make up for what’s missing, such as the depth sensor or any kind of night mode.

Low-light performance is not great here – again we see the strange phenomenon where the preview looks far better than the final result. With the wider aperture and great sensor, I was expecting more. Perhaps in a future update.

The camera isn’t the best out there by any stretch, but it is at least in the conversation at this price point

The front camera is far less interesting, though perfectly serviceable. It’s a 16MP shooter that doesn’t have a portrait mode, but otherwise produces nicely detailed images. Exposure is again an issue on occasion. Also, remember to turn off the beauty mode, which is on by default — it does weird stuff to babies! However, even with the beauty mode turned off, it still seems to be smoothing out my wrinkles.

Red Magic 3 selfie

Apparently beauty mode is off!

To summarize, the Red Magic 3’s camera isn’t the best out there by any stretch, but it is at least in the conversation at this price point. This isn’t a complete afterthought, and that’s impressive enough on its own.

Software

  • Near-stock Android 9.0
  • Dedicated “Game Space”

For all the bombast and excess present in the hardware, the Red Magic 3’s software is a surprisingly restrained affair – which I can only say is a good thing. The experience is fairly close to stock, with the changes and software that are here being welcome for the most part.

I particularly like the inclusion of the “Game Space,” which is accessible via a switch on the side of the device. This basically puts you into a launcher built especially for games. It will turn off distracting notifications (should you wish), and provide you with quick and easy access to your games, as well as controls for features like the cooling fan.

Red Magic 3 Performance Mode

Games will be populated automatically, and for the most part the Red Magic gets this right. That said, you can also add them individually if you wish.

I really like how easy Game Space makes it to access your favorite games.  It almost has a psychological impact on how you approach gaming on Android. The fact that the gaming mode is linked to a physical button makes you feel that much more inclined to take a bit of time out of your busy schedule, and pick a game. I’d love to see more features in here in the future — maybe the number of hours played on each game, or perhaps a social aspect.

During gameplay in this mode, you can swipe from the right at any time to access settings while gaming. There’s a lot of useful stuff in here, including quick access to the performance profile, settings for the shoulder triggers, a standby mode, and more. It’s good stuff and makes this more appealing as a gaming phone.

Red Magic 3 Games Launcher

However, there are one or two typos in the software, as well as mistranslations. When I switch to standby mode, the text is in Chinese. I am also intrigued to know precisely what “Qualitu priority” can offer me, for instance. These aren’t deal-breaking issues by any stretch, but they take the sheen off ever-so-slightly and may irk those with tendencies towards OCD.

I’d also be remiss not to mention that, once or twice, an app would quit randomly on me, which certainly wasn’t due to the RAM. These instances were rare and minor however, and hopefully they can be ironed out in future updates.

Battery

Like everything else on the hardware front, Nubia has gone all-in on the battery. 5,000mAh is significantly larger than most flagships, and of course a huge boon for any avid gamer. I’ve had absolutely no problem with battery life, managing to squeeze in extensive gaming sessions and plenty of YouTube viewing before running out of juice. The standby time is also phenomenal. If this is your secondary device, you can leave it alone for days and still find it with plenty left in the tank.

Red Magic 3 USB-C

It falls just slightly short of its full potential perhaps. Getting two full days of average-heavy use use out of the Red Magic 3 is a stretch, likely due to the massive screen and refresh rate. Unlike the Razer 2 or OnePlus 7 Pro, I can’t find any way to reduce the refresh rate when it’s not in use. Still, it’s reaching 9 hours of screen-on as an average, which really is up there with some of the best.

Also rounding out the package is a very welcome 27W fast charger, so you can fill the battery back up in just over an hour.

Audio

  • Dual front-facing speakers
  • Headphone jack
  • 4D intelligent vibration

With crazy visuals and performance, Nubia is wise not to drop the ball with audio. Thankfully, the two things any audiophile looks for on a smartphone are present and correct: dual front-firing speakers and a headphone jack.

Red Magic 3 Headphone Jack

These speakers are a little on the slim side, meaning you won’t necessarily get the same kind of performance as the Razer 2. I personally feel it could do with just a little more bass, but it’s still extremely good. The stereo separation could help you to better orient yourself in a firefight, and can also make a big difference when watching Netflix as well. That said, who watches Netflix on a smartphone without headphones?

“4D intelligent vibration” completes the package, making sure you feel more immersed in the gameplay and what’s going on around you. This is a feature we’ve seen in a few gaming handsets, but not one that has particularly caught on. Games have to actively support the feature, and right now the only ones that do are PUBG, Knives Out, Asphalt 9, and QQ Speed.

The stereo separation could help you to better orient yourself in a firefight

It’s nice to have nonetheless, and the haptic feedback when typing or receiving notifications is actually very pleasant. This is a small quality-of-life thing, which I personally appreciate.

Red Magic 3 specs

Chipset Snapdragon 855
Adreno 640
RAM 8-12GB
Storage 128-256GB
Non-expandable
Display 6.65 inch AMOLED
2,340×1,080
90Hz refresh rate
Unspecified Gorilla Glass
Rear Camera 48MP
F/1.79 aperture
Sony IMX586 sensor
8K video capture (beta)
Front camera 16MP
Software Android 9.0
Game Space mode
Battery 5,000mAh
27W fast charger
Audio Dual front-firing speakers

Value for money

  • Red Magic 3 8GB RAM/128GB storage – Black – $479/479 euros
  • Red Magic 3 12GB RAM /256GB storage – Camo – TBA

Almost inarguably, the Red Magic 3 is extremely good value for money at $479 or 479 euros. I was impressed to find a Snapdragon 855 in a device this affordable, but to also find a 48MP camera, a built-in fan, up to 12GB of RAM, and shoulder buttons? That puts the Red Magic 3 firmly into “crazy value” territory (it’s a magical place filled with Pocophones and Kindle Fires).

Of course, there is some competition out there. In particular, the Xiaomi Black Shark 2 comes in at roughly 450 euros or $479 (though prices vary greatly) and offers the same Snapdragon 855 — and more crazy gamer aesthetics. However, for all its value, the Red Magic 3 definitely edges it out. For a very similar price, you’re getting physical buttons, a bigger screen, a bigger battery, fan and liquid cooling, and that 48MP camera sensor.

Emulators for Android guide: Can your phone handle these consoles?

Compared to the likes of the Asus ROG or the Razer 2, the Red Magic 3 is leagues ahead. They’re last-gen phones, but even at the time of this writing, they charged much more for then-equivalent specs.

In fact, if Nubia made a non-gaming version of this phone and kept these same specs — perhaps swapping in a secondary lens in exchange for the fan cooling — it could have huge popular appeal.

Red Magic 3 review: The verdict

To conclude, the Red Magic 3 is a brilliant gaming phone and represents amazing value. It impressed me enough that I told my wife about it (my wife who doesn’t care at all about phones; she was bored).

It’s not perfect. The lack of NFC will hurt for many, the single lens lets down an otherwise impressive camera, there is the occasional lack of polish in the UI, and performance — while amazing — is not significantly better than other devices with similar specs. The looks will certainly be unappealing for certain users and the size alone is going to be a deal breaker in some cases.

Red Magic 3 Gaming

Taken as a whole, the Red Magic 3 is a great package and a fun phone. Gamers will get a kick out of it, which is what really matters at the end of the day. It’s not for everyone, but it’s sure to find an audience. And that audience is likely to be very pleased indeed with the Red Magic 3.

That concludes our Red Magic 3 review. Let us know your thoughts on this phone!


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