A phone that gets gaming right is likely to be a good phone otherwise, too. Intelligent design, powerful processing, detailed graphics, sharp display, lasting battery and good audio are just some of the gaming essentials — features that smartphone enthusiasts enjoy across usage patterns.
Nubia's Red Magic is one of the few phones available in India with a gaming DNA. ASUS ROG phone is the other. But how does a gaming phone make for an exclusive purchase when so many other phones can match up to its specifications? It's simple: a gaming phone ought to be better at the essentials.
It all, of course, starts with the design, which means colours, accents and dimensions that make a phone stand out. The Nubia Red Magic is perfectly rectangular, without a droopy notch that sometimes feels like a blot on the screen during play. The thick borders around the screen are old-fashioned and almost practical. Most of the gaming has the phone tilted in landscape mode and edges mean your thumbs won't block the screen. But I still feel the top and the bottom borders are just a little too thick.
The Red Magic is bare black on the front with just a “Game Boost” slider button in red on top right. The feature concentrates the processor’s core strength on one game. The phone is comfortable to hold and its 6-inch screen is ideal for all things gaming.
The back, though, is more palpably gaming. The black metal is finished in matte and, unlike phones with glass designs, it does not get smudged easily. The single camera is hexagonal, so is the LED flash above it and the tallish fingerprint sensor below it. The design feels nice and consistent throughout.
Adding more gaming character to the design are its four vents on the back, one close to each corner — diagonal in shape and, again, red in colour. Three are for cooling and the one at bottom left is the speaker, which is smart placement for a gaming phone because you are less likely to muffle the sound while holding the phone in landscape mode. Most phones have it on the top or the bottom grill and they get easily covered by the index fingers.
Let’s talk about Red Magic’s most prominent and heavily publicised gaming feature, which is its long and thin, glowing LED strip at the back. The effects it can conjure up are Rainbow Ribbon, Laserwave and Skyline — different for notifications, calls and gaming. You can change the effects but not customise the colours. They are quite dapper nonetheless.
The overall crystal design form has a gaming feel to it, but the black and red dual colour tone is more clichéd gaming. The LED strip on the back is the kind of show off that mobile gamers in India — thanks to games like PUBG — are now moving towards. It's not a phone for people with a subtler palate.
This is what serious gamers care the most about. Red Magic’s SoC, the Snapdragon 835, may not be the latest of the lot, but it is sufficiently capable of delivering high-intensity gaming. Apart from the usual suspects – PUBG, Asphalt 9 Legends and Fortnite – I tried games like Real Cricket, Virtua Tennis and Pro Evolution Soccer 2019, often switching between two games. I found the Red Magic to be undeterred. It did heat a bit after an hour of gaming with other apps running in the background but the phone fared better than most flagships in this department. The “Game Boost” did not make a lot of difference in performance. It did, however, block the notifications from popping up in the middle of a game.
The 6-inch full HD+ IPS LCD display with an 18:9 aspect ratio threw sharp images (1080 pixels by 2160 pixels). I played all the games at the best graphics settings and experienced almost no lags (one in a hundred is more like a technical glitch).
The display is great for gaming, but I felt it was too bright even at the minimum brightness in a dark environment, especially when you were reading. Switching on the night mode becomes necessary.
Red Magic’s 3,800 mAh battery is godsend. It delivered four hours of continuous play on PUBG without breaking a sweat, and otherwise lasted for a good day and a half (36 hours) on moderate to heavy use, which included calls, social media, productivity apps, streaming on Netflix, news apps and an hour of gaming.
The phone feels almost like a flagship until you use the camera. The single 24-megapixel rear camera comes with no AI processing, which means the quality suffers in low light. The daytime shots are, at best, average. A lot of gamers are also tech enthusiasts who would mind the lack of a wide angle lens.
Nubia Red Magic fits the bill of a gaming phone, which, like I said, makes for a great phone otherwise, too. But It lacks nuance in design and software upgrade (the Kika keyboard for Emojis and GIFs has to go).
Red Magic is a phone with a powerful processer, great battery life and good display, but misses the flagship mark because of an outdated camera. At Rs 29,990 for the variant with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage, it is better than the Poco F1 (Rs 19,999) in build quality, but similar in performance and battery life. ASUS ROG is an upgrade to both but is much costlier. Buy the Red Magic for its price, gaming performance and battery, and if you would like to bedazzle people with its unique LED back.