Expert Rating
3.5/5
Design
★★★★★
★★★★★
Display
★★★★★
★★★★★
Software
★★★★★
★★★★★
Camera
★★★★★
★★★★★
Performance
★★★★★
★★★★★
Battery
★★★★★
★★★★★
Pros
  • Gamer-y design
  • Great performance
  • Excellent battery life
Cons
  • Bulky
  • Cameras not up to the mark

“Our take on the latest gaming smartphone to hit the subcontinent – the nubia Red Magic 3”

Here’s a fun fact – gaming smartphones aren’t a new thing and the concept dates as far back as the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, a slider phone with a dedicated D-pad and numerous hardware buttons. Since then, games have gotten more demanding and resource hungry, and the mobile gaming genre has risen in terms of popularity as well. Consequently, we’re seeing a reincarnation of sorts for gaming phones and the nubia Red Magic 3 is the latest entrant in the segment.

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But, what separates the Red Magic 3 from devices like the OnePlus 7 or the ASUS 6Z, which ship with the same innards? More importantly, why should one splurge more for the same performance on nubia’s offering? To find out, I put my SIM in the Red Magic 3 and after a week of testing, here’s why I feel that gaming smartphones, in their current state, might not be the right fit for most buyers.

Specs at a glance

Design and Display

I’ll cut straight to the chase here – if you are a hardcore gamer, and you want it to be known with the phone you carry in your pockets, then you should seriously consider picking up the Red Magic 3. You see, amidst the herd of flat, all-glass flagships, the Red Magic 3 stands out with its full metal chassis and edgy design. Be it the hexagonal-shaped fingerprint sensor, the aggressive red accents or the camera module, which looks like a diamond straight out of Dangerous Dave, the design of the nubia Red Magic 3 is as unique as it gets.

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What’s more, nubia has actually paid heed to gamers needs and has outfitted the Red Magic 3 with a built-in cooling fan. That’s right, the Red Magic 3 is the first smartphone in the world to feature a full-fledged fan which works in conjunction with a liquid cooling mechanism to keep the smartphone’s innards nice and frosty. Now, since I was usually gaming in an air-conditioned room, I didn’t notice any difference in temperature on the nubia Red Magic 3 versus other top-tier flagships. But, I’m guessing that the feature could come in handy in warmer environs.

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Now, what good is a gaming phone if it doesn’t come with RGB, amirite? To that extent, those opting for the Red Magic 3 will get an RGB strip towards the back of the device which can be controlled from within the settings to exhibit cool effects. While not as useful, the strip does enhance the overall aesthetics of the phone.

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Perhaps the feature which would appeal to most gamers is the presence of capacitive shoulder buttons on the Red Magic 3’s frame. So, if you’ve ever gamed on a console (such as a PS4), you must’ve acclimated yourself to the L2 and R2 shoulder buttons to shoot and aim in an FPS title. Well, now you can get the same experience on the nubia Red Magic 3 as well, as the phone’s software allows you to map almost any touch input onto the capacitive buttons.

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I found this particularly helpful in popular battle royale title PUBG, wherein I remapped the firing action to the triggers and made the on-screen icons for the same transparent. Consequently, not only could I fire more comfortably, but I also had a much better view of my in-game surroundings as there were two less buttons on the screen clouding my view. Furthermore, the handset ships with a 4D Shock Mode which adds vibration feedback on select titles like PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9, thereby making a user’s gaming experience that much more immersive.

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I’d also like to add that unlike the BlackShark 2 gaming smartphone which was launched recently, the nubia Red Magic 3 ships with a headphone jack. Consequently, you won’t have to choose between charging the phone or using your headphones on the Red Magic 3. The phone also comes with dual-front firing speakers which get audaciously loud, and a magnetic connector which will let you attach cool accessories like a dock to the phone. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sent the dock along with the phone and therefore, couldn’t test it during my time with the Red Magic 3.

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As I preface previously, the Red Magic 3 ships with a capacitive fingerprint sensor for security. And, as quirky as the design of the unit is, it fared well during my testing. You also get the option to unlock the device by means of face recognition, which worked well during the day albeit the mechanism acted finicky at night.

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With all the design features out of the way, it’s finally time to talk about the handset’s display. Now, the Red Magic 3 is only the second phone in the country outside the OnePlus 7 Pro (review) to feature a 90Hz display. While the panel isn’t as high-res as the one on OnePlus’ flagship offering, I was more than okay with the quality of the screen, which is backed by AMOLED technology and maxes out at a full HD+ resolution. What’s more, all the movie buffs in the audience should know that the display comes with support for Mobile HDR platform as well and therefore, you can make the most out of select TV series like Marvel’s Daredevil on the device.

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Now, I know most of you must be twitching in your seat to know if the panel’s high refresh rate has any real-world benefits when it comes to gaming. The short answer is no. You see, for a game to actually make use of the Red Magic 3’s high-res display, it must run at 90fps or more. As it stands, there are only a handful of Android games which fit the bill, so it’d be best keep your expectations in check.

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On the flip side, using the smartphone on a day-to-day basis is an absolute treat. Be it surfing through webpages, or scrolling through my endless Twitter feed, I enjoyed the phone’s crisp UI animations. Interestingly enough, unlike OnePlus, nubia doesn’t give buyers the option to change the display’s refresh rate. Therefore, you won’t be able to conserve the battery by lowering the refresh rate to 60Hz. Thankfully, the handset ships with a beefy cell which I’ll talk more about in the subsequent subheads.

Performance, Software and Battery life

Going by the Red Magic 3’s specs, it should come as little surprise that the smartphone can run pretty much anything you throw at it with ease. The device is backed by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855 processor which works alongside either 8GB or 12GB of RAM. Correspondingly, buyers will get either 128GB or 256GB of built-in, non-expandable storage. Now, as always, if you’re okay with 128GB of storage, then just buy the 8 gig model as the performance delta between the 8GB RAM variant and the 12GB model is marginal.

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Having spent a good number of days with the phone in my pocket, I can confirm that it is quite the performance champ. Be it running PUBG Mobile at the highest graphics preset, or juggling between a dozen apps simultaneously, I couldn’t push the smartphone to its limits. What’s more, since the device ships with a near-stock skin of Android, the smartphone’s UI seldom sucked away crucial system resources required to keep the phone fast and slick.

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And, on the off chance you need a bit more grunt under the hood, you can toggle the game space feature by pushing the compete button upwards. The feature lets you switch to a ‘Super Performance mode’ which should give you better frame rates whilst gaming. Now, I never felt the need to actually use the feature, as the Red Magic 3 was plenty fast for my usage but it’s still good to have the option onboard.

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Now, as I mentioned earlier, the Red Magic 3 runs a near-stock version of Android Pie. The UI ships with no frills and offers a clean experience to the end user. That being said, I didn’t quite fancy the icons on the skin and therefore, switched to Nova Launcher the second I got the phone. Moreover, for some reason, clearing all the apps in memory requires you to scroll all the way to the left in the multitasking tray, which is something I wasn’t a huge fan of. Other than that, the handset allows you to use picture-in-picture mode but as of writing this review, the feature was only compatible with popular messaging service, WhatsApp.

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Coming to the battery life, the Red Magic 3 is fuelled by a beefy 5,000mAh cell which comfortably saw me through the end of a heavy workday. There’s very little to add here, and rest assured, the phone will keep you away from a wall charger longer than most of the competition. 

Cameras

The Red Magic 3 ships with a single 48MP, Sony IMX 586 sensor with an f/1.7 aperture on the rear. For selfies, the handset features a 16MP front camera with an f/2.0 aperture. While the handset doesn’t feature multiple lenses with varying focal lengths towards the back, the device does offer support for 8K video recording, which is a first for the industry.

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Unfortunately, as good as the specs are on paper, the handset failed to deliver when it mattered most. Now, don’t get me wrong, the cameras on the Red Magic 3 are more than serviceable, but they fail to impress amidst offerings from OnePlus and ASUS. With the HDR mode enabled, the device clicked good pictures when it was bright outside. However, upon zooming in, the details seemed lacking. In a similar fashion, while the smartphone metered exposure in tricky shots correctly, I was disappointed with the sensor’s slow focus speed, especially when I was clicking macros.

Furthermore, while I was glad I could easily switch and click images in full 48MP resolution, the results from the 12MP samples looked better to my eyes, as the phone couldn’t use features like HDR with the image output set to the highest resolution. In lowlight scenarios, the Red Magic 3 struggled to compose a shot with good details and despite tweaking the exposure manually, most if not all the shots still had lens flaring issues in them. I also missed having features like a portrait mode on the device and all in all, the rear camera on the Red Magic 3 leaves a lot to be desired.

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The smartphone’s 16MP front camera also didn’t do as good a job as I was hoping it to. The selfies I clicked with the device were a tad bit too soft for my liking, and that’s with the pretty mode turned off. At night, the smartphone struggled to output a decent, shareworthy photograph.

Verdict

The nubia Red Magic 3 starts at Rs 35,999 for the base model with 8GB of RAM, and you’ll have to shell out Rs 46,999 for the 12GB RAM variant. And therein lies the conundrum. You see, gaming phones or not, devices like the OnePlus 7 (review) and the ASUS 6Z (review) can run the same games as the Red Magic 3, while costing less. What’s more, both the 6Z as well as the OnePlus 7 offer superior cameras as well.

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As a result, the Red Magic 3, or any other gaming phone for that matter, does seem like a bit of a tough sell. The problem has little to do with the category itself, and more to do with differentiated content for gaming devices in general. I would be more compelled to buy the Red Magic 3 if I could actually make use of the handset’s 90Hz display in more than just a dozen or so games. Moreover, for all intents and purposes, those opting for the Red Magic 3 won’t just play games on it and therefore, it was crucial for the device to offer good cameras as well.

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Therefore, so long as you need a practical daily driver with the latest SoC, I’d reckon you save some bucks and opt for the OnePlus 7 or the ASUS 6Z. However, if you’re all about making a statement and want a phone that screams ‘gamer’, the nubia Red Magic 3 is a good shout.

Editor’s Rating: 3.5 / 5

Pros:

  • Gamer-y design 
  • Great performance
  • Excellent battery life 

Cons:

  • Bulky 
  • Cameras not up to the mark
Photos by Raj Rout

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