Nubia is definitely is not a household name nor does it attack your senses with an overabundance of features on every media outlet. Here, the smartphone does the talking and boy, it speaks volumes.
The Red Magic is quite frankly a phenomenal smartphone. In spite of packing a Snapdragon 835 of last year, the phone shows no sign of stutter or lag in everyday use. That’s primarily because it’s clocked at 2.45GHz and stuffed with 8GB of RAM and after using it I realised that this gaming smartphone is not only fast on the inside but also quite flamboyant with its appeal on the outside.
There’s an RGB strip on the back. Maybe I should have started this review with that but as much as I would love to rave about its gaming aesthetics and prowess, I am in complete awe of how complete of a smartphone the Red Magic feels.
Design and body: Angle Angel
From the front the Red Magic doesn’t upset notch naysayers because there isn’t one and at bezel-bashing it’s not winning any prizes either. Where it does take a mighty stand, is on the backside.
There’s an angled uprise in the center of the back with a RGB LED strip running though in the middle of it. While the steady decline from the RGB strip to the edges of the phone curve ever so smoothly. Those smooth edges feel comfortable and lend an ease of use in practice.
The angled back story doesn’t end here. There’s an elongated hexagon shaped fingerprint which works perfectly without any confusion from the other busy aesthetics at the back. There’s another hexagon shape above the fingerprint scanner which is quite intriguing but we’ll get to the later.
The four edges on the angled back have red coloured grills but what one might presume to be an array of speakers, are actually heat vents. Only one of them is a speaker while other three are just there to dissipate heat. If you’re a PC gamer you might be aware about how important this is to control internal temperatures to keep thermal throttling in check.
More heat = slowing processing power by your CPU.I think Red Magic’s logo deserves a special mention here. It'svery obvious on the box but equally subtle on the back of the phone. However, the reason I bring this up is because it looks frickin’ awesome. It’s almost like a mask of a Nazgul from Shadow of War game but could also seem like Sauron’s helmet from the same game. I think it’s a mixture of both and I love this logo. You get stickers of it inside the box so that’s going on my laptop lid for sure.
Screen: Watch me nay nay
The Full HD screen on the Red Magic is good and sharp. Perhaps it would even compel you to finish the season 3 of Daredevil on your smartphone while commuting. That is, only if you take a break from gaming but don’t expect inky blacks like you’d get from the Samsung Galaxy A7’s AMOLED display.
The contrast and brightness are standard as well. Nothing to complain about or to get excited over. It’s a good display in all fairness. Although that aforementioned Netflix run could get slightly disappointing because like the POCO F1 smartphone, the Nubia Red Magic doesn’t have Widevine DRM L1 certification to watch Full HD content from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video on your smartphone. Even though the certification is free, it’s not something that can be fixed with software update. If the phone is shipped without it, it will never have it.
Performance: A year old smoothness
Handling day-to-day tasks is an easy feat for the Red Magic. It can dispose of CPU crunching apps easily and will not leave you a step behind when loading up new apps and games. Better yet, it will shift between the two seamlessly as well.
Where you do feel the pinch is in the benchmarks and spec sheets. It’s got a Snapdragon 835 of last year and only hits a score of 1900 in Single-Core test on Geekbench, whereas the OnePlus 6T does a cool 2380 in Single-Core test and the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 absolutely crushes the competition with 3236 in Single-Core test.
Don’t let mere numbers trick you. In my use I could move out of Sniper 3D game to reply a WhatsApp text and then resume gaming effortlessly. The 8GB RAM keeps things smooth and snappy throughout the day.
Gaming Performance: Built for gaming
A Snapdragon of last year is still a capable processor. We played countless hours of PUBG without any problems. The battery life holds up great and everything runs on the highest settings. No lag or frame stutter and thanks to an efficient UFS 2.1 storage, load times are much faster.
Modern Combat 5 works flawlessly as well. We cranked up the graphics and switched the red slider to GameBoost mode which does three things. Firstly, silences all notifications so they don’t get in your way. Blocks navigational keys so you don’t accidentally slip out of your game (you can double tap to use it if you choose to) and lastly, it turns on that sweet RGB disco at the back.
The metal body of the phone gets warm when playing demanding games like PUBG but those heat vents do their duty well enough to stop the heat from stinging your palms. If you’re not using a headset to play the rear positioned speakers could get muffled from your palm grip. Although they have decent audio clarity and loudness. There’s even a teeny bit of bass if you put your ear to it.
Battery: Made for gaming
Obviously the inclusion of fast charge with USB Type-C is great but you won’t need to carry that charger around much if you’re not gaming for more than a hour or so. The superb battery life on the phone will last you more than 12 hours easily on daily use, with an inclusion of one or two hours gaming as well.
I even left the phone on GameBoost mode the entire day but there wasn’t any significant drop in battery life, assuming it’s also supposed to increase performance. That said, the battery optimization on the Nubia is akin to Huawei’s. It kills all the apps in the drawer that are sleeping in the background if you’re not using it for long, especially overnight.
The LED strip behind isn’t much of a battery drainer. It goes bling only when you’re gaming meanwhile working as a notification LED. There’s a notification LED light in the front also if you don’t want to keep your phone screen down.
Camera: Flagship material
We’ve reviewed a couple of budget Nubia smartphones in the past and all of them had great cameras for the price. Red Magic follows that same norm and that hexagon shaped housing with a red outline hides a lens so good that I was more excited to take photos on this sub-30K device than a lac rupee iPhone XS.
It won’t be disrupting a Pixel 3 user’s Instagram feed but don’t count it out just yet. In terms of simple point and shoot, the Nubia is acing its category by a mile. The way it manages to grab details and handle colours is fantastic. Its natural colours are bang on to realism and very few smartphones in this price range process the image so naturally. Even the HDR mode is a treat. The way it deals with exposure and contrast has left me aching to remove it every second to click shots of everything.
That said, your social media profile is going to bring several intrigued eyeballs, a well deserved 24MP rear camera that deserves its special hashtag, #MagicofRedMagic maybe?
Aside from point-and-shoot, the Nubia doesn’t leave you handicapped unlike the flagships of 2018 (Where’s my manual mode Apple and Google?). There’s a proper manual mode at your disposal to create some unusual stunners and plenty of different modes that you won’t find in any other smartphone. Novice or Pro, the Nubia’s rear camera is treating everyone fairly and that’s definitely worth your money.
The front facing 8MP camera takes its teachings from the rear master and does the same exceptional processing which we love. Again, fantastic details and superb colour accuracy. Feed it enough light and it won’t disappoint.
In low-light the camera does not falter one bit. Sure, if you put it under a microscope and search for noise then you’ll stumble on some hard truths about budget smartphones but that’s just us showing tough love. On the smartphone display itself, you’ll be helplessly zooming in to find grain and noise. We got some stunning low-light images as well, with Red Magic showing off its clever HDR skills to deal with shadows and highlights. Meanwhile the generous Pro Mode is always there if you want to get neck-deep into smartphone photography.
Video recording tops out at 4K at 30fps from rear camera and only 720p for the front. There’s no OIS here but frankly that’s asking alot from a smartphone of this calibre and price range.
The Nubia Red Magic is a very promising smartphone but it's entering deep waters with POCO F1 and Asus ZenFone 5Z lurking with similar specs coupled with the latest gen processor. So accepting the Red Magic in 2018 with a 2017 processor is a bit worrisome for the long run.
The near stock Android experience keeps things nice and light on the battery and processor. The Nubia Red Magic 2 is launching in December 2018 which weirdly makes the Indian market feel like a dumping ground for unsold Red Magic 1s at hand.
It more than makes up for the old processor with its superb cameras, battery life and great build quality. If you’re not into photography then the POCO F1 is the obvious choice.