Can't go ten minutes away from your Xbox or PS4 without needing to parachute into PUBG or floss over your fallen enemies in Fortnite? Then you need a gaming phone. Or maybe some professional help.

We can't provide the latter, but ZTE offshoot Nubia is happy to supply the former. The Red Magic 3 has pinched a few tricks from the PC world, combining hardware that should make it as fast as phones get right now with dedicated gaming controls and customisable LED lighting.

Oh, and it's the world's first phone with an internal cooling fan, so the CPU doesn't get hot under the collar after some heavy gaming sessions.

DESIGN & FEATURES: GAMER CHIC? CHECK

Who was it that decided red and black was the official colour scheme of gaming hardware? It's one Nubia has duly stuck to, with some sharp angular details thrown onto the rear for good measure.

It's here you'll find the customisable LED lights, which flash up when a notification comes in or while you're playing games. Don't want your phone being the centre of attention? You can disable them easily enough.

This is a gaming device first and a phone second. The red slider switch at the side doesn't turn on silent or vibration mode - it activates a dedicated software suite for all your games. Those two flatter panels on the right edge that look like fingerprint sensors? They're actually touch-sensitive shoulder buttons that come into play when you're in a game. And the grilles on the rear and side? A hint at the physical cooling fan hidden underneath.

There's also an accessory port on the left side of the phone that lets you hook it up to a desktop docking station, or plug in an official controller that turns the Red Magic 3 into a miniature Nintendo Switch-alike.

With a huge screen, metal build and some unique internal hardware extras, this is a phone with plenty of heft. The relatively skinny display bezels mean it's not a nightmare to hold if you don't have giant hands, but it's all but guaranteed to poke out of a jeans pocket - it's just so damn tall.

There are of course the usual, more phone-like features, like a single rear camera lens and physical fingerprint sensor. The sensor sits conveniently on the back, right where your index finger naturally rests, but the odd shape can make it tricky to line up your digit on the first try. When you do, it recognises your prints quickly enough.

With such a strong gaming focus, there are a few wish list items that didn't make the cut, like NFC for contactless payments, or any kind of water resistance. But given the price, and how well it caters for its primary audience, these are minor quibbles that can be easily forgiven.

DISPLAY & SOUND: FLASH FLOOD OF COLOUR

There's been no corner-cutting when it comes to the Red Magic 3's screen. Well, except for the corners themselves, which are rounded instead of square.

You get a massive display for your dosh, at 6.65in stretched to a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and with a better-than-HD 2,340x1,080 resolution. It's sharp enough for videos, photos and games to show off plenty of detail, without being so high the CPU is working overtime just to render the Android home screen.

The AMOLED panel tech is a step up from the LCD screens you'd normally find in a sub-£450 phone, with deep, inky blacks and ultra-vibrant colours, plus support for HDR10 video playback.

Nubia could have turned things down a notch, really, as red hues in particular are hyper-realistic and a little bit distracting. There's a 'natural' colour mode available in the settings, but it takes things too far the other way, muting the entire palette. Still, it ensures games deliver real visual clout.

It's the 90Hz refresh rate that really makes the difference, even if the list of games that support it is still pretty low right now. Everything just seems so much smoother that you'll not want to go back to 60Hz ever again.

Dual front-firing speakers are the way to go in a phone built for gaming, and the Red Magic 3 largely delivers. They get decently loud, with some stereo separation that can help you pinpoint enemies in certain games, but they can also sound pretty tinny when pumping out music.

Headphones are still the way forward for most games and video streaming, and thankfully a 3.5mm headphone socket means you won't need to mess around with any dongles to do so.

PERFORMANCE: START THE FANS, PLEASE

Let's face it: a Snapdragon 855 CPU in a phone costing less than £450 is rarer than Apple launching a product without it leaking all over the internet first. But Nubia has managed it.

The Red Magic 3 also gets a whopping 8GB of RAM, and a full-on physical cooling fan to keep temperatures under control. It's the first time anyone has been bonkers enough to fit one inside a phone - but does it actually make a difference?

It certainly doesn't help the CPU boost its clock speeds any higher than a regular handset. Even with the fan running on full and performance settings forced to their highest, performance was on par with (or even slightly below) other 855-powered phones like the OnePlus 7 and Xiaomi Mi 9.

Temperatures don't exactly plummet when the fan is maxed, but anecdotally it does seem to help over longer gaming sessions. Other handsets can turn into toasty bricks after a long Fortnite match, but that wasn't the case here.

Even at its lowest setting you can hear the fan spinning, and it's a lot more noticeable at full speed, but it never became annoying. It only activates when you flip the gaming switch, so the phone is otherwise passive (and silent) in everyday use.

It's not quite snake oil, then, and there's no doubting the Red Magic 3's performance. Every game we tried ran smoothly at the highest detail settings, with the 90Hz screen really making the difference in titles that supported it. If it's on the Play Store, it'll look ace on this phone.

The customisable shoulder buttons really come into their own here, too. They can be assigned to any onscreen location, freeing up your thumbs to concentrate on movement and aiming in shooters like PUBG.

With 128GB of built-in storage you should have plenty of room to download games, too, although it's a shame there's no microSD card expansion options should you run out of room in the future.

BATTERY LIFE: JUST KEEPS GOING

All that hardware would be wasted if there was only enough juice for a few rounds of Candy Crush, so Nubia has sensibly beefed up the battery.

A 5000mAh cell is bigger than you'll find in flagships costing twice the price, and is more than enough to go a day away from the mains - even if that day is mostly spent hunting down new additions to your Pokemon Go Pokedex. Three solid hours of PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9 used around 30% charge, which should mean there's enough power here for even the most dedicated players.

For the days when you don't get any gaming in, you'll be able to stream video, scroll through social media and snap all the photos you like, and still have plenty in reserve at bedtime. Limit your usage or activate the battery saver option and two days away from the mains is doable. It's not the longest-lasting phone out there, but it comes very close.

There's no wireless charging here, but the bundled 27W fast charger can get you back up to full in about an hour.

OS & SOFTWARE: A CHINESE PIECE OF PIE

It might have dramatic styling, but Nubia has been refreshingly hands-off with the Red Magic 3's take on Android 9.0 Pie.

You get a largely stock experience, with few duplicate apps copying Google's own, and no distracting skins or icon packs. There's even an app drawer, rather than the iOS-mimicking multiple home screens which other Chinese OEMs seem to be such a big fan of.

It's a shame there are a few typos, missed Chinese characters and mistranslated text bringing the side down, though. We're still scratching our heads over "Hold the camera does not move to take the first." Also, a few apps don't play nicely with the screen's rounded corners, awkwardly cutting off UI elements.

The biggest addition is Game Space, which kicks in when you flip the dedicated hardware switch. It opens a launcher containing all your installed games, with shortcuts for setting up fan speed, LED lighting effects, and the hardware buttons. It can also mute incoming calls and notifications, and prevents accidental swipes closing an app by mistake - handy for fast-paced multiplayer games.

CAMERA: PIXEL COUNT ISN'T EVERYTHING

You might get the impression the Red Magic 3 is a one-trick pony - and while that's not entirely inaccurate, it can still snap a decent picture. A 48MP Sony sensor uses pixel binning to create 12MP photos that are, in theory, better than any a 12MP sensor could manage.

In practice, images taken in good light look detailed and well-exposed, with a good balance between lights and shadows. Colours are fairly true-to-life (once you look at them on a different screen, anyway) and there's an impressive amount of bokeh blur in close-up shots, despite there not being a second sensor providing depth information.

Things aren't a match for the more expensive OnePlus 7, which simply has superior image processing, and the cheaper Google Pixel 3a beats them both. Google's algorithmic approach is still king when it comes to quality.

At night, the results take a dive, with huge jumps in noise and a major drop in fine detail. There's no dedicated low light mode, so you're largely left to figure things out on your own. Instead, Nubia has added some fun, if dubiously translated multi-exposure modes, which can produce some creative shots, but we'd still prefer clearer night-time photos.

It's impressive to see the option to record video in 8K resolution, but unless you're outdoors and in perfect light, the resulting rolling shutter effect will have you reaching for 4K or even 1080p recording very quickly. Plus it's not like everyone has 8K screens yet to really appreciate all those pixels.

 

Tech Specs 
SCREEN
6.65in, 2340x1080 AMOLED w/ 90Hz refresh rate
CPU
Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 octa-core
MEMORY
8GB RAM
CAMERA
48MP, f/1.7 rear w/ phase-detect autofocus, LED flash. 16MP, f/2.0 front
STORAGE
128GB on-board
OPERATING SYSTEM
Android 9.0 Pie
BATTERY
5000mAh non-removable
DIMENSIONS
172x79x9.7mm, 215 g
Stuff says... 

Nubia Red Magic 3 review

A proper performance bargain, if not quite as powerful as a dedicated cooling fan might suggest. Still, the Red Magic 3 should tick all the right boxes for mobile gamers
£419
Good Stuff 
Super-sized 90Hz OLED screen is great for gaming
Hard to find a faster phone for the money
Fantastic battery life, both in games and in general use
Bad Stuff 
Not significantly faster than other Snapdragon 855 phones
Localised software has a few rough edges
Loses out on features in the focus on gaming

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