Red Magic 3 Gaming Phone Review – A PUBG Mobile Player’s Dream?

A budget phone with a specific task in mind.

The meteoric rise in mobile esports has seen several device manufacturers like ASUS and Razer get into the smartphone game to cater to budding esports professionals. Now on its third iteration, we’re taking a look at the Red Magic 3 from Nubia, one of the more budget-oriented gaming phones, to see what it offers to the most dedicated PUBG Mobile players.

The Red Magic 3 follows the design trend of gaming devices more like the ASUS ROG Phone as opposed to the more sleek and sexy Razer Phone. Looking like something Vulture would have churned out with the scraps of Stark metal he used to build his suit, the Red Magic 3 is like the Iron Man of the gaming smartphone market. It’s big, it’s bold, it’s bulky, and the embedded RGB strip on the back will certainly get someone’s attention. It’s not my personal preference, but anyone who thinks a “gaming” product should scream “gaming” should be happy here.

Red Magic 3
There’s a green camo version, too

Hardware

Under the hood is a top of the line Snapdragon 855 eight-core processor containing the very capable Adreno 640 graphics chip and between 8-12GB of RAM depending on your storage choice, and both a USB-C port and standard 3.5mm headphone jack, front-firing stereo speakers, and even dual SIM. It retails for $479 on the low end and $599 for the upper tier. Aside from custom backgrounds and some odd robotic sound effects, it’s far closer to the stock Android experience than most other phones out there, so software bloat shouldn’t be a concern.

Nubia sent us the 128 GB version, meaning we had 8GB of RAM to work with. What that allows for is seamless multitasking, assuring games don’t need to reboot when switching between tasks. We managed to have four games open, YouTube, five tabs in Chrome, and a bunch of other assorted apps running in the background, and had no issue getting straight back into the action. An eye-opening result given my Google Pixel 2 XL usually needs to reload a game after taking a photo. Great news for anyone hoping to play a round of PUBG Mobile while farming away on an MMORPG.

As for battery life, we only managed to drain through around 50% of the whopping 5000mAh battery in an eight-hour general use benchmark, so you should be able to game through your average work shift without having to worry about juicing up between matches: which can do rapidly thanks to 18W Quick Charge 4+ capabilities.

Now onto the less exciting news: the 6.65-inch AMOLED display. The large panel helps keep your thumbs from covering up too much of the action, but ultimately lends itself to blurry text compared to older flagships due to the low 338 pixels-per-inch brought on by its 1080 x 2360 resolution. Its odd aspect ratio and rounded corners can slightly cover UI elements, too.

Red Magic 3 PUBG Mobile benchmark
PUBG Mobile runs at a smooth 60 FPS even on max settings

 

What you do gain, however, is a 90Hz refresh rate. It’s not quite the 120Hz you’d get from a Razer Phone, but it’s still a noticeable improvement over your standard 60Hz affair. Smoother menu animations and scrolling makes for a snappier feeling phone, but therein lines another problem – PUBG Mobile‘s highest setting caps the framerate at 60 FPS, meaning the silky smooth panel is a moot point for Tencent’s popular Battle Royale title. Something the phone manufacturers always fail to mention.

Performance

Thankfully, the Adreno 640 is more than capable of playing PUBG Mobile at a rock-solid 60 FPS – even on maximum settings. And unlike other phones, we observed virtually no drop in performance over time, nor any sudden FPS spikes through both the training mode and a 20 minute War match. Safe to say you won’t be needing to run PUBG Mobile Lite on this thing.

The Red Magic 3 settled in at around 40c on your average British summer day, staying clear of any thermal throttling thresholds. The device did get warm enough for palm sweat to become an issue, but it’s unlikely to be a dealbreaker for many. We also didn’t observe any real change in temperature with the internal fan going full bore.

What we need to talk about, then, is the Red Magic 3’s true “gaming” perks. Tossing the 90Hz panel aside – which won’t get much use outside of menu scrolling due to 60FPS limits in most games – we have the Game Center software and the touch-sensitive shoulder/trigger buttons. Nubia also makes a couple of different attachments for the Red Magic 3; from a desktop dock with an integrated ethernet port, to a full Nintendo Switch-style controller grip. Sadly, neither of these were included (nor mentioned) when we requested the review unit, so their practicality and uselessness can’t be tested here. Nor would they be included in the retail price.

You can enable performance profiles for different scenarios

Game Boost and its features are hardware activated by flicking the slider on the side of the phone. Once enabled, you lose usual Android navigation functionality, locking you into your game until you turn it off. Instead, your side-swipe opens the Game Boost tray, giving you access to system stats and temp info, and a button to enable the internal fan for cooling, 4D Rumble, and the aforementioned shoulder triggers to name a few.

With trigger functionality enabled, it’s just a case of sliding the floating L and R button icons to the areas of the screen you’ll like the hardware triggers to activate. In a game like PUBG Mobile setting these to ADS and Fire awards you functionality similar to a gamepad on a console. I certainly performed better in my matches with the shoulder buttons activated, but they weren’t completely without issue, and those already familiar with PUBG Mobile touch controls might need to adjust.

Concerns

The large footprint of the phone paired with the very specific grip needed to reach the buttons never really felt comfortable or natural. With the buttons being touch-sensitive rather than physical buttons, you can’t rest your finger on them like you would a controller without accidentally unloading your clip, meaning hand cramp is a real possibility. I had to actively rewire decades of muscle memory to avoid resting my fingers on the buttons and letting nearby enemies know my exact position through a misfire. There’s clearly still a place for those stick-on triggers you can buy from Amazon. And a grip case wouldn’t go amiss to stop your palms from mashing on-screen buttons as you reach for the triggers.

4D Rumble, on the other hand, was the most pleasantly surprising feature. I didn’t like it at first. It sounded like a piece of plastic snapping. But get past that and you have a feature that adds an extra layer to things like gunshots whizzing by your head. PUBG Mobile doesn’t have the best 3D sound positioning, but having the phone deliver a tactile crack to my hand when a bullet hit my cover did help fear for my life that little bit faster.

Scores from popular benchmark apps

But that’s about where the Red Magic 3 stops being a gaming-grade device. Its 48 MP camera, while very impressive on paper, isn’t really something you’ll put to much use. Heck, it’s not even enabled by default. A 48 MP sensor allows the phone to take high-resolution images, which can be great for reframing in post, but detail quickly takes a nosedive as you zoom in, creating a noisy almost watercolor effect on faraway objects. It attempts to flaunt the ability to record 8K footage, too, but at a 15 FPS cap and with no image stabilization to speak of, there’s very little point in actually doing so.

I’m not really qualified to dunk on camera quality, but I know enough to say a 48 MP sensor doesn’t really mean much on its own these days. The Red Magic 3 doesn’t have all the fancy photographic algorithms things like Samsung or Google Pixel devices use to spruce up their images, Nor should you expect it to for the price. Though the front 16 MP camera may have its uses for those who stream or record gameplay straight from their device.

All in all, the Red Magic 3 is a very capable device and technically one of the most powerful phones on the market now. But to keep the cost of premium gaming down, it takes a hit in other luxury phone areas. Its massive battery will get you through a full series of just about any show on Netflix, but it won’t look its best. Likewise, the camera won’t really hold a candle to the bigger names in the game. It’s a true case of “you get what you pay for” – a killer gaming phone, but not one that’s exceptional in any other field. Just know the triggers aren’t quite as risk-free as you might think.

Red Magic 3 Gaming Phone

7

The Red Magic 3 gaming phone performs strongly, but a cumbersome design and cost-cutting measures make it little more than an expensive handheld gaming device.

PROS
  • Powerful hardware
  • Smooth 90Hz panel
  • Helpful gaming gimmicks
  • Amazing battery
CONS
  • Poor screen
  • Deceptive camera specs
  • A bit uncomfortable
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