Choosing a smartphone for gaming used to be quite simple. All you had to do was look for a good display and a powerful processor. While many affordable and high-end phones will let you enjoy games, there are smartphones today made specifically for gaming. We have seen phones including the Asus ROG Phone (Review), Nubia Red Magic (Review), and the Black Shark 2, even in India. These smartphones are purpose-built for gaming and most feature liquid cooling to keep the processor temperature under control. Nubia is bringing yet another gaming smartphone called the Red Magic 3 to India. It features the powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC and has liquid cooling along with an internal fan.
With all this dedicated hardware for gaming, does the Nubia Red Magic 3 justify its price tag? Or are you better off saving some money and going in for similarly powered smartphones such as the OnePlus 7 (Review)? We put the Red Magic 3 to the test to find out.
Nubia Red Magic 3 design
Gaming smartphones in general have striking designs, and the Nubia Red Magic 3 isn't an exception. This phone is big and bulky. It has a 6.65-inch full-HD+ HDR AMOLED display with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and a 90Hz refresh rate. It also has Corning Gorilla Glass for protection. The Red Magic 3 puts out a maximum of 430 nits of brightness and is bright enough for use outdoors.
There are two display modes to choose from and we liked the punchy contrast that the Colourful mode offered, while the Natural (sRGB) mode seemed more muted. We observed that the phone kept switching to Natural mode automatically, which was a little annoying.
Nubia has opted for a front-firing stereo speaker setup on the Red Magic 3, and this phone has very thin speaker grilles. The body of the Red Magic 3 is made out of metal and packs in a big 5000mAh battery, both of which contribute to its bulk and weight.
The Nubia Red Magic 3 has its power and the volume buttons on the right side. These are well positioned and easy to reach when using the phone with one hand. There are also two capacitive buttons on the right side that act as shoulder buttons when holding the phone in landscape mode. We found the positioning to be similar to the buttons on the ROG Phone (Review). However, we liked the fact that these buttons are recessed into the Red Magic 3's frame making them easy to hit when gaming.
The Nubia Red Magic 3 has a RGB light strip at the back
Right above the volume buttons is a vent for the internal fan, which is the first time we're seeing such a thing on a smartphone. This fan is paired with liquid cooling to help the processor perform at its best during intense gaming sessions. There's also an air intake vent on the back of the smartphone, which sits in between the camera and the fingerprint scanner.
Nubia has used different geometric shapes in the design here, with a diamond-shaped camera module and hexagon-shaped flash and fingerprint scanner. There are bright red highlights near the four corners of the smartphone to give it the “gamer” look. Just like previous Nubia Red Magic models, this one also has an RGB light strip running down the middle of the back. There is a Red Magic logo below this RGB light strip which lights up for incoming notifications.
On the left, the Red Magic 3 has a two-position slider to put the phone into gaming mode. This button is also finished in red to go with the overall theme. There is a SIM tray on the left as well as pogo pin connectors which can be used to connect to a dock accessory (not included). At the bottom, the Red Magic 3 sports a USB Type-C port, and it also has a 3.5mm audio jack at the top.
There is no IP certification which is acceptable given the price of the smartphone, but you will have to be careful around water considering that this phone has actual vents for air to circulate.
Nubia Red Magic 3 specifications and software
Premium gaming smartphones usually pack in the best possible hardware, and so Nubia has picked the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC which is an octa-core processor based on a 7nm fabrication process. It has four Kryo 485 Gold cores, out of which three are clocked at 2.42GHz and one is clocked higher at 2.84GHz. There are also four Kryo 485 Silver cores clocked at 1.8GHz. There is an integrated Adreno 640 GPU to handle graphics.
The Red Magic 3 is available in two variants, one with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and the other with 12GB RAM and 256GB of storage. The base variant is priced at Rs. 35,999 while the higher one is priced at Rs. 46,999. There are three colour options to choose from. The base variant is available in Black or Red, while the higher one is available only in Camo finish. This phone uses UFS 2.1 storage, which isn't as fast as the UFS 3.0 storage that the OnePlus 7 siblings use.
The Nubia Red Magic 3 runs stock Android 9 Pie
Connectivity options on the Nubia Red Magic 3 include dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5, four satellite navigation systems, 4G, and VoLTE. The pogo pin connectors on the left side of the phone can be used to connect a gaming dock.
Nubia offers stock Android 9 Pie with the March 2019 security patch. The UI is quite basic and we didn't have any issue finding our way around it. However, bits of the UI weren't polished and some of the text had not been translated from Chinese.
The UI does have a few customisations such as controls for the RGB light strip. You can customise it for different scenarios such as incoming calls, charging, and notifications, and this is in addition to the notification LED next to the front camera. We found two apps preinstalled on the smartphone, Kika Keyboard and LED Strip Editor.
Game Space is the gaming mode on the phone. It can only be turned on by flicking the physical game switch on the side of the phone, and cannot be triggered automatically. Game Space lets you add apps and games you want to use when in this mode. You get controls for the RGB lighting, internal fan, and screen refresh rate. You can set the display refresh rate to Auto, 60Hz, or 90Hz. The internal fan has an ‘Intelligent' setting that adjusts fan speed based on the CPU temperature, or you can set it to run at full speed all the time which makes it audible.
Digital Wellbeing, a popular Android 9 Pie feature, is missing on the Red Magic 3.
Nubia Red Magic 3 performance, battery life, and cameras
The Nubia Red Magic is a big phone and it isn't the most convenient device for single-handed use. However, this also makes it comfortable to hold in landscape mode for gaming. We were impressed with the display and did enjoy a couple of HDR videos on YouTube.
The stereo speakers have DTS:X and 3D sound support, and do add to the overall experience. Sadly, the Red Magic 3 only has Widevine L3 support, so you won't be able to stream content from services like Netflix at HD resolution until Nubia fixes this.
We have used Qualcomm Snapdragon 855-powered devices including the OnePlus 7 (Review), OnePlus 7 Pro (Review), Oppo Reno 10X Zoom (Review), and Asus 6Z (Review), and the Red Magic 3 offers similar performance. We were happy with the snappy responsiveness and the speed at which it would launch apps. With 8GB of RAM in our review unit, multitasking wasn't an issue, as the smartphone could keep apps running in the background.
The Red Magic 3 went through our benchmark tests and managed to score well. In AnTuTu, it managed 361,910 points which is on par with the OnePlus 7. It scored 3,540 and 11,444 points in Geekbench's single-core and multi-core tests respectively. It also managed to score 5,153 in 3D Mark Slingshot Extreme OpenGL 3.1, while the OnePlus 7 scored 5,659 in the same test.
The Nubia Red Magic 3 has vents for better air circulation
We were looking forward to gaming on this smartphone considering that it is designed for this. We played PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9: Legends on the Nubia Red Magic 3. PUBG Mobile defaulted to the High preset and ran without any hint of lag. We went to the graphics settings of the game and bumped the quality up to HDR and frame rate to Ultra. The Red Magic 3 could still run PUBG mobile at these settings without any issues.
The 90Hz display on the Red Magic 3 does make a difference when playing games that support it. We played Hill Climb Racing 2 and CATS: Crash Arena, which are among a handful of games with support for high refresh rates. It resulted in a smooth and fluid experience when playing at 90Hz.
Looking beyond games, we also observed the benefit of the 90Hz display while scrolling through the menus and opening folders. A regular display looks laggy after using the Nubia Red Magic 3 for a while. You can set the display to 90Hz in Game Space manually or keep it to Auto for the phone to decide.
We put the shoulder triggers to use while gaming and we noticed that they improved our in-game performance. We could rely on the triggers without having to move our fingers on the display, helping us reduce our reaction time. Game Space has a feature called 4D Shock which enables haptic feedback while playing supported games including PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9. Game Space also lets you block incoming calls and messages to ensure that you aren't disturbed while playing a game, and disables the navigation buttons when gaming.
The Nubia Red Magic 3 is the first smartphone we've encountered with an internal fan, and it does make a difference while gaming. We played PUBG Mobile with and without the fan, and observed that the device ran cooler when the fan was on.
We were impressed with the battery life that the Nubia Red Magic 3 offered. The 5,000mAh battery lets smartphone go about a day and a half with our usage, which consisted of running a few benchmarks, taking camera samples, and gaming for about an hour. In our HD video loop test, the smartphone went on for 17 hours and 4 minutes. Nubia claims that the Red Magic 3 is capable of 27W fast charging but only ships an 18W adapter in the box. The bundled charger managed to get the smartphone to 35 percent in 30 minutes and 69 percent in an hour. Charging it completely took over an hour and a half.
The camera setup on the Nubia Red Magic 3 is basic compared to what we've seen on other smartphones in this price range. There's a single rear camera which has a 48-megapixel Sony IMX586 sensor, similar to the one seen on the OnePlus 7 and OnePlus 7 Pro. It has an f/1.7 aperture and 0.8 micron pixel size. For selfies, this phone has a 16-megapixel shooter with an f/2.0 aperture.
We found the camera app to be pretty basic. It offers Pro, Pretty, MultiExposure, LightDraw, Electronic Aperture, Clone, and Time-Lapse modes apart from the regular photo and video modes. We found it surprising that a portrait mode, which is pretty common these days, was missing. There's also no dedicated Night mode. The Pro mode gives you control over the ISO, shutter speed, focus, exposure, and white balance.
In the default mode, the phone takes photos at 12-megapixel resolution. You can use the full 48 megapixelsby changing the resolution in the camera settings, however HDR functionality is missing at this resolution.
In daylight, the Red Magic 3 manages good details and decent colour reproduction. It enabled HDR automatically when shooting against the light. Objects at a distance were visible and text was legible.
The Red Magic 3 was quick to lock focus when shooting macros and produced a good depth effect. It also managed good macros in low light. When photographing people, people we missed having a portrait mode and found it hard to create a decent bokeh effect. We noticed that the phone would bump the contrast up in many shots and oversharpen them as well.
Tap to see full-sized Nubia Red Magic 3 camera samples
Photos taken in low light turned out well. Even with the lack of a dedicated Night mode, the camera could deliver a bright image. Noise was handled well but fine grain is visible on zooming in to photos.
Selfies had good detail and the phone managed to get the exposure right. Selfies taken in low light were decent and the phone uses a screen flash when required.
There's an 8K 30fps video recording mode but is currently in beta. We did try to shoot a video at 8K but our Apple MacBook Air wasn't able to play it easily. You can also record footage at 4K as well as full-HD. However, there is no video stabilisation, so you'll end up with shaky footage. We noticed that 4K video footage had boosted contrast. The Red Magic 3 does not have a slow-motion video recording mode.
We have seen a lot of smartphones with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SoC launching in India at reasonable prices. This is a good thing for smartphone buyers. Nubia has a direct competitor in the form of the Black Shark 2, but has an advantage in terms of pricing. The base variant of the Red Magic 3 with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage is priced at Rs. 35,999 while the higher variant with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage is priced at Rs. 46,999.
The Red Magic 3 has a good HDR display and stereo speakers that go well with it. We also like the shoulder triggers which work great for gaming and noticeably improved our experience. The internal fan is not a gimmick and helps the device run cool.
Camera performance is one place where the Red Magic 3 needs some refinement. Nubia should consider adding some of the missing camera features with software updates in the future. We thankfully did not have any issues with battery life, and this phone did deliver good battery performance.
If you spend hours playing games on your smartphone, the Nubia Red Magic 3 could be a good companion. However, if you aren't primarily looking for a gaming phone, you will be happier with the OnePlus 7 (Review) or other phones in this price bracket, while saving some money.
For details of the latest launches and news from Samsung, Xiaomi, Realme, OnePlus, Oppo and other companies at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, visit our MWC 2024 hub.