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(Pocket-lint) - There was a time when phones were designed just to make calls. These days, they're pocketable personal computers with the power to handle work and play. In the case of the latter, sometimes to the extreme - which is the whole idea behind the Red Magic 5G gaming phone.

Red Magic has been busy in the gaming phones space for some time (we last saw the Red Magic 3). Nubia is the company behind this phone, which in turn makes it a ZTE phone. That's a name you rarely hear in Europe these days, as the Chinese company has been at somewhat an arm's length.

There's no doubt that the Red Magic 5G ticks all the spec boxes - the first 144Hz display in a phone, the top-end Qualcomm SD865 - at a very attractive price point (£539/€579/$579). But beyond its clear gaming credentials, does the company's lack of experience in the consumer space in this part of the world impact the overall experience?

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Our quick take

The Red Magic 5G is all about gaming. And on that front it's got all the goods for success: top-drawer processing, great cooling, long-lasting battery life, a customisable gaming space, 144Hz display, shoulder triggers and optional additional controllers.

But while it has that gaming goodness nailed, it's in its everyday form where the detail lacks: a behind-the-times fingerprint scanner, software that lacks refinement when it comes to customisation and notifications, chunky build that's a little taxing for typing.

Whether a 144Hz refresh rate is something you'll truly benefit from is also up for question - just as it is for 120Hz phones trying to get one over the current norm as a point of sale.

The Red Magic 5G is a gaming great. It just comes with some everyday use caveats.

Nubia Red Magic 5G review: A gaming great?

Nubia Red Magic 5G

4.0 stars
For
  • Great price point for the specification
  • Dedicated Game Space switch - good for gaming customisation
  • Large and bright and smooth screen
  • Speedy connectivity
  • Cooling and battery mean great longevity
Against
  • 144Hz refresh rate is over hyped
  • Chunky build
  • Cooling fan can be loud
  • Lighting can be distracting
  • Software lacks refinements - excess notifications / silent alarm / etc.

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What's special about the RedMagic design?

  • Dimensions: 168.6 x 78 x 9.8mm / Weight: 218g
  • Finish: Metal middle frame, rear glass cover
  • Colours: Eclipse Black, Hot Rod Red, Pulse
  • Two built-in shoulder trigger buttons
  • Dedicated Game Space switch
  • In-screen fingerprint scanner
  • Colorful Light Effects

The Red Magic 5G wears its heart on its sleeve. There's no doubt that this is a gaming phone through and through, what with its light-up logo to the rear, fan vent openings to the side (it's not waterproof, no surprises there), and red accent marks giving it that established air of 'gamer'.

Pocket-lint Nubia Red Magic 5G review image 1

It's a fairly chunky beast, at almost 10mm, but that's on account of its fan cooling system, large battery capacity, and big screen size. It's a little bit of a struggle to reach across the virtual keyboard one-handed, but who realy cares? This phone is all about focusing on two-handed gaming fun.

That's why you'll see two flat areas to one side: these are the built-in shoulder trigger buttons, keeping that focus on gaming. It's a subtle implementation too as, in normal phone use, you don't notice these triggers - which don't physically move, they're only based on forced press contact - proving that the Red Magic can morph between everyday phone and gaming phone no problems.

If you really want to get the most out of the Red Magic 5G then you'll want to buy into the accessories. There's a 'Pro Handle' protective case, onto which you can connect controllers of the same name. The price isn't too steep either, meaning this is a great way to turn your phone into a kind-of handheld console. We've not had these in for review, however, so can't comment on their build or practicality.

Pocket-lint Nubia Red Magic 5G review image 1

We did have a few teething problems with Red Magic's software, however, which delayed us getting started on this review. Such software bugs have been ironed out by the company, but the Red Magic OS (v3.0, skinned over Google's Android OS) always feels a little fussier than a stock Google Android.

Things like notifications are excessive, not customisable to the right extent - and its these details which begin to grate. Furthermore the addition of 'Colorful Light Effects' - which can be easily switched off within the settings - becomes a distraction to excess for us. At least it's customisable, though, so you can decide just how jazzed-up your Red Magic 5G can be. Other points, such as the alarm not sounding when in silent, or the fingerprint scanner being a generation behind in its responsiveness, show the lack of detail in the small-yet-important areas.

Pocket-lint Nubia Red Magic 5G review image 1

The handling of the gaming side of things is rather eloquent though: there's a dedicated Game Space physical switch to the top edge of the phone. Simply flick this and, after an unnecessary animation, you're taken into the Game Space where you can customise notifications, fan control, arrange your games, switch on Do Not Disturb, and such like. That's the meat and potatoes of a gaming phone, so it's handled well here.

Is the RedMagic's 144Hz display noticeable?

  • 6.65-inch AMOLED display
  • 1080 x 2340 resolution
  • 600 nits brightness
  • 19.5:9 aspect ratio
  • 144Hz refresh rate

A huge part of the Red Magic 5G appeal is its 144Hz screen. Nowhere else on the market will you find a higher refresh rate panel in a phone (although we're sure it's only a matter of time).