(Pocket-lint) - The gaming phone market shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, just 20 hours prior to revealing our verdict on this very device, the Red Magic 6, Lenovo revealed its next-gen Legion Duel gaming monster.

Except, interestingly, the Red Magic 6 has a bit of a headline feature that the Lenovo lacks: there's a 165Hz screen refresh rate, which, at the time of writing, is the fastest you'll find in a gaming phone - or, indeed, any phone to date - to make for super smooth visuals.

The Red Magic 6 is all about its gaming focus elsewhere, too, thanks to a top tier processor, stacks of RAM, plus a built-in cooling fan. So does all that make it a case of game on, or should you go game elsewhere?

Design & Display

  • 6.8-inch OLED panel, 1080 x 2400 resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio
  • 165Hz refresh rate, 500Hz touch sampling rate
  • Dimensions: 170 x 77 x 9.7mm / Weight: 220g
  • Finish options: Eclipse Black, Aurora
  • Dedicated switch for Game Space
  • Under-display fingerprint scanner
  • Built-in shoulder triggers
  • 3.5mm headphone jack

Visually speaking the Red Magic 6 looks much like the Red Magic 5G and 5S devices that came before it. Except it's actually a little bit bigger. Yup, as if those aforementioned slabs weren't substantial enough, Nubia has gone and installed a yet bigger screen - up from 6.65-inches to 6.8-inches - making for a slightly wider overall package (although, thankfully, it's a slither thinner than its predecessors).

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6 review photo 2

In this Eclipse Black finish it's also approaching subdued for a gaming phone. Perhaps that's because the 5S we had came in a so-called 'Pulse' colourway. Which was loud to say the least. Not that the Red Magic 6 lacks some flashy "look at me" moments - helped along for the most part by rear lighting that can be set to various colours and patterns based on notifications, calls, gameplay and more (or switched off entirely, if you prefer).

The principal attraction of the Red Magic 6, we think, is its screen. This 6.8-inch OLED panel is quite the monster, plus it's equipped with some headline-grabbing features. First, it's flat, not curved, which makes it very practical for gaming (and anything, really, which is why we see curved screens on the decline). Second, it's got a 165Hz refresh rate, meaning it can refresh that many times every second if you want - or select from 60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz from the settings instead to conserve battery. It's bright, too, with a 630 nits peak brightness claimed.

We're always a little on the fence about fast-refresh panels, though, as the Red Magic 6's sell over the 5S is basically 144Hz vs 165Hz. Will your eyes notice those extra 21 cycles per second? No, it's not humanly possible. But it's there, so it's "one better" on paper nonetheless. You'll most certainly see a big jump from the base 60Hz, though, so there's obvious benefit to having a higher refresh rate panel. Plus, with 500Hz sampling rate, it's super responsive to finger taps.

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6 software photo 2

Not that you have to just tap the screen. Being a gaming phone, Red Magic continues with its gaming focus, which includes integrated shoulder triggers to one edge, which you can programme for certain games. You can even adjust the screen's responsiveness in zones using the Game Space application.

Activating Game Space is a simple case of flicking the red switch to the upper left side (facing) of the device. It's a nice touch, able to transport you into a games carousel, along with the ability to select various key options - such as do not disturb (DND), permitting specific apps to notify (such as Discord in a pop-up overlay), controlling lighting, the cooling fan, and screen refresh rate.

We just wish that switching into Game Space would automatically apply selected presets. For example, we'd (perhaps) activate 165Hz when in the space, but drop that to 90Hz once done and flicking the switch back to 'normal' for our everyday activities. But that doesn't happen - the selected refresh rate remains in play, so you have to manually adjust it.

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6 review photo 7

Elsewhere in terms of design, the Red Magic 6, rather unusually, features a 3.5mm headphone jack. So you can plug in your wired headphones. That's an increasing rarity for high-end devices, although we suspect most will just use Bluetooth anyway.

Performance & Battery

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 platform, 12GB LPDDR5 RAM
  • 128GB UFS 3.1 storage, no microSD card slot
  • 5050mAh battery capacity, 66W fast-charge
  • Turbofan and liquid cooling system
    • Dual-Core Cooler accessory
  • Wi-Fi 6E (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac)
  • 5G connectivity

So why is the Red Magic 6 so chunky, at almost a full centimetre wide? There's a number of reasons: the massive battery capacity (5,050mAh), the integrated physical cooling fan, the spatial capacity to ensure airflow won't overheat the processor inside. And that's just three reasons.

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6 review photo 12

There's no doubting the Red Magic 6 has got the goods when it comes to power. Utilising Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 platform, alongside 12GB RAM, there's nothing more powerful inside phones right now. Which makes the asking price of this phone all the more phenomenal.

For most people the difference between a Snapdragon 888 and, say, 870 isn't going to make much difference for casual use. But the Red Magic 6 is all about gaming - so it has a processor that can put in the extra work to eke out those extra frame-rates and graphical options that you might otherwise not get elsewhere.

That said, only so many games are able to really tuck in. The same goes with the refresh rate debate: which games will genuinely benefit from 165Hz? Not many, perhaps none at all. Running Red Magic's own FPS checker in real-time showed that many of our favourites - South Park: Phone Destroyer being the main, PUBG Mobile being the other - apparently max out at 31fps. Surely an error on Red Magic's software? Because PUBG Mobile can run at 90fps.

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6 review photo 8

That self administered punch to the face aside, however, and the Red Magic 6 does a darn good job when it comes to playing games. There's no delay, no fuss with fidelity, no issues with graphics textures, and so forth. It's about as good as it gets.

However, that cooling fan doesn't half make a lot of noise. It's whirring sound whistles quite irritatingly. Having it on will undoubtedly use up power, too, so we've opted for leaving the standard cooling system minus the additional fans to take care of things. It's a good job you can manually adjust this from the settings shade - because the fan also activates when fast-charging kicks in, unless you tell it not to.

The reason for that is the fast-charging, at 66W, is really quick. You can fill it from dead in under 40 minutes, assuming you have the correct plug at the wall, which is borderline ridiculous. Pop it on a slower recharge and you'll be kinder to the battery's health, but it'll take a fair lot longer.

As for realistic longevity per charge. With this phone, more than most, that's going to depend on how much you game. We've found the battery life a little unpredictable in general, with a day of 'normal use' (at 90Hz, note) and some gaming thrown in delivering close to 15 hours. That's fine for a single day, except there are some moments when the battery will bomb and that'll leave you reaching for the charger when you might not usually expect so - and that can render the 165Hz plus cooling fan as limited time options.

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It would also be remiss to not speak on software, which here is Red Magic OS (V4.0), built over Google's Android 11 operating system. It's fairly harmless, in that it has various obtuse Themes, but there are some fundamentals that are just broken.

Notifications, for one, are scruffy, filling up layers per app in a not-too-useful format. But at least, unlike with the Poco X3 Pro, we get consistent notifications, eh?

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6 review photo 6

The home screen also can't accept new apps being dragged from the app drawer and onto it as icons - they just vanish, unless you load multiple apps into a folder and drag them from there. It's a ridiculous and irksome bug. That, in a sense, is indicative of what to expect when it comes to software experience: a unique yet unpredictable one.

Cameras

  • Triple rear system: 
    • Main (26mm): 64-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, 0.8µm pixel size
    • Wide (13mm): 8 MP, f/2.0, 1.12µm
    • Macro: 2MP
  • Selfie camera: 8MP, f/2.0

One area where we've been critical of previous Red Magic devices is with the cameras. Although the Red Magic 6 doesn't get away Scot-free by any means, its main camera is fairly decent - outshining the likes of the Moto G100, that's for sure.

Thankfully the rear of this phone is slightly curved so it slots into the hand pretty elegantly. There's no giant camera bump in the way. No unwarranted protrusions or oddities. But that's because the cameras here simply aren't as high-end as you'll find in some devices.

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6 review photo 4

According to the specification, the Red Magic 6 has a 64-megapixel main sensor (a S5KGW3 - which is Samsung's GW3 sensor) that squeezes images down to 16-megapixels by using one-in-four processing. Then there's an 8MP wide-angle (a HI846, so a typical Hynix sensor). Lastly there's a 2MP macro for close-ups (the OV02A10, supplied by OmniVision).

Thing is, the camera app doesn't offer any wide-angle shooting. It's not to be found anywhere. So you can already forget about getting any ultra-wides out of this device. Yet another problem of the software, perhaps?

The macro, given that it's just 2-megapixels, is also of really poor quality - so we doubt you'll ever want to use it. At least the system does prompt you to use it when very close to a subject, though, and the magnifying glass-style focus symbol on the screen is particularly useful to get in-focus shots. Not that they'll be all that sharp, given the limit in quality.

So it all falls to the main lens to sell the camera system. Think of the Red Magic 6 as a single camera and it's reasonably successful. The real-time phase-detection autofocus is snappy at showing what it's focusing onto. The quality of images is fairly decent in a variety of conditions, too. Oversharpened, sure, but there's detail here that could easily be negated by a lesser setup.

Just make sure you turn off the watermark feature (as you can see from the gallery above, we didn't) - because it's on by default, will plaster your images with unwanted words that you can't remove, and it's still beyond perplexing to us that this is an acceptable practice. Kill the watermark default already.

Not that you'll be taking pictures, right? You'll be playing games. Because, ultimately, that's what the Red Magic 6 is all about.

Verdict

If you're in the market for a gaming phone then the Red Magic 6 has a lot going for it: it's well priced, it's seriously powerful, and it has a faster screen refresh rate than you'll find on any other phone right now.

Thing is, whether you'll get genuine use from 165Hz is a whole other matter. And with it active the cooling fan's whining drone sound isn't delicate on the ears. Plus it rather affects the battery life for the worse.

That there is physical fan-based cooling, however, is testament to how gaming-focused this phone is. With its Game Space dedicated switch, too, there's quick-access to controls and gaming-specific settings.

Just like its predecessors, the Red Magic 6 does what it sets out to achieve: being an alluring gaming phone. But while it's "game on" in that regard, it's "game off" for everyday use - where the software comes up short, the sheer size approaches unwieldy, and the cameras are way off their billing.

Also consider

Pocket-lintAlternative photo 1

Lenovo Legion Phone Duel

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Ok, so it's the first-gen model - the second-gen has just been announced - and it's pricier than the Red Magic. But with the Lenovo's side-positioned pop-up camera and dual charging facility, it's a super-powered gaming device unlike anything else on the market.

Writing by Mike Lowe.