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(Pocket-lint) - What defines a gaming phone these days? It's a question that rears its head when considering the Red Magic 6R, in particular, as the whole idea of the R - which stands for 'Racing', apparently - is to really flip the gaming phone concept on its head.

The Red Magic 6R isn't as chunky a handset as the company's previous gaming forays (such as the Red Magic 6). It somewhat mutes the typically flashy and dripping-with-colour accents for a softer looking, silver colour finish. It's done away with the dedicated Game Space switch, too, to make a handset that's, well, just a bit more 'normal' - an 'everyday flagship' if you will.

On the one hand we really like this idea: there's gaming-level goodness thanks to a 144Hz refresh rate OLED display and top-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 platform powering things. On the other hand it doesn't make total sense: it's diluting the idea of a through-and-through gaming phone and, by shrinking the frame, adding some compromises to heat dissipation.

So, having weighed up using the Red Magic 6R as our daily device over some weeks, is it gaming phone evolution or more devolution?

Design & Display

  • 6.67-inch AMOLED panel, 1080 x 2400 resolution, 20:9 aspect ratio
  • 144Hz maximum refresh rate, 360Hz touch sampling rate
  • Dimensions: 163 x 75.3 x 7.8 mm / Weight: 186g
  • Finish options: Cosmos Black / Mercury Silver
  • Under-display fingerprint scanner
  • Built-in shoulder triggers

There seems to be a bit of a shift going on in the industry. More and more gaming devices are aiming at subtle or 'disguised' designs. Be that the Acer Predator Triton 500 SE, as one gaming laptop example, or this very phone: the Red Magic 6R.

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6R review photo 15

That's evident in the 'Mercury Silver' finish, which although there's some stencil-like shapes printed across the rear, is a generally subdued finish in Red Magic design language terms. The silver colour is pleasing, but the way it magnetises fingerprints is not.

The camera bump also pops out by quite some distance, which seems unnecessary given the limited quality and specification of these lenses - the chunkier Red Magic 6 is much flatter, but then it's much thicker overall.

That's a real differentiating factor about the 6R: at 7.8mm it's hardly super skinny, but being those few millimetres less girthy than other gaming phones makes it feel very different to use. It's also much lighter as a result, landing under that crucial 200g mark, making for a more easily pocketable device.

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6R review photo 11

Some features that are a Red Magic staple remain in place. There's a pair of 400Hz touch shoulder triggers towards the top and bottom of one side of the phone - well, it's left and right positioned when in landscape orientation, which is the whole point. These are also more subtly integrated than before, without anything much of a 'dip' along the body's edge.

Flip the 6R over to its front and the 6.67-inch AMOLED display reveals its face, surrounded by a neat black bezel and unusually large and reflective front-facing punch-hole selfie camera.

The screen is another key part of what defines this device as a 'gaming phone'. With a 144Hz refresh rate - you can also select 60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz from the settings - the idea is that it offers additional smoothness and frames to make for the best day-to-day and, of course, gaming experience. Thing is, the 'normal' Red Magic goes one better, at 165Hz, so the 6R is a bit more of a 'Lite' handset by comparison.

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6R review photo 6

You've also got to consider that, really, many flagship devices these days have 120Hz refresh rate screens anyway. It's becoming fairly standard in the industry, which comes back to our opening question: what really defines a gaming phone these days? The 6R's screen is decent - OLED means rich colours and deep blacks - but it's not really standout in a busying crowd.

Performance & Battery

  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 platform, 12GB LPDDR5 RAM
  • 128GB/256GB UFS 3.1 storage, no microSD card slot
  • 4200mAh battery capacity, 30W fast-charge
  • Red Magic OS 4.0 (over Google Android 11)
  • Wi-Fi 6E (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac)
  • 5G connectivity

That the Red Magic 6R is less chunky than its gaming phone cousins sounds like a winner. But, actually, it results in some issues. Namely that the phone gets a lot hotter, as the cooling system just isn't as capable here as you'll find in the standard Red Magic 6. But then there's no cooling fan - which we found noisy in the older device - so, really, using the 6R is much like using many other flagship phones.

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6R review photo 8

That heat doesn't cause a massive problem with battery life, surprisingly, which is a good job. We had a feeling that the slim frame and therefore lower battery capacity might not handle especially well when gaming at 120Hz. Thankfully our expectations were surpassed by the phone, which has been lasting well throughout a day - 16 hours in and it's fairly rare to hit the 20 per cent low battery warning. Select 144Hz at all times, however, and you'll likely struggle to get there.

There are other contentions with the 6R compared to its full-fat bigger brother. The charging speed, at 30W, is half the speed. But it's still pretty speedy to top the battery up when plugged into a proper wall socket.

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6R review photo 10

Part of the reason the 6R gets hot when you turn up your demands is because of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 platform at its heart, which is the top-tier processor you can find in any phone for 2021. Its performance is everything you'd hope: able to tackle the most demanding of mobile games without concern, except for that inevitable body heat as a result. It's not intensely hot, though, but might make your fingers a little warmer and more slippy (which isn't ideal considering the rear finish of this device).

We've also found Red Magic's software - which is built over Google Android 11 - to be more stable than previous phones we've used in the series. It's not bug-free, but hasn't had massive fallout issues like we've previously experienced (which have included being unable to drag app icons from screen to screen, as one earlier example).

It's more in the details where the software lacks some refinement: the animated desktops 'jumping' into action, not the deft smooth integration that you'll find in something like, say, the Xiaomi Mi 11i with MIUI 12.5 software. Notifications are also busy - there's a lot of individual breakdowns that show in the swipe-down shade and so it's harder to manage your way through everything.

Elsewhere there's speedy storage, speedy connectivity thanks to 5G (another part of Qualcomm's offering here), and speedy Wi-Fi 6E connectivity. You see the speedy theme there, on which the 6R delivers.

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Cameras

  • Quad rear camera system:
    • Main (26mm): 64-megapixel, f/1.8 aperture, 0.8µm pixel size
    • Wide (13mm): 8 MP, f/2.0, 1.12µm
    • Macro: 5MP, f/2.4
    • Depth: 2MP, f/2.4
  • Selfie camera: 16-megapixel, f/2.0 aperture

Not content with the three rear cameras of other devices, the 6R goes one better with a quad camera setup. Except, really, it's not better - it's just an unnecessary depth sensor that joins the macro sensor, wide-angle, and main snapper.

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6R review photo 14

Aside from the macro getting a bump from 2- to 5-megapixels compared to the normal Red Magic 6, the main and wide-angle cameras remain very similar (except the main sensor shifts from a Samsung to a Sony one). That brings its share of positives and negatives.

The 64-megapixel main sensor squeezes images down to 16-megapixels by using one-in-four processing at decent quality. It's the main camera that you'll be using most of the time, too, as the wide-angle isn't available in the main Photo mode. You'll have to shift to Pro mode to be able to access wide-angle, which is a really strange decision - especially as the main Photo mode permits digital zoom, but no pinch-to-wide functionality.

The main sensor uses very active autofocus that does a great job of identifying and locking onto subjects for sharp focus, while various settings - AI (artificial intelligence) scene identification and Smart Photo enhancement - can boost the visual appeal of the images. Sometimes it overdoes things, though, with the Smart Photo not always that smart - it'll push reds to levels of saturation that make such subjects look like they don't belong in an image. General quality is good though, albeit oversharpened.

We're pleased that the macro camera has been boosted to 5-megapixels, putting it on par with that you'll find in the Xiaomi Mi 11, for example, but we don't think it'll be a commonly used optic. It's not easy to access, for starters, which is all part of Red Magic's strange management of its cameras - a bit like the hiding away of the wide-angle!

Pocket-lintRed Magic 6R cameras photo 10

As we've long said of these devices: make sure you turn off the watermark feature! It's on by default and is, frankly, a stupid setting that nobody really wants. Do away with 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 6R is all about. Or, actually, is it?

Verdict

The Red Magic 6R is a powerful and well-priced handset. But is it really and truly a gaming phone? There are some features to help tell it apart but, really, it's much like many other flagships of the moment.

That presents a bit of a conundrum. What's its real purpose? It heats up more than Red Magic's chunkier alternatives, for starters, and while it's certainly got enough going on under the hood to crunch through gaming sessions, so have many other flagship products - ones that may also offer generally better software and camera experiences.

Ultimately, it's been a cinch using the Red Magic 6R, because the experience hasn't brought physical size irks or really any additional major compromises. That it's blurred the meaning of what a gaming phone can be is more a moment of contemplation. After all, at this asking price, you might not be bothered about the gaming angle at all - and just want an affordable alt-flagship without the in-your-face typical gaming aesthetics.

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Writing by Mike Lowe. Originally published on 17 June 2021.