RedMagic 6 Review: The Gaming Phone Keeping It Cool
The gaming smartphone space is a curious one. It’s not a large part of the market, but for those who are very much ‘game first’ won their smartphone, the market is there. Nubia has launched the RedMagic 6 into this space. What makes the RedMagic smartphone a gaming smartphone? For Nubia the answer is based around performance, controls, and customisation.
First up, the headline specs on the RedMagic 6 are incredibly promising. There’s one variant of the phone, and it comes with 12 GB of RAM and 128 GB of storage (a RedMagic 6 Pro is also available with 16 GB of RAM and 256 GB, but I’m reviewing the standard model here).
That 12 GB of RAM leaves games with a lot of memory to play with. Couple that with the latest SnapDragon 888 chipset and you have a lot of power and the memory to run them comfortably.
128 GB should be more than enough for gamers. The potential in the future for 128 GB to be a little short on storage is not a concern I have right now – with the likes of Fortnite taking up 3 GB with its data files, there’s plenty of space.
You also have a fast refreshing screen. While the current norm is 120 Hz for flagship styled smartphones, and a number of premium handsets going up to 144Hz, the RedMagic 6 goes even higher, right up to 165 Hz, offering faster and smoother gameplay It’s just unfortunate that you don’t find the 165 Hz option in the regular settings menu, you need to head into the quick settings menu..
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All of this performance does come at a cost. Heat. Dissipating the energy created by running ever faster processors, handling heat is a key part of the smartphone performance equation. The RedMagic 6 has two core methods. The first is vapour cooling, with a large surface area next to the motherboard to wick the heat away. This is backed up with a graphite layer designed to draw heat away from the SnapDragon 888; a cooler processor means more processing power can be used.
The second is a more traditional method of driving heat out of a computer – a small fan to help move air in and out of the handset when the performance is demanded. With air vents allowing the fan to draw cool air in and push warm air out, the heat profile of the RedMagic 6 should allow multiple hours of gameplay without the surface of the handset becoming uncomfortably hot.
There is a downside to the later, and that’s the noise the fan makes. Much like more traditional laptops and desktops, there’s going to be ambient noise, and if you put a lot of thermal demand into the phone, the fan is going to step up the speed and noise to compensate.
It’s not a huge distraction when gaming, although I suspect most gamers will be on headphones which negates the noise issue entirely.
Gaming on a smartphone has a not so subtle difference to gaming on the likes of a Nintendo Switch… you only have the touchscreen. Some players have taken to external controllers that create a Switch-like experience with physical keys. The RedMagic 6 has found a nice halfway house. You are still using the touchscreen, but you have two haptic shoulder buttons on the long edge of the device., Move into an FPS game and these become a great addition to the touchscreen’s replication of two analogue control sticks with various on screen buttons around them.
As well as offering up to 165 Hz refresh rate on the screen, its touch input frequency is 500 Hz, so polling 500 times per second for any inputs from the user. A lightning quick screen, speedy reactions, the cool processing power are
It’s comfortable and a natural fit for modern gaming.
You also have a little red button at the side of the handset. This activates ‘Game Space’ on the device, essentially a game playing mode. If the hardware unlocks a better physical gaming experience, this button is the software equivalent.
This triggers the cooling fans into operation, prioritises the game that is running, and suppress distractions such as notifications while playing. You can also set up extra functions, such as assigning actions to the shoulder buttons on a per game basis – for example do you want these to act as a staging move in a game, or inventory control? Here’s where you can choose and save that option.
Game Space is where the magic of the RedMagic 6 happens. If you want to know what makes a smartphone a gaming phone, this is the answer – something that brings in hardware and software tweaks specifically designed for the needs of gaming. By optimising for gamers, rather than an all-round experience you might see in the likes of a Samsung Galaxy, you improve this part of the experience.
Oh yes and I want to point out that in terms of sound you’ve not only got stereo speakers on the handset, but also a 3.5mm headphone jack. For all the work in reducing latency in bluetooth headphones, sometimes you need the literal immediacy of a cabled connection.
All that said, the RedMagic 6 does feel a little rough at the edges when you step away from the gaming side of things. Nothing is a showstopper, in fact nothing is particularly awkward, but there’s a certain sense of needing another iteration to smooth things out to get closer to the all-rounder performance you see in premium smartphones.
The RedMagic 6 currently ships with Android 11, and the RedMagic UI sits on top of that. Echoing the styling of the handset the UI feel is very angular and hard edged. There’s a sense of bulk when working through your applications, dialogs, and menus.
This does feel secondary to the Game Space interface. This offers a carousel of your gaming titles, as well as stats on your time using the phone and the various games on it. This makes the RedMagic 6 feel different to your regular phone and certainly draws you further into the idea of this being a gaming device… but I have two issues with it. The first is that all the muscle memory and automatic thinking in how to drive the Android UI goes out the window – you’ll be using the RedMagic UI here (and switching back to Android depending on the app you open). Secondly, the fan kicks in with Game Space activation. You can turn it off but then the heat starts to rise. A tiny whirr on the phone is a… new experience that is certainly noticeable.
THere’s a balance here. Do you make the phone more like Android (and more accessible) or more like a gaming console (and make it more.. game-y)? The RedMagic 6 leans towards the later. That helps it stand out, but I suspect that the engineering time has went here, rather than on the core Android integration in the UI, because the device has a number of small issues in everyday use; from the slow closing of resources on exiting an app (typified by sounds playing for a second or two after closing), through stuttering scrolls in the likes of Twitter and Facebook, to complicating the UI and hiding some key options away in places unique to the platform.
The offering of the RedMagic 6 is a pretty straightforward one. Here’s a gaming smartphone, with some of the best specs in the business, all an affordable price that is lower than the competition. It’s one we’ve seen before from brands looking to become established in new markets, especially in the US and Western Europe.
In the case of RedMagic it is specifically targeting gamers with the hardware and software on show here. It could be used as a general day to day smartphone, but pretty much any handset with the base processor/storage/memory specs on offer here can do that. The design focus is straight towards gamers, with high performance balanced by cooling, controls working within a smartphone’s limitations, and a UI that is geared towards delivering the extra performance demanded by the unique needs of gamers.
While there are no showstopper bugs, the software does need a bit more time to fully mature, but on the whole the RedMagic 6 is ready to enter the gaming market with a strong proposition around pricing and specs.