Nubia RedMagic 5G Review: An Unruly Android Gaming Beast
Nubia RedMagic 5G Software, Pricing, Review Summary
Nubia RedMagic 5G Software And UI
Software is where the RedMagic 5G stumbles. It runs RedMagic OS v3.0, a lightly skinned build of Android 10. While it’s certainly speedy, it’s also quite buggy and visually awkward. For example, we aren’t fans of the square app icons in the otherwise clean launcher -- which thankfully includes Google’s Discover feed to the left of the home screen. We also don’t like the way the settings menu is organized. Other than the aforementioned Google Pay / NFC issues, nothing’s really a showstopper, but the software just lacks refinement.
We’ve already pointed out the messy camera software, but here’s something else. You can only dismiss notifications by swiping from the left -- not by swiping from the right -- which is super annoying. Are you ready for some bugs now? Google contacts don’t appear in the Contacts / Phone app unless you explicitly enable this in the app (regardless of your general Google sync settings). The automatic time zone feature sets the phone to Eastern Time even though we’re on Pacific Time. It’s minor stuff, but it makes the RedMagic 5G feel half baked.
“But” we can hear you say, “this handset is all about gaming!” While that’s true, it doesn’t absolve Nubia from botching essentials like imaging or contact syncing. And speaking of which, yes the RedMagic 5G is a gaming powerhouse. Sliding the dedicated switch on the left edge enables Game Space 2.1, a separate landscape-mode launcher optimized for gaming. There you can add your favorite games (any app, really) to the carousel or pick the tile view. It also gives you easy access to toggles for the fan and backlit RGB LED strip on the back.
Game Space is more than a launcher, though. It lets you personalize your gaming experience in minute detail, change the display refresh rate, control CPU and GPU speed, connect RedMagic gaming accessories, program the capacitive shoulder buttons, manage how calls, notifications, and networking are handled in game, and more. Better yet, many of these settings are saved on a per-game basis -- take a look at our screenshots. This is by far one of the most comprehensive game modes we’ve seen on any handset to date.
The attention to detail found in Game Space shows what Nubia’s really capable of when it comes to software. It’s too bad the rest of the user experience isn’t as polished. At least the RedMagic 5G doesn’t come with any bloatware preinstalled -- not even games. Well done!
Nubia RedMagic 5G Pricing And Competition
The RedMagic 5G is available for purchase unlocked on the company’s website in Eclipse Black or Hot Rod Red for $579 (8GB / 128GB), and in Eclipse Black or Pulse for $649 (12GB / 256 GB). Needless to say, that’s incredible value considering the specs. In the US, the OnePlus 8 ($699) is the only phone that comes close on paper, but the display maxes out at 90Hz and it lacks a headphone jack or shoulder buttons. Then again, it offers a better camera and more refined software (including a game mode). It’s also available from T-Mobile.
Abroad, there’s more direct competition thanks to Xiaomi’s Black Shark 3 gaming phone ($579). There’s also a bunch of Snapdragon 865-powered affordable 5G flagships to consider, like the Poco F2 Pro / Redmi K30 Pro ($529), Oppo Ace2 ($579), and Vivo iQOO Neo3 5G ($379 -- not a typo). If you don’t need 5G and can live with last year’s top processor (the excellent Snapdragon 855+), take a look at 2019’s performance champions -- namely the RedMagic 3s gaming phone ($479), and the OnePlus 7T affordable flagship ($499).
Nubia RedMagic 5G - Review Summary
If you’re a gamer, you really can’t go wrong with the RedMagic 5G. As a gaming phone, it ticks all the right boxes. You’re getting both flagship specs and the most affordable 5G phone officially available in the US today. The 144Hz display is beautiful, performance is top notch, battery life is excellent, and audio is great. Just understand all of that comes with lackluster shooters and buggy software. Then there’s the question of updates. After all, the RedMagic 3 -- which is one year old -- is just now getting Android 10, and only in China for the time being.
Those of you considering the RedMagic 5G as a cheaper alternative to the current crop of Snapdragon 865-equipped 5G flagships might want to think twice. Besides the disappointing camera, questionable software, and uncertain updates, this handset is bulky and definitely not water or dust resistant -- fan grilles and all. Plus, if you’re abroad, you already have a roster of affordable 5G flagships to choose from. Yes, the RedMagic 5G is a speed demon, but are you willing to sacrifice usability for specs and performance? That's the all-important question only you can answer.