Having done a quick hands-on with the phone, I was pretty familair with the Nubia Red Magic 3S. I knew what it was good at, and had a rough idea of where it was a little lacking. having used it for a good two weeks now though, the phone’s strengths have become more apparent, and its weaknesses haave become more jarring as well.
To put it simply, the Nubia Red Magic 3S gave me mixed feelings, and very polarising ones at that. And I’ll explain why in a bit.
But first, let’s go over the spec sheet on the Nubia Red Magic 3S. The highlight here is definitely the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus. Beyond that, our review unit also comes with 12GB of RAM, 256GB of UFS 3.0 storage, and a 5000mAh battery. On the front, it has a 6.65-inch Full HD+ AMOLED 90Hz display. As for cameras, the Red magic 3S has a fairly dated single-camera setup, featuring the 48MP Sony IMX 586 sensor at the back. The front-facing camera is a 16MP unit that’s also not part of a notch.
There’s another variant of the Red magic 3S that comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage instead.
To put it simply, the Nubia Red Magic 3S looks great, but it’s not without flaws. And we start at the very first thing you see at the front – the screen. Unlike most phones these days that go for the full-display design, the Red Magic 3S still has the old-fashioned forehead and chin. This gives the phone some space for the steroe front-firing speakers.
The issue with this, though, is the fact that the phone still goes with its 19.5:9 aspect ratio. This, combined with the forehead and chin, makes the phone needlessly tall. It’s not an issue when you’e using the phone, but you’ll definitely feel the difference in height when it’s sitting in your pocket and you’re trying to sit down.
This is compounded further by the fact that the screen’s corners are curved to match the corners of the phone. It looks jarring at first, but this doesn’t become a problem until you actually use the phone to play games, which is one of the main reasons why the phone exists to begin with. The curved corners can sometimes obscure important visual elements in games that really make full use of your display real estate.
On the back is where the phone is most recognisable, depending on your choice of colour. As mentioned before, the colour option we had was the Cyber Shade variant, that’s not available on the Red Magic 3. It’s the clearest indication that you have the souped-up version, and is perfect for you if you like flashy colours that stand out. Even with the other colours that don’t stand out as much, the additional details make it a very good looking phone. The fingerprint sensor here also takes a polygonal shape rather than the usual circle.
The left side of the phone are the dock pins for the dock that we didn’t have, so I can’t say much about it, and the switch that triggers the Game Space launcher. We’ll get to that in a bit. On the right is where the power button and volume rocker are. There’s also the grille for the built-in fan, which we’ll also get to later. There are also two capacitive trigger buttons on this side, which makes this the predetermined top side when you’re holding the phone horizontally.
The fan grille being here means that, ultimately, you’ll likely be using the phone without a case. In the unlikely scenario that you’re using the phone solely for gaming, then this is fine. But realistically, this will mean that you’ll have to be extremely careful when using the phone. This is especially when it’s raining, for obvious reasons.
On the bottom is the USB-C charging port, and another grille which is likely the fan’s air intakes. And on the top, we have the 3.5mm audio jack.
Throughout your time using the Nubia Red Magic 3S, you’ll likely not run into any hiccups. Its powerful processor, ample amounts of RAM and fast storage ensures that lag is not something you will experience for the most part. The 90Hz refresh rate makes your user experience buttery smooth as well, as you swipe between screens, or from top to bottom on your favourite social media app.
The phone also runs its own custom Redmagic 2.0 overlay, which looks like it may as well be stock Android. Aside from a few obvious proprietary software like the Game Space, the phone is pretty much devoid of any built-in app that’s not made by Google.
You won’t have to worry about the speakers either. They’re loud enough to hurt your ears if you push it to the max. As you’d expect, distortion at such volume levels are inevitable.
Then we get ot the synthetic benchmarks. With its powerful hardware, the impressive score here is hardly surprising.
But as a gaming phone, things get a little complicated. To start, there’s the Game Space launcher. Engaging it essentially engages the phone’s gaming mode, which shuts down anything that could distract you from your games. This includes calls and messages, and you can customise to an extent what to block. It also comes with other functions like setting your triggers, and deciding if you want your fan speed to be changed automatically or if you want it blasting the whole time.
As someone who doesn’t often game on phones, flipping the switch for the Game Space mode isn’t something that comes naturally. And even when I remember to turn it on before I start playing, the Red Magic 3S heats up very quickly. At full blast, the fan isn’t loud enough to distract your from your game. But on the flip side, depending on the game you play, the phone can heat up to uncomfortable levels after about 15 minues.
But if you’re fortunate enough that your game doesn’t heat the phone up to such levels, then you’ll probably be able to do so for as long as you like. This is simply because the battery life on the Nubia Red Magic 3S is great. On days when I’m light with media consumption, I can end the day with over 70% of battery charge left. And even on days when I let loose on games or YouTube, I can still comfortably make it back home without the phone getting knocked out.
As for our usual video loop test, the Nubia Red Magic 3S lasted about 17-and-a-half hours on YouTube. Charging times arent as impressive as the endurance figures though. A flat battery to full charge takes just slightly under two hours.
As mentioned earlier, the Nubia Red Magic 3S has, by today’s standards, an unusual single-camera setup. And for what it is, the 48MP camera performs quite well. Colours are very slightly on the cold side by default, but it’s so slight that you’ll have to strain your eyes to notice it. Detail retention is also surprisingly good.
But what’s likely the best feature on the default camera app is its Gradienter feature. Just as the name suggests, it indicates if your shots are level before you take them. Having used it for awhile, I’m left wondering why is this feature not found in other camera apps. Sure, it’s an innocuous tool that most people can live without. But for those who like having tools, this goes very well with the grid lines that pretty much every camera app has.
Gaming phones are not exactly common, despite their apparent popularity. With that, there aren’t that many phones to compare the Nubia Red Magic 3S to, aside from the usual suspects. But it does make things easier to break it down if you’re looking to pick one gaming phone to own.
ASUS ROG Phone II
Easily the most popular gaming phone of the lot, the ASUS ROG Phone II builds upon the success of the first generation. Among the gaming phones that have been around, this is likely the most similar to the Nubis Red Magic 3S. It comes with Air Triggers on the right side, it sports the same 48MP Sony IMX 586 main camera, and it comes with 12GB of RAM. The display is slightly smaller, at 6.59 inches, it’s still the same Full HD+ resolution.
Despite the many similarities, there are a number of key differences which will be the deciding factors between the phones. For one, the ROG Phone II’s display comes with a 120Hz refresh rate. Its battery is also a lot larger, at 6000mAh. The base model also comes with 512GB of internal storage. Most importantly, the base model is priced at RM3499. Then there are loads of other add-ons that can amount to almost the same price of the phone.
Black Shark 2 Pro
The Black Shark 2 Pro is an odd one. The display has a refresh rate of 60Hz, but has a touch sampling rate of 240Hz instead. It also doesn’t have triggers, but it has Bluetooth accessories available. It also has a slightly smaller battery, at 4000mAh.
In truth, the 240Hz touch sampling rate is the only important differentiationg factor here. The 60Hz refresh rate may seem like a downer compared to the Red magic 3S’ 90Hz. But it’s also important to remember most games doesn’t actually support such framerates.
The Nubia Red Magic 3S, then is an interesting gaming phone. The decked-out variant costs RM2899, which sounds reasonable for a phone with a Snapdragon 855 Plus. It’s good at what it does generally, and is surprisingly good as a camera phone. It also has a good enough battery life to last you a whole day of heavy use. With light use, expect to be able to use it for two days at least.
But with its defining trait of having a built-in fan, it makes for a phone that needs a little too much care. Even if you’re not a clumsy person, you’ll likely worry about it a little more than you should everytime you take it out of your pocket. You also can’t use a case for the added peace of mind. Worst of all, depending on what game you play, it could still tax the phone beyond the fan’s cooling capabilities.
All in all, the Nubia Red magic 3S’s defining feature may be its Achilles heel. That aside, it has good looking colour options for both those who prefer a phone that stands out, or those who want a lower profile look. It lasts long, is plenty powerful, and has an unexpectedly good camera. The phone would be a good pick if you want a gaming phone, provided you can live with the inherent issues of having a built-in fan.
Photography by Li Jin Soh