Red Magic 6 Review: 165Hz Gaming Phone


Since the introduction of the Razer Phone in 2017, a wealth of smartphones specifically designed for mobile gaming have emerged. Chinese heavyweights Xiaomi (Black Shark) and Lenovo (Legion Phone) are among the leading players in this sector, and Asus has borrowed the ROG branding for its dedicated gaming handsets.

All three have launched new phones in 2021, although they were beaten to the punch by Nubia. A subsidiary of Chinese giant ZTE, the company’s Red Magic brand has typically offered class-leading specs and a distinct gamer aesthetic for a relatively affordable price. Now in its seventh generation, the Red Magic 6 series has seen the introduction of a Pro model for the first time. However, the focus of this review is the regular version, which aims to upgrade the core gaming experience fans of the Red Magic line have come to expect. Has Nubia succeeded in producing the best gaming phone of 2021? Read on to find out.

Design and display

The Red Magic 6 is a gaming phone through and through, and its design makes that very obvious. Nubia has always been comfortable with an industrial build and comparatively large bezels, although the Eclipse Black model is more muted than we’ve come to expect. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it blends in with regular smartphones, but it definitely doesn’t stand out in the same way as the vibrant ‘Pulse’ model of the Red Magic 5S.

Nonetheless, most of the same design features are here. You still get a bulky, imposing design, consisting of glass front and rear and aluminium rails. This gives the phone an identical weight of 220g, while it’s a smidgen thinner at 9.7mm – these specs make it one of the bulkiest phones you can buy. There’s the same triple rear camera setup (64Mp main, 8Mp ultrawide, 2Mp macro) and 8Mp selfie lens, as well as the customary RGB lighting. The Tencent branding is new, although it’s only available on the Chinese model I tested and won’t be present on the global version.

However, to focus primarily on the similarities would be missing the point. While the Red Magic 5S was a barely justifiable incremental update, the 6 introduces wholesale changes that have a noticeable effect on the user experience.

Undoubtedly the most high-profile is a new 165Hz display, putting the Red Magic 6 and 6 Pro on their own as the highest refresh rate phones you can buy. Nubia has understandably been heavily marketing the new feature, although in reality it doesn’t make a huge difference over the 144Hz we now see on many gaming phones. Performance buttery-smooth, but that was already the case on the previous two Red Magic handsets. One thing you won’t find on many phones is a 400Hz touch sampling rate, making the Red Magic 6 extremely responsive.

In order to balance battery life, the screen itself is a 6.8in Full HD+ (1080×2400) OLED panel. That’s a noticeable step up from the Red Magic 5S (6.65 in and 1080×2300 respectively), and it makes sense for gaming phones to sacrifice slightly on resolution in order to maximise refresh rates. The display still offers plenty of detail and rich, vibrant colours, making for an excellent viewing experience.

A software update added the 165Hz option to Settings shortly after this photo was taken.

A significant slimming of bezels means the larger screen is housed within a near-identical footprint. The Red Magic 6 still has no notch, making it well-optimised for horizontal usage and giving the phone a satisfying symmetry. There’s still enough room for a front-facing speaker (which doubles as the earpiece) and an 8Mp selfie camera, which also supports face unlock.

Your other biometric unlocking method comes in the form of an optical in-display fingerprint scanner. We’ve seen this feature on the last two Red Magic phones, but it’s much more reliable here and seemed to unlock the phone faster.

Being a gaming handset, the Red Magic also benefits from some other features you won’t find on regular handsets. There’s a dedicated switch for Nubia’s ‘Game Space’ mode, which boosts CPU/GPU performance and blocks distractions while gaming. It’s also where you’ll find customisation options for the side-mounted shoulder triggers, which use haptic feedback to provide a more immersive gaming experience.

Then there’s the built-in fan. Nubia was something of a trailblazer when it debuted on 2019’s Red Magic 3, although Lenovo’s Legion phones now offer a similar feature. It forms part of the phone’s advanced cooling system known as Ice 6.0. The fan is joined by an ultra-thin vapour chamber and layer of graphite to protect the CPU – Nubia says this can reduce the temperature of the back of the phone by up to 5°C. I certainly didn’t experience any problems with overheating during my testing time, including while playing graphically demanding games.

However, this does mean the 20,000rpm fan gets very loud, especially when in ‘Fast cooling’ mode. What’s more, I couldn’t find a way to turn it off completely. I understand its necessity on a phone like this, but it did slightly take away from the immersive gaming experience the Red Magic 6 is trying to achieve.

Elsewhere, the front-facing speaker combines with another downward-firing driver for a stereo setup. It offers detailed, rich audio, making the distracting loud fan even more annoying. To help block that sound out, there is the option to connect headphones via the 3.5mm headphone jack.

Performance: Gaming & much more

The Red Magic 6 ticks nearly all the boxes from a design standpoint, but the more pressing question is how well it handles gaming across a variety of genres and styles. The short answer? Superbly. The Red Magic blazes through some of the most demanding titles on the Google Play Store with ease.

This didn’t come as a huge surprise. The phone is packed with high-end specs, which, when combined, deliver top-of-the-line performance which few handsets can rival. Among the key upgrades on the 6 is a move to the Snapdragon 888, a processor which manufacturer Qualcomm says is specifically designed for ‘elite gaming’.

The chipset has 5G built-in, enabling high-end gaming while out and about, although the limited UK 5G support meant I wasn’t able to test this for myself. It combines with an Adreno 660 GPU and 12GB of RAM on the model I tested, although the Pro model can stretch this to an incredible 18GB. There’s also 128GB or 256GB of internal storage, but without microSD card expansion that could quickly get filled up.

Nubia says that ‘hundreds of games’ support the 165Hz refresh rate, although only a handful of specific ones were highlighted. They include 8 Ball Pool, Miniclip’s popular online pool sim, as well as Angry Birds spin-off Bad Piggies. They were never going to be the most rigorous test of the Red Magic hardware, but did feel extra slick and special on the upgrade display.

A more demanding 165Hz-enabled title is Arma Mobile Ops, a military strategy game with online multiplayer support. It was similarly impressive here, but it didn’t quite put the phone through its paces in the same way as a full FPS game. To test that more effectively, I tried Call of Duty: Mobile. The dynamic landscapes and fast-paced combat are a challenge for any device, but the Red Magic 6 coped admirably. It was a similar story with Battle Royale title PUBG Mobile, where the silky-smooth gameplay could give you a better chance of success. Racing games are similarly popular, and the all-action Asphalt 9 looking stunning and giving you a greater feeling of control when compared to 60Hz phones.

It perhaps goes without saying, but this stellar performance extends to everyday usage. Browsing social media (another area to benefit from the high refresh rate), checking email and surfing the web are all super-smooth and lag-free.

You can see how it stacks up against its rivals below, where it goes toe-to-toe with the more expensive Asus ROG Phone 5. Do note that we haven’t yet been able to test the recently-announced Black Shark 4 and Lenovo Legion Phone Duel 2, though.

Software and features

The Red Magic 6 comes running Nubia’s custom Red Magic OS over Android 11. Now in its fourth iteration, the skin gives Android a very different look and feel to what you’ll get with Google’s regular look. Icons are boxier, the system font has been tweaked and there are extra options in the quick settings drop-down menu. A few of Google’s system apps have also been replaced with Nubia’s own version, such as Gallery, Clock and Contacts. You’ll have to be content with these, as there’s no way to swap out the default launcher for something different from the Play Store.

None of these modifications are likely to fundamentally change the way you use your phone, although everything seems to be geared towards getting you gaming as soon as possible. That’s emphasised by the return of ‘Game Space’, the phone’s dedicated mode for uninterrupted gaming. It offers a selection of tools aimed at providing a more immersive, distraction-free experience, including allocating more CPU/GPU power and blocking notifications.

It’s preferable to jumping straight into the action, and you can quickly access key tools mid-game by swiping from the right of the display.

Cameras

Taking photos and videos is in no way a priority for a gaming phone, but it’s nice to know that the photography prowess is there. The Red Magic 6 has a triple rear array, consisting of 64Mp main, 8Mp ultrawide and 2Mp macro. That’s an identical setup to its predecessor, so it’s no surprise Nubia doesn’t mention cameras on the Red Magic 6 website.

Still, that doesn’t mean they’re no good. In favourable lighting, they produce clear, detailed shots with an impressive level of dynamic range. It works especially well on dramatic landscapes like the beach scenes I used for testing. In these situations, having the extra flexibility of a ultrawide lens was much appreciated. Shots can look a little washed out at times, but that’s due in part to overcast conditions.

The camera app presents you with zoom options upon opening it, but without a dedicated telephoto lens, detail and sharpness was quickly lost. There’s also no depth sensor, although I was impressed with the quality of software-enhanced portrait mode images. As usual, it struggled quite a bit with edge detection, but the results are still acceptable.

The night mode works well too, provided there’s at least a bit of light around – it takes a few extra seconds, but does a good job of not losing too much detail. You do get a dedicated macro sensor, but I was underwhelmed with the quality of any close-up shots.

An 8Mp front-facing camera produces decent selfies, provided you don’t use the extremely artificial beauty mode. See a full selection of samples in the gallery below:

On the video side, the Red Magic 6 is capable of up 8K at 30fps, although the 1080p default is likely to be a more common option. The inclusion of optical image stabilisation (OIS) means footage remains smooth, even while moving around.

Battery life

The Red Magic 6 has a 5,050mAh battery, up from 4,500mAh on its predecessor. That’s presumably to handle the move to a 165Hz screen, which Nubia acknowledges has a big effect on battery life. That’s offset to some extent by an adaptive refresh rate – the display automatically adjusts based on what you’re doing, and only delivers the 165Hz when it’s supported.

I couldn’t get our usual PCMark battery test to work, although the legacy Geekbench 4 app recorded an impressive time of 13 hours and 57 minutes. However, that’s with the brightness set to a relatively low 120 nits, and only serves as a measure of screen-on time. Regular gaming on the Red Magic 6 is likely to deplete the battery much more quickly.

Still, it comfortably lasted me a full day on a single charge, including a significant period playing a range of different games. I’m sure it could stretch to two days with lighter usage.

You may have seen the headlining 120W charging at the launch event, but that’s exclusive to the Pro model in China. The regular version tops out at 66W everywhere and, disappointingly,  there’s only a 30W adapter included in the box. Nonetheless, this still managed to restore 71% of the battery in 30 minutes, so you’re likely looking at under an hour for a full charge. There’s no wireless charging, though.

Price & Availability

The Red Magic 6 is currently available to buy from the official website for £509/US$599. That will get you 12GB of RAM and 128GB of storage – it’s the only configuration currently available outside of China. That’s slightly less than the initial starting price of 2020’s Red Magic 5S (£539/US$579), although this is likely to make room for the new Pro model (£599/US$699).

That means the regular model I tested one of the most affordable gaming phones you can buy, undercutting fellow 2021 big hitters in the Asus ROG Phone 5 review (from £799) and Lenovo Legion Phone Duel 2 (from £699). Xiaomi’s Black Shark 4 might throw a spanner in the works, though, with global pricing information yet to be revealed.

Nonetheless, there’s no doubting the Red Magic 6 represents excellent value for money for a keen mobile gamer. For everyone else, though, you can still get a more well-rounded experience elsewhere.

Verdict

In the increasingly competitive world of gaming phones, the Red Magic 6 stands out for one key reason: a class-leading 165Hz display. The benefit it brings over 144Hz is debatable, but there’s no doubting that the device delivers silky-smooth visuals, with the 400Hz touch sampling rate taking responsiveness up a notch.

This is all underpinned by the move to Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888 chipset, which combines with a powerful Adreno 640 GPU and 12GB of RAM to deliver stellar performance across the board. The improved battery delivers all-day battery life and more, while it’s impressive to see Nubia squeeze a larger 6.8in OLED screen into almost the same size footprint as its predecessor.

It’s far from perfect, though. The built-in fan can be extremely loud, while the software tweaks become much more annoying when you can’t swap out the default launcher. A heavy, bulky design certainly isn’t for everyone, either.

However, if you’re looking for a dedicated gaming handset, the Red Magic 6 stakes a strong claim to be your next phone.

Check out how we test smartphones for more information on what goes into one of our reviews.

Specs
Nubia Red Magic 6: Specs

Android 11 with Red Magic OS 4.0

6.8in Full HD+ (1080×2400), 20:9, 165Hz

Qualcomm Snapdragon 888

8/12GB RAM

128/256GB internal storage

64Mp main, 8Mp ultrawide, 2Mp macro cameras

8Mp selfie camera

Fingerprint scanner (in-screen)

Wi-Fi 6

Bluetooth 5.1

GPS

NFC (global version only)

5G (mmWave, sub-6)

USB-C

4500mAh non-removable battery

66W wired charging (additional accessory required, 30W in-box)
169.9 x 77.2 x 9.7 mm

220g


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