‘Ian, when are we going to see smartphones with RGB?’ is a question I am never asked. The PC space has figuratively jumped in a barrel and fallen over Niagara Falls with its love of RGB and gaming, but the same excitement and thrill has not (yet) made it to the smartphone area. We saw ASUS’ ROG Phone earlier this year with some RGB, and earlier in the year Nubia launched the Red Magic. I got some hands on time at IFA 2018.

Nubia Red Magic: GameBoost and Bling

The obvious point to address first is the bling. On the rear of the Red Magic is an RGB LED strip, similar to those found in modern PCs, that can respond to how the system is being used. When enabled, it can pulse, rainbow, or respond to music being played on the device.

In order to accommodate this, plus some extra cooling, the rear of the smartphone is rounded, with the red ‘X’ style vents in the corners of the rear to help with cooling. Also on the rear is a camera and a fingerprint sensor.

The LED strip reacts when the phone is in ‘GameBoost’ mode. We spoke with an engineer from Nubia while at IFA about this technology, and it does pretty much what you might expect: disables notifications, and allows the smartphone to boost to higher power states. If that sounds similar to a recent issue we covered, Nubia’s offering actually allows the user to select when the phone is in this mode. More than that, there’s a button on the side of the phone which enables the mode.

In this case, the ‘boost’ isn’t so much for peak performance but sustained performance. By reducing the effect of the throttling, an intense game (or benchmark) is able to keep its top performance mode for longer.

Under The Hood

For a gaming phone, we would expect the best of the best. For whatever reason this means that Nubia went for last generation’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 SoC, but paired it up with a 6.01-inch FHD display with 8 GB of DRAM and 128 GB of storage. The battery is also listed as 3800 mAh, which is a sizable amount.

In this picture, it states that the phone has ‘four cooling hi-tech’, by which it means the four vents. It also states it has ‘AI lighting effect’, which is actually just translating the audio being played to sound – a technology present on cold-cathode tubes back in the early 2000s, certainly no artificial intelligence required.

A Gaming Phone: The Problem

Building a custom PC for gaming is straightforward: there are a range of components to choose from in the mid-range and high-end market segments – for both CPUs and GPUs – and customization options are almost limitless. Games are also developed with minimum and recommended specifications, and these can be adjusted.

This can’t happen in the smartphone space. Everyone (except Huawei) uses a high-end SoC from Qualcomm for its flagship, so if a company wants to build a gaming smartphone there is little room to manoeuvre on performance. Because of the large install base of S845 devices in the market running 60 Hz displays, game developers optimize for this scenario – a ‘one-quality fits all’, with no option for devices to turn down the quality. This is more what we see in the console space, because everyone has the same hardware.

There are still areas that gaming phones can focus on: cooling, battery, and audio. Offering sustained performance over long periods of time with an immersive experience can be good additions. However, as we saw with the Razor phone that had all of these plus the 120 Hz display, the ‘phone’ part was a bit of a brick and severely lacked in the camera department. I’m not saying it’s easy to balance the gaming aspect with the phone aspect, as we’ve had very few attempts at a proper gaming smartphone.

Nubia’s Red Magic: It Felt Good

Regardless of the specifications, the feel of the device is often a very immediate make-or-break scenario. If it doesn’t feel right when you hold it, it is unlikely to be a device that you purchase. Credit goes to Nubia on this, as due to the extra rounding on the back of the device as well as good chamfering on the edges, the Red Magic felt super comfortable both in single-handed portrait mode and two-handed landscape. There have been several phones of late that I have disliked purely based on feel, even with a multitude of features under the hood.

An extra note about the stencilling on the rear – as a gaming phone, this is a good idea. I really like how Nubia played with the shades of grey, white lines, and red accents. It is a step above the Honor Play, Players Edition, which also has similar accents but is not quite as obvious.

The Nubia Red Magic is already available in certain markets, priced around 400 Euro.

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  • philehidiot - Saturday, September 15, 2018 - link

    I resent this. I am a gamer and my gut does its own incredible display of athletics (along with my tits, it's a synchronised effort for extra points) whilst I waddle up the stairs. I'm also exhausted, sweating and breathless afterwards.
  • melgross - Friday, September 14, 2018 - link

    You mean, everyone in the Android gaming space, right? The iPhone gaming space is a rather large one.
  • Achtung_BG - Saturday, September 15, 2018 - link

    Next gen Siemens M55 😂
  • V900 - Saturday, September 15, 2018 - link

    That RGB strip is about as ugly here, as it is on “Gamer PCs”

    Gaming on an Android phone is such a lost cause regardless.

    If you want portable gaming, there’s the iOS and the Switch.

    Between the amount of piracy, and widely different hardware and OS versions to target, gaming on Android has turned into a subpar experience, packed with loot boxes and P2W.

    Though there’s always emulation, I suppose. That’s one area where iOS can’t conpwte.
  • RSAUser - Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - link

    What do you mean iOS? Android flagships should be the same/better (better in terms of e.g screens, SoC wise they either match or iOS exceeds, but then on iOS it doesn't matter as you're pushing way more than screen can handle).

    Personally I don't game on my phone though, always have my laptop if I actually wanted to, but rather read a book.
  • WinterCharm - Saturday, September 15, 2018 - link

    If you want to game no a phone, the iPhone has the best SoC of any phone by a LONG shot.
  • 10basetom - Saturday, September 15, 2018 - link

    So it's a "gaming phone" because it's got RGB? Lol poser.
  • James5mith - Sunday, September 16, 2018 - link

    "It also states it has ‘AI lighting effect’, which is actually just translating the audio being played to sound – a technology present on cold-cathode tubes back in the early 2000s, certainly no artificial intelligence required."

    "just translating the audio being played to sound"

    Read that part of the sentence a few times and maybe re-edit the article. translating the audio being played to sound is kind of the definition of the audio subsystem/speaker/etc.

    I'm guessing you meant it's pulsing the light to the beat of the music.

    If that isn't what you meant, then consider me informed about how cold cathode tubes were used for sound back in the day.
  • Lord of the Bored - Monday, September 17, 2018 - link

    I didn't notice that. My immediate thought was LED VU meters from the 80s, and it totally blocked the "audio to sound" error.
  • LiverpoolFC5903 - Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - link

    There is definitely a market for AAA games on Android. Games like the older GTA titles have sold well and these are full games and not crapware like 99% of android games. The hardware is certainly capable in 2018, matching up to the Switch at least. Android phones are now able to emulate consoles like the PS2 and PSP competently and I dont see any reason why AAA titles for the Switch (by third party publishers) cannot work on Android.

    Touch controls are highly limiting, but gamers will use USB/Bluetooth controllers anyway. I certainly use my Rumblepad 2 and DS4 for emulation and games like STreet Fighter 4, Minecraft and others on Android. Its amazing you can run games like GoW at full speed, even on older chipsets like the SD 821.

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