Hands on with my first gaming phone - a week with the Red Magic 5S

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Just a few years ago, I laughed at the idea of a gaming phone. I still remember when the first Razer Phone was announced, and all I could wonder is who it was aimed at. Who would spend so much money on a device focused on a need that just didn’t seem to exist. Roll on 2020 and here I am, garish phone in hand; did the market change, or did I?

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Red Magic's boxes always find a way to stand out.

The Red Magic 5S is Nubia’s latest gaming phone, acting as a somewhat incremental update from their early 2020 Red Magic 5G. Featuring a 144hz screen, shoulder triggers, an internal fan for cooling, and a lavishly over the top design, it’s a brilliantly unique phone in a sea of monotone bricks. Unfortunately missing out on the Snapdragon 865+, Nubia opted to use the basic 865 as the backbone of the device. It’s a bit of a shame to see the latest model not sport the latest processor; my best guess as to why this is would be as a way of keeping costs down, but this is just speculation. In reality, the 865 is enough to deliver incredible performance on everything I want to use the phone for.

Before diving into gaming, it’s worth taking a look at the phone as a whole. It’s stunning. Opting for the more expensive “Pulse” model, the 5S comes packed with 12 GB of LPDDR5 RAM, and 256 GB of UFS 3.1 storage. The more muted silver model by comparison has 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB of storage. Both designs look lavish, so it’s a shame to see the better specs locked to the red and blue design. While I am incredibly fond of it myself, I understand it’d be a bit much for some to use as their daily driver, and with both models lacking expandable storage options, you might find that 128 GB of internal storage filling quickly.

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The red and blue Pulse design is striking.

Booting the phone for the first time is a fairly standard Android experience. Nubia opting to stick with a very vanilla feel, there’s no over the top skin forced on you–at least not in daily use. Looking to the left side of the phone, you’ll find a red hardware switch. Where some phones make use of these switches to toggle mute or auto-rotate settings, this one is locked into opening the phone’s hot gaming mode. Going into this gives you easy access to many of the phone’s unique features. There’s a few quality of life things like blocking calls and messages while playing games, which might be particularly handy for people who enjoy recording their gameplay. On top of this, you can enable or disable the phone’s fancy internal fan, switch between 60, 90, and 144hz for the refresh rate, enable “4D shock” in certain games, and even map areas of the screen to the touch shoulder buttons on the phone. The phone also treats you to some live information on your CPU, GPU, and network speeds. There’s a lot to like here, but it’s not without fault. You’ll find the menus littered with odd translations, minor spelling mistakes, and a few outright quirks. It’s nothing that will really ruin the phone for you, but it does take away from the otherwise premium feel of the device.

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One of the nice features on offer is the ability to record and play macros. On other phones, I’ve had to rely on apps like FRep, and while they work fine, it’s great to have this functionality as standard. It’s as simple as hitting record and doing what I want saved. For things like Hero Merit farming in Fire Emblem Heroes, it’s a blessing. Another thing to note is that all settings are stored on a per-app basis, so if you configure your shoulder buttons in a certain way for one game, you won’t be faffing about to get them how you like them every time you switch to something else.

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The Pro Handle really does make it into a mini Switch.

Should you decide to invest in the accessories, there's also a few neat options on offer, the most significant of these coming in the form of the Pro Handle. Put simply, the Pro Handle is a special case for the phone that has a rail on each side, allowing you to mount Nubia’s take on a Joy-Con to each side. With two controllers, you have access to an incredible gaming experience, albeit not quite as convenient as Sony’s Xperia Play design–but really what has ever been as good as that design? When in the gaming mode, you can configure these controllers the same way as the shoulder buttons, mapping them to areas of the screen. For games like Genshin Impact, I’ve found myself just using the left controller for its analogue movement, and using my right hand for camera panning and hitting attack buttons. With these configurations saving from game to game, you can really go to town with how you set them up. For better or worse, however, you can only use these controllers like this while in gaming mode; they must be mapped to an area of the screen. When not in gaming mode, however, they function as standard Bluetooth controllers, though again with some limitations. In fairness, the limitation is less a design fault of Nubia’s, and more the apps you might be using them with: they are two individual controllers. With many emulators, they just won’t work right. Some emulators will only let you configure one controller, and others will detect them both as the same controller, essentially giving you access to half of the available buttons. While some apps like Dolphin do work properly with both controllers together, I’m fairly sure this is an exception more than it is the norm.

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For emulation, you have to get a little crafty. What I ended up doing was bunching all the on-screen buttons into one corner, and configuring the controllers to hit them. After that, I set the button transparency to 0%, and voila! You have a somewhat awkward workaround! This setup has been my saviour for apps like Mupen64, Drastic, and PPSSPP, allowing me to use a comfortable and convenient controller where I was worried it simply wouldn’t be possible. It’s a good job too, because this phone is capable of playing pretty much everything I’ve thrown at it.

Other reviews I’ve seen online seem to focus on its performance with Fortnite, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, and Call of Duty Mobile, and while it performs admirably with each of these, they aren’t exactly where my interests lie. I bought this phone for two reasons: to play Genshin Impact on the go, and to achieve a long-standing dream of playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii from a mobile device. It does both of these things and more.

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The hot kid on the block, Genshin Impact runs flawlessly on its highest settings. It looks incredible, and paired with the Pro Handle, it feels incredible too. With mobile gaming, my biggest issue has always been using touch-based analogue sticks. With no physical boundaries to feel, I’m constantly overextending and pulling my thumbs into uncomfortable positions. Being able to use a physical analogue stick really is a blessing, and the shoulder button on the right of the device has proved itself handy too. A somewhat simple setup, I have it mapped to somewhere near the middle of the screen, where prompts appear. What this means is that I can just keep hitting that to open chests, pickup items, and engage in simple dialogue. The only real disappointment is that the game is only capable of going to 60 FPS, leaving the phone’s 144hz display underutilised.

Looking to emulation, it’s handled everything I’ve thrown at it admirably. DS games I play with filters and high resolution 3D rendering, N64 games I play with the highest available resolution, and on PPSSPP I’ve found no issues playing Monster Hunter: Freedom Unite with 4x rendering resolution and 16x anisotropic filtering. It’s all flawless on this pocket prince. But what of Dolphin? What of my dreams to play one of the best Mario games on the go? I can say they are dreams no longer. I get a comfortable 60 FPS playing it and I couldn’t be happier. The vast majority of the games I’ve tried perform similarly also; from Wind Waker to Xenoblade Chronicles, the device doesn’t struggle at all, even running perfectly at 3x internal resolution for some GameCube games. It’s my go-to device to enjoy a Wind Waker randomiser. The only game I tried that the device struggled on was, quite surprisingly, Fortune Street, a party board game from Square Enix. It baffles me how it can run so poorly when the likes of Xenoblade have no issues, but I have no doubt there’s some unusual quirk to explain it somewhere.

Having used the phone for just over a week now, I really couldn’t be happier. It’s a marvellous device capable of more than I could have ever anticipated, and if we see more games like Genshin Impact gracing the mobile shores, it’s a device I’ll only be having more fun with down the line. I’m currently in the process of writing a more formal review, complete with video showcases of emulation quality and native app performance. Is there anything you want me to try, or any questions you want answering? Be sure to leave a reply, and I’ll try my best to tailor the review to what people want to know.
 

Skelletonike

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I haven't found it to be all that loud myself, but in a quiet room I suppose you would notice it. Water resistance is a fair criticism too lol

How do you find the Black Shark?

I actually bought the phone on release, so it's a China ROM versions. In terms of updates and stuff, global versions of gaming phones are extreme slow to roll out.

Regarding the phone itself, it's pretty awesome. It can take a fall and while a bit heavy, you get used to it. Also, It's not waterproof, but it survived an accidental soda spill and a few water ones.

Battery lasts quite a while, for example, if playing Genshin Impact with max settings and high brightness it can last me a full afternoon (while bluetooth was on and connected with a few devices). One of the most convenient things so far is the charging though, in half an hour it goes from 0 to 100 (never had it at 0, but from 16 to 100 it took around 20ish minutes). On a daily basis, I arrive home every evening with the phone sitting at 60%ish (this includes bluetooth on, a bit of gaming in breaks and lunch, usual email and fb usage and spotify connected for most of the day).

The best thing though, is that I have had 0 slow downs or freezes. Even with 60 tabs open in firefox. z.z
 
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renjiVII

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This is the first time I have heard about this brand. Unfortunately I've already ordered the OP8T that recently came out so getting this phone is out of the option..........
 

Skelletonike

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I've noticed some people here complaining about the redundancy of gaming phones.

Well, I also found them laughable at first, but do take this in consideration.

My BS3 for example, has:

- Full metal body (with glass cover in the back)
- RGB goodness
- Snapdragon 865 (5G)
- 12GB/256GB
- Can take a fall
- Big screen
- Stereo sound (dual speakers), it's loud.
- 3.5mm jack
- Haptic feedback
- Dedicated gaming mode (allows full control over the cpu, you can even set up voice commands in games)
- It's worth it's price (I bought mine for 630€ on release, and it has overal better specs than a 1000€ device)
- The camera is actually good, and has a nefty trick with it's AI that allows to create 256mpx pictures.
- It has never gotten hot (and I use it a lot).

Here are some photos of the actual phone (taken from the internet):

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Not to mention the accessories these phones have, from coolers, to magnetic chargers and dedicated controllers.


A few years ago the idea was laughable sure, nowadays not so much. Especially when you're paying less for them than you would for any other high end device.
 

MetoMeto

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a new xperia phone with either heavily customized android (like the shield) or a new os would be great
Totally agree!
I mean play has some flaws and mostly concerning storage space, power, and buttons. they are kinda to clicky and rigid but goot enough...but can be better though. They need real thumb sticks ofc.

As for power xperia is really powerfull compared to today phones especially if you install a custom android optimized for gaming like i did. it run most emulators and even PSX one prefectly (im not using its own, native psx emulator).

And obviously storage space is so small its funny.... at least 100GB is needed.

Id be glad to have a bit bigger phone but not more than 5 inch. and more modern, but slide design is flawless. i really love it!
 
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Scarlet

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Totally agree!
I mean play has some flaws and mostly concerning storage space, power, and buttons. they are kinda to clicky and rigid but goot enough...but can be better though. They need real thumb sticks ofc.

As for power xperia is really powerfull compared to today phones especially if you install a custom android optimized for gaming like i did. it run most emulators and even PSX one prefectly (im not using its own, native psx emulator).

And obviously storage space is so small its funny.... at least 100GB is needed.

Id be glad to have a bit bigger phone but not more than 5 inch. and more modern, but slide design is flawless. i really love it!
Oh wow now you mention it, it came pre-installed with Crash Bandicoot right? Gosh that's a blast from the past.
 

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Cool phone, but honestly, outside of emulation, It would just be better to get a Switch, 3DS, Vita, Etc. I don't know what the price of the phone is, but i'm *pretty* sure it's more expensive then all of these. Nice post though!
and those are great with physical buttons
 
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Stealphie

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It's a pain to mod the Switch, firmware isn't permanent and pretty much sets it up for ban risks. It's easier to use this phone for emulation and doesn't require the use of a jig. What advantage does Switch have over this?
Did you read the part that said "outside of emulation"?
 
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JavaScribe

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The lack of quality titles and the lack of integrated controls, plus the disadvantages of Android; a true gaming phone should have a gaming focused OS.
The lack of titles is the biggest thing for me. Most mobile games fall into an entirely different category, far beyond "casual," and are designed around the processing power, input methods, and userbase of typical smartphones. Sure, there are exceptions, but are there enough of them to make a gaming phone worthwhile?
For any game that would benefit from running on a gaming phone, I have to wonder: Why would videogame developers or videogame consumers pick a mobile platform over PC or console?
A true gaming phone should have a gaming focused OS.
In theory, yes, but in practice, it would probably be garbage.
 

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a true gaming phone should have a gaming focused os
In theory, yes, but in practice, it would probably be garbage.
I don't see how it would be garbage since its called gaming phone.
It's primary function is gaming, secondary (less important) is phone-calls and SMS/Viber....
 
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Legendaykai

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I'm sorry but i still stand by my opinion Phones are NOT gaming machines(consoles) plus the majority of the games have ads up the ass every few minutes. Where as REAL consoles are PS4 , Xbox,pc and switch THOSE ARE consoles not a Phone! Now while the put all these fancy graphics chips in the phone doesn't really make any sense as the real bit titles are console locked so why do these companies bother? Other than money and catering to the casual audiance who I might add are not real gamers!
 

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I'm sorry but i still stand by my opinion Phones are NOT gaming machines(consoles) plus the majority of the games have ads up the ass every few minutes. Where as REAL consoles are PS4 , Xbox,pc and switch THOSE ARE consoles not a Phone! Now while the put all these fancy graphics chips in the phone doesn't really make any sense as the real bit titles are console locked so why do these companies bother? Other than money and catering to the casual audiance who I might add are not real gamers!
Sure they are, if devs would make games worth buying... But still pc's consoles, phones are all bunch of processors and memory, transistors. Any device can be gaming if it just have dedicated external feture and software to support it..i mean the UI.

You dont have adds if you remove adds B-)

As for phones not being gaming machines, you might want to look at Sony Xperis PLAY and rethink that.

Real gamer.... Real gamer is a person that play video games and enjoy them. Its really not a philosophy imo.
 
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Legendaykai

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I still stand by what I said, Phones are NOT consoles plus mobile phones do not posess the battery power to run games for the amount of time needed fo a decent play session actual gamers like to do the battery life is a huge issue and keeping it on charge only wears the battery down so going back to my rubuttal phones are not and never will be a console end of disscusion!
 

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I still stand by what I said, Phones are NOT consoles plus mobile phones do not posess the battery power to run games for the amount of time needed fo a decent play session actual gamers like to do the battery life is a huge issue and keeping it on charge only wears the battery down so going back to my rubuttal phones are not and never will be a console end of disscusion!
I'll be sure to include a battery comparison with my Switch and 3DS alongside this phone if that's a major concern. It's actually pretty wild, not to mention how quickly it can charge back to full when compared to something like a Switch.
 
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Man there are a ton of people here that seem to think very poorly of mobile gaming.

My brother has gotten one of these at the beginning of the month, it's super cool, great specs especially for price (people still dump out $1000+ for latest flagship with the same specs+nice camera)

I wanna get one myself because I play a TON of different games on my mobile device and it's a really nice bang for buck option.
 

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I don't see how it would be garbage since its called gaming phone.
Making nice things is difficult. Especially something as complicated as an OS. Let alone a touch-based OS.
Who's going to make it? I can't imagine any entity with the means and motivation to do so.

Real gamer is a person that play video games and enjoys it.
I think that's a pretty fair statement. Though, there are probably plenty of people who play games only occasionally (particularly- though not necessarily- mobile games) who wouldn't consider themselves to be gamers.
 
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Scarlet

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Making nice things is difficult. Especially something as complicated as an OS. Let alone a touch-based OS.
Who's going to make it? I can't imagine any entity with the means and motivation to do so.


I think that's a pretty fair statement.
You'd ultimately end up with a custom Android skin to ride off the established platform, with the downside of being associated with all the negative connotations you can find in this thread, or you'd have an entirely new platform, where your issue lies in getting games onto it.

Either way, I do agree it's a difficult task without a company like Nintendo developing it with a pre existing library in mind.
 

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I still stand by what I said, Phones are NOT consoles plus mobile phones do not posess the battery power to run games for the amount of time needed fo a decent play session actual gamers like to do the battery life is a huge issue and keeping it on charge only wears the battery down so going back to my rubuttal phones are not and never will be a console end of disscusion!
Phones are NOT consoles, they are phones (but you can argue in this day and age that they are phones at all. they do so many things and the lest that they do is phone calls. True Phones where in 90s, where only game was snake. N-Gage and Xperia WHERE gaming phones),
but what I wanted to say is that they CAN be gaming consoles aka "Gaming Phones".

As for battery power, the SWITCH doesnt have any better battery than phones, where phones have many services that run in background and antenas hence draining it over period of a day.

To conclude. Phones WILL never be conoles, because they are phones and today smartphones are everything but phones. I consider them Pocket Computers. Phones are long dead. Nokia 3310 was a phone for example. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 is a personal pocket computer with phone funcionality. Computers can play games. If a smartphon is designed in such a way to have dedicated UI and controller built into it that it IS a gaming smartphone/pocket pc WITH phoning funcionality. Nvidia shield is a perfect example of this.
Now having actual games and inviting developers to make games for it is a different matter.
 

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You'd ultimately end up with a custom Android skin, or you'd have an entirely new platform, where your issue lies in getting games onto it.
Exactly.
Theoretically, Google could add features to Android to make it better for gaming, but it would still be Android. I don't expect that to happen any time soon, but it could happen.
phones are NOT consoles
PCs are not consoles. Your point?
 
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Scarlet

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Now having actual games and inviting developers to make games for it is a different matter.
Just to focus on this last bit, I do believe more "console-level" gaming experiences will grace the mobile shores in time. As more powerful phones become the norm, developers have more room to be creative and use what's available to them. The potential mobile audience is an insanely large untapped mass, and people will come to see that in time. Not to say there won't be certain gatekeepers along the way lol
 
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