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.
 

MetoMeto

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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. 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.

I still dont see the problem though. Why touch, why not contoller like in old days, if phones actually have one like xperia play had it (lol old days...its sad that im saying that because thats how it should be imo. Fucking touch screen)
Its just an OS. Designers know how to design them and test them. Thats the least problem imo.

Consider or not, they basically are gamers. I eman they game... game...gameRS.
But while its not a philosophical question you can argue that true gamers are people who have passion for games, and not just play them as pass time activity and than dont care or know anything about it.
So its like different side of a same coin as how i see it. lol
 
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Legendaykai

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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.
While that's really sweet of you but I will never class a Phone as a console/gaming system
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.

PCs are not consoles. Your point?
pcs make tha majority of the titles of what we play so pcs are not part of this issue here.
 
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MetoMeto

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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

Now that you mentioned word "room", game "the ROOM" trilogy (i actual highly recommend them, puzzle games, gorgeous looking) is a perfect example how good/console level mobile games can be and how powerful Android as a platform can be.
Or game like "Implosion: never loose hope" and so on...

I mean idk i'm not a developer...but i heard devs prefer iOS.
But again, OS is not a problem imo. Every console has one, they are developing new OS's all the time.



I actually searched many console-like games on android (since obviously, i like console games), there are many really great games and
mini-games that are still console like.
"Bomb Chicken" for example and nitrome games have some bite size great console like experience games on Android, and lately i see them on a PC and Switch also with good reception.
All you need is an idea, good will, talented people and ofc the love~

To get back to what you said "more room to develop"...
Yes that is very true, and while i agree that mobile audience is potential large mass, i think passion gamers already know what they want, devs wont find any new people in that mass. The people that already ARE in that mass already have switch or PS4, preordered PS5, and if true gaming phone ever comes out they will be the real audience imo.

--------------------- MERGED ---------------------------

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.
My NOKIA 6 charges from
0% to 100% in 45 min. and from
0% to 50% in 22.5 min.

And that's my potato phone!
I can imagine how better more modern phones are!

P.S. fun fact:
If you take out any cartridge (flashcart or real game) from your game slot in 3DS, the battery life increases drastically!
Cartridges and especially flashcarts like R4 loooove to eat 3DS battery power, they are like parasites!
Not joking! After you done playing or in stand by especially, take out the card from the slot, and when doing comparison, it would be better comparison imo.
 
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JavaScribe

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Why touch, why not contoller?
Either:
1. You design it to work with existing phones. Most don't have controllers. You can try to make it compatible with as many third-party accessories as possible, in which case, good luck- you'll need it. Or you can make it touch-based.
Or:
2. You design software AND hardware. Again, good luck- you'll need it. Also, at what point does it become a handheld with a SIM tray?

It's just an OS. Designers know how to design them and test them.
Just because you can make it work, doesn't mean you can make it work well. It's harder than you might think.

Just to focus on this last bit, I do believe more "console-level" gaming experiences will grace the mobile shores in time.
Perhaps. Especially if phones like this one become popular. And it is possible to make games that work really well with a touchscreen, if you're creative.

PCs make the majority of the titles we play, so PCs are not part of the issue.
Steam exists.
(See also: Razer, Corsair, Steelseries, ROG, Alienware, Legion, HyperX, et cetera)
 
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MetoMeto

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Either:
1. You design it to work with existing phones. Most don't have controllers. You can try to make it compatible with as many third-party accessories as possible, in which case, good luck- you'll need it. Or you can make it touch-based.
Or:
2. You design software AND hardware. Again, good luck- you'll need it. Also, at what point does it become a handheld with a SIM tray?
Just because you can make it work, doesn't mean you can make it work well. It's harder than you might think.
You have point there.
 
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MetoMeto

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From what I have seen of your logic then because the DSi included a camera and a MP3 player it was not a gaming system.
Hmm...what i think he means is that phones should never be gaming devices at their present state, not because they cant render games (they can ofc), but because they are not so well polished and focused on gaming.
They dont know what they wanna be.
I meani kinda get him, i was also there and still am. Im waiting for a Xperia 2 so to say and better support for game library of more quality console-like games for smartphones and ofc dedicated hardware, i mean controller, buttons etc.

So i can kinda get what he is saying, i would also never consider phones as they are a gaming devices, no matter that they are capable of rendering advanced graphics. Graphics is just not everything when t comes to gaming.
hile i can play gaes on my mobile, its not same experience as with switch, vita, gba, ds etc.... those devices know what they are and i think thats big destinction.

Phones as gaming devices can exist as hybrids phone/console but need to bo more on one side and less on another imo so it can have clear purpose.
Phones today, although powerfull, and even this phone here, overweight on a phone side despite its specs, it just lacks conviniences such as better UI/OS, controller built in for fast and easy gaming.
This is still a smartphone more than a console...just another smartphone in sea of smartphones with nothing more than..more horsepower and small (or big) "features"...but esentially a smartphone such as Mu nokia 6 or note 20 or iphone.

As i mentioned above, only Xperia PLAY can be separated from all of them by function and formfactor alone (having dedicated controller biolt it), even though its much less powerfull device!

Whenever i take it out these days on a street or at freinds house they all go: "dam dude! what is that thing, a gaming console? oh wow now its a phone! so cool!"

But this phone covered here...just...yeah, another block with screen.

Consoles are based on philosophy of simplicity and fast uage.
now carrying separate clunku BT controller is not simple, and searching ocean of stupid casual games to find few good quality one... so by that logic i think he has a point. I can also never call THIS phone a true gaming phone.
 
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FAST6191

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Hmm...what i think he means is that phones should never be gaming devices at their present state, not because they cant render games (they can ofc), but because they are not so well polished and focused on gaming.
They dont know what they wanna be.
I meani kinda get him, i was also there and still am. Im waiting for a Xperia 2 so to say and better support for game library of more quality console-like games for smartphones and ofc dedicated hardware, i mean controller, buttons etc.

So i can kinda get what he is saying, i would also never consider phones as they are a gaming devices, no matter that they are capable of rendering advanced graphics. Graphics is just not everything when t comes to gaming.
hile i can play gaes on my mobile, its not same experience as with switch, vita, gba, ds etc.... those devices know what they are and i think thats big destinction.

Phones as gaming devices can exist as hybrids phone/console but need to bo more on one side and less on another imo so it can have clear purpose.
Phones today, although powerfull, and even this phone here, overweight on a phone side despite its specs, it just lacks conviniences such as better UI/OS, controller built in for fast and easy gaming.
This is still a smartphone more than a console...just another smartphone in sea of smartphones with nothing more than..more horsepower and small (or big) "features"...but esentially a smartphone such as Mu nokia 6 or note 20 or iphone.

As i mentioned above, only Xperia PLAY can be separated from all of them by function and formfactor alone (having dedicated controller biolt it), even though its much less powerfull device!

Whenever i take it out these days on a street or at freinds house they all go: "dam dude! what is that thing, a gaming console? oh wow now its a phone! so cool!"

But this phone covered here...just...yeah, another block with screen.

Consoles are based on philosophy of simplicity and fast uage.
now carrying separate clunku BT controller is not simple, and searching ocean of stupid casual games to find few good quality one... so by that logic i think he has a point. I can also never call THIS phone a true gaming phone.

Simplicity and fast usage went the way of the dodo about the time we started getting online updates for games. On handhelds when some of the most popular games on those systems were ports of 30 hour + SNES RPGs and things you might mistake for one then simplicity and fast usage was also dealt something of a blow. Indeed it might even be phones as they stand today that offer the superior "5 minutes before class, in the car, waiting for the bus" type deal which is a bit of a crying shame really as I do like having something for such a task.

As far as handhelds. None I have ever seen have been ideal for the task. All have had major compromises on every front that I can give you a dozen improvements for each (screen resolution, video out, form factor being anything but a nice comfortable controller and so on).
With that in mind I don't see a great distinction here. There are good reasons for many of those but their nature is still compromised.

Separate controller. Don't see it much more than carrying a controller and memory card for an evening on the N64 back when or a pouch of games, or indeed a power bank. Built in, rails... all seem like an arbitrary distinction.

Are phone games as they presently stand given 5 years more polish going to lead us to the land of milk and honey? Not a chance. I would even take Nintendo's* utterly mediocre efforts in the post DS world before I contemplate that future.

*that might be a bit unfair. I never actually got into Nintendo handhelds for Nintendo games (other than Advance Wars and Starfy, both of which are basically stone dead for a decade now, I would not care if any had stopped with the gameboy). When they lost the third parties on the 3ds (seemingly to IOS and then Android) then everything went meh.
 

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So what I'm gathering is people want their controllers connected to their console because having it separate and having to pair it is too inconvenient and you might lose it...

Oh Wait.
Ha. ha. ha.

Phone is not a home "console" it's a handheld "console" and should have a built-in
controller as such imo.
 
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Memoir

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Ha. ha. ha.

Phone is not a home "console" it's a handheld "console" and should have a built-in
controller as such imo.
That's a terrible take. I'd rather they look at the Switch and try to give us an experience similar to that. Razer is close with the Kishi controller, as is GameSir... Phones like the Moqi i7 are cool and all, but the built in controls make for an unnecessarily bulky experience.

It's weird that we can't call phones consoles, but a glorified tablet can be considered a home console.

Aside from a limited OS, one has games in mind while the other can play games. There is no clear "line" here and the gatekeeping is becoming desperate.
 
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xatzimi

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I'm intrigued but there really aren't many mobile games I want to play. Ports (of a limited number of games) and emulation are nice to have but I wouldn't consider them selling points.

That aside, I'm curious to know if the controllers work well with Xbox Game Pass streaming. That's something I can't do on the consoles I own, nor on PC for now
 
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Scarlet

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I'm intrigued but there really aren't many mobile games I want to play. Ports (of a limited number of games) and emulation are nice to have but I wouldn't consider them selling points.

That aside, I'm curious to know if the controllers work well with Xbox Game Pass streaming. That's something I can't do on the consoles I own, nor on PC for now
I'll be sure to try that for the review. In all honesty I had no idea the Game Pass stuff was even out for Android yet!
 

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This is such a niche device already, I wonder why they didn't try something more radical like the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play. Anyone willing to buy a dedicated gaming phone would probably prefer physical controls, and clearly wouldn't care about aesthetics (evidenced by this monstrosity Red Magic is calling a phone)
 
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