Anton D. Nagy contributed to this Red Magic 6 review.
Gaming phones are here to stay, and some of the latest crops have been bringing high levels of power without breaking the bank. Here we have one from Red Magic — a smartphone with gamer stylings that is quite the cool operator, quite literally. This is our Red Magic 6 review, both in video and text format.View Red Magic 6 at Amazon
Still a smartphone
I’m actually going to do something a little different this time around — normally I start from the outside looking in, ending with the camera because that tends to be one of the most important parts of a smartphone. Thing is, the Red Magic 6 has a specific focus and it’s not on being a creative tool. So I’m going to flip the script a little and talk about the camera first.
The Red Magic 6 comes with a triple camera setup. But it’s a combination that you might expect from a phone that doesn’t prioritize imaging. The main sensor is a 64MP shooter with two backups — the wide-angle camera marks a significant dip down to 8MP while the 2MP megapixel depth sensor is there for supporting portrait shots. Maybe it’s for those times when you want a nice-looking picture of the person you just beat in a mobile game. Or you want a victory selfie with the front-facing camera that is also at 8MP and tops out at 1080p video recording. It’s a camera package we’ve actually seen on the previous model; however, to Red Magic’s credit, not too many other phones have the same performance specs and extras. I was actually impressed at how many modes and settings there were to play within the camera app, but if camera quality is what you’re looking for, the Red Magic 6 is somewhere between passable and kind of decent.
There’s plenty more that makes up the entire smartphone experience, and that brings us to the general software — before we flip that gaming switch and turn things up to 11. Red Magic’s Android OS, like the camera, is a part of the phone that isn’t fully polished nor is it the highlight of the experience. Functionally, it’s a good enough everyday smartphone interface, but some kinks in the localization and design aspects make it clear that Red Magic is still rather young in the Android game. Certain features are expected, like gesture controls, split-screen multitasking, and robust options for the Always-on Display.
Speaking of customizations, LED enabled areas on the back can give visual flair on top of the already aggressive stylings — by the way, as you can see on the back here, Red Magic sent us this phone with a global ROM, but installed that software on a Tencent Games edition unit, which are only available in China. LED strips above and below the brand logos pulse under certain conditions, including during gaming, while charging, and when notifications come in. And the Red Magic logo on the bottom, which only lights up in the signature red color, can be steady on or breathe in and out. If you’re all about that RGB-everything life, this extra bit of flash and flair might be just for you — but I applaud Red Magic for making sure they have extra utility.
Going around the phone, we have a couple of surprises. The power button is opposite the volume rocker, but flanking the power button on its side are the touch-sensitive air triggers. I just applauded Red Magic for putting extra thought into the LED additions, but the triggers are just used for gaming. I can mostly understand that because they’re touch-sensitive and accidental presses in the normal software interface would probably be common. The USB-C charging port down south supports 66W charging of the 5050mAh battery — both specs that bode well for those long gaming or media consumption sessions. Gaming phones also tend to not skimp out on some of the practical effects, like having an actual headphone jack so you can easily charge while having zero-latency wired audio playback.
You can probably tell that I’m trickling out the high specs, which brings us to the display. This 6.8 inch AMOLED display is quite the looker, one that I already mentioned sports an Always-on Display. An in-display fingerprint reader is available for biometric security, though face unlock is also an option. The screen’s viewing experience is as good as expected, as the resolution is the general standard of Full HD+. True to the trends in gaming phones and displays, this screen pumps out an awesome 165hz refresh rate. Despite the obvious game of one-upmanship here, kudos goes to Red Magic overtaking the previous top smartphone display refresh rate of 144hz. Much like in the world of gaming monitors, the refresh rate is a specialty feature — much of the media you might view from video streaming services doesn’t even top 60 frames per second, and very few games actually get anywhere near that 165. App and game developers also have to specifically support the super high refresh rate, which remains a mixed bag even at more conventional levels of around 90fps. It’s all stuff to keep in mind if you’re specifically looking at the refresh rate as a dealmaker.
Flip the switch
Because there’s plenty more where that came from, and it all jumps out at you once you flip the switch in the corner. That’s right, the phone completely changes from a smartphone that simply ticks all the usual boxes to a mobile gaming powerhouse that adds plenty of unique features and experiences. By hitting the switch, most of the general everyday features are shut off, like banner notifications, and you can hit the performance modes to really pump the Snapdragon 888 into gear, even into overdrive. You also gain access to features like the shoulder triggers and the Turbofan. If you want to have access to a few applications, there are shortcuts to them and they render as a floating window overlay on top. But for all intents and purposes, you’re in a carousel or selection screen that mimics game console home screens. You even saw that there is a boot-up animation when triggering the switch.
Quick note — this is where you would also set up any of the different Red Magic accessories, but I don’t have any to show off during this review. One that I would have been interested in trying out is the side controller, called the E-Sports Handle here. There are also the coolers, but those are only if I want to get super extra with my performance gains. After all, the Red Magic 6 continues the company’s streak of being one of the only phones that have a built-in fan and ventilation system. You can hear it come on right when you enter the gaming mode and if you cover one of the two vents. That hum is noticeable, but obviously not a problem when you’re playing with headphones on. And you can turn it off in the slide-out menu during games that are less intensive, like Slay the Spire and turn it on for more demanding games like Genshin Impact.
So what’s it like gaming on this phone? For the most part, it’s the same as any other Snapdragon 888 powered device with up to 256GB to store all the games and up to 12GB of RAM for keeping a game in the background while you do other things. Certain games will simply benefit from the added cooling so that there are no dips in performance or framerate, while gaming sessions can go for quite a while thanks to the large battery. Touch screen games like Slay the Spire and Shin Megami Tensei Dx2 will operate the same way as always because there aren’t really any practical use cases for the shoulder triggers. For the most part, those extra buttons will be best for shooter games like Call of Duty Mobile and PUBG Mobile, which is evident given the Tencent partnership. It’s an edge that might help the competitive gamer in those particular games, but for everyone else, it’s simply a more comfortable experience. And that might be enough for some of you. It’s certainly gotten me returning to COD Mobile since the last time I played, which was like on a phone with the same extra inputs.
I tried to apply the triggers to Genshin Impact, with mostly positive results. I was just happy I could play consistently well at max settings, a feat that most other companies’ flagship devices sometimes struggle with. And of course, there’s League of Legends Wild Rift, which is another example of a game that doesn’t quite benefit from extra inputs. It is a game where fast input is needed, so the 500hz touch sampling rate is definitely welcome. But this is yet another game that has yet to be specifically tuned for the higher refresh rate screen — my games topped out at 90fps, unfortunately.
More than most phones, it’s easy to get so into the gaming that hours and hours go by without me realizing it — that’s partially true for the battery life because I tended to have the phone plugged in while playing, while the main thing is that I never noticed the phone get close to uncomfortably warm like on others. Now I’m nowhere near the level of an e-sports player, but those are still tangible and significant benefits to a product like this that might be considered niche.
After all, this is a question I have seen many ponder: what is the point of gaming phones? Well, since we’re now on iteration 6 (technically) of the Red Magic line, I think it’s clear the category isn’t going anywhere but forward. And I’m all for it.
While there have always been games in the Play Store that I feel warrant all of our attention, I often said so about classic titles that get adapted to mobile. Games like KOTOR or GTA San Andreas. Of course, there are emulators for classic consoles and game streaming for current console and PC titles. But games like Call of Duty Mobile, Genshin Impact, Wild Rift, and My Hero Academia: The Strongest Hero make it clear that custom graphic settings and scalable experiences can be a part of the mobile world. And as the market for these awesome games continues to grow, so will this category of smartphones. Case in point, there are gaming phones that go hard on all of the premium features and have high price points, and then you get the Red Magics of the world that prioritize the performance and dial back the rest just enough to make mobile gaming more easily accessible. I actually think Red Magic is to gaming smartphones what MSI kind of is to gaming computers — overall, the gamer can get the kind of experience they were seeking; just know that when you put the games away, there might be a few hiccups, random design cues, and event misspellings along the path of good general everyday use. And that red switch will be there when you’re itching to get back into the fray.View Red Magic 6 at Amazon