In our comparison of the best gaming phones in 2019, the winner actually surprised us. A phone that most people don't know about from a brand you probably haven't heard of ended up as the clear winner. But how? Well, it ticked so many flagship boxes despite its midrange price tag.
The Nubia Red Magic 3 is a phone that's probably not on your radar. It's likely you haven't heard of the Nubia brand, which is a sub-brand that ZTE uses for its more adventurous smartphones. You may not have even heard of ZTE, but that's okay too.
ZTE had issues with the US government recently, which had previously banned the Chinese company. The ban was lifted and ZTE used this opportunity to bring its Nubia sub-brand to the US. But you wouldn't know if you didn't look, because the phone isn't available on sites like Amazon or Newegg. Instead, you have to buy it from their website, and they have spent little in marketing to raise awareness.
But make no mistake, this is a phone to keep an eye on. All of its features make it ideal for gaming, and that's before you even consider its midrange price. Below, I'll go over the five key features that helped put it over the top in our comparison.
- Full Analysis: The 5 Best Gaming Phones in 2019
The Red Magic 3 has everything you'd expect from phone marketed as a gaming phone. Starting with the SoC, it has the second-best processor from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 855. To its credit, the Snapdragon 855+ wasn't available when the phone released, so it is understandable why they didn't include it.
While other phones use this SoC, they're not all created equal. Better cooling allows the CPU to maintain its max clock speed longer. Most gaming phones use a vapor chamber for this, which a tiny, flat tube of cooper that passively cools the SoC. But the Red Magic 3 uses active cooling. Similar to gaming PCs, it uses a fan to dissipate heat around the SoC. According to ZTE, this results in a 900% increase in CPU max clock runtime, a 16°C drop in CPU temperature, and 500% better heat transfer.
The flagship SoC is paired with 8 or 12 GB of RAM. You won't find any US phones with more RAM, and this is more than enough to run any game you can throw at it — whether a mobile game, streaming a PC game, or emulating an older console. All this memory will also give you some headroom for other activities such as streaming on Twitch or Mixer.
Performance is important, but it's only half the battle when it comes to gaming. Since visuals are so central to gaming, we need a top-notch display to view the action. ZTE Nubia knew this and gave gamers the screen they wanted.
First off, it is a 6.65-inch display. There are only a handful of phones that even come close to this size. With such a large canvas, you can comfortably view gameplay, hubs, and menus of your current game of choice. It also a 1080p display, which provides the best balance of resolution and battery life. Most games don't output higher than 1080p anyway. This is also an AMOLED panel, so there's no sacrifice when it comes to picture quality.
But what truly makes this a gaming display is the fact that it has a 90 Hz refresh rate and 240 Hz touch response rate. The first means the screen can output as many frames as the GPU can render, up to 90 frames per second. More frames mean smoother animations. It's hard to describe, but when you use this phone with a supported game, you will immediately tell the difference.
The 240 Hz touch response rate is equally important. Touch response is how fast the screen registers touches. When faster than the refresh rate, the responsiveness is virtually instant, which makes it feel like elements on the screen are actually real. Additionally, this is an HDR panel, so it supports HDR gaming.
The Red Magic 3 is one of the few phones left on the market with front-facing stereo speakers. In the pursuit of a bezel-less display, most OEMs have moved one speaker to the bottom and are using either the earpiece or a small speaker in the top bezel as the other speaker. While this works, it's nothing compared to speakers that are directed towards your ears.
The Red Magic 3 also supports DTS:X Ultra for 7.1 surround sound using only these speakers. It's artificial (you'd need eight speakers actually to perform this), but it does provide a more immersive experience than the speakers' default sound profile. Oh, and I forgot to mention ... it has a headphone jack.
While there are many more features to highlight with this phone, I'll only focus on two more. The first is Game Space. On the top-left edge of the phone is a red switch. Turn it on to enable Game Space 2.0, which is much more than your standard game mode. That's because you can so much more with it compared to other phones' game modes.
First off, it's accessible from any game by swiping from the right edge to the center (very reminiscent of overlays on PC games). Here, you have access to gaming features and info related to game performance. You'll see GPU temperature, current download speeds, and both the GPU and CPU frequencies (for GPU, it's the clock speed of the highest Gold core).
Below, there's a host of buttons for gaming-centric features. With one button, you can block all messages and calls during your game. You can adjust whether the game should target 60 fps (for better graphical performance) or 90 fps (for smoother animations). You can modify the brightness level even if you have it set to automatic. You can tweak hardware controllers and the on-screen buttons. For a few games, including Asphalt 9, you can even enable 4D Shock, which adds extra rumble while playing.
So I've covered some (and let me stress some) of the gaming features on this phone, and my question for you is, "How much do you think it costs?" Remember, it has a Snapdragon 855, up to 12 GB of RAM and 256 GB of storage, and a 90 Hz AMOLED display that spans 6.65 inches.
Personally, I would've guessed at least $800. But what if I told you it was under $500? That's right, this phone is just $479.
The Red Magic 3 starts at $479. That is more of a midrange price than a flagship. But let's put the amount in context. There are only two other phones in the last two years that have had higher than 60 Hz refresh rate. Those are the Razer Phone 2 and OnePlus 7 Pro. The Razer Phone 2 was initially priced at $799.99 and has since dropped to $399. However, it uses an LCD panel and last year's Snapdragon 845.
The OnePlus 7 Pro starts at $669, and while its price will drop once the 7T Pro comes out, it won't get close to Red Magic 3's pricing. Neither phone has a cooling fan or a game mode as extensive as the Red Magic 3. And while other options such as iPhone XS Max and Samsung Galaxy S10+ have better benchmark numbers, they're double (and even more than double) the price.
While the Red Magic 3 isn't without flaws, for someone who loves to game, this is a great option. This phone could have been $700 and would still be a compelling offer for mobile gamers — but at $479, it's hard to pass on.