Gaming smartphones are a niche when you look at the smartphone market as a whole. Not too long ago, a powerful processor was considered to be the only important factor for gaming. Things have changed drastically now, and we have dedicated gaming smartphones, each one bringing something different to the table. The Nubia Red Magic 3, for instance, had an internal fan which helped it keep thermals in check. We liked it as a gaming device, but it wasn’t very good at everything else. Nubia, the company behind that phone, has now launched an update called the Nubia Red Magic 3S.
This new model comes with the new Snapdragon 855 Plus SoC, a 90Hz display, and more RAM and storage. Is this the best gaming hardware currently on the market? We put this smartphone to the test to find out.
Nubia Red Magic 3S Design
The Red Magic 3 (Review), which was launched earlier this year, had a striking design. The update isn’t too different, and the Red Magic 3S still has the same design although there’s a flashy new paint job. Nubia has launched the Red Magic 3S in two colours, Mecha Silver and Cyber Shade, and we had the Cyber Shade version for this review. It has a gradient between bright red and purple. We got mixed opinions about this style from people around us – some liked the bright flashy colours while others hated it. Nubia offers this only on the top-end variant of the Red Magic 3S.
Just like the Red Magic 3, this smartphone is taller than usual and a little bulky. It sports a big 6.65-inch HDR AMOLED display. There are thick bezels at the top and the bottom of the device, while the ones on the sides are sleek. It also has a 90Hz refresh rate just like the Red Magic 3. The AMOLED display is vivid and has three colour modes to choose from: Colourful mode (wide colour gamut) makes colours pop, while the Regular mode switches the panel to the DCI-P3 gamut, and the Natural mode uses sRGB. Nubia offers stereo speakers on the Red Magic 3S, which is now expected on a gaming device. There is Corning Gorilla Glass for protection, but Nubia does not mention the version used.
All the buttons on the device are on the right side, and are easy to reach. Sadly, we can’t say the same about reaching the top of the display. It is a two-handed operation or requires the phone to be shuffled in the hand. The body is made out of metal and this smartphone tips the scales at 215g.
The right side of the phone also has a vent to channel air out when the internal fan is spinning. There are two capacitive shoulder buttons on this side as well, which are easily usable when holding the phone in landscape mode. On the left side, there is a proprietary connector which can be used with a supported dock and various other accessories which don’t appear to be available in India. Just above it is the dual Nano-SIM tray and a dedicated button to toggle GameBoost mode.
The back of the smartphone is identical to that of the Red Magic 3. It has a long RGB light strip running down the middle with a hexagonal fingerprint scanner positioned right above it. Towards the bottom there is a Red Magic logo that lights up for incoming notifications, though you can also keep it on at all times. Right above the fingerprint sensor is another vent for the internal fan. Nubia still offers a single camera on the Red Magic 3S while the competition offers more. There is a single LED flash above the camera sensor and a secondary noise-cancelling microphone on the side. You can see antenna lines at the top as well as the bottom of the device. The smartphone has a 3.5mm headphone jack at the top and a USB Type-C port at the bottom.
Nubia claims that the Red Magic 3S supports 27W fast charging but it only ships an 18W charger in the box. You get a USB Type C cable as well but there is no case in the box.
Nubia Red Magic 3S specifications and software
The Nubia Red Magic 3S is an update to the Red Magic 3, and gets the more powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus SoC. Nubia has launched the smartphone in two variants. The base variant gets 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and is available in Mecha Silver. The higher-end variant sports 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. There is a huge price difference between the two, with the base being priced at Rs. 35,999 while the latter is priced at Rs. 47,999.
Nubia has switched to UFS 3.0 storage with the Red Magic 3S, while the model it replaces had UFS 2.0 storage. This puts it on the same page as recent OnePlus devices. In order to keep the processor at an optimum temperature, the company says it has used an active cooling fan, thermal gel, copper foil, multilayer graphite, and a liquid cooling tube.
Connectivity options on the Red Magic 3S include dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5, four satellite positioning systems, and Dual VoLTE. The Nubia Red Magic 3S has a 5,000 mAh battery which should help it stay off the charger for long periods.
In terms of software, the Red Magic 3S runs Android 9 Pie with a custom UI on top. Our unit was running the August security patch. We did not have any issues navigating through the UI. There are very few preinstalled apps, including only a few Google apps along with an LED Strip Editor tool that lets you customise the RGB strip at the back.
Game Space 2.1 is the gaming mode on the Red Magic 3S, and it can be turned on by flicking the physical GameBoost switch on the side of the phone. Game Space has a different launcher that you can add games and apps to it. There are quick toggles for RGB lighting, the internal fan, and the screen refresh rate. You can set the refresh rate to Auto, 60Hz, or 90Hz. The internal fan has an ‘Intelligent’ setting that adjusts fan speed based on the CPU temperature, or Rapid Cooling which keeps it turned all the way up constantly. There are also 4D Shock effects which claim to improve haptic feedback in supported games such as PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9: Legends.
Nubia Red Magic 3S performance and battery life
The Nubia Red Magic 3S packs the best possible hardware. Just like every other Snapdragon 855-powered smartphone we’ve tested, this one too blazes through tasks. We never had any stutter or lag, and that is expected when you have 12GB of RAM behind the scenes. Launching apps wasn’t an issue and the phone could multitask easily without needing to kill apps in the background.
The fingerprint scanner at the back is easy to reach and is quick to unlock the smartphone. There is face recognition as well which is not only convenient but also quick. We enjoyed watching content on the AMOLED display, and the stereo speakers help enhance the experience. However, it only has support for Widevine L3 which limits resolution on video streaming apps to 480p resolution. Gaming was also immersive and the shoulder triggers help make games more engaging. While playing PUBG Mobile we noticed that these shoulder triggers help improve our performance.
We ran our standard set of benchmarks to see how the Red Magic 3S performed compared to some of the other smartphones we’ve recently reviewed. While running AnTuTu 8 we noticed that the internal fan would turn on automatically, but this wasn’t the case with any other benchmark. This phone scored 4,89,357 in the test, whereas the OnePlus 7T Pro McLaren Edition (Review) scored 4,83,351.
In Geekbench 5’s single-core and multi-core tests, the Nubia Red Magic scored 754 and 2,472 respectively. It managed 9,800 points in PCMark Work 2.0. We got 6,130 points and 75,333 points in 3DMark’s Slingshot Extreme OpenGL and Ice Storm Unlimited tests respectively. We also managed to get 91fps and 69fps in GFXBench’s T-Rex and Manhattan 3.1 scenes respectively.
We played PUBG Mobile and did not notice any issues with gameplay. The smartphone defaults to the High settings but it does let you bump the graphics and frame rate up further. We played the game with graphics set to HD and frame rate set to High for about 32 minutes, and the phone registered a 9 percent battery drop. It barely got warm to the touch but the vent was pushing warm air out. We bumped the graphics up to HDR and the frame rate to Extreme, and played the game for 15 minutes, which resulted in a 5 percent battery drop. The smartphone was slightly warmer in comparison, but still not alarming. It looks like all the cooling hardware that Nubia added does help to manage heat.
The Red Magic 3S has a 5,000mAh battery and has support for 27W fast charging. In our HD video loop test, the smartphone managed to go on for 15 hours and 35 minutes. With our usage, which consisted of an active WhatsApp account and playing PUBG Mobile, the smartphone managed to go on for about a day and a half. In our charging test, the smartphone got to 32 percent in 30 minutes and to 65 percent in an hour using the stock charger. It took close to an hour and a half to charge the phone completely.
Nubia Red Magic 3S cameras
The Nubia Red Magic 3S has a single 48-megapixel camera at the back which is a little surprising considering that most smartphones now sport multi-camera setups. At the front, it has a 16-megapixel selfie shooter. The camera app isn’t the best we have seen, and could take some time getting used to. There’s no portrait mode, and the Electronic Aperture mode does not quite give the same effect. It also offers Pro, Pretty, MultiExposure, LightDraw, Clone, and Time-Lapse modes apart from the regular photo and video modes. The camera takes 12-megapixel shots by default but you can switch to the full sensor resolution by going into the settings.
Photos taken with the Nubia Red Magic 3S during the day had good amounts of detail. It managed to lock focus quickly and set the exposure correctly. We noticed that text at a distance was legible on zooming in, but finer details were missing. For close-ups, we noticed that the smartphone could distinguish between subjects and the backgrounds managed a good depth-of-field effect. Since there is no portrait mode on the device we took a few shots with the electronic aperture mode, but it did not give us the kind of output we were expecting.
Low-light shots were decent as well but we noticed grain in the output on zooming in, and photos weren’t very sharp. The Red Magic 3S does have a Night mode which delivers slightly better quality. We found photos taken with Night mode to be sharper and brighter, with better details.
Selfies taken indoors with the 16-megapixel front camera were decent but low on fine detail. The camera app has beautification switched on by default, which smoothens skin in the output.
The Red Magic 3S has an 8K 30fps video recording mode which the company says is in beta. It also offers 4K and 1080p video recording at 30fps and 60fps. Nubia has added slow-mo video recording at 480fps and there’s a 1920fps mode also in beta. There is surprisingly no stabilisation at 1080p or 4K, which leads to shaky footage.
The Nubia Red Magic 3S is completely gaming-focused and works well for that purpose. The 90Hz refresh rate on the HDR AMOLED panel facilitates smooth gameplay. This phone packs in the best possible hardware for gaming, along with dedicated shoulder buttons. The internal fan helps it run at a lower temperature. However, this phone does very little to stand out in other areas. The camera performance is below average when compared to other devices in this price range.
The Nubia Red Magic 3S competes directly with the Asus ROG Phone 2 (Review). The base variant manages to undercut Asus by a small margin, but the difference is much bigger when considering both high-end variants. Despite this, the Red Magic 3S isn’t easy to recommend. If you are in the market looking for a gaming smartphone, we’d recommend that you spend a little extra and get the ROG Phone 2 instead.