The Red Magic 5S is a powerful Android phone with gaming features like a 144 Hz display and shoulder triggers. It's not for everybody, but that's by design. If you're looking for a phone that can handle any game you throw at it with ease, this will be one of the first options you consider.

Specifications
  • Brand: Nubia
  • Storage: 128 GB
  • CPU: Snapdragon 865
  • Memory: 8GB
  • Operating System: Android 10
  • Battery: 4500 mAh
  • Ports: USB-C
  • Camera (Rear, Front): 64MP, 8MP
  • Display (Size, Resolution): 6.65-inch, 1080x2340
Pros
  • Buttery smooth display
  • Shoulder triggers are great in some games
  • Games run extremely well
Cons
  • Camera isn't fantastic

Phones have gone from something you use for calls, texts, and managing appointments to do-it-all computing devices. Because for many people, phones are quickly replacing PCs, it only makes sense that we'd see the same sort of variety: casual phones, business phones, and yes, gaming phones.

While you can play games on any phone, the Nubia Red Magic 5S is built for it, with a powerful chipset, a butter-smooth 144Hz display, and even a built-in cooling fan. The phone looks great on paper, but does it focus too much on gaming-specific features or is it well-rounded enough to be your daily driver?

Specifications

  • OS Version: Red Magic OS 3.5 (Android 10)
  • CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
  • RAM: 8GB
  • Storage: 128 GB
  • Battery: 4,500mAh
  • Display: 6.65-inch AMOLED 144 Hz, 240 Hz poll rate
  • Dimensions: 6.63 x 3.07 x 0.38 inches
  • Front Camera: 8MP, f/2.0
  • Rear Camera: 64MP Sony IMX686, f/1.8, PDAF
  • Connectivity: 5G, Bluetooth 5, Wi-Fi 6
  • Features: ICE 4.0 Active Liquid-Cooling with Turbo Fan, 320Hz Shoulder Triggers, In-Display Fingerprint Reader

Design & Build Quality

Red Magic 5S back of phone

There are two versions of the Red Magic 5S, each with different specs and a different finish. We're looking at the lower-specced version, which features 8GB RAM and 128GB internal storage and comes in the Sonic Silver finish. The higher-spec version comes with 12GB RAM and 256GB internal storage, and a flashier if somewhat gaudy two-tone finish called Pulse.

While I'm curious how the even higher-spec phone would perform, I'm glad I received the review unit I did, because I prefer the look of it by a wide margin. Though it's called Sonic Silver, there is a slight blue tint to the finish that helps it stand out in a sea of drab-looking Android phones.

Partly due to the metal used in the build and partly due to the non-standard components like cooling fans, this is heavier than your average phone. I didn't mind this and while it's certainly a good deal heavier than the iPhone 12 Mini I use on a daily basis, I didn't find the weight annoying even after marathon gaming sessions on the 5S.

Speaking of cooling fans, these necessitate vents on the side of the Red Magic 5S. These are unusual to see on a phone, as you'd imagine, but I like the effect on the aesthetics. They give it the appearance of a powerful phone which, as it turns out, is very much the case.

Display

Red Magic OS Home Screen

Somewhat bucking recent trends, there is no slight notch in the display, nor is there a camera placed smack dab in the middle of the upper part of the screen. Instead, you get good old-fashioned bezels. I know these are often frowned on now, but I find the half-centimeter bezels at the top and bottom of the phone lend a nice sense of symmetry.

These bezels also have a practical nature since this is a phone you'll often use in landscape orientation. They give you a spot to actually hold on to the phone without your fingers obscuring part of the screen, which comes in handy in games with significant HUD elements on the sides of the screen.

The display is a 6.65-inch AMOLED panel, which brings some impressive color and brightness to the table. Even more impressive are the supported refresh rates. While you can use the standard 60Hz refresh rate to improve battery life, you also have options for 90Hz and 144Hz.

At 144Hz, the phone uses more battery but feels significantly smoother. This refresh rate is mainly meant for games, but I liked its overall effect on the feel of the phone so much that I left it on this setting at nearly all times.

Gaming Features

Button for Compete Mode on Red Magic 5S

One of the first things you'll notice looking over the Red Magic 5S is the bright red slighter on the upper-left side of the phone. Slide this up and the phone enters Compete Mode.

This is a dedicated gaming space that serves as an alternate launcher with several gaming-specific features. Here you can launch games, but also toggle on various options like the 144 Hz refresh rate and block calls and messages to keep you in the zone.

One of these options is the internal fan, which helps keep the phone from heating up during intense gaming. It's strange to hear the slight whir of a fan coming out of a phone, but with this on I never noticed the phone heating up significantly, even in the most demanding games.

My review unit of the Red Magic 5S also came with the company's Ice Dock. This is an optional add-on that brings an external fan to help keep the Red Magic 5S even cooler. Just slide it on, plug the built-in USB-C cable into the port on the bottom of the phone, and you've got even more cooling power.

Red Magic Ice Dock

This isn't where the gaming features end. The Red Magic 5S features dual Shoulder Triggers, touch-sensitive areas on the right side of the phone that becomes the top when you turn it on its side for landscape-oriented games.

You configure the left and right shoulder triggers to virtually tap any area of the screen when you tap them. This means that they're compatible with any game without games needing to specifically support them. These lended such an advantage in games like Call of Duty that it almost felt like cheating.

The 4D Shock feature is nice, but isn't as impressive. This is only available in certain games like Asphalt 9, and adds a "rumble" effect that feels similar to the HD Rumble in the Nintendo Switch. If it was available in more games, the feature would be more impressive. Maybe someday.

Software

Red Magic 5S Game Mode

The Red Magic 5S arrived running Android 10 and, as of the writing of this review, hasn't seen an update to Android 11. I've seen one major update during that time, but no sign that the phone will see an update to Android 11 anytime soon.

On top of Android, you get the Red Magic OS, which is essentially a pair of launchers and some various software. We've already gone over most of the significant elements here in talking about Compete Mode, but the look and feel of the phone isn't something you'd see on a Google Pixel device.

I only encountered one bug while using the phone, but it was a major one. After launching the Calendar app, the phone hard crashed to the point that the first thing I saw after the screen went black was the boot-up animation. This only happened once.

Performance

Red Magic 5S buttons

The Red Magic 5S features a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 with support for 5G, assuming you can get it wherever you're located. While it isn't quite as powerful as the Plus version of the same chipset, it's still among the fastest chipsets available in an Android phone right now.

This, combined with the 144Hz refresh rate, results in a phone that feels smooth no matter what you're doing. The 8GB RAM is plenty, though the bump up to 12GB is the top-spec version likely has app switching feeling even more responsive.

For benchmarks, we turned to Geekbench 5. Scores averaged 900 for single-core performance and 3,200 for multi-core. For the Compute benchmark, the Red Magic 5S averaged around 3,200 for the OpenCL score.

For gaming, I tested using a handful of the most popular games right now, including Call of Duty Mobile, Asphalt 9, Madden NFL 21, and PUBG. Even with plenty of complaints about Madden NFL 21 in the Play Store reviews, I didn't find the game to struggle even a bit on the Red Magic 5S, even at max settings.

The games I spent the most time with were Call of Duty Mobile and Asphalt 9, the former thanks to the shoulder buttons and the latter because of the support for the 4D shock feature. Even after long sessions, neither game ever lagged, and with the internal fan turned on (I never found the Ice Dock to be necessary) the phone stayed plenty cool.

Cameras

Shot from the Red Magic 5S camera

The Red Magic features a 64MP rear-facing lens with a Sony IMX686 sensor, but the camera isn't very impressive. It's not bad in most cases, taking serviceable shots, but it's not going to take pictures that make you gasp when you view the results.

The front-facing camera is more of the same, but limited to 8MP. If you need to take a quick selfie, it will do the job, but again, this isn't a phone you'd buy just for the camera. It's possible future software updates may improve the photos that come out of the Red Magic 5S, but I wouldn't count on it.

Battery

Red Magic 5S cooling vents

The battery has a capacity of 4,500 mAh, which is nice since gaming on a phone is relatively battery intensive. When it comes time to charge, the phone doesn't feature support for wireless charging, but it does feature Quick Charge up to 55W to help get the battery back up to max quickly.

Even with the capacity, I was surprised at how long the battery lasted. Maybe it's the optimizations you get from Compete Mode / Game Space, but even with the display in 144Hz mode, a near-full day of gaming, benchmarks, and other tests didn't drain the battery.

If you were to use this as you would use a "normal" phone, you could easily go a few days without charging. I can't imagine a situation where you'd need to plug this in during the day after an overnight charge.

Should You Buy The Red Magic 5S?

If you spend the vast majority of the time you're on your phone gaming, you're the exact person the Red Magic 5S is built for. While you can also harness that power for editing videos or similar power-user activities on the 5S, it's clear that this isn't what it was built for. Still, the latest update to the Red Magic 5S has ironed out enough of the bugs that it's a phone you can use for anything.

One of my personal problems with gaming phones has always been that they looked like the phone equivalents of Alienware PCs, over-designed and largely goofy. While the more powerful version of the phone in the Pulse finish suffers from this, the Sonic Silver version I had for this review doesn't have the same problem. You could carry this into a business meeting and nobody would bat an eyelash.

The Red Magic 5S isn't for everybody, but that is by design. If you're looking for a phone that can handle any game you throw at it with ease, this will be one of the first options you consider.

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