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- Built-in “triggers”
- Almost stock Android
- Great autonomy and power to spare
- The most effective cooling we’ve ever tested on a smartphone
- Big and heavy
- Crappy camera
- The display has room for improvement
With its flashing LED strip, its aggressive metal back and integrated fan, the ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 is an unusual smartphone. Marketed at a very competitive price of , this mobile embodies the whole trend of “gaming smartphones”. But is it such a device really usable on a daily basis?
ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 – Design
The nubia Red Magic 3 stays true to ZTE’s gaming formula. Once again we find a large-screen with no notch, rounded on the sides, with a thick forehead and am equally thick chin to give it a certain symmetry. The large speaker grilles (stereo sound) at the top and bottom merge into the back. It was an already aging design on the Mars model, it’s just old on this model that is also bigger.
On the back, we find some red highlights here and there, a 48MP camera and a diamond-shaped fingerprint sensor. The big news is the grid below the camera sensor, which is the air inlet for the SoC’s active fan.
The air outlet is on the right side. A clever choice since this way the airflow is not obstructed when holding it in landscape mode. In addition to the air exhaust port, we find the volume rocker and power buttons, and the famous triggers.
On the left, there is the switch for Game mode, the Dual SIM tray underneath, and a pin connector for the accessories. At the top, we also find a headphone jack (YES!) while at the bottom, a USB Type-C port and another ventilation grille.
We can’t honestly say that we like its design. Except for the red highlights on the back, the smartphone is thick, slippery, and frankly heavy at 218 grams. Nubia took the Mars model and added an active cooling system.
ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 – Hardware
The ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 has a Snapdragon 855 processor, like most high-end phones of 2019, like the OnePlus 7 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S10+ and its direct rival the Xiaomi Black Shark 2.
It comes in three versions with 6/8/12GB of RAM and 64/128/256GB of storage respectively. We have tested the 8/128GB one.
Although it doesn’t seem like it at first glance, the back of the ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 houses a classic fingerprint reader. Despite its unusual diamond form, identification is very fast and reliable.
Face ID is also included. The bad news is that you cant double tap on the screen to activate face recognition, instead, it is necessary to press the power button. At least face recognition is almost instantaneous.
In gaming smartphones, the display is the key element. The ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 is equipped with a 6.65 inch AMOLED screen, with a 19.5:9 format factor and a 90 Hz panel that offers us, especially in gaming, a very smooth and visually relaxing experience.
It also sports HDR support and a touch refresh rate of up to 240Hz for a very low touch delay. It offers sufficient brightness and contrast for a good visibility outdoors, although it is not the best panel on the market. Panel calibration is not remarkable, but the automatic brightness adjustment is very fast and precise.
Display customization lets us choose between two color modes, Natural and Colorful without granting us the possibility to further regulate any other aspect of the screen.
Its weakest feature is, however, the resolution that, despite its diagonal of more than 6.5 inches, it stops at 2340×1080 pixels, which causes pixel density to stay below 320 dpi.
What about the fan?
The first question on everyone’s mind is: do you hear the fan? The fan is disabled by default. It is up to you to activate it by switching on the red slider on the left edge of the device. The phone then goes into console mode (called Game Space) and activates the fan (giving you the choice between maximum or adaptive power). And to answer your question, yes we can hear it but it is not bothersome.
Is the fan a game-changer? We seriously doubt it. Like most smart phones equipped with a Snapdragon 855 processor, no game poses real problems to the device. The fan doesn’t let you squeeze more power (fps) out of it, it just dissipates some heat and adds some noise.
ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 – Powerhouse
The ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 is on par with the OnePlus 7 Pro (). In everyday use, it is extremely smooth and responsive and I wouldn’t know which one to pick.
In gaming, the integrated physical triggers make all the difference in the world and although the OnePlus 7 Pro offers the same performance, I would choose the ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 every day of the week simply because the triggers make the gaming experience so much more easy, streamlined and comfortable!
Despite the fact that the ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 comes with a huge 5,000mAh battery, in our continuous video test we found that the phone lasted for just 14 hours, less than some of its rivals. In everyday use, we got on average of a day and a half.
For comparison, the Xiaomi Black Shark 2 scored an average of 12 hours (4,000mAh) and the Razer Phone 2 () barely reached 9 hours despite also having a 4,000mAh unit.
ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 – Cameras
This is where the ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 fails. At a time when budget smartphones include a second sensor, this device has only one (and this is no Pixel with its software magic). The truth is that we do not recommend a gaming phone to everyday users precisely because their cameras are mostly junk. We also understand that for a gaming phone to have a competitive price, some corners (or a corner) must be cut, but that doesn’t justify how utterly rubbish most of them behave in the photography sector.
ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 – Verdict
Finding a gaming smartphone that excels both in traditional tasks and gaming is a tad complex. The ZTE nubia Red Magic 3 () is based on a dated design with outdated frames.
It offers outstanding performance and has a large AMOLED screen with a 90Hz panel that improves the gaming experience, but fails to measure up to the other mid-range screens on everyday use. The camera then is the final nail in the coffin.
On the other hand, if we rate it as a pure gaming device, the active cooling system does help bring down the temperature and if we add the very practical integrated physical controls (triggers) and generous battery life, then we have the best gaming smartphone in this price range.
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