Great gaming hardware with challenging software

A typical gaming phone differentiates itself from other high-performance phones by including extra gaming-specific features like active cooling and shoulder triggers. These are backed up by the latest processors and the fastest displays. The Red Magic 6 has everything you would expect from a gaming phone including the industry’s first 165Hz display — a significant upgrade from the 144Hz display found in the Red Magic 5G. Is it the best gaming phone to beat? Find out in Android Authority‘s Red Magic 6 review.

About this Red Magic 6 review: I used the Red Magic 6 for three weeks running Android 11 and RedMagic OS 4.0 (build NX669J_UNCommon_V4.12). The Red Magic 6 review unit was provided to Android Authority by Nubia. The review unit was the Chinese version running the global firmware. The CN version doesn’t support NFC, but the global version does. The CN version has the Tencent Games logo on the back, but the global version doesn’t. The CN version has a 66W charger in the box, but the global version ships with a 30W charger.

What you need to know about the Red Magic 6

Red Magic 6 logo in sunlight

Credit: Gary Sims / Android Authority

  • Red Magic 6 (12GB/128GB, Eclipse Black): $599/€599/£509
  • Red Magic 6 Pro 16GB/256GB, Moon Silver): $699/€699/£599

The Red Magic 6 and Red Magic 6 Pro are the latest gaming phones from Red Magic — a sub-brand of the Shenzhen-based Nubia.

There are two models of the Red Magic 6, the standard version and the Pro version. The latter has more RAM and more storage. The Red Magic 6 comes in Eclipse Black with a glass back, while the Red Magic 6 Pro is Moon Silver and incorporates aviation-grade aluminum. Other than those differences, the two variants are the same. In the box, you get the phone, a 30W charger, and a USB-C to USB-C cable.

Related: The best gaming laptops you can buy right now

The Red Magic 6 and Red Magic 6 Pro will be available globally from April 15, with pre-orders opening on April 9. The phones will be available in Asia-Pacific regions, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America. Its main competitors are gaming phones like the Asus ROG Phone 5 and the Black Shark 4, as well as affordable flagships like the OnePlus 9 and Samsung Galaxy S21.

Is the Red Magic 6 good for gaming?

Red Magic 6 bullet force in game

Credit: Gary Sims / Android Authority

The Red Magic 6 ticks all the right boxes when it comes to gaming. It has a Snapdragon 888 processor, a 6.8-inch Full HD display, and at least 12GB of RAM. Plus, there is a 5,050mAh battery, active cooling via a built-in fan, capacitive shoulder buttons, and a dedicated gaming launcher.

The Red Magic 6 boasts the industry’s first 165Hz display, which raises the Red Magic 6 above every other gaming phone on paper. For gamers, faster is always better. Along with the high refresh rate, the display incorporates 500Hz single-finger touch sampling and 360Hz multi-touch sampling. To protect the display, Nubia uses an unspecified grade of Corning Gorilla Glass.

Overall, the AMOLED display is a big plus point for this phone. The colors are good (it supports HDR 10+, DCI-P3) and the brightness is above average at a peak of 640 nits. Unless you really squint, you won’t notice that this is only an FHD+ panel either. There are also settings to control the color gamut and you can switch between normal, vivid, natural, P3, and sRGB. The default is plenty vivid. Personally, I think that is the right choice.

The Red Magic 6 boasts the industry’s first 165Hz display. For gamers, faster is always better.

A 165Hz refresh rate is not the only industry first for the Red Magic 6. It also includes a CPHY-DSI interface that connects the Snapdragon 888 to the display. According to Nubia, using CPHY-DSI means the data is sent twice as fast to the display while using less power.

To get the most from a high refresh rate display you need to play games that support more than the standard 60Hz refresh. Not all games do. Nubia claims there are over 100 games that support 165Hz including Real Racing and Dead Trigger 2, but don’t expect to see a difference all the time as many games on the Play Store still don’t support higher refresh rates. Also remember not to confuse frame rate with refresh rate, as these are two different things. If you want to know more, then I have a video that will help.

The Red Magic 6 is unapologetically a gaming phone and as such gaming-centric features are important. On the side of the device is a small red switch, which is used to activate Game Space — a dedicated gaming UI that gives you easy access to your games. Game Space also gives you controls for the fan, the LED lights, plus it allows you to configure the shoulder gaming buttons.

One of the Red Magic 6’s most useful features is the pair of capacitive shoulder triggers. The clever thing about them is that they work almost any game; there is no need for special versions or additional support from the game makers. The way they work is that you can map any point on the screen to one of the triggers. These mappings can be saved on a per-game basis, meaning that once you set up a game, the Red Magic 6 will remember how you want the triggers to behave. In a game like Asphalt 9, you press one part of the screen to drift and another to use your nitro. With the shoulder triggers, these can be mapped to the left and right buttons so that you can play the game mostly without touching the screen.

Also read: 15 best Android games available right now

As you would expect from a gaming phone, the Red Magic 6 uses the latest flagship processor from Qualcomm, the Snapdragon 888. The CPU and GPU are ideal for playing the latest processor-intensive games. I tested out a number of charting topping hits including Genshin Impact, League of Legends: Wild Rift, Bullet Force, Fortnite, Call of Duty Mobile, and PUBG Mobile. They all performed admirably.

For those who like benchmarks numbers, the Red Magic 6 maxed out the Sling Shot Extreme test in 3DMark with the app reporting that the “Red Magic 6 is too powerful for this test,” though this is common across Snapdragon 888-powered devices. 3D Mark’s latest test is called Wild Life. The Red Magic 6 scored 5,743 with an average frame rate of 34.4fps. For context, those are very similar scores to the OnePlus 9 and the Samsung Galaxy S21.

As for raw CPU performance, the device scored 1,127 for Geekbench 5’s single-core tests, and 3,627 for its multi-core test. Again, these are in the same ballpark as the OnePlus 9 and Galaxy S21 series.

As an interesting side note, the Red Magic 5G automatically switched on the fan when running the 3D Mark, even though it wasn’t in Game Mode. That doesn’t happen for other apps or games, which means the device detected the benchmark and reacted accordingly. Personally, I find that a little bit disconcerting.

The purpose of the built-in active cooling is to enable long-term sustained performance.

The purpose of the built-in active cooling is to enable long-term sustained performance. Its effectiveness was questionable in the Red Magic 5G with only a marginal improvement in sustained performance with the fan running. However, it seems to be much more beneficial to the Red Magic 6. I ran Geekbench and got the numbers above. I then did some intense 3D gaming for 30 minutes, without the fan, and then I ran Geekbench again. I saw a 30% drop in the Geekbench single-core score.

After letting the device cool fully, I did the same thing again but with the fan running at max. At the end of the intensive 3D gaming, I saw a drop of just 1% with Geekbench. Sustained multi-core performance was also improved by using the fan. Without the fan, I saw a 9% drop in the multi-core score, whereas with the fan it was just 2.5%.

How does the camera perform?

Red Magic 6 triple camera

Credit: Gary Sims / Android Authority

Like its predecessor, the Red Magic 6 has a triple camera setup. Previously Nubia opted for a 64MP Sony IMX686 sensor, however this time the company has gone with the Samsung ISOCELL GW3 (the S5KGW3 specifically). The 64MP sensor is joined by an 8MP ultra wide-angle sensor, and a 2MP macro sensor.

The camera experience is decidedly average. Overall, the camera suite on the Red Magic 6 is usable, but images often look dull and lack color vibrance. If you prioritize gaming over photography, then you will be just fine.

See also: The best budget camera phones you can buy

However, the real issue with the Red Magic 6’s camera suite is Red Magic’s camera app. To start, the UI lacks an obvious toggle to switch to ultra-wide mode. This is an odd omission, considering the ultra-wide mode uses its own sensor and lens. Instead, the ultra-wide toggle is hidden away in the Pro mode. This was the same with the Red Magic 5G, and it’s bizarre that it hasn’t been addressed yet. It’s especially odd because Nubia did include a toggle for zoom (up to 10x) even though there isn’t a dedicated telephoto lens — it’s all just digital zoom. You can check out the zoom results in the comparison gallery below.

Macro mode is also squirreled away, this time under the Family sub-menu. The macro camera itself doesn’t have autofocus and the resolution means image detail won’t hold up if you crop in. Elsewhere in the Family section, you will also find other camera functions like MultiExposure, LightDraw, Star Trail, Time Lapse, Panoramic, Clone, and much more.

The Red Magic 6 includes support for 8K video recording at 30fps, as well as 4K or 1080p at up to 60fps. You can opt between H.264, H.265, and HDR10 for the encoder.

If you prioritize gaming over photography, then the Red Magic 6 camera will be fine. For everyone else, it’s decidedly average.

The front camera is a reasonable 8MP shooter. Portrait mode is available, but it doesn’t actually add a blurred background so it’s pointless. There’s also a beauty mode, though most will want to keep this disabled due to the aggressive smoothing applied to skin.

If you want to see the images above at their full resolution then you can find them here.

How is the battery life?

Red Magic 6 asphalt 9 menu

Credit: Gary Sims / Android Authority

To help gamers get the most on-screen time, Nubia has included a 5,050mAh battery, plus fast charging. The phone supports charging up to 66W, but only a 30W charger is included in the box. According to Nubia, you can charge the Red Magic 6 from 0 to 100% in 43 minutes using a 66W charger. Using the supplied 30W charger I was able to charge from 1% to 100% in one hour. The battery reached 50% in 22 minutes and 80% in 36 minutes.

If you want more than 30W charging then any high-power USB-C PD, or even better still USB-C PD PPS charger will work. I tested it on my PinePower Desktop charger, which supports 60W USB-C PD, and the device started charging at 33W. For the full 66W you will need a USB-C PD PPS charger.

Related: The best phone charging accessories

I tested playing 3D games, since that is the whole point of the Red Magic 6, and I found that you will get around four hours of gaming from one charge. That is 25% per hour. If you are a heavy gamer it is worth noting this number. At the other end of the scale, you can watch 19 hours of YouTube on one charge.

Assuming your average day is not just about gaming then you will get a full day out of the battery, but just keep an eye on the battery level if you do indulge in more than an hour or two of 3D mayhem.

What about the software?

Red Magic 6 always on display

Credit: Gary Sims / Android Authority

The software is the weakest thing about the Red Magic 6. But let’s start with the positives.

Red Magic OS 4.0 is based on Android 11, so you are getting the latest version of Android at the time of the device’s release. The Red Magic OS 4.0 skin has lots of features to support the gaming hardware. I have already mentioned the dedicated Game Space and the shoulder triggers. However, there is also support for recording video clips during gameplay, manually setting the screen refresh rate (60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz, and 165Hz), configuring the light strip on the back of the device, and a side menu with quick access to various tools and apps.

Google’s apps and services are fully supported on the Red Magic 6 and you get the Play Store, YouTube, Chrome, Photos, Google Drive, and Gmail all pre-installed. Besides Google’s app, you get a small selection of tools and utilities like a file manager, clock, calculator, etc. All the normal stuff. Overall the level of bloat is low with the only superfluous app advertising Nubia’s accessories for the Red Magic series.

Red Magic 6 in hand launcher

Credit: Gary Sims / Android Authority

One of my gripes about the Red Magic 5G was that you couldn’t control the fan outside of Game Space — now you can! Thank you, Nubia. Also, there was previously no way to show the battery percentage next to the battery icon. Again, fixed. But it isn’t all roses and sweet lavender.

For starters, you can’t change the default launcher. While for some people that is irrelevant, for others it is a deal-breaker. Changing the launcher is one of the fundamental freedoms that Android users have compared to iOS users. It also means that Speed Test G won’t run on the Red Magic 6, which is a shame as it could have been one of the fastest phones of 2021.

The inclusion of a 165Hz display is a big plus for the Red Magic 6, and the ability to manually switch between refresh rates is great. Nubia claims that the software allows for adaptive adjustment among the four different levels, but I didn’t see it happening. For some reason the setting is stored under a sub-menu called Smart game, not the core displany menu. It’s a similar case for the 165Hz setting, which is accessed via a notification drawer toggle. It’s all very confusing.

Red Magic’s track record with updates isn’t great and Red Magic OS 4.0 still needs a lot of work.

There is also the question of updates. I have always been concerned about the number and frequency of security updates from Nubia. Looking back at the Red Magic 3S and the Red Magic 5G, they did get some updates. The last one was November 2020, when both devices got patched. I am writing this in April 2021. As far as I can see, none of the previous devices ever got a major Android update. My guess is that the Red Magic 6 will remain solely on Android 11.

And then there are the bugs. Let me start by saying that I got my review unit before the device goes on sale globally and that Nubia is upfront that the software in my test unit isn’t the final build. Despite this, based on my experience with other Red Magic phones, I have a nagging overall impression that the final version could be equally unstable and inconsistent.

The Red Magic 6’s software is better than on previous iterations of this series, and gaming-specific features like Game Space and the customizable triggers earn it some bonus points. However, if you’re looking for a phone that offers a great skin for day-to-day use, then the Red Magic 6 isn’t the phone for you.

Anything else?

Red Magic 6 fingerprint reader

Credit: Gary Sims / Android Authority

  • Under-display fingerprint reader: To be blunt, the under-display fingerprint reader on the RedMagic 5G was terrible. However, the happy news is that the reader on the Red Magic 6 is great. No issues, no problems, no frustration. It just works!
  • Audio: The Red Magic 6 has two speakers, offering a true stereo experience. The earpiece doubles as a speaker, it is front-firing. It is joined by a downward-firing speaker on the bottom. The good news is that there is a headphone jack. It is on the top edge. I tested the stereo separation using one of those test videos on YouTube that plays music through the left and then right speaker, and I was impressed. This means that if you watch YouTube or Netflix while holding the device in your hand, you should enjoy some nice stereo effects. But, as is often the case, using headphones is probably more polite, and will deliver the best overall experience.
  • No IP rating: Don’t take this phone for a dip as it doesn’t have an official IP rating for water and dust protection. This is fairly common for gaming phones, but there are some phones at the $600 mark that do have official protection ratings.
  • Wi-Fi 6E: The Red Magic 6 supports Wi-Fi 6E — the latest and fastest Wi-Fi standard and has access to the 6GHz spectrum. This is great news for gamers who want the fastest connections and is a rare feature at this price point.

Red Magic 6 specs

  RedMagic 6
Display AMOLED 6.8 inches Full HD+ @165Hz
SoC Snapdragon 888
GPU Adreno 660
RAM 12GB/16GB
Storage 128GB/256 GB UFS3.1
Cameras Rear Cameras:
64MP main
8MP Wide-angle
2MP Macro

Front Camera:
8MP selfie

Video:
8K @30fps, 1080p/4K @60fps

Battery 5050mAh
60W rapid charging supported, 30W charger included
Sensors Fingerprint, G-sensor, Electronic Compass, Gyroscope, Proximity, Ambient Light Sensor, Sensor hub
Network 5G: NR n41/n78
2G+3G+4G:
2G: GSM 2/3/5/8
3G: WCDMA B1/2/4/5/6/8/9/19
4G: TD-LTE B34/B38/39/40/41
4G: FDD-LTE B1/B2/B3/B4/B5/B7/B8/B12/B17/B18/B19/B20/B26/B28/B66
Connectivity WiFi 6 2×2 MIMO
Bluetooth 5.1
GPS
NFC
SIM Dual nano-SIM
Software RedMagic OS 4.0 based on Android 11.0
Dimensions and weight Height: 169.86mm
Width: 77.19mm
Depth: 9.7mm
Weight: 220g
Colors Eclipse Black (Standard) or Moon Silver (Pro)

Value and competition

Red Magic 6 Red Magic 6

The Red Magic 6 builds on the gaming phone traditions of its predecessors and it does it all for less than $600. The Snapdragon 888 is great, plus you get a 165Hz display, active cooling, at least 12GB of RAM, and hardware shoulder buttons.

The Red Magic 6 isn’t the only gaming phone on the market, there are others. This includes the current king, the Asus ROG Phone 5. The two devices have similar features like the Snapdragon 888, advanced cooling solutions, and high refresh rate displays. The ROG Phone offers up to 512GB of storage, and up to 18GB of RAM, plus one of the largest batteries on the market at 6,000mAh. There are actually three different models in the ROG 5 Phone lineup: the Asus ROG Phone 5, the ROG Phone 5 Pro, and the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate. All three share the same front screen and shoulder buttons (Air Triggers 5), with minor spec boosts for RAM and storage as you move up the ladder.

If you aren’t impressed by shoulder triggers and active cooling, but you still want a device with the latest Snapdragon processor and a high refresh rate display then you have quite a few options including the OnePlus 9, which has a fixed 120Hz display, or the OnePlus 9 Pro, which has an adaptive 120Hz display. Both devices have the Snapdragon 888 and come with up to 12GB of RAM.

Also read: The best phones for gaming

If you don’t like the look of the OnePlus 9 series, then what about the Samsung Galaxy S21 range? All the S21 models have adaptive 120Hz displays and at least 8GB of RAM, with the top-of-the-line model, the Galaxy S21 Ultra, featuring a 6.8-inch AMOLED WQHD+ display at 120Hz with up to 16GB of RAM.

But let us not forget the price differences. The Asus, OnePlus, and Samsung devices I mentioned are significantly more expensive than the Red Magic 6. This will surely be a significant factor for many people when trying to choose. Are the weaknesses of the Red Magic 6 acceptable considering the price? Or to put it the other way around, are the higher prices of the competition justifiable? That will all depend on how much you desire power on a budget over other flagship qualities such as a capable camera system and a quality software experience.

Red Magic 6 review: The verdict

Red Magic 6 fortnite

Credit: Gary Sims / Android Authority

There are lots of positive things to say about the Red Magic 6. The industry’s first 165Hz display means the Red Magic 6 is at least one step ahead of the competition. The active cooling has moved from just being a gimmick or marketing trick to something actually useful. Then on top of that, you have the Snapdragon 888, the gaming triggers, a large battery with fast charging, 8K video, a headphone jack, and of course support for 5G (sub-6GHz only).

While the camera is dull and average, the audio setup is good and there is a headphone jack, something that can no longer be taken for granted and a real boon for gamers. The battery is a good size, but heavy gaming can use it up quickly. Thankfully the fast charging will help there.

If the lure of gaming triggers, active cooling, the price, and a 165Hz display outweighs your concerns over security updates then the Red Magic 6 could be the phone for you.

But, a smartphone needs good software to complement the hardware. The Red Magic 6 doesn’t let you change the launcher, something I consider a breach of contract between Android OEMs and Android users. It’s also buggy and filled with inconsistencies. And then there is a worry over software updates and future upgrades.

These negative points must be tempered by the price. At $599 for the base model, you are getting a lot of phone for less than you would pay for a ROG Phone 5, Galaxy S21, OnePlus 9, Xiaomi Mi 11, or just about any Snapdragon 888 phone. So, if the lure of gaming triggers, active cooling, a 165Hz display, and the modest price outweighs concerns over security and the possibility of an Android upgrade, and you don’t mind fighting through UI issues and living with a mediocre camera, then the Red Magic 6 could be the gaming phone for you.

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