The Best Red Magic 5S smartphone review
Nubia Red Magic 5S: is it worth your purchase?
- 144Hz display
- Premium Specifications
- Good battery life
- Average cameras
- No wireless charging
The disappointing lack of improvements aside, the Red Magic 5S is a stellar gaming phone that deserves to be considered among the best you can buy.
Retail price (RRP)
$ 579 (8GB + 128GB) | $ 649 (12GB + 256GB)
Red Magic 5S smartphone review
Five months after its launch, the Red Magic 5G still has the highest refresh rate of any phone currently available. Its Snapdragon 865 processor is still the latest and greatest of all, while Android 10 is still the latest version of Google’s operating system (for now).
Why, then, has Nubia already decided to release a sequel on the Red Magic 5S? Hearing of its release, that was the exact same question I was asking.
The minuscule changes do not justify a new release, so this review should be approached without relying too much on its predecessor. Is the latest Red Magic phone still one of the best gaming phones you can buy, or has the competition caught up?
Design and build quality
Before opening the package it is already clear that the Red Magic 5S is a gaming phone from start to finish. The comic book style design on the box really sets the tone for what to expect, and makes for a premium unpacking experience.
The phone’s design is pretty much the same as the Red Magic 5G, with one key exception. Color options. Although we’ve seen variations of silver many times already, the crazy two-color “Pulse” model I tried is extremely eye-catching. It means that the 5S easily stands out from the growing number of gaming-focused phones, and would make me reluctant to put it in a case.
It’s good news, then, that the device feels quite robust, even though it has an all-glass design with aluminum trim. The metallic coating on the rear of the 5S means that it is impressively resistant to fingerprint smudges, while adding much-needed grip.
It’s also where you’ll find triple rear cameras and a few discreet brands by gaming phone standards.
Overall, the choice of materials means that the phone has a more premium feel than the 599 euro price tag suggests (539 for the silver version).
The screen of the Red Magic 5S is unchanged from that of the 5G: a 6.65-inch OLED panel with a resolution of 1080×2340.
I would have liked to see the resolution slightly increased, but it’s a more than acceptable compromise for the class-leading 144Hz display. The likes of the Lenovo Legion Phone Duel, the Asus ROG Phone 3, and the Iqoo Neo 3 5G have since joined this update pace, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.
It’s hard to explain to anyone how smooth and responsive this is than a normal 60Hz screen, but it makes even basic tasks feel much more satisfying.
Nubia also offers options for 60 and 90 Hz, which help conserve battery, but to get the most out of this phone, you have to set it to 144 Hz and leave it there. In addition to its obvious benefits for games, you will also notice great advances in the use of “endless scrolling” style social media applications.
The 5S also stands out as having no notch whatsoever, with small bezels above and below the screen that give the phone an attractive symmetrical design. At the top, you’ll find the same 8 MP sensor as its predecessor, although it now has a wide 120-degree field of view.
Interestingly, this doesn’t allow for face unlocking, so you’ll have to rely on the much improved optical fingerprint sensor on the screen. The registration process is simple, and relatively quickly I was able to get an idea of the amount of pressure to apply.
The power button and volume slider have slid awkwardly down on the right side of the phone to make way for a large speaker grill, one of four around the phone.
On the opposite side, there is a physical slider to activate the gaming space (more on that later), as well as a smart connector for the many accessories that Nubia offers.
It’s disappointing that the dual SIM card tray doesn’t support expandable storage, but we still have a 3.5mm headphone jack and USB-C for charging and data transfer.
While 220g is heavy by usual phone standards, the weight is justified here by everything Nubia is packing into the phone.
We normally have a section devoted to acting, but it’s worth talking about specifically how the game is handled first.
Red Magic 5G is powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 865 chipset, which is paired with 12GB of RAM (in the model I tested) and an industry-leading 144Hz refresh rate to deliver the most satisfying mobile gaming experience. that I have experienced to date.
I am by no means an avid gamer, but I can’t help but appreciate what Nubia has accomplished here. The 5S offers supreme gaming performance and can handle the most graphics-intensive games on the Google Play Store without breaking a sweat.
Through demanding titles such as Call of Duty: Mobile, PUBG Mobile, and Asphalt 9, the 5S was a joy to use, although these games do not officially support 144Hz gameplay. The gameplay feels silky smooth, and I really felt like it gave me an edge over gamers using a 60Hz screen.
There are a wide variety of games that support 144Hz nowadays, although you won’t notice a significant difference in casual titles like 8 Ball Pool and Fruit Ninja.
The gaming experience is enhanced through Game Space, a special mode dedicated to mobile games. Activated by a slider on the side of the phone, it offers tools to maximize performance, reduce distractions, and keep the device running.
This may sound familiar if you’ve read my Red Magic 5S review, and it’s because very little has changed when it comes to gaming performance. Nubia claims that the shoulder triggers now support a touch sampling rate of 320Hz (up from 300Hz) and that the cooling system is 4.3% more effective, but I didn’t notice any difference.
It’s probably not surprising that the stellar performance of the Red Magic 5S extends to general everyday use. The 144Hz refresh rate means everything feels a bit more special, and only a handful of phones can really compete with it on the spec sheet.
This is highlighted in its benchmark results, where it is shown to be more than just competition for the best gaming phones on the market.
Although I praised some of the game-specific software tweaks before, it is arguably the most disappointing area of this phone. That’s because the Nubia Red Magic 3.0 skin, which works on Android 10, cannot be swapped for another launcher.
The beauty of Android has always been how customizable it is, but the experience feels a bit restrictive here. Nubia’s rendition of Android is functional, albeit a bit basic. It offers all the tools you expect from Google’s operating system, along with a ton of duplicate software .
It’s more than usable, even if you’ve never played mobile games, but I wish the excellent hardware could be paired with similar software.
Cameras are often the big selling point of “normal” phones, and they haven’t been forgotten here. The Red Magic 5S comes with a triple set of rear cameras, with the 64 MP main sensor paired with an 8 MP wide angle and 2 MP macro.
In good lighting, the phone produces aesthetically pleasing snapshots, but aggressive saturation means they are rarely real. You can see what I mean in the camera samples below:
You also tend to overexpose yourself, particularly in bright environments. However, this works to your advantage in low light conditions, when you can fall back on the dedicated night mode. It can’t rival the Pixel in image quality here, but the photos I took were more than usable.
Despite not having a dedicated depth sensor, the 5S uses software to take portrait-style photos. He regularly struggles with edge detection, although I did give him some challenging topics in my tests.
In terms of video, the 5S is capable of capturing 8,000 images at 30fps, compared to 15fps on the Red Magic 5G. Optical image stabilization means decent footage can be obtained, but it suffers from the same saturation and contrast issues as photos.
The Red Magic 5S comes with a 4500mAh, which sounds great until you realize that it is identical to the Red Magic 5G. However, with the refresh rate set to 144Hz, I was able to record 11 hours and 18 minutes on the Geekbench 4 battery test.
In the PCMark Work 2.0 test, often considered more representative of real-world use, the 5S lasts an impressive 10 hours and 55 minutes. That’s despite having the brightness set at 200 nits using the SpyderX Pro, compared to 120 in the Geekbench test.
Both scores suggest that it has above-average battery life, and that’s the experience I had using the phone. Nubia cautions that the high refresh rate will consume more power, but it was still comparable to some 60Hz phones.
One area where it struggles a bit is in standby time, as I noticed the battery draining between the time the phone is put down and the time it is picked up again.
There is no wireless charging, and I was only able to get a 34% charge in 30 minutes from shutdown, and it took about 90 minutes for a full charge. That’s not slow at all, but it has been overtaken by many modern phones.
Value for money
The Red Magic 5S is priced the same as 5G, costing € 579 for 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Upgrading to 12GB / 256GB will cost you 649.
Interestingly, the starting price here is identical to that of the Black Shark 3, which in turn seemed to match the cost of the Red Magic 5G. However, there are plenty of alternatives on the gaming phone market, with offerings from Vivo, Razer, and Asus offering stiff competition.
It is a great opportunity for Nubia to establish the Red Magic brand in the European markets.
Although I wish there were more improvements to the 5S, there is no denying that it offers excellent value for money.
Nubia has once again managed to produce an excellent gaming phone with the Red Magic 5S, but it comes as no surprise considering that it is almost identical to its predecessor.
320Hz shoulder triggers, UFS 3.1, and a claimed 4.3% better cooling system aside, this is the same phone you could have bought five months earlier.
Everything I said in that review applies here. The 144Hz refresh rate display is truly impressive, and combined with a Snapdragon 865 processor and up to 12GB of full-board RAM it’s superb.
The battery life is impressive and the built-in fan works wonders in games.
The frustrations with the software remain, however, and the cameras are quite disappointing. These are areas that could have been easily addressed in 5S, but Nubia chose not to.
If this is your first experience with a gaming phone, you won’t be disappointed. For anyone who has taken the Red Magic 5G, however, don’t worry as you won’t miss out.
Check out how we test it: Smartphones to find out more about what’s going on in one of our reviews.
- Android 10 with Red Magic OS 3.0
- 6.65 inches Full HD + (1080×2340), 19.4: 9, 144 Hz, Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
- 8 / 12GB RAM (DDR4)
- 128/256 GB internal storage
- 64MP Main Cameras, 8MP Ultra Wide, 2MP Macro
- 8 MP front camera
- Fingerprint scanner (on screen)
- Wifi 6
- Bluetooth 5.1
- 5G (mmOnda, sub-6)
- 4500mAh non-removable battery
- 55W wired charging (additional accessory required) 168.6 x 78 x 9.8 mm
- 220 grams