The Nubia Red Magic 7 is the latest gaming smartphone from the ZTE subsidiary, and it’s great! I tried to insert a healthy pun in the title, pointing toward the phone’s active cooling system, so don’t take it too literally.
Apart from that, the phone’s really good - it has a big and bright OLED panel with a whopping 165Hz refresh rate, the latest Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chipset (which is so much better when it’s properly cooled), a surprisingly good camera system, amazingly fast charging, big battery, lots of customization options, and last but not least, a great price tag.
There are some caveats to all this, and they mostly concern the fact that it’s a gaming smartphone. The Red Magic 7 comes with LEDs, aggressive coloring scheme, it’s chunky, and the Red Magic OS 5.0 has an idiosyncratic feel to it. Like a mix between a Murakami novel and a hard-core cyberpunk thriller.
Before we get into more detail about this exciting device, I feel I have to address the whole “gaming smartphone” situation first.
Pros and cons of gaming smartphones
I’m a hardcore console gamer. At least I was back in the day. When I was a teenager I blew all my highschool savings to buy a PlayStation (the original one), and it was one of the first units in my country. That’s a weird flex you may think but I feel I need to show that I’m not impartial to the gaming culture.
Gaming phones are not slaves to the latest fashion trends in the smartphone world. They follow their own rules (involving LED lights and aggressive looks) but the design is focused around performance, and cooling is a big part of it.
If you opt for a gaming phone you’ll get the absolute maximum from the hardware and face much fewer thermal throttling issues in the process.
Battery and charging
Another point stemming from the same root - gaming phones are big and chunky, like a Japanese mech, rather than a Japanese lingerie model (if we want to continue with the bizarre analogies), and being big and chunky allows for huge batteries to be tucked inside.
Now, if you ask me, battery life and fast charging are the two most important quality of life features in any smartphone whatsoever, so gaming phones tick that boxes easily. And to tie that pro to the previous one, better cooling allows for faster chagrin (as is the case with the Nubia Red Magic 7).
What is a fast screen, exactly? Yes, your run-of-the-mill iPhone 13 Pro Max or Galaxy S22 Ultra can do 120Hz but gaming phones are optimized for the least amount of touchscreen latency and you can feel it. Plus, these devices take the refresh rate race to its extremes, offering numbers such as 165Hz and 240Hz.
Most gaming phones allow you to tweek far more settings than your normal flagship phone. You can control the screen touch sampling rate, refresh rate, the CPU speeds, even set temperature limits and overclock the thing in some cases.
And having the options at hand and not needing them is far better than vice versa.
I’ll go out on a limb here and say that gaming phones offer much better bang for your buck than regular flagships. Most of these phones can be found for less than $1000, and they offer so much more than slimmer and fashionable flagships that cost hundreds of dollars more.
That can be a pro and a con at the same time but let’s say that gaming phones do have a specific design that might not appeal to everyone. And you’re also missing the trend train. Substitute the phrase “Look, I’ve got the latest iPhone”, with “Look, I’ve got the latest ROG phone”, and you’ll see what I mean. If social status and image is that important to you, this section can be viewed as a drawback (unless you’re a professional gamer).
While most “mainstream” models have a clear software update roadmap, many gaming phones leave things a bit shady. This is a real-world problem that’s not tied to vanity or social image. It’s also especially important when your phone has features like capacitive triggers, active cooling, custom OS, etc. Getting adequate support for all these custom features is vital.
So, with that lengthy introduction out of the way, let’s focus on the Nubia Red Magic 7 and all of its wonderful quirks.
Back to the Nubia Red Magic 7
The Red Magic 7 features a utilitarian and understated (for a gaming smartphone) design. The aircraft aluminum frame feels great in the hand, with its matt finish and nice curves. I got the Pulsar version of the phone, featuring outer space looking back glass (Gorilla Glass 5 by the way) resembling the colors of a pulsar star, according to Nubia.
The colors really pop out but if you find it too auspicious there’s a toned down black version of the model (Obsidian). The camera system is placed vertically in the center, and the LED flash is triangular in shape. Pretty cool!
There’s a faux cooling grill going around the back, and although I don’t like such concepts, it’s okay in the Red Magic 7. Plus, the real opening for the active fan (one of the three), is placed on the faux grill stripe, and there are two programmable LED lights as well. Another LED illuminates the Red Magic logo on the back.
The phone is all screen on the front, except for two symmetrical top and bottom bezels. It’s a nice uninterrupted design, free of notches and hole-punch eyesores. On the left and on the right, opposite to each other, are the two main fan openings - one sucks fresh air, the other exhausts hot gas taken after cooling the SoC.
The power button is red, and there’s also a volume rocker on the opposite side. There are two capacitive touch triggers placed in the corners on the right side of the frame. I’ll be getting back to those in the gaming part of the review.
There’s a red toggle switch on the left side of the frame but it’s not your regular iPhone-like mute toggle. Instead, flipping this takes you to the dedicated Game Space portion of the Red Magic 5.0 OS.
On the bottom there’s the USB-C slot, the loudspeaker grill (there’s another one at the top completing a stereo speaker setup), and the SIM tray. On the top of the frame there’s the now-extinct-from-flagship-phones 3.5mm audio jack.
The Red Magic 7 sports a 6.8-inch OLED display with a 1080x2400 resolution, up to 165Hz refresh rate, and 720Hz touch sampling rate. On paper, all this sounds pretty impressive, and in real life it’s more or less the same.
I’m normally not a fan of big phones but when it comes to gaming, the more screen estate you have, the better. Nubia says the Red Magic has a screen-to-body ratio of 91.28%, and it certainly feels that way, even more impressive when you factor in the lack of notches and cutouts in the display.
Nubia also says that this screen can do 700 nits of brightness, and I actually managed to measure 707 during my time with this phone in our lab. Now, color accuracy is a bit off - there are vast customization options under the display setting menu, including a DCI-P3 color mode but I found the most accurate colors in the Natural setting.
The good news is that you can adjust the color temperature to your liking, activate Night Light to cut off blue light and fall to sleep easily, or toggle the anti-flicker option if your eyes are sensitive to flickering in low light. There’s a customizable Always-On mode, and system-wide Dark Mode as well.
The 165Hz refresh rate mode is certainly nice but a bit of overkill if you’re not gaming competitively. For browsing, text scrolling and everything else, 120Hz should suffice. The one thing this panel lacks is the ability to dynamically switch between refresh rate modes - you can choose between 60, 90, 120, and 165Hz.
Hardware and performance
The Nubia Red Magic 7 is one of the fastest phones that my colleagues and I have tested to date. The synthetic benchmark scores are sky-high thanks to the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, and the sophisticated cooling system, and the real-life experience is also buttery smooth.
The Pulsar version of the Red Magic 7 comes with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of internal memory, and there are two different tiers - Obsidian and Supernova. The former sports a “modest” 12/128GB memory configuration, while the latter comes equipped with 18GB of RAM for anyone that wants to brag about their phone in front of Asus ROG Phone 5 Ultimate owners.
There’s nothing much to be said here - the active cooling is no doubt the “culprit” behind the high scores in our tests, as the tiny fan launches automatically when it detects a benchmark. Speaking of cooling…
This deserves a separate section, as there aren’t many smartphones with an integrated cooling fan inside. Even the aforementioned Asus ROG 5 comes with a fan as an accessory, rather than slapping one inside the chassis.
So, is it any good? I think so, yeah. You can choose to launch the fan with every game you play, or control it manually, and there’s an eco mode, and a turbo mode with a convenient home screen widget.
Don’t expect miracles, though. Even though Nubia says this fan c