Nubia Red Magic 3S review: The best sub-$500 gaming phone you can buy in the U.S.

Nubia Red Magic 3S review
(Image: © Apoorva Bhardwaj/Android Central)

Android Central Verdict

Bottom line: Featuring a 90Hz display and Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 855+ chipset, the Red Magic 3S is a gaming powerhouse. The 5000mAh battery allows you to play all day, and the user interface is akin to pure Android and is free from bloatware. Combine all of that with the fact that it's just $479, and you're getting incredible value.


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    Excellent value

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    Officially available in the U.S.

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    Clean software

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    90Hz display/Snapdragon 855+

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    Outstanding battery life

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    Powerful stereo sound


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    Underwhelming camera

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    Design isn't for everyone

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    Still on Android 9.0 Pie

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    No NFC

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The mobile gaming market is on the rise, and device manufacturers are starting to cater to that trend with differentiated offerings. We've already seen what ASUS, Black Shark, and Razer have to offer in this category, and it's now time to take a look at Nubia's Red Magic 3S.

Red Magic is Nubia's gaming line, and the brand is following up on the heels of the Red Magic 3 with a device that retains the same design but with a few hardware upgrades. The Red Magic 3S is powered by the Snapdragon 855+, and it has a cooling vent on the side for effective thermal management. There's also a vertical line running along the length of the back that has RGB lighting, you get booming stereo sound and a 3.5mm jack, pressure-sensitive shoulder triggers that let you assign in-game actions, and so much more.

The fact that the Red Magic 3S is available officially in the U.S. for just $479 makes it one of the best gaming phones you can get your hands on right now. The U.S. market has been underserved in this particular category, but Nubia's offering is a strong contender, and the only Snapdragon 855+ phone you can get for under $500.

Nubia Red Magic 3S What I like

Nubia Red Magic 3S review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj/Android Central)

The Red Magic 3S has a distinctive design that immediately stands out because of the bold color scheme. The variant I'm using has several shades of blue interlaced with red hues, and the overall effect is very evocative. There's also a vertical bar that runs along the back that houses an RGB LED. You can configure the lighting effects and set custom alerts, and the Red Magic logo at the bottom also lights up.

The Red Magic 3S has a bold design that makes it stand out, and yes, there's RGB lighting at the back.

Nubia has done a fantastic job incorporating the fingerprint sensor into the design at the back. At first glance, it's almost easy to mistake the indentation for a design feature. The sensor itself is narrower than what you'd find on most phones, but the positioning is ideal — it is located just where your index finger rests at the back, making it easy to unlock the phone.

The back is made out of metal, and the matte coating has a great in-hand feel. That's a good thing, because the Red Magic 3S is one of the tallest phones I've used. It's just not possible to pull down the notification shade one-handed, and the phone is also quite heavy at 215g. That said, the weight is balanced very well, and it doesn't feel top-heavy. The aggressive design may not be to everyone's tastes, but I love how the Red Magic 3S looks. It does a great job standing out not just from mainstream phones, but also other gaming-focused options available.

There's a lot going on around the sides as well, and the phone has a vent on the right. The Red Magic 3 was the first phone to feature active cooling in the form of a fan tucked away underneath the frame, with the vent on the side serving as the exhaust. The Red Magic 3S retains the same design, and while I'm dubious that a fan would serve any meaningful purpose inside such a small chassis, there's also liquid cooling via a vapor chamber that does a decent job with thermal management.

There's nothing missing from a hardware point of view, and you even get a 3.5mm jack.

The Red Magic 3S also has indents on the right side that house pressure-sensitive triggers. You can assign actions to these triggers in a game, emulating a more controller-like feel. As a result of the triggers and the side-mounted vent, the power and volume buttons are located further down than you'd normally find on a phone. That means you'll have to readjust your thumb to unlock the device.

To the left of the phone, you'll find a dedicated toggle to enter the games hub, the SIM card slot, and magnetic pins for docking the phone to Nubia's gaming dock. The dock has an Ethernet port, an additional 3.5mm jack, and has a USB-C charging port as well. If most of it sounds familiar, it's because ASUS also has a similar accessory in the AeroActive cooler, with that particular accessory also featuring a built-in fan.

You'll find a 3.5mm jack located up top, and the USB-C charging port is at the bottom. There's a single 48MP camera at the back, with Nubia bucking the multi-sensor trend here.

Nubia Red Magic 3S review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj/Android Central)

Dominating the front of the Red Magic 3S is a massive 6.65-inch AMOLED panel that offers a 90Hz refresh rate. A high refresh rate panel is a table-stakes feature for gaming phones, and in this area, Nubia has managed to deliver. The screen runs at 90Hz out of the box, and there's no option to toggle to 60Hz. Colors out of the box skew cooler, and while there's no option to manually adjust color balance, the regular mode switches to the DCI-P3 color profile and has more accurate colors.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
SpecsRed Magic 3S
SoftwareAndroid 9.0 Pie
Display6.65-inch (2340x1080) 90Hz AMOLED
Chipset2.96GHz Snapdragon 855+
Storage128GB/256GB UFS 3.0
Rear Camera48MP IMX586, ƒ/1.7
Front Camera16MP, ƒ/2.0
SecurityRear fingerprint
Battery5000mAh, 18W
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11 ac, BT5.0, AptX
ColorsMecha Silver, Cyber Shade, Eclipse Black
Dimensions171.7 x 78.5 x 9.7mm

There are large bezels at the top and bottom of the screen, and that comes in handy while gaming. The bezels house the stereo speakers, and the sound that you get out of these is loud. The top bezel also features the front 16MP camera, and Nubia offers a software-based face unlock feature that works just as fast as you would imagine. But you need to know that you're essentially trading security for convenience here.

In terms of hardware, the Red Magic 3S has a Snapdragon 855+ paired with 12GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 256GB of storage. You also get a 5000mAh battery with 18W fast charging, and it's good to see Nubia hasn't left anything out here from a hardware point of view.

In day-to-day usage, the Red Magic 3S is an absolute beast thanks to the 90Hz display and Snapdragon 855+ chipset. The Snapdragon 855+ is a known quantity at this point, and it's one of the fastest chipsets available today. The phone handles anything you throw at it with ease, and there wasn't a point during gaming when I felt the device was getting laggy. The base variant of the phone comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, and the option with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage retails for $599.

Then there's the battery: the phone manages to last two days on a full charge via the 5000mAh battery. Even with extended gaming sessions, you'll easily get over a day's worth of use out of it. And when you do need to top it up, you get 18W fast charging.

Nubia Red Magic 3S review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj/Android Central)

Gaming phones tend to have overly complex skins that feel bloated, but Nubia has managed to restrain itself in this area. The Red Magic 3S comes with a clean user interface that emulates stock Android, and there's no bloatware to be found.

You do get a few nifty additions on the software side of things that make the Red Magic 3S stand out. There's a native screen recorder that records at 720p, and you also get the ability to record audio at the same time by using the phone's mic. There's also a dedicated gaming hub that lets you launch games and manage granular hardware settings to squeeze the most out of the chipset.

Nubia Red Magic 3S What needs work

Nubia Red Magic 3S review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj/Android Central)

The Red Magic 3S gets a lot of things right, but it falls short in a few areas. The 48MP camera is using Sony's IMX 586 sensor, and it produces 12MP shots. The camera interface has a clean layout, and you get a decent set of shooting modes. That said, the final image quality is far from ideal: dynamic range is limited, colors are oversaturated, and photos, in general, came out underexposed. If you're looking for a phone with a decent camera, this isn't it.

Source: Harish Jonnalagadda/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Harish Jonnalagadda/Android Central)

Nubia is positioning the Red Magic 3S as a gaming phone, and it's clear that camera quality wasn't a primary consideration. The 48MP sensor is serviceable for the most part, but it lags behind other $500 options by some margin.

The phone isn't without a few quirks on the software front. For instance, switching to the dark theme in the settings doesn't actually do anything — my unit was locked to a light theme. Then there's the fact that the phone is still based on Android 9.0 Pie, with no mention of when the Android 10 update will be available. Oh, and there's no NFC here, so you won't be able to use Google Pay for making payments at retail stores.

Nubia Red Magic 3S Should you buy it?

Nubia Red Magic 3S review

Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj/Android Central (Image credit: Source: Apoorva Bhardwaj/Android Central)

One of the ways Nubia was able to bring down the price of the Red Magic 3S to under $500 was cut down on some of the more extraneous features. There's no in-screen fingerprint sensor, no wireless charging or water resistance, and there's a single camera at the back.

That camera is strictly average, so if you take a lot of photos, you'll have to look elsewhere. The software is clean, but you'll have to wait a while for the Android 10 update. If you're willing to look past that, there's a lot to like here.

To its credit, whatever is on the phone works very well, and the Red Magic 3S manages to nail the basics. The stereo speakers sound fantastic, you get a 3.5mm jack for plugging in your wired audio gear, and the thermal management ensures your games aren't throttled.

The 90Hz AMOLED panel is fantastic for gaming, and the 5000mAh battery easily lasts two days. You're also getting a clean interface without any bloatware, and when you consider that you're paying just $479 for the phone, it is an absolute steal.

4 out of 5

The Red Magic 3S has a few shortcomings, but if you're looking for a phone that has the best hardware at this price point, look no further. The design may not be to everyone's tastes, but it has the latest hardware available today backed by a monstrous battery that delivers two days' worth of use.

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is Android Central's Senior Editor of Asia. In his current role, he oversees the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, networking products, and AV gear. He has been testing phones for over a decade, and has extensive experience in mobile hardware and the global semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.