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One of the best phones you can buy is under $500 so why are we spending double?

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

Everyone has a different reason for buying the phone they chose. I use a Pixel phone because I don't like giving out my information to everyone and value security updates over everything. (And because BlackBerry Mobile seemed to stop caring.) But if you are the type of person who simply wants the very best hardware money can buy, you're probably doing it wrong.

Raise your hand if you've ever used a phone from a company like Xiaomi. Now, I can't actually see any hands being raised because I haven't hacked into all of your webcams, but I have a really good idea based on sales numbers, our web site metrics, and Google trends that very few of you are raising them.

Some amazing phones are released in Asia and never hit the U.S. Thankfully, the Red Magic 3S is an exception.

Now keep your hand raised if you loved that phone from Xiaomi and maybe are still using it. Most of those hands will still be raised, because Xiaomi makes phones with incredible hardware and doesn't charge $1,000 for them. I went on the hunt for one because I wanted a cheap phone with a huge screen to watch Netflix on during my sleepless nights (I'm a chronic insomniac) so I hit up our World phone editor Harish Jonnalagadda. If there is anything you ever need to know about those absurdly good phones from Asia, you should do the same.

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

So I've been using the Nubia Red Magic 3S for a couple of nights, and I have to say this out loud — why in the hell isn't this thing sold out everywhere? It's by far the fastest phone with the best hardware I've ever touched. It's even water cooled. WTF? ¯_(ツ)_/¯

I know the answer — marketing. You knew the answer, too, even if you didn't know you did. Have you ever heard of the Nubia Red Magic 3S? Probably not. But you've heard of the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ because Samsung and its carrier partners make sure you hear about it. It's one of the best phones you can buy, so why not make sure you know about it, right?

Yes, the camera is meh at best.

There's another reason that will matter to plenty of people and that is the camera. A good portion of smartphone users want the very best camera a phone has to offer, and the Red Magic 3S does not even come close. But for a lot of other people, the Snapdragon 855+ "gaming" CPU, watercooling, 5,000 mAh battery and 6.7-inch 90Hz AMOLED display matter just as much. For everyone else who isn't into numbers or cameras — it has a $479 price tag. And a proper fingerprint sensor on the back of the phone where it belongs.

On the software side, things are both pretty and ugly. It has an interface that will instantly remind you of a Pixel or Motorola phone with very few changes from "pure" Android. It's also still running on Android 9.0 Pie. I just keep location turned off since I'm not going to use this beast for navigation, so I can deal with it. You might feel differently.

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

But this software literally flies. With the cooling system keeping the processor cores up and running full-tilt when they need to be, the giant battery letting that happen more often, and the 90Hz display, the interface is faster than your finger is. If you've every tried a OnePlus phone, you know how it feels faster than a similarly specced out phone from Samsung or Google. This is faster. A lot faster.

This phone is faster than you are.

I think we all understand why phones like the Pixel 3a exist — you don't need the very best hardware to do most of the things we do with a phone. All you need is a good overall package and a marketplace. It turns out that the same can be said for folks who do need the crazy level of hardware you can find in the latest flagship superphones, too.

If you have a hankering for the best hardware and $479 to spend on it, do yourself a favor and give it a try. I think you'll really like what you see and might never spend $1,000 on a phone again.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

20 Comments
  • I love the nerds in that shot of the back of the phone! Never would have thought to use nerds in a review picture of a phone, but the colors match great. You always do great work Jerry!
  • Yes its a great phone however there is a big but..........No high def Netflix or Amazon...it will stream in low res becaise of something called widevine. There is no software update that can correct this. May not be a big deal to some but better to know.
  • Haven't hacked into *all* of your webcams. Not *any*, *all*. 😂
  • Being on T-Mobile limits the use of non-carrier phones. On T-Mobile you really need Band 71, VoLTE, and Wi-Fi Calling. I have tried a lot of excellent phones that are not on T-Mobile like the Razer Phone 2, Blackberry Key2, and the Sony XA2 Ultra. However, something is always missing. If you travel for work or whatever, sometimes you need Wi-Fi Calling and if that isn't supported then you are SOL
  • Actually my ZTE axon 10 pro has all T-mobile bands including bands 66 & 71(the 600mhz band), and volte. It's an amazing device. You should consider it. For 500.00, you get the latest internals, nice screen with Superfast in screen reader, 8gb ram, 256gb internal and SD card expansion. Wirless charging and more.
  • Why don't you use DIGITS for Wi-Fi calling? Works beautifully on my Black Edition BlackBerry KeyOne. Zero issues on T-MOBILE network.
  • There's no Samsung Pay.
  • Samsung Pay is exceptional on my S9.
  • I have heard of this device but admit have not looked into it.
    I too being a Canadian with ridiculous carrier pricing is always looking for cheaper options so I can buy outright without contract.
    I have been happy with finding Xiaomi as that option.
  • Because security is a thing for me so I won't use anything without that titan chip , that thing is very secure .
    Also 4 yrs of updates and I don't trust phones I can't get any recourse from. Which is why I buy my phone's through carriers only because I can always return and get a different one on the spot from Verizon.
    Plus specs don't say it all.
    My pixels have always ran flawless not only that but with out support a lot of apps don't support phones that barely exist in USA ,in fact statistics show that majority of phone sales are through carriers in USA thanks to device financing (monthly payments it's alot easier to say your bill will be 10 more a month ,then say here's 600 out of pocket or more .. just an example not accurate numbers
  • Yes, 10. 00 month sounds better than out of pocket. But you're paying double the amount for the phone. I paid out of pocket, true, but my monthly bill is lower, and I saved about 500.00 bucks.
  • That's too bad you have to deal with a pixel
  • Nobody here in the states pays 1000 dollars for a flagship Samsung or Apple. Carriers always offer huge trade in deals to move devices. If they didn't the top end would completely collapse. Especially with all the exceptional mid range and less than 6 mo old devices discounted massively. What about an A71 on Android 10? Seems like a better longer supported suggestion?
  • exactly. i got my note 10 plus at costco for 624.99. 400.00 off msrp price.
  • A lot faster, except for the Black Shark 2 Pro ;)
  • This is what I keep saying to my clueless friends on Bookface who always upgrade to the latest and greatest Samsung or Apple. Do you know everything it can do, do you need everything it can do or are you buying it because you're led to believe you need it? I didn't go Chinese for my latest phone, I went for a Samsung A70. Reason being they've learnt to be more competitive in the midrange vs the Chinese, it was very affordable, great value for money and still does more than I need it to do. Upshot of that is my monthly plan is ¼ of my friend's. The vast majority of people paying £/$/€1000 upwards for a phone simply don't need to but they're just not told that. Most of the general public is gullible and will believe anything you tell them. Just look at how much the Flat Earth society has grown for starters...
  • I'll play the devil's advocate here, but: we are spending double to get a phone which doesn't look like a toy for kids. Getting a Mi is a fine choice, but all these gaming phones with 'aggressive designs' are just as tacky as gaming accessories. I'll let myself out now.
  • Why do none of these gaming phones support micro SD cards. Except the Razor phone. A lot of these gaming phones would be great for emulators.
  • Oh, I know about these phones. And I'd love to get one, but here in the US there will be no warranty, not to mention a very uncertain future for Google service for Chinese manufacturers. LG G8 Thinq is possibly the only one available in the US that can almost compete on price and specs with Xiaomi, but its reviews aren't the greatest.
  • The Red Magic 3S is sold directly in the U.S., so you get warranty and after-sales service.