The Nubia Red Magic Is a Good Gaming Phone You Can Actually Afford

LAS VEGAS — With its Red Magic Mars smartphone, Nubia wants to build a gaming phone for the rest of us.

Late last year, both the ROG Phone and Razer Phone 2 looked to win the hearts and minds of mobile gamers by packing premium features aimed at making your phone a go-to device for gaming. Both succeeded to differing degrees — we give the nod to the ROG phone in our gaming phone face-off — but they also delivered some pretty eye-popping price tags.

Nubia believes there could be a demand for a mid-tier gaming phone that skimps on some of the higher-end specs like the display in favor of a more modest price.

We're about to find out if the company is right: its newly unveiled Red Magic Mars phone is expected to debut some time during the first quarter with a listed starting price of $399. (The reps I spoke to at Nubia's CES booth placed the range of prices at $299 to $499, depending on the RAM and storage options.)

The Red Magic Mars phone was here at CES, and after a little bit of time with the device, I think Nubia may be on the right track delivering a good gaming experience without charging a premium price.

Nubia Red Specs: Here's what you get

The processor inside the Red Magic Mars phone certainly doesn't scream mid-tier device. It's a Snapdragon 845 chipset, and while Qualcomm has announced a new version, last year's top-of-the line mobile processor still has plenty to offer mobile gamers. That will be augmented by 6GB, 8GB or 10GB of RAM with those models also sporting 64GB, 128GB and 256GB of storage, respectively.

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To keep things cool when you're blowing away baddies, the Red Magic Mars phone uses both liquid and air cooling. The former is handled by a liquid-filled copper tube that directs heat away from the phone's CPU and GPU. Meanwhile, the back of the phone has a convex shape and multiple vents to let in cool air and push out hotter air.

A few minutes of hands-on time is no way to judge a phone's cooling system, but Nubia thinks its approach will keep the Red Magic Mars performance humming along even in the midst of lengthy gaming sessions.

The Red Magic Mars diverges from more premium smartphones in other ways. That 6-inch Full HD Display doesn't have as sharp a resolution as you'll find on more expensive phones with OLED panels. Nubia's phone also makes do with a single rear camera at a time when dual lenses are finding their way into budget phones. And while both the ROG Phone and Razer Phone 2 boast 4,000 mAh batteries, the Red Magic Mars turns to a 3,800 mAh power pack, which still should be plenty to keep your games going.

Built for gaming

Nubia added some special features that clearly stamp the Red Magic Mars as a gaming phone. There's a dedicated switch on the side of the phone that turns on a "Game Space" software mode. When that's turned in, you won't be bothered by notifications, and background apps will be minimized to optimize performance.

Buttons on the side of the phone can act like triggers on some games. I was able to fire off a few rounds in PUBG Mobile by pressing one of those buttons in lieu of the onscreen controls. Even better, with Game Space enabled, the buttons delivered haptic feedback as I fired.

Design touches stamp the Red Magic Mars as no ordinary mid-tier phone too. Besides the rear vents that convey a gaming device vibe, the Red Magic Mars has an LED RGB strip running down its back. You can program it in the phone's settings to show off the color of your choice.

It's a promising start for the Nubia Red Magic Mars, which we hope the shipping product can deliver on. We plan on reviewing this new gaming device just as soon as it reaches the U.S.

Image Credits: Tom's Guide

Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.