RedMagic 6 Review: The value gamer

Please stop, Android gaming phones aren’t funny anymore

The Pros

  • Decent value
  • Surprisingly good camera
  • Snapdragon 888

The Cons

  • Terribly unstable build of Android
  • Too top heavy for easy one-handed use
  • Outdated software design

Last year’s RedMagic 5S was my first introduction to the concept of a gaming smartphone. To say the least, I wasn’t sold on the overhyped ‘gaming’ features, but the wild price to performance ratio has me coming back for more.

This year, the company is back with a better phone called the RedMagic 6. The device features a 165Hz screen, a 360Hz touch sample rate, tons of gaming features and, of course, the worst Android skin around. Before you scroll to the bottom of this story and leave a nasty comment, I’ll clarify, you can’t apply a launcher on this phone –the company has blocked that feature of Android.

If gaming performance is all that you want out of a device, then you’ll likely love the price to performance value that Redmagic offers at $750 CAD. If you’re looking for something to compete in the standard phone space, this isn’t necessarily a bad phone, but it’s not the device I would choose if I had $750 laying around.

Spec’d out

Looking at this phone’s spec sheet shows off a more than capable device.

Its includes a Snapdragon 888 chipset, 12GB of RAM, a 165Hz display and a 5,050mAh battery. The display has a 2400 x 1080 pixel resolution, but it looks quite crisp and is a big step up from last year’s device. There’s also a wicked-fast in-display fingerprint sensor that sits comfortably in the lower-middle portion of the screen.

The RedMagic 6’s display features a maximum touch response rate of 500Hz if you’re only using a single touchpoint or 360Hz if you’re using two hands to game. This just means that the phone registers your touches as fast as possible. For comparison’s sake, the OnePlus 9 Pro has a 360Hz touch response rate as well.

The screen only has a peak brightness of 630 nits, making it not great in direct sunlight, but it’s still usable outdoors. It also does this weird thing where it shifts from orange to blue as you scroll through a webpage, which is pretty annoying, but hopefully, the company will fix it with an update. Beyond that, it’s punchy and colourful.

The battery can be fast-charged using an included 30-watt power brick, but RedMagic says that if you buy an extra charger from the company, you can charge at 66-watt speeds that can power up the phone in 43 minutes. This isn’t the fastest charge around, but it’s much quicker than average and in my experience, worked well.

Overall, there’s a lot of power packed into this phone, and for the most part, you really feel it. It’s snappy and responsive most of the time. The OS feels a little slow since the company has pretty long transition animations between apps, but overall, if you’re looking for a competitive gaming smartphone, the RedMagic 6 is spec’d appropriately.

Will this phone make me a better Android gamer?

For gamers, the signature RedMagic shoulder buttons are still here and they work as expected. You set up two fake touchpoints on the screen and then every time you tap the shoulder button, that pre-set point is activated. This works well in shooting games since you don’t need to take your fingers off the virtual joysticks to shoot anymore.

Beyond the cool shoulder buttons, the device also features a very intense cooling system that even includes a fan. There’s also a vapour chamber, a variety of heat transferring metals and even an optional accessory that adds even more fans to the rear of the phone. That said, this is probably unnecessary.

The RedMagic 6 also has Wi-Fi 6, so if you have a compatible modem, that should help ensure you have a rock-solid connection while you’re playing.

On the left side of the device, there’s a small red toggle. If you hit it, the phone goes into the ‘Game Space,’ making it easier to launch titles and access quick game-related functions.

For instance, once you’re in the Game Space, you can swipe in from the right side to bring up a control panel to do things like turn on the fan, turn on ‘Aim Assist’ and other gaming features. You can even popup mini chat windows for Discord, WhatsApp and other apps to quickly access a conversation mid-game. There’s a lot here that most people will never touch, but if you game hard on Android, you’ll get a lot out of it.

Combine all of this with the ultra-responsive touch sampling rate, and you’ve got yourself a phone that can game at high levels for hours. I still find that it gets a little warm after prolonged sessions, but it’s nothing to complain about.

A camera that’s come a long way

Last year, the camera on the RedMagic 5S was terrible. This year, I’m happy to say that the main 64-megapixel Samsung S5KGW3 sensor is surprisingly great. The images are really crisp and hold up well with lots of colour and detail.

The weirdest thing about the camera is its setup. For one, with the primary camera controls, you can’t access the eight-megapixel ultra-wide lens. It’s only available in ‘Pro’ mode. Beyond that, the third lens on the outside of the phone is just a two-megapixel bokeh sensor, so there’s no zoom lens.

The digital zoom is passable over short distances, but it gets pretty muddy if you’re zooming at 5x to 10x.

While the phone is aimed at smartphone gamers, I’m surprised with its camera quality. I don’t trust it as much as an iPhone 12 or OnePlus 9 series camera, but I think that the primary lens here is more than enough for most people.

“The digital zoom is passable over short distances, but it gets pretty muddy if you’re zooming at 5x to 10x.”

The front-facing camera is pretty decent in ideal lighting conditions, but the colours become relatively muted and mushy once it gets dark. It still works for video calls and chats, but I wouldn’t feel fully confident taking selfies to post online with it.

Overall, I don’t expect most people to buy the RedMagic 6 based on its camera, but the gamers who do end up with a RedMagic 6 will at least have a capable main lens to use this year.

What’s holding it back

The operating system design and how buggy it is are the two main holdups. Some people won’t like the gamer aesthetic, but that’s less important since it’s subjective.

Where the phone falls apart is the buggy software. This phone has a Tencent logo on the back, but it can’t even run PUBG Mobile since it crashes every time I try to open it. Beyond that, for the first few weeks, I couldn’t even add apps to my home screen and sometimes the notification panel (which is huge and gaudy) often gets stuck down for some reason. I’ve also had numerous times when I look over at the phone, and it’s restarting even if I haven’t interacted with it for a while.

A day before I finished writing this, I got a software update that hasn’t seemed to solve any of the problems, but it did move pretty much every app from the drawer onto my home screen for some reason. So far, in the few weeks, I’ve used this phone, it’s reset and messed up the home screens four times, which is an annoying number of times to restructure your apps.

“For a modern phone running Android 11, it feels more like something from Android 8.”

Beyond that, the phone has a really fun and customizable ambient display, but it doesn’t show you notifications, defeating its purpose. There are two RGB notification lights on the back, but since I avoid putting most phones’ screen-down on tables so they don’t get scratched, this wasn’t useful.

The phone is also really bulky since it’s got a fan in it. It weighs 220g which is slightly lighter than the S21 Ultra, but the way this phone’s weight is distributed makes it top-heavy. Overall, its in-hand feel in portrait mode isn’t great. It holds up much better in landscape. There’s also no IP rating, so don’t get this phone wet.

Moving to the notification shade, the company hasn’t done any better this year and it’s still a cluttered mess without any of the intelligent notification management controls from Android 10 or 11. It all still basically works, but for a modern phone running Android 11, it feels more like something from Android 8.

The conundrum

When it comes down to it, the RedMagic 6 is a capable phone. It features all of the top-of-the-line specs you’d need for mobile gaming, plus a really unique shoulder button concept.

But if you like gaming, you better really like it, since the device’s take on Android and its hardware screams, “game hard or go home.” It’s a little better than other gaming smartphones, but it’s nowhere as subtle as something from Samsung, Google or OnePlus.

If you can look past that, there’s a lot of value here, but some of the oddities and frustrating software are likely too much for most people.

I could see some people looking to get this phone due to its attractive $750 CAD price tag. Still, unless you really care about mobile gaming and need a Snapdragon 888, I think most users will have a better experience with a flagship from last year like the Samsung S20.

You can buy the phone for $600 USD (roughly, $750 CAD) from RedMagic.

If you like gaming, you better really like it, since the device’s take on Android and its hardware screams, “game hard or go home.”