Have you noticed that there are a lot of gaming phones on the market all of a sudden? Razer’s gaming phone came and went (RIP), but these days we can enjoy Asus’ ROG phone and a Lenovo’s Legion Duel 2. You might ask: What is the point of these huge, absurd gaming phones? Well let me explain something up front; there is no point, and there doesn’t need to be. Just like PC gaming rigs with 13 RGB fans, sometimes it’s just for the flex. But don’t flex the Legion phone too much, that didn’t end well.
Here in the U.S. we don’t really have gaming phones, and so I was completely unaware of a ZTE sub-brand called Redmagic. When the company emailed me about the Redmagic 6, its newest gaming phone with the Snapdragon 888, I was initially interested in trying the capacitive triggers. I knew about the Air Triggers in Asus’ ROG phone, but Asus didn’t email me, so here we are.
That turned out to be a very fortunate twist of fate because the Redmagic 6 actually rips. I’ll go into more detail in a moment, but from a pure performance standpoint the Redmagic 6 makes my S21 Ultra look positively silly. First let’s talk about specs:
- Snapdragon 888
- 165 Hz OLED display
- 128GB storage / 12GB of RAM
- Shoulder triggers
- 5,050 mAh battery
- A friggin FAN
This is all pretty standard fare, right? All smartphones are created equal, like I said at the top? WRONG. In addition to the 165 Hz display the Redmagic 6 has a fan. A fan! And it really does suck cool air through the body cavity and blow out warm air. Neat!
Does this make the Radmagic 6 faster? Actually yes, but it’s complicated. The Snapdragon 888 in the Redmagic 6 is clocked exactly the same as the Snapdragon 888 in my Galaxy S21 Ultra, and in single-run benchmarks they score about the same. But when you run 3DMark’s 20-minute stress test benchmark, the results are quite different.
Here we can see that the S21 Ultra throttles hard by the fifth loop, but the Redmagic 6 maintains top performance the entire time. I should note that for this test I enabled Redmagic’s “Game Enhancement” “Super Performance” mode, which pins the clockspeed of both the CPU and GPU as high as they will go. Samsung does actually have an applet inside of Galaxy Labs that purports to allow the phone to run 2C hotter, but in my testing this literally does nothing.
Is it faster?
Okay so the Redmagic 6 and its adorable little fan that prevents throttling makes it way faster in games, right? Actually… no, not really. There are some games like Call of Duty: Mobile that have unlocked frame rates and can go above 60 fps, but without a dedicated benchmarking mode, I wasn’t able to see much of a performance change between when the fan was on or off, or when Super Performance mode was on or off. The game ran pretty much the same as it does on my S21 Ultra.
Similarly, I wasn’t able to nail down any performance advantages in emulators, either. Citra is probably the most demanding emulator on Android right now, and my testing with Pokémon X showed the same performance as my S21 Ultra.
That’s not to say that gaming on the Redmagic 6 isn’t awesome, because it totally is. Dead Cells, an absolute favorite of mine, runs with an unlocked frame rate and I typically get around 120 fps, which looks insanely smooth on the Redmagic’s 165 Hz display.
Okay so… if the phone isn’t really faster then what are we doing here? Well, two things. One: The phone does run a little cooler if you keep the fan on, so it is more comfortable in that sense. Then there’s also Redmagic’s suite of gaming utilities that can perplexingly only be accessed if you flip a physical button. This mode, called GameSpace, is both a game launcher and a second Quick Settings panel that has a few nifty options:
- Shoulder trigger settings
- Game Enhancement (pins the clock speed high)
- Aiming Assist (I didn’t try this because I assume it’s just cheating)
- 4D Shock (adds rumble to games)
- Charge Separation (keeps the phone cool by not charging)
- Frame Rate Display
The Charge Separation and the Frame Rate Display are two features I really wish my S21 Ultra had. The former prevents the phone from charging the battery, instead running directly off of the charger, and this does keep the phone a lot cooler when it’s plugged in. Frame Rate Display is that little bubble with the frame rate inside that you can see in some of the pictures above. It’s not really accurate in emulators, but in games it’s pretty handy.
Game Enhancement (just pinning the clock speed high) is cool, and I’m glad you can use it, but I didn’t see any significant performance improvements in benchmarks. 4D Shock I could actually see being cool in emulators that don’t support rumble, but Aiming Assist is really only going to apply to competitive shooter players.
Okay, but what about the shoulder triggers? The great news is that they actually work really well. You just enable the toggle in GameSpace and drag the red dots over the on-screen buttons you want to trigger and bam, you’re done.
I’ll be honest, I am never going to enjoy playing games on a touchscreen. But to my surprise, the shoulder triggers actually made the experience a lot better. I had assumed that moving two buttons off screen wouldn’t really impact the ergonomics, but it actually does. Placing your two fingers on the top forces the phone to rest slightly lower in the hand, and I found this to be a lot more comfortable.
That said, as many of you know I am a big fan of smartphone game controllers. Sadly the Redmagic 6 is too large for the Razer Kishi, so I bought a Glap controller (what you see above) which can handle much larger devices. This combination is awesome. I could easily imagine playing Switch-caliber games with a combo like this.
But that brings us back to the original question: Do gaming phones really have anything special to offer? The answer is that they certainly could: 3DMark’s stress test shows that something is clearly happening with this fan. But right now the vast majority of games and emulators don’t take advantage of the extra thermal headroom available in the Redmagic 6, or probably any other gaming phone for that matter.
So here’s what it comes down to: If you’re someone that plays the handful of competitive shooters on Android and you want shoulder triggers, the Redmagic 6 will get you those for $599 instead of $900 like Asus’ ROG phone. But for everyone else who wants a second phone for gaming (particularly when paired with the aforementioned controllers), something like the Pocofone X3 Pro and its Snapdragon 860 processor would work just as well for significantly less money.