Nubia Red Magic 6S Pro full review

Even by Nubia’s standards, 2021 has been a busy year for the Red Magic line. The Red Magic 6 series saw the introduction of a new Pro model, even if remains exclusive to China. It then launched a more affordable option - the Red Magic 6R - combining premium specs with a more muted design.

Now, there's the Red Magic 6S series. However, this time only the Pro model is getting a global launch. It’s the most expensive Red Magic phone we’ve seen launch outside China, but it's still considerably more affordable than flagship phones from Apple and Samsung.

As a gaming phone, though, can the Red Magic 6S Pro challenge the Asus ROG Phone 5 despite being significantly cheaper? Let's find out.

Design & build

  • Premium, all-glass design
  • Heavy and bulky
  • 3.5mm headphone jack

There are no real surprises here. If you’ve seen any recent Red Magic phone, or other so-called gaming phones in general, then the 6S Pro will seem familiar. If you’re  used to standard smartphones, it can be a shock to the system.

The angular design, chunky build and unique patterned rear certainly takes some getting used to, although the most eye-catching change can be found on the new Cyborg model. Its transparent back allows you to see some of the internals, including RGB lighting around the built-in fan.

By comparison, the Ghost (grey) model I was sent for review is much more muted. It's all relative, of course. With this version you get no RGB lighting, which is a rarity on dedicated gaming phones.

In fact, from the rear, the Red Magic 6S Pro is almost identical to its predecessor. An unchanged triple-camera module is arranged vertically in the centre, but it now sits nearly flush with the back of the phone. The usual Red Magic branding is still here, with everything arranged horizontally because gaming phones are designed primarily to be used in landscape mode.

Red Magic 6S Pro review

Both the front and back of the phone are made from glass, although the latter has a coating that makes it impressively resistant to fingerprint smudges. The clear case in the box leaves much of the back exposed, and doesn't hide it.

Flipping the phone over reveals an unchanged display, which I’ll talk about in more detail later. It’s flanked by a relatively sizeable bezel by 2021 standards, although it gives the phone an attractive symmetry. And I’m certainly not complaining about an 85.1% screen-to-body ratio.

A larger bezel means there’s plenty of room for two components above the display: a selfie camera, which can also be used for face unlock, and a large speaker grille. The latter works as an earpiece for phone calls and as a front-facing speaker, combining with a downward-firing speaker at the bottom to deliver stereo audio.

Sound is one of the 6S Pro’s key strengths as a result, delivering a rich, wide soundscape which makes for an immersive gaming experience, as well as enhancing videos.

There's also the option to connect wired headphones via the 3.5mm jack. This is extremely rare on modern phones, but something many mobile gamers will appreciate.

The 6S Pro’s other biometric unlocking method is an optical in-display fingerprint scanner, which can of course be used to log in to online banking and various other apps. I was disappointed by its initial implementation on Red Magic phones, but the 2021 phones have nailed it. It’s fast, responsive and seamless.

Red Magic 6S Pro review

Elsewhere, Nubia has stuck with the physical slider for enabling its ‘Game Space’ mode, saving the need to find and launch a dedicated app, or even enable it in a pop-up menu. Grilles on either side allow efficient cooling (there's a fan - this isn't passive cooling), and they’re joined by the now-customary pair of shoulder triggers.

Display

  • 6.8in Full HD OLED display
  • 165Hz refresh rate
  • 450Hz touch sampling rate

The design of a phone is important, but it’s usually a support act for the main event – the display. It remains the highlight of the experience on the Red Magic 6S Pro, even though there's nothing new here.

It's a 6.8in, 1080x2400 OLED panel, complete with a feature you won’t get on non-Red Magic phones – a 165Hz refresh rate. The difference between this and the 144Hz you’ll find on the competition is barely perceptible, but the experience still feels special.

Red Magic 6S Pro review

It's designed with gaming in mind, but everything from scrolling social media feeds to multitasking feels ultra-smooth and responsive. Nubia acknowledges that battery life will take a hit as a result of choosing this setting, but adaptive refresh rate helps mitigate this.

It means the 6S Pro can dynamically adjust between 30Hz, 60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz and 165Hz according to what you’re doing – no need to run at 165Hz when there's no reason to. Even if you don’t want to run at 165Hz all the time, 120Hz or even 90Hz makes a big difference compared to a regular 60Hz screen.

On a display this size, I’m happy that resolution was the area where slight sacrifices were made. The Full HD+ display still has plenty of detail and because it's OLED not LCD, colours really pop, contrast is better, and brightness is higher.

An oft-overlooked feature on smartphone displays is touch sampling rate, a measure of how many times per second the screen can detect input from your fingers. The Red Magic 6S Pro’s 450Hz rating, up from 400Hz on the 6 and 6 Pro, makes it one of the most responsive screens on any phone.

Hardware & performance

  • Snapdragon 888+ chipset
  • 12GB of RAM
  • Excellent performance across the board

Performance is an area where Red Magic phones have always excelled, and it’s no different here. The 6S Pro is powered by the Snapdragon 888+, Qualcomm’s top-of-the-line smartphone chip. It features an octa-core Kryo 680 CPU and Adreno 660 integrated GPU, as well as built-in 5G support.

The model I tested pairs it with 12GB of RAM, although there’s the option for 16GB if you want even more performance. It's hard to imagine how it could get any better, though – the Red Magic 6S Pro handles everything you can throw at it with ease.

I couldn’t find a way to make the phone even stutter or hesitate, despite extensive testing with two of the most demanding games on the Google Play Store. The fast-paced racing in Asphalt 9 is challenging for any phone, but the 6S Pro coped admirably. It was a similar story with Call of Duty: Mobile, where the physical shoulder triggers offer a much more precise alternative to tapping on the screen.

Both these games look great and perform extremely well, although they’re not optimised to run at 165Hz. Given that no other phone companies output at this refresh rate, it should come as no surprise that the selection of games which can run at that speed is limited.

Military strategy game Arma Mobile Ops is arguably the most relevant one, especially with online multiplayer support. Many of the others are casual titles, such as 8-Ball Pool or Angry Birds spin-off, Bad Piggies where the high refresh rate doesn’t make much of a difference. If these are the main games you play on your phone, a budget handset will do just fine.

It goes without saying, but the stellar performance extends to everyday use as well. The 6S Pro is particularly adept at scrolling social media, web pages and multitasking, where the 165Hz screen makes everything feel more special.

That’s reflected in the below benchmarks, although its performance is roughly in line with the Red Magic 6:

However, there’s one area you will be sacrificing on the entry-level model – internal storage. The 6S Pro has just 128GB and, with no way to expand this, storage can get filled up quickly. So I’d recommend opting for the 256GB model instead.

Software and features

  • Red Magic OS 4.5 over Android 11
  • No confirmed update to Android 12

Like all Red Magic phones before it, the 6S Pro runs a custom skin over Android. It’s known simply as Red Magic OS, although version 4.5 looks and feels much the same as previous iterations.

It’s a real departure from the vanilla Android 11 experience you’ll get on Pixel phones, with a boxier design, redesigned quick settings and no app drawer. Nubia has also created its own versions of various stock apps, including Calendar, Clock, Camera and Phone. Their design can be confusing and none of can be uninstalled. Even on a dedicated gaming phone, I think most people would rather use Google’s apps instead.

Red Magic 6S Pro review

You can’t change from the default launcher either, so you’ll have to learn to live with it. This feels unnecessarily restrictive, especially when Android is renowned for its ability to be customised.

There is one extra software feature that’s genuinely useful – Game Space. It works in much the same way as on previous Red Magic phones, boosting performance and reducing distractions for a more immersive gaming experience. There are also options here to play music, record your screen and manage the fan.

Cameras

  • Triple rear camera system
  • Single 8Mp selfie lens
  • Hit-and-miss performance

Cameras are important on all modern smartphones, although they take a back seat on the 6S Pro. The setup is the same as its predecessor's, with a 64Mp main sensor joined by 8Mp ultrawide and 2Mp macro.

Red Magic 6S Pro review

In good lighting, stills from the phone have a decent amount of detail and impressive dynamic range. Colours and contrast are typically good, albeit oversaturated at times – the phone rarely captures shots are true to life.

It struggles a lot more in low light, despite a dedicated night mode. In my experience, many points of interest were out of focus. Poor edge detection means portrait-style photos are fairly underwhelming too.

However, if you’re ever tempted to take a panorama, you won’t be disappointed. As you can see below, some excellent images are possible.

Red Magic 6S Pro review

It’s also great to have the added flexibility of an ultrawide camera, although there’s a noticeable drop in quality when switching to this lens. The low-quality macro sensor usually adds very little to the camera experience, but extreme close-ups are one of the highlights.

Frustratingly, selfies still have beauty mode turned on by default - I'm not saying all gamers are male but it's an annoying habit that Chinese manufacturers have of assuming everyone wants this. Details and exposure are usually good. It does tend to overexpose the background, though.

Check out the gallery below for the full range of samples:

Red Magic 6S Pro camera test

The 6S Pro can also capture 8K video at 30fps, but the default 1080p at 30fps is a better choice for most people. Footage is decent, but becomes shaky with movement due to a lack of optical image stabilisation.

Battery life

  • 5050mAh battery
  • Solid battery life, about average
  • 66W fast charging

This is another where Nubia has made no changes compared to the Red Magic 6 and 6 Pro. That’s arguably because it didn’t need to – the 5050mAh cell is one of the largest you’ll find in any smartphone.

It’s probably necessary though, especially if you regularly set the display to 165Hz. In Geekbench 4’s legacy battery test, I recorded a respectable 12 hours and 10 minutes at the highest refresh rate. That sounds good, but remember that's with the screen set to just 120 nits of brightness. The PCMark battery test is usually more reflective of real-world usage, but unfortunately it wouldn't run on the 6S Pro.

Nonetheless, after several weeks of testing I was confident of getting a full day of moderate use from a single charge. This can be extended to nearer two days at 60Hz, but that defeats the point of buying this phone, as would trying to get better fuel economy from a Ferrari.

The 6S Pro only supports 120W fast charging in China, so you’ll have make do with 66W if you're buying in another country. The 66W adapter in the box managed to charge an empty battery to 37% in 30 minutes while the phone was switched off. That’s consistent with Nubia’s claims that a full charge will take around 65 minutes, although I often got a message saying the voltage was too high and that charging had been stopped. Not ideal.

Price & availability

Given everything you’re getting, it’s hard not to be impressed by how little the Red Magic 6S Pro costs. It starts at £519/US$599 for 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, although even the top-spec 16GB/256GB model is cheaper than its main rival – Asus' ROG Phone 5.

Other gaming phones are similarly priced, including the Black Shark 4 and Vivo Iqoo 3 5G. But by delivering one of the best spec sheets you’ll find anywhere while firmly remaining in mid-range price territory, the 6S Pro undoubtedly offers excellent value for money.

The only option is to buy the phone directly from Red Magic, though – it's not available elsewhere.

Verdict

The Red Magic 6S Pro is the cautious update we’ve come to expect Nubia’s mid-cycle refresh, but its predecessor didn’t leave much room for improvement.

Performance remains the highlight, with a move to the Snapdragon 888+ making the phone even more powerful. It works in tandem with the stunning 165Hz display – it's still the highest refresh rate you’ll find on any phone, even if not many games support it.

Battery life is respectable, even with 165Hz enabled, although I wish Nubia had upgraded the hit-and-miss cameras. Even if you love playing games, you might still want decent photos.

The software is well-optimised for gaming, but frustrating in everyday use, especially as the default launcher can’t be swapped out.

Whichever way you look at it, the design and bulk means this phone isn't for everyone. Keen mobile gamers should put it on their shortlist, so long as they don’t own the Red Magic 6 or 6 Pro already, but most other people will be better off with a different phone. In fact, read our roundup of the best phones for alternatives.

Specs

Nubia Red Magic 6S Pro: Specs

  • Android 11 with Red Magic OS 4.5
  • 6.8in Full HD+ (1080x2400), 20:9, 165Hz
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888+
  • 12/16GB RAM
  • 128/256GB internal storage
  • 64Mp main, 8Mp ultrawide, 2Mp macro cameras
  • 8Mp selfie camera
  • Fingerprint scanner (in-screen)
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Bluetooth 5.2
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • 5G (mmWave, sub-6)
  • USB-C
  • 5,050mAh non-removable battery
  • 66W wired charging (additional accessory required, 30W in-box) 169.9 x 77.2 x 9.5 mm
  • 215g