Smartphones have become very good—the best ones have better displays than 99% of the screens in our lives, and even cheap ones have more efficient processors than most of our work computers. But with overall excellence and refinement come a bit of uniformity and parity, which makes reviewing smartphones less exciting today than a few years ago. After all, what much is there to say when every phone is good?
This is why when a smartphone hits the market that zigs where others zag, that tries to do something different and perhaps even weird, I get excited.
The new RedMagic 7 Pro from ZTE’ sub-brand Nubia is one such device. It’s a phone built for mobile gaming, but unlike the half dozen other such devices on the market, this one really goes the whole nine yards. The RedMagic 7 Pro not only has dedicated shoulder trigger buttons, but it also has a dedicated fan to help with heat dissipation.
The fan makes a difference, because the chip inside his phone—the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1—has a tendency to run hot under heavy loads. When a mobile chip runs hot, it throttles performance (lower performance) so it can cool down. Having a dedicated fan with vents for better airflow allows the chip to stay just a bit cooler, which means less throttling.
The shoulder trigger buttons aren’t actually buttons, but touch sensitive sensors. They’re located on the right side of the phone’ chassis, which is the top side when the device is held sideways for gaming. Shoulder triggers make playing first-person shooters much easier because they free up the thumbs to focus solely on movement and aiming.
The RedMagic 7 Pro runs Android 12 with Nubia’s heavy Android skin on top. It’s not a bad thing though, the skin offers a lot of customization to make gaming easier, including a dedicated “game space,” which when turned on, devotes almost all of the phones resources to running the game. This means non-gaming apps in the background get shoved to the side, and you even have the option to prevent phone calls or notifications from coming through.
Elsewhere, the RedMagic 7 Pro also packs a large 5,000 mAh battery and a 6.7-inch flat OLED display that refreshes at 120Hz. The battery is huge, but the screen is also huge, so I find battery life to be just solid, but not spectacular. If I have a marathon gaming session, I can surely empty the battery in under six hours. But for regular smartphone use, the RedMagic 7 Pro can go a full 12, 13-hour day day with no issues.
The screen is entirely uninterrupted thanks to the selfie camera hidden behind the display—a new technology first seen in Xiaomi and Samsung devices.
The selfie camera is terrible as a result (it has to shoot through the display panel), and the rear-facing main camera system isn’t much better, either.
But the RedMagic 7 Pro is not a phone you buy for the cameras, this is a phone you buy for gaming, for media consumption. Priced at 5,299 yuan in China and around the equivalent of $850 in other regions like Singapore and Europe, the RedMagic 7 Pro is reasonably priced for what it is. This is not a normal phone, it’s a niche phone. And we need more of this in the smartphone space.