RedMagic 5S Review: Would you pay $579 for a great phone with a bad OS?

This is the frustrating question RedMagic is starting to ask Canadians

The Pros

  • Fast
  • Cheap
  • Fantastic battery

The Cons

  • Bad software design
  • Lacklustre camera
  • Could be a prop in a Ridley Scott film

The RedMagic 5S is the latest Android gaming smartphone from ZTE-owned Chinese company RedMagic.

The phone is surprisingly reasonably priced at $579 in Canada, but consumers need to pay duties on their shipment at the border. I’ve had this happen with products before, and the cost is usually around $20-$40 for a device in this price range.

Since it’s a gaming phone, the RedMagic 5S is loaded with a flashy operating system design, very bombastic hardware, (both inside and out) and the Snapdragon 865 chipset.

This makes the phone difficult to recommend. Sure, it features the latest and greatest specs, but it’s ugly, with a design that’s definitely not for everyone.

This phone has all the specs

Packed inside the RedMagic 5S is nearly every high-end spec imaginable. There’s the Snapdragon 865 chipset, 5G connectivity, a 144Hz OLED screen, a form of liquid cooling, and a 4,500 mAh battery.

Beyond that, RedMagic jammed in shoulder trigger buttons, 55-watt fast charging and a cooling fan.
Overall, this phone is fully-loaded for the low price of $579.

That said, it’s quite a bit different in practice from most modern flagships.

It has an OLED screen that’s unfortunately a little too vibrant in terms of colour accuracy compared to other devices I’ve used. The 1080 x 2340 screen is moderately low resolution. In everyday use, it’s not the worst screen, but it’s not even as crispy as the OnePlus Nord. Therefore, for $579, you get a little more than what you paid for, but not much.

The RedMagic 5S is also missing a waterproof rating and wireless charging — two big features most flagship Android smartphones include.

There’s really no comparison in the Canadian phone space right now, but as I’ll get into next, the experience isn’t perfect.

What holds this phone back?

While the RedMagic 5S is an undeniably powerful handset, it’s difficult to call it a good phone because of how annoying its software is.

First of all, there are six themes to choose from, but five of them are hideous and one called ‘Colourful’ is passable. Once you get into the phone, the bad design is immediately prevalent all over the device, from its large and overcrowded notification screen to the weird looking toggles in the Settings menu.

The notifications also group in weird ways, making them confusing to use compared to other phones. Worse, you can’t access all notifications from the lock screen for some reason.

Then, when you go to type, you’ll likely quickly notice the haptics are so aggressive that they need to be turned off.

That’s not all, either. Even though the device is running Android 10, the gesture implementation is terrible. You can’t swipe left and right to go between apps, so instead you need to swipe up and hold, then navigate to the next app every time you want to jump between apps.

Overall, this is an annoying experience made even more frustrating by the fact that you can’t even reskin the default launcher. You get used to the bad design over time, but it feels like a step backwards in launcher aesthetic as more companies like OnePlus and Samsung start producing decent looking software and others like Motorola tend to use clean stock looks.

The power button is also lower on the RedMagic 5S than most phones, which is frustrating since it’s now placed below where your thumb naturally falls when holding the phone. The company did this so that its proprietary fan/heatsink attachment can sit on the back of the device without hitting the power button.

This heatsink attachment might be overkill, but it’s something that a lot of gaming phones have so it makes sense that RedMagic sells one too.

Overall, this doesn’t make the phone unusable, but it just feels like I’m using a device from 2015, not 2020, especially since the software UX is so bad and its clunky gamer-centric design makes the device feel thick and old.

The camera

The camera is passable if you don’t like taking pictures. The white balance is pretty unpredictable, so if you’re outside, there’s a chance it will make all of your photos look like they have a sepia filter on them.

Both the front and rear cameras can capture decent clear details at close to medium range, but anything far away or zoomed-in looks mushy and painted.

On the spec side of things, there’s a 64-megapixel main lens, an 8-megapixel ultrawide and a 2-megapixel macro lens. While there are a ton of megapixels involved, they don’t seem to produce decent looking images.

There are a few moments where I was able to get pretty good shots, but these are offset by the times that things just couldn’t come together.

If the camera is something you care about, this is probably not the phone for you since it struggles with most essential elements.

Only gamerz need apply

To turn on the phone’s ‘Gaming’ mode, you need to toggle a small red button on the device’s side.

Once you’re in Gaming mode, you can access all your installed games as well as extra settings like fan controls, ‘4D Shock’ and aim-assist.

You also get the ability to turn on the phone’s shoulder buttons. These are two small touchpads that sit on the phone’s edge to act as shoulder buttons when the phone is in landscape mode.

When you turn these on, two touchpoints appear on the screen. You can then move them over top of two on-screen-buttons to replace them with the shoulder buttons. This means whenever you tap on the shoulder button, it triggers the touchpoint and hits the on-screen button.

It’s a little gimmicky, but in shooting games, it’s pretty handy. This feature also lends itself to this being a phone for gamers only, which is a shame since a phone this beefy at $579 is pretty incredible.

A solid phone, but stuck in its niche

In terms of gaming phones in Canada, the RedMagic 5S is a godsend with all of its power and low price, since competitors like Asus have their gaming phones priced above $1,300 CAD.

Still, the low price doesn’t make it a great phone for everyone, so most people would be better off with a low-cost phone from literally any other manufacturer. Unless, of course, they’re true mobile gamers at heart.

If you really do love to play Android games and you want something to do that with a cutting edge chipset for a low cost, you’re not going to find anything else like the RedMagic 5S.

It’s fast and the cool shoulder buttons make playing games ranging from first-person shooters to old-school titles on emulators a lot more immersive than with only touch controls.

Gamer or not, you do have to deal with a software design that you might find annoying and a relatively thick hardware design. For most people, I just can’t see them spending $579 plus duties at the border for a phone that looks like a sci-fi movie prop.

"For most people, I just can’t see them spending $579 plus duties at the border for a phone that looks like a sci-fi movie prop"