Nubia Just Stuffed the First Active Fan Inside a Smartphone
Nubia Technology is a one-time subsidiary of ZTE that’s made headlines in the last few years for its line of gaming phones. The company just announced the Red Magic 3. The device has a lot of impressive specs, including a Snapdragon 855 SoC, 12GB of RAM, a 5000mAh battery, 6.65-inch AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate, and multiple integrated speakers. All of this sounds reasonably great.
Also? It’s got a cooling fan.
I can’t help feeling like we’ve arrived, somehow.
Once upon a time, not all CPUs even required heatsinks. It wasn’t unusual to buy a fanless 486 or even a Pentium, depending on which model you owned (early Pentiums ran quite hot by the standards of the day). By the later 1990s, fans were required for modern CPU cooling and the aftermarket heatsink industry was beginning to take off. I still remember reading articles online where people would talk about building their own heatsinks in an attempt to improve thermal performance, and I’ve got fond memories of my K6-2 Golden Orb.
According to Nubia, the fan inside its smartphone is quiet and can spin up to 14,000 RPM.
Earlier this week, Samsung released a vertical TV. Google Translate made an error when calculating the price of the TV set and a lot of sites ran with it, reporting that the actual set price was ~$16,000, not $1,600. I’m having one of those moments right now when I read about a 14,000 RPM fan that fits inside a phone.
Nubia has sampled the phone, but the one video I found on it, by Pandaily, discusses the device in a loud setting with far too much background noise to hear any kind of sound. It’s also not demonstrated after running games for a prolonged period of time.
Nubia claims that the fan can improve cooling performance by up to 500 percent compared with passive cooling, which seems entirely reasonable. Using active cooling as opposed to relying solely on a heatsink or heatpipe to carry heat has always been far more effective than relying on passive cooling alone. I have no doubt a fan would help any smartphone.
But I’d be surprised if the Red Magic 3 manages to put up decent battery life numbers, 5,000mAh or not. Here’s why: Spinning that fan is going to cool the CPU more efficiently, but it’s also going to draw some power of its own. Cooling down the internal components is going to allow them to run at top clock speed for longer periods of time. The ability to run the SoC closer to its top performance, in turn, is going to put a heavier load on the battery. This is part of why it’s extremely difficult to buy a “desktop replacement” laptop with decent battery life — running the components at top speed draws an enormous amount of power.
Pro Tip: Depending on the game or app in question, you may find that running your phone in low battery mode at all times has a significant positive impact on longevity and no real cost at all, as far as performance. I keep my iPhone SE in low power mode all the time.
Pricing on the device is aggressive, starting at $430 for a 6GB model with 64GB of internal storage. Whether that’s going to be enough to win fans, given the fan, is an interesting question.