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Red Hydrogen One review: Jack of all trades, master of none

Red has built a reputation around its camera business, but can their reputation follow them to the smartphone market? Probably not.

Published onDecember 13, 2018

Red Hydrogen One

I like the Red Hydrogen One for what it is — a concept. As a consumer product it is just an overpriced phone with a great design. Other elements fall behind due to having old specs, a subpar camera, and a bad display. All for a price higher than any other high-end smartphone and a promise of a brighter future.

What we like

Unique design
Sturdy build quality
Premium materials
Stunning glasses-free 3D
Clean UI

What we don't like

Pixelated display
Lackluster volume
Ordinary camera
Battery life not good enough for 4,500mAh
$1,295 price point

Our scores


Red Hydrogen One

I like the Red Hydrogen One for what it is — a concept. As a consumer product it is just an overpriced phone with a great design. Other elements fall behind due to having old specs, a subpar camera, and a bad display. All for a price higher than any other high-end smartphone and a promise of a brighter future.

Let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room — the Red Hydrogen One costs a whopping $1295. This is one of the most expensive devices in the market, topped only by fancy designer handsets and certain limited-edition smartphones. Is the Red Hydrogen One worth that much cash? Is any?

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Is this phone worth that much cash? Is any?Edgar Cervantes

The Hydrogen One was announced in July 2017 and doesn’t seem to have changed much since then, especially in its spec sheet. Most people would think you’re a bit crazy for shelling out for this gadget. But every phone has a market, and as niche as it may be, this smartphone should too — right? Red has a very loyal clientele, though they’re also quite demanding. While Red’s professional camera equipment may be expensive, it also competes with the best of the best in the camera industry. Pretty much only the (rich) pros buy Red gear, so let’s find out if the Hydrogen One can make it to some of those pockets.

Join us in our quest to solve the Red Hydrogen One enigma and unwrap the mysteries this very particular device has for us.

Red Hydrogen One review: Design

The RED Hydrogen One’s industrial design is bold. It follows no trends and doesn’t care to fit in with the rest of the industry. Those who want a unique design should really take a look at this phone. It was made to look and feel like an all-American tool, and the company did a good job at it.

The metal body is solid, with lined ridges that will ensure the phone doesn’t slip out of your hand like most other metal handsets do. Not to mention the edge grooves, which do an amazing job providing a firm grip on the phone. Not once did I feel like the device was in danger of falling out of my hands. I have chronic butter fingers, so hats off to Red for that.

The Red Hydrogen One's industrial design is bold. It follows no trends and doesn't care to fit in with the rest of the industry.Edgar Cervantes

Other materials include plastic and carbon fiber. The current version is made of aluminum, which makes the phone feel sturdy, but is not as strong as the $1595 titanium model, which is coming who knows when. While aluminum is strong and light, I found it susceptible to damage. I once threw the Red Hydrogen One into my pocket along with an iPhone 8. The two had a metal-on-metal fight and Apple’s camera bump seems to have won. Now the Red has a gnarly scratch on the side (see image below). So don’t get too comfortable, the Red Hydrogen One has a solid build, but it’s not foolproof.

The huge bezels at the bottom and top of the phone are odd to find in a world of notches and growing screens, but remember this is a 2017 phone and Red doesn’t quite care about screen-to-body ratio. They were more worried about fitting the two cameras, LED light, sensors, and huge speakers in there (more on all that in a bit).

Along the sides we can find very solid volume buttons on the left, along with a power button, which is also a fingerprint reader, on the right. Some of you will be happy to know Red opted for having a 3.5mm jack. I also like that the SIM tray doesn’t require a pin and you can just pull it out with your fingernail.

Of course, there is also a dedicated camera button. It is Red, after all! I am a huge fan of camera buttons and this is a solid one with a two-stage shutter mechanism. It works like a charm, but we’ll have more to say about the camera later.

The other two cameras in the back are accompanied by a dual-tone flash. Along the bottom we can find Red’s screaming logo and a set of pins that will eventually connect to modules.

Wait — modules?

What might make this phone amazing in the future is its modularity.  The modules are coming in 2019, unless they get delayed to oblivion.

Red will release modules that can attach to the back and expand the device’s functionality. The cinema camera module will sport its own sensor and allow for attaching lenses to your device. This would be serious glass from manufacturers like Nikon, Canon, Sony, and Leica. Other modules can expand the battery and memory.

The modules are coming in 2019, unless they get delayed to oblivion.Edgar Cervantes

The Red Hydrogen One will also work as a glasses-free 3D viewfinder for an upcoming 3D, 8K camera made in partnership with Lucid. This would make it easy to inspect content without having to offload the data and look at it through a VR headset.

The modules and the possibilities they may open for the Red Hydrogen One make it a much more compelling device for content creators. But these modules are not yet available and we can’t say we trust Red’s launch procedures too much.

Red Hydrogen One review: Display

Red’s made a lot of noise about this phone’s glasses-free holographic “4-View” (4V) display. We have seen 3D displays in the past with Amazon’s Fire Phone and the HTCEVO 3D. The feature was a gimmick back then and many would argue it still is. If the Red Hydrogen One will work as a viewfinder for a professional-grade 3D camera, that is a whole other story. What about the users who won’t be spending thousands and thousands on camera equipment?

I don’t mind gimmicks when you can simply ignore them and use the phone normally. This time, the 3D capabilities get in the way of your viewing experience, even when you are not using the feature. The technology that makes the glasses-free 3D experience possible makes the 2,560 x 1,440 IPS LCD screen look more pixelated than it should. This shouldn’t be an issue at 515ppi.

I don't mind gimmicks when you can simply ignore them, but the Red Hydrogen One's 3D capabilities get in the way of your viewing experience.Edgar Cervantes

During our testing we also found it is not exactly the most accurate display. Color temperature is quite inaccurate at 8,514 Kelvin, and the average color error (Delta E200) is at a very high 5.9. Brightness is also not impressive, at just under 500 nits.

As a photographer I hated viewing my pixelated images in this screen.Edgar Cervantes

It is not a pleasant screen to use, honestly. As a photographer I hated viewing my pixelated images on this screen. We certainly wish the screen was better. In fact, I was hoping it would be amazing, as it is meant for creative professionals. This is not acceptable for a device with a niche audience, especially one that cares for display quality.

If you are into the whole glasses-free 3D viewing experience, you will find this screen offers quite the pleasant experience. The technology is still a bit weird, but, oh boy, does it work. It easily beats Amazon’s and HTC’s attempts at it. 4-View images look good and the distance separation is stunningly clear. It is an unreal experience and you have to see it with your own eyes to really understand its capabilities.

In summary, this is a lackluster display, unless you really favor glasses-free 3D viewing. If you care for this 4-View content, you are in for a treat. Playing Asphalt 8 and watching professional-grade clips using the glasses-free 3D screen was an amazing experience. 3D fans will also find this phone more enticing as more apps, games, and movies become available in 4-View.

Red Hydrogen One – Performance & hardware

The Red Hydrogen One looks and feels like a beast, but much like a Chihuahua its bark is worse than its bite. The device performs well, though. Not once did I experience any significant lag or hiccups, but the same can be said about most mid-tier handsets nowadays. So what gives?

The Red Hydrogen One looks and feels like a beast, but much like a Chihuahua, its bark is more than its bite.Edgar Cervantes

While the Red Hydrogen One does alright in our slew of benchmark tests, it doesn’t even get close to other current flagships.

This is something to be expected from a phone touting last year’s specs. The Red Hydrogen One runs on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, while all current high-end devices have upgraded to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845. Backing graphics is an Adreno 540 GPU. Not many of you will notice the difference, as benchmark scores are just numbers and the phone is actually pretty darn fast, but if you start pushing its capabilities, other phones will beat your more expensive machine to the curve.

The phone has 6GB of RAM and 128GB of internal storage, plenty to multi-task and store your content. Oh, and if you do need more storage you can always throw a microSD card into the hybrid card slot.

RED Hydrogen One: Is it a more polished Nintendo 3DS?
Red Hydrogen One with holographic display

There is also a massive 4,500mAh battery packed inside (more on that in the battery section), as well as a 3.5mm headset jack.

The fingerprint reader doubles as a power button and it works pretty well. It is not perfect, but it’s good enough to be considered a success. It works on the first try about about 80 percent of the time.

Red Hydrogen One review: Specs

Red Hydrogen One
5.7-inch 3D LTPS-TFT
2,560 x 1,440 (WQHD) resolution
Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Adreno 540
128GB for aluminum models
256GB for titanium models
Micro SD
Yes, supports up to 128GB
Rear: Dual 12.3MP sensors, phase detection autofocus, Dual LED, 4K video recording.

Front: Dual 8MP sensors.
Fingerprint scanner
Headphone jack
Android 8.1 Oreo
164.78 x 85.71 x 10mm
263 grams
black, gray, titanium

Red Hydrogen One review: Camera

Red's camera won't be winning any awards, but it also isn't half bad.Edgar Cervantes

A phone from Red should be all about the camera, but this one really isn’t. It might be an amazing camera once the modules become available, or an incredible 3D viewfinder once you buy a 3D camera that likely costs a fortune. For now, don’t expect to grab this phone and start shooting content your Instagram buddies will get jealous over. The most interesting part of this camera is its 3D capabilities, and you probably know very few people with the right hardware to really enjoy that.

This camera won’t be winning any awards, but it also isn’t half bad. Let’s take a look at some shots and see what it can do.


In the image embedded to the right you can see plenty of detail in the subjects, a bright blue sky, and good hues. Things start looking darker in the shade, though, which shows the camera and software could definitely use better dynamic range. You can’t really tell much about the floor, truck, and tree behind me, something we have seen many other phones do better.

The photos below were taken during a cloudy day, which should offer softer, more diffused light that evens out the environment. Even then, the shaded trees lack detail. Exposure is on the lower side of the spectrum and colors are pretty mute. We thought this may be due to the subject being pretty far away, but when you zoom into the stones all detail is also gone there. As we mentioned before, the images are good, but other phones far surpass this one in camera quality.

Low light

Things obviously don’t get better when the sun goes down. We were underwhelmed with the Red Hydrogen One’s low-light performance. For starters, the image of the Christmas tree came out with obvious motion blur, and the camera couldn’t focus on it well. Believe me, I tried for better. This is the best of seven shots.

Dynamic range is also pretty bad, something we can see in all images below. The shadows are killed. And when they aren’t, the highlights erase the detail, as we can see in the image of me holding a pizza, as well as the image of the band.

These photos also get pretty noisy. The only one that isn’t grainy is the scooter image, because the phone over-softened excessively.


This camera unsurprisingly failed here too.Edgar Cervantes

Since the camera had issues with shadows and highlights, I thought forcing HDR on (set to auto by default) might help. It didn’t seem to do much, though. I am glad I can see some of the details in the wood when put against live fire, but not enough for me to consider this good HDR.

I thought the strong lights and darker interior of Crazee Burger would make for a good HDR test. This camera unsurprisingly failed here too.


Let’s stop complaining. The camera is pretty good at getting detail given the right circumstances. It did pretty well at capturing individual strands in the grass ball. But then again, dynamic range sent it all to hell by overblowing the stones below, which weren’t really more lit up.

The image of the table and flowers did a bit better. You can notice individual grains of pepper and sugar in the shakers. The salt looks like a mush, but getting that right is asking a lot of a smartphone camera. Direct your attention to the plants and you can see detail in the foliage as you zoom in.

I don’t like how the last two images did, though. I feel like the lowlight environment made the phone use  more softening, which killed detail in the beer’s frost and pizza.


Portrait mode is something I always like to take a closer look at, just because most cameras have a hard time getting it right. This bokeh (blurry background) effect is a result of a small depth of field, which is caused by a mixture of glass selection, more zooming, and a wide aperture.

The Red Hydrogen One, though not perfect, definitely impressed me in the HDR department.Edgar Cervantes

In essence, it’s a bit of a natural occurrence in photography. With smartphones this effect is done artificially, by using multiple lenses to tell what is in the foreground and background, in relation to the subject. The phone will then use software to blur out whatever shouldn’t be in focus. You can see how many phones could get this wrong, as figuring out what should be in focus is something phones often miss.

The Red Hydrogen One, though not perfect, definitely impressed me in this department. Look at the small pieces of hair in the first image. No other phone has gotten that so close to right in the past. There are still some outlining issues, but I believe the Red Hydrogen One does an amazing job at making bokeh look natural. Mistakes are not as obvious here.

Take a look at some of the other images without Portrait Mode on, though. This camera is actually pretty good at getting bokeh naturally.


Sadly, selfies are hardly ever good enough. This one catches quite a bit of detail and doesn’t “beautify” things by making them look horrendously fake. There is enough detail in the hair, even if it starts to fade in the shades. The natural bokeh also does a great job at focusing in our faces. It is a pretty neat selfie phone, but we have also seen others do better in this department.

Red Hydrogen One review: Software

The Red Hydrogen One uses Android 8.1 Oreo, and we are not sure when it will get Android 9.0. We wish it had the newest Android iteration, but other high-end devices also still rock the older software. We can’t really throw all the blame at the new smartphone maker for not being completely up-to-date.

Some of you will like the device’s nearly stock Android skin. The user interface is very clean, without many bells and whistles to get in the way. The notification center seems untouched. Pulling the app drawer requires a simple swipe from the bottom up, and when you access it all you will see is a list of your recent apps along with a clean grid of alphabetically ordered applications. Swipe to the left and you will find the Discover page. It really is as simple and close to stock Android as you can ask for, considering the significantly different concept Red is trying to accomplish here.

It really is as simple and close to stock Android as you can ask for, considering the significantly different concept Red is trying to accomplish here.Edgar Cervantes

Red got playful with the applications surrounding its unique features. The phone has pre-installed apps like Holopix, Hydrogen Network, Red Player, and Red|LeiaLoft. Of course, the camera app is also unique to this device, but you already read about that in the previous section.

Let’s talk about each of these apps.


Holopix is the Instagram of holographic 3D, with far fewer people. People can share their 4-View images here, follow others, heart images, leave comments, look at trending topics, and more.

Hydrogen Network

This is a movie and video store for consuming 4-View content. The selection is very limited, but there are some cool options if you are willing to fork out the cash. Some content is free, but most movies range somewhere between $7.50 and $15.

Red Player

Not all gallery apps support 4-View content, so Red provided one for your enjoyment.


This is another store, but it offers games and apps. Again, the selection is not huge, but there is some cool stuff. We hope the portfolio of content grows if this technology takes off.

Red Hydrogen One review: Sound quality

Red was quick to boast its A3D Spatial Surround Audio speakers, which take up a huge portion of the device’s front. They definitely offer a 3D experience, moving sound from side to side, in tandem with what’s happening in the screen. It’s a pretty cool experience, but that is about as interesting as things get with sound quality.

Sure, the audio seems pretty full, with good highs and lows, but it also seems a bit muffled. Volume simply doesn’t get loud enough, too. Like anything else in this phone, it’s a cool experience bogged down by pitfalls.

Red Hydrogen One review: Battery life

A 4,500mAh battery seems like something to write home about, but during our testing we found out it really isn’t. This phone does a really good job killing it huge battery rather quickly.

The phone can survive through 12 hours and 21 minutes of continuous video playback with the screen brightness set to 200 nits. Likewise, it can survive 11 hours and 53 minutes of continuous website loading. That may seem like a lot, and those are surely pretty good numbers, but not for a phone with a 4,500mAh battery.

The Red Hydrogen One has the biggest battery in our test sheet, but it isn't even close to having the best battery life.Edgar Cervantes

The Red Hydrogen One has the biggest battery in our test sheet, but it isn’t even close to having the best battery life. Devices like the HUAWEI Mate 20 Pro, HUAWEI P20 Provivo V11 Pro, Samsung Galaxy Note 9, and Xiaomi Black Shark all beat it with smaller batteries.

Regardless, you will easily get through a full day of usage without much trouble.

Red Hydrogen One review: Final thoughts

For all intents and purpose, the Red Hydrogen One is a jack of all trades and a master of none. It does alright in most departments, but never really wins in any. This would be acceptable if the phone was priced accordingly, but this $1,295 gadget is beaten by pretty much all 2018 high-end handsets. Some of those get pretty darn close to half Red’s price. We simply can’t recommend any of you buy the Red Hydrogen One.

The Red Hydrogen One is a jack of all trades and a master of none.Edgar Cervantes

While every smartphone has its niche, this phone’s is very small. If you are serious about video and don’t mind waiting, the upcoming battery and cinema modules could turn this into the holy grail for mobile creatives. If you want the 3D camera the Red Hydrogen One works as a 4-V viewfinder for, Red’s first handset might become an essential accessory.

Those accessories won’t come until 2019, by which time this phone will essentially have two-year old technology. Waiting could be a bit of a gamble too. Red hasn’t exactly proven it can meet deadlines.

If the modules and camera come in time, the Red Hydrogen One’s very specialized functionality will still serve a purpose to video and photo producers.

The Red Hydrogen One performs, feels, and works well. The only thing I truly couldn’t live with is the screen. The glasses-free 3D technology works amazingly, but it also lets down the screen in the all-important day-to-day usage.

I like the Red Hydrogen One for what it is: a concept.Edgar Cervantes

You can get it from Verizon or AT&T, but I will pass. I like the Red Hydrogen One for what it is: a concept. As a consumer product, it is an overpriced phone with an interesting design. The tech itself is a joke at this price point. It shouldn’t have been released to the general market without the secondary products it needs to compete with other phones on the market.