When Red announced its first smartphone with a holographic display, it raised a lot of eyebrows. Red is a company known for its cameras, not its smartphones. It promised a cutting-edge holographic display and debuted with an aggressive PR pitch that saddled the phone with impossibly high promises. Red promised that the Hydrogen One would change the future of AR and VR, with a display that “seamlessly switches between traditional 2D content, holographic multiview content, 3D content, and interactive games… both landscape and portrait modes supported.”
The first reviews of the Hydrogen One are finally in, and with one noted exception, they rate the phone between “Bad” and “Really, really bad.” The much-hyped holographic display, with its ability to display four different images (this is why Red calls it 4V), only works in that mode in a handful of apps. And it looks, according to multiple reviewers, like either a better or a worse version of a Nintendo 3DS. The Verge found it fundamentally gimmicky, writing, “The typical experience here is of a paper cutout being placed on top of a flat background. It creates some illusion of depth, but it’s very clearly artificial in most cases.” The first sentence of Digital Trends’ review states: “Red says the Hydrogen One is a phone the world ‘can’t stop looking at.’ Yet we’re ready to put it down.”
The cameras and their included 3D effects are no better, with strange artifacts and poor overall results in 2D and 3D. Audio quality is poor, pixels are often visible on lighter backgrounds, and the phone’s low light camera performance is particularly bad. The phone ships with a modular connector, but Red has announced no actual modules to connect. One of the ideas of the Hydrogen One — that you’d be able to attach expensive Red-made sensors and equipment to it — is currently unworkable with no timeframe for when these features will be delivered.
Meanwhile, the phone sports last years’ Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, and while that SoC is still plenty powerful for any modern phone, this is a $1,300+ device going up against proven competitors like Apple and Samsung.
The list of flaws and compromises seems never-ending. Even if you like the 3D display technology, you’ll have to put up with a visible grid of dots. Multiple sites mention distorted audio, even if you disable the 3D audio software Red ships as enabled by default. The build quality is strong; Gizmodo calls it “the complete antithesis to the modern glass sandwich smartphone.” But it’s also quite heavy, and the textured, contoured grip built into the sides of the phone may or may not align with how you actually hold your own device (this will depend on hand size and personal finger placement preferences).
It’s impossible to show off the new 3D effect in photos — it has to be seen in-person — but bear in mind that the reviewers in question have seen and spent time with the device and come back almost entirely negative despite that experience.
Nobody — with one exception — thinks you should buy this phone. The Verge states “With a $1,300 price tag, it’s impossible to justify how badly it misses.” Digital Trends answered their own “Should you buy it?” question with a straightforward “No.” Android Police responded the same way, only they bolded their own answer: No. Gizmodo notes that the massive battery doesn’t actually result in a device that competes well with the iPhone XS Max or the Galaxy Note 9, and calls it “a very beefy handset with dated internals, no water-resistance or wireless charging, a splashy screen that’s only a bit better than a Nintendo 3DS, and overall image quality that puts Red’s own name to shame.”
Cnet, however, loves this thing. The site writes: “The more I use the Hydrogen One, the more it seems like a 3D camera that doubles as a phone. And that’s what truly differentiates it from previous 3D devices. The Hydrogen One isn’t just about consuming 3D content. It’s about creating it. And if that appeals to you, then it’s definitely worth checking out.” Despite the markedly different tone of this review in comparison with the others, even its author reluctantly ultimately concedes that it’s difficult to recommend the phone to anyone who isn’t invested in the idea of shooting their own content.
This seems to represent one of the Hydrogen One’s biggest problems. You can shoot 3D content with it, but you can’t actually share or embed that content with anyone who doesn’t have a Hydrogen One. And while Cnet rates the phone an 8.0, they’re the only publication that did so. The consensus of reviewers overall is that most people should stay away from the Red Hydrogen One.