Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro: Two-minute review
Asus might have made the best out and out gaming phone of 2023 in the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate, but the Nubia Red Magic 8S Pro was the people’s champ. It offered comparably zippy performance and gamer-friendly controls in a reasonably neat package, all for less than half the price.
Now the Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro is here, with updated internals and a slightly streamlined design at the same asking price. Yes, it’s another iterative update from Nubia, but that’s kind of what it takes if you’re intent on staying at the cutting edge of mobile gaming performance on a strict budget.
The design is much like the previous models, with flat surfaces and gaming-friendly capacitive shoulder buttons, but with a more elegant flattened camera module. Meanwhile, the huge notch-free display is brighter and more vibrant than before.
If we’re talking top-tier features, the Red Magic 9 Pro really hits the bullseye with its performance. Not only does the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 beat most of the competition, but it can do so over a sustained period thanks to an extensive multi-layered cooling system.
The other key component here is the Red Magic 9 Pro’s battery. It’s bigger than ever at 6,500mAh, and it can last a full two days of regular usage on a single charge. Heavy gaming won’t leave you sweating come the end of a day either, while a bundled 80W charger gets you back up to speed quickly.
Few of the best gaming phones take brilliant pictures, and the Red Magic 9 Pro is no exception. Its 50MP main Samsung-made sensor does a passable job, especially now that it has OIS, but the new 50MP ultra-wide is fairly mediocre, and the under-display selfie cam is abysmal.
Nubia’s software provision has come on leaps and bounds since its calamitous early days, to the point where it’s now actually quite usable. It’s far from perfect, but its Game Space mode is well tuned to a gamer’s needs.
It isn’t the best pure gaming phone on the market, even with its imperious performance, but the Red Magic 9 Pro is undoubtedly the best-value. You simply won’t find this level of sustained performance anywhere else for $649 / £579.
Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro review: Price and availability
- From $649 / £579 / Australian buyers use Red Magic's global store in USD
- Pre-order from December 27, 2023
- On sale from January 3, 2024
The international version of the Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro was made available for pre-order from December 27, 2023 on the Red Magic website, with open sales commencing on January 3, 2024.
The entry-level Sleet model – which ships with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage – costs $649 / £579. The Cyclone and Snowfall models – both of which ship with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage – cost $799 / £709.
While Red Magic tries to sell its devices local currency in most of the markets it operates in, interested buyers in Australia will have buy through the company's global store, which is all priced in USD, meaning the base 256GB model sells for approximately AU$965 at $649 and the 512GB variant costs equivalent to about AU$1,190.
That essentially sees Nubia freezing the pricing of its latest gaming phone compared to the 8S Pro. The mid-level price has been taken out this year too, which effectively means that you get a choice of color if you’re shopping for the top storage RAM version.
- Value score: 5 / 5
Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro review: Specs
Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro review: Design
- Gorilla Glass 5 front and back, aluminum frame
- Even flatter design than before
- 520Hz capacitive shoulder buttons
- Dedicated gaming mode switch
As gaming phones go, the Red Magic 9 Pro looks pretty decent, but isn’t the most comfortable to hold for extended periods. Make no mistake, this is still a big, bulky phone, at 8.9mm thick – half a millimetre thinner than the 8S Pro – and with a similar weight of 229 grams.
Both measurements are at the very top end of acceptable for regular phone users, but within a gaming phone context they’re quite reasonable. With none of the ROG Phone 7 series' curves, however, it might weigh a little heavier after a lengthy gaming session.
The Red Magic 9 Pro’s blocky, flat-surfaced look has been accentuated this year with an almost completely flat back. The camera module has been shunted to the side and placed underneath the transparent rear cover, which could be the first practical use case for such an aesthetic choice. It’s a pleasingly clean effect, though it’s ever so slightly spoiled by the flash poking through.
My model comes in the Snowfall colorway, which is basically off-white with a semi-transparent back hinting at some of the components within. Cyclone pulls the same trick but with black as the underlying color, while Sleet is the terribly named plain black entry model.
There’s some RGB lighting, of course, around the fan, under the '09' decal, and now also underneath the capacitive shoulder button controls that sit along the right edge. Said sensors appear to be unchanged since the 8S Pro, lighting aside.
Once again, they have a speedy 520Hz response rate, and work with Nubia’s gaming UI, allowing you to map gaming controls to them. They’re particularly handy in shooters like CoD Mobile or PUBG Mobile, where they can be assigned to aim and shoot.
On a rather over-stacked right-hand edge, you also get the volume and power buttons – the latter pleasingly circular – as well as a custom Game Boost Switch. Flip this to jump into Game Space mode, where you can launch games and tinker with performance and interface elements, so as to optimize your gaming experience.
That flat side frame itself is made from aluminum, while the display is once again covered by Gorilla Glass 5. This isn’t the newest or toughest material of its kind, but cuts clearly had to be made somewhere to hit that price point. Another such compromise is the lack of a water and dust resistance IP rating.
You only get the one USB-C port on the bottom of the phone, unlike the Asus ROG Phone range, but you still get a 3.5mm headphones jack on the top edge.
The front of the phone impresses from a visual perspective, with minimal bezels and an under-display selfie cam making for a nigh-on all-screen experience. It’s not an especially gamer-friendly touch, though, with less space to hold the phone and ample opportunity for false presses.
It also means that the speaker grilles have been consigned to the top and bottom edges, which isn’t ideal for landscape gaming.
- Design score: 3.5 / 5
Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro review: Display
- Large 6.8-inch screen
- FHD+ resolution, 120Hz refresh rate
- New material provides brighter, bolder picture
- Under-display selfie camera
Like its predecessor, the Red Magic 9 Pro packs a large 6.8-inch OLED display with a 2480 x 1116 resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate. The latter spec isn’t the fastest on the gaming phone market, but given that precious few games will support frame rates in excess of 120Hz it’s not a huge problem.
This isn’t exactly the same as the Red Magic 8S Pro display, however. Nubia has switched to using BOE’s Q9+ luminescent material, which makes for a punchier output. A little too punchy, in fact – I had to crank the color mode all the way down to ‘Soft’, away from the ‘Colorful’ default and past the medium ‘Standard’ setting, to secure a slightly more natural look.
This new material seems to grant the Red Magic 9 Pro a little more brightness too. Nubia claims a peak brightness of 1,600nits, which is up 300nits from the 8S Pro. With auto-brightness switched off, I recorded the 9 Pro hitting 445 nits, which is about 100 nits more than its predecessor.
While this might not be the sharpest or most nuanced display on the market, the Red Magic 9 Pro's screen makes for an excellent gaming canvas. It’s big, flat, sufficiently bright, and it doesn’t have a bothersome notch getting in the way of the action.
- Display score: 4 / 5
Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro review: Camera
- 50MP main with OIS this time
- Improved 50MP ultra-wide, 2MP macro
- 16MP in-display selfie camera still terrible
- Up to 8K video
If a manufacturer needs to free up space and money to do something a little different with a phone, it’s invariably the camera that suffers. Just as with foldables, so it is with gaming phones.
Last year’s Red Magic 8S Pro didn’t take particularly great pictures, and the Red Magic 9 Pro isn’t all that much better. It does mark a slight improvement, however.
While it packs the exact same 50MP Samsung GN5 main image sensor as before, this time it’s accompanied by optical image stabilization (OIS). You’d take this component for granted in a $700/£600 smartphone, but it’s a welcome addition to this $700/£600 gaming phone.
The combination of an aging flagship sensor (it was in the Samsung Galaxy S22) with proper stabilization, a 7P lens (that stands for seven [plastic] elements), and the improved image processing of the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip, produces decent shots in good lighting. The results in low lighting are a tad crisper than with the 8S Pro, though Nubia’s Night mode still brightens things up to a slightly false-looking degree.
Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro camera samples
Nubia has also improved the ultra-wide camera, swapping out the 8MP sensor in the 8S Pro for a 50MP Samsung JN1 alternative. While it’s an adequate component in good lighting, there’s a marked difference to the main sensor in terms of tone and dynamic range.
The fresh OIS provision also enhances the 9 Pro’s video capabilities. It’s still shooting at 8K/30fps, 4K/60fps, or 1080p/240fps, but the footage I captured seemed to benefit from the new steadying technology.
One thing that most certainly hasn’t changed is the Red Magic 9 Pro’s 16MP under-display selfie camera. It might free up space on the display, but once again selfie shots look truly terrible – a blurry, smudgey, borderline impressionistic mess.
- Camera score: 3 / 5
Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro review: Performance
- One of the first phones on the market with a Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chip
- 12GB or 16GB RAM of LPDDR5X RAM
- 256GB or 512GB UFS 4.0 storage
Any compromises made with the Red Magic 9 Pro’s design and camera were reached in service of this: providing as much gaming power as possible for a mid-market price.
On that front, the Red Magic 9 Pro is an unmitigated triumph. Nubia has switched to the latest and greatest chip at its disposal, the Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 from Qualcomm, together with either 12 or 16GB of LPDDR5X RAM.
This is the same chip the vast majority of 2024 flagship phones will be using, and it’s as fast as you’d expect. The usual CPU and GPU benchmark tests reveal a clear, if hardly seismic performance boost over the Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 from 2023.
Interestingly, it’s nip and tuck with the iPhone 15 Pro and its A17 Pro. Apple’s latest chip seems to have a clear single-core CPU performance advantage, but the $649 / £579 Red Magic 9 Pro and its Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 wins its fair share of GPU rounds.
Raw processing power is all well and good, but that’s only half the story with a gaming phone such as this. Where the Red Magic 9 Pro really impresses is with its level of sustained performance.
Running a couple of the 3DMark Extreme tests, which run 20 successive minute-long intensive graphical tests, the Red Magic 9 Pro achieved close to perfect stability. That is, its average loop score remained remarkably consistent. Non-gaming phones only tend to score 70 to 80% in the stability stakes, due to their habit of throttling the processor significantly after the first loop.
The difference all comes down to cooling. Nubia has equipped the Red Magic 9 Pro with an upgraded ten-layer ICE 13.0 Cooling System, which includes a physical fan that kicks in when you start up a game. It’s a bit noisy, but it enables you to run the likes of Genshin Impact or Diablo Immortal on the highest settings at a solid 60fps, and they won’t start dropping frames deep into your session.
- Performance score: 5 / 5
Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro review: Software
- Red Magic OS 9.0 on Android 14
- Ugly but functional UI
- Powerful Game Space dedicated gaming UI
Nubia has improved its Red Magic OS user experience immeasurably over the past couple of years. What was once a painful mish-mash of screen-hogging widgets, occasionally untranslated Mandarin text, and a number of glitches has turned into a fairly typical custom Android 14 environment.
It’s still a pretty mediocre custom skin, with charmless wallpapers, a superfluous browser-cum-news-feed app, and the Booking.com app preinstalled (why is it always Booking.com?). But Red Magic OS 9.0 is now in a broadly functional state, and I was able to run the phone as my day-to-day device for around a week (and intermittently thereafter) with no major snags.
While I’m doling out faint praise, is that Google Keep I see preinstalled? It’s a very small point, but precious few manufacturers go with Google’s clean note-taking app out of the box, so I appreciate it when one does.
I did observe a couple of hiccups early on, with the home screen seeming to exhibit some bizarre lag despite all that power on tap, and despite me forcing the screen to refresh at 120Hz. After a couple of firmware updates, however, everything seems to be running smoothly.
I also had to go in and set Gmail to sync manually, for whatever reason. Presumably the aforementioned updates fixed that, but it’s difficult to be certain without a factory reset.
The important software here – given the intended audience – is Nubia’s Game Space UI. Flick that red switch and you’ll be booted into an interface that grants access to your games, as well as control over fan, CPU, and GPU settings.
When in a game you can drag in from the top left edge of the screen to bring up a streamlined UI. It’s from here you can also assign those capacitive controls to the game’s on-screen virtual buttons.
Nubia’s Game Space UI also lets you manage any accessories that you choose to buy, as well as run a large screen projection, manage your in-game screenshots and captured videos, tweak the RGB lighting output, and much more besides.
It’s way more than your average phone user will want or need, but then the Red Magic 9 Pro isn’t for average phone users.
- Software score: 3 / 5
Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro review: Battery
- Expanded 6,500mAh battery
- Clears a full day of intensive use with ease
- Fast 80W wired charging
Given that the Red Magic 9 Pro weighs about the same as the 8S Pro, and is also a little thinner, it’s impressive to note that Nubia has managed to increase the size of its battery.
It’s now up to a frankly huge 6,500mAh dual-cell configuration. Nubia claims that it can last up to 56 hours, which is tricky to equate to real world usage. I found that I could go through a full day of moderate usage with about four hours of screen-on time, and still be left with around 65% in the tank.
That’s an excellent result, not only improving upon the Red Magic 8S Pro, but also opening up the genuine possibility of practical two-day usage.
Of course, that’s not what all that extra juice is intended for. Gamers will find that they can indulge in a couple of intensive gaming sessions throughout the day, and won’t have to worry about plugging in until bed time.
The charging provision has ostensibly been improved too, with an 80W charger bundled in, which is up from 65W on the 8S Pro. Given the extra capacity of that battery, though, charging speeds are roughly the same, with a full charge from empty taking around 40 minutes.
Again, there’s no wireless charging here, but that’s a feature that’s routinely omitted from gaming phones – even the $1,399 / £1,199.99 / AU$2,099 ROG Phone 7 Ultimate – where advanced cooling solutions occupy that space instead.
- Battery score: 5 / 5
Should you buy the Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro?
Buy it if...
You want peak gaming performance at half the price
Good luck getting this much sustained gaming performance this cheap anywhere else. Nubia's choice of top-speed chip, memory and storage, along with active cooling make for a powerful team.
You’re after an all-screen phone
The Red Magic 9 Pro’s minimal bezels and under-display camera make it a uniquely screen-heavy device. While it's built for active media, you can also passively sink your teeth into shows and even books on its expansive display too.
You want two-day battery life
When you lay off the games, the Red Magic 9 Pro will sail through two full days of use on a single charge, and if you don't, you'll still make it through a day without having to curb your gaming habit.
Don't buy it if...
Photography is a priority
The main sensor doesn’t take terrible photos, but you can get a way better camera system for the same money – or even less. Under-display camera tech is cool in theory, but the reality means selfie-lovers should avoid too.
You want the best gaming phone, money no object
Nubia cuts a few corners to hit an aggressive price point. If money is no object and you want the very best, keep any eye on the Asus ROG Phone range.
You hate custom Android UIs
Anyone with a bee in their bonnet about manufacturers messing with Google’s stock Android UI should look away now. Red Magic OS 9.0 is the best iteration of the company's user experience to date, but that's not saying a whole lot, considering where things started.
Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro review: Also consider
The Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro is a unique proposition alright, but it isn’t the only option if you’re after a game-friendly phone.
Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate
It’s about to be replaced at the time of writing, but if you can use that fact to get the Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate at a discount, it remains a fabulous gaming specialist.
Nubia Red Magic 8S Pro
Last year’s model remains a fabulous gaming phone, with a very similar feature-set to the 9 Pro. You should be able to get it even cheaper now, too.
Apple iPhone 13
Apple still sells the iPhone 13 as new for around the same price as the Red Magic 9 Pro. It’s not as gaming focused, but it remains capable, and has access to a superior roster of games.
How I tested the Nubia Red Magic 9 Pro
- Review test period = 2 weeks
- Testing included = Everyday usage, including web browsing, social media, photography, video calling, gaming, streaming video, music playback
- Tools used = Geekbench 6, GFXBench, 3DMark, native Android stats, bundled Nubia 80W power adapter
I was sent the top Snowfall model of the Red Magic 9 Pro by a PR representative, at which point I commenced using the phone on a daily basis over a two-week period.
For at least a week of that time, the 9 Pro was my everyday phone. For the rest of the time, I swapped in another active SIM and continued to use the phone for benchmark tests, photos, and general browsing.
I’m a freelance journalist who got his start writing about mobile games in the pre-smartphone era. I was around to cover the arrival of the iPhone and the App Store, as well as Android, and their seismic effect on the games industry. I now write about consumer tech, games, and culture for a number of top websites.
First reviewed December 2023