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I used a gaming smartphone for a week. Here’s how it surprised me

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RedMagic 9 Pro back with built-in lights on.
Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

I’m not a gamer, but I like gaming phones for the fact that they push mobile hardware to its limits. The Nubia RedMagic 9 Pro is no different.

In fact, in my one week with the phone, it has surprised me in the best ways possible. I like having a unique element for the devices I’m using, and the latest RedMagic phone has a handful of them.

The non-intrusive design is brilliant

RedMagic 9 Pro in hand.
Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

The RedMagic 9 Pro is one of the few phones in the market without a camera bump. The flat design from all sides gives it a classy look. However, there are times when I pick up the phone, and I don’t know if it’s upside down unless I’m looking for the on-screen fingerprint scanner. Functionality-wise, the company says it gives you a more comfortable grip while gaming, and I agree. It feels premium with the glass and aluminum build.

It’s comfortable to hold during long gaming sessions despite the flat sides and big, bulky design. While curved edges could have been better, the boxy design gives it a more “gaming phone” look. The shoulder triggers lie exactly where my fingers would rest while holding it horizontally. These also double up as notification lights for charging, calls, and more. They exist on the right side alongside the cooling fan vent, a round power button, a slider, and volume rockers. The placement is a bit unnatural, but you get used to it fairly quickly.

Mora on RedMagic 9 Pro screen.
Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

The non-intrusive design continues on the front, with the selfie camera located under the 6.8-inch display. It is covered with pixels and almost impossible to spot, which gives you a more enjoyable gaming experience. I’ve written about how the under-display camera on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 makes it more immersive, and the story continues on the RedMagic 9 Pro.

I like looking at the display no matter what I’m doing. It’s great for reading and media consumption, and it’s bright enough outdoors for good legibility. The experience is better after removing the factory-applied screen protector, and I’m fine peeling it off because the display is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5. You don’t get Dolby Vision or HDR10+ support, but that’s really the only downside here.

Packed with great gaming features

RedMagic 9 Pro shoulder trigger with light on.
Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

The RedMagic 9 Pro was among the first phones announced with Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 in December last year. It packs 12GB or 16GB of LPDDR5x RAM and 256GB or 512GB of UFS 4.0 storage. It’s paired with the company’s Ice 13 Cooling System, which offers a vapor cooling system and a fan capable of speeds up to 22,000 rpm. You expect it to perform well, and it does so without hiccups.

Playing Genshin Impact at 60 frames per second on the highest settings, I experienced no frame drops or slowdowns. It did get warm after 15 minutes of gameplay but wasn’t uncomfortable to hold, and I had no problems in 30-minute gaming sessions. Call of Duty Mobile can go up to 90 fps, and the shoulder triggers are quick at 520Hz.

The Game Space feature makes the gaming experience more intuitive. It can be activated with the slider on the right side, so you’re just a slide away from having all your installed games in one place.

The Game Space gives you a place to customize the experience to your liking. Once triggered, you are taken to a Game Lobby that consists of all the installed games. You can adjust the Performance, GPU Settings, and a lot more from this place.

Super Base menu in Game Space on the RedMagic 9 Pro.
Super Base menu in Game Space Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

Switch to Super Base, and you’re greeted with a plethora of options. You can play cloud games, add accessories (including a full-fledged keyboard and mouse), and project your mobile screen on a bigger display. During games, you need to slide from the right or left edge of the screen to access plugins that help you customize the shoulder triggers, choose the screen refresh rate, and more.

The customizable software adds more personality to the experience – similar to the Asus ROG and Lenovo Legion gaming phones. The RedMagic 9 Pro runs RedMagic OS 9.0 based on Android 14. I like the user interface for the most part. In a typical gaming phone fashion, you can add data like refresh rate on the top right corner of the display. I didn’t notice much difference when comparing it to the previous version.

The UI, icons, and experience remain mostly the same, which means it is also filled with a ton of features to explore in the Settings menu. You get plenty of flexibility with a customizable lock screen, quick toggle styles, clock styles, and more. There’s an overwhelming amount of options for always on display, too. You can also adjust the LED lighting on the back per your preference.

The RedMagic 9 Pro packs a 6,500mAh battery that lasts a full day easily—despite a couple of 30-minute gaming sessions. It charges at 80 watts, which is just as fast as the OnePlus 12. Unfortunately, there’s no wireless charging.

There’s still room for improvement

RedMagic 9 Pro cameras on the back.
Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

There’s no promise on the number of updates the RedMagic 9 Pro will receive, but the company says security updates should arrive every two months in the first half of the year and every three months in the second half. I’ve received one since January.

The cameras on RedMagic 9 Pro are better than before. It sports two 50-megapixel sensors for primary and ultrawide shots. The latter also offers anti-distortion correction, which improves the fish-eye effect around the edges. Both cameras offer 12.5MP images by default, but you can shoot in 50MP resolution if you prefer.

The images shot with the primary camera have plenty of details, good sharpness, and pleasing colors in daylight. The dynamic range isn’t the best, though. You can zoom up to 10x, but it’s digital, so don’t expect great-looking zoomed-in shots. The ultrawide camera captures decent images but nothing that’d compare to the likes of mainstream phones. The portrait mode is good with edge detection and quality of the output.

I wouldn’t take this set of cameras with me on a vacation. The selfie shooter captures soft images, too, but I’m fine with that because I’m getting an excellent display experience. It’s also annoying that you can’t shoot images with the trigger button. Let me double its functionality by making it a shutter button for my camera!

The RedMagic 9 Pro is a superb gaming phone

Game Space on the RedMagic 9 Pro.
Prakhar Khanna / Digital Trends

The RedMagic 9 Pro offers a truly immersive and intuitive gaming experience. I like the design, display, performance, battery life, and user interface. So long as camera quality isn’t a top priority for you, this is one of the better gaming phones you can buy in 2024. In fact, it’s a better value than the Asus ROG Phone 8.

While gaming phones have made great strides in the camera department, there’s still room for improvement. If you need a phone with excellent gaming performance but good cameras are also essential, you should look at the iQOO 12 (if it’s available where you live). Otherwise, the RedMagic 9 Pro is well worth being on your shopping list.

The RedMagic 9 Pro’s base variant, with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, costs $649 and can be purchased from RedMagic’s official website and on Amazon.

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