The smartphone specs war continues to rage, with RAM and processors being boosted every year. Even though mainstream smartphones are more than capable of handling advanced and graphically beautiful games, specialized gaming phones offer additional features on top of sheer performance. We present to you the best phones for mobile gaming.
The recently released gaming smartphone from Asus sub-brand Republic of Gamers seems to have it all and then some. Special 2.9GHz Snapdragon 845 SoC, 8GB RAM, 128GB or 512GB storage, and a 6-inch AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate. In our review of the ROG Phone, we found it to be the best all-round gaming smartphone.
Like its rival from Razer, below, the ROG Phone has a light-up logo on the back, great front-firing speakers, an advanced cooling system and specialized software for managing your games and allocating system resources, with additional options for live streaming and using special pressure-sensitive shoulder buttons called 'AirTriggers'. As well as extra inputs in games, these can be squeezed to trigger the 'X-mode' for maximum performance.
Throw in all that plus a clip-on cooler that allows for an extra connection for charger an headphone jack, and you've got a device that can easily handle the most advanced mobile games for hours, with additional accessories such as Joycon-style controllers and a dual screen mod to be sold separately in the future. The downside? At $900, it's beaten only by the highest-end Galaxy smartphones as the most expensive on this list.
The company that made its name manufacturing powerful gaming accessories and the acclaimed Razer Blade laptop range has upped its game with the Razer Phone 2, addressing several issues with the first generation and including the company's signature Chroma lighting on the back.
The Razer Phone 2 packs in 8 GB of RAM alongside 64 GB storage and the Snapdragon 845 chipset. All this with seriously powerful speakers in the side bezels for an immersive sound. But the real star of the show is the 5.7-inch display with a 120Hz refresh rate. The GPU can be synced to this refresh rate for lag-free, silky smooth frame rates on even the most demanding games, and is especially helpful on action titles where a split-second reaction can make the different between victory and defeat.
Another benefit is Razer's Cortex app where you can manage your games, buy games, and control various settings related to gaming, like adjusting the resolution, frame rate and processing power. If you're someone with a ton of games on your phone, some requiring more power than others, this is great for making sure your phone handles them efficiently. You can even toggle anti-aliasing and disable notifications while a game is running so that you're not disturbed.
In contrast to the previous entry, iPhones don't exactly scream 'gamer' in appearance or marketing, but there's a definite advantage to them for gamers. With iOS, Apple keeps a well-trimmed walled garden across the iPhone range which makes it easier for app developers to develop a game for iOS than for Android, which suffers from fragmented distribution and a staggering variety of hardware configurations.
The result? High-end games often debut on the App Store much sooner than on Google's Play Store. iPhone owners have been playing Fortnite on their phones for months while Android gamers are still waiting. Same goes for upcoming titles such as Life is Strange or Alto's Odyssey. While I still prefer the greater choice and control of Android, I've cast an envious eye over to iPhone owners more than once for this reason. Apple's careful curation of the App Store also guarantees good optimization and performance for your hardware.
The Xiaomi Black Shark is a gaming-focused smartphone and not shy about it, with an aggressive angular look, black with bright highlights. But it's not all show. Inside the Black Shark, we find an array of hardware powerful enough to handle any modern game with ease: an octacore CPU, 8 GB RAM and the Adreno 630 GPU. Naturally, there's also a specialized cooling system.
Another striking feature is the dedicated Shark button. When you press it, your phone switches to maximum performance and opens a gaming environment in landscape mode. From here you can manage your games and configure the snap-on gamepad. One comes packed-in with the device, but another can be bought and added on the other side for a Nintendo Switch style setup.
For under $500, the Black Shark is one of the most affordable options that still has plenty of extras to offer gamers.
The top range Galaxy smartphones from Samsung don't disappoint when it comes to gaming either. Galaxy S9 and its more powerful sibling, the S9+ pack enough power with a Snapdragon 845 and 8GB RAM, and the Note9 adds incredible screen real estate, extra storge and a bigger battery.
Samsung's dedicated Game Mode, which is comprised of Game Launcher and Game Tools, shows the special care Samsung has taken to accommodate mobile gamers. The Game Launcher is home to all your games, while Game Tools changes the screen mode to accommodate games that don't support the unique 18.5:9 aspect ratio, among other things. All of this ensures that your experience is immersive, by disabling notifications and the invisible home button to allow for uninterrupted gameplay, for example.
The impressive hardware also allows for a smooth, engaging experience. AMOLED Infinity Displays offer a great visual experience and all the phones have easy-to-handle, curvy ergonomic bodies.
It should also be mentioned that fans of VR mobile games have an additional benefit when it comes to choosing Samsung: the Gear VR is the best smartphone-compatible VR headset out there, and with it you can enjoy fantastic immersive VR games such as Endspace. The Note9 doesn't fit too well in the headset, but Samsung offers a free adapter if you contact their customer service.
The OnePlus 6T is no slouch when it comes to gaming, thanks to its top specs including 6 to 8 GB of RAM. This gives it incredible gaming performance which is complemented by the Gaming Mode, which suppresses accidental presses of the keys and notifications, can route incoming calls to the speaker, save battery and other useful tweaks to ensure you are not disturbed while playing. The 6.4-inch Full HD display is powered by a 3,700 mAh battery which can stand up to the most demanding games without overheating.
There are plenty of other great phones (and accessories) for gaming on the go, of course. Special mention must go to some cheaper devices like the Honor Play and Nubia Red Magic which still not as feature-heavy as the slightly more expensive Black Shark, still has some nice extras for gaming up its sleeve. If you're not running the most graphically demanding games, however, even mid-range devices should be able to handle most of what's new on the Play Store.
Which games do you enjoy most on mobile? Are there any phones you'd recommend for gamers? Share your thoughts with everyone in the comments.