Gaming has become a unique niche in the smartphone space, with even ‘gaming smartphones’, specifically designed to embrace the mobile gamer. And admittedly, the games themselves seem to have come a long way since their woeful ‘pay to win’ start, making gaming specs finally a feature worth looking into before buying a smartphone. Which smartphone suits your gaming needs best? You’ll find the answer in our Top 10 best gaming smartphones.
Need a bigger screen? Make sure to read up on our Best Gaming Tablets of 2020.
Mobile gaming is finally taking off, thanks to better phones, better mobile connections and mostly: better games. We’re also looking forward to 5G, which will drive forward better multiplayer games and should be the accelerant behind cloud gaming services like Google Stadia and Microsoft’s Xcloud. Apple is also competing in the mobile gaming space with it’s Arcade gaming subscription. All these new gaming subscriptions have one thing in common: all you need is a screen and an internet connection. Your smartphone happens to meet those criteria and is always within reach, making it potentially the most interesting gaming device for the years to come.
Like you’d expect, mobile gaming isn’t any different from console or pc gaming. You’ll need the gear that gives the best experience and a price you’re comfortable paying. You don’t necessarily need the latest and greatest iPhone, 5G connection, Bluetooth headset and controller to be able to game wherever you are. But there are some things you’ll definitely need to know.
First of all, the platform. There’s basically two of them: Apple’s iOS, running on all iPhones and Google’s Android. Which can be found on all other devices. iOS is hands down the best platform for games. Even though Android has many more users, the developers seem to prefer Apple’s App Store. Which makes the App Store richer with more games, which are better supported.
But there’s a catch. Apple’s tight grip and anti-competitive practices on the App Store seem to have a negative impact on new and upcoming (streaming) gaming subscription services. Like NVDIA’s GeForce Now gaming service, which cannot be found on the App Store due to Apple’s tight regulations. Android has an more open approach to developers, who even have the option to circumvent the Play Store in general, like Fortnight. Which also has it’s downsides, security-wise.
The same rules apply for a good gaming experience on a phone, compared to your pc or console. You’ll want a smooth gameplay, impressive graphics, immersive audio and a device which can keep up for as long as possible, without overheating or battery drain.
Are you the type of gamer that’s fine with the games on the shelves of the App Store and Play Store, or do you want to be future-proof with cloud gaming on a 5G connection? It’s important to keep in mind that curiosity can be pricy. Smartphones with high specs and 5G are very expensive and still in an early stage. Besides that, 5G plans and streaming subscriptions drain your bank account on a monthly basis.
If you want the best gaming experience now, the iPhone 11 Pro has your back. It packs the best chipset, by far. A great oled screen panel and the triple camera setup makes augmented reality games (AR) really worth it.
The iPhone 11 Pro and the plus sized iPhone 11 Pro Max are the latest and greatest Apple has to offer. It offers the best gaming experience, with only a few compromises. The A13 chipset beats the best Snapdragon, Exynos, MediaTek and Kirin processors the competition is equipped with. By far. Games often seem to be better optimized for the iPhone, because a lot of developers prefer the App Store. Maybe because they’re mostly iPhone users themselves, maybe it’s the American user base, or maybe it’s the revenue of the App Store. Either way, games are often released on iOS first and often just seem to perform better on iOS.
But there are some compromises. Firstly, it’s obviously the pricing. Starting with a thousand dollar price tag, or even one hundred bucks more for the Pro Max version, the iPhone sits way above what a smartphone should cost. Secondly, the trend of removing the headphone jack (a trend Apple started, because you know, they want to sell you those AirPods) is a bad decision for gaming purposes. Bluetooth has more lag and wired options now mean you can’t charge while playing your battery-consuming games.
The iPhone 11 Pro is one of the most expensive smartphones out there, but besides the outperforming chipset the iPhone also packs a great triple camera, capable of sensing depth and seeing ultra-wide or narrowed down. Obviously, it’s the best option for photography and video purposes, but Apple’s AR games and features work seamless with the camera system. The oled-screen is not the best for gaming purposes, it lacks a high refresh rate for example, which makes games look smoother. The screen quality is spot on, and the brightness is good enough to enjoy your games outside in the sun. Also the battery the iPhone packs is decent, but not the most long lasting in the industry.
ASUS has a long history of satisfying gamers needs. Apparently there’s a market for smartphones purposefully designed for gamers. ASUS’ second ROG (Republic of Gamers) Phone packs all the best ASUS was able to get their hands on.
While most of the top tier gaming smartphones come well within the thousand dollar price range, the ASUS ROG Phone II packs great features and will save you a couple of hundred bucks at the same time. In the meanwhile, there aren’t many concessions to make. It comes with a great amoled screen with an 120 hertz refresh rate, a headphone jack means you’re all set without Bluetooth lag or public annoyances and the huge battery capacity will make your games last all day.
The specs are decent. The Snapdragon 855 Plus isn’t the latest and greatest, but it’s the best option to keep smartphones affordable and still keep performance, compared to the faster 5G-compatible Snapdragons. The 8GB RAM could do better though. Same can be said for the 128GB of storage, without the option to use a memory card.
Also the design of the phone is something you’ll have to overcome. Somehow some companies like to think childish design and gaming are intertwined. It’s a shame, especially for the ROG Phone II. When you slap a case on the phone, you won’t be able to use the accessories, which do come in handy: there’s a click-on gamepad for example, and multiple docks.
OnePlus, once maker of the flagship killer-smartphones, has become what they once swore to destroy: a flagship smartphone company. Premium OnePlus smartphones are now premium priced, which can be hard to swallow for the OnePlus users that jumped on the bandwagon when the brand was still a start-up. The OnePlus 8 Pro is a premium smartphone though, with many pros for the mobile gaming enthusiast.
First of all, just have a look at this beauty. If looks were the only thing we cared about, it most likely would have been the winner of this test. But compared to the OnePlus 7 Pro, it’s not to everyone’s liking. The pop-up camera, a loved feature for many 7 Pro users, has been replaced by a punchhole camera in the top left corner of the screen.
The OnePlus 8 Pro packs the latest en greatest on all levels. The oled screen? Top notch. 120 hertz, qHD resolution with vibrant colors. Games really come alive on the screen of the OnePlus 8 Pro. Unfortunately, not for everyone. Some buyers complain about screen issues, like burn in and a green haze.
The OnePlus 8 Pro packs the latest Snapdragon 865-chipset, which also supports 5G. So the phone is future proof, not just today, but for future games as well thanks to the chipset and a whopping 12 gigs of RAM. Thankfully OnePlus finally supports wireless charging, and even packs the option to quickcharge wirelessly.
But OnePlus lets you settle for some disadvantages. The pricing is just as high as a Samsung, which packs better cameras and about the same specs. Or you can get an iPhone, which has way better support. There’s also no headphone jack, which is a huge disadvantage for any gamer.
Life, death, taxes and Samsung matching the prices of their flagship phone with the latest iPhone. These are the few guarantees in life. With the insane prices of the iPhone 11 Pro, Samsung’s Galaxy S20 Ultra has to bring a lot to the table to justify the price well above the 1200 dollar. The price gives you a lot of phone. Literally. The Samsung Galaxy S20 is huge. It has an 6,9 inch screen with a ratio of 20 by 9. It most certainly is not compatible with every gamer’s hand or jeans pocket, but when you manage to handle the phone size, the screen makes the gaming experience definitely worthwhile: 120 hertz refresh rate, 1440p resolution and a stunning oled display in general.
Besides the screen there’s a lot going on for every gamer around. 5G compatibility for example. A fast chipset with up to 12 gigs of RAM and even up to 512GB of storage, which can be expanded. The huge 5.000 mAh battery is a plus as well, but the huge screen will take its toll when you’re gaming on your Galaxy S20 Ultra.
The S20 Plus has more in store besides being a gaming smartphone. Photographers will enjoy the cameras, especially the zoom-in periscope one.
The Galaxy S20 Plus is an all round smartphone, but is it worth over 1200 dollar? No. The price is a downside.
We get it. The iPhone 11 Pro might not be worth its steep price. If you want a good gaming experience, and an iPhone, why not consider the regular iPhone 11? The phone still won’t give you as much bang for your buck as some of the competitors, but it’s one of the safest options if you want a good gaming smartphone.
If it comes to gaming, the iPhone 11 offers the same high-class chipset and iOS gaming experience the Pro version does. Combined with the update support Apple offers, it surely is a good all-round choice, even though the price of the iPhone 11 is still a bit steep.
There are some downsides for gamers though. Obviously, the jack is gone, but also the screen isn’t as fancy as the ones on an iPhone 11 Pro or other Android alternatives in the same price class. Even though the color reproduction and brightness of the screen is okay, it’s an LCD screen panel with an HD-resolution. That’s just not as impressive as the Full-HD (or 1440p) screens the other smartphones are packing. It saves on the battery though: even though the battery capacity is not particularly high, the phone will last while playing games.
The best bang-for-buck option for mobile gamers is offered by the Chinese phone maker Xiaomi. The Mi 9T Pro offers everything you need and will only set you back a few hundred bucks.
Even when you’re not using your phone for games, the Xiaomi Mi 9T Pro can still be used to make an impression thanks to the pop-out selfie camera on the top side of the phone. It’s a neat feature we’re not often seeing on new phones anymore. But it’s gaming smartphones we’re here for and boy, you’re in for a treat with this price-friendly phone. A big amoled screen (Full-HD), a snapdragon 855 processor, 6 gigs of ram. Make sure to get the version with 128 gigs of storage though, since you won’t be able to expand the storage with a memory card.
The performance is better than you’d expect from a smartphone in this price range, even though it feels a bit throttled down by Xiaomi’s MIUI Android skin. It’s a downside many Chinese phones struggle with, and unfortunately, Xiaomi is no exception here. MIUI takes its toll on Android and its performance. But besides that, you won’t have to settle for much. The cameras aren’t the best in town, but with three lenses at the back you’ve got a ton of zooming options. Keep in mind the Xiaomi’s reputation when it comes to updates isn’t the best.
If you want your mobile games to come to life on the best screen out there, you should consider the Oppo Find X2 Pro, or even the regular (cheaper) Oppo Find X2. The screen is huge, and provides one of the best gaming experiences seen so far on a smartphone.
Apart from the screen, there’s another feature that stands out for the Oppo Find X2 Pro: it has a 65 watt charger. In comparison, the iPhone quickcharger only has 30 watts. That means the X2 Pro charges lightning fast. Within minutes you’re all set for the day, which is really impressive, but also a necessity. The huge screen, with its high resolution and refresh rate, takes a heavy toll on the battery. It also makes the X2 Pro quite a big smartphone to handle and carry with you. That screen though, it makes mobile gaming a true delight.
Besides the quickcharger and screen, the X2 Pro packs everything you’ll need for a fully featured smartphone. The Pro-version even has a periscope lens, which enables you to zoom in far with your camera. The regular version lacks the periscope camera, but is equipped with the same wide angle and regular camera the X2 Pro has. There’s also a difference in storage, and, obviously, pricing. The regular version is about 200 bucks cheaper.
With the latest Snapdragon 865 chipset on board, the performance is top notch and you’ll be ready for 5G. But the main downside is the pricing. The phone sets you back over a thousand bucks, and even though the design and build quality is top notch, the ColorOS Android skin makes the phone feel… childish. Cheap. It never delivers that premium feel you’d expect from a phone in this price range.
Chinese smartphone manufacturer Nubia goes all in. With top specs, 5G, over the top screen refresh rate, relatively low price, software annoyances and a gruesome design, the RedMagic 5G offers all you’d expect from a Chinese budget gaming smartphone.
For it’s price, the Nubia has a lot to offer in the spec sheet. It’s one of the most affordable 5G smartphones so far, which can give you that advantage when you’re gaming on the go. Its performance is on par as well, thanks to the latest Snapdragon 865 and up to 12 gigabyte of RAM. The screen has one of the highest refresh rates so far: 144 hertz. That’s nice, but keep in mind not every game take advantage of that, and are capped at 60 hertz, the refresh rate on most regular phones.
On the downside, this Chinese smartphone doesn’t stand out software-wise, and like other hardware aimed at gamers the design is something you’ll have to deal with.
We get it, an iPhone is one of the safer options when it comes to smartphones. The update support is good, as well as the gaming experience iOS offers. But it comes with a price. Why not choose the latest-and-greatest Apple offered last year?
Obviously, the iPhone 11 Pro offers the best gaming experience. When it comes to performance, the regular iPhone 11 comes close, thanks to Apple’s A13-chipset. But the Pro comes at a steep price. The iPhone 11 lacks the impressive screen. When you consider 2018’s iPhone Xs, the performance will be a bit lower, but you’ll be able to play your games on a Full-HD oled screen.
Even though the iPhone Xs was released quite some time ago, Apple’s support will still make sure you’re phones runs the latest version of iOS for years. The chipset used in the iPhone Xs was also able to beat all of the 2018 phones, so when it comes to performance, there’s not much to worry here. Except for the price, which is still a bit steep compared to the Android competition.
Xiaomi has an subbrand which focuses completely on gaming smartphones. In many ways you can compare it to the Nubia smartphone we mentioned. Top specs, sharp price and a monstrous design and bad software.
The Black Shark 2 gaming smartphone is obviously interesting for mobile gamers looking for a sharp deal. The Black Shark 3 is already announced and on its way, which is interesting for all you bargain hunters out there. It’s likely you’ll find this smartphone even lower priced.
The Black Shark 2 offers the best 2019-specs with plenty of storage and RAM. So even in 2020, it surely won’t let you down. But you’ll have to settle for the fact it won’t support 5G. If that’s an issue for you, wait for the Black Shark 3. The biggest downside is the design. The Black Shark is hands down one of the worst looking phones we’ve seen so far.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this test, it’s that top quality still doesn’t come cheap. Do you want the best specs, the brightest screen and the most powerful battery all in one phone? Better bring the dough. There are some exceptions to this rule, but even those flagship killers can’t touch the very top shelf. If you’re going to slide down the price range scale, the first thing you’ll have to give up are the gorgeous screens, the gigantic batteries and the powerful chipsets. That doesn’t mean you can’t play amazing games on those phones, though.
If you’re going to place a safe bet, pick any of the latest iPhones, not in the last place because Apple’s update policy is pretty neat, and the App Store seems to be the platform of choice for mobile game developers. Want to take the Android leap? Then you’ll have to choose between the high-end top range models that everybody wants to buy, their slightly cheaper Chinese counterparts, or a handful of phones specifically designed for the purpose of gaming alone.
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