The best gaming phones
Once mocked as the home of “filthy casuals”, the mobile gaming market has come on in leaps and bounds in the last few years. Games like Hearthstone, PubG: Mobile, and Fortnite have shown that the humble smartphone is just as good a place for digital entertainment as the black monolith parked in front of the TV. But if you’re looking for a phone that is great at handling games and delivering the sort of performance that allows you to keep pwning and winning, you might not be sure where to look.
If you want a phone that’s great for gaming, then you’re after a different set of specs to a lot of other people. Great looks and cameras are good, but what about pure gaming performance and media presentation? Well, we’ve done the hard work so you don’t have to, and found the best gaming phones that you can buy, at any budget. While you’re at it, check out our best games for iPhone and Android so you’ve always got something to play.
Why should you buy this: You want the best possible gaming experience on an iOS smartphone, with an amazing screen, super-fast performance, and the huge iOS app store.
Who’s it for: Anyone who loves iOS and iPhone, and wants the very best.
How much will it cost: $1,000
Why we picked the iPhone X:
How could we not? Apple’s first real redesign since the iPhone 6 changed the world of smartphones as we knew it, doing away with the iconic Home button and introducing the contentious notch. Stylistically, it’s a real looker, with a modern bezel-less design and beautiful glass-and-metal construction. The display is the real jaw-dropper though, and the iPhone X’s OLED screen is a stunner. It’s a weird resolution (a strong Apple tradition), but it’s razor sharp, with vibrant colors, and deep blacks. It’s big too, and you shouldn’t have any issues seeing even small details on the 5.8-inch display.
It’s got the brawn to back up its good looks. Apple’s A11 Bionic processor is a powerful chip, and though it lags behind the Snapdragon 845 in AnTuTu benchmarks, it trounces the 845 in Geekbench 4, and in real terms it’s snappy, handles even demanding games with no problems, and didn’t show any drops in performance over our six-month testing period. There is only 3GB of RAM inside the iPhone X, but don’t let that put you off — Android and iOS use RAM differently, so bigger doesn’t equate to better in this case.
It’s not perfect. If you go for the 64GB model of the iPhone X, you might have some issues with keeping multiple large games on the system, as there is no MicroSD card. There is no 3.5mm headphone jack either, which means you can’t use wired headphones without the right dongle, and you can’t charge the iPhone X at the same time. The battery will last you a day, but heavy gaming will knock that down. However, these are all problems that iPhone users are used to, and shouldn’t put you off. With the other additions that come with the iPhone X — the incredible camera, Face ID unlocking, and iOS 11 — gaming on the iPhone X is a beautiful thing, and the iPhone X should always be your choice if you’re a passionate iOS gamer.
iPhone X Review
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Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Why should you buy this: Samsung has refined an already brilliant formula, and produced one of the year’s most powerful and beautiful phones.
Who’s it for: Someone who wants one of the most powerful Android phones in the world.
How much will it cost: $840
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus:
Samsung kept everything that made the Samsung Galaxy S8 brilliant and fixed everything else. The Galaxy S9 Plus is the culmination of years of work for Samsung and it’s simply one of the best phones in the world right now. It has an exceptional low-light camera with a mechanical aperture, and some utterly wonderful features packed into its smooth and gorgeously designed body.
But what really matters for gamers is the power. The Galaxy S9 Plus comes with the staggeringly powerful Snapdragon 845, giving the phone oodles of processing power. It handled every game we threw at it with contemptuous ease, tackling Tekken, The Sims: Mobile, and Sonic Forces with no issues. We picked the Galaxy S9 Plus over the standard S9 because the Plus version comes with 6GB of RAM (compared to the 4GB in the S9), giving the Plus that slight edge for multitasking — but since both come with the Snapdragon 845, either model should crush most modern games with no problems.
The AMOLED display is another gorgeous piece of work, with deep, vibrant colors and pitch-dark blacks. It’s super-sharp too, and the Quad HD+ screen should have no problems being seen, even in direct sunlight. Storage starts at 64GB, but there is the option to boost that with a MicroSD card, and Samsung is still including the headphone jack — so you can charge while using wired headphones.
It’s not perfect. Sound during games is good, thanks to the stereo speakers, though the placement and bass aren’t the best. The battery life could be better and though you’ll get a day out it with normal usage, expect gaming to impact that heavily. It’s expensive, with the lowest-tier model starting at $840. But if you’re after one of the very best phones for gaming on Android, look no further.
Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus Review
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Andy Boxall / Digital Trends
Why should you buy this: It’s a phone made for super-smooth gaming, from gaming specialist Razer.
Who’s it for: A pure gaming enthusiast who wants the smoothest possible experience.
How much will it cost: $700
Why we picked the Razer Phone:
The Razer Phone is one of the first phones built from the ground-up for mobile gaming, and while it may mean that the phone lacks in a few other areas, it really delivers as a media-consuming machine. The Razer Phone’s Snapdragon 835 might seem underpowered next to the more recent Snapdragon 845, but with Razer’s optimizations and 8GB of RAM, the Razer Phone is an absolute beast, crushing games and consistently delivering some of our best experiences with mobile gaming.
An expanding market of gaming phones.
Don’t worry if the Razer Phone isn’t the pure gaming phone for you, as more are on the way. The ZTE-backed Red Magic Phone is coming soon, offering similar power to the Razer Phone and some RGB lighting thrown in for good measure. Also keep an eye out for the Asus ROG Phone, which promises to be a staggeringly powerful gaming phone when it eventually comes out.
The key to this performance is Razer’s special display. Rather than a usual 60Hz display, the Razer Phone packs a 120Hz screen. This change means it can deliver more frames per second than your usual phone screen, which leads to gameplay that feels more fluid. It’s not all hype either; we found the Razer Phone felt better than phones with the same processor, running the same games. The dated looks and chunky bezels hide another impressive secret, too — front-facing stereo speakers that really pack a punch, and are one of the best features on the phone, thanks to the Dolby-tuned sound.
Unfortunately, the camera is extremely bare bones, you won’t find the colors on the display to be anywhere near as impressive as the other phones at a similar price, and there is no headphone jack. Still, the 4,000mAh battery gives considerable oomph and should keep you gaming for hours. The Razer Phone is one of the best gaming phones on this list, it’s just not as good an all-around phone as some of the others.
Razer Phone Review
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Andy Boxall/Digital Trends
Why should you buy this: The OnePlus 6 delivers flagship specs, power, and polish for hundreds of dollars less.
Who’s it for: Someone who wants the top specs at a lower price.
How much will it cost: $530
Why we picked the OnePlus 6:
Look at the OnePlus 6 and read its spec sheet and you’d be forgiven for thinking this phone belongs in the same price range as the iPhone X, the Galaxy S9, and other premium flagship phones. But no, the OnePlus 6 continues OnePlus’ fine tradition of offering top-level specs and a gorgeous design at a price that is hundreds of dollars less than you’d expect. The OnePlus 6 is king of the midrange, and while the $530 price makes it more expensive than any OnePlus phone before, it’s still a great choice for a gaming phone.
Central to the phone’s strong performance is the inclusion of everyone’s favorite powerful chip — the Snapdragon 845. As expected, the OnePlus 6 shows great performance with this processor, and should be able to crush most games thrown at it. That performance is bolstered by the huge 8GB of RAM available to the phone, which should help in handling large programs, and swapping between apps. The audio is impressive too, with AptX HD support and a 3.5mm headphone jack. The display is massive, a 6.28-inch AMOLED screen running a full HD resolution. You shouldn’t miss any details on this sharp and vibrant display.
Outside of pure gaming performance, the OnePlus 6 is still impressive. It has a great camera that is capable of standing up with the best, as well as those drop-dead gorgeous looks. If the high prices of current flagships repel you, then you’ll find a fantastic deal in the OnePlus 6.
OnePlus 6 Review
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Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Why should you buy this: The Nokia 6.1 is one of the best budget phones in the world, and gives great bang for the buck.
Who’s it for: A mobile gamer on a budget who doesn’t mind making compromises.
How much will it cost: $270
Why we picked the Nokia 6.1:
If you’re looking to play mobile games on a budget, then you’re probably ready to make some sort of compromise in terms of performance and overall visual fidelity — and that’s mostly an unavoidable fact. However, the Nokia 6.1 is one of the best of the budget bunch for gaming. It’s dated in design, with a 16:9 aspect ratio and chunky bezels, but that display is full HD and more than good enough. The body is made from smooth metal, and it feels good in the hand.
Strong competition from below.
While we rank the Nokia 6.1 as the best budget phone of the moment, it’s a tight race with the brilliant Honor 7X. The Honor 7X offers great looks, an excellent camera, and good power from the Kirin 659 processor and 3GB of RAM. It performed very well playing Riptide GP3, Crossy Road, and Modern Combat Versus, so you shouldn’t be disappointed. Best of all, it only costs $200, making it even cheaper than the already cheap Nokia 6.1.
But what of the performance? The Nokia 6.1 is equipped with the Snapdragon 630, and that processor does an excellent job of providing smooth performance. It outclasses most other phones in the same price range, and the 3GB of RAM holds up well in persistent use. Though you’re likely to be playing on the lowest possible settings, the Nokia 6.1 managed to handle games like The Sims: Mobile, and PubG: Mobile with only a few minor hiccups during gameplay.
There is a 3,000mAh battery powering the phone, which should give you a decent amount of gaming time, and it’s also equipped with a capable camera for the price. The use of Android One as the phone’s operating system means that the phone will receive regular security updates from Google, as well as eventual major upgrades. On the minus side, it’s only usable on GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile — so no Sprint or Verizon. Still, for those who like to play some games but can’t stretch to some of the higher priced models, this is a great choice.
Nokia 6.1 Review
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