Game on: 8 of the best gaming smartphones

Gaming

Smartphones come in all shapes and sizes. There are budget bargains, mid-range marvels, camera-heavy contraptions, fabulous flagships, foldable fiends, and even handsets designed purely for gaming.

Yep, you heard us. Out there right now is the gaming smartphone of your dreams, a handset that’ll grant you the inconceivable ability to play preposterously popular titles like Fortnite and PUBG when you’re on the move. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

As you can imagine, a bang-up gaming phone needs to have a few things. We’re talking a processor capable of pushing performance to the max, more RAM than you can shake a stick at, and a dazzling display that’ll give you the edge when it comes down to the wire.

Even with that knoweldge, separating the best from the rest in a market this crowded is no easy feat, which is why we’ve taken the liberty of spotlighting eight of the very best gaming phones we’ve encountered on our travels. Are you ready, player one?

ASUS ROG PHONE II (€899)

We called the Asus ROG Phone II the “ultimate gaming handset of 2019” in our review, and for good reason. The robust smartphone is the first in the world to come packing Qualcomm’s powerful Snapdragon 855+ chipset, which gives it an immediate advantage over most over flagships still sporting the standard Snapdragon 855 (losers).

In practice, that extra processing power means better performance and graphics, allowing work-intensive games like PUBG Mobile run smooth as butter while looking their very best. All of those in-game details are also wonderfully realised on screen thanks to the ROG Phone II’s bountiful 6.59in AMOLED display, which boasts a 2340×1080 resolution and HDR10 support.

Now, you’re probably thinking all of that firepower is going to drain the ROG Phone II’s battery in a heartbeat, but you’d be wrong. Asus has stuffed an enormous 6000mAh cell inside the handset, delivering around nine hours of non-stop playtime on a single charge. A built-in 3D Vapor Chamber cooling system and rear vent will also stop the phone from overheating during intense sessions, because it’s hard not to get a little bit concerned when your handset starts to get hotter than an overstimulated potato.

The only real downside to the ROG Phone II are a lack of 5G support and the fact it weighs more than a baby whale. Alright, that’s a slight exaggeration, but at 240g it’s easily one of the heaviest handsets on the market right now. With that in mind, we recommend you don’t skip arm day if you’re thinking about picking one up.

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NUBIA RED MAGIC 3 (£419)

When it comes to gaming phones, the Nubia Red Magic 3 absolutely blows – and we mean that in a good way. The first handset in the world with an internal cooling fan, the Red Magic 3 is capable of achieving impressive feats without getting hot under the collar.

The fan itself is used to cool the phone’s top-end Snapdragon 855 processor, which is complimented with a tasty 8GB of RAM, and while it doesn’t seem to do anything to boost CPU clock speeds, it does succeed in keeping the handset cool during gargantuan gaming sessions. At this point, it’s probably worth mentioning that the Red Magic 3 doesn’t really need a CPU boost, given the striking handset was more than capable of handling every game we threw at it on the highest detail settings – including everybody’s favourite battle royale shooter, Fortnite.

Other little details like customisable shoulder buttons that can be assigned to any onscreen location, dual front-firing speakers, a 90Hz refresh rate that serves to make everything a teeny bit smoother, and a lusciously low price-tag also help the Red Magic 3 stand out from what’s becoming quite the crowd. After all, bragging rights are everything in the world of gaming, and the Red Magic 3 delivers them in spades.

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BLACK SHARK 2 (£479)

Black Shark was a veritable novice when it arrived on the scene with the original Black Shark back in 2018. The fledgling smartphone maker evidently learns fast, however, and less than two years later it was back with the Black Shark 2, a super-sequel that left us rather impressed.

Improving on the original in almost every way, the Black Shark 2 added a bigger, more vivid 6.4in AMOLED display with a wide 19:5:9 aspect ratio, front-firing speakers (for those players who like to forgo headphones in an effort to wind up everybody on the tube) and the option for up to 12GB of RAM, which is absolutely bonkers.

Boosting the handset’s credentials as a truly notable gaming machine is a whip-smart Snapdragon 855 processor that cut through daily tasks and even the most intensive games like butter, and a slough of customisation options that let players tweak everything from onscreen overlays, processor overclocking, and customisable RGB lighting.

Alas, nothing is perfect, and there are a few snags that hold the handset back. For starters, there’s no 3.5mm headphone jack. We know that’s something Apple users will be used to, but it’s something of a sacrilegious omission on a dedicated gaming phone. Waterproofing also isn’t a thing here, while the phone’s pressure sensitive display, which is supposed to subtly vibrate at key moments to boost immersion, also falls a bit flat.

Still, we adore the Black Shark 2 despite those flaws. The real question is: will you?

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IPHONE 11 PRO MAX (£1149)

Alright, let’s cut to the chase: the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the best iPhone ever. It has the best display, the best camera, the longest-lasting battery, and a restrained yet elegant design that’s easy on the eyes. What though, makes the superlative handset a great gaming phone? The short answer is Apple Arcade.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Apple Arcade is a new subscription service that grants iOS users access to a buffet of premium games for the low, low price of £4.99 per month. The roster is hugely impressive, and includes a huge variety of titles spanning every genre imaginable – some of which are exclusive to iOS and Apple devices.

Now, while you can dive into Arcade on any Apple doodah running iOS 13 or its equivalent – yep, that includes your iPad and Apple TV – if you’re the sort of person who wants accessible mobile gaming in a snap, you’ll want to enjoy everything the service has to offer on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. Just try not to wince too hard at the price. The best doesn’t come cheap, y’know.

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SONY XPERIA 1 (£849)

Sony might be synonymous with video games, but it probably isn’t the first company that springs to mind when you’re on the hunt for a new smartphone. That’s a crying shame, because the Sony Xperia 1 is an absolute beast. The flagship handset is the first to feature a display with a 21:9 aspect ratio, which makes it tall, lean, and great for gaming.

The 6.5in 4K HDR OLED display offers an unrestricted view of gameplay when you’re chowing down on supported titles, and is capable of big-name titles like Fortnite at 60fps without breaking a sweat thanks to its Snapdragon 855 processor. It even comes with a suite of ‘Game Enhancer’ features that allow players to boost both performance and speed by dealing up and releasing RAM depending on their specific needs, record gameplay, and block pesky notifications.

Top-notch audio is also a doddle for the Xperia 1, with DSEE HX, Dolby Atmos 3D surround sound, and LDAC technology combining to deliver sumptuous sound that packs an absolute wallop.

In gaming terms, the only real downside with the Xperia 1 is the rather diminutive 3330mAh battery, which is basically half the size of some others on this list, and the fact that not every mobile game will support its widescreen display, meaning letterboxing could be an issue at times.

Still, if you can cope with that while some devs play catch-up, you’ll be getting your mitts on a truly unique piece of hardware that’ll probably cause a bit of phone-envy among your pals.

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RAZER PHONE 2 (£779)

After dousing everything from laptops and headsets to keyboards and mice in glow-paint, the plutonium fiends over at Razer have entered the smartphone market, and the result is… well, actually, it’s pretty damn good.

As you can imagine from a brand that’s the corporate embodiment of an ‘I heart video games’ t-shirt, the Razer Phone 2 is all about bringing joy to gamers around the world. It succeeds by brewing up a handset that combines a super-sleek 5.7in LCD screen – which packs a 120Hz variable refresh rate and HDR support – with impressive Dolby Atmos support speakers and a Snapdragon 845 octa-core processor that runs at 2.8GHz.

That workhorse of a CPU is backed by a staggering 8GB of RAM, and means all the big-name games you know and love look stunning on maxed-out settings. For online titles, like PlayerUnknown’s Battleground and Fortnite, Razer has focused on reducing input latency and lag, and it’s safe to say the Razer Phone 2 is a step-up on its predecessor in that regard.

Keeping the Razer Phone 2 cool during those sweaty workouts is a custom vapour chamber cooling, which didn’t prevent the phone from getting a tad toasty when we tried it, but did seems to keep performance at optimum levels.

When it comes to finding issues with the Razer Phone 2, the obvious caveats are an underwhelming 64GB of on-board storage – although a microSD card slot will help alleviate any storage headaches you encounter – an LCD screen that might feel slightly sub-par for OLED aficionados, and a design that’ll no doubt take a bit of getting used to if you’re not used to Razer’s signature neon stylings.

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SAMSUNG GALAXY S10 (£799)

Don’t worry Samsung stans, we haven’t forgotten about you. How could we? When it comes to smartphones, the South Korean tech-maker is up there with the very best, and the Galaxy S10 in particular is the apple of our very discerning eye.

The flagship handset is all about subtle refinements, and one-ups its predecessors with by adding a gorgeous 6.1in AMOLED display with skinnier bezels than the S9, removing the now-standard notch in favour of a selfie hole (which looks a lot more ergonomical than it sounds), and a more potent set of speakers.

That AMOLED screen should make for some pretty stunning gaming escapades, and consistently delivers accurate, true-to-life hues and unparalleled contrast. Rather surprisingly, it also uses some kind of dark magic to avoid reflections and screen glare, which will be a godsend if you’re the sort who likes to take their gaming outdoors.

Unlike most of the other mobiles we’ve spotlighted, the Galaxy S10 plumps for a Exynos 9820 processor over the familiar Snapdragon 855. On paper, that puts the Samsung behind its rivals, but in reality the handset is still lightning fast, and is more than capable off playing top-of-the-line vide games on the highest settings without breaking a sweat. Having 8GB of RAM probably helps with that, as does a built-in ‘maintenance mode’ that works to ensure performance remains strong after years of hard graft.

If there’s one area that lets the Galaxy S10 down, it’s the battery. The handset only packs a 3400mAh ticker, which means a heavy gaming session will cost you dearly. We found that a standard PUBG Mobile win would drain around 20 percent of our total battery life, so if you’re serious about gaming on-the-go, you’ll want to bring a power pack or two along for the ride.

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ONEPLUS 7 PRO (£799)

Alright, if you’re in the know (which we can tell you are) you’ll be well aware that OnePlus makes sumptuous mobiles that delight the world over. But does the Chinese outfit also cook up glorious gaming phones? You’d better believe it.

Take the OnePlus 7 Pro, for instance. The flagship handset crams oodles of tech into its delightfully curvy chassis, including a huge 6.67in notchless OLED display that’s sharp and vibrant. It also features a 90Hz refresh rate, which servers to make everything – including your cherished video games – infinity smoother. Under the hood you’ll find a Snapdragon 855 with up to an astonishing 12GB of RAM (which is only matched by the Black Shark 2).

It’s a combination that means the OnePlus 7 destroyed every single mobile game we threw at it, and easily makes it one of the most powerful Android handsets on the market. To see how far we could push the device, we used an emulator to take some GameCube titles for a spin, and the pocket-sized beast managed to run a backup of Mario Kart: Double Dash at 1080p, 50fps without issue. In case you missed the memo, that’s seriously impressive.

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