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The best gaming phones

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By Mark Jansen


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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.

iPhone XS

iPhone XS review
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

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: $999

Why we picked the iPhone XS:

Why wouldn’t we pick the iPhone XS? If you’re looking to game on an iPhone, Apple’s latest and greatest should always be your first port of call, and the iPhone XS is a triumph. It follows the same basic rules set down by last year’s iPhone X, keeping the same jaw-dropping, bezel-less design, but upgrading the already powerful innards. Apple’s new A12 Bionic processor finds a home here, and simply put, it’s the most powerful mobile processor we’ve ever seen. Gaming performance is superb, and even the most demanding 3D games find themselves dominated by Apple’s hardware.

The “Super Retina” OLED technology is back in the iPhone XS, and that means you get a beautiful, clear, and colorful picture in any app. Being the smallest of the iPhone XS range, the XS is the perfect size to hold in your hand for long periods of time, and the 5.8-inch screen provides plenty of room for even the most crowded of game interfaces. For the moments when you’re not able to play any games (we know, it happens to us all), the iPhone XS also comes with an incredible camera — so you can document your non-gaming exploits.

Though few and far between, the iPhone XS does have its downsides. The 2,658mAh battery lasts a day in normal usage, but extended gaming sessions will likely deplete it much faster than usual. It doesn’t come with a fast charger in the box either, so it’ll be slower to recharge when it does empty. It’s also extremely expensive, starting at $999. Still, for iOS gaming, you won’t find a better option.

iPhone XS Review

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Apple

Samsung Galaxy S9 Plus

samsung galaxy s9 plus review always on display
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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Samsung Amazon

Sony Xperia XZ3

sony xperia xz3 gaming
Simon Hill/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It offers great performance in everything that matters in gaming.

Who’s it for: Someone who’s not fussed by a below-average camera, but loves the amazing screen and sound.

How much will it cost: $900

Why we picked the Xperia XZ3:

Given Sony’s PlayStation pedigree, perhaps it should come as no surprise that the Xperia XZ3 is a heck of a mobile gaming machine — but it still surprised us a little when we reviewed it back in October.

The Xperia XZ3 has all the elements you need to make a great mobile gaming machine — this year’s “flagchip” processor, the Snapdragon 845, powers the device. Sony seems to have tweaked it a little, giving the XZ3 some serious power in benchmarking apps. While benchmarks aren’t everything, this translates extremely well into gaming performance, and the Xperia XZ3 handled absolutely everything we threw at it.

This powerful performance is joined by Sony’s first ever mobile OLED display, and it’s a beauty. The deep, sumptuous blacks and vibrant colors look incredible on the 6-inch screen, and that experience is heightened by the XZ3’s dual front-facing speakers. Put together, this is a handset that looks and sounds great. The softly curving design feels wonderful in your hands, too, which will prove especially important if you’re going to be spending hours playing PUBG Mobile or Clash of Clans.

It isn’t perfect by any means. The camera is a let down compared to other flagship phones, it’s expensive at $900, and there’s quite a lot of pre-installed software. However, if you can find the Xperia XZ3 for a knock-down price in the sales, then it’s definitely a phone worth looking at for mobile gaming.

Sony Xperia XZ3 Review

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Sony Amazon

Asus ROG Phone

asus rog phone game center
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It has been specifically and thoughtfully designed for top-notch gaming performance.

Who’s it for: Any gamer craving gaming substance over everything else.

How much will it cost: $900

Why we picked the Asus ROG Phone:

Straight from the gaming arm of Asus, the Republic of Gamers (ROG), the Asus ROG Phone doesn’t seek to hide its gaming influences. Take one look at the Asus ROG Phone and it’s clear this is a device meant for gamers, with hard lines, slashed cuts, and a lit up logo. It’s loud, it’s unapologetic, and we kinda love it for that. If you want subtlety, this isn’t the phone for you — but it will definitely tickle some fancies.

Like many phones on this list, you’ll find the powerful Snapdragon 845 here. Asus has tweaked it though, upping the processor’s clock speed to 2.96GHz from the usual 2.8GHz. That increased speed seems to make a difference inside and outside of games, and it means the ROG Phone is one of the smoothest Android phones we’ve used since the Pixel 3. As expected, the ROG Phone absolutely crushes gaming performance and comes with some cool special features, like a squeezable body that enables the phone’s AirTriggers. There are more features then we can list here, but we go into them in detail in our Asus ROG Phone review.

Happily, it’s got some decent shooters equipped, and while it’s not going to beat the best camera phones of the day, it should be good enough for most people. The 4,000mAh battery has the potential to last for a couple of days, depending on usage, but you’ll obviously see that drop with heavy gaming.

Unfortunately, it’ll cost you $900 to take the plunge, but that entry model comes with a whopping 128GB of storage, so that’s not a terrible sell. You can pony up $1,100 for the 512GB model if you like, but 128GB should be enough. The Asus ROG Phone is definitely one of the best dedicated gaming phones out there.

Asus ROG Phone Review

Buy it now from:

Asus Amazon

Razer Phone 2

Razer Phone 2 Hands-on
Julian Chokkattu/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: $800

Why we picked the Razer Phone 2:

Last year’s Razer Phone kicked off the gaming phone revolution, so it makes sense its successor — the Razer Phone 2 — would appear on this list. Razer went back to the drawing board to tackle some of the bigger issues with the original phone — particularly the lackluster camera — and came back with the upgraded Razer Phone 2. Did Razer succeed? Not entirely — the camera is on the lower end for a flagship of this price. But the Razer Phone 2 is still a great choice for a gaming phone.

The main reason for this is the display tech. Like the first Razer Phone, the Razer Phone 2 comes with the Ultramotion 120Hz display. That means it refreshes faster than pretty much any other device on the market, giving a marked improvement in smoothness both in games and outside. This display tech is backed up by the Snapdragon 845 and 8GB of RAM — making the Razer Phone 2 an exceptional performer where games are concerned. The speakers are also some of the clearest and loudest we’ve ever tested.

The design has been updated, too, and the addition of a glass back means wireless charging is possible. The 4,000mAh battery should make it through the day pretty easily, even with moderate amounts of gaming. QuickCharge 4.0+ support also means it won’t be sat on the charger for long.

It’s expensive and it lacks a camera that can compete with the flagship competition, but the Razer Phone 2 is still well worth a look.

Razer Phone 2 Review

Buy it now from:

Razer Amazon

OnePlus 6T

best gaming phones oneplus 6t

Why should you buy this: The OnePlus 6T 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: $549

Why we picked the OnePlus 6T:

The OnePlus 6T is here for the same reasons we generally include a OnePlus phone in best of lists: It offers the latest hardware and design trends for a price that’s several hundred dollars lower than comparative handsets. But the OnePlus 6T is no bargain basement dweller — it fully deserves its reputation as the flagship killer, and if you’re looking to get a phone that will handle all the latest games for less than $600, then the OnePlus 6T is what you need.

Like many of the other entries on this list, you will find the Snapdragon 845 processor powering the OnePlus 6T, so you can expect the same level of slick performance in all of the latest games. A decent 6GB of RAM backs that up and the hefty 3,700mAh battery means you shouldn’t have too many worries about running out of power in the middle of a game. It’s an exceptional looker, too, and if you’re not keen on the “gamer chic” look, the 6T’s sleek and modern glass aesthetic should have you drooling.

There is a huge 6.41-inch AMOLED screen with a tiny teardrop notch at the top. It’s incredibly modern looking, and the deep vibrant colors and inky blacks of the OLED display will make every game look amazing. It comes with Android 9.0 Pie (under OnePlus’s own Oxygen OS), and the camera system has been improved too. There is even an in-display fingerprint scanner, though it’s not consistent or particular speedy. If you can’t spend a huge amount on a phone but you want great performance, the OnePlus 6T is the way to go.

OnePlus 6T Review

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OnePlus

Honor Play

honor play blue and pink models front
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this: It’s an extremely good gaming machine on a budget.

Who’s it for: Someone who loves gaming, but also loves a bargain.

How much will it cost: $300

Why we picked the Honor Play:

Don’t discount the Honor Play because it’s the lowest priced handset on this list — the Honor Play is a serious gaming machine with a lot to offer. It’s powered by the Kirin 970, a flagship-level chip from Huawei — and it’s the same processor you’ll find in the Huawei P20 Pro. Thanks to the power of that processor, and the in-built GPU Turbo software, it runs games extremely well. We spent some time in Asphalt 9 Legends and it looked amazing, ran fluidly, and didn’t suffer from any lag.

But the Honor Play isn’t all substance with no style. It’s not a bad looker, though it’s a little derivative of other phones. It’s understated, which can’t be said of most gaming phones, so it passes for a normal phone when you aren’t gaming your socks off. The camera is also excellent for the price, producing images you won’t be ashamed to share. The 3,750mAh battery should last a day with ease, though you can expect that to drop to a single day if you game a lot. The software is perhaps the one thing that could put prospective buyers off, as it’s the heavily modified EMUI skin for Android. Still, we find it easy enough to get used to these days.

There’s one significant point against the phone though, and it’s that the Honor Play is not officially available in the U.S. However, you can find it on Amazon, so it’s not too hard to get a hold of. If you want a mobile gaming machine on a budget, the Honor Play is an excellent choice.

Honor Play Review

Buy it now from:

Amazon


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