Which is the best gaming phone you can buy right now?
Mobile gaming has become a force to be reckoned with, and while many purists might dump on mobile games and gaming as poor substitutes for true console or PC-level experiences, the hardware that smartphone makers are now putting out has meant that the gap between these platforms has never been narrower.
There’s also the added benefit of portability – most gaming laptops aren’t all that portable, and with the Nintendo 3DS unofficially being put out to pasture by the likes of the incoming Nintendo Switch Lite, the Japanese gaming giant produces the only other notable gaming device that you can easily carry around with you.
Read next: Best gaming laptops 2019
Having access to Nintendo’s game library is an unquestionable plus in the Switch’s favour, but the hardware can’t readily compete with the high-resolution, high refresh rate, HDR displays, fast charging and cellular connectivity of gaming smartphones. Some of the entries in this list even pull a reversal and borrow tricks from the Switch’s playbook to narrow the gap even further.
As such, right now is a great time to consider a gaming phone and we’ve collated a list of the best devices in the category you can buy.
How do we select the best gaming smartphones?
With the exception of some of phones in the ‘honourable mentions’ section, we’ve fully tested and lived with every phone on this list. You’ll find links to in-depth reviews on each handset, including its gaming capabilities, real-world usage and repeatable benchmarking results.
We test everything from battery life and processor performance during a full range of everyday tasks, right up to call quality and screen calibration. Most of all, we take these phones out and use them as our own over an extended period, living with them to learn their quirks and discover any hidden features that might otherwise be missed.
This list contains a summary of our findings, but as mentioned, you can click through to the full review of each one below.
1. Black Shark 2
Powerful and affordable
- Master Touch and optional controllers make mobile games more user-friendly
- Incredibly affordable considering specs and features
- Long-lasting, fast-charging battery
- Screen limited to 60Hz and Full HD resolution
- Lack of headphone jack
Black Shark may not be the most established player on this list but that doesn’t stop its latest offering, the Black Shark 2, from being a killer gaming phone, and better yet, competitively priced.
Like most of the other entrants in this lineup, things run on Qualcomm’s class-leading Snapdragon 855 chipset, paired with 8GB or 12GB of RAM and either 128GB or 256GB of storage. As such, you’ve got plenty of power to run the latest games, but the company’s engineers didn’t stop there.
The Black Shark 2 produces some of the highest benchmarking scores out the box, while the Shark Space gaming overlay lets you (among other things) free up performance as needed whilst gaming. The phone uses a multi-layered cooling system that employs both liquid tech and graphene in its makeup, as well as an ‘X-type’ antenna design for more reliable WiFi performance.
The AMOLED display boasts impressive 240Hz touch responsiveness and the company’s proprietary Master Touch tech lets you assign different actions to touch inputs based on pressure.
To round things out, the additional Black Shark 2.0 gaming controller offers a pseudo-Nintendo Switch experience, letting you mount physical controls onto either side of the phone, or snap them together to create a standalone gamepad, while you play the Black Shark 2 on the big screen.
- Read our Black Shark 2 review
2. OnePlus 7 Pro
Outstanding visuals, top-tier performance
- Oxygen OS user experience
- Stunning 90Hz HDR display
- Top-notch performance
- Great battery life
- Underwhelming cameras
- No wireless charging
- No water resistance
- Large and unwieldy
2019 has been a transformative year for OnePlus. The Chinese phone maker has shrugged off its underdog trappings and emerged with a no-compromise flagship in the OnePlus 7 Pro.
If the ‘Pro’ nomenclature wasn’t enough of a clue, this thing doesn’t mess around. It shares in the Black Shark’s top-notch performance and can be had with even more internal storage, but its biggest and best feature has to be that display.
Its large 6.67-inch QHD+ Fluid AMOLED screen is not only sharp, vivid and boasts curved edges but also gets its name from the 90Hz refresh rate in its possession, granting you incredibly smooth motion and HDR support. It’s easy to see why this is one of the best smartphone screens on the market.
What’s more, the company has partnered with e-sports legends Fnatic to brand the phone’s dedicated gaming mode; which stops notifications, frees up memory and reduces network access for background apps to reduce latency when gaming.
Speaking of networking, if you’re looking to ride the bleeding edge of mobile technology right now, the OnePlus 7 Pro is the only phone in this lineup that comes with a 5G variant, offering support for the fastest mobile data speeds on the planet. As such, you’re future-proofed for forthcoming gaming experiences like Google Stadia. What’s more, a recent independent review of 5G phones by RootMetrics rendered the OnePlus 7 Pro 5G the fastest of all 5G phones currently on the market.
- Read our OnePlus 7 Pro review
3. Red Magic 3
Premium gaming features without the price
- Great gaming accessories
- Massive battery capacity
- Fan keeps phone cool
- Incredibly good value
- Superb performance
- Refresh rate not as good as pricier rivals
- Enormous size makes typing awkward
- Camera lacks versatility
The recently announced Red Magic 3 is an impressive assortment of gamer-focused features and hardware in an astoundingly affordable package.
It’s powered by a standard Snapdragon 855 and between 8GB or 12GB of RAM. Like the current ROG Phone, it boasts a 90Hz-capable AMOLED display (with HDR support), features capacitive shoulder triggers and a whopping 5000mAh battery like the Mate 20 X.
To keep things cool, the Red Magic team have even imbued the phone with an integrated ‘turbo fan’ for active air cooling during particularly intense gaming sessions, whilst the phone still retains IP55-certified protection against the elements.
More hardcore players can cough up a little extra to acquire the Joy-Con-like detachable Pro Handle physical controllers for greater accuracy, as well as the Magic Adapter, which lets you charge the phone more easily in landscape, adds a secondary headphone jack and a dedicated ethernet port for super-speedy wired connectivity.
In practice, the fan is near silent, especially if you’re enjoying audio via wired headphones or the dual front-facing stereo speakers, while performance benchmarks place the Red Magic 3 amongst the most competent phones on the market.
Being a gaming phone, you also benefit from the dedicated Game Space software, which grants easy access and greater control over unique features, like the phone’s fans and rear RGB lighting strip. It’s activated by switching a physical toggle on the phone’s left side and collates all the games installed on the Red Magic 3 into an easy-to-navigate landscape interface.
The Red Magic 3’s creators, Nubia, are also undercutting the phone’s prominent rival in the Black Shark 2 by a fair few quid, meaning you’re getting more for your money. The phone can be had in its 8GB/128GB configuration in black or red, or is available in a camo finish for those willing to fork out an additional £90, for which you’ll also land yourself with 12GB of RAM and twice the internal storage.
- Read our Red Magic 3 review
4. Asus ROG Phone
Killer gaming accessories
- AirTrigger controls are a gamer’s dream
- Innovative peripherals system
- Solid performance
- Great screen
- Not enough games that take advantage of the hardware
- Battery life could be better
Asus’ ROG (Republic of Gamers) brand is a hugely prominent player in PC gaming space, but last year it also made a play in the smartphone market. While the underpinnings, in its Snapdragon 845 processor, land the ROG Phone behind most of the other players here, based on raw performance, it takes many of the sensibilities of the Black Shark and turns the dial up to eleven.
Like the Black Shark, it features liquid cooling, adaptable gamepad support and you can again play connected to your TV, although in this case, thanks to the company’s WiGig Display Dock, you can do so wirelessly.
You also have the option of the Desktop Dock for PC-style play, letting you attach a keyboard, mouse, monitor and wired ethernet connection, as well as the AeroActive Cooler, which sticks a powered fan on the back of the phone to keep temperatures down and performance up while on the go.
It also integrates Asus’ Aura RGB lighting and AirTriggers – capacitive areas mounted on the corners of the phone to act as shoulder buttons when gaming. Like the OnePlus, the AMOLED display also supports up to a 90Hz refresh rate, for super-smooth visuals.
- Read our Asus ROG Phone review
5. Razer Phone 2
Super-smooth display, stellar audio
- Variable refresh screen is great for gaming
- Leading in class speakers
- Powerful performance
- Camera still isn’t flagship level
- Design is divisive
Razer is one of the biggest names in PC gaming and its smartphones serve as the poster children for modern mobile gaming. The Razer Phone 2 is a considered upgrade on the original that retains similar hard-edges and strong looks but offers some slick upgrades like a glass back that allows wireless charging, as well as the standard assortment of performance-specific enhancements.
At its heart is a Snapdragon 845, just as with the ROG Phone, paired with vapour chamber cooling, 8GB of RAM and 64GB of storage for solid performance across the board.
The main highlights are its 5.72-inch IGZO display and its dual front-facing speakers. The LCD panel is wonderfully crisp, thanks to its 2560 x 1440 resolution, but the real star is its 120Hz ‘UltraMotion’ technology. Slicker than even the OnePlus and ROG Phone, the Razer offers astoundingly smooth visuals on supported games.
What’s more, if you don’t fancy donning headphones, this device has some of the best-sounding speakers of any smartphone out right now – with dual amplifiers, Dolby Atmos support and a 24-bit DAC audio adapter onboard for good measure.
- Read our Razer Phone 2 review
6. iPhone XR
Cheaper than a XS, still plenty of power
- XS features for less money
- Fantastic performance
- Very capable camera
- Great battery life
- Will be too large for some
- No fast charger included
The iPhone XR is the best-selling member of Apple’s current 2018/2019 lineup, however, that’s not solely down to the fact that it’s the cheapest of the current bunch. While it packs a 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display, compared to the XS line’s OLED-based offerings, has a touch less RAM (3GB) and only sports a single primary camera on the back, it still benefits from the same superb Apple A12 Bionic chipset as its pricier siblings.
This SoC (System on Chip) offers more than enough clout to power through the latest and greatest mobile games, and paired to the XR’s comparatively humble display resolution, results in consistently smooth gaming, even over extended periods.
What’s more, the incoming release of iOS 13 will add native gamepad support for those using a PlayStation Dualshock 4 or Xbox One S controller.
- Read our iPhone XR review
7. iPhone XS Max
The biggest, baddest iPhone right now
- Face ID remains the best at facial recognition
- Welcome camera improvements
- Strong battery life
- Lovely, big screen
- Eye-watering prices both SIM-free and on contract
- iOS doesn’t make the most of the big display
- No fast charger included
- It’s heavy
If saving a bit of money on the iPhone XR is of no concern to you, you might as well fork out for the iPhone XS Max. It’s expensive, sure, but it also boasts the biggest and best iPhone display ever.
This is a big slab of a phone, fronted by an expansive 6.5-inch Super Retina HD display, which relies on HDR-capable OLED tech and a competently-crisp 2688 x 1242 resolution. In real-world use, it’s a stunning display that’s great for enjoying media and, of course, gaming.
The Max leverages the same excellent A12 Bionic chip, complete with its custom Apple-designed GPU, however, unlike the XR, this time around it’s accompanied by even more memory (4GB RAM), which should help further push fluidity. Incoming iOS 13 will also be making its way onto the XS and XS Max too, including console gamepad support.
- Read our iPhone XS Max review
There are a few handsets that also fall within the realm of consideration if you’re in the market for a gaming phone but for one reason or another, we can’t yet recommend them wholeheartedly.
The Honor Play is an older device in the grand scheme of the mobile landscape, but its affordable gaming focus is still worth looking at. It leverages a Kirin 970 SoC and supports Huawei’s/Honor’s GPU Turbo feature, for optimised performance on select games. It’s also impressively affordable, coming in at under £300.
The current US lawsuit still casts a shadow over Huawei and Honor devices, and by extension our recommendation of them, however, the skies look like they’re clearing for the Chinese companies. Once all’s well again, we’ll no doubt bump devices like the Play into the list above.
- Read our Honor Play review
Huawei Mate 20 X
Launched alongside its similarly-named siblings, the ‘x-factor’ that this Mate 20 variant possesses takes the form of a super-sized 7.2-inch display and a whopping 5000mAh battery to match. Add in impressive fast charging the company’s latest Kirin 980 chip and you’ve got a powerful gaming device on your hands.
Like the Honor Play, our recommendation of the Huawei Mate 20 X is stifled only by the current political implications that the company finds itself in. That and the sheer size of the phone, which won’t be to every gamers’ tastes.
- Read our Huawei Mate 20 X review
Asus ROG Phone 2
Asus’ ROG Phone is only in this list whilst we salivate over the promise of its successor, the ROG Phone 2. For a start, the ROG Phone 2 is bigger and offers improved functionality in the form of lower-latency AirTriggers and a bevvy of upgraded and additional accessories.
It’s also set to be the first phone on the market to debut Qualcomm’s freshly-enhanced Snapdragon 855 Plus chipset, which promises 15% greater GPU performance over the standard 855 that some of the other entrants in this lineup employ.
The phone also borrows the Black Shark 2’s 240Hz lightning-fast touch responsiveness, alongside the Razer Phone 2’s super-smooth 120Hz refresh rate, however, in this case, paired with AMOLED display technology.
Once the phone launches, we’ll be sure to put it through its paces and make sure it’s worthy of a place on this list.
Black Shark 2 Pro
Much like the ROG Phone 2, the Black Shark 2 Pro has been announced but isn’t yet available to purchase outside of China. The phone sports a modified design over the standard Shark 2 but retains qualities like its ‘X-type’ antenna design.
Black Shark has managed to shave down touch latency even further (from 43.5ms down to 34.7ms) and graced the phone with the same enhanced Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus SoC as the ROG Phone 2, along with a minimum 12GB of RAM.