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The 7 best phones for gaming in 2020

We've made it pretty easy for you to choose your next smartphone for a first-rate mobile gaming experience

Isabela Alzuguir
| Updated on
The 7 best phones for gaming in 2020© 2021 Aurielaki/Shutterstock.com

Long gone are the days when mobile gaming was restricted to Snake and other 8-bit games. Sure, we have fond memories of past tech novelties that helped us survive waiting rooms and total boredom over the years. But isn't it great that we can now take part in hydro jet races and venture through the cosmos with all the equipment we need literally at our fingertips?

Riptide GP Renegade (Vector Unit).jpg
Riptide GP Renegade (Vector Unit)

The bar for mobile gaming keeps being raised. Characters keep crossing over to pop culture, and giant game developers such as Blizzard now bet on mobile experiences like the upcoming and much anticipated Diablo Immortal. While this is fantastic for gamers, it takes a top-grade smartphone for smooth gameplay. We know how annoying it can be to have a game crash when you're about to complete a tough mission or to have graphics seem so extraordinary in trailers but underwhelming on your screen. Mobile gamers deserve a hassle-free, exciting experience, and we've got you covered with the current 7 best phones for gaming.

Diablo Immortal (Blizzard Entertainment)
Diablo Immortal (Blizzard Entertainment)

How to choose a top-performing phone for gaming

Let's first dive into the main specs to consider when choosing a smartphone for gaming: total clock speed, RAM, internal storage, screen size, resolution, and battery power. Why are they crucial for an optimal mobile gaming experience?

Although it's not the only attribute that makes for a processor's performance, the CPU speed is a significant indicator. Measured in clock cycles per second, you'll find this information under the unit gigahertz (GHz). It's also critical to keep the number of cores in mind when looking for a fast processor; the CPU speed, or total clock speed, considers the number of cores in a CPU and the clock speed of each of them. When playing a game on your smartphone, the last thing you want is to have your character move at level-1-Snake-game speed, so go big with those GHz.

Snake Game (Nokia)
The ancient "Snake" game on an equally ancient Nokia 6310i phone
(© Peter Gudella / Shutterstock)

Make sure to also look for high RAM capacity: the more RAM a phone has, the faster it can read and write data. RAM temporarily stores data for easy access, so your system doesn't have to hunt for operating information that could be anywhere on the internal storage unit – speaking of which, we need to talk about it. Why? Because although external memory slots can make you forget about the dismal days when phones kept running out of space, ample internal storage is still essential for gamers. The reason is that some flagship phones don't have microSD card slots (hello, Apple), and not all games allow for external card installation. Keep in mind that complex games demand tons of space. One example is Call of Duty Mobile (Activision Blizzard, Inc.), which requires about 1.5GB of internal storage space on Android phones.

Now let's discuss screen size and resolution. Current games are exceptionally visually appealing, and there's no need to get a headache while trying to capture every detail. Going for a larger screen and more resolution is a good move. There's no sense in investing time and money in games with elaborate graphics if you can't visualize them.

Finally, the downside of having access to state-of-the-art games is that they can drain your device's battery. If your phone doesn't have substantial battery power, you may find yourself in trouble. Think about your phone dying in the middle of a long, lonesome train ride, while all you wanted was to explore a magical realm for hours on end (like the dreamworld of Samorost 3, by Amanita Design).

What about Google Stadia and cloud gaming?

Released in the fall of 2019, Google Stadia is an innovative cloud gaming service that allows users to stream video games up to 4K resolution and offers various data centers worldwide to ensure gamers can always connect to their favorite games. Why’s this important for those interested in a smartphone for gaming purposes? Not all phones support Google Stadia.

Currently, Google Stadia is only accessible via Google Pixel phones, Chrome OS tablets, and a few other smartphone brands such as OnePlus, Asus, Razer, and Samsung. A year after its release, Google announced that they’re working on building an iOS web application for Stadia, meaning that Apple lovers will have to wait a bit longer to take advantage of the cloud gaming service.

If you’re looking to take advantage of a Google Stadia subscription, it’s important to first check that the phone you’re interested in supports Stadia and will allow you to connect to the cloud service.

How our top picks made the cut

Before we dive in, let's do a quick recap of the main specs we've considered when picking options for your next gaming smartphone:

  • Total clock speed
  • RAM
  • Internal Storage
  • Screen Size
  • Resolution
  • Battery Power

You may think that all of this is too much to keep in mind, but there's no reason to worry: we've got handpicked suggestions lined up for you, so let's get down to our 7 best phones for gaming.

  • Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra
    1

    1. Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

    3,785 points

    Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra

    The 6.9-inch Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is possibly the smartphone with the best display on the market today. With a maximum refresh rate of 120Hz and a 240Hz touch response rate, it makes for smooth and sharp graphics and accurate touch capture. The Dynamic AMOLED Infinity-O screen has various resolution options: from 1,600 x 720 to 3,200 x 1,440 pixels, and the refresh rate can also be adjusted. However, 120Hz is what you'll want as a gamer.

    Available in cosmic gray and cosmic black, the Galaxy S20 Ultra supports 5G connectivity and has a 5,000mAh intelligent battery that adjusts to the user's habits to optimize usage. Depending on the market, the flagship runs on an Exynos 990 or a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 chipset; in both cases, performance is quite strong for any mobile gaming experience. Another highlight for gamers is the ability to suspend up to five apps, meaning there's no need for reloading when a user switches between apps.

    The Galaxy S20 Ultra is available in three variants:

    An additional 1TB of storage can be added via MicroSD. Furthermore, the flagship packs a powerful camera system with 108MP, 10x hybrid optic zoom, and the possibility of recording 8K video – which, at least for now, seems like overkill.

  • Asus ROG Phone III
    2

    2. Asus ROG Phone III

    3,031 points

    Asus ROG Phone III

    There’s no denying that the Asus ROG Phone 2 is a seriously powerful phone. It runs on the 2.96GHz Snapdragon 855 Plus chipset and offers up to 12GB of RAM, an AeroActive Cooler 2 cooling attachment, and a finger resting trigger with customizable dual vibration and the Ultrasonic AirTriggers II. Now, imagine all of that but better. You’ll find it in the Asus ROG Phone 3.


    Boasting a 144Hz 6.59-inch AMOLED screen, a 6,000mAh battery for extended gameplay, and up to 16GB of RAM, this third-generation gaming phone easily makes our list. It’s ranked as a top phone for everyday users as well, although the add-on accessories make it particularly attractive (and, sadly, more costly than other phones on this list). The Kunai GamePad is one such accessory, which turns the ROG Phone II into a portable console like the Nintendo Switch, and the TwinView Dock II. More than a simple connection dock, the TwinView provides extra cooling power, 5,000mAh of battery, and another 120Hz screen for your gaming experience. If this luxury accessory sparked your interest, check out the video below.

  • Xiaomi Black Shark 3 Pro
    3

    3. Xiaomi Black Shark 3 Pro

    3,181 points

    Xiaomi Black Shark 3 Pro

    This gaming phone's predecessor already gave competitors a run for their money, and manufacturers will have to work hard to beat the Black Shark 3 Pro any time soon. Running on a Snapdragon 865 chipset (the most advanced mobile chipset at the time of the launch), the model supports 5G and is available in 8GB and 12GB versions. The flagship flaunts a 5,000mAh battery that, according to the manufacturer, can be recharged in 38 minutes.

    The Black Shark 3 Pro is equipped with a massive 7.1-inch AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate and a low screen latency of 24 milliseconds – a record at the release date – that is expected to satisfy gamers. Besides the display technology, the overall design clearly takes the target audience into account. The phone has trigger-like shoulder buttons with tactile feedback, and it's possible to attach magnetic packs for wireless charging while gaming. Still considering the design, the Black Shark 3 Pro's bezels may seem off-putting at first. However, they make it easier to hold the gaming phone and play without accidentally touching the screen.

    Xiaomi significantly improved the series' camera technology: the Black Shark 3 Pro has a triple-camera setup with a depth-sensing camera. Moreover, the model has an in-display fingerprint scanner, front-facing stereo speakers, and introduces a 3.5mm audio jack to the series, which will please gamers that favor wired sound. Additionally, the Black Shark 3 Pro can be turned into a portable console with the attachment of a gamepad with joystick and buttons.

  • ZTE Nubia Red Magic 5G
    4

    4. ZTE Nubia Red Magic 5G

    3,122 points

    ZTE Nubia Red Magic 5G

    Looking for a budget-friendly phone for gaming? The Nubia Red Magic 5G is your best bet as it’s a phone designed specifically for gamers (meaning that those interested in a high-quality camera and other top-tier software features might feel like they’re missing something with the device). Similar to the OnePlus 8 Pro, it’s powered by the Snapdragon 8675 processor and boasts 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM.

    Where things get really interesting for gamers is when you begin to look at the specs of the impressive 6.65-inch AMOLED screen. The 144Hz refresh rate and 240Hz touch sampling truly enhance gameplay to provide users with a totally lag-free experience that looks crystal-clear and lifelike.

    Two programmable shoulder trigger buttons make the phone feel more like a gaming device than a phone, and the added fan controls ensure that you’re able to play graphics-heavy games for hours without fear of overheating the device.

  • OnePlus 8 Pro
    5

    5. OnePlus 8 Pro

    3,809 points

    OnePlus 8 Pro

    Often ranked as one of the best Android phones for gaming, the OnePlus 8 Pro is an excellent choice for gamers looking to enjoy high-quality graphics and lightning-fast processing while still getting to reap the benefits of the phone’s numerous other top features.

    Powered by the lightning-fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, the phone’s 120 Hz Fluid Display allows users to enjoy the magnificent beauty of 1.07 billion possible hues (that’s 64 times more than other mainstream phones) while playing games. The screen’s 120 Hz refresh rate makes playing games feel life-like and immersive and swiping feels smooth and effortless. However, that’s not all that makes this phone great for gamers.

    The OnePlus 8 Pro offers two ready-to-go game modes for enthusiastic players. Game Space helps boost the CPU, GPU, and RAM while playing games, giving you the option to optimize graphics for clearer visuals. You can also use Fnatic Mode, which further optimizes the features of the phone, enhances connectivity, and pauses notifications that can interrupt your gameplay.

  • Razer Phone 2
    6

    6. Razer Phone 2

    2,866 points

    Razer Phone 2

    If you're a gamer on a budget, you may not want to snub the Razer Phone 2. Despite its unappealing design (like the predecessor's), the Phone 2 packs premium features for gamers; after all, Razer is mainly a gaming hardware manufacturer, and players are its primary audience. Powered by Qualcomm's Snapdragon 845 chipset, the flagship has a vapor-chamber cooling system and a 5-inch, 120Hz display for smooth graphics and accurate touch response. The cooling system dissipates heat throughout the device, avoiding heat concentration – one of the leading causes for performance issues.

    Moreover, the flagship has surround-compatible front-firing stereo speakers by Dolby Atmos and an illuminated logo with customizable RGB lighting and personalized notification alerts. The Phone 2 has wireless charging, IP67 water resistance, 8GB of RAM (no upgrade from the preceding model), a 4,000mAh battery, and a dual-lens rear camera system with Sony's IMX sensors. Like the previous version, there's no headphone jack, but an adapter instead.

  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro
    7

    7. Apple iPhone 12 Pro

    3,326 points

    Apple iPhone 12 Pro

    Since its release, the iPhone 12 Pro has become the best gaming iPhone on the market, booting the iPhone 11 Pro Max off many gaming top lists. Ranked well for the access it provides users to the best games ecosystem, its powerful processor, and plenty of storage, the iPhone 12 Pro is a great option for die-hard Apple fans who want to stay loyal to the brand but still want a powerful gaming device.

    Perhaps one of the largest benefits for gamers using the iPhone 12 Pro is the access to both the App Store and Apple Arcade for a near-endless library of games. The phone’s powered by an upgraded A14 Bionic processor (compared to the A13 you’ll find in the iPhone 11), offering quite a delightfully fast and spectacular show when it comes to games. In fact, it’s so powerful that it offers 50% better CPU and GPU performance than previous models of the Bionic processor.


    And, when it comes to the display, it’s hard to beat the specs of this new Apple phone. It’s similar to the iPhone 11 Pro in that it features a Super Retina XDR OLED screen with an impressive 2,000,000:1 contrast ratio while also supporting HDR10, Dolby Vision, and HLG. Combine all of those features with other top-tier specs and you’ve got a great phone for gaming and everyday processing.

The 7 best phones for gaming: specs overview

CPU speedRAMscreen sizeresolutionbattery powerinternal storage
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra2 x 2.7 & 4 x 2.4 & 2 x 1.95GHz16GB6.9"1440 x 3200px5000mAh512GB
Asus ROG Phone III1 x 3.1 & 3 x 2.42 & 4 x 1.8GHz16GB6.59"1080 x 2340px6000mAh512GB
Xiaomi Black Shark 3 Pro1 x 2.84 & 3 x 2.42 & 4 x 1.8GHz12GB7.1"1440 x 3120px5000mAh512GB
ZTE Nubia Red Magic 5G1 x 2.84 & 3 x 2.42 & 4 x 1.8GHz16GB6.65"1080 x 2340px4500mAh256GB
OnePlus 8 Pro1 x 2.84 & 3 x 2.42 & 4 x 1.8GHz12GB6.78"1440 x 3168px4510mAh256GB
Razer Phone 24 x 2.8 & 4 x 1.77GHz8GB5.72"1440 x 2560px4000mAh64GB
Apple iPhone 12 Pro2 x 3.1 & 4 x 1.8GHz6GB6.1"1170 x 2532px2815mAh512GB
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