Gaming on phones has been a thing ever since we all first booted up our Nokia 3310s for hours on Snake, before our iPhones became clogged with hours of Candy Crush Saga. But increasingly smartphones are becoming viable gaming devices alongside home consoles and these are the best ones you can buy.
Such is the power of modern smartphones. Gaming sensations like Fortnite and PUBG can thank their mobile platform and portability for ridiculous run-away success. And it’s no wonder considering the power inside the best smartphones around.
While the latest Apple and Samsung phones are capable of running the most demanding mobile games, the market is so popular that there are also dedicated gaming phones like the Asus ROG Phone 3, Red Magic 5G and Black Shark 3. Since there are only a handful like this, we’ve also included the odd ‘normal’ phones that also offer a good gaming experience.
Do you need all the highest specs?
These phones often have specialised hardware or even sometimes clip-on controllers to help you game better. Internals often have boosts in RAM or the most powerful CPU or GPU to help the phone keep up, while high refresh rate displays are common to allow you to hit even higher frame rates while playing. A couple even have liquid cooling.
Specs are pretty important if you want to game to the highest level on a phone, but it does depend on which games you want to run smoothly. If you are more into arcade or puzzle games then you might not need to splash out on a high-end gaming phone.
Below are our recommend best phones for gaming. Take some time to consider which has the best features at the best price for you, for the games you want to be able to run.
Best gaming phone 2020
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1. Asus ROG Phone 2 – Best Overall
The Asus ROG Phone 2 is the best gaming phone we’ve tested to date. Okay, it doesn’t have mass appeal but that’s not the aim here.
Gaming is the priority here and Asus has taken the already decent original and made it even better. This second-gen device gets a 120Hz screen, huge 6000mAh battery, improved performance and more. All of this at a price cheaper than big-name flagships.
They’re not related to gaming, but even the cameras are pretty great which is unusual for a gaming phone. We can only really complain about the size and weight, but that’s not so applicable in the gaming sector.
It’s worth noting that the ROG Phone 3 has been revealed, and is due to be released in September 2020.
Read our full Asus ROG Phone 2 review
2. OnePlus 8 Pro – Best Flagship for Gaming
The OnePlus 8 Pro is arguably the company’s first full flagship, finally incorporating long-requested features like wireless charging and an IP68 waterproof rating, while upgrading the display to a blistering 120Hz – ideal for gaming.
Understandably the price has gone up accordingly, but at £799/$899 for the base model – no slouch at 8GB RAM and 128GB storage – it still represents serious value by flagship standards, meaning you will save at least some money by opting for OnePlus over most other manufacturers. You can save even more with the £599/$699 OnePlus 8, though you’ll have to give up a few features and downgrade the display to 90Hz.
The 8 Pro camera is OnePlus’s best yet, and while it still lags behind rivals slightly in some software the hardware is among the best around, which has helped to close the gap considerably. Throw in 5G, a great design, and the best Android skin around and the OnePlus 8 Pro is easy to recommend to anyone who can afford it.
Read our full OnePlus 8 Pro review
3. Red Magic 5S – 5G gaming on a budget
Nubia has once again succeeded in producing an excellent gaming phone with the Red Magic 5S, but that’s no surprise considering it’s almost identical to its predecessor.
320Hz shoulder triggers, UFS 3.1 and a claimed 4.3% better cooling system aside, this is basically the same phone that went on sale five months earlier.
Everything I said in that review applies here. The 144Hz refresh rate display truly is breathtaking, and combined with a Snapdragon 865 processor and up to 12GB of RAM performance across the board is superb. Battery life is impressive and the built-in fan works wonders for gaming.
The in-display fingerprint scanner is much improved, but software frustrations remain and the cameras are fairly underwhelming.
Unless you’ve already bought the Red Magic 5G, you won’t be disappointed if you pick up the 5S.
Read our full Nubia Red Magic 5S review
4. iPhone 12 – Best iPhone for gaming
When it comes to gaming on iOS, the 6.1in iPhone 12 is the one to beat. Sure, it doesn’t feature the 6GB of RAM of the iPhone 12 Pro, but Apple’s 5nm A14 Bionic is one of the most powerful chipsets on the market right now and can handle just about anything you can throw at it without a hint of stutter or lag – and our benchmarks back that up too.
Importantly, the iPhone 12 sports the Super Retina XDR display previously exclusive to Apple’s Pro line of iPhones. This means you can enjoy an upgraded visual experience compared to the LCD display of the iPhone 11, and you’re not losing out by not opting for the Pro model.
The only downside is that, like the rest of the iPhone range, the iPhone 12 is capped at 60Hz. That’s far from the buttery smooth displays of many Android rivals in our chart, but it’s a sacrifice that has to be made if you want access to the exclusive titles in Apple Arcade on the go.
Read our full Apple iPhone 12 review
5. Vivo Iqoo 3 5G – Great value, difficult to find
The Vivo Iqoo 3 is India’s first 5G gaming phone and boasts impressive speed, performance and excellent battery life. What makes it even more attractive is its price. Though it’s not available directly in the UK, you can pick it up for around £600 or less from retailers like Banggood or eBay, and non-5G options cost even less.
In terms of gaming specs, the phone comes with dedicated pressure-sensitive gaming buttons along the side and an Ultra Gaming Mode that lets you customize a seamless gaming experience. You can activate 4D game vibration, customize air triggers or block calls while gaming – the list goes on.
It’s powered with a top-tier Snapdragon 865 making it a worthy competitor against the Asus ROG 2 Phone, but at a lower price point.
Whether you’re a gamer or not it’s easy to see the appeal of the Iqoo 3. It’s just a shame you can’t easily find it on UK high streets.
Read our full Vivo Iqoo 3 5G review
6. Black Shark 3 – A great ecosystem of accessories
The Black Shark 3 hardly reinvents the wheel when it comes to gaming phones, but there are some useful upgrades here.
Of course, a Snapdragon 865 processor and 8 or 12GB of RAM means performance is truly excellent, while some thoughtful touches in Shark Space should make it a hit with gamers. Other highlights include some significant camera improvements and staggeringly fast charging speeds.
My main frustration is the accessories, with a bulky fan and expensive gaming pad adding little to my experience. The magnetic charging cable is a great idea, though.
It certainly isn’t what most people have in mind when considering a new smartphone, but Xiaomi has plenty of phones that cater to mainstream interests. With the Black Shark 3, it hopes gaming fanatics will buy into its vision for the future of mobile gaming.
With the baseline model priced identically to the Red Magic 5G, it gives people serious about mobile gaming a big decision to make.
Read our full Black Shark 3 review
7. Samsung Galaxy S20+ – More than a gaming phone
There’s no denying that the Samsung Galaxy S20+ is both an exceptional flagship and one of the most well-rounded phones on the market right now, and that makes it a great gaming phone too.
You get a larger 6.7in display and WQHD+ resolution, HDR10+ visuals and most exciting of all, the new 120Hz refresh rate. Performance is also top-notch meaning it’s great for enjoying media and gaming, there’s 5G onboard and 25W fast charging means you can refill the phone’s 4500mAh battery in little over an hour.
While other gaming phones focus solely on the gaming experience, the Samsung S20+ is a great all-rounder.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20+ review
8. Oppo Find X2 Pro – Performance at a price
The Oppo Find X2 Pro is a phenomenal phone by any measure. The 6.7in, 10-bit, 120Hz, QHD+ panel is the best display in any phone right now, perfect for mobile gaming, and Oppo backs it up with the fastest wired charging around at 65W to get you back in the game quicker.
You’ll have to live without wireless charging, and the choice between bland grey ceramic or garish orange vegan leather finishes might leave some struggling to find a design that suits their style.
For pure performance though, the Find X2 Pro is among the best around, with all of the above plus a Snapdragon 865 5G, 512GB storage, and 12GB RAM – you just have to be willing to pay the price, as it doesn’t come cheap.
Read our full Oppo Find X2 Pro review
9. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra – The ultra-premium option
Another expensive, yet worthy, option is the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra. While it’s focused primarily on productivity, the 6.7in Full HD+ AMOLED display, complete with 120Hz refresh rate, makes it a great gaming phone too.
That’s backed up by the latest Snapdragon 865 Plus and 12GB of RAM (in the US, anyway – UK users get the same Exynos 990 as the S20 range) so expect high-end performance, and you’ll get all the other little extras you should expect from a premium flagship, including great camera performance, decent battery life and a nicer build than most gaming phones available right now.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review
10. Nubia Red Magic 3S – A cheap gaming experience
The Red Magic 3S has built on the success of its predecessor to provide an almost complete mobile gaming experience.
The 90Hz display is a joy to use, while front-facing stereo speakers and a dedicated gaming mode are all too rare on modern handsets.
However, there are a few areas where it is lacking, most notably in a disappointing implementation of cameras and thick bezels. Having tested the Red Magic 3, we were hoping for more of an upgrade in these areas.
At this price point, it is far more affordable than the other dedicated gaming handsets too.
If you haven’t owned a gaming phone before, the slick and polished UI on the Red Magic 3S provides a truly memorable mobile experience.
Read our full Nubia Red Magic 3S review