The best gaming phones of 2021
(Image credit: Asus)
The best gaming phones offer a console-quality gaming experience while also giving you all the practicalities of a normal smartphone. These are purpose-built devices with the best processors, RAM and displays on the market to make your mobile games look and feel great to play.
Companies like Razer and Asus names that gamers are likely very well-acquainted with by now have lent their expertise in the field to produce purpose-built, gaming-focused handsets. But recent flagships from Samsung and OnePlus, with their class-leading specs, are also great for demanding titles.
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If you like to dip into rounds of Fortnite or Arena of Valor on the go, these are the best gaming phones for the job.
What are the best gaming phones?
If you’re after the best blend of performance, ergonomics and gaming-centric special features, like a high-refresh rate display and a clever cooling system to sustain hours of performance, you can’t do better right now than the Asus ROG Phone 3. The combination of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 Plus chipset, at least 12GB of memory, a 144Hz panel and a beefy 6,000-mAh battery checks all the boxes for a premium mobile gaming experience.
But what if you want something that delivers for gaming but is a better all-around device? In that case, we recommend the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, which is indeed pricey at $1,299 but offers the very same chipset as in the ROG Phone 3, was one of the first phones to support Xbox Game Pass streaming and has an adaptive 120Hz refresh-rate display.
Another option is the OnePlus 8 Pro, which also packs a 120Hz panel, as well as excellent software courtesy of OnePlus’ Oxygen OS front-end atop Android 10. And if you want the cheapest path to premium performance, the RedMagic 5G offers the best bang for your buck, with the very same CPU as OnePlus’ flagships and a screen as responsive as the ROG Phone 3’s, starting at a price under the $600 mark.
What about iPhones? Well, Apple’s handsets don’t have a wealth of gaming-related features, like high refresh-rate displays and customizable inputs, but they do have Cupertino’s peerless silicon. The A14 Bionic chipset in the iPhone 12 Pro Max is faster than Qualcomm’s best equivalent, which makes it ideal for the most demanding games.
Although it doesn’t quite match the Note 20 Ultra’s power and display, last year’s Galaxy S20 Plus is yet another well-rounded Samsung device for gaming, combining a phenomenal screen with a quartet of great cameras and top tier performance. However, you’ll pay similarly a high price for the privilege, as it costs $1,199. Fortunately, the Galaxy S20 FE offers similar specs for far less, at only $699. However, Samsung just introduced a new Galaxy S21 lineup, highlighted by the Galaxy S21 Ultra. That phone costs the same as the Galaxy S21 Plus’s debut price, despite having a more powerful Snapdragon 888 processor. Expect a review soon.
Read on for a deeper look into each of the best gaming phones Tom’s Guide has tested, from their performance specs to pros and cons.
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(Image credit: Asus)
1. Asus ROG Phone 3
The best gaming phone, period
Display size (Pixels): 6.6-inch AMOLED (2340×1080) | Peak refresh rate: 144Hz | CPU: Snapdragon 865 Plus | RAM: 12GB, 16GB | Storage/Expandable: 512GB / No | Cameras (Back/Front): 64MP wide, 13MP ultrawide, 5MP macro / 24MP | Weight: 8.5 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 14:30
Powerful gaming performance
Long battery life
Useful native software
Gets hot quickly
If you are serious about your mobile games, and if you don’t want to settle for anything less than the highest frame rates, crispest graphics and longest battery life, the Asus ROG Phone 3 is the device you’ve been waiting for.
With a 6.6-inch 144Hz AMOLED display, the ROG Phone 3’s screen has the highest refresh rate available in a handset today. That, coupled with the device’s 270Hz touch sampling rate, makes this the most responsive smartphone by far in terms of tapping or executing an action on the touch screen and getting an immediate response. With Snapdragon 865 Plus power, 512GB of built-in storage and up to 16GB of RAM, it’s one quick phone under the hood, too.
But the ROG Phone 3 has clearly been designed with gaming in mind in other respects. The port on the side can be used to plug in an external fan that comes with the phone, which also features an optional kickstand. And even the display’s top and bottom bezels are actually useful for when you’re using touchscreen controls. While you might think zero bezels on a phone’s display sounds great, it actually isn’t the most convenient thing for gaming because it leaves your thumbs with nowhere to rest and can result in accidental screen taps.
All this is to say the Asus ROG Phone 3 is a complete solution for mobile gamers, though we wish it would get a little less toasty during gameplay.
Read our full Asus ROG Phone 3 review.
(Image credit: Future)
2. Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra
The best gaming phone for more than just gaming
Display: 6.9-inch AMOLED (3088×1440) | CPU: Snapdragon 865 Plus | RAM: 12GB | Storage / Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / Yes | Rear camera: 108MP wide (ƒ/1.8); 12MP telephoto with 5x optical zoom (ƒ/3.0); 12MP ultrawide (ƒ/2.2) | Front camera: 10MP (ƒ/2.2) | Weight: 7.33 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:15
Dynamic 6.9-inch 120Hz display
Smoother S Pen performance
Powerful 50x zoom camera and laser autofocus
Very good battery life
The new Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra may not look much like a gaming phone, but rest assured this is one of the most powerful phones on the market, with the most advanced display you’ll find that can scale all the way up to a maximum of 120Hz or down to 30Hz or 60Hz to match the frame rate of on-screen content.
But the Note 20 Ultra is more than just a powerful flagship; it’s optimized to stream Xbox titles, via Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, and can even cast games to external displays via Samsung’s DeX interface and Miracast. Whatever you play or however you play it, the Note 20 Ultra’s Snapdragon 865 Plus and 12GB RAM will ensure a smooth experience so long as you have a stable internet connection for streaming, of course.
You won’t find the same extent of gamer-focused features in the latest high-end Note as you’d expect from the ROG Phone 3, like clip-on external cooling fans and customizable air triggers. Then again, if you need a powerful phablet for work as well as play, there’s no choice more versatile than the Note 20 Ultra. It’s worth mentioning that the $999, 6.7-inch Galaxy Note 20 is a great device too, though it only peaks at a 60Hz refresh rate.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra review.
(Image credit: OnePlus)
3. OnePlus 8 Pro
An affordable Galaxy Note 20 Ultra alternative
Display size (Pixels): 6.78-inch AMOLED (3168×1440) | Peak refresh rate: 120Hz | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 8GB, 12GB | Storage/Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No | Cameras (Back/Front): 48MP wide, 48MP ultrawide, 8MP telephoto, 5MP color sensor / 16MP | Weight: 7.01 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:05
Bright and beautiful 120Hz display
Solid quad cameras
Superfast wired and wireless charging
Curved display causes accidental taps
If you want a high-end Android phone for a bit less than what most high-end handsets cost, and you want peak performance for gaming without sacrificing on other amenities like design and camera quality, the OnePlus 8 Pro is a well-rounded proposition and a worthy recommendation.
The OLED display on OnePlus’ latest flagship measures 6.78 inches and packs a 1440p resolution, making the screen sharp as well as colorful. But the OnePlus 8 Pro rises toward the top of our best gaming phones list because of its 120Hz refresh rate, which makes for a remarkably smooth experience for the games that support it, like Fortnite. Even the touch sampling rate is boosted to 240Hz, giving you the instant response you need to claim victory.
Of course, the OnePlus 8 Pro succeeds in many other ways. It lasts long on a charge and supports faster wireless charging than most other devices out there. It features four cameras on the back which, while not quite as good as Apple’s, Samsung’s or Google’s imaging systems, are far better than what you’d ever get in any ordinary gaming phone. And the OnePlus 8 Pro has phenomenal software that actually adds some usefulness to Android 10.
All of this will set you back just $899, making the OnePlus 8 Pro one of the best values in premium phones right now.
Read our full OnePlus 8 Pro review.
(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
4. RedMagic 5G
Best gaming phone value
Display size (Pixels): 6.65-inch AMOLED (2340×1080) | Peak refresh rate: 144Hz | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 8GB, 12GB | Storage/Expandable: 128GB, 256GB / No | Cameras (Back/Front): 64MP wide, 8MP ultrawide, 2MP macro / 8MP | Weight: 7.68 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 11:23
Class-leading 144Hz display
Long battery life and fast charging
The RedMagic 5G is one of the cheapest pathways to Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 processor on the market right now, earning it a mention on this list of the best gaming phones. For just $579, you can have a device with a high-end chipset, up to 12GB of RAM and a 6.65-inch 144Hz AMOLED display with a flat design and slim bezels that are conducive to gaming. A fan inside also ensures the device can run demanding titles optimally, which is extremely important if you’re gaming for long stretches of time.
Of course, if fantastic software or camera performance is a priority for you, the RedMagic 5G isn’t going to be the best fit there are certainly more well-rounded handsets out there. However, they all cost more, and so those who prioritize gaming and the power needed to do so but have a more modest budget would be wise to consider it.
Read our full RedMagic 5G review.
(Image credit: Future)
5. iPhone 12 Pro Max
The best gaming phone for iPhone users
Display (Pixels): 6.7-inch OLED (2778 x 1284) | Peak refresh rate: 60Hz | CPU: A14 Bionic | RAM: 6GB | Storage/Expandable: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB / No | Cameras (Back/Front): 12MP wide, telephoto and ultrawide / 12 MP | Weight: 8.03 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:53
Bright and colorful display
A14 Bionic CPU more powerful than competition
Strong battery life
Excellent photography abilities
Only 60Hz refresh rate
128GB of storage on entry model
Expensive compared to rivals
With a 60Hz screen and just 6GB of RAM, you might initially recoil from gaming on an iPhone. However, the iPhone 12 Pro Max offers incomparable power, thanks to Apple’s A14 Bionic chipset, which still outpaces the Snapdragon 865 Plus in the ROG Phone 3 even with half of the RAM.
You also have to consider that a number of premier, flagship mobile titles arrive on iOS first, or through the Apple Arcade subscription program, which offers a hand-picked selection of quality games that aren’t offered elsewhere. And they all look and run absolutely dazzling on the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s 6.7-inch OLED display, even at a pedestrian 60Hz. It’s also worth pointing out that the iPhone 12 Pro Max is a supremely well-rounded handset in areas beyond gaming, excelling in particular with its camera quality and lengthy battery life.
That said, we can understand why someone in the market for a gaming phone may want to hold off before taking a plunge on one of Apple’s 2020 flagship handsets. It’s on the expensive end of the phones on this list, has smaller than average storage and doesn’t even come with a charging block. Apple charges for those separately these days.
Read our full iPhone 12 Pro Max review.
(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
6. Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus
A well-rounded Android gaming phone
Display (Pixels): 6.7-inch AMOLED (3200×1440) | Peak refresh rate: 120Hz | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 12GB | Storage/Expandable: 128GB, 512GB / Yes | Cameras (Back/Front): 12MP wide, 64MP telephoto, 12MP ultrawide, VGA time of flight / 10MP | Weight: 6.56 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 10:31
Impressive 64MP telephoto lens
Above-average battery life
Massive 6.7-inch display with 120 Hz refresh rate
120 Hz refresh rate hurts battery life
If you want a well-rounded Android phone with better cameras and a more sophisticated feature set than the OnePlus 8 Pro, that can also handle flagship games, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus is a smart choice, though at this point you may want to consider a phone from Samsung’s newer Galaxy S21 lineup instead.
Like the OnePlus 8 Pro, the S20 Plus has a 120Hz panel, Snapdragon 865 processor and 12GB of RAM. That makes it fast in every sense of the world. Plus, its 5G support extends to millimeter-wave networks as well as sub-6GHz ones, which allows for the quickest data speeds on the planet.
The Galaxy S20 Plus doesn’t offer much strictly in the way of dedicated gaming features though it’s just an all-around great (and, unfortunately, very expensive) flagship device. However with its successor, the Samsung Galaxy S21 just around the corner, things could change. Perhaps the S21 Plus will replace the S20 Plus on this list, or maybe due to its likely dramatically lowered price in light of the new hardware, the S20 Plus will still hold onto this spot.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus review.
(Image credit: Tom’s Guide)
7. LG V60 ThinQ 5G
A dual-screen gaming phone for a reasonable price
Display (Pixels): 6.8-inch OLED (2460×1080) | Peak refresh rate: 60Hz | CPU: Snapdragon 865 | RAM: 8GB | Storage/Expandable: 128GB / Yes | Cameras (Back/Front): 64MP wide, 13MP ultrawide, VGA time of flight / 10MP | Weight: 7.69 ounces | Battery life (Hrs:Mins): 12:46
Excellent battery life
Headphone jack intact
Dual Screen has software quirks
Not available unlocked
The LG V60 ThinQ 5G isn’t like other phones. That’s immediate the moment you lay eyes upon it in its Dual Screen case, and marvel at its two displays. LG offers this phone through carriers with the add-on included, and it’s actually quite affordable for the whole package, at roughly $800 from most networks.
With that extra display real estate, you can devote space to a dedicated virtual gamepad. What’s more, you can customize the on-screen buttons and appearance of that gamepad, and even build your own tailored for a specific game. It’s certainly a useful luxury to have if you’re an avid mobile gamer.
In other respects, though, the V60 ThinQ 5G is a respectable, pretty middle-of-the-road premium smartphone, with a massive 6.8-inch screen, Snapdragon 865 processor, three serviceable cameras on the back and long battery life out of a 5,000-mAh power pack. It’s certainly not the best gaming phone out there, but it’s worth consideration if you’re enticed by the idea of a smartphone with more space for games, inputs and multitasking.
Read our full LG V60 ThinQ 5G review.
How to choose the best gaming phone for you
As with all things, choosing the right gaming phone is a matter of priorities. If you’re after the best performance and you likely are if you’re reading this you’ll want a phone with a Snapdragon 8-series chipset or Apple’s A14 Bionic. Emphasis on the Snapdragon, as Qualcomm’s best silicon for Android phones is available in devices from a number of manufacturers.
But what about high refresh rates? That’s something you’ll only find on the more expensive end of the market, though it’s a feature that will surely descend to more modestly-priced phones over time. Panels rated at 90Hz and above offer smoother scrolling and overall graphics than conventional screens, making you feel as if every swipe, tap and action is eliciting a response with no delay. If you’re an especially serious competitive gamer, higher refresh rates will ensure you won’t miss any of the action.
Of course, the more a device is geared toward gaming with the appropriate features, the more phone makers ignore other considerations. While battery life is central to gaming (because games consume a lot of power), you’ll have a tougher time finding gaming phones with great camera hardware and software, or perhaps conveniences like wireless charging and water resistance. If those things are important to you, you may want to focus your search on the more powerful handsets on this list that aren’t strictly intended for gaming but can still very much hold their own, like the Galaxy S20 Plus and iPhone 12 Pro Max.
How we test gaming phones
In order for a smartphone to make any of our best phone lists gaming phone or otherwise it needs to excel on several tests that we run on every handset. We perform some of these tests in our labs and some in the real world.
When it comes to performance, we rely on such synthetic benchmarks as Geekbench 5 and GFXBench to measure graphics performance. These tests allow us to compare performance across iPhones and Android devices. We also run a real-world video transcoding test on each phone using the Adobe Premiere Rush app and time the result.
To measure the quality of a phone’s display, we perform lab tests to determine the brightness of the panel (in nits), as well as how colorful each screen is (DCI-P3 color gamut). In these cases, higher numbers are better. We also measure color accuracy of each panel with a Delta-E rating, where lower numbers are better and score of 0 is perfect.
One of the most important tests we run is the Tom’s Guide battery test. We run a web surfing test over 5G or 4G at 150 nits of screen brightness until the battery gives out. In general, a phone that lasts 10 hours or more is good, and anything above 11 hours makes our list of the best phone battery life.
Last but not least, we take the best phones out in the field to take photos outdoors, indoors and at night in low light to see how they perform versus their closest competitors. We take shots of landscapes, food, portraits and more, and also allow you to be the judge with side-by-side comparisons in our reviews.
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