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Monday, July 15, 2024

The Best Gaming Phones to Buy in 2023

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There has never been a better time to turn to our phones for gaming. Their screens are bigger and brighter than ever, and more and more of them are offering fast refresh rates on the display for smoother visuals. The power inside the best gaming phones also make them as capable as ever at running popular mobile games locally while 5G connectivity and faster Wi-Fi 6 improves the experience on the ever-improving cloud gaming services, including Nvidia GeForce Now and Xbox Game Pass.

The market for gaming phones is also getting extra spicy. It’s not just brands known for making gaming gear like Asus that are churning out compelling options, so you won’t be limited to just over-the-top, sometimes gaudy gaming phones to get a smartphone capable of offering a compelling gaming experience. We’ve rounded up our top picks of high-performance gaming smartphones that will give you the best chance of getting to the top of the scoreboard whether you’re on iOS or Android.

You can also check out our guide to the best phone controllers for accessory options.

TL;DR – These are the Best Gaming Phones:

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

Best Gaming Phone

Samsung Galaxy S23 UltraSamsung Galaxy S23 Ultra

The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra shines as an everyday phone with great software, a long battery life, and bordering-on professional cameras. But it’s also packing everything needed to be a true gaming champion. Under the hood is a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chip designed for Samsung Galaxy devices, letting it hit a slightly higher clock speed than other phones with that processor. When you combine that with 8GB of RAM, the phone won’t break a sweat running even the most intensive games at top settings, ensuring zero performance drops.

Your gaming experience will be enhanced further by the stunning, bright, and big 6.8-inch Super AMOLED display. The screen hits a wild 1,750 nits with vivid, accurate colors for easy, enjoyable viewing from just about anywhere. A speedy 120Hz refresh rate keeps graphics smooth, but the display can drop to 1Hz for battery conservation. It even has a stylus slotted inside, making it easy to jot down notes or sketch.

Xiaomi Black Shark 5

Best Budget Gaming Phone

Xiaomi Black Shark 5Xiaomi Black Shark 5

The Xiaomi Black Shark 5 isn't bred for excess in quite the same way as some of its competitors, but it is certainly an excellent option in the field of smartphones hovering around $500. The Snapdragon 870 chipset may not be the best available, but it’s no slouch. That, paired alongside the 12GB RAM, means it can load graphics and complete AI processing with ease while remaining power efficient. A special cooling system is even in place, ensuring the phone’s internals don’t overheat to continue running at full capacity.

If you’re wondering about the Xiaomi Black Shark 5’s display, it’s just as ready for gaming as the competitors, with a sharp, AMOLED panel that can run at 144Hz with a responsive 720Hz multi-touch sample rate. The phone also comes with something special in the form of its two magnetic pop-up triggers. Unlike the touch controls on many competing phones, you get physical pop-up triggers that you can actually push down. They feel great to use and recess back into the phone when not in use.

See our guide to the best cheap smartphones.

Asus ROG Phone 5S

Best Dedicated Gaming Phone

Asus ROG Phone 5SAsus ROG Phone 5S

If you’re ready for some next-level mobile gaming, the Asus ROG Phone 5S will blow you away. However, if you want even more power, Asus should be the releasing the ROG 7 Ultimate soon, but it's expensive. Sticking with the 5S, you get a whopping 12GB of RAM and the Snapdragon 888 Plus chipset to boost its performance a little further. It's also loaded up with 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage. We struggle to imagine a situation where that's not enough memory for mobile multitasking and storage for the biggest mobile game library.

All that brawn is going to driving the 6.78-inch AMOLED display at serious speeds – we're talking 144Hz. While that's plenty of screen space to let you use the improved 360Hz touch sample rate with the on-screen controls and still see your games, you don't have to. This phone includes ultrasonic side buttons that can detect taps to simulate triggers or even detect swipes. And, the phone's motion sensors can be used to enable special gesture controls that will register phone movements.

iPhone 14 Pro

Best iPhone for Gaming

iPhone 14 ProiPhone 14 Pro

With the plethora of games on iOS, we can’t blame you for wanting the best iPhone to play them on, the iPhone 14 Pro. Its beefy A16 Bionic processor provides all the speed and power you need to cruise through the latest Apple Arcade games. And the graphical capabilities of this device even let you play indie games that used to only be available on PC or console.

The iPhone 14 Pro’s stunning 6.1-inch display offers a 120Hz refresh rate that drops to just 1Hz, allowing for the new always-on-display that won’t drain the battery too badly. Apple has also finally removed the notch for Face ID, opting for a new pill-shaped camera hole called Dynamic Island. It’s a handy addition, expanding and showing different animations and controls for media, maps, and alarms, with app developers creating other functions for the feature. If you still aren’t sold on this iPhone, the exceptional new cameras, decent battery life, and enhanced safety features may justify the splurge.

Nubia RedMagic 8 Pro

True Full Screen Mobile Gaming

Nubia RedMagic 8 ProNubia RedMagic 8 Pro

The Nubia RedMagic 8 Pro packs major performance prowess thanks to its Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, letting the device run faster while using less power over the last-gen model and especially shines in ray tracing. Furthering along the phone's ability is 12GB of memory and 256GB of storage, so it can handle whatever game you throw at it. There’s even a multidimensional cooling system in place that includes a quiet fan for quicker heat dissipation and a liquid cooling plate, ensuring your clock speeds stay high.

All that capability under the hood runs a 6.8-inch Full HD+ AMOLED display which hits a bright 1,300 nits, making it ideal for gaming outside. The screen also has a speedy 120Hz refresh rate that can lower to 90Hz or 60Hz to save on battery, while an insanely responsive 960Hz multi-touch sample rate is perfect for keeping you in the game’s action. The Nubia RedMagic 8 Pro even offers handy touch-sensitive shoulder triggers that can be mapped to on-screen controls, letting you activate buttons you'd generally need to use your thumbs for.

OnePlus 11

Best Everyday Phone for Mobile Gaming

OnePlus 11OnePlus 11

For a great phone with a brilliant display that doubles as a gaming-ready beast, grab the OnePlus 11. Its 6.7-inch, QHD+ AMOLED display provides plenty of screen real estate for gaming and manages an adaptive refresh rate from 1Hz up to 120Hz. That ensures smooth gaming when you need it and battery savings when you don't. Speaking of the battery, its 5,000mAh offering keeps the phone running all day with moderate use—even with the always-on display. But if juice is low, an 80W fast charging feature will top it up quick.

Running the whole shebang is a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 processor paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. That provides plenty of oomph to cruise through all your favorite mobile games while taking advantage of the 120Hz refresh rate and 1000Hz touch response rate. Combining that gaming prowess with refined design, elegant software, and a superior camera system, the OnePlus11 is hard to beat mid-range phone option.

iPhone SE (2022)

Best Budget iPhone for Gaming

iPhone SE (2022)iPhone SE (2022)

You can actually get a fairly strong gaming experience without having to fork out for the most expensive iPhone. The recently released third-gen iPhone SE offers tons of performance prowess thanks to the incredibly fluid A15 bionic chip powering it, yet it still manages a $429 price tag that’s hard to beat. And, since it’s running on iOS, you get access to a treasure trove of games not found on Andriod as well as the collection in Apple Arcade.

To be honest, the screen on the iPhone SE definitely lacks some luster. It’s only 4.7-inches with thick bezels matching the specs of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 8. If you’re afraid of using too much screen space when gaming, though, pair it with a phone controller to reveal more of the display. There is also limited storage with only 64GB, however, you can go up to 256GB. Cloud gaming is an easy solution to this issue, especially with the phone's support of 5G when not connected to Wi-Fi.

Sony Xperia 5 IV

Best Ultrawide Gaming Phone

Sony Xperia 5 IVSony Xperia 5 IV

The aspect ratio on most phones is 16:9, but the Sony Xperia 5 IV switches it up with an unorthodox 21:9 display. It’s one of the only phones providing these dimensions, so if your thumbs tend to get in the way of visuals, this design helps keep them away from the center of the gaming action. That ultrawide, 6.1-inch OLED display also delivers a 120Hz refresh rate for smooth scrolling.

There’s plenty of oomph under the hood to power that display, like the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip paired with 8GB of RAM for snappy performance. A Game Enhancer feature will even let you Livestream all your game’s action but be prepared for your phone to get a little toasty during some of those heavy tasks. However, you’ll still be good to game for quite a while without charging up, thanks to the 5,000mAh battery.

What to Look for in a Gaming Phone

Choosing the right gaming phone is a little different than finding the best smartphone. With regular phones, you might be more interested in battery life, the cameras, and a plethora of other specs, but the best gaming phones are all about their screens and processors with everything else being less important. You also rarely need to worry about the battery on a gaming phone, as most pack in some of the biggest smartphone batteries you’ll find.

With that in mind, we’ll start with the processors. Generally, you’re going to get a better gaming experience out of the latest and greatest processor that’s on the market when you’re shopping. At the moment, Android phones will find that in the form of Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 which packs in a load of powerful processing cores and has strong graphics on board. That said, if you’re on a budget, Qualcomm’s highest-tier chipsets tend to offer so much power you might not even take full advantage of it, so you shouldn’t feel too shy about seeking out a phone with an earlier chipset like the Snapdragon 888 or 8 Gen 1.

For iPhones, Apple makes its own chipsets, and they are extremely powerful. Again, you'll want to stick with the latest iteration for the absolute best performance, and that’ll always be found in the newest iPhone. At present, that's the A16 Bionic the iPhone 14 Pro models. This is another case where there’s still plenty of power in previous-generation chipsets, which is part of what makes Apple’s iPhone SE (2022) so compelling with its inclusion of the A15 Bionic chipset at a $429 price point.

In terms of displays, you should pick out anything that’s a step up from your average phone screen. Often, smartphones made for gaming will feature a display with a refresh rate greater than 60Hz. 90Hz is a good start for extra fluidity, but we’re seeing the top gaming phones start to go to 120Hz and beyond. Some displays are even offering variable refresh rates that can let you take advantage of power savings while you’re not gaming. Faster touch sampling rates on displays are also starting to take off, so it may be a spec to keep in mind when comparison shopping. With many gaming phones adding in shoulder buttons, it may not just be the screen you should look at when thinking about the gaming interface.

That's everything you need to know about gaming phones for now. We'll be updating this list periodically, especially as even more brands are entering the foray with phones that are especially well suited to gaming.

Gaming Handhelds Vs. Gaming Phones

Deciding on a portable gaming device truly depends on your lifestyle, the type of games you want to play, and how you want to play them.

A gaming phone is ultra-portable and can be easily pocketed. However, it’s still a highly capable machine that does more than game, offering all your typical smartphone features, including quality cameras, navigation, and communication. Many gaming phones even have cooling solutions to prevent thermal throttling and some tote handy triggers. If you’re not a fan of touch controls, you can always grab a phone controller.

Gaming handhelds, like the Steam Deck or Nintendo Switch, are bulkier but still easy to toss in a bag and take on the go. Unlike gaming phones, they are pretty much used solely for gaming, so you get responsive joysticks, triggers, and buttons with these options.

As for actual games, more and more options are coming to Android and iOS, albeit most are toned down compared to their PC counterparts. Cloud gaming with Nvidia GeForce Now and Xbox Game Pass also continues to improve, making gaming on your phone easier than ever.

However, the Steam Deck is insanely powerful and acts like a handheld PC, letting you take your Steam library anywhere. Asus is also throwing its hat in the ring with the ROG Ally, offering a similar experience to the Steam Deck. And of course, there are many titles exclusive to the Switch.

Battery life is another consideration, and the Steam Deck has a notoriously bad battery life. Many smartphones have no problem lasting all day, though extensive gaming cuts that drastically. A portable charger is a good investment if you plan to game on the go.

Cost also comes into play, as gaming phones are expensive, with some of the best options costing between $700 to well over $1,000. Gaming handhelds are much more affordable. You can grab a Steam Deck for $400, and a Nintendo Switch is even less.

It’s all about personal preference. Do you want something that does it all but games in a slightly toned-down manner? Grab a gaming phone. Do you want a device dedicated to gaming that offers platform-exclusive titles? Get a gaming handheld.


Kevin Lee is IGN's Hardware and Roundups Editor. Follow him on Twitter @baggingspam

Danielle Abraham is a freelance writer and unpaid music historian.

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