The mobile gaming community continues to grow, with hot new titles hitting download stores and an ever-expanding fanbase of dedicated players. Manufacturers have noticed this, too, creating handsets specifically tailored for players.
It's not a brand new concept, but with a number of brands now into production of their second- or third-generation devices, we run down what's out there in the gaming phone market that's worth considering, alongside which special features might make it worth buying one device over another.
Red Magic 5G
- 6.65-inch AMOLED display, 1080 x 2340 resolution, 144Hz refresh rate
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor, 8GB RAM (12GB in some)
- 4,500mAh battery, 18W fast-charging
- Built-in touch trigger controls
- Optional controllers
Nubia's Red Magic is the first phone to ever feature a 144Hz display. That means it offers ultra-smooth play that's technically a step beyond any competition.
It's also incredibly high spec, with a Qualcomm SD865 processor, liquid cooling to keep things moving, and a large battery capacity to keep you playing.
Built-in triggers are a nod to the gaming potential here, too, although to get the most out of this surprisingly affordable gaming phone you'll want to grab the additional controllers (sold separately).
Asus ROG Phone 2
- 6.59-inch OLED display, 1080 x 2340 resolution, 120Hz refresh rate
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ processor, 8GB/12GB RAM
- 6,000mAh battery capacity, 30W HyperCharge
- Customisable light-up ROG logo to rear
- Optional GameVice controller
Perhaps the most outward looking 'gaming phone' aesthetic of them all comes from Asus. With the optional GameVice controller attached this handset transforms into a mini console that's a veritable gaming feast.
On the downside its design makes it about as far from a day-to-day handset as you could want, due to its overall thickness and footprint. However, with a higher refresh-rate than many there's clear appeal in its gaming greatness.
Black Shark 2
- 6.39-inch OLED display, 1080 x 2340 resolution, 60Hz refresh rate
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, 12GB RAM (some models)
- 4,000mAh battery, 27W fast-charging
- Customisable light-up 'S' logo to rear
- Optional controllers (left/right/case)
The second-generation device from Black Shark is special for a number of reasons. It has a dedicated gaming mode - called Ludicrous mode (sorry Tesla) - that allows for maximum output from its Snapdragon 855 CPU, helped along with its up-to-12GB RAM offering (the current maximum you'll find anywhere). The screen also has a pressure-sensitive deep press that can be customised for left/right sides of the screen to enable additional actions to be mapped in certain games.
If you invest in the twin controllers - which clip onto a rear case and pair with the handset via Bluetooth - then you'll have a veritable gaming machine that's a cut of the price compared to many flagship handsets.
If you're looking for downsides then the lack of higher-resolution display and faster refresh rate are about the only nitpicks you'll find with this device. But at this price point, it's hard to complain at all. A third-generation device is also in the works - which we'll be reviewing in the future.
Razer Phone 2
- 5.7-inch LCD display, 2560 x 1440 resolution, 120Hz refresh rate
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, 8GB RAM
- 4,000mAh battery, fast-charging
- Customisable light-up logo
Razer is no stranger to gaming, as one of the most fluent gaming laptop makers on the market. It's a company especially well-known for producing hardcore spec machines without the all-out exoticness of some rivals. The Razer Phone 2 follows that same mantra: it's a subtle-looking handset that's super powerful, but its brick-like looks won't appeal to all.
The main spec that really sells it beyond much of its competition is the screen's 120Hz refresh rate (most devices are half of this, at 60Hz). This is royalty in the gaming sphere - although not the next-level 144Hz sell of the Red Magic 5G - allowing for sync with faster frame-rate games, delivering silky smooth motion in everything it does. No, not all games can output at such a refresh nor high frame-rate, but a handful of titles can.
Unlike the Black Shark 2 (see above), however, there's no adept add-on controller system and the physical proportions of this device as a day-to-day product let it down when you're not in gaming mode.
Huawei Mate 20 X
- 7.2-inch OLED display, 1080 x 2244 resolution, 60Hz refresh rate
- Kirin 980 processor, 6GB RAM
- 5,000mAh battery, 20W fast-charging
- Optional controller
If you want a big handset specifically for gaming then, well, nobody goes bigger than Huawei at present. The Mate 20 X's 7.2-inch display is not only massive - to almost tablet-like proportions - it's of great quality at this scale. While we at first thought it was too big, having lived with the device we've found this screen to have massive benefits for gaming and media immersion.
Powerful innards from the company's own Kirin processor ensure an optmised gaming experience, but it's the phone's other specs that really sell it. A huge battery capacity of 5,000mAh sees it last and last, while an optional slip-on controller gives an added edge for gamers wanting a thumbstick controller.
Vivo NEX Dual Display
- 6.39in OLED display, 2340 x 1080 resolution, 60Hz refresh rate
- Second screen: 5.49in OLED display, 1920 x 1080 resolution
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, 10GB RAM
- 3,500mAh battery, fast-charging
Vivo's NEX Dual Display might be pitched as an 'all about selfies' phone, but this handset makes a lot of sense for gamers too. Why? Because it has a second screen to the rear that's almost full-size and always active, which can be utilised for rear presses in certain titles. So not only is there enough RAM on board to run two versions of Android both front and back, that rear screen can also be used as an additional trigger - great for doubling-down on the controls.
Problem is, this device is only available in China right now, with a software setup that's not really ready for the western world just yet. But we do think that Vivo is a major player to watch in the future at an international level.
It's been interesting watching the gaming phone market evolve - with manufacturers one-upping one another with higher screen refresh rates and cooling systems.
However, while that's happening, so-called 'normal' flagship phones are arriving with similar specifications in less out-there designs. So whether most will be drawn into the appeal of a specific gaming phone is still up for debate - especially if you want everyday use and better cameras.
This article is continually updated to reflect changes in the best available products on the market. Originally published 22 March 2019.