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-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.
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. One, it has among the lowest latency response of any phone on the market (43.5ms), ensuring super-fast response to any trigger-finger screen presses. Two, it has a dedicated gaming mode - called Ludicrous mode (sorry Tesla) - that allows for maximum output from the Snapdragon 855 CPU, helped along with its up-to-12GB RAM offering (the current maximum you'll find anywhere). Three, the screen 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, starting at just £475 for the lowest-spec handset. That's almost crazy cheap considering what you're getting.
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 really.
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 its competition is its screen's 120Hz refresh rate (most devices are half of this, at 60Hz). This is royalty in the gaming sphere, 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, giving the Razer a unique selling point beyond any of its competitors.
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.
Asus ROG Phone / ROG Phone 2
- 6-inch OLED display, 1080 x 2160 resolution, 90Hz refresh rate
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, 8GB RAM
- 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, with overall thickness and limited battery life notching it down a few pegs. However, with a higher refresh-rate than many there's clear appeal.
The second-gen follow-up device has just been announced, too, with a larger screen and 120Hz refresh rate.
OnePlus 7 Pro
- 6.67-inch Fluid AMOLED, QHD+ resolution (3120 x 1440), 90Hz refresh rate
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor, 6GB/8GB/12GB RAM options
- 4,000mAh battery, 30W fast-charging
You could argue that the OnePlus 7 Pro isn't aimed at the gaming market, but that doesn't mean it doesn't offer some credentials that make it a veritable option - great for both day-to-day use and for a bit of hardcore gaming too.
Principal to these is its 90Hz screen refresh rate, making for fluid playback for relevant titles. Another major pro includes the excellent sound quality which beats many current flagships and makes for that immersive experience.
However, we've found some slight unresponsiveness when tapping the display which we hoped will be address through software. There's also no dedicated gaming controller. But as a phone to use when you're not gaming, the Pro is one of the best around. Its big battery means it lasts for an age, too.
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.
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.
It's been interesting watching the gaming phone market evolve - and we've purposefully foregone including the original Razer Phone and original Black Shark in this piece, given their successors above - and how far such devices have come in a short period of time.
If you want a day-to-day device that's also a gaming great then the OnePlus 7 Pro is a very sensible balance. But if you want something a bit more hardcore then the Black Shark 2, with added controllers, makes it without compare in our opinion.
However, if having the highest refresh-rate screen is a must for your needs then the somewhat bulky Razer Phone 2 is the one to go for - or possible the ROG Phone 2, which we're yet to see - given the 120Hz panels for a faster refresh rate.