With one of the best gaming phones in your pocket, do you really need a console? These phones a quality gaming experience while also giving you all the practicalities of a normal smartphone. They're armed 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, OnePlus and even Apple, 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?
The top of our best gaming phones list is the recently released Asus ROG Phone 5. The combination of 144Hz display, up to 16GB RAM, a Snapdragon 888 chipset and fantastic longevity courtesy of a 6,000 mAh battery means that if gaming's all you care about, there's no better option.
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 still offers excellent performance, 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 9 Pro, which also packs a 120Hz panel, as well as excellent software courtesy of OnePlus' Oxygen OS front-end atop Android 11. And if you want the cheapest path to premium performance, the RedMagic 5G offers the best bang for your buck, with gaming-focused features and a screen as responsive as the ROG Phone 5'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 most of the phones in this best gaming phones guide, 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.
The Galaxy S21 Plus is yet another well-rounded Samsung device for gaming, combining a phenomenal screen with a trio of great cameras and top tier performance. It's quite well priced too at $999, considering it's just as good a gaming phone as it is a flagship phone. The new Oppo Find X3 Pro fills a similar role, offering a lot more display, RAM and camera tech than the Samsung, but not beating it since it's not available for purchase in the U.S.
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.
- Your internet should match your phone's speed — level up with a gaming VPN
The best gaming phones you can buy now
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 5 is the best of the best gaming phones.
Sporting a 6.78-inch AMOLED display with a variable refresh rate up to a max of 144Hz, the ROG Phone 5's screen is near flawless. Combined with a powerful Snapdragon 888 chipset and up to 16GB RAM, it'll take on any game you throw at it. There's also a large 6,000 mAh battery with 65W charging which will keep you playing for long periods without having to break to recharge.
The focus on gaming is a blessing and a curse though. It means you have customizable RGB lights on the back, virtual trigger buttons on the side and some powerful stereo speakers which all add to the experience. However lackluster cameras and no wireless charging mean the phone is missing some key versatility. Plus that loud design may not be to your taste.
If that isn't enough performance for you, there's also the limited edition Asus ROG Phone 5 Ultimate that adds more RAM and storage. But for most users wanting to focus on gaming above all else, the normal ROG Phone 5 is the phone to go for.
Read our full Asus ROG Phone 5 review.
The new Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra may not look much like a gaming phone, but rest assured — this is one of the best gaming 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.
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 among the best gaming phones. That's thanks to Apple's A14 Bionic chipset, which still outpaces the Snapdragon 888 in the ROG Phone 5 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.
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 9 Pro is a well-rounded proposition and a worthy member of the best gaming phones list.
The OLED display on OnePlus' latest flagship measures 6.7 inches and packs a 1440p resolution, making the screen sharp as well as colorful. But the OnePlus 9 Pro rises toward the top of our best gaming phones list because of its dynamic 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 360Hz, thanks to OnePlus' new Hyper Touch technology, giving you the instant response you need to claim victory.
Of course, the OnePlus 9 Pro succeeds in many other ways. It lasts long on a charge and supports faster wired and wireless charging than most other devices out there. It features four cameras on the back which are now genuine rivals for the ones on an iPhone or Galaxy phone thanks to help from Swedish camera maker Hasselblad. And the OnePlus 9 Pro has phenomenal software that actually adds some usefulness to Android 11, as well as a handsome and easy to navigate user interface.
All of this will set you back $1,079, which is unfortunately quite expensive, costing more than many of its rivals while only offering a modest set of gamer-friendly features. It's definitely worth the price if you want a well-rounded phone though.
Read our full OnePlus 9 Pro review.
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.
If you want a well-rounded Android phone that can also handle flagship games, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus is a smart choice.
The S20 Plus has a 120Hz panel and a Snapdragon 888 processor like all of this year's top flagships. It may only have 8GB of RAM, but that doesn't hold it back. It's still 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 for when you're gaming online away from home.
Although it does offer Xbox Game Pass support, the Galaxy S21 Plus doesn't offer much strictly in the way of dedicated gaming features though — it's just an all-around great (and, unfortunately, kinda expensive) flagship device that also happens to be one of the best gaming phones.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Plus review.
If your ideal gaming phone is one that's just as capable for other flagship-level activities as it is for games, the Oppo Find X3 Pro might find its way onto your shortlist.
The 6.7-inch display on the Oppo offers a QHD panel, while its 5Hz-120Hz refresh rate means you'll only get smooth performance when it's needed. That means you'll get the best of the phone while gaming but save power when you're idly scrolling through menus or looking at photos.
Speaking of which, the Find X3 Pro is fantastic for cameras too. There are two 50MP cameras - one for normal images, the other for ultrawide. You also get a 13MP telephoto camera with 5x hybrid zoom and a 3MP microscope lens for long-distance and extreme close-up shots respetively.
Add to this mix its Snapdragon 888 chip and 12GB RAM, the Find X3 Pro can easily keep up with the best gaming phones in terms of performance. Plus its unique design, with the camera bump flowing into the main body of the phone, means it's much easier on the eyes than a device covered in bright colors and flashing lights.
The only problems are it's currently not on sale in the U.S. - it's an option for our readers in the U.K. and beyond. It's also a very expensive phone at £1,099, which while cheaper than some rival devices, is still a lot of money to spend.
Read our full Oppo Find X3 review
With its surprisingly low price, the OnePlus 9 offers a premium experience for gamers who want a cheaper best gaming phones option that covers all bases.
The display offers the high refresh rate essential for smooth gaming, and a decent battery life to keep you playing without fear of the phone shutting down. You get the best silicon available in the form of the Snapdragon 888, which also offers you 5G compatibility for when you're gaming on the move.
Within the well-designed OxygenOS skin for Android 11, OnePlus offers Pro Gaming Mode, which maximizes performance and turns off your notifications to keep you focussed. And the sound from the stereo speakers helps you keep track of the action if you're playing without headphones. Beyond gaming, you also have speedy 65W charging and Hasselblad-tuned cameras on the back.
You may prefer one of the other phones higher up this list with more gaming-focussed features or better overall specs. But at $729, it's impressive just how much you get for both overall features and gaming specifically.
Read our full OnePlus 9 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 Note 20 Ultra 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.