The 7 Best Gaming Phones of 2021

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Mobile gaming today has gone far beyond Candy Crush and Angry Birds, and the best gaming phones are a testament to that. Games with a level of scope, complexity, and visual quality previously reserved for home consoles can now be played anywhere you go, on a device that fits in your pocket—and one that can also make calls, take pictures, and keep your day-to-day life organized.

If you plan to play a lot of mobile games, especially high-end modern titles with a lot of 3D graphics, you’ll need a phone with plenty of processing power. You’ll need enough storage space for your downloads and enough battery life to keep you going on the road. Any of the best smartphones, in general, should have no problem with all the above, though they often come at a hefty price. A key choice will likely be between an iOS or Android operating system, each with unique benefits to their features, app stores, and services.

And then there are phones crafted specifically for gaming, built with gamer-centric designs, additional buttons, high refresh rates, cooling systems, and other extras. The selection isn’t huge at this point in time, but they’re there to meet your needs if gaming is your priority. Take a look at our list of the best gaming phones and see if any of these formidable devices call out to you.

The Rundown
Asus’ Game Genie interface lets you display and adjust detailed settings on any game or app, including mapping touch controls.
While the RedMagic 6 isn’t cheap, it does give gamers some very impressive performance and features for a relatively low cost.
Tons of games are available on the App Store and Apple Arcade, and the 12 Pro Max can blaze through any of them without issue.
Best Budget iOS:
Apple iPhone SE at Amazon
You get plenty of features iPhone users appreciate, including a strong set of cameras and the user-friendly iOS 14 interface.
The Note20 Ultra 5G’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ mobile platform with 12GB RAM is about as powerful as it gets.
Best Features:
OnePlus 9 Pro at Amazon
It can display the high resolution at a 120Hz refresh rate, making fast-action gameplay smoother and touch controls more responsive.
in this article

Best Overall: Asus ROG Phone 5

What We Like
  • Top-end Android performance

  • Beautiful 144Hz display

  • Long battery life

What We Don't Like
  • Bulky for a phone

  • Pricey

As part of its Republic of Gamers (ROG) brand of gaming hardware and peripherals, Asus has taken the next logical step into gaming smartphones, and the results are nothing short of impressive. The ROG Phone 5 runs on a blazing-fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G mobile platform, with up to 16GB RAM and 256GB of storage (an Ultimate model comes with 18GB RAM and 512GB storage).

Any configuration you choose is more than enough to handle whatever game you throw at it. And the 6.78-inch 2446 x 1080-pixel display offers more than just a big view—it’s a bright, vibrant Samsung AMOLED screen with a 144Hz refresh rate designed to keep all the action looking smooth and clear. While the hardware works hard, the phone stays cool and lasts surprisingly long on its battery. When you do run low, you can quickly charge up to full in under an hour, though no wireless charging is supported.

The ROG Phone 5’s software, built around the Android 11 operating system, is equally tailor-made for gamers. Asus’ Game Genie interface lets you display and adjust detailed settings on any game or app, including mapping touch controls to a physical controller, even for games that don’t normally support one. You can also map inputs to the handy AirTriggers: ultrasonic touch sensors on the sides of the phone.

Overall, the ROG Phone 5 is packed with features designed to enhance the gaming experience, from the strong sound delivered by two front-facing speakers, to charging ports that don’t interfere with your grip, to the wide array of gaming accessories it supports. It’s a tougher sell as a pure smartphone outside of gaming, though, with its relatively large size and weight, middling camera quality, and high price point.

Operating System: Android 11 | Screen Size: 6.78 in. | Resolution: 2446 x 1080 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 | RAM: 8GB-16GB | Storage: 128GB-256GB | Camera: 24MP front, 64MP rear | Battery Capacity: 6,000 milliamp-hours

Best Value: Nubia RedMagic 6

Nubia RedMagic 6
What We Like
  • Strong performance for the price

  • Class-leading 165Hz refresh rate

  • Convenient shoulder triggers

What We Don't Like
  • Inconsistent software

  • Mediocre cameras

The best gaming phones need the most powerful mobile hardware, and that often comes at a steep price. While the Nubia RedMagic 6 isn’t cheap, it does give gamers some very impressive performance and features for a relatively low cost.

You can’t ask for much more than a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 with 12GB of RAM, bumped up to 16GB with the Pro version. You’ll easily be able to enjoy any 3D game out there, with a fan-based active cooling system that keeps the device from getting too hot in your hands (though it can get a little noisy when the fan kicks in).

The RedMagic 6 doesn’t skimp on the display, either, with a 6.8-inch, 2400 x 1080-pixel AMOLED screen that boasts a super-smooth 165Hz refresh rate for games that support it. That’s faster than any other phone on the market today.

Also there to level up your gameplay is a pair of touch-sensitive shoulder trigger buttons that you can program for just about any game. To keep you connected for online play, the RedMagic 6 supports not only 5G but also the new Wi-Fi 6E standard, which can take advantage of a third band—6GHz—for lower latency and increased stability.

The phone runs on Android 11 as its core operating system, with the Google Play Store and other Google apps you’d expect. The RedMagic OS built on top of it, though, has some navigation and loading quirks that may bother some users. Added to its unimpressive camera quality, the RedMagic 6 may not be the phone for everyone, but for mobile gamers, it’s an excellent value.

Operating System: RedMagic OS 4 (Android 11) | Screen Size: 6.8 in. | Resolution: 2400 x 1080 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 | RAM: 12GB | Storage: 128GB | Camera: 8MP front, 64/8/2MP rear | Battery Capacity: 5,050 milliamp-hours

Best iOS: Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max Pacific Blue
What We Like
  • League-leading processor

  • Large, vibrant display

  • Excellent camera quality

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive even for an iPhone

  • Limited gaming-specific features

  • Only 60Hz refresh rate

If you’re a fan of Apple products, and iPhones in particular, you’re probably well aware that they represent some of the best phones for any purpose. Out of the current lineup, the iPhone 12 Pro Max is the biggest, boldest, and priciest of them all, and it has all the elements that make it a great gaming device. Apple’s own custom A14 Bionic chip is a highly advanced system that combines a CPU, GPU, and Neural Engine into the fastest mobile processor you’ll find today.

There are tons of games available on Apple's App Store as well as the Apple Arcade subscription service, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max can blaze through any of them without breaking a sweat. You can also keep playing longer, thanks to excellent battery life that outlasts its smaller iPhone counterparts.

The most noticeable difference between the iPhone 12 Pro Max and other models is its size, with no other iPhone offering a Super Retina XDR display at a 6.7-inch diagonal. It looks dazzlingly crisp and smooth, even at the standard 60Hz refresh rate—a slower rate than what you can find on Android competitors and dedicated gaming phones.

You also won’t find other gamer-centric features such as trigger buttons, liquid cooling, or graphics-optimizing software. What you do get is a very powerful, elegant everyday phone with superior photo and video capabilities—that happens to be one of the best at running games, too.

Operating System: iOS 14 | Screen Size: 6.7 in. | Resolution: 2778 x 1284 | Processor: Apple A14 Bionic | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB-512GB | Camera: Dual 12MP front, Quad 12MP rear | Battery Capacity: 3,687 milliamp-hours

With 63 percent better single-core and 28 percent better multi-core performance than even the Galaxy Note20 Ultra, a more expensive, top-of-the-line Android phone, Apple’s mobile speed advantage is more pronounced than ever.” — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Best Budget iOS: Apple iPhone SE (2020)

THe iPhone SE is our pick for best value iOS.
What We Like
  • Affordably priced iPhone

  • Very fast performance

  • Easy to carry

What We Don't Like
  • Small screen

  • Battery life on the short end

  • No 5G

The premium reputation of Apple’s iPhones tends to come with premium price points, but the iPhone SE (now in its 2nd iteration) has proven to be a popular, affordable model that sacrifices very little in quality. One area where it scales back is the display, with a 4.7-inch, 1334 x 750-pixel screen that seems tiny next to the imposing screens of most gaming-focused phones. It’s still a great-looking Retina HD display, though, with the added bonus of being much easier to fit in your pocket and hold in one hand.

The iPhone SE also doesn’t run on the absolute latest and greatest Apple processor, but your gaming sessions will hardly feel the difference. Its A13 Bionic chip is the same one used in the iPhone 11 Pro, only a generation behind the top-end models. It’s still shockingly fast, even compared to competing devices with more RAM.

The entry-level phone does make a few other concessions, including somewhat shorter battery life and lack of 5G network connectivity. But you still get plenty of features iPhone users have come to appreciate, including a strong set of cameras and the user-friendly iOS 14 interface.

You also get access to Apple Arcade, which provides unlimited access to a growing collection of games for only $5 a month. If you love trying out a wide assortment of new and classic games, it could be as much of a surprising value as the iPhone SE itself.

Operating System: iOS 14 | Screen Size: 4.7 in. | Resolution: 1334 x 750 | Processor: Apple A13 Bionic | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 64GB-256GB | Camera: 7MP front, 12MP rear | Battery Capacity: 1,821 milliamp-hours

Best Android: Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G

Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G
What We Like
  • High-end gaming performance and display

  • Top-notch cameras with nice zoom

  • Excellent S Pen stylus included

What We Don't Like
  • Pricier than similar competitors

  • Quite large

If you’re looking for an all-purpose Android phone that’s not necessarily built for gaming, Samsung’s Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G can certainly do it all. Scribble notes and doodles with the Note line’s signature S Pen, a precise and convenient stylus slotted into the bottom of the phone. Shoot gorgeous photos and up to 8K video with a high-end trio of cameras that includes a 108MP ultrawide lens and a difference-making 5x optical (50x digital) zoom. It's a phone for those willing to pay a lot of dollars to get a whole lot of phone.

When it comes time to get your game on, the Note20 Ultra 5G’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ mobile platform with 12GB RAM is about as powerful as it gets. And while the giant screen makes the phone a bit unwieldy during everyday use, the 6.9-inch AMOLED display is great for showing off all the action and detail in those graphically intensive games.

You can also turn on the 120Hz setting for smoother animations and responsiveness, though it drops down to 1080p instead of the full 3088 x 1440-pixel resolution. For even bigger-screen gaming, Samsung’s DeX interface lets you cast your phone’s screen to a monitor or TV.

There's also a new gaming avenue available to Android users who subscribe to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, which lets you stream more than 100 top titles to your mobile device from the cloud. It removes the need for the Note20 Ultra 5G’s processing power, but the phone can still take advantage of its Wi-Fi 6 and 5G capabilities for fast, low-latency connectivity.

Operating System: Android 10 | Screen Size: 6.9 in. | Resolution: 3088 x 1440 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ | RAM: 12B | Storage: 128GB-512GB | Camera: 10MP front, 12/108/12MP rear | Battery Capacity: 4,500 milliamp-hours

You’d never confuse this for a cheap, budget-friendly phone, and that’s surely intentional.” — Andrew Hayward, Product Tester

Best Features: OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus 9 Pro
What We Like
  • Powerful performance

  • Beautiful, responsive display

  • Fastest-charging battery

  • Dramatically improved camera capabilities

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

  • So-so battery life

The leading flagship smartphones from Apple and Samsung now face tough competition in the latest phones from OnePlus, and the full-featured OnePlus 9 Pro is worth a gamer’s consideration. The 5G-enabled phone can match just about any other in performance with its speedy Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 CPU and 12GB of RAM. Its 6.7-inch AMOLED display is bold and bright, with a 1440 x 3216-pixel resolution that puts its density at a very sharp 525 pixels per inch (ppi).

Plus, it can display that high resolution at a 120Hz refresh rate, making fast-action gameplay much smoother and touch controls more responsive. The Pro model in particular features an optimization technology that dynamically drops the refresh rate to as low as 1Hz depending on the app you’re using. It’s a big battery life boost when you’re not playing games.

In general, the OnePlus 9 Pro’s battery life isn’t necessarily remarkable. But where it does stand out is how quickly the battery can charge back up when it runs low. Its 65-watt wired charging can fill up the phone in half an hour, and 50-watt wireless charging (via a special charger from OnePlus) can do it in about 45 minutes. Those are speeds about twice as fast as what other top phones offer.

Another feature OnePlus heavily emphasizes in its latest phones is an improved camera system resulting from a partnership with the respected camera brand Hasselblad. Between the four rear lenses and powerful photography software, the upgrade is noticeable—photos come out with impressive detail and rich, natural color.

Operating System: OxygenOS (Android 11) | Screen Size: 6.7 in. | Resolution: 3216 x 1440 | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 | RAM: 12B | Storage: 256GB | Camera: 16MP front, 48/50/8/2MP rear | Battery Capacity: 4,500 milliamp-hours

Final Verdict

The ROG Phone 5 (view at Amazon) is a formidable mobile machine that features everything you could ask for in a gaming phone—powerful hardware, a large and responsive screen, extra trigger buttons, and plenty of other features and accessories to help up your game.

If you’re looking for an everyday phone not built specifically for gaming, mainstream phones like the Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max (view at Amazon) are equipped with blazing-fast processors to handle even the most advanced mobile titles.

About Our Trusted Experts

Anton Galang is a Lifewire writer and reviewer who started covering tech back in 2007, when the original iPhone was released. Today, he does the biggest chunk of his gaming on his phone, usually with several titles in rotation at once.

Andrew Hayward has been writing about technology and gaming since 2006. In addition to reviewing phones and games for Lifewire, he has also contributed to publications such as TechRadar, Stuff, Polygon, and Macworld.

FAQs

Which phones are good for PUBG Mobile? What about Call of Duty Mobile or Fortnite?

The mobile versions of popular battle royale games require a good deal of processing power to handle their intensive graphics and gameplay, so a high-performance phone like the ones on this list is ideal. Older and lower-end phones may be able to play on lower quality settings, but will suffer from a jittery experience at reduced frame rates. Also, keep in mind you’ll need multiple GBs of space to download each game. And Fortnite has been removed from app stores, so you need to take extra steps to play it.

Which controllers work with phones?

There are plenty of universal game controller accessories for sale that support connections with just about any modern smartphone operating system. Even some console controllers, such as the Xbox One’s can connect to phones through Bluetooth. You can also find controllers that snap directly onto your phone, including ones made specifically for gaming phones to add extra buttons, cooling power, and other convenient features to them.

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