The 7 Best Phones for Gaming in 2020

Yes, you can still game when you're on the go

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The Rundown

Best for VR Gaming: Samsung Galaxy S9

Samsung Galaxy S9
Courtesy of Amazon 

Producing high-quality virtual reality on a smartphone isn't easy for a number of reasons, but that hasn't stopped a few companies from trying. Samsung has the best offering so far, pairing its Gear VR headset with a couple of its latest high-end devices. With proper motion tracking thanks to the included controller, and a partnership with Oculus that makes a wider range of games available, the Gear VR/Galaxy S9 combo is as good as it gets.

Both the Galaxy S9 and the larger Plus model have a lot going for them beyond just VR compatibility, of course. A Snapdragon 845 chipset, one of the best cameras and OLED screens on the market, and plenty of memory and storage make either phone a great choice for everyday use and non-VR gaming as well.

On the software side, the built-in Game Tools perform useful functions like stretching games to fit the whole screen​ and hiding annoying notifications, as well as helping record in-game video and screenshots.

Best Value: OnePlus 7 Pro

At this point, most people who have shopped for a smartphone know that OnePlus is a really great brand if good value is your main priority. OnePlus also stays firmly in the gaming category with the 7 Pro for a few reasons. First of all, the up-to-date Snapdragon 855 gives you tons of processing power, and the option to choose 12GB of RAM will handle even intensive gaming. OnePlus is also touting a Fluid AMOLED display, which basically just means that you get a 90Hz refresh rate—making this one of the most responsive all-around phones on the market. The display is a really interesting feature on this phone too, as it sits at 6.67 inches, offers 3120x1440 for resolution, and makes for a nearly all-screen device.

They accomplish having no notch or bezels by hiding the 16MP front-facing camera inside a mechanical housing that pops out of the top when you want to take a selfie. While the rear-facing cameras don’t have any flashy motorized parts, they do offering cutting-edge features: a 16MP ultra-wide lens, an 8MP telephoto, and an insane 48MP main camera. This all amounts to a truly flagship phone for the gaming-minded. Order yours in 128GB or 256GB, and go for Mirror Black, Almond, or the striking Nebula Blue.

Want to save money? Check out our picks for the best budget smartphones.

Best Pure Gaming Smartphone: Razer Phone 2

When the first Razer Phone dropped, the tech community was excited to finally have a true, gaming-focused smartphone that takes into account performance and aesthetics. And while it did deliver on much of what users expect, there were some gaps… and that’s exactly where the second generation picks up. First, you’ve got that amazing 120Hz Ultramotion display — the highest refresh rate of any smartphone we’ve found. To power it, you have a cutting-edge Snapdragon 845 processor with a custom cooling system. Those are basically gaming laptop specs right there.

There’s also a huge 4,000 mAh battery inside, which will be necessary when pushing all that power, and it’s capable of fast charging. It comes with 8GB of RAM and 64GB of storage that can be further expanded up to 2TB with a microSD card. The display’s resolution is 1440 x 2560, and they’ve even brightened it up and folded in HDR content support. There are dual rear cameras — a 12MP telephoto and a 12MP wide — like any proper flagship. And the real sleeper feature here is the impressive audio you get from the front-firing stereo speakers that support hi-def bit rates for audio. It all amounts to an amazing gaming phone that behaves exactly how you’d want, while also being a totally viable main smartphone for your life.

Best for Big-Screen Gaming: Huawei Mate 10 Pro

Huawei has been turning out low-priced phones with solid specifications for a few years, but it’s the company’s entry into the premium end of the market that’s really turning heads.

The Mate 10 Pro has all the specifications you’d expect in a top-end gaming phone, including a blistering Kirin 970 chipset, beautiful OLED display, 6GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage. Throw in water resistance, spectacular battery life, fast charging and a quality camera, and it’s a very compelling device.

As if the hardware alone wasn’t enough to put the Mate 10 Pro on this list, it has another trick up its sleeve. If the built-in 6" display isn’t large enough for you, the EMUI Desktop feature lets the phone connect directly to a TV or monitor, for a big-screen gaming and entertainment experience.

There’s no fancy hardware required, just a standard USB-C to HDMI cable. A Bluetooth keyboard and mouse will give a better gaming experience, but you can control everything via the phone touchscreen if you’d rather.

Best Design: ASUS ROG Phone

It may be from an unlikely manufacturer, but the ROG phone from ASUS offers some powerful specs to get your attention. It has a six-inch IPS 1080x2160 AMOLED display, which will serve you well when viewing content, and a 90Hz refresh rate that they’ve rated at a 1ms response time. It’s important to note that while these numbers aren’t quite as impressive as the Razer Phone 2, they are pretty insane for a smartphone.

There’s an octa-core, 2.9GHZ Snapdragon 845 processor to give you great speeds that are bolstered by 8GB of onboard RAM. There’a quick-charge-capable 4,000 mAh battery and 128GB of internal storage — all specs befitting of a flagship gaming phone. There is a rear-facing 12MP standard camera and an 8MP wide-angle camera for decent picture flexibility, and there are even dual SIM slots if you want to use two phone numbers. Then, of course, there are the looks: the thing was clearly designed with gamers in mind, featuring two touch-sensitive, programmable buttons on the back, sleek looks, and a programmable LED logo on the back. It’s a decent-looking and -feeling package that certainly gives you a lot of bang for your buck.

Best All-Rounder: Google Pixel 3 XL

Google Pixel 3 XL

 Courtesy of Best Buy

In the mobile space, only a select number of phones can really do everything. When it comes to the latest generation of phones that can game hard — as well as take amazing photos, run every app with speed, have a large screen, take widescreen selfies, and more — the phone that checks every box is the Google Pixel 3 XL.

It runs the latest, fully featured Android Pie operating system, and it has all the latest features you want in a modern smartphone. The Pixel 3 XL has a beautiful, large 6.3-inch OLED screen, which is great for games of course but is also fantastic for YouTube and Netflix videos. Under the hood, it has 4GB of RAM and a top-of-the-line Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor. It has 12.2-megapixel camera for taking super high-quality photos and videos, and the battery life comes in at more than a day thanks to the mammoth 3,430 mAh battery, which is great for all those crazy mobile games you like to play. And if you like to game in virtual reality, the Pixel 3 XL is compatible with Google Daydream View headset, meaning you can simply use your phone to test out all the potential of VR and AR.

Best for iOS Gaming: iPhone X

It’s hard to go past gaming on an Apple device, due to the mix of powerful hardware and a well-stocked app store that regularly gets the best games first. The iPhone X is the company’s flagship model, and while it’s seriously expensive if you’re buying it outright, you get a lot for your money.

The most powerful iOS phone on the market comes with Apple’s fastest A11 chipset, 3GB of RAM, and either 64 or 256GB of storage. The 5.8" Super Retina screen is an absolute delight, with exceptional clarity and colors, and a near-complete lack of bezel that lets you focus fully on your game rather than the hardware that’s powering it (if you can ignore the "notch" at the top.)

Everything from animations to apps is super-smooth on the X, and games are no exception. Even the most taxing titles run like a dream, although if you're hoping for smartphone-based virtual reality, you'll need to look elsewhere. There’s IP67 water resistance, one of the best smartphone cameras you can buy, highly-accurate facial recognition, and plenty more that make the iPhone X a great device for those who can afford it.

How We Tested

We bought two top-rated smartphones that our reviewers tested by using daily for weeks on end. We asked our testers to consider the most important features when using these phones, from their processor speeds to their screen. We’ve outlined the key takeaways here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.

What to Look for in a Phone for Gaming

Processor speed - Memory is important, but processor speed is really the key to gaming on a phone. Look for a phone with one of the latest processor chipsets, preferably overclocked, with either active or really great passive cooling. Even with a great processor, running AAA games on a phone that isn’t good at shedding heat can cripple your gaming experience.

Physical controls - One of the biggest stumbling blocks for phone-based gaming is that touchscreen controls don’t provide the same tactile feedback as physical controls. If you’re really serious about gaming on your phone, look for one that’s designed to be used with a physical controller peripheral. You can also buy Bluetooth controllers that work with most phones, but you typically need to prop your phone up on a desk or table to use one of these universal controllers.

Screen - Phones have tiny screens compared to the monitors and TV sets we normally game on, but the size and quality of these diminutive displays are actually really good compared to most dedicated handheld gaming systems. For the best experience, and an edge in competitive gameplay, look for a phone with at least a 6-inch screen that uses AMOLED or IPS technology.

Test Results: Samsung Galaxy S9 (Best for VR Gaming)

What We Like
  • High-quality display

  • Excellent camera

  • Easy to hold in one hand

What We Don't Like
  • Design feels a little dated

  • Battery could be better

Samsung Galaxy S9
Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Samsung Galaxy S9
Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Samsung Galaxy S9
Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Samsung Galaxy S9
Lifewire / Andrew Hayward

“It's a great option for someone who might consider a newer mid-range phone, but can get a cheaper year-old flagship instead,” one of our testers said of the Samsung Galaxy S9. Our reviewers liked its amazing Quad HD Super AMOLED display and impressive camera. One of our testers reported, “The Galaxy S9 has a sleek and impressively refined design and build that's ideal for one-handed usage.” On the other hand, one of our reviewers said, “Although the design is attractive, it does feel a little dated compared to the rapidly-evolving competition.” One of our testers also said the battery life “isn’t as overwhelmingly impressive as on some competing phones.” Still, for the price, our reviewers thought it was a solid option.

Want to keep exploring your options?