eSports has scaled new heights with some mobile devices being launched with the focus being on gaming. These are high specification devices with superior build quality which are meant to last and give you the performance you need to game competitively.
It has been fairly long since gaming on smartphones moved over from being termed as ‘Casual’. Various studios have launched games with console or computer quality graphics for smartphones with an aim to bring a realistic gaming experience right into the hands of gamers.
This change has led to smartphone manufacturers introduce devices focused on gaming. Chipset manufactures like Qualcomm and MediaTek have come up with gaming-focused processors while OEMs like Asus, Lenovo and ZTE have dedicated resources in their RnD departments to create a harmony between powerful hardware, advanced cooling, gaming tweaks and Android OS to create smartphones dedicated towards gaming. Here we take a look at some of the best gaming smartphones you can get your hands on right now and some tips that should influence your decision.
1. The Undisputed ‘ROGue’: Asus ROG Phone 5
First up is the Asus ROG Phone 5. This latest weapon from Asus’s arsenal will see its first lights on 15th April. It has the latest Snapdragon 888 5G processor from Qualcomm to keep it ready for future 5G roll out. The ROG Phone 5’s display is a 6.78-inch Samsung AMOLED panel with a 144Hz refresh rate. It is HDR10+ certified and has a Gorilla Glass Victus panel on top with a special coating to aid in smooth operations even on sweaty fingers.
The base variant has 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM and a UFS 3.1 storage which together result in lightning fast application launch and smooth operation of the device. It has a 6000mAh battery which is split into two cells of 3000 each to aid in fast charging and greater heat dissipation via an add on called the Aero Active 5 Cooler. The smartphone is equipped with a 64 MP camera with Sony IMX 686 sensor in the rear and a 24 MP front camera.
The audio-visual experience is augmented by a digital to analogue audio converter. The built-in amplifier can detect the impedance of headphones and switches to appropriate modes. It has stereo speakers each with a Cirrus Logic amplifier to deliver about 20 per cent more power to the speakers.
2. A Legion for Gamers: Lenovo Legion Pro 5G
Next, we have a powerful smartphone from Lenovo the Legion Pro. It is quite a capable device that has gaming written all over it. The aluminium chassis is seamlessly integrated with glass to give the device a nice look. It is aesthetically designed and has a pop-up camera set up to make way for a full 6.65-inch AMOLED screen with FHD+ resolution. The refresh rate is 144 Hz and can be manually tuned down to lower rates to improve battery life. It has a Snapdragon 865+ 5G ready processor with 12GB or 16GB of RAM. The device is optimized for landscape use as one of the USB C ports (yes it has two) to charge its 5000 mAH battery is located at the middle of its long side. The stereo speaker set up of the Legion Pro though seems overpowered and gives the best output at 3/4th of maximum volume.
The 64 Megapixel Dual Camera set up at the back takes crisp images with rich colours but lacks intricate details during low light. These are set further along near the middle to avoid smudges when the phone is held in gaming mode. The selfie pop-up camera does well during video calls and selfies but again it is placed in the middle of the long side in landscape mode instead of on the top. There are two touch-sensitive areas called shoulder keys which make up for triggers and can be customized for different games. Sound over Bluetooth can use the built-in aptX HD codecs for high quality audio.
3. A Win from the JAWS of Defeat: Xiaomi Black Shark 3 Pro
This premium smartphone from Xiaomi was launched in March 2020 but still has quite a fan following due to the global reach of the brand. Going a tad heavier than most in its segment, the Black Shark Pro 3 has a full aluminium built and is made to last. However, it is its screen to body ratio that has been under the scanners since its inception. Although it has a 7.1-inch 2K+ screen which is the highest amongst other gaming devices, thick bezels at the far edges have done little to do justice to this wonderful device. This is to house the front facing camera. The screen is AMOLED with 1440 x 3120 pixels resolution and sports a 90 Hz refresh rate.
It has a 64 MP Triple Camera Set up at the back and takes good images with accurate colours. However, there is ample room for improvement in low light imagery. It has the same Octa-Core Snapdragon 865 Processor but with one core boosted to 2.84 GHz. Graphics is handled by the tried and tested Adreno 650. A standout feature of the Black Shark is a set of retractable shoulder buttons which add an awe-inspiring look to the device and it is functional too as mechanical triggers. The audio though is unbalanced on the stereo speakers and it is advised to use earphones for a much better audio-visual experience. For power, it has a 5000mAh battery split into two with support for 65W Hyper Charge for super quick charging.
At the time of writing, we are expecting Black Shark 4‘s released soon. Powered by Snapdragon 870 with an improved 144Hz display and support for 120W Hyper Charge, it will be a spec bump with some changes to the camera arrangements both front and back, with the front moved into a pin hole.
4. A Game of Might and Magic: Nubia Red Magic 5G
ZTE seems to have found its rhythm when it finally decided to enter the gaming smartphone segment with its sub-brand Nubia. Enter the Red Magic 5G. It is a device that offers the best performance when compared to its price. It was the proponent of 144 Hz OLED displays in smartphones which many considered overkill but have now decided to follow suit anyways. The Red Magic has a glass front and back on an aluminium frame which lets the device attain a balance between durability and looks. Inside, we find a Snapdragon 865 processor and a superior cooling system with heat pipes and an actual cooling fan to dissipate the heat. The RAM starts from 8GB and goes up to 16GB under various storage combos.
The Red Magic 5G has a 64MP triple camera set up at its RGB lit back which does well to capture images. The standout gaming shoulder buttons are helpful in first-person and third-person shooter games. Adding to it is the Game Space 2.1 which is launched via a switch on the top of the device. It lets users set up shoulder buttons and boost the performance of the CPU and the GPU. However, it is sure to affect the 4500 mAH battery which Nubia has tried to mitigate by providing a 55-Watt fast charger in the box.
5. An Ultra Versatile Expensive Option: Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G
You might be wondering what is a mainstream device doing in this list? Well, the latest Note device from Samsung is a more than capable gaming device but it comes at a price that can be considered exorbitant for most. It is the lightest device amongst all listed here and is ‘wrapped’ in Gorilla Glass Victus sheets on a stainless-steel frame. There are two versions of this device and the one meant for US markets sports a Snapdragon 865 processor which has been a proven performer in gaming. Gamers though would not find various gaming features like shoulder buttons or gaming-centric UIs embedded in the device.
The Note 20 sports a 6.9-inch Dynamic AMOLED 2X Display with resolutions that is second only to that of Black Shark Pro 3. Its 120 Hz refresh rate is a feature suited for competitive gaming. However, it’s the battery where the Note 20 might suffer and Samsung has provided Fast Qi/Wireless Charging to counter this weakness. The device has a 108 MP triple camera set up which outperforms every device on the list. The Ultra Note from Samsung is a boon for gamers who are looking for a device that they can game on and show off simultaneously. However, all-rounders come at a price and here it’s no difference.
Honourable Mention: OnePlus 9 Pro
The recently launched flagship from OnePlus is being touted to be a great performer in gaming due to its Snapdragon 888 Processor. The latest OnePlus has the making to be ‘The All-round Smartphone’ people have been waiting for as its camera, co-developed with Hasselblad has already been hailed to be a game changer. The Pro Gaming mode allows gamers to unlock the CPU and GPU power, super responsive sampling rate and haptic motor offers a better gameplay experience, 3D dual stereo speakers pushes situational awareness and gaming grade cooling keeps you going without overheating. To top it off, it has a 120Hz Fluid Display 2.0 for its 6.7-inch AMOLEd display covered in Corning Gorilla Glass up front.
What to Look for in a Gaming Smartphone
A smartphone is a complex device already and a gaming smartphone just adds to its woes. It always comes down to a matter of preference for most while making choices. However, few factors are common for every mobile gamer which must be taken into consideration while making your choice.
Display Size/Quality: You should choose a display size which you can carry as it is a smartphone at the end of the day. You want it to fit in your pocket. Additionally, look for HDR 10+ supporting display panels with a minimum of FHD+ resolutions. The more resolutions it has the more vivid and realistic would be your gameplay. The refresh rate should be high (120Hz or higher) and same goes to the response rate so that fast actions are transmitted to and from the player to the device. AMOLED or OLED panels are preferred for its high contrast and true black qualities as well as vivid and bright colours.
Processor: Many yester year devices claim to be gaming devices but have processors which are not optimized for gaming. A processor is the heart of a device. Hence, it’s important you choose a device that sports a processor optimized for gaming. This goes hand in hand with preloaded gaming app that allows you to boost the settings of the chip. It will maximise the CPU and GPU performance when you need it, typically known as gaming mode.
Battery: You are a gamer. You will game on your smartphone. You surely don’t want to sit in front of the socket and play all day. Although no battery will last if you play all day, it is sensible to choose devices with big batteries and one with fast chargers included. Wireless charging might save you on devices with smaller batteries but low battery notifications are still annoying. There is also the matter of charging port placement. The normal position for charging gets in the way of gamers holding their phone. A simple L-shaped connector or repositioning of the USB-C port allows you to game on without squeezing against the trailing cable.
Built/Gaming Features: A gaming devices must have superior built quality and gaming DNA in its design. Emotions run high and it is all a part of competitive gaming. Hence, your device must be well built to withstand the pressure exerted on them. They typically have a rugged body, metal frame, and backplate that offers good grip. More game centric gaming smartphones come with good haptic engine and programmable side triggers.
Above all, there is also the matter of cooling. Gaming smartphones need to have a well thought out cooling system be it vapour or water cooled. This avoids the While not as important as the other features mentioned earlier, position of the cameras both front and rear can also make a difference. Rear camera on its usual position means they are most likely to get smudges and front camera in pin or punch can be a distraction.
Balance: If you can afford it, we do have a device on our list which you can game on as well as flaunt. For most though, the thinking should be on priorities. You must accept that you may not have a flagship camera on your device as it is focussed on gaming and not photography. Hence, look for the features which serve your purpose. Look for a smooth user interface in a device that can be your daily driver as well as a superior gaming device.
Getting a smartphone has always been matters of preference. Even the best devices have negative reviews and ratings on the Internet. It does not mean that the device is bad. It is just that it did not meet the exact expectation of certain people. Use our what to look for guide above to choose one that is the right fit for you.
Edited by Samuel J Tan