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The best phones for gaming: Play faster and better
Mobile gaming has come a long way in recent years, and if you want to make the most of it you’ll want to pick up a gaming phone. These come in all shapes and sizes, but choosing the best gaming phone for you will come down to a few questions:
- How far can you stretch your budget?
- Do you need hardware triggers for first-person shooters, etc.?
- How important are cameras and other features?
- iOS or Android?
Once you know what’s important to you, it isn’t too difficult to find a great phone for gaming. You can learn more in our detailed buyer’s guide, but we’ve done the hard work for you and tested nearly every phone on the market. Keep reading for the best gaming phones you can buy in 2022, starting with a phone that’s easily the cream of the crop.
The ROG Phone 6 is the best gaming phone for most people
The ROG Phone 6 isn’t the latest in Asus’ gaming lineup, but it’s easily the one we recommend for most people. Not only does it have all the great gaming-specific features you’d expect from a gaming phone, it also performs well in other tasks. Most other gaming phones have glaring weaknesses, but this one is a fantastic all-around device.
The biggest gaming feature here is the hardware shoulder buttons, called Airtriggers. These are located where your fingers rest when holding the device in landscape, and use ultrasonic sensors to perform a similar task to triggers on a console controller. However, we were a bit disappointed that they don’t give that satisfying “click” that gaming controllers have. Still, there is some haptic feedback when the phone detects presses.
Power is also a key concern when it comes to gaming phones, and the ROG Phone 6 lineup topped the charts in our testing. It features the same Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 processor as the Galaxy S22 Ultra, but manages to outperform Samsung’s best thanks to improved heat dissipation. If you’re really committed, you can also pick up Asus’ Aero Cooler 6 accessory. With the cooler equipped and the high-performance X-Mode performance toggled on, we were easily able to achieve 60fps at max settings in modern games like Genshin Impact and Apex Legends Mobile.
The ROG Phone 6 Pro has some added features, but the standard model is a better value.
The 165Hz AMOLED screen was also impressive in our testing. It features very high touch sampling (720Hz), so you can’t complain about input lag in competitive games. The phone itself is quite heavy and doesn’t feature as much polish as phones we’ve tested from other OEMs, but it still feels good in the hand. If you’re looking for a gaming phone, odds are you won’t mind the decidedly “gamer” aesthetic.
The rest of the phone is more than good enough for everyday use. Camera performance is just average, and can’t compete with the best camera phones. The large battery easily hits two days of regular use, or anywhere from three to six hours of intense gaming at max settings in our testing. We’re also happy to report that it includes a 65W charger in the box, which in our testing topped off the phone in just 36 minutes.
For anyone looking for a gaming phone, the standard ROG Phone 6 is probably the one to get. It’s worth noting that there are a few other models, most notably the ROG Phone 6 Pro, but we don’t think it’s worth the extra expense. Your gaming experience simply won’t change much. More recently, Asus released the ROG Phone 6D series, which uses the Mediatek Dimensity 9000 Plus processor instead of Qualcomm’s offering. The 6D Ultimate also has an air vent for better cooling, but the older model still outperformed it in our benchmark testing.
What makes it stand out
- Gaming first: This phone is built to game with hardware triggers and tip-top performance.
- Great battery life: The beefy 6,000mAh cell lasts for two days or several hours of hardcore gaming.
- Add-on accessories: Asus makes a full ecosystem of accessories, most notably the Aero Cooler 6.
The Black Shark 5 Pro is a solid alternative pick
Black Shark has been making gaming phones for years now, and the Black Shark 5 Pro is the latest of the bunch. Software support for these phones is limited, but if you can look past that, you’re getting some seriously great specs.
The Pro model features the same Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 as the ROG Phone 6 above, paired with up to 16GB of RAM. This is probably overkill, but overkill is the name of the game when it comes to gaming phones. It also packs a 4,650mAh battery with 120W charging that the company claims gets the phone from zero to full in just 15 minutes. Even better, the charger is included in the box.
The screen is also impressive, with a high refresh rate and the same 720Hz sampling rate as the ROG Phone 6 above. On top of the phone, there are two popup magnetic switches that serve as triggers when gaming. They provide a nice haptic response when pressed, and outside of games they can be programmed with shortcuts to open apps, the camera, etc.
The Black Shark 5 Pro has a triple camera setup led by a 108MP main sensor. Despite this, you shouldn’t expect great photos from any of the lenses. This is par for the course as far as dedicated gaming phones go, so there are no real surprises there.
Overall, the Black Shark 5 Pro is a great alternative to the ROG Phone 6 for anyone looking for a phone for gaming. We wouldn’t go so far as to recommend it over Asus’ offering, but if you can get a good deal, it’s more than worth the price.
What makes it stand out
- Magnetic triggers: These provide nice haptic feedback and can be programmed with shortcuts outside of games.
- Fast charging: Top off fast with the included 120W charger.
- Killer performance: The Black Shark 5 Pro features a fast processor and an abundance of RAM.
The Nubia Red Magic 7S Pro is another powerhouse
If you’re looking for a gaming phone with a few unique features, the Nubia Red Magic 7S Pro is our recommendation. Like the phone above, it sacrifices a lot of software features (including update longevity) to hit a lower price, but the hardware is still very capable of extreme gaming.
Nubia’s latest builds on the strengths of the Red Magic 7 Pro, most notably when it comes to cooling performance. As we’ve seen in testing, high temperatures are the Achilles heel of modern flagship processors, and often the biggest gains come from better cooling. In other words, this phone makes more out of the Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 than phones from other manufacturers. Nubia has also included a dedicated secondary chip to handle things like haptic feedback and audio, which should boost game performance even further. It also comes with up to 18GB of RAM, although the 12GB standard model will be more than enough.
Like other dedicated gaming phones, the 7S Pro has built-in triggers. Like the ROG Phone 6, they don’t “click” when pressed, but the phone does provide some haptics. It has a speedy 120Hz AMOLED screen with a very impressive 960Hz sampling rate, which is the highest we’ve ever seen. It also features an under-display selfie camera, so there are no unsightly blemishes on the screen. In our experience, the results from under-display cameras are pretty awful, but that’s not a dealbreaker for gaming phones. The front cameras aren’t top performers, either.
Nubia has packed in a few extra gaming software features with a dedicated gaming hub. This adds some useful things like a stopwatch, equalizer, and quick chat shorthands. Outside of games, however, we found the software less capable than other phones. The overall build quality is also slightly worse, but considering all of the unique gaming chops this phone has, it’s still a decent buy.
It’s worth noting that Nubia has announced the Red Magic 8 Pro, which is slated for release in February. It’s set to have a Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 and an even larger battery than its predecessor. We’ll update our list as soon as we learn more.
What makes it stand out
- Pure power: This phone pulls no punches when it comes to specs and raw power.
- Improved cooling: Nubia has further improved its cooling tech, providing better performance under pressure.
- Clean display: The under-display selfie camera means uninterrupted screen real estate for gaming.
The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra trades triggers for a stylus
Moving out of dedicated gaming phone territory, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is a powerhouse that will satisfy any mobile gamer’s needs. It doesn’t have shoulder buttons, but it does take a page out of the Galaxy Note’s book with a built-in S Pen. This can come in handy for strategy games that require precise tapping. We loved the new grippy texture of the latest S Pen, and it stows away safely in the phone itself.
Apart from that, this phone really does have it all. It’s easily among the best Android phones you can buy, earning our pick for the best premium Android phone outside of Samsung’s own foldables. The massive 6.8-inch dynamic AMOLED display is gorgeous and perfect for games, although it’s not suited for one-handed use. Playing games in landscape should be fine, but if you’re coming from a smaller phone there will be a learning curve. Speaking of which, the curved display will also take some getting used to if you want to avoid unwanted taps.
As expected, performance was nearly perfect in our testing. The Galaxy S22 Ultra doesn’t have any of the fancy cooling features of dedicated gaming phones, but it makes up for it in other ways. For example, it supports the latest standards like Wi-Fi 6E, mmWave, and sub-6GHz 5G, plus ultra-wideband for things like Bluetooth trackers (such as Samsung’s own Galaxy SmartTags). Some of these might make a minor difference while gaming, but they make a huge difference in everyday use. That said, the lowest-spec model starts at 8GB/128GB, which we think is too low for a phone at this price. The 12GB/256GB version is the one to get.
The Galaxy S22 Ultra also won our big camera shootout, edging out the Pixel 7 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max. It packs a 108MP main shooter backed up by 12MP ultrawide, 10MP 3x telephoto, and 10MP 10x periscope lenses. All of them performed well in our testing, providing a level of versatility you won’t find in any gaming phone.
Now for the bad part: price. This starts at $1,200, and the 12GB/256GB version we recommend for gaming runs an extra hundred dollars. That’s a lot of money, but you are getting the best camera phone on the market in addition to a capable gaming device.
What makes it stand out
- S Pen goodness: The S Pen housed in the device is excellent for strategy games.
- Raw power: We experienced no hiccups or stutters, even in intense games.
- Excellent cameras: This tops our list of the best camera phones, providing great versatility.
The iPhone 14 Pro Max is best for the Apple crowd
If you want to opt for Apple’s side of things, the iPhone 14 Pro Max is a clear winner. It isn’t a huge improvement over last year’s iPhone 13 Pro Max, but we didn’t find many faults with that one, either.
Apple’s Bionic processors have always outperformed anything Android can muster, and the same is true for the Apple A16 Bionic. However, our own testing on the A15 Bionic revealed that Apple’s 2021 processor loses out to dedicated Android gaming phones when it comes to raw GPU power. Keep in mind, however, that it won’t matter in the vast majority of situations. This phone can play any game on the market with ease, and iOS tends to have more apps and games available.
Measuring 6.7 inches, the iPhone 14 Pro Max’s ProMotion 120Hz OLED panel is sharp, bright, and has an excellent contrast ratio at 2,000,000:1. Once again, there are no built-in shoulder triggers, but you can get an even better experience by picking up a Razer Kishi, effectively turning your iPhone into a mini Nintendo Switch.
We think the iPhone 14 Pro Max is the best for gamers, but if you prefer a smaller phone, the iPhone 14 Pro packs just as big a punch. However, the other two devices in the lineup use last year’s A15 Bionic processor, so we don’t recommend picking up those two models if you want raw power. They’re still capable devices, but they’re a considerably worse value.
What makes it stand out
- Bionic power: Apple’s Bionic A16 processor is extremely powerful and energy efficient.
- ProMotion display: The large, 120Hz OLED display is perfect for games of all types.
- Ecosystem: iOS always has the latest and greatest apps and games.
The Poco F4 GT is the best budget gaming phone
Want a cheap gaming phone? The Poco F4 GT is a fantastic option, but only for those outside of the US. It has a lot of flagship specs for a €599 phone, but once again, you are sacrificing long-term update support.
Starting with specs, you’re getting the same Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor found in phones that cost $200 to $300 more. In our testing, we found it can go toe-to-toe with the Galaxy S22 Ultra, although it ran hot without the enhanced thermals found in more expensive gaming phones. We did, however, love the retractable shoulder buttons. They provide nice feedback, and can be mapped to on-screen virtual buttons via the Game Turbo side menu.
The speedy 120Hz performed well during our review period, although it isn’t exactly anything special compared to the rest of Xiaomi’s (non-gaming) midrange lineup. You can switch between 60Hz and 120Hz to save battery, which is great because battery life was just average at around six hours in our testing. Thankfully, the 120W charging topped it back off in 17 minutes flat.
While gaming will be great on this phone, it’s a mediocre camera phone. We found the primary shooter to be fine in daylight, but it struggled at night. The other two were pretty disappointing, with a lot of noise and poor color reproduction. Again though, that shouldn’t be a dealbreaker for anyone looking for a cheap gaming phone.
What makes it stand out
- Price: This is the best cheap gaming phone you can buy (but not in the US).
- Shoulder buttons: The retractable shoulder buttons are a joy to use, and can be mapped to virtual buttons.
- Fast charging: Battery life is decent, and you can top off to full in just 17 minutes.
What to look for in a gaming phone
Not sure what makes a gaming phone good? We’ve tested lots of phones, and here’s some quick insight into what we look for:
- Powerful specs: Modern games can be very demanding, so a powerful SoC and a healthy helping of RAM are crucial to maintaining high framerates.
- Thermal performance: One of the biggest drawbacks of the latest generation of flagship processors is heat. Many gaming phones have improved thermals to enable much better-sustained performance than traditional flagships.
- Hardware triggers: While not all of our picks have them, hardware triggers make a good gaming phone great. Bonus points if they offer nice haptic feedback. However, keep in mind accessories like the Razer Kishi can get around this.
- Software: Obviously, gaming features are great, but there are other things to consider as well. Chief among them are updates. If your phone will only receive updates for two years, you’ll need to upgrade much sooner than you’d like.
- Cameras: Camera performance is nearly always lacking on gaming phones, but some are still capable shooters. Likewise, many of the best camera phones, like the premium Galaxy S22 Ultra, are also excellent for gaming.
Gaming phones from a few years ago will still be able to run the latest games, but they may not receive many years of software updates.