If you weren’t already convinced hardcore mobile gaming is now a thing, Razer has returned with another phone built for just this purpose. The Razer Phone 2 sticks with a virtually identical aesthetic design to its predecessor, this time with Chroma LEDs. A few more changes under the hood should make for both a better gaming and all-around smartphone experience.

See also: Razer Phone 2 review: Going against the grain

The Razer Phone 2 isn’t alone in this increasingly mainstream segment of the smartphone market. Asus’ Republic of Gamers, Xiaomi, Honor, and even Nubia are already on board. Let’s see which of these has the chops to handle the demands of premium mobile gaming.

Gaming-class performance

Razer Phone 2 front

Performance is everything with gaming. High and smooth frame rates can be the difference between victory and defeat. This is an especially acute problem in the smartphone space where we are still bound by the power and battery constraints of our portable devices.

Don’t miss: Razer Phone 2 specs: Familiar, but better in all the ways that matter

The Razer Phone 2 opts for Qualcomm’s flagship tier Snapdragon 845 SoC, the most powerful choice for mobile gaming in the Android space right now. The Adreno 630 powers through all of today’s most demanding games without issue. The Mali-G72 MP12 inside the Honor Play’s high-end Kirin 970 isn’t too far behind, but it’s more of a match for the older Snapdragon 835 inside the Nubia Red Magic.

The back of the Asus ROG Phone.
Why hardcore gaming phones are now a thing

The Asus ROG Phone attempts to eke out a slight performance advantage by overclocking the Snapdragon 845’s big CPU cores to 2.96GHz, up from the default 2.8GHz. However, that 10 percent overclock won’t make a world of difference. Sustainable performance is much more important in constrained smartphone form factors. So it’s not surprising that many of these phones include custom cooling systems to keep frame rates high for longer.

The Razer Phone 2 pairs up its Snapdragon 845 with vapor chamber cooling to remove heat from the chip and keep performance high. The ROG Phone has a similar vapor based cooling system, the Xiaomi Black Shark goes down the liquid cooling route, and the Red Magic uses an air convection cooling system. The Honor Play misses out here.

Razer Phone 2Asus ROG PhoneXiaomi Black SharkHonor PlayNubia Red Magic
Display
Razer Phone 2:
5.72-inch 120Hz IGZO panel
2560 x 1440 resolution
16:9 aspect ratio
Asus ROG Phone:
6.0-inch 90Hz AMOLED panel
2160 x 1080 resolution
18:9 aspect ratio
Xiaomi Black Shark:
5.99-inch LCD panel
2160 x 1080 resolution
18:9 aspect ratio
Honor Play:
6.3-inch IPS LCD
2,340 x 1,080 resolution
19.5:9 aspect ratio
Nubia Red Magic:
6.0-inch IPS LCD panel
2160 x 1080 resolution
18:9 aspect ratio
CPU
Razer Phone 2:
10nm, octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
(clocked @ 2.8GHz)
Asus ROG Phone:
10nm, octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
(clocked @ 2.96GHz)
Xiaomi Black Shark:
10nm, octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845
(clocked @ 2.8GHz)
Honor Play:
Octa-core HiSilicon Kirin 970
(clocked @ 2.4GHz)
Nubia Red Magic:
10nm, octa-core Snapdragon 835
(clocked @ 2.35GHz)
GPU
Razer Phone 2:
Adreno 630
Asus ROG Phone:
Adreno 630
Xiaomi Black Shark:
Adreno 630
Honor Play:
Mali-G72 MP12
Nubia Red Magic:
Adreno 530
RAM
Razer Phone 2:
8GB
Asus ROG Phone:
8GB
Xiaomi Black Shark:
6/8GB
Honor Play:
4/6GB
Nubia Red Magic:
6/8GB
Memory
Razer Phone 2:
64/128GB
Asus ROG Phone:
128/512GB
Xiaomi Black Shark:
64/128GB
Honor Play:
64GB
Nubia Red Magic:
64/128GB
MicroSD
Razer Phone 2:
Yes, up to 2TB
Asus ROG Phone:
No
Xiaomi Black Shark:
No
Honor Play:
Yes, up to 265GB
Nubia Red Magic:
No
Battery
Razer Phone 2:
4,000mAh
Non-removable
Asus ROG Phone:
4,000mAh
Non-removable
Xiaomi Black Shark:
4,000mAh
Non-removable
Honor Play:
3,750mAh
Non-removable
Nubia Red Magic:
3,800mAh
Non-removable
Dimensions
and weight
Razer Phone 2:
158.5 x 78.99 x 8.5mm
Asus ROG Phone:
158.8 x 76.2 x 8.6mm
200g
Xiaomi Black Shark:
161.6x75.4x9.3mm
190g
Honor Play:
157.9 x 74.3 x 7.5mm
176g
Nubia Red Magic:
158.1x74.9x9.5mm
185g

Next on to displays, and the Razer Phone 2 tops the pack here. Its 2,560 x 1,440 resolution is plenty sharp enough to pick out sniping targets at a distance, but the real draw remains the 120Hz refresh IGZO panel. Not every game supports such high refresh rates, but the list is growing. The Asus fits in a decent 90Hz AMOLED panel that’s pretty competitive, but it’s limited to a slightly lower 2,160 x 1,080 resolution. All of the other phones offer more standard 60Hz capped refresh rates with FHD+ resolutions. That’s just enough pixels at around the 6-inch display size mark, and the lower resolution will improve rendering speeds and battery life too.

This is the featured image for the best Android games of 2018!

Battery life is especially important for gaming on the go and high-quality 3D graphics drains power far more quickly than usual. It’s good to see the Razer Phone 2, Asus ROG Phone, and Xiaomi Black Shark all pack in huge 4,000mAh cells. The Honor Play’s 3,750mAh and Nubia Red Magic’s 3,800mAh batteries aren’t far behind either.

Finally, memory and storage options are important to consider as games get larger. The 4GB RAM option in the Honor Play won’t stop you from playing games, but it might be a problem if you want to hop in and out of apps at the same time. The 6GB option is the preferable choice and most of the other phones offer a whopping 8GB of RAM if you really want to break into overkill territory. Storage wise, the Asus ROG Phone stands out above the rest, with either 128GB or 512GB as your choices. Although the Razer Phone 2 and Honor Play offer microSD card expansion for a cheaper memory boost.

Dedicated gaming modes

Gaming smartphones don’t confine their performance optimizations to hardware, they also provide software enhancements too. Honor’s GPU Turbo tech debuted with the Honor Play, offering under-the-hood boosts to performance and power efficiency. The technology helps the company close the GPU deficiency gap with its competitors, but it only works with a small selection of the most demanding games. Honor also offers a Do Not Disturb and Game acceleration mode via its Game Suite.

Razer Phone 2 Game booster app is a more manual affair, granting optimization options for either power savings or higher performance. It’s a bit like NVIDIA control center for PCs, which lets you configure frame rate, resolution, and battery life depending on the type of game you’re playing.

The Nubia Red Magic provides a Gameboost mode by flicking a little red switch on the side of the phone. This mode blocks notifications and also claims to provide a more stable frame rate and faster app loading times by freeing up memory. The Xiaomi Black Shark hosts a similar “shark” button to put the phone into a high-performance mode, and the ROG Phone’s X Mode also cleans up background memory.

Honestly, I wouldn’t pay too much attention to anything that claims to boost performance well above the norm. Freeing up some extra memory on phones with 6 or 8GB RAM isn’t going to transform performance, and reducing background tasks might net you an extra frame or two at most. The Razer Phone 2’s options to customize battery life or performance are probably more useful and practical. Honor’s tailored GPU Turbo algorithm is more interesting still and has the most potential, but it’s underdeveloped at the moment.

Better cameras and extras

If you’re looking for more than just gaming performance, there’s a lot of variation in this space. The Razer Phone 2 offers a lot of what we’ve come to expect from a flagship for between $799 and $899. Wireless charging support, Quick Charge 4+, an IP67 rating, dual front-facing speakers, and a 3.5mm headphone jack are all present. The phone also boasts a much-improved camera this time around, complete with a 2x telephoto lens for long distance shots.

Razer Phone 2Asus ROG PhoneXiaomi Black SharkHonor PlayNubia Red Magic
Camera
Razer Phone 2:
Rear:
12MP f/1.75 wide sensor with OIS and PDAF
+ 12MP f/2.6 telephoto sensor

Front:
8MP f/2.0 sensor
Asus ROG Phone:
Rear:
12MP f/1.8 1.4µm sensor with OIS and PDAF + 8MP 120-degree wide-angle noAF

Front:
8MP f/2.0 sensor
Xiaomi Black Shark:
Rear:
12 MP, f/1.8, 1.25µm sensor with PDAF
2x telephoto 20 MP, f/1.8, 1.0µm

Front:
20MP, f/2.2 aperture, 1.0µm sensor
Honor Play:
Rear:
16MP sensor with f/2.2 aperture, PDAF, EIS
+ 2MP depth sensor with f/2.4 aperture

Front:
16MP sensor with f/2.0 aperture
Nubia Red Magic:
Rear:
24MP sensor with f/1.7 aperture and PDAF

Front:
8MP sensor with f/2.0 aperture
IP Rating
Razer Phone 2:
IP67
Asus ROG Phone:
No
Xiaomi Black Shark:
No
Honor Play:
No
Nubia Red Magic:
No
Audio
Razer Phone 2:
Dual front facing speakers
3.5mm headphone jack with dedicated amp
aptX and LDAC Bluetooth
Asus ROG Phone:
Dual front facing speakers
3.5mm headphone jack
aptXHD and LDAC Bluetooth
Xiaomi Black Shark:
No 3.5mm headphone jack
aptXHD and LDAC Bluetooth
Honor Play:
Bottom-firing speaker
3.5mm audio jack
Nubia Red Magic:
3.5mm headphone jack
aptX and LDAC Bluetooth
Charging
Razer Phone 2:
Qi wireless charging
Quick Charge 4+
USB Type-C
Asus ROG Phone:
20W fast charging
2x USB Type-C
Xiaomi Black Shark:
Quick Charge 3.0
USB Type-C
Honor Play:
Huawei SuperCharge
USB Type-C
Nubia Red Magic:
Fast Charging
USB Type-C
Connectivity
Razer Phone 2:
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC
Asus ROG Phone:
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC
FM Radio
Xiaomi Black Shark:
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth 5.0
NFC
Honor Play:
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth 4.2
NFC
FM Radio
Nubia Red Magic:
Wi-Fi 802.11ac
Bluetooth 5.0
Software
Razer Phone 2:
Android 8.1 Oreo
Asus ROG Phone:
Android 8.1 Oreo
Xiaomi Black Shark:
Android 8.0 Oreo
Honor Play:
Android 8.1 Oreo
EMUI 8.1
Nubia Red Magic:
Android 8.1 Oreo
Price
Razer Phone 2:
$799/$899
Asus ROG Phone:
$899/$1099
Xiaomi Black Shark:
~$699
Honor Play:
from $399
Nubia Red Magic:
€449 (~$520)

The Asus ROG Phone is considerably more expensive, with the top end model hitting $1099. There’s a decent wide-angle dual camera configuration here, along with dual front-facing speakers, a 3.5mm headphone jack, aptXHD Bluetooth audio, and 20W fast charging. Asus also has a huge number of accessories available or this phone, which might add value but raises the price even further if you want them all. The second USB Type-C port is arguably the phone’s big winner here though, as it means that wired accessories can remain plugged in while the phone continues to charge. A very thoughtful addition.

Asus ROG Phone 5 product shot of the rear of the device at an angle
The best phones for gaming: Play faster and better (July 2021)

More budget-conscious consumers may find the Honor Play and Nubia Red Magic more appealing. Although they offer a slightly lower flagship tier performance level, at $400 and $500 they are half the price of the Razer Phone 2 and ROG Phone. You’ll still find fast charging, 3.5mm headphone jacks, and reasonable camera setups here, but that’s about it. These really are bare-bones performance models.

The Xiaomi Black Shark sits in between these price extremes, offering a very compelling set of hardware in typical Xiaomi fashion. There’s a 12MP and 20MP telephoto rear camera combination and huge 20MP selfie camera, aptX HD, Quick Charge 3.0, and the usual assortment of connectivity options. It’s a great middle ground, but availability will likely be the sticking point for Western consumers.


Which of these handsets do you think is the best hardcore gaming smartphone? Are you tempted by the new Razer Phone 2? Let us know in the comments below.

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