The best gaming phones can do far more than bringing you all your favorite thumb tappers. These devices can pack some serious power, with high-powered processors and GPUs, bags of RAM, and speedy refresh rate displays. There are plenty of gaming-oriented devices hitting the market these days as well, so there's a lot for Play Store power users to dive into right now. Not only that, but with the rise of Xbox's Cloud Gaming solutions, smaller screens are becoming even bigger business.
However, there are many models out there - all claiming to be the best gaming phones on the market. That makes it difficult to work out exactly what you need from your smartphone, and how much you need to pay for a gaming-specific device. Thankfully, as gaming phones develop, we're seeing prices on the biggest and best falling slightly down the scale. That means there's now options for all budgets, and we're rounding up our favorites right here.
Our team of experts is on hand to point out the best gaming phones currently gracing the market, not to mention the best prices. We've drawn on our own hands on experience with the latest and greatest releases to ensure you're getting an overview of the whole space before making that critical decision. Of course, you're not going to get the performance of a gaming laptop, or even the best gaming tablets, here - but for a pocket-sized thumb twitcher, these are the models we'd recommend.
The best gaming phones available now
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 finally achieves what the foldable phone movement set out to achieve all those years ago. The latest iteration feels like the first to truly deliver on that promise of smartphone form factor and tablet functionality, with an impressive set of specs under the hood and some incredible UI improvements up top.
The horizontal folding action means you're getting a full 7.6-inch display when fully open, which we found excellent for multi-tasking (especially paired with split view) and gaming alike. From browsing the web while checking emails to adding an extra window for on the fly Spotify controls, Samsung has moved beyond providing a larger phone screen here and more into the world of a tablet productivity machine.
When it comes to gaming, the impressive tech on display certainly doesn't disappoint either. We never ran into any heating problems while running heavier titles like Call of Duty Mobile, and the 120Hz refresh rates on every screen meant we were really pushing those demanding apps for their fullest potential. We did, however, stumble across a slight issue with some more retro side-scrolling titles - losing a moment of control as we slid over the crease in the middle of the two screens. There was only one game that we tested that produced this, however.
We also got some great action out of those Dolby speakers. Aside from their obvious employment in streaming and music apps, they performed brilliantly in our gaming tests as well, carrying a full sound stage with plenty of detail.
Speaking of streaming, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 finally brings some innovations to its entertainment apps. While 'Flex' mode (fold the screen horizontally like a laptop for playback controls on the lower half of the panel) is yet to be implemented across some apps, Netflix ran beautifully while propped up in this way.
It's certainly costly, but the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 takes foldable phones' first real steps into the future, and it's easily the best phone released this year.
Read more: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 review
The Nubia RedMagic 7 Pro is an absolute beast of a gaming phone. You're getting some incredibly powerful components in that Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, up to 18GB RAM, and 120Hz AMOLED display - which all converge to create a mobile gaming experience like no other.
With a 960Hz multi-finger touch sampling rate keeping your on-screen movements clean and precise, and a set of shoulder buttons sitting atop the device itself, inputs felt snappy and comfortable. While these shoulder buttons are touch-based, rather than relying on the actuation of a physical clicker, they quickly merged into muscle memory. Add RedMagic's own Red Core 1 chip to direct non-essential processing tasks away from the Snapdragon chipset, and the 20,000RPM fan keeping everything cool, and we found that not only is the 7 Pro incredibly powerful on paper, but it also manages to squeeze every last ounce of juice out of its components as well.
While we were frustrated with some of the menu navigations and everyday software bugs still present in our test device, the 7 Pro still managed to hold its own as a standard smartphone on top of its gaming prowess. Sure, the cameras won't be competing with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy range or the iPhone 13 Pro, but with 120W fast-charging (outside of the US - 65W in North America and Canada) and a solid battery life there's plenty going on here.
The Nubia RedMagic 7 Pro is the best gaming phone for those on the hunt for the most powerful device on the market.
Read more: Nubia RedMagic 7 Pro review
The iPhone has struggled to truly be recognised as one of the best gaming phones in its lifetime, but there's no reason it can't truly step into the space with Apple Arcade and its own gaming network in Game Center. The iPhone 13 Pro is the first real movement towards integrating that gaming focus into Apple's smartphone hardware, though.
The 120Hz variable refresh rate - sorry, 'ProMotion' - display really helps some Apple Arcade greats shine, as well as larger standalone games like Elder Scrolls Blade, Minecraft, and Call of Duty Mobile. The A15 Bionic processor barely wobbled when put under the stress of even every day apps that used to make our iPhone 12 cry (Duolingo, for some reason) and temperatures were well maintained even during the longest of gaming sessions.
The OLED panel still offers a gorgeous overall experience, keeping games like Magic The Gathering: Arena feeling as crisp as ever, and displaying streaming apps like Netflix with aplomb.
Even with all systems go we were impressed by the battery life. In fact, in lighter usage over a weekend away (an hour or so on maps, a few hours of screen-off Spotify, intermittent Safari searches, a couple of YouTube videos, some location services switched on, but admittedly only connecting to 4G) we didn't have to recharge once.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable updates here is the excellent video features. The iPhone 13 Pro's camera system and accompanying software can perform some truly impressive focus pulling functions and can shoot in Dolby Vision at 4K 60fps. The results are extremely satisfying, making the iPhone 13 Pro well worth the investment for the camera system alone if you're a content creator.
Read more: iPhone 13 Pro review
The Asus ROG Phone 6 is a real beast, packing a seriously speedy processor into a slimline chassis packing some excellent additional features and some impressive cooling tech. Both the black and white colorways sport a small window screen along the back, with all the angles and shapes you would expect from a gaming phone. Such an aesthetic does mean this is a gaming-specific device - designed for the hardcore thumb tappers rather than the wider smartphone market.
However, if you fall into this camp you'll appreciate the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 CPU whirring away under the hood, as well as the opportunity to pack this out with a whopping 16GB RAM. Not only that but there's a 165Hz refresh rate on that 6.78-inch AMOLED display - though there is a small sacrifice down to a 2448 x 1080 resolution which feels a little outdated when looking at the wider market.
That 50MP camera is also set up to succeed where many gaming phones often fail. Photography remains crisp and dynamic and night mode holds up well against similarly priced everyday devices.
All that tech certainly doesn't come cheap. The Asus ROG Phone is one of the more expensive gaming phones on this list. However, if you're looking to invest in a long-lasting device with some of the best gaming chops on the market, you'd do well to consider this model.
Picking up a cheaper gaming phone doesn't mean limiting yourself to match-three puzzlers or go with an unknown brand. The Samsung Galaxy A50 costs a small fraction of its flashier siblings like the S20 or Note series, but this is still a great phone and a stone-cold bargain if you want to spend less, but get a phone that won't let you down.
I was testing this for gaming against some very expensive phones and I almost had to have a word with it and explain how it needed to stop showing up the big boys. Call of Duty Mobile on high settings for graphics and frame rate. Why not? Sure, it wasn't quite as smooth or detailed as your $1000/£1000 flagship phones, but at less than a third of the price, the A50 is way better than it should be.
As a day to day phone, the Samsung Galaxy A50 has a very good camera, with only the night pictures being prone to a loss of detail if there are too many artificial light sources. Amazingly for a phone at this price, it has a dual-SIM slot, making it handy if you have separate work/home SIMs or if you're picking up a cheap data card when traveling abroad. There's a newer Galaxy A51 out there now, which aside from an upgrade to 48MP/32MP (back/front) camera lenses, carries the same internal spec and display, so we'd stick with the A50 for the generally cheaper cost, but if you're curious, here are the latest Galaxy A51 prices (opens in new tab).
Which phones are best for gaming?
In our testing, the best phone for gaming is currently the Samsung Z Fold 3, thanks to that expandable screen and excellent feature set. However, the smartphone market is expanding once again, with flagship devices chipping away at Apple and Samsung's shared monopoly in the last couple of years. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the gaming phone market. Between gaming-focused brands like Asus and Razer and more mainstream options like OnePlus and Sony, there's always something new just around the corner.
Which gaming phone is cheapest?
The iPhone SE is the cheapest phone that we recommend for gaming, but if you're looking for a games-focused model, your cheapest options are likely to come from Xiaomi.
Are gaming phones worth it?
If you're invested in the wide and wonderful world of mobile gaming, sinking some cash into a device that can keep up with your pursuits will always be worth it. You'll enjoy a faster screen, more RAM and storage, a more powerful processor, and additional gaming features like fps caps and performance modes.
However, if you tinker with Apple Arcade every now and then or jump into the odd PUBG session, we'd recommend aiming for a phone that can support your mobile gameplay, but not at the sacrifice of other features. The best gaming phones often drop camera and high-end networking features, and can cost a pretty penny to boot, so it's worth working out whether you'll actually be using those additional gadgets before investing.
How we test gaming phones
Each handset that passes our pockets goes through a series of tests to see if it's worthy of being listed as one of the best gaming phones on the market. First and foremost, though, we live with these devices to see just how well their form factors, cameras, screens, and - crucially - battery lives hold up under every day use. That's why we adopt each model as our own throughout the testing period, putting each phone through its paces in both standard use and through heavy gaming sessions.
After that, we run each gaming phone through a series of titles to determine their performance as well as how much battery they consume. Call of Duty Mobile, PUBG, Magic The Gathering: Arena, and Fortnite (on Android) are our primary titles.
You can find out more about how we make our recommendations in our full GamesRadar+ Hardware Policy.