Smartphones have come a long way when it comes to gaming, and now along with the casual games that still prove very popular you can also get full console-quality experiences on a phone. But of course, that kind of experience takes some serious power, for which you’ll benefit from having one of the best gaming phones.
But there's more to gaming than just having the top specs. Phones have come out with hardware and software perks like touch-sensitive triggers and in-game settings tweaks that take playing to another level. These phones have better display refresh rates, screen size, gaming modes, and cooling systems than the average handsets, which tend to be more directly targeted by phones built with gaming in mind.
If you've got very deep pockets, and are willing to purchase online outside of South Africa we've assembled a list of extreme phones, like the Nubia Red Magic 5G, Asus ROG 3, Black Shark 2, and Razer Phone 2, that are the outright best gaming phones in the world at any price. See the full line up of heavy hitting handsets here.
You don't need a gaming phone to play on the go, though. If you'd prefer a more mainstream device, many of the best phones for gaming are simply high-end handsets like the Samsung Galaxy S20 range and the iPhone 12 Pro.
These handsets and more are included in our list below, so there are plenty of options, and not all of them cost a fortune. For each you’ll find full details of its specs, features, and highlights in our guide below, so you should have everything you need to get your game on.
But make sure to check back regularly, as we’re keeping this article constantly updated with new arrivals.
Best gaming phones at a glance
- Apple iPhone 12 Pro
- Samsung Galaxy S20/S20 Plus
- LG V60 ThinQ + Dual Screen
- Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus / Galaxy S10
- LG G8X THinQ
- Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite
The newest and best iPhone Pro model out there, the iPhone 12 Pro is the best of the Apple bunch right now. Its 6.1-inch display looks fantastic and is just the right size to get the most out of your gaming experience. Backed up by a powerful processor and plenty of storage space, you won't be disappointed by how speedily games run.
There's also no shortage of game options thanks to the App Store having a huge wealth of games available to it, plus the benefits that come from using Apple Arcade for a Netflix-style library of options.
The iPhone 12 Pro is expensive for what you get and 5G isn't really relevant to a lot of users just yet (but will be a huge help gaming in future), but such a purchase will mean that you're future-proofed for a while to come yet.
Read our review: iPhone 12 Pro
The Samsung Galaxy S20 and Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus are obvious inclusions for this list, seeing as how they’re the latest entries in the most high-profile Android flagship range around.
They’re not just coasting on their name though, these phones really are great for games, thanks in no small part to the top-end computing power at their heart. You get either a Snapdragon 865 chipset if you’re in the US, or an Exynos 990 in most other places, and in both cases these are flagship smartphone chipsets.
You also get 8GB of RAM, so not much should slow these phones down. And games will look great on them, as both models have a QHD+ screen with a refresh rate of up to 120Hz. They also pack big batteries, giving you either 4,000mAh or 4,500mAh to play with in the Galaxy S20 and Galaxy S20 Plus respectively.
The LG V60 ThinQ seems like an updated and up-sized version of the LG G8, which popularized the Dual Screen peripheral that makes the V60 stand out from the competition.
In essence, the Dual Screen is an exact copy of the V60's 6.8-inch Full HD Plus (2460 x 1080) display. The software takes a moment to get used to, but you can effectively have two apps running at the same time – handy if, like in the photo above, you want to play games on one screen and watch media on the other.
There is a gaming mode that makes the second screen an input touchpad, leaving the first screen free of fingers, but it's not the most intuitive. There are also a handful of apps, like Google Maps, that can splash across both screens to varying degrees of helpfulness.
Otherwise, the phone is a typically powerful flagship for 2020: Snapdragon 865 chipset, 8GB of RAM, 128GB or 256GB of storage, and it runs Android 10. The 5,000mAh battery is a great addition to keep your gaming going, and the 3.5mm headphone jack is a rarity in phones these days. Overall, a strong pick for gaming and watching media – or both at the same time.
Read our reviews: LG V60 ThinQ review
Don't be too surprised to see Samsung so high on the list. Its latest family of Galaxy S10 smartphones are the first to feature Qualcomm's powerful new Snapdragon 855 chipset, which quickly boosted them to the top of the pack in terms of sheer performance.
But, it's not just the chipset that makes these excellent gaming phones. They have sharp Super AMOLED displays with support for high dynamic range, so you'll get excellent visuals in movies and games alike.
The screen real estate is also expanded, so you have that much more game to look at. With these phones, you're getting both a killer phone and a powerful mobile gaming device in one.
Better still, VR fans can still make use of the new phones with existing Gear VR headsets letting you enjoy the immersive game medium on the phones' crisp displays.
LG is one of the most underrated phone brands, despite consistently delivering affordable flagship phones with great specifications and workhorse performance. LG is no slouch in the multimedia department, with superb screens (it makes screens for Apple, after all) and exceptional audio.
For gaming it's got a the top-end Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 CPU with the highly regarded Adreno 640 GPU painting the 6.4-inch OLED screen. Its a robust build with Gorilla Glss 6 all round and its IP68 waterproof. Like all high-end LG phones the sound system uses specialised audio decoder chips and ampifiers for exceptional sound through the headphone jack (but this doesn't carry through to Bluetooth headphones, obviously).
And then there's a hidden trump card. The the G8X comes standard with a second 6.4-inch screen embedded in a folio-style hard case. By slipping your phone into one side, it powers up the second screen, so you get the benefit of both. This split screen arrangement is LGs answer to the folding screen of competitors, but it works espcially well for gaming with controls shifted off the main interface and on to the second screen, where they can be enlarged for better control without obscuring your on-screen action. Inevitably only a handful of games are taking advantage of this right now, but those include Asphalt 9 and Fortnite.
Read more: LG G8X ThinQ review
The Note series might be more closely associated with business than gaming, but the processing power and multimedia granted to discerning business users plays very nicely for gaming too. This includes, for example the massive FHD 6.7-inch AMOLED screen, the ample 6GB of RAM and the generous 4500mAh battery, which is what contributes to a great all-day gaming platform.
The Exynos 9810 CPU runs lighter on battery than the CPU on the full Note 10 but it comes paired with the Mali-G72 MP18 GPU, considered to be amongst the very best graphics chips available in Android phones.
At nearly 200g its a little heavier than some competitors, but it does have a headphone jack.
Read our hands-on review: Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite