The massive power in some phones makes them ideal gaming devices, and in turn we’re seeing a large number of great games launched on both Android and iOS. But power is just one part of what makes a handset one of the best phones for games, and some handsets are built from the ground up to offer a complete gaming experience.
Unfortunately phones like the Razer Phone 2, Asus ROG Phone 2 and Black Shark 2, which have not just loads of power but also high refresh rates, comprehensive gaming modes, and more are not readily available in South Africa.
Yet many of the very best phones for games aren’t ‘gaming phones’ at all. They’re simply all-round flagships that excel at, well, everything, including games. These are phones like the iPhone 11 Pro Max and the Samsung Galaxy S20 range.
So there are lots of options to choose from, depending on your budget, operating system preference, and what else you want from a phone.
Below you’ll find our list of the very best phones for gaming – whether they’re designed as such or not. There are pros and cons for each, along with a complete specs list and an overview of what makes them so good, so you can make an informed choice.
But make sure to check back regularly, as more great gaming phones are released all the time.
And once you’ve picked your phone, we’ve got you covered when it comes to picking games as well, with our best iPhone games, best free iPhone games, best Android games and best free Android games lists – all of which are also regularly updated.
- iPhone 11 Pro Max / iPhone 11 Pro
- Samsung Galaxy S20/S20 Plus
- Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus / Galaxy S10
- LG G8X THinQ
- Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Lite
- LG V40 ThinQ
- Apple iPhone XR
The iPhone 11 Pro Max is the bigger, better brother of Apple's newest flagship smartphone in a few key ways, but if you're picking either model for gaming, you might as well go with the best.
The 6.5-inch screen on the iPhone 11 Pro Max is bigger than the one on its 5.8-inch sibling and its larger battery manages to stay working longer than the standard iPhone 11 Pro.
Those perks will give you more of an edge than with the iPhone 11 Pro, but both benefit from this Apple phone generation's true advantage: the A13 Bionic processor.
In our tests, it loaded up Clash Royale and PUBG even faster (vs the iPhone X), and speed is crucial in online gaming. All this in a Apple's sleek, modern look – though it's the most expensive mainstream phone on the market, even before including all the bells and whistles.
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.
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
LG has produced a string of hits many of which you've never heard of, like the V40.
This handset was top-specced well over a year ago, so now you can pick it up for next to nothing, but it's still packed with some high end tech that works for gamers. The LG V40 makes our list by virtue of being the best gaming phone in the tradeoff of price against performance. It's our top value gaming phone.
Through the headphone jack you'll get LG's legendary sound system using specialised audio chips, and the 6.4-inch OLED screen has a phenomenal pixel density of 537 ppi, meaning it's pin sharp. The gutsy CPU is paired with the Adreno 630 GPU, which performs just a shade below today's top-rated phones.
And it's hardy too with Gorilla Glass 5 all round, and chemically treated for a soft touch finish on the back, which makes for better grip. You're getting a lot of gaming goodness for your money, here.
Read our reviews: LG V40 ThinQ
The iPhone XR might be 18 months old already, but it still provides exceptional gaming performance. Apple has historically been well behind the curve on screen sizes, but the XR provides a very good 6.1 inch LCD screen (Apple's much lauded Retina display) backed by the extraodinary A12 Bionic processor.
Just to be clear, Apple is now so far ahead in processing power (and graphics processing) that the chip they produced two years ago is still significantly faster than today's best Android offerings from market leader Qualcomm. In fact, some speculate you have enough power in the A12 Bionic for a decent mid-range laptop. And that's what's powering your gaming experience.
The only reason this phone does not place higher is because it uses older LCD screen technology which is trailing the OLED screens used in today's top performing phones, and battery life is not stellar.
Read more: Apple iPhone XR review