If you haven’t played a mobile game since the days of Snake, Angry Birds, or Pokémon Go, you may be a little surprised at how much has changed. Today, gaming on a smartphone is huge, and the visual quality of the games is exceptional. Titles such as PUBG and Genshin Impact are not only fun to play, but also push the limits of what smartphones can handle. And with new games on the horizon, like the much-anticipated Diablo Immortal, 2022 is gearing up to be another exciting year for mobile gaming.
While these visual behemoths are accessible across most smartphones, gamers know that to maximise the performance, they need a gaming smartphone specifically designed to meet the top-end technical requirements. Cutting-edge displays, fast CPUs, and smart gaming-focused functions all feature prominently in the list of must-haves for any new purchase, ensuring that you stay ahead of the competition.
With a wide variety of options to choose from, here are a few key things to look out for when planning your gaming smartphone upgrade.
Think of the CPU (Central Processing Unit) as the brain of the phone. It’s here where most of the heavy work gets done. CPUs are constantly in development, delivering newer, faster and better versions every year. The flagship premium phones will generally install the latest version of the processor available.
For gaming smartphones running Android, you’ll want anything in the Snapdragon 800 series or above to provide the best experience currently available. There are other CPUs for Android-based phones – Samsung uses its own processor, Exynos, in its models.
Apple uses a custom-built CPU for iOS, which is updated with every new iPhone model. This makes it slightly more limiting in choice, but much easier to track which version provides the best performance.
What do I need to know about screens?
Screens are valuable real estate on gaming smartphones. Screens even influence design – additional buttons can be placed on the side of the phone to ensure that fingers don’t obstruct any of the action. Most gaming phones will sport a 6.7-inch screen, which is about what you would expect from a premium consumer phone.
The gold standard of screen technology is AMOLED, a type of OLED display used in smartphones and tablets. AMOLED screens can handle fast refresh rates, offer low power consumption, and deliver greater colours than traditional LCD screens. Look for the largest AMOLED screen size that’s comfortable to hold in your palm.
Why is the refresh rate important?
The refresh rate on a smartphone is one of the key functions to consider when choosing a model for gaming. The refresh rate is a count of how many times your phone updates the screen image during a single second. This means phones with high refresh rates, measured in hertz (Hz), will deliver smoother video and more responsive performance. Most regular smartphones operate at around 60Hz, which is fine for streaming, messaging and browsing.
By comparison, gaming phones should benchmark between 120-144Hz. Most gaming phones also allow you to change this setting to lower rates, so you don’t turn your phone into a power vacuum while you’re not in play.
How big do I need the battery to be?
If you’ve used a smartphone in the past ten years, you’ll know that battery life can vanish in the blink of an eye. This is especially true with gaming phones that will rapidly chew through power when running high-quality games.
Battery size in smartphones is measured in mAh (milliampere/hour). Most modern smartphones can range between 3,000 to 5,000 mAh, enough to handle most average phone use. However, with the thirsty requirements of the gaming phone, the recommendation is to look for the largest battery size possible to ensure that you don’t run short when you’re in the fight.
The best way to be prepared when you’re gaming on the go is to supplement your phone with a portable power bank. These rechargable batteries serve as convenient boosters and ensure gamers will never get caught short while away from a power socket.
The feisty little Belkin Charging Stand & Play power bank with 10K mAh capacity has a side-mounted stand, meaning you can set your phone, plug in, and play on.
The OtterBox Qi is the mid-ranged Swiss Army Knife of power banks. It has a 15k mAh battery and supports wireless charging, plus connection points for both USB-A and USB-C (for fast charging).
And sporting a 27k mAh battery, the Cygnett ChargeUp Edge+ is a supersized power bank that also includes wireless charging and can power up to four devices simultaneously.
Your new palm-sized play station
Where most flagship smartphones have the system requirements to make high-powered gaming possible, the next generation of gaming smartphones are specifically focused on delivering the best possible gaming experience. Monster battery sizes, large screens with professional gaming refresh rates, advanced cooling technology and smart additional buttons all make gaming smartphones uniquely qualified to maximise your performance.
If iOS gameplay is your thing, upgrading to the latest iPhone is the surest way of upping your gaming potential. But when it comes to Android phones, the choice is not so obvious. There’s a much wider variety of phones to choose from, with many developers offering several different takes on essential gaming gear. Narrowing down the decision on which one to choose can be difficult, but bigger is always better when it comes to gaming smartphones. Here are a few options that meet the needs of today’s gamers.
Any discussion of mobile gaming wouldn’t be complete without the ROG Phone 5s Pro – the latest in the impressive line-up of gamer-focused phones from ASUS – getting a mention. Powered by the Snapdragon 888 processor and with a 6.78-inch AMOLED display and 144Hz refresh rate, this ultimate gaming smartphone is not messing around when it comes to high performance.
The ROG Phone 5s Pro is equipped with the latest update to the impressive AirTrigger 5 game controls. These shoulder-mounted, touch-sensitive buttons can be customised to respond to any onscreen actions, or even be used as motion controls.
With a BIG 6k mAh high-capacity battery, the ROG will keep going for as long as you’re willing to play. And the battery is specifically positioned away from grip areas to keep your hands cool when the smartphone starts to heat up.
The ROG also comes with an inbuilt game assistant, Game Genie, allowing you to set up scenario profiles and cherry-pick the best settings for each game. From refresh rates to advanced cooling options, you’ll be able to maximise your phone’s performance to bring its best every time you play.
With a surprising animation display on the back, you can use the built-in editor to create new animations – in black and white and colour – to give your smartphone a signature look.
The ROG Phone 5s Pro is an absolute powerhouse gaming smartphone. Stylish, well-designed, and jam-packed full of features to give you that competitive edge.
Armed with a Snapdragon 870 processor, 144Hz refresh rate, a liquid cooling system, and a 4,500 mAh battery, the Black Shark 4 is an excellent starting point for smartphone gamers. The standout gaming feature is the magnetic shoulder triggers, which provide an extremely tactile solution to dull touch-sensitive bumpers. They pop in and out at a touch and you won’t have to dislocate your fingers to move across the top of the screen. These triggers – definitely not a feature on most standard phones – provide faster interactivity and mean you’ll have a better view of the 6.67-inch AMOLED screen.
The Black Shark 4 also comes with an inbuilt gaming assistant, Shark Space, allowing players to change settings to maximise gaming output. You can change the refresh rate, enhance the colour or graphic settings, change the sensitivity of your onscreen touches, or forget all that and max out with Ludicrous mode – a setting that advises you to run additional cooling on the phone, so you know it’s going to be good!
What stands out on the RedMagic 6 Pro is the display. The 165Hz refresh rate is a buttery smooth upgrade from the (primarily standard) 120-144Hz range that we see on other high-end devices. And while this super high refresh rate is possible, you may have to do some searching for games that can support it. The latest Snapdragon 888 processor drives this speedy 6.8-inch AMOLED display.
At the literal flick of a switch, the true gaming features of the RedMagic 6 Pro come to life. There’s an inbuilt venting system to keep things cool as the games heat up, so don’t drop it in water. With a sizeable 5,050 mAh battery, you’ll have plenty of power to play all day. There are also some excellent shoulder touch buttons, which can be customised to interact anywhere on the screen, meaning less finger marks to clean off, and more beautiful screen real estate to look at. And the inbuilt gaming space allows you to change up all the game settings on the fly – features like aim assist, programmable macros and fast access to the fan speed – so you can make changes without missing any of the action.
The RedMagic 6 Pro sets itself up as a powerful next-level gaming phone, providing answers to questions you never knew you had.
Keeping your cool
One final consideration for mobile gaming is heat management. Working a top-grade gaming phone for more than ten minutes at the highest settings might not lead to first-degree burns, but it won’t be comfortable either. While most modern smartphones have cunningly designed their cases to act as all-round heat sinks, they won’t stop overworked CPUs and batteries from generating serious heat. Luckily, there are several options to target the problem, no matter which device you’re running, with additional cooling support.
The BlackShark Magnetic Cooler will conveniently attach magnetically to the back of your phone and target those problematic heat areas. For those with non-metal phone skins, an adhesive sticker plate is included, which acts as the attachment point to the phone.
ROG owners will be able to snap on the new Aero Cooler 5, which adds some real smooth features to the fast cooling. You’ll get two physical buttons that can be mapped to whichever game functions you need, and a handy kickstand to prop up your phone for remotely viewing the screen. ASUS has included it in the box for ROG Phone 5s Pro owners.
Take that console controller experience and add it to your mobile gaming experience with ROG Kunai 3 Gamepad. Featuring near-zero latency, there’s no better assurance than the feeling of analogue controls at your fingertips.
With a powerful number of tools available to enhance your mobile gaming experience, the real limit is your choice. Access to excellent quality games on the fly is fast and easy, and with Cloud gaming solutions such as Xbox Game Pass, you don’t even need to spend hours burning through downloads. Mobile gaming is an already accessible service, getting the long-overdue hardware upgrades it needs.