Sure, casual games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush are still wildly popular, but thanks to Unity now offering fantastic cross-platform support for developers, indie developers and big publishers alike are able to make full-scale games initially developed for consoles or PC over to and Android and iOS devices. This, along with game streaming services like Google’s Stadia and Microsoft Project xCloud, means the time is right to make sure your next phone is capable of handling it all in stride. While we wait for the newest phones of 2020 to start rolling, your best option at the start of 2020 is still the OnePlus 7 Pro
Best Overall: OnePlus 7 Pro
While OnePlus didn’t market the OnePlus 7 Pro specifically as a gaming smartphone, it sure did a great job including all the key features that make for a great gaming experience.
First off, the display is plenty big and bright, with the 90Hz refresh rate making everything look and feel buttery smooth. Thanks to a lean Oxygen OS running on great internal specs, you shouldn’t notice any slowdown even when playing the most graphically intensive games. The redesigned audio set up delivers stereo sound powered by Dolby Atmos. OnePlus has been fine-tuning its charging technology to the point where the included Warp Charge 30 lets you fast-charge your phone while gaming without the phone overheating or experiencing a net drop in charging speeds.
Fnatic mode is OnePlus’ take on a gaming mode, which prioritizes all the power of the CPU towards running your game. It improves your network connection by limiting network access to apps running in the background and blocking all incoming notifications so you can stay focused on the game at hand.
All the greatness of a $1,000 flagship goodness for a starting price under $700 makes the OnePlus 7 Pro an easy phone to recommend.
- Huge display with no notch, 90Hz refresh rate
- Software is intuitive and smooth
- Fnatic mode
- Improved haptics
- Top-end specs for great gaming performance
- Warp Charge 30 lets you top up while you play
- No microSD slot
- No headphone jack
- No water resistance rating
- No wireless charging
OnePlus 7 Pro
- $559 from Amazon
All the essential features you’d want for gaming
Never experienced gaming in 90Hz on a phone? Let the OnePlus 7 Pro be the first dazzle you with its edge-to-edge display and outstanding specs.
Best Display: Samsung Galaxy S10+
Samsung’s annual offerings continue to push the limits of what we expect from smartphones, and that extends well into the world of mobile gaming.
If you remember, the Galaxy S10+ was launched alongside the mobile version of Fortnite, letting Samsung flex its industry-leading Super AMOLED panel. While other phones offer higher refresh rates, Samsung’s displays are brighter and offer vivid colors and true blacks that really make games pop and sizzle. Not only does Samsung deliver an all-round outstanding phone for your everyday use, but features like Gaming Mode optimize performance for gaming, block out distractions, and make it easier to grab screenshots or gameplay footage as you play.
On top of all that, you get the inclusion of valuable hardware features such as a headphone jack and microSD slot, meaning you’ll own a phone you can use for years that leaves no compromises on the table.
- Fantastic Super AMOLED display
- Top-end specs
- Gaming Mode and Game Launcher
- 3.5mm headphone jack is here
- Top-notch hardware design and features
- Expandable storage via microSD
- Samsung’s software still needs tweaking
- Slippery, all-glass design demands a case
Samsung Galaxy S10+ (128GB)
- $797 from Amazon
Go big or go home
The Samsung Galaxy S10+ is an absolute workhorse that will deliver outstanding performance no matter the mobile game you obsess over.
Best Design: Razer Phone 2
Razer burst into the smartphone market offering phones specifically designed to output the best possible gaming experience on mobile. You get big, front-facing speakers that deliver incredible sound, a display with an industry-leading 120Hz refresh rate that’ll melt your face, and a custom vapor chamber cooling system to keep everything running at max performance. The Razer Phone 2 is Razer’s vision refined, and while it’s still not without its flaws it handles all gaming tasks flawlessly and is an absolute joy to play games on. Because it came out in 2018, it’s also now available for just $400.
Razer also offers the Raiju Mobile controller that’s simply the best Bluetooth controller I’ve tested and worked perfectly with the Razer Phone 2.
- Hardware and software optimized for gaming
- Beefy speakers powered by Dolby Atmos
- 120Hz refresh rate
- Expandable storage via microSD
- Mostly stock Android software
- Discounted price
- No headphone jack
- Blocky design
- Camera software often falls short of other flagships
Razer Phone 2
- $450 from Amazon
A compelling option at its discounted price
Snag the Razer Phone 2 for just $400 — it’s a great option if you’re looking for a sleek upgrade to a powerful phone specifically designed for gamers.
Best Advanced Controls ASUS RoG
RoG stands for Republic of Gamers, and ASUS has brought a ton to the table that will satisfy anyone who seriously enjoys playing PUBG Mobile, Fortnite, or other device-intensive mobile games.
The ASUS RoG stands out from the rest of the pack with its unique design that includes secondary charging and headphone ports along the side for easier use while gaming, Air Trigger touch sensors that let you use the corners of your phone as customizable inputs for shooting games, and an external Aero Active Cooler accessory included in the box is designed to line up with the exposed heat sync on the back to keep things cool while you game.
The six-inch FHD+ display features a 90Hz refresh rate and the phone does a great job running games on the admittedly busy software skin ASUS included here. The only thing about the ASUS RoG might make you pause is the steep price, which extends to the extra gaming accessories that ASUS offers through its website. Of course, ASUS has announced that the RoG 2 is on the horizon so given there’s no real discount available with the OG RoG it might be worth wait.
- Uniquely designed for gaming
- Air Trigger controls are innovative
- Cooling accessory allows ease of access to secondary ports
- Front-facing speakers are loud
- Great battery life
- Overall phone design maybe too gamer-y
- Accessories are pricey
Best Party Tricks
- From $500 from Amazon
A phone that goes all-in on gaming
Features such as Air Trigger controls and landscape charging port allow the ASUS RoG to stand out while delivering a unique mobile gaming experience.
Best Value: Xiaomi Black Shark
Perhaps the best part of the emergence of the gaming smartphone segment is the creative approach each brand takes when designing the ultimate phone for gamers.
For the Xiaomi Black Shark, you get a phone that was likely designed to mimic the look of some high-end PC gaming rigs but basically looks like a futuristic sports car trimmed with neon green stripes. Around the front is a pretty standard display that sadly doesn’t offer anything special in terms of a higher refresh rate, but there’s a Snapdragon 845 chipset under the hood along with 6GB or 8GB of RAM to deliver top-notch gaming performance.
Another bold move here was the decision to include a physical switch for activating the gaming mode, dubbed Shark Mode. Instead of fumbling through menus, simply flip the switch and you’ll be presented with a list of all the installed games on your phone while the turns off notifications and frees up RAM for enhanced gaming performance. Most compelling of all is the value you get for a phone priced decidedly lower than most of its competition.
- Affordable gaming smartphone
- Lightweight design
- Liquid cooling system
- Smooth gameplay quality
- Game Dock offers quick phone settings while in-game
- Limited availability for phone and accessories
- No headphone jack or microSD
- No US Warranty and incompatible with CDMA networks (Verizon, Sprint, etc.)
Xiaomi Black Shark
- $300 from Amazon
An affordable gaming smartphone that looks out of this world.
The Xiaomi Black Shark offers the best value for international gamers looking for an affordable smartphone that prioritizes gaming performance.
Best for Stadia: Google Pixel 3a XL
When Google came out with the Pixel 3a XL, the intention was to offer a mid-range phone that offers as much greatness from the full Pixel lineup at a price point that’s more palatable to the average consumer. Sure, you miss out on some premium flagship features like wireless charging and waterproofing, but it uses the same camera hardware as its more flagship brethren with comparable specs, so the daily performance is similar.
One aspect that has definitely improved over the Pixel 3 is the battery life, with Google increasing the battery capacity while simultaneously using a less power-hungry processor. This means that you’ll get a similarily smooth gaming performance from the Pixel 3a XL without as much drain on your battery.
The biggest reason why the Pixel 3a XL is on this list is that it will be among the only phones that will work with Google’s Stadia service at launch. If you’re already hyped for what Stadia aims to bring to the gaming world, you need this phone in your pocket so you’re ready to stream on day one.
- Pixel hardware at a lower cost
- Guaranteed three years of software/security updates
- Will work with Stadia at launch
- Lightweight plastic design
- Improved battery life
- Headphone jack
- “Only” 4GB of RAM
- No microSD
Best for Stadia
Google Pixel 3a XL
- $445 from Amazon
If you’re super excited for Google Stadia
The Pixel 3a XL will be among the first phones compatible with Google Stadia and you’ll be able to game longer thanks to the improved battery life.
Best for iOS: Apple iPhone XR
Since we’re looking at gaming phones as a whole, we’d be remiss if we wholly ignored Apple’s offerings. While the iPhone XS is the big gun in Apple’s iPhone arsenal these days, the iPhone XR simply offers the best value for those looking to get the most out of the latest version of iOS and enjoy the features included in the current iPhone — without having to drop a cool grand.
Apple is notoriously tight-lipped when it comes to the type of spec sheets we’ve come to expect from Android phone makers, but it’s also quite loud when it boasts about the chipsets and technology it develops in-house for its devices. The iPhone XR uses Apple’s latest A12 Bionic chipset, a six-core CPU that uses a new, eight-core Neural Engine to power machine learning systems capable of processing up to five trillion operations per second. Needless to say, it should handle anything you throw at it with ease. It’s an LCD display, but thanks to Apple’s Liquid Retina display technology the screen goes right to the edge of the phone, maximizing the screen-to-body ration for your favorite games.
Above all else, if you’re buying an iPhone it’s probably because they’re so easy to use thanks to the constant improvements Apple makes to iOS. You’ll get the latest version, iOS 12, along with full support for upcoming releases and security patches for years to come.
- 6.1-inch Liquid Retina display
- A12 Bionic chip offers improved battery efficiency
- Running iOS 12 with years of software support ahead
- Available in fun colors
- Not an Android phone
- No headphone jack
- Big ol’ notch
Best for iOS
Apple iPhone XR
- $599 from Apple
Apple’s “mid-range” offering
Apple doesn’t offer a gaming phone, but the iPhone XR delivers the design, performance, and price you’d want to get the most out of gaming on iOS.
Best International: Honor View 20
While folks in North America might not be as familiar, the Honor brand is quite renowned pretty much everywhere else in the world for delivering flagship specs at bargain prices. With the Honor View 20, you get a phone with a gorgeous design that includes an expansive display that goes edge to edge with a punch-out hole for the front-facing camera.
The specs are well suited for gaming with fast performance and dependable 4,000 mAh that’s particularly beneficial given how fast some games can drain your phone’s battery life. With the Honor View 20 in your hands, you’ll be able to play games with the graphics settings maxed out for longer, and you’ll enjoy it all the more with just how beautiful this phone looks.
- Beautiful phone front to back
- Edge-to-edge display
- Generous specs for gaming
- Hefty 4000 mAh battery
- Headphone jack included
- Priced under $500
- Lack of Stateside availability
- No microSD slot
- Down-firing speakers
Honor View 20
- $409 from Amazon
You won’t find better value for a 2019 flagship
The Honor View 20 is a great and affordable gaming phone that delivers impressive specs, gorgeous display, and loud bottom-firing speakers.
Best for Widescreen Gaming Sony Xperia 1
Admittedly, the Sony Xperia 1 might not be on too many people’s radars as a top pick for gaming smartphones, but it performs admirably thanks to its Snapdragon 855 chipset and 6GB of RAM. In his review, Hayato Huseman describes the Xperia 1 hardware as “well thought-out and luxurious” with perfect weighting and a curved back glass that is a pleasant departure from previous Xperia phones. That’s particularly great for the purposes of gaming because you definitely want your phone to be extra comfortable to hold.
The Xperia 1 is designed first and foremost for entertainment and it all starts with the display. Sony built this phone around a 6.5-inch 4K OLED display with a 21:9 aspect ratio — the same proportions often used in widescreen films. Sony calls the display CinemaWide and it makes the phone feel extra tall and slender held in portrait orientation but really shines when held in landscape mode for watching videos or playing games. Stereo sound is included using the earpiece and the bottom-firing speaker and is enhanced with Dolby Atmos.
Sony included a Game Enhancer mode that lets you set custom options for performance or battery prioritization, locking out the navigation bar and limiting notifications on a per-game basis. Not only will you enjoy the sights and sounds of your favorite games, but you’ll also feel the action thanks to Sony’s Dynamic Vibration Engine that delivers great haptic feedback to the action on the screen. It’s a feature that few companies prioritized when designing a phone, but it does make a difference in terms of immersing you into the game world.
- CinemaWide 4K HDR OLED display is incredible
- Stereo speaker setup with diverse audio settings
- Dynamic Vibration Engine delivers great haptic feedback
- Includes microSD slot
- Mostly stock Android 9 software really zips
- No headphone jack
- Outdated design
Best for Widescreen Gaming
Sony Xperia 1
- $939 from Amazon
Designed for entertainment
The Xperia 1 is a great gaming phone that will also satisfy cinephiles with its uniquely amazing 4K display with a 21:9 aspect ratio.
Best Battery Life: Huawei P30 Pro
While the telephoto camera is likely the biggest draw for the Huawei P30 Pro, in nearly all other aspects it’s also a top-performing phone that handles the most intensive gaming with ease.
I can speak personally having used the Huawei P30 Pro since launch that it works great for all kinds of gaming with no slowdown or performance issues. The display is large and bright with just a teardrop notch for the front-facing camera. Best of all is the battery life — the 4,200 mAh battery is among the largest you’ll find in a 2019 flagship and the charging speeds are downright ludicrous with the included wall plug and cable.
- Spec’d out to compete with the leading flagships
- Bright and responsive display
- Incredible battery life and charging speeds
- Great camera hardware
- IP68 dust and water resistance
- No headphone jack
- No microSD
Best Battery Life
Huawei P30 Pro
- $696 from Amazon
Game for longer with incredible battery life
The Huawei P30 Pro is mostly celebrated for its camera, but the real champion is the massive battery that will help extend your gaming sessions..
If you’re upgrading to a new phone in 2019 and want a great phone that can handle gaming with ease, the OnePlus 7 Pro is your best bet. It a contender for phone of the year and is packed with pretty much all the features you’d want for gaming along with being a dominant phone for daily use.
Specifically, the Fnatic mode is something you’ll want to make good use of for gaming, as it cuts out all distractions and dedicates all of the phone’s ample resources towards delivering the best gaming experience. That means you’ll be able to play games at their highest graphical settings without worrying about slowdown or network lag, and that can make a huge difference when you’re playing competitive online shooters.
Of course, with brands like ASUS, Razer and Xiaomi offering true gaming smartphones with features specifically optimized for mobile gaming those are also very good options for competitive gamers. Gaming aside, each of the phones we’ve recommended above are great phones for daily use, so no matter what factors contribute to your buying decision — price, availability, unique gaming features, etc. — you’ll be gaming on a truly special phone.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Marc Lagace is the Apps and Games Editor at Android Central. He’s been a gamer for most of his life and actually took a university course on Video Game Theory — which he aced! You can reach out to him on Twitter @spacelagace.