The best phones for gaming in 2018 have top-tier specs, sharp displays and long battery life to maintain peak performance during extended playing sessions. Console-quality 3D games are now the norm on phones, like Fortnite and PUBG Mobile, but you'll need a high-quality device for the best gaming experience.
The top gaming phones don't just play the best smartphone games without a hitch, they’ll also maintain the best visuals and performance for games coming over the next few years. The gaming phones we were carrying around three years ago can’t quite manage today's high-end mobile games, so think about the phones below as future-proofing your next device into the year 2020.
Our recommendations factor in processor and GPU speeds, available RAM and other odds and ends. It also considers the app ecosystem, which is the lead reason Apple's iPhones frequently top the list. It has more games than Android, and often gets multi-platform titles them first.
To that end, we’ve examined all the options and chosen the best phones for gaming based on the factors above. Here's our top ten list.
1. iPhone XS Max / iPhone XS
Maximum screen, maximum battery for the App Store.
Release date: September 2018 | Weight: 208g | Dimensions: 157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7mm | OS: iOS 12 | Screen size: 6.5-inch | Resolution: 2960×1440 | CPU: A12 Bionic chip | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64/256/512GB | Battery: 3.179mAh | Rear camera: Dual 12MP | Front camera: 7MP
The iPhone XS Max is the bigger, better brother of Apple's new 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 XS Max is bigger than the one on its 5.8-inch sibling and its larger battery managed to stay working nearly a full hour longer than the standard iPhone XS.
Those perks will give you more of an edge than with the iPhone XS, but both benefit from this Apple phone generation's true advantage: the A12 Bionic processor. We have high hopes that this chip will outperform the A11 Bionic found on last year's iPhone X since Apple claimed it is 40% more efficient and 50% more powerful than the older processor. In our tests, it loaded up Clash Royale and PUBG even faster, 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.
2. Samsung Galaxy Note 9
Big. Powerful. Beautiful
Release date: August 2018 | Weight: 205g | Dimensions: 162 x 76.4 x 9mm | OS: Android 8.1 | Screen size: 6.4-inch | Resolution: 2960×1440 | CPU: Snapdragon 845 / Exynos 9810 | RAM: 6/8GB | Storage: 128/512GB (up to 1TB with card) | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: Dual 12MP | Front camera: 8MP
The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 is a very iterative device, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it isn’t the best Android gaming phone on the market. Not only does this have one of the biggest, brightest and highest res displays on the market – it’s all backed up by the latest Snapdragon and Exynos CPUs on the market today.
You’ll have an advantage over the competition in games like Fortnite, as you’ll be able to see more clearly, and with more frames per second. Even when you’re done playing your games, you won’t be ashamed to carry the Note 9 in public, unlike some more gamer-y devices, as it has a smooth and modern aesthetic.
Read the full review: Samsung Galaxy Note 9
3. Razer Phone 2
Gaming-specific features that outshine its everyday ones
Release date: October 2018 | Weight: 205g | Dimensions: 158.5 x 78.9 x 8.5mm | OS: Android 8.1 Oreo | Screen size: 5.72-inch | Resolution: 2560×1440 | CPU: Snapdragon 845 | RAM: 6/8GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB (up to 1TB with card) | Battery: 4,000mAh | Rear camera: 12MP f/1.75 wide angle / 12MP f/2.6 telephoto | Front camera: 8MP f/2.0
The first Razer Phone was a solid first effort to bring the gamer-specific brand to a mobile device, but it had a few shortcomings that dropped it further down our list. The second version has addressed some and come out with a stronger device for it, though it's still aimed primarily at gamers.
What does that mean? The camera and display aren't nearly as impressive as other phones that cost this much, so casual gamers might want to look elsewhere. But if you're more serious about mobile gaming and can afford it, this is a solid choice.
Outwardly, the Razer Phone 2 hasn't changed much from its predecessor, though it's upgraded to the Snapdragon 845 chip and switched to a glass back for Qi wireless charging. It's also added a slick vapor chamber to cool the device as you game.
At the end of the day, the phone's beefy chipset, 8GB RAM, great speakers, 120hz refresh rate screen and 4,000mAh battery, as well as extensive settings to tweak battery life and performance, make this a great choice for gaming.
Read the full review: Razer Phone 2
4. iPhone X
It's all about the App Store
Release date: October 2017 | Weight: 174g | Dimensions: 143.6 x 70.9 x 7.7mm | OS: iOS 11 | Screen size: 5.8-inch | Resolution: 1125x2436 | CPU: A11 Bionic | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 64/256GB | Battery: 2716mAh | Rear camera: 12MP+12MP | Front camera: 7MP
While the iPhone XS has dethroned the year-old iPhone X as the top Apple smartphone, the latter is still a great choice with high-performing hardware. If you can find it for sale (it's no longer available on Apple's website), the iPhone X’s 5.8-inch OLED display will offer plenty of screen space for games along with incredible contrast ratios, making visuals pop when a scene has a dark and light contrast.
While other phones may slightly outperform the iPhone X, the biggest advantage of Apple phones for gaming is the App Store. Part of this is due to the love developers show it: iPhones almost always get the best games first, like Fortnite, which launched exclusively on iOS for some time.
Apple is also on the forefront of delivering the first meaningful and mainstream AR experiences, including AR multiplayer gaming as one of the many iOS 12 features.
Check out our iPhone X review video below.
5. iPhone 8 Plus
Powerful specs and a big screen
Release date: September 2017 | Weight: 202g | Dimensions: 158.4 x 78.1 x 7.5mm | OS: iOS 11 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 1920 | CPU: A11 Bionic | RAM: 3GB | Storage: 64/256GB | Battery: 2691mAh | Rear camera: Dual 12MP | Front camera: 7MP
There’s no getting around it: Apple has two amazing phones with big, sharp displays powered by top-of-the-line specs. The same internals and App Store that earned the iPhone X the top spot on this list earn the iPhone 8 Plus the second spot.
The iPhone 8 Plus has a less-showy Full HD display, but in our experience is still great for gaming. The 5.5-inch screen is plenty spacious. Apple’s A11 Bionic CPU and graphics make for a mean gaming experience, and ARkit offers up augmented reality games that give Apple’s iPhones more to offer gamers. This is the one to buy if you want a gaming phone with a home button and don't want to spend top dollar on the iPhone X.
6. Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus
Samsung's best screens
Release date: March 2018 | Weight: 189g | Dimensions: 158.1 x 73.8 x 8.5mm | OS: Android 8 Oreo | Screen size: 6.2-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2960 | CPU: Snapdragon 845 / Exynos 9810 | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB | Battery: 3,500mAh | Rear camera: Dual 12MP | Front camera: 8MP
The Snapdragon 845, Adreno 630 graphics, and 4GB of RAM (6GB in the S9 Plus) make both of these phones incredible performers both in game and out. And, since the market of other Android phones boasting the new Snapdragon 845 hasn’t caught up, Samsung easily snags this seat.
But, a powerful chipset isn’t all that earns the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus its ranking. The S9 has a plenty large and plenty sharp 1440 X 2960, 5.8-inch display, and the S9 Plus has an even larger 6.2-inch display with the same resolution. Both are Super AMOLED and support HDR10 for stunning visuals.
The new Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus also feature Samsung’s Game Tools, which can help with taking screenshots, recording gameplay, and keeping notifications out of the way. Let’s not forget that Samsung also has the impressive Gear VR headsets that offer super sharp virtual reality experiences with the Galaxy S9’s and S9 Plus’s pixel-dense displays.
7. Sony Xperia XZ2
From the makers of PlayStation
Release date: February 2018 | Weight: 198g | Dimensions: 153 x 72 x 11.1mm | OS: Android 8 | Screen size: 5.7-inch | Resolution: 1080 x 2160 | CPU: Snapdragon 845 | RAM: 4GB | Battery: 3,180mAh | Rear camera: 19MP | Front camera: 5MP
Aided by a 5.7-inch 1080 x 2160 HDR display and the same Snapdragon 845 chipset powering the latest Galaxy smartphones, Sony’s Xperia XZ2 jumps ahead of much of the competition. This new offering from Sony is simply a great phone, and having the latest Qualcomm system-on-a-chip gives it stunning video game performance.
The Xperia XZ2 won’t just offering great gaming visuals though. It has dual front-facing speakers, for a quality stereo experience. The 3,180mAh battery offers decent gaming battery life as well. And, for mobile gamers that have a big library, microSD support provides up to 400GB of extra storage.
A unique feature that can make mobile gaming on the Xperia XZ2 feel just a little bit more like console gaming is Sony’s “Dynamic Vibration System”. A little haptic feedback can enhance your game experience, even if it’s just a minor touch to an already solid offering from Sony.
8. Moto Z2 Force
Gaming with a controller mod
Release date: August 2017 | Weight: 143g | Dimensions: 155.8 x 76 x 6.1mm | OS: Android 8 | Screen size: 5.5-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2560 | CPU: Snapdragon 835 | RAM: 4GB or 6GB | Storage: 64/128GB | Battery: 2,730mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 5MP
The Moto Z2 Force is a curious case. It has the quality 5.5-inch Quad HD display and the powerful Snapdragon 835 chipset for gaming, but on its own it’s not the most amazing gaming smartphone. A somewhat small 2,730mAh battery doesn’t give it the long life we’d like to see in a gaming phone. But, it has a trick that others don’t.
The Moto Z2 Force can snap onto the Moto GamePad mod, which it two analog stick, a D-pad, and a host of other gamer-friendly buttons. Having physical controls for smartphone games is a double bonus, since they will easier to use while making the screen easier to see (you thumbs won’t be covering up your enemies). The Moto GamePad even has a 3.5mm headphone jack.
When it comes to virtual reality, the Moto Z2 Force is ready. It’s certified Google Daydream-ready. Next to Samsung’s Gear VR, the Daydream View delivers some of the best mobile VR available, and the Moto Z2 Force can power that experience.
9. Google Pixel 2 XL
Release date: October 2017 | Weight: 175g | Dimensions: 157.9 x 76.7 x 7.9mm | OS: Android 8 | Screen size: 6-inch | Resolution: 1440 x 2880 | CPU: Snapdragon 835 | RAM: 4GB | Storage: 64GB/128GB | Battery: 3,520mAh | Rear camera: 12MP | Front camera: 8MP
Google’s biggest and best smartphone, the Pixel 2 XL, also has what it takes to be a great gaming smartphone. It’s 6-inch display offers plenty of real estate for gaming without having your thumbs cover everything up. That display is also a 1440 x 2880 pOLED panel, so the visuals will be crisp with excellent contrast.
Like many of the other phones on this list, the Pixel 2 XL is running a Snapdragon 835 chipset, which will deliver smooth gaming performance in most mobile games. Of course, the Pixel 2 XL is also capable of delivering VR content with the Daydream View headset.
An added bonus is that the large 3,520mAh battery will make it easy to game on the go, while Google’s Project Fi network (which Pixel owners can subscribe to) offers impressive coverage that can help eliminate concerns of losing connection to online games.
10. Asus ROG Phone
Top specs and several wild mobile gaming accessories
Release date: October 2018 | Weight: 200g | Dimensions: 158.8 x 76.2 x 8.7mm | OS: Android 8.1 Oreo | Screen size: 6-inch | Resolution: 2160 x 1080 | CPU: Snapdragon 845 | RAM: 8GB | Storage: 128GB/512GB | Battery: 3,520mAh | Rear camera: 12MP f/1.8 | Front camera: 8MP f/2.0
We haven't had time to dive into the just-released Asus ROG Phone, but this gamer-focused phone looks promising, so we're keeping it at the bottom of the list until we can properly give it a spin. Off the bat, its top specs and sharp screen look solid.
The phone's appearance, well...one of our editors compared it to a Transformer-velociraptor, with gray and red accents slicing across the case. If that's your style, you'll love the phone's signature appeal: mods.
True to Asus' Republic of Gamers brand, you can buy a selection of accessories to augment your mobile game experience. These include a clamshell case with a bonus screen, a pair of controller halves that clip to either side and a docking platform that extends your phone to a big display, Nintendo Switch-style.
We'll rank this phone accordingly when we've reviewed it. In the meantime, check out our hands-on: Asus ROG phone