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Best gaming phone 2021: the top 10 mobile game performers

A selection of the best gaming phones including Asus ROG Phone 5, Lenovo Legion Phone Duel and Nubia Red Magic 5G
(Image credit: Asus, Lenovo, Nubia)

The best gaming phones can rival tablets and arguably even portable consoles like the Nintendo Switch when it comes to gaming potential, so if you’re into games, then it’s worth having a phone that can do them justice.

Picking such a phone typically means picking one with a big, high resolution screen, a high refresh rate, and lots of power, plus ideally decent battery life so your games aren’t interrupted by the need to charge. So these are all things that you should look for when buying.

Phones like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and iPhone 13 Pro Max tick those boxes, so you’ll find those in the list below. But there are other phones that go even further and are designed specifically with games in mind.

We’re talking phones like the Asus ROG Phone 5 and Lenovo Legion Phone Duel, which have things like shoulder triggers, customizable gaming modes, better vibration, and enhanced cooling.

We’ve highlighted the best phones specifically designed for gaming at the start of this list, then below that there’s a separate section for general smartphones that happen to excel for gaming too. And we’re regularly updating this article, so check back soon for new additions.

Once you’ve picked your phone we’ve got you covered when it comes to picking games as well, with our best iPhone gamesbest free iPhone gamesbest Android games and best free Android games lists – all of which are also regularly updated.

Best gaming phones 2021

Asus ROG Phone 5s Pro, Asus ROG Phone 5s

(Image credit: Asus)

The best gaming phone that appeals to non-gamers too

Specifications
Release date: April 2021
Weight: 238g
Dimensions: 172.8 x 77.3 x 10.3mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.78-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2448
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8/12/16GB
Storage: 128/256GB
Battery: 6,000mAh
Rear camera: 64MP + 13MP + 5MP
Front camera: 24MP
Reasons to buy
+Remarkable performance+Great display and speakers
Reasons to avoid
-No telephoto camera-Large, heavy and dense

The Asus ROG Phone 5 is a remarkable gaming phone – one which improves on the already-impressive Asus ROG Phone 3.

Its highlights include class-leading power from the pairing of a Snapdragon 888 chipset and up to 16GB of RAM, plus a screen that has a refresh rate of 144Hz and a touch sampling rate of 300Hz – both of which are higher than most phones and we found this pairing beneficial to games.

That screen is big too, and it’s backed up by dual front-facing speakers, which are among the best you’ll find on a phone.

The Asus ROG Phone 5 also has a huge 6,000mAh battery, so you can game for longer, and with 65W charging you won’t be out of action for long when it runs dry.

Add to that responsive shoulder buttons, programmable RGB lights, and compatibility with a range of gaming-focused accessories, and the Asus ROG Phone 5 really is the complete package for gamers.

It’s not quite an all-round flagship (its cameras don’t excel as much as the rest of the hardware for a start) but if gaming is your priority then this phone should be at or near the top of your list.

Read our review: Asus ROG Phone 5

Lenovo Legion Phone Duel

(Image credit: Lenovo)

The best gaming phone for speedy charging

Specifications
Release date: October 2020
Weight: 239g
Dimensions: 169.2 x 78.6 x 9.9mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.65-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2340
CPU: Snapdragon 865 Plus
RAM: 12/16GB
Storage: 256/512GB
Battery: 5,000mAh
Rear camera: 64MP + 16MP
Front camera: 20MP
Reasons to buy
+Super-fast charging+Lots of processing power
Reasons to avoid
-Pretty expensive for the specs-Software issues

The first gaming phone from Lenovo, the Legion Phone Duel, matches great gaming-dedicated features with some other top specs and features.

The phone supports 90W fast charging, and has a pop-up camera so the screen remains unbroken. It's also got a top processor and software optimized for use in landscape mode. All of these contribute to make it great for gaming.

Our issues with the phone don't touch its gaming prowess, though its high price, software issues and mediocre camera might affect some.

If you're looking for one of the best gaming phones right now, this is up there; if you're looking for a great smartphone that is also good for playing games, this is a good choice, though you should check the others on this list before buying.

Read our review: Lenovo Legion Phone Duel

A Nubia Red Magic 5G against a white background

(Image credit: Nubia)

The best gaming phone for buyers on a budget

Specifications
Release date: March 2020
Weight: 218g
Dimensions: 168.6 x 78 x 9.8mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.65-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2340
CPU: Snapdragon 865
RAM: 8/12GB
Storage: 128/256GB
Battery: 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 64MP + 8MP + 2MP
Front camera: 8MP
Reasons to buy
+144Hz display is ideal for gaming+Shoulder triggers are handy
Reasons to avoid
-Screen isn’t the most high-res-Software bugs

The Nubia Red Magic 5G has the world’s first 144Hz smartphone screen, which makes it ideal for gaming, as that’s a silky smooth refresh rate. We also found the display was bright and vibrant.

But that’s not the only thing that makes this ideal for gaming. In fact, it’s designed specifically for this pastime, with shoulder triggers to give you increased control, a fan and a liquid cooling system to keep the handset cool under pressure, a dedicated ‘Game Space’ to let you customize your gaming experience, and a ‘4D Shock’ feature that adds vibration to games.

That last feature isn’t supported by many titles at the time of writing, and nor is the 144Hz display, but if game developers embrace them then this could be one seriously future-proofed phone.

It also supports 5G of course, and has plenty of power. It’s only let down slightly by a 1080 x 2340 screen, which isn’t among the sharpest around, along with some software bugs and a design that will prove divisive.

Read our review: Nubia Red Magic 5G

Xiaomi Black Shark 3

(Image credit: Xiaomi)

The best gaming phone for those who also want good cameras

Specifications
Release date: March 2020
Weight: 222g
Dimensions: 168.7 x 77.3 x 10.4mm
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.67-inch
Resolution: 2080 x 2440
CPU: Snapdragon 865
RAM: 8/12GB
Storage: 128/256GB
Battery: 4,720mAh
Rear camera: 64MP + 13MP +5MP
Front camera: 20MP
Reasons to buy
+Affordable for specs+Cameras are surprisingly capable
Reasons to avoid
-Appearance may be divisive-Refresh rate behind competition

The Black Shark 3 is the best gaming phone from the Xiaomi sub-brand, although it doesn't quite beat its contemporary gaming phones from a few other brands.

The phone is big, bold in design and has LED lights, and its specs are all what you'd expect from a gaming phone - in that they're top-end. The cameras were surprisingly effective too in our tests, especially in low-light settings, though sometimes the optimization could be overzealous.

The reason this phone isn't higher is thanks to its 90Hz refresh rate, which is lower than the other phones higher on this list, and that it doesn't have as  many dedicated gaming features as the others either.

Read our review: Black Shark 3

A Razer Phone 2 against a white background

(Image credit: Razer)

The best compact gaming phone

Specifications
Release date: October 2018
Weight: 205g
Dimensions: 158.5 x 78.9 x 8.5mm
OS: Android 9 Pie
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 + 12MP
Front camera: 8MP
Reasons to buy
+Top-line specs and 120hz refresh rate display+Backside logo glows in millions of RGB hues
Reasons to avoid
-Low minimum storage (64GB) for price-Smaller 5.72-inch screen

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? We found 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 our review: Razer Phone 2

The best non-gaming phones for gaming

We've suggested the best phones designed for gaming, but if you'd rather have a more mainstream device, here are all the phones we recommend that, among the rest of their strengths, are also very good phones to play games on. 

You'll find a lot of overlap with our best phones list, for good reason: these handsets have top-end specs and screens to give the best gaming experience possible outside of gaming-focused phones.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

(Image credit: Samsung)

The best non-gaming phone for gaming

Specifications
Release date: January 2021
Weight: 228g
Dimensions: 165.1 x 75.6 x 8.9mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.8-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3200
CPU: Exynos 2100 / Snapdragon 888
RAM: 12/16GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB
Battery: 5,000mAh
Rear camera: 108MP + 10MP + 10MP + 12MP
Front camera: 40MP
Reasons to buy
+Great camera+Stylus support
Reasons to avoid
-More expensive than needed for gaming-No microSD card slot

If you're looking for a phone that's great for gaming, and many other things besides, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is a good choice. It may not be a dedicated Samsung gaming phone, but it is Samsung's latest top-tier flagship phone with specs taken up to 11 across the board.

Our main issue with this phone is the reason many people won't buy it - the price. It's an incredibly expensive smartphone and few people will even be able to consider buying it.

If the Galaxy S21 Ultra fits in your budget, though, you'll find it great for gaming with top processing power, and a large, good-looking screen. The top camera smarts are just an extra.

Read our review: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

An iPhone 13 Pro Max in gold, against a white background

(Image credit: Apple)

The best iPhone for gaming

Specifications
Release date: September 2021
Weight: 240g
Dimensions: 160.8mm x 78.1mm x 7.7mm
OS: iOS 15
Screen size: 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1284 x 2778
CPU: A15 Bionic
RAM: 6GB
Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB
Battery: 4,352mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 12MP
Reasons to buy
+Oodles of power+Best iPhone battery ever
Reasons to avoid
-Limited design changes-Notch still too large

As far as conventional smartphones go, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is one of the very best for gaming, and with the wide selection of games available from the App Store (including the Apple Arcade subscription service) it actually has the edge in terms of content over dedicated gaming phones.

All those games look great on the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s 6.7-inch 1284 x 2778 screen, and in our review we were seriously impressed by the amount of power this phone has too, so you’ll be able to run everything well.

With a 120Hz refresh rate everything will look smooth, and we found this to have the best battery life of any iPhone, so you can also game for longer before you have to plug it in.

Read our review: iPhone 13 Pro Max

OnePlus 9 Pro

(Image credit: OnePlus)

The best OnePlus phone for gaming

Specifications
Release date: March 2021
Weight: 197g
Dimensions: 163.2 x 73.6 x 8.7mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3216
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8/12GB
Storage: 128/256GB
Battery: 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 48MP + 50MP + 8MP + 2MP
Front camera: 16MP
Reasons to buy
+The best OnePlus camera phone+A powerful phone
Reasons to avoid
-Middling battery life-No microSD support

The OnePlus 9 Pro is a great all-round flagship, but it also has a feature that we’d more expect to find on a gaming phone. We’re talking about Hyper Touch, which can boost the touch sampling rate from an already-high 240Hz to 360Hz, making the screen extraordinarily responsive to inputs – which is ideal when playing games.

Beyond that, the OnePlus 9 Pro also has all the power you should need for gaming, with a high-end Snapdragon 888 chipset and up to 12GB of RAM. And games look great on its 6.7-inch 1440 x 3216 AMOLED screen with a refresh rate of up to 120Hz.

It also supports 65W charging (and 50W wireless charging), so you’ll never be out of juice for long, and with 5G you can game online on the move.

There’s also up to 256GB of storage, so there’s plenty of room to store all your games on the OnePlus 9 Pro.

Read our review: OnePlus 9 Pro

Oppo Find X3 Pro

(Image credit: Oppo)

The best Oppo phone for gaming

Specifications
Release date: March 2021
Weight: 193g
Dimensions: 163.6 x 74 x 8.3mm
OS: Android 11
Screen size: 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1440 x 3216
CPU: Snapdragon 888
RAM: 8/12GB
Storage: 256GB
Battery: 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 50MP + 13MP + 50MP + 3MP
Front camera: 32MP
Reasons to buy
+Fantastic cameras+Good-looking display
Reasons to avoid
-Design downgrade from predecessor-No periscope camera

The Oppo Find X3 Pro offers much of what you need from a gaming phone. It has a pleasant 6.7-inch AMOLED screen with a QHD+ (or 3126 x 1440) resolution and 1,300 nits max brightness. It looks great with punchy colors and great contrast. A refresh rate of up to 120Hz helps here too although it is a variable refresh rate rather than a 'pure' one. 

Elsewhere, powerful performance from the Snapdragon 888 chipset means it is fantastic for games and anything else you fancy doing with it. Extensive RAM and plenty of storage further helps here as well as Dolby-tuned stereo loudspeakers. 

There's also Oppo's Game Space mode which mutes notifications and optimizes processing while you play.

Other useful features like a great set of cameras and plentiful supply of software customization options means this a delight to use during gaming downtime.  Combined, it's a pretty great phone for playing games on and anything else too. 

Read our review: Oppo Find X3 Pro

Motorola Edge Plus

The Motorola Edge Plus' 'shoulder' buttons (Image credit: Motorola)

The best Motorola phones for gaming

Specifications
Release date: May 2020
Weight: 203g / 188g
Dimensions: 161.1 x 71.4 x 9.6 mm / 161.6 x 71.1 x 9.3 m
OS: Android 10
Screen size: 6.7-inch / 6.7-inch
Resolution: 1080 x 2340 / 1080 x 2340
CPU: Snapdragon 865 / Snapdragon 765G
RAM: 12GB/6GB
Storage: 256GB / 128GB
Battery: 5,000mAh / 4,500mAh
Rear camera: 108MP + 8MP + 16MP / 64MP + 8MP + 16MP
Front camera: 25MP / 25MP
Reasons to buy
+Gorgeous, large display+Great specs
Reasons to avoid
-Annoying edge design-Low 18W max charging

The Motorola Edge Plus is the first top-tier flagship Motorola has released in years, and in many ways, it was worth the wait: the waterfall display is big and gorgeous, the phone packs great specs, and there's even a new gaming feature thrown in: digital trigger buttons that hang over the screen's edge, just under your fingers.

The phone packs an impressive specs array: a Snapdragon 865 chipset, 12GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage (sadly not expandable). The 6.7-inch display has a 90Hz refresh rate and HDR10+ support, giving a far sharper image than we'd expect from its Full HD Plus (2340 x 1080) screen. And its triple rear camera is headed by a staggering 108MP shooter.

While the Motorola Edge Plus' price is about equal to other flagships at $999 (around £800 / AU$1,550), you might have trouble finding it given its limited availability: even in the US, it's only available through Verizon.

The phone's cheaper sibling, the Motorola Edge, has a few compromises in specs but it's notably cheaper as a result, starting at £549 / $699 (about AU$1,015). And yet, it may be available in more places, and still retains many of the best features of the Edge Plus.

While the Motorola Edge 'only' has a display supporting HDR10, a Snapdragon 765G chipset with 6GB of RAM, a 64MP main shooter, and a smaller 4,500mAh battery, those aren't dealbreakers for the lower price, in our opinion. Plus, the Edge's 128GB of storage is expandable via microSD.

And best of all, both versions come with 3.5mm headphone jacks.

Read our reviews: Motorola Edge Plus review | Motorola Edge review

How we tested

We only include phones on this list once we've put them through a full review and passed a final verdict on them, so we know exactly how good they are. We then compare and rank them, factoring in their review scores, prices and specs - with a particular focus on the aspects important to gaming.

What is the best gaming phone?

That depends on whether you want a phone specifically built for gaming, or a great all-round handset that also excels for gaming, but we've got picks for both above.

What should I look for when buying a gaming phone?

The three main factors to consider are screen (particularly size, resolution and refresh rate), battery life, and power. Beyond that, look to extra features that might be useful when gaming, such as triggers or fans, and look to the library of available games, as it differs between Android and iOS.

Mark Knapp

Over the last several years, Mark has been tasked as a writer, an editor, and a manager, interacting with published content from all angles. He is intimately familiar with the editorial process from the inception of an article idea, through the iterative process, past publishing, and down the road into performance analysis.