Know the must-have smartphone features for gaming on a budget or with deep pockets.
Finding the best smartphone for gaming is difficult as it’s painstaking to compare specs after specs. Here, we’ll give you an outline of considerations and the bottom line to help you get the gaming smartphone that’s meant for you.
The CPU or processor is the brain of your smartphone. Since you’re looking for a gaming phone, you need a chipset that can do a lot of processing. But let’s be real – not everyone can buy premium flagships.
This is why we’re giving you an idea about powerful CPU models, some of which are listed below.
|AnTuTu Score(Higher is better)*
|2,260,486 | 2,107,670
|Snapdragon 8 Gen 3
|1,530,347 | 1,537,805
|Snapdragon 8 Gen 2
|903,370 | 906,417
|757,605 | 796,656
|566,857 | 627,012
|430,493 | 442,393
|416,751 | 410,630
|Snapdragon 4 Gen 1
|411,615 | 390,074
Besides Qualcomm and MediaTek, several other CPU brands can dish out amazing processing power. The current Apple powerhouse A17 Pro scored 1,542,129, the latest Google Tensor G3 scored 1,153,872, Huawei’s Kirin 9000 scored 903,498, and Samsung’s Exynos 2400 scored 1,658,438.
Keep in mind that these numbers are benchmark scores and may not represent real-world performances. Several factors, including software optimization, hardware drivers, and heat generation, may affect daily peak performances.
The CPU speed won’t matter if the memory is too low. The RAM (random access memory) “remembers” the apps you’ve opened and makes sure they’re ready for your next visit.
As of writing, 4GB of RAM is weak for multitasking while 8GB is recommended. Meanwhile, devices with 12GB or more are expected to handle such very smoothly. But be wary that the higher RAM, the more expensive the phone is, so go for 8GB to cut costs.
Don’t rely on the “memory expansion” gimmick where you can get extra RAM using your phone’s storage. The reality is nothing can replace the true function of a physical RAM. You also don’t need that if your phone has at least 8GB of on-board memory.
|Bad; very laggy
|Weak; lags can still occur
|Average; should work for most games
|Excellent; works fine for all games
|16 GB or greater
|Superb; only memory hoggers will need this much
Although having a big on-board RAM is key in performance, the brand’s software design is also crucial.
The iPhone 14 series only has 6GB RAM yet the smoothness and responsiveness are excellent. The same thing is observed on some other brands like HTC, LG, and Sony.
If your phone’s software is buggy and unpolished, the physical RAM won’t do any good regardless of its size.
When you use your phone, the CPU, GPU, and some other parts will generate heat. Browsing, messaging, and watching videos may not produce substantial heat to hamper performance.
However, gaming and photography will push the hardware to process data fast. This demand for long periods will produce a lot of heat.
Thus, it’s important to get a phone with some kind of cooling feature. The most common is passive cooling where a vapor chamber helps drive away the heat from components. It’s much cheaper than active cooling but its effectiveness will depend on the chamber’s size.
Active cooling is more expensive because it requires a physical fan. While the tiny fan is more effective in cooling a hot smartphone, it needs a dedicated space, so this is something typically seen in true gaming phones, such as Red Magic 7 Pro and Legion Phone Duel 2, both very pricey.
If you’re on a budget, just look for the “vapor chamber” or ask the retailer if the device has passive cooling. Another option is to buy an external attachable fan for your phone. Just be wary that some fancy mobile cooling accessories can cause condensation, which is bad for the internals.
If you’re really out of extra funds, play games in front of an electric fan. The back of your phone needs constant airflow to move the heat away.
You can’t play games with a tiny storage and you can’t use a microSD card to store them. Even if the operating system allows you to transfer apps and games to the card, the read and write speed limitation of that card will negatively affect the loading.
This is why a big internal storage is a must for gamers. For the budget-conscious, 128GB is the minimum – never get something lower than that. If you want more, push for the minimum of 256GB.
Apps right now can consume as much as 1GB of internal storage. Some games can eat more than 20GB. That’s why true gaming phones can have up to 1TB of storage for AAA titles.
If you have the budget, check the storage type. If computers have SSD, smartphones have UFS. UFS or universal flash storage is a high-performance storage type that loads up apps, games, and in-game assets quickly.
The display screen is important in one’s gaming experience, and here’s why: the larger screen, the better. You definitely want a large screen so you can easily spot multiple in-game elements. But you want to weigh comfort versus size as well.
So, the rule is your eyes should be able to see things clearly while your hands must be able hold the device snugly and move the controls effortlessly.
The display resolution is important too. A 6.9-inch smartphone won’t be enjoyable if the resolution is only 720p; everything will look low quality.
If you can get 2K or 4K, that’s great! But if you’re thinking about your budget, 1080p is fine. Don’t forget that resolution also affects video playback.
|480p and lower
|Ancient; avoid this at all cost
|Average; it’s enough but mostly used to save battery life
|Good; most games/videos/apps use this resolution
|Excellent; visuals are crisp and vivid but will consume more power
|2160p (4K) and higher
|Superb: visuals are unreal but will consume even more power
A 720p resolution on 6.5- to 6.7-inch smartphones is common today. Depending on the configuration, some are powered with mid-range processors. That said, 720p phones can still push the video or game resolution to 1080p because the CPU can handle it, and the visuals should look crisp.
Some brands added extended display controls to let users change the display resolution conveniently. You may want to consider this when balancing high-quality visuals and battery life.
High Refresh Rate
Your device’s refresh rate can impact your gaming performance, especially in action and shooting games.
Refresh rate and frames per second are two different yet related things. That’s why unlocking a higher refresh rate also unlocks higher frames per second. For instance, enabling 90Hz refresh rate will unlock 90FPS, if supported.
|Average; well-balanced across all metrics
|Good; noticeable smoothness than 60Hz
|Great; incredible smoothness on supported games
|Excellent; top-tier smoothness but uncommonly supported on mobile games
|240Hz and higher
|Superb; experience next-level smoothness but rarely available on mobile games
Keep in mind that high refresh rates are demanding on the chipset. This will lead to higher heat generation and higher battery consumption. So, don’t be shocked by battery drain if you put the refresh rate at 90Hz or higher.
Touch sampling rate is something you may notice on smartphone specs. It’s usually twice the amount of refresh rate, but should never be lower than that.
A 240 touch sampling rate may indicate a refresh rate of 120Hz, for example. This measures your phone’s response to your every input, so the higher the better.
For a touch sampling rate of 60Hz, your phone can seek for your touch input 60 times per second. That translates to 16.6ms. If the rate is 90Hz, that’s 11.1ms. If the rate is 120Hz, it further drops to 8.3ms.
Playing on a phone with 16.6ms feels sluggish than on a device with 8.3ms. The latter is just too responsive for every tap compared to the former. Thus, touch sampling rate is essential for many games.
You can’t play games with a weak battery. A 5000mAh battery is today’s average on smartphones. Getting 4000mAh is acceptable but below that is a bit off, especially on new releases.
The reason is that your phone’s powerful hardware requires more energy. That said, your phone must support fast charging to quickly replenish its battery after hours of gaming.
Some phones have insane fast-charge rates of up to 200w, but this rate typically degrades the battery quicker. If you want to preserve the battery’s lifespan, you can just settle with a fast-charge rate of 18w. The degradation is associated with heat, not charging speed, and ultra fast charging rates generate so much heat.
If you really want nonstop gaming, consider getting a phone with bypass charging support. This technology lets the device get its power directly from the charging brick and ignore the battery. It will allow the chipset to perform at full force because it knows there’s unlimited power.
Unfortunately, not many smartphones have this enabled. Though you can find some from Infinix, TECNO, REDMAGIC, Samsung, Sony, ZTE, and others.
True gamers play with the sounds on. This is a must! So, it’s expected that gaming smartphones should have stunning audio quality.
Some of the basic audio-related features you should look for are stereo speakers, sound engines, and the legacy but much-loved 3.5mm headphone jack.
Of course, we can’t disregard comms when co-op gaming. While wired headphones are fine, having your phone free of additional cables (apart from bypass charging) is better. Check if the phone you want to buy has low-latency gaming support for wireless earbuds.
As more high-end processors are created, graphics rendering on mobile gets closer to what’s found on PC and gaming consoles. One of the many advanced graphics rendering is ray tracing, a method that simulates light behavior in-game which can make the entire scene alive and very real.
Some mobile games use ray tracing and you just need to enable it in the settings. But it won’t work because your chipset must support the feature. The Apple A17 Pro and Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 are just a couple of SoCs that support RT.
So, what titles will let me experience RT?
- Arena Breakout
- Assassin’s Creed Mirage
- Diablo Immortal
- Justice Mobile
- Night Crows
- Racing Master
- Resident Evil 4 Remake
- Resident Evil Village
- War Thunder Edge
Do mind that some of these games are not yet released. But you can now download Diablo Immortal, RE4 Remake, RE Village, and War Thunder Edge.
It won’t hurt if your phone has gaming-centric features like aim assist, crosshair, and performance modes. These may come in handy when the going gets tough, and many brands offer them.
Although this is a stretch, some gamers have multiple characters in one title – a main and a support. If you’re part of this community, consider phones with dual-screen or dual-app functionality.
Many LG phones, for example, let you experience dual gaming. Use the primary app for one character and a third-party app cloner for the other or vice versa. Regardless, you can put each of them on one screen, allowing for a full-screen side-by-side AFKing or co-op gaming by yourself.
These days, you can buy many mid-rangers capable of gaming below 10K, and some of them are marketed as gaming phones.
You can go a bit higher of up to 15K to get better cameras. But true performance is often observed among units costing at least 18K. True gaming phones can cost as much as 50K and even beyond.
If you’re a tech enthusiast and risk taker, you can still buy old flagships released two to three years ago to enjoy top-tier performance and amazing camera shots. While no longer available in authorized sellers, these units remain on sale online.
Many of these old flagships are equipped with very optimized chipsets and can easily smack the performance of numerous mid-range smartphones of today.
But whatever choice you make, always remember to prioritize your comfort, experience, and budget.
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