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The best gaming phones: Mobile gaming to the next level

What is the best gaming phone? Our No. 1 pick is the Nubia RedMagic 7 Pro. From iOS to Android, we researched and analyzed display, processor, RAM, battery, and storage.

If you're a mobile gamer, having the right smartphone can make a massive difference in your gaming experience. Today's best gaming phones can deliver smooth playing experiences that compete with popular consoles and gaming systems -- all from the convenience of your smartphone.

With so many options on the market, how do you choose the right gaming phone? You'll want to look for something robust and reliable, with high resolution, a fast refresh rate display, and plenty of power. Each of the gaming phones below checks these boxes, so keep reading to find the right one for you.

Nubia RedMagic 7 Pro
June Wan/ZDNet

Display: 6.8-inch AMOLED with 120Hz | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 | RAM: 16GB | Storage: 256GB/512GB | Weight: 235g | Battery: 5,000mAh | Operating system: Android 12

Nubia RedMagic, the gaming arm of Chinese manufacturer ZTE, has been churning out value-driven gaming phones since 2015. Its latest, the RedMagic 7 Pro, is one of the most complete devices that we've tested to date. 

From the get-go, the phone looks and feels like a true gaming phone, with a bold design and edgy aesthetics. The Supernova variant sports a transparent back that showcases the bevy of gaming-centric features within the device, like the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, 16GB of RAM, a massive 5,000mAh battery, and the RedMagic's key selling point: a 20,000 RPM Turbofan. That fan, along with a series of cooling elements within the phone keeps it from overheating and the battery from degrading as fast -- both of which are common issues with gaming phones.

The RedMagic 7 Pro fields a massive 6.8-inch, 120Hz AMOLED display to visualize all the animations and stylistic icons of its Android 12-based software. Turn on any game and Nubia's Game Space (and the Turbofan) kicks into high gear, providing you with an ample amount of in-game controls, toggles, and plugins. One of which lets you map the shoulder triggers of the phone, giving you an added dimension of inputs no matter what game you play.

More: Nubia RedMagic 7 Pro full review

Pros

Cons

  • 16GB of RAM powers through any app or game
  • 20,000 RPM Turbofan keeps the phone running efficiently
  • 5,000mAh battery with 65W fast charging
  • No IP rating
  • Cameras are mediocre
  • No wireless charging
Xiaomi Black Shark 4 Pro
June Wan/ZDNet

Display: 6.67-inch AMOLED with 144Hz | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 | RAM: 6GB/12GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB | Weight: 220g | Battery: 4,500mAh | Operating system: Android 11

Black Shark, a sub-brand of Xiaomi, is another contender within the gaming phone market. While costing significantly less than the competition, Black Shark phones tend to carry specs and features that rival that of the very best.

The latest Black Shark 4 Pro is no different. It starts at just $569 -- close to half the cost of the aforementioned picks -- but comes equipped with a 6.67-inch, 144Hz AMOLED display, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, up to 12GB of RAM, and a 4,500mAh battery that's capable of 120W fast charging. Basically, the Black Shark is a gaming flagship killer.

Even then, the highlights of the device are the magnetic, retractable shoulder triggers. Unlike the touch capacitive ones on the Nubia RedMagic 7 Pro, these physical buttons can pop up from the device. That way, the phone stays sleek and uniform when they're not in use and becomes a full-on gaming device when they are.

More: Black Shark 4 Pro full review

Pros

Cons

  • Exceptionally good value for a gaming phone
  • 120W fast charging is stupendously quick
  • Retractable shoulder triggers are a gamer's dream
  • No MicroSD card slot
  • Software update cadence can be better
  • 4,500mAh battery is not the best
ASUS ROG Phone 5S
ASUS

Display: 6.78-inch AMOLED with 144Hz | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 | RAM: 16GB/18GB | Storage: 256GB/512GB | Weight: 238g | Battery: 6,000mAh | Operating system: Android 11

The ASUS ROG Phone 5S is another comparable gaming flagship, from the sizeable screen to the high-quality audio to the powerful hardware.

This phone offers a top-notch player experience, thanks to the lightning-fast refresh rate (144Hz), GameFX audio system, and gamer-friendly design. Inside, there's last year's Snapdragon 888 processor, which remains a champion for computing power and can operate all types of games. There's also a huge 6,000mAh battery that's designed for extended sessions. At that size, the ASUS ROG Phone 5S is our top pick if you seek a gaming phone with high endurance.

While short of the extra fans and buttons, the ASUS ROG Phone 5S is still a worthy second option to the Nubia RedMagic 7 Pro. There's a global version of the device available, but it is only compatible with GSM networks like AT&T and T-Mobile. Verizon and Sprint customers can look to our other picks for a similar gaming experience.

Pros

Cons

  • 6,000mAh battery tops the leaderboard for endurance
  • Sleek curved design is comfortable to hold
  • 144Hz refresh rate
  • Dull design with some RGB on the back
  • Not compatible with CDMA networks
  • Only one shoulder trigger
1-02-galaxy-s22-ultra-back2-burgundy-design-hi.jpg
Samsung

Display: 6.8-inch AMOLED with 120Hz | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 | RAM: 12GB/16GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB | Weight: 228g | Battery: 5,000mAh | Operating system: Android 12

While the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra isn't marketed solely toward gamers, it's one of the best mainstream phones that can handle graphics-intensive titles.

On the surface, the Galaxy S22 Ultra fields a spec sheet that competes with traditional gaming phones. With a large 6.8-inch, 120Hz AMOLED display, the latest Qualcomm processor, up to 16GB of RAM, and a 5,000mAh battery, gamers will feel at home with a device of this caliber.

The best part? Being a flagship that's tailored towards the masses, buying the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra means that you're getting more than just a capable phone for gaming. You're getting one of the highest-end mobile experiences on the market, with a feature set that will carry you through any task. And with the new, but familiar, S Pen built-in, you can relive the Nintendo DS days.

More: Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra full review

Pros

Cons

  • Latest Snapdragon processor with up to 16GB RAM
  • Best-in-class AMOLED display
  • Camera and S Pen puts the S22 Ultra above traditional gaming phones
  • Boxy, all-glass design is not the most durable
  • Very expensive at $1,199
  • Battery life can be better
OnePlus 10 Pro
June Wan/ZDNet

Display: 6.7-inch AMOLED with 120Hz | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 | RAM: 8GB/12GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB | Weight: 200g | Battery: 5,000mAh | Operating system: Android 12

Another recommendation among the mainstream options is the new OnePlus 10 Pro. While not as RAM and storage heavy as the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra, the OnePlus offers a similar gaming experience for $300 less.

The phone comes with a 6.7-inch, 120Hz AMOLED display, a 5,000mAh battery with 65W fast charging (80W outside of North America), and runs on OxygenOS based on Android 12. Like previous OnePlus devices, the 10 Pro sticks to the brand's strengths: Ultra smooth performance and speed. From navigating around apps to loading high-demand games, the OnePlus 10 Pro provides a flagship Android experience. It also features the iconic alert slider, so you can toggle off notifications as you game on.

At $899, the phone isn't cheap per se, but it undercuts the best that Samsung and Apple have to offer while matching the levels of output. There's also the new second-generation Hasselblad camera system, which captures excellent photos and videos in various environments. 

More: OnePlus 10 Pro full review

Pros

Cons

  • $899 price tag undercuts mainstream flagships
  • Smooth and snappy software experience
  • 5,000mAh battery and 65W SuperVOOC charging
  • No IP certification (besides US T-Mobile version)
  • Lack of mmWave 5G bands
  • No MicroSD card support
iPhone 13 Pro Max
Apple

Display: 6.7-inch AMOLED with 120Hz | Processor: A15 Bionic | RAM: 6GB | Storage: 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB | Weight: 240g | Battery: 4,352mAh (est.) | Operating system: iOS 15

As you've probably noticed, Androids make up a majority of the best gaming phones on the market. However, some Apple products hold their own, with the iPhone 13 Pro Max being the best iOS option for gamers. 

Even though the 6GB of RAM seems laughable compared to the double digit specs of other options on this list, the iPhone is notorious for its class-leading efficiency and performance optimizations. To add, there are still plenty of iPhone perks for gamers. Most notably, this phone is built with Apple's industry-leading A15 Bionic chipset, beating out most flagships in synthetic benchmark tests. And, of course, graphics look incredible on the 6.7-inch OLED display, now with a 120Hz refresh rate to keep things smooth. 

With a starting price of $1,099, you might be wondering: is the iPhone 13 Pro Max worth it for gamers? We think so -- as long as you're okay with giving up a few best-in-class gaming features in exchange for the other fantastic benefits included with Apple phones. If the Max is too big, there's also the regular iPhone 13 Pro, which has proven to be just as capable for mobile gaming.

More: iPhone 13 Pro Max full review

Pros

Cons

  • Best-in-class iPhone experience
  • Long-lasting battery life
  • Industry-leading software update policy
  • iPhone App Store is not as expansive as Google's
  • No sideloading apps or plug-ins
  • Lightning port is not as universal
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3
Samsung

Displays: 7.6-inch AMOLED with 120Hz (Inner), 6.2-inch AMOLED with 60Hz (Outer) | Processor: Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 | RAM: 12GB | Storage: 256GB/512GB | Weight: 271g | Battery: 4,400mAh | Operating system: Android 12

By virtue of its design, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a great pick for gamers. When opened, the display expands to a whopping 7.6 inches, which is far more screen space than you'll get from a traditional phone.

Excitingly, this foldable phone also has powerful hardware to complement its spacious screen design. Not only does it offer 5G connectivity (thanks to the Snapdragon 888 processor), but it also has a gamer-friendly 120Hz refresh rate. On top of that, the Galaxy Z Fold 3 supports the Samsung S Pen stylus, which offers even more ways to use this versatile phone.

As you might expect, all of this extra screen space is reflected in the phone's cost. Prices start at $1,780 for the 256GB model, so you'll need to consider whether or not the larger size and folding functionality are worth the money. Fortunately, the phone has been out for a couple of months now, so you can pick one up brand new for as little as $1,499.

More: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 full review

Pros

Cons

  • Folding form factor provides gaming versatility
  • 7.6-inch display is as big as a phone screen gets
  • S Pen stylus support
  • More delicate than slab smartphones
  • Very expensive
  • 4,400mAh battery is lackluster for how big the phone is

How did we choose these products?

To curate this list of the best gaming phones, we searched the market for a well-rounded range of products, making sure to include options for every shopper. In most cases, ZDNet's team of subject matter experts have spent up to months testing and reviewing the devices to discern the best from the worst. Our research process also takes into account pricing, technical specifications, customer reviews, and product availability. Each of our picks can be purchased through the manufacturer's website or from popular retailers like Amazon or Walmart.

What is the best gaming phone?

We know that different people might be looking for different things when shopping for the best gaming phone. For example, if you want the fastest and most powerful gaming phone on the market, look for products built on innovative processors (like Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and A15) with fast refresh rates and high storage capacity. After evaluating the seven gaming phones above, we concluded that the Nubia RedMagic 7 Pro was the best gaming phone to buy.

However, if you're on a budget, then price will probably be your biggest consideration. In that case, we'd recommend an affordable option like the Xiaomi Black Shark 4 Pro or the OnePlus 10 Pro. While they might be slightly less powerful than the best gaming phone, they'll still offer the essential functionality that you'd need.

Model

Display size

Refresh rate

Processor

Battery

Price

Nubia RedMagic 7 Pro

6.8-inch AMOLED

120Hz

Snapdragon 8 Gen 1

5,000mAh

$899

Xiaomi Black Shark 4 Pro

6.67-inch AMOLED

144Hz

Snapdragon 888

4,500mAh

$569

ASUS ROG Phone 5S

6.78-inch AMOLED

144Hz

Snapdragon 888

6,000mAh

$1,099

Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

6.8-inch AMOLED

120Hz

Snapdragon 8 Gen 1

5,000mAh

$1,199

OnePlus 10 Pro

6.7-inch AMOLED

120Hz

Snapdragon 8 Gen 1

5,000mAh

$899

iPhone 13 Pro Max

6.7-inch AMOLED

120Hz

Apple A15 Bionic

4,352mAh

$1,099

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

7.6-inch and 6.2-inch AMOLED

120Hz, 60Hz

Snapdragon 888

4,400mAh

$1,749

What is a gaming phone?

Technically, any phone that allows you to play games could be considered a gaming phone. However, there are a handful of phones that have been designed and marketed as "gaming phones," such as the ASUS ROG Phone 5S. For the purposes of our review, we've highlighted some of these products, as well as more mainstream options that would work well for gamers (like the iPhone 13 Pro Max).

Do you need a dedicated gaming phone?

Not necessarily. Some popular non-gaming phones are powerful enough to support rigorous mobile gaming. Plus, these phones often outperform dedicated gaming phones when it comes to other features (like camera quality and design). 

Still, if you love mobile gaming and want a product that's designed for that specific purpose, then a gaming phone might be the right choice.

What should you look for in a gaming phone?

There are several things to look for when shopping for the best gaming phone. First, you'll want to look for a phone with a fast, modern processor. The processor is the central technical component of a smartphone, overseeing every command and ensuring your phone performs the tasks you ask of it. Right now, the best processors include the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Apple A15 Bionic.

Additionally, you'll also want to look for a phone with a high screen refresh rate. Measured in Hertz (Hz), this number is an expression of how many times your screen refreshes every second. As you might expect, a higher refresh rate is essential for a smooth gaming experience with less lag. Today's best gaming phones have refresh rates of at least 120Hz.

Finally, keep an eye out for phones with ample storage, Random Access Memory (RAM), and battery life. Simply put, the more storage, RAM, and battery capacity your phone has, the better it will be for mobile gaming. You'll be able to enjoy longer, uninterrupted gaming sessions without slowing down your phone or draining the battery.

Are there alternatives worth considering?

We think that the phones listed above are your best bet for gaming. However, some other well-known phones can get the job done. Although they didn't make our final list, they're still impressive and capable products.

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