Galaxy S21 Ultra ReviewSource: Hayato Huseman / Android Central

Best gaming phones Android Central 2022

Almost any phone can run free-to-play titles like Angry Birds or Subway Surfers, but for the more graphically demanding games, you'll need one of the best Android phones. Some of the best Android games are PC or console ports that run significantly better with more powerful CPUs, a lot of memory, and faster displays even in their downgraded state. Add in-game streaming services like Google Stadia and Xbox Game Pass for Android), and you have every reason to make sure your next phone is capable of handling it all in stride. We think the Galaxy S21 Ultra is the best overall gaming phone, but if that doesn't strike your fancy or is out of your price range, there are plenty of other options worth considering. Here are some of the best Android phones for gamers.

1. Best overall: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

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. The new S21 lineup is among the most powerful we've ever seen, with the Galaxy S21 Ultra taking the crown for best Android phone for gaming by far.

Powering all of your games is some of the best silicon in the business. All S21 phones contain the Snapdragon 888, which show a 25% uptick in CPU performance and a huge 35% uptick in GPU compared to the Snapdragon 865 found in the Galaxy S20.

Beyond the chipset, the S21 Ultra beats its siblings' hardware specs by most other gaming metrics. It has the highest pixels per inch (ppi) at 515, plus the largest display at 6.8 inches. It's the only phone of the three that includes 12GB of RAM for the base model, and you can even get a 16GB version. We'll also note that the S21 lineup rudely removed expandable storage; since the Ultra is the only model to offer 512GB of internal storage, it's your best bet for fitting a bunch of games at once.

We were most excited to note that the Galaxy S21 Ultra offers a Quad HD+ resolution at 120Hz variable refresh rate simultaneously at up to 1500 nits of brightness. Our Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review noted this mode is a battery-killer, but looks fantastic enough that it's worth it. And Samsung rolled out software updates to optimize the mode, so you don't have to choose between QHD+ or 120Hz when playing your favorite games. Plus, the giant-sized 5000mAh battery does its best to keep up.

You may prefer the Galaxy S21 for the lower price and lighter, easier to hold design, and it will absolutely handle high-res graphics or fast-paced shooters with ease. For more dedicated smartphone gamers with cash to spare, though, the Ultra has our vote.

Pros:

  • Fantastic Super AMOLED display
  • 120Hz refresh rate at QHD+ resolution
  • Snapdragon 888 with 16GB of RAM
  • Giant battery
  • IP68 water resistance
  • Gaming Mode and Game Launcher

Cons:

  • There isn't a headphone jack
  • No expandable storage either
  • Large display makes it harder to hold

Best overall

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra Render Phantom Black Front Official

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra - Phantom Black

Go big or go home

The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is an absolute workhorse that delivers top-tier performance on a beautifully fast display.

2. Best alternative: OnePlus 9 Pro

OnePlus 9 Pro reviewSource: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central

OnePlus may not be top of mind when it comes to mobile gaming, but there's a combination that works here. Starting with the 6.7-inch AMOLED display, which is gorgeous, the OnePlus 9 Pro has the visual splendor you can appreciate while playing a game. The 20:9 ratio isn't unique yet somehow feels wider on this phone. Couple that with a solid slate of internal specs, like the Snapdragon 888 chipset and plenty of RAM, and you get something robust to play with.

Unfortunately, you won't get the 144Hz or 165Hz refresh rates true gaming phones now offer, but the 120Hz variable rate works really well. Smooth gameplay shouldn't be a problem, especially with a new vapor chamber cooling system to keep excess heat at bay. Touch-centric games get a nice boost from the 360Hz touch response rate, a clear upgrade from the 240Hz rate in the OnePlus 8 Pro. And there's the fact that haptics are already good, which makes those games feel more tactile.

Use this phone with any game on Google Play or Xbox Game Pass, and you should have no issues. Same with playing Fortnite, whether you use a controller or not. Battery life holds up well, and with OnePlus' own 65W Warp Charger, you could be back up and playing again a lot faster than before.

Pros:

  • Gorgeous display
  • Improved cooling system
  • Nice haptics for tactile feel
  • Solid internals to keep playing
  • Excellent software

Cons:

  • No 144Hz refresh rate
  • Not a 21:9 ratio

Best alternative

OnePlus 9 Pro in Morning Mist

OnePlus 9 Pro - Morning Mist

Ready to entertain

The OnePlus 9 Pro ticks all the right boxes for a gaming phone, combining stellar hardware with a gorgeous AMOLED screen.

3. Best value: Samsung Galaxy S21

Samsung Galaxy S21 in-handSource: Hayato Huseman / Android Central

Samsung doesn't explicitly market the Galaxy S21 as a gaming smartphone, as it focuses more of its marketing machine on other features. But it wouldn't be wrong to throw in a comment or two about its gaming chops. It won't be as rugged or robust as the S21 Ultra, but it can handle its fair share when you use it right.

For instance, it does just fine streaming games from Xbox Game Pass, working like a charm when pairing it with a compatible Bluetooth controller. The 120Hz refresh rate gives the screen the fluidity necessary to keep games looking smooth, while the Snapdragon 888 inside should be more than enough to handle today's latest mobile titles. The 6.2-inch display is on the smaller side, so this is less about screen real estate and more about doing more with less.

Battery life holds up well because the 120Hz refresh is dynamic, so it doesn't kick in for everything you do on the device. However, it's also because the resolution is lower. At 2400 x 1080, there aren't as many pixels as a QHD display would have, so you may not like that spec if you're a stickler for visual quality. That doesn't mean the screen isn't still a beauty to look at, just that it doesn't match what other gaming phones can do.

Pros:

  • Nice display with 120Hz refresh rate
  • Internals can handle games
  • Great haptics
  • Easy to hold and carry
  • Color options

Cons:

  • Not as high resolution
  • Lacking features of S21 Ultra

Best value

Samsung Galaxy S21 Render Phantom Violet Front Official

Samsung Galaxy S21 - Phantom Violet

Got the goods to game

The Galaxy S21 isn't held back too much when it comes to playing games, and it's got enough to let you enjoy them.

4. Best for large display: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 LifestyleSource: Chris Wedel / Android Central

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 is a fabulous foldable that takes gaming to a whole new level. The differentiator for the Z Fold 3 is the foldout screen that unfurls to a massive 7.6 inches, giving you a large canvas for playing the latest games. The inner and outer AMOLED screens have a 120Hz refresh rate, ensuring smooth playback of your favorite games.

A huge upgrade this year is the plastic coating that covers the inner and outer screens. Samsung switched the material for the coating, and it feels just like interacting with a glass panel. We've been using the Z Fold 3 for a while now, and the new coating makes a drastic difference in daily use.

As for the hardware itself, the Snapdragon 888 is the best chipset you'll find on Android, delivering more than enough power for even the most demanding of games. With 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage out of the box, there's more than enough memory for multitasking here, and you can easily store all of your games.

In terms of connectivity, you get global 5G bands and Wi-Fi 6e, and Bluetooth 5.2. Oh, and a nifty addition this year is IPX8 water resistance, making sure that you can continue gaming while at the pool. And finally, there are stellar cameras here, so when you're not playing games, you can take stunning photos in just about any lighting scenario. The 4400mAh battery ensures you get a full day's use, and there's 25W fast charging along with wireless charging.

Pros:

  • Large 7.6-inch AMOLED with 120Hz refresh rate
  • Outstanding internal hardware
  • Outer screen is useful for day-to-day tasks
  • Future-proofed design with global 5G
  • IPX8 water resistance

Cons:

  • No expandable storage
  • Insanely costly

Best for large display

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 Phantom Silver

Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G

Two displays, one phone

The Galaxy Z Fold 3 delivers two fabulous screens in a high-end package, making it a standout gaming option.

5. Best advanced features: Nubia RedMagic 6 Pro

Nubia Redmagic 6 Pro PromoSource: RedMagic

You don't need to be very familiar with Nubia or even recognize that it's a sub-brand of ZTE. What you do need to know is that its RedMagic 6 Pro is one of the most fully-featured gaming phones you can buy, so if your interest in mobile gaming has you seeking something unique, you owe it to yourself to consider picking it up.

There's a lot about the RedMagic 6 Pro that stands out. Starting first with its display, the phone sports a 6.8-inch AMOLED, along with a 165Hz refresh rate. That's a technically laudable feat and one you won't find on another phone like the Galaxy S21 Ultra. Its smoothness contributes to a wonderful gaming experience, just as Qualcomm's Snapdragon 888 does. With up to 16GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage, including 5G connectivity, it has plenty to enjoy a good game with.

Being a gaming phone, it really stands out with features catering to those expectations. The RedMagic 6 Pro has built-in triggers on the phone's frame for more precise controls, plus an improved cooling system that includes an active fan to keep those rising temperatures in check when necessary. Even with all that, Nubia managed to squeeze in a 5,050mAh battery and include a 66W charger. So in just 38 minutes, you can go from empty to full power.

Pros:

  • Unmatched 165Hz AMOLED display
  • Robust cooling system
  • Fast Qualcomm processor with tons of RAM
  • Built-in trigger buttons for extra control
  • 5,050 mAh battery + 66W charging

Cons:

  • Design isn't for everyone
  • Mediocre cameras
  • Software has bugs

Best advanced features

Nubia Redmagic 6 Pro Render

Nubia RedMagic 6 Pro

A phone that goes all-in on gaming

Features such as trigger buttons and a 165Hz display allow the RedMagic 6 Pro to stand out in a big way.

6. Best for Stadia: Google Pixel 6

With the Pixel 6, Google finally sorted out past hardware issues, and is now offering a phone that is one of the best in its category. The phone has a vibrant AMOLED panel with a 90Hz refresh rate, and with Google's custom and powerful Tensor chipset under the hood, it's fantastic for playing games on the go.

It isn't lacking when it comes to memory or storage either. You get 8GB of RAM as standard along with 128GB of storage. The 50MP camera at the back is one of the best you'll find on any phone today, and the 4,614mAh battery lasts all day — even with extended gaming sessions.

The hardware on offer makes the Pixel 6 a great choice for Google Stadia, and the icing on the cake is that the phone is a stellar value, much lower in price than other flagships.

Pros:

  • Gorgeous design
  • High-quality AMOLED screen
  • Plenty of power
  • Good battery life
  • Latest Android features
  • Great Pixel camera

Cons:

  • Annoying software bugs
  • Limited global availability

Best for Stadia

Google Pixel 6 Pro Cloudy White Render

Google Pixel 6

The phone for game streaming

Google Stadia brings console-quality game streaming right to your pocket, and the Pixel 6 makes cloud gaming enjoyable.

7. Best for iOS: Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

iPhone 13 Pro MaxSource: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central

You don't normally associate Apple with gaming, but the iPhone 13 Pro Max is a fantastic choice for mobile gaming. The A15 Bionic is the fastest mobile chip available today, and that makes the iPhone 13 Pro Max a true powerhouse for gaming.

Then there's the fact that the phone has 120Hz refresh rate — a first for the series. Day-to-day interactions are immediately smoother if you're switching from an older iPhone, and the mode is amazing for games with a lot of fast-paced activity. You'll also find plenty of outstanding titles on the App Store, and with Apple Arcade, you can play thousands of games for a small monthly fee.

One of the features that stood out for me while using the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the battery life. With a large battery under the hood and a more efficient 5nm node used for the A15 Bionic, the phone outshines its Android rivals in this area, allowing you to enjoy your favorite games for a lot longer. And of course, you get great stereo sound.

iOS 15 gets a lot right as well, offering a lot of privacy-focused features and an easy-to-use interface. There is a learning curve if you're making the switch from Android, but you will find all of your favorite Google services.

Pros:

  • Large OLED panel with 120Hz refresh
  • Outstanding hardware
  • Access to millions of high-quality games
  • Long-term software updates
  • Insane battery life

Cons:

  • iOS has a learning curve
  • Costly

Best for iOS

Iphone 13 Pro Max

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max

iOS gaming is for pros too

The iPhone 13 Pro Max offers a sublime screen backed by the best hardware you'll find today on a phone.

8. Best for Gamers: Asus ROG Phone 5

ASUS ROG Phone 5 ReviewSource: Apoorva Bhardwaj / Android Central

You can already find several great gaming phones in the U.S., and there's one phone in particular that stands out — the Asus ROG Phone 5. There are also three variants: a standard model, the Pro, and the Ultimate. Which one you choose is largely up to you, but the standard one is certainly ready to play out of the box. It's noticeably heavier and bigger than other handsets with AMOLED screens around 6.78-inches, which is understandable, given the room necessary to accommodate things like AirTriggers, a second USB-C port to charge, and a 5-pin pogo connector to attach the AeroActive fan accessory.

A new design for Asus' GameCool system siphons heat away from the device's internals, as well as from the periphery, so your hands don't feel any discomfort. That matters when the Snapdragon 888 chipset has to push to ensure everything stays smooth throughout. It will, and that 144Hz refresh rate will look buttery as a result.

Pros:

  • Beautifully designed
  • Stereo speakers and headphone jack
  • 144Hz refresh rate
  • Improved cooling system
  • Hefty 6,000 mAh battery

Cons:

  • No water resistance
  • Bigger and heavier build

Best for gamers

ASUS ROG Phone 5

Asus ROG Phone 5 - Black

Tons of value across the ocean

With its excellent display, solid specs, and distinct design, the Asus ROG Phone 5 brings a lot to the table.

Bottom line

If you're upgrading to a new phone and want something that can handle gaming with ease, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is your best bet. It's an easy contender for phone of the year and is packed with pretty much all of the features you'd want for gaming and daily use.

Without a doubt, one of the best aspects of the Galaxy S21 is its display. Samsung's AMOLED tech is just as vibrant and colorful as ever, but this time around, it enables QHD+ graphics at a 120Hz refresh rate. This results in your eyes being treated to the very best display that exists on a smartphone right now, which contributes to a better user experience whether you're gaming or using your phone for other tasks.

Another highlight of the S21 Ultra is its sheer specs. With a Snapdragon 888 chipset, up to 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and a 5000 mAh battery, this is a phone that's outstandingly fast, has plenty of room for all of your local files/games, and can easily get through a full day of use. The S21 Ultra isn't a cheap or affordable device, but if you have the means to buy it, it's without a doubt the best Android phone for games.

If you need something on a budget, the Pixel 6 is the obvious choice. It has high-end internals and a vibrant AMOLED screen, and manages to undercut its rivals by a hefty margin.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Author: Joe Maring

Joe Maring is Android Central's Senior Editor and has had a love for anything with a screen and CPU since he can remember. He's been talking/writing about Android in one form or another since 2012 and often does so while camping out at the nearest coffee shop. Have a tip? Reach out on Twitter @JoeMaring1!

Author: Michael Hicks Headshot

Michael Hicks got his tech start in 2016, covering emerging tech like VR and self-driving cars before expanding to all things tech. As Android Central's newest Senior Editor, he covers everything from laptops to soundbars, home security, gaming, and fitness watches.

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