Given the fact that smartphones are almost everywhere these days, the mobile gaming industry is growing at a swift pace and has already overtaken the console and PC markets when it comes to global revenue. Mobile games today account for 51% of global revenues in the gaming industry with console games accounting for 25% of global revenues and PC games taking the third spot at 24%. Games are already the most popular app sub-category on both iOS and Android, accounting for 25% of the most active iOS apps and 21% of the most active Android apps. In keeping with the trend, the mobile gaming industry is expected to grow even bigger in the next couple of years, with experts estimating that mobile games will account for 59% of global revenues by 2021.
In order to harness the potential of the mobile gaming industry, smartphone manufacturers have come out with dedicated gaming phones which not only promise better performance, but also feature the unique gaming aesthetic that most gamers long for. Here, we’ll take an in-depth look at these dedicated gaming phones, highlighting their unique features and critiquing any shortcomings which might hamper the overall smartphone experience. Before further ado, here are the best gaming phones of 2018:
Best Gaming Phones of 2018
1. Asus ROG Phone
Starting off with the star attraction – the upcoming Asus ROG Phone – which, by far, is the most well thought out gaming phone to be announced. The ROG Phone addresses almost all of the issues that users face while gaming and brings with it a number of new features which are expected to greatly improve mobile gaming performance, provided they work as advertised.
In terms of specifications, the ROG Phone packs in a Snapdragon 845 chipset overclocked to 2.96GHz, coupled with 8GB of RAM and either 128GB or 512GB of internal storage. The device has a 6-inch AMOLED FHD+ display with a 90Hz refresh rate and 1ms pixel response time. The display on the ROG Phone covers 108.6% of the DCI-P3 color gamut and comes with HDR support. In the camera department, the device packs in a 12MP+8MP dual camera setup on the back and an 8MP secondary camera up front. All of the internals are powered by a substantial 4,000mAh battery with 20 Watt fast charging support.
The ROG Phone also has a rather unique and aggressive design which will surely appeal to most gamers. The device houses stereo front facing speakers in the top and bottom bezels up front and on the back it has an oddly shaped fingerprint sensor and a unique thermal solution to keep the device cool under extreme load. The ROG logo also makes an appearance on the back and glows a dull red when the device is turned on.
When it comes to gaming, the ROG Phone is expected to be an absolute beast. Not only does it come with the latest and greatest in internal hardware, it also has some unique customizations which we haven’t seen in any other smartphone till date. The ROG Phone features ultrasonic AirTriggers on the top and bottom of the right edge and also on the bottom of the left edge. These unique buttons can be used as triggers in FPS games, making it more efficient for gamers to use their index fingers. On top of that, the triggers can be completely customized and can be used to launch app, carry out specific functions, etc. The ROG Phone also ships with an AeroActive Cooler – an external cooler which can be clipped onto the back of the phone to keep it nice and cool.
Another great design choice adopted by Asus is the inclusion of a secondary USB Type-C port on the left edge of the device. The secondary USB Type-C port not only acts as a connection for the AeroActive Cooler, but can also be used to charge the device when gaming in the landscape orientation to keep the charging cable out of the way. Additionally, Asus also announced a bunch of accessories for the ROG Phone, including a Mobile Desktop Dock, a TwinView Dock, a WiGig Dock, and a GameVice Controller, which will be sold separately. The accessories will allow players to use the device as a console, desktop, or a streaming station, making the ROG Phone one of the most versatile devices in the market today.
All in all, the Asus ROG Phone is arguably the best gaming phone out there and it will surely have a strong impact on innovation in the smartphone industry in the near future. As of now, Asus hasn’t revealed any information about the pricing and availability of the device, but we expect to receive that information in the coming weeks.
Availability: Expected to launch in Q3 2018
2. Xiaomi Black Shark Gaming Phone
Taking the second spot on the list is Chinese smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi’s own Black Shark gaming phone. Launched under the Black Shark brand, the device has a design aesthetic unlike any Xiaomi smartphone we’ve seen before. It successfully pulls off the gamer-y look with its angular, yet somehow rounded, back and the glowing Black Shark logo positioned right at the center.
In terms of specifications, the Black Shark gaming phone also features the latest and greatest in smartphone technology, packing in a Snapdragon 845 chipset clocked in at 2.8GHz, coupled with up to 8GB of RAM and up to 128GB of internal storage. The device has a 5.99-inch IPS LCD FHD+ display which boasts of 97% DCI-P3 coverage. For optics, the Black Shark gaming phone packs in a 12MP+20MP dual camera setup on the back and a 20MP secondary camera up front. It also packs in a respectable 4,000mAh battery with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 fast charging support.
Despite having an 18:9 display, the Black Shark gaming phone has thick bezels on the top and bottom. While most people might scoff at the inclusion of bezels, they serve a crucial purpose when it comes to gaming. The bezels provide ample space for the user to rest their fingers while gaming in the landscape orientation and also prevents any accidental touches, which are fairly common in devices that have very slim bezels. Black Shark has also utilized the bezels to place the fingerprint scanner up front which, in my opinion, is far more accessible than placing the fingerprint scanner on the back.
Gaming performance is obviously pretty great, which is expected when the device features top-of-the-line specifications. Additionally, in order to further improve the performance, the Black Shark features a gaming mode called ‘Shark Space’ which can be activated using the dedicated gaming mode switch on the left edge of the device. Black Shark has also launched a gaming controller for the device, which can be attached to it using the included case. The controller features an analog joystick and a trigger button which will surely come in handy in a bunch of shooting games. The buttons can also be completely customized, giving players the freedom to choose the buttons’ function.
On the downside, the Black Shark gaming phone lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack, which might be a deal breaker for some. Additionally, while the device ships with Android 8.0 Oreo out of the box, it runs Black Shark’s own skinned version of Android called JoyUI which doesn’t really have a proven track record, so we can’t be sure how well the device will perform over time. The device is priced at 3,499 yuan (approximately $540) for the 8GB/128GB variant, but if you’re not in China you’ll have to pay a $100 premium to get the device from Banggood.
Buy from Banggood ($649.99)
3. Razer Phone
Coming to the smartphone that started the dedicated gaming phone trend- the Razer Phone. Developed by a company known for its ‘gaming DNA’, the Razer Phone is the OG and it’s still holding up quite well, over six months after it was first launched. Unlike the other phones on this list, the Razer Phone features a rather minimal design, much like that of the Razer Blade gaming laptop.
Since the Razer Phone was launched back in November last year, it features last-gen flagship specifications. However, the Snapdragon 835 processor clocked in at 2.35GHz and the 8GB RAM powering the device aren’t technically outdated yet. Internal storage on the device is limited to 64GB, but it does come with a dedicated microSD card slot which supports expansion up to 400GB. The Razer Phone has a 5.7-inch 16:9 IGZO IPS LCD display with an industry-first 120Hz refresh rate, which delivers fluid visuals in even the most graphically intensive games. In the camera department, the Razer Phone features a mediocre 12MP+12MP dual camera setup on the back, which could be a deal breaker for some, and a 8MP selfie shooter up front. The device also packs in a 4,000mAh battery, with Quick Charge 4 support, which will surely last you a long time, even with heavy use.
The Razer Phone doesn’t feature an 18:9 aspect ratio display, which is another con in my opinion, and has thick bezels on the top and bottom, which house the device’s remarkable front facing stereo speakers. The fingerprint scanner on the device is part of the power button on the right edge and I personally love this design choice. Gaming performance on the Razer Phone is exactly what you’d expect. It’s pretty great, even with the older hardware, and the device can power through the most demanding titles with relative ease. Games look absolutely brilliant on the IGZO panel and the sound output from the front firing speakers is just phenomenal.
However, much like the Black Shark gaming phone, the Razer Phone also lacks a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a bummer. I mean, from the looks of it, the device feels like it has a lot of space to accommodate a headphone jack and a lot of potential buyers will surely be disappointed because its missing. To make up for it, however, Razer does include a USB Type-C to 3.5mm adapter in the box, which is rather thoughtful.
Another great feature about the Razer Phone is that it uses a skinned version of Nova Launcher as the default launcher, which makes the UI feel amazing and provides a ton of customization options to help users make the device their own. Overall, the Razer Phone is a compelling buy, despite the older hardware and if you’re someone who’s looking for a dedicated gaming phone that isn’t flashy, then the Razer Phone is your only option.
Availability: US, UK, Canada, Singapore, Australia, EU, Hong Kong
Buy from Amazon ($699.99)
4. ZTE Nubia Red Magic
Finally, coming to the last gaming phone on the list – the ZTE Nubia Red Magic. The Red Magic gaming phone looks and feels like a gaming phone, with its angular design and the RGB strip running down its back. Despite the gamer-y aesthetic, the device looks pretty clean and could easily pass off as a vanilla smartphone, provided you keep the gaming mode turned off.
For a device launched in April this year, the Nubia Red Magic has disappointing specifications. It comes with a Snapdragon 835 SoC clocked in at 2.35GHz, coupled with either 6GB or 8GB of RAM and 64GB or 128GB of internal storage. The device has a 6-inch FHD+ IPS LCD with an 18:9 aspect ratio, however, it does have substantial bezels on the top and bottom. For your photography needs, the Red Magic has a single 24MP camera on the back and an 8MP selfie shooter up front. Unlike all the other smartphones on the list, the Nubia Red Magic has a smaller 3,800mAh battery, with support for Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0 and a QC3.0 compatible charger included in the box.
The device has a uniquely shaped fingerprint sensor under the hexagonal camera housing on the back and has a rear mounted speaker, placed in a way that it’ll hardly ever be muffled by your hands. Much like the Black Shark gaming phone, the Nubia Red Magic also has a dedicated game mode button which powers on the RGB strip on the back and switches the device to a DND mode, preventing any notifications from ruining your gaming session.
Unlike the Black Shark gaming phone and the Razer Phone, the Nubia Red Magic has a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a great addition in my opinion. On the downside, the Nubia Red Magic doesn’t feature fast charging support, runs a shoddy skinned version of Android 8.1 Oreo called Red Magic OS, and lacks a dual camera setup. Red Magic has claimed that the device will ship with vanilla Android in the global markets, with a few additional features like GameBoost to improve its gaming performance. The new near stock Android experience is being optimized in close consultation with Red Magic’s Indiegogo backers and we sincerely hope that it’s better than the skinned version of Android currently on the device. Gaming performance on the device is more or less what you’d expect from a device of this caliber and in order to keep the device cool, the company has added graphite strips at the back to help with heat dissipation.
Even though the Nubia Red Magic isn’t the best gaming phone out of the lot, it’s the cheapest gaming phone out there and if you’re looking for a device which doesn’t break the bank, then the Nubia Red Magic should be the right choice for you. The device initially went on sale via an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign at $399, which has now reached its goal and has stopped accepting any new orders. The device is expected to go on sale once again via Red Magic’s website in the coming weeks, but if you’re not willing to wait, you can purchase the device from Banggood right now, albeit at a premium.
Availability: EU, UK, Malaysia, Philippines, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Australia, UAE, Israel, Norway, Vietnam, India, Russia, Brazil, Switzerland (July 2018)
Buy from Banggood ($589.99)
Which Gaming Phone is Your Favorite?
As of now, these are the only dedicated gaming phones in the market, with the ROG Phone yet to see an official launch. So if you’ve been looking for a smartphone for your mobile gaming needs, you’ll have to choose from one of the devices listed above. As the aforementioned gaming phones haven’t been launched in all international markets, you might have to import them, which means you’ll be missing out on any warranty and after sales support, depending on your region. We’ll keep adding on to the list as and when new dedicated gaming phones are launched and we’ll also be updating the availability details in case the respective companies plan to launch the devices in more markets. So, which dedicated gaming phone is your favorite? Is it the Razer Phone or perhaps the upcoming ROG Phone? Do let us know in the comments section down below.