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Buyer’s Guide: The Best Gaming Phones in 2021

17th May 2021

Whether smartphones have always been in your life or you’re old enough to remember playing Tetris on a handset the size of a brick, it’s clear how rapidly phone gaming has evolved. Mobile gaming accounted for 51% of total gaming revenue in 2018 and is tipped to have cruised past SG$80 billion in 2020. With iconic titles like Call of Duty, Fortnite, Mario Kart, and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds embracing the mobile scene, you no longer need a PC or console to kick back with your favorite games at home or on the go. 

Most phones can cope with gaming to an extent, but only some can deliver the hair-raising immersion some of us have come to expect. The good news is if you’re a casual gamer just looking to relax over some puzzles, dabble in some retro arcade games or take a quick squiz at Candy Crush in the toilet, just about any new smartphone will do the trick. But if you want to play the most popular, visually stunning games and experience top-tier graphics without your phone bursting into flames, you’ll need a device with some serious grunt.

To help you choose the best gaming phone in 2021, we’ve gathered our top choices under two different categories. Some phones are specially designed for hardcore gaming with features like high refresh rates, advanced cooling systems, and powerful speakers. However, these phones don’t always score top marks for general use. That’s why we’ve also picked a few crowd-pleasing models that are great for gaming but have stunning cameras and plenty of other striking features. 

The best gaming phones for general users

Gaming isn’t the only thing these phones are great for. They have the best versatile features along with the hardware to run your favorite titles smoothly.

Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Samsung’s latest top-end flagship is an insanely powerful device with a huge display and many features to love. Released in January 2021 as the jewel in Samsung’s Galaxy S21 series, the S21 Ultra is arguably the most epic Android phone available and a fine choice for gamers who want all the other incredible features you would expect in a new smartphone. 

First and foremost, it’s packing some serious heat. Under the hood, the S21 Ultra has the Exynos 2100 chipset, which boasts an octa-core CPU, supports 5G, and according to Samsung, is more powerful than any Galaxy chip before it. It also has the beasty Mali-G78 GPU, which is built to meet the needs of gamers who want to push their graphics settings to the max. 

To back up the engine room, the Galaxy S21 Ultra comes with a 5,000mAh battery and a choice of 12GB RAM/256GB storage or 16GB RAM/512GB storage. In other words, it has loads of memory to run high-intensity games and all the storage space you need to keep a catalog of your favorite titles. 

Now to the display. Measuring 6.8 inches, the S21 Ultra’s Dynamic AMOLED 2X display is nothing short of incredible. It stretches across the entire phone with stylish curved edges, reintroducing a style we’ve seen on previous Samsung phones. It comes with Eye Comfort Shield to help reduce blue light and has a refresh rate of up to 120Hz for silky smooth visuals. 

All these amazing hardware are made even better with Samsung’s improved Game Booster, which comes with a new Priority Mode that prevents calls and notifications from interrupting your session. It also keeps an eye on how the phone is running to adjust settings and boost performance automatically. 

One of the best things about picking up the S21 Ultra for gaming is that it excels everywhere else, too. It has a cutting-edge quad camera on the rear, supports the S Pen (a first for a Galaxy S phone), and overall, just aesthetically-pleasing. You can also link your S21 Ultra with an Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and play your favorite classics on mobile over the cloud. It’s perfect for Xbox enthusiasts, though it’s still in Beta, and you’ll need a compatible controller for it to work.

iPhone 12 Pro & 12 Pro Max

It should come as no surprise to see Apple’s flagship on the list, and it’s easy to rank it at number one if you prefer iOS and the general iPhone experience. The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max are the most powerful of the trio of phones launched by Apple in October 2020 and have everything a gamer needs in a handheld device. We’ve bunched the two together since there are only a couple of minor differences. Max simply costs more in exchange for a bigger (and heavier) display, a longer-lasting battery, and a few minor improvements to the rear cameras, including more zoom and better optical image stabilization.

Nevertheless, both phones rock what some rank as the most powerful chipset in any smartphone: the A14 Bionic. This 5-nanometer bad boy has 11.8 billion transistors for super-duper speeds, and Apple claims its CPU and GPU are up to 50% faster than any other smartphone chip. Basically, switching apps, loading games, and multitasking is a piece of cake. What’s more, games look mesmerizing on the Super Retina XDR all-screen OLED display, which measures 6.1 inches on the 12 Pro and 6.7 inches on the 12 Pro Max. The chip also supports 5G, which is a great way to future-proof yourself for glorious, lag-free online gaming.

The iPhone 12 Pro and Pro Max are both available with 6GB RAM and a choice of 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB internal storage. Unlike the S21 Ultra, you won’t be able to expand the storage – but the large internal capacity means you probably would never run out of space. Oh, and even though it has lower levels of RAM than most of its competitors, the sheer power of the A14 processor more than makes up for it. 

One of the best perks of picking up an iPhone for gaming is that you can access the Apple Arcade. Packaged as a subscription service, you pay a small monthly fee (or lock-in 12 months for a discount) to get access to hundreds of exclusive games with zero ads or in-app purchases. You can even share the account with up to six family members and play on your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or Apple TV. There are a bunch of award-winning games included, so it’s definitely worth checking out alongside the thousands of highly-rated free and paid games available in the App Store. 

OnePlus 8 Pro

OnePlus phones should well and truly be on the radar for gamers by now, and the OnePlus 9 Pro announced in early 2021 could become the cream of the crop. But for now, the OnePlus 8 Pro is one of the top choices for gamers who want all the usual benefits of a really cool phone without forking out for the more expensive alternatives. 

Like the phones above, the OnePlus 8 Pro is such a powerful, well-rounded phone that it has no trouble with gaming. From the get-go, you’ll notice the eye-popping 6.78-inch QHD+ Fluid AMOLED display with its bright, vibrant colors and a sneaky hole punch in one corner for the camera. The screen has a 120 Hz refresh rate for stutter-free scrolling and higher frame rates for a superior gaming experience. Throw in the curved edges, and you get one awesome visual experience with barely a bezel in sight.

But the OnePlus 8 Pro is more than just a pretty face. The phone’s CPU is a Snapdragon 865, living up to its name with monstrous capabilities in terms of graphics and performance. Choose 8GB memory and 128GB storage or upgrade to 12GB memory and 256GB storage – either way, it can handle large apps and has enough space to store all your favorite games.

A great benefit of gaming on the OnePlus 8 Pro is the improved Gaming Mode, which optimizes all the hardware to offer maximum performance. You can even dial it up further with Fnatic Mode, which restricts background tasks, enhances your internet connection, and turns on an advanced Do Not Disturb setting – all to help you get the most out of every game. 

If running low on battery is a pet peeve, you’ll be stoked to hear the 4510mAh battery supports both wireless and fast-charging. The dual speakers support Dolby Atmos for impressive sound when you don’t have headphones at hand, and the haptic vibration has been amped up to feel more powerful and responsive in the heat of the moment. 

The best gaming phones for the committed gamers

If gaming is all you care about, this one’s for you. These phones are built specifically for gamers, with all the trimmings you need for full-tilt sessions. 

Asus ROG Phone 3

Asus has continued its rise in mobile gaming with the ROG Phone 3, built on the back of the brand’s solid reputation for gaming laptops and PCs. While the ROG Phone 5 has been announced, there’s no word on availability in Singapore yet. 

Launched under their ROG arm, or Republic of Gamers, the ROG Phone 3 is designed by and for gamers with a laundry list of seriously cool features that make it the true king for hardcore players. 

As a general phone for texting, browsing, and taking pictures, this phone does the job. The 6.59-inch AMOLED display is one of the sharpest and dazzling screens you’ll find, with an industry-leading 144Hz refresh rate that lets it handle super-high frame rates. It sports one selfie camera and three on the rear – which are good but not great – and it’s worth noting that the phone isn’t rated for water resistance.

But if the extra gimmicks don’t float your boat and you just want an absolute beast of a gaming phone, this is it. The ROG Phone 3’s Qualcomm SM8250 Snapdragon 865+ processor is powerful and perfect for running big games and other large, resource-intensive apps, supported by 12GB memory and 512GB storage. A superb 6000mAh battery keeps you going for long sessions with power-saving features to help you stretch it even further, and dual stereo speakers on the front blast you with brawny sound. 

There’s more to the Asus ROG Phone 3. You can switch on X Mode to customize a range of settings and optimize every game, and in the box, you’ll find a clip-on fan accessory you can use to help out the phone’s already advanced cooling system. 

Perhaps the ROG Phone 3’s most distinctive feature is the addition of AirTrigger 3, which places ultrasonic touch sensors on the phone’s edges. In supported apps, these triggers can be assigned to in-game functions to give you gamepad-like control, plus motion sensors and more gesture support for insane levels of customization. 

This phone is simply outstanding for gaming. If it’s somehow not enough, you can arm it to the teeth with optional extras like cases, gamepads, docks, and dual-display adapters. 

Black Shark 3

The Black Shark 3 is another phone designed specifically for gamers – and boy, does it mean business. It’s effectively the best Xiaomi phone for gaming through its ties to the company and ranks as one of the top picks overall, bringing an arsenal of crazy specs to the table along with a unique body design. 

Starting with the brain, the Qualcomm SM8250 Snapdragon 865 is one of the best Android chips available and makes short work of even the most resource-heavy apps. A choice of 8GB RAM/128GB storage and 12GB RAM/256GB storage is more than enough for downloading and running big games, while the 4,720mAh battery supports fast charging so you can juice it back up to 100% in a pinch. 

The large 6.67-inch AMOLED display is a beauty that brings colors to life and cuts down latency with every tap of your finger. The 90Hz refresh rate might not be as smooth as the ROG Phone 3, but it’s more than enough for most games and is only held back by the few titles that support a higher rate. 

As you’ve no doubt realized by now, hardware is only half the battle. The Black Shark 3 backs it up with some refreshing features to enhance gaming on the phone, starting with the Shark Space mode, which can be activated by a physical button on the side. This setting optimizes the phone for gaming, hides notifications, and makes it easier to access and launch your games. You can also make a bunch of tweaks to get the experience you want and keep your battery humming along for longer. 

Given its eye-catching specs, the Black Shark 3 handles everyday use like a charm and doesn’t fall short of expectation. Its triple rear camera system is decent, even if it’s not the chart-topper in this regard. Ultimately, it’s a tough and mighty phone built for players who want nothing short of a top-shelf mobile gaming experience. 

What to look out for in a gaming phone

There’s no need to panic if a phone you like isn’t listed above, because it may still be good enough to deliver the gaming experience you crave. If you’re browsing a number of models and don’t know what constitutes a phone suitable for playing games, here’s a quick run-down of what to look out for:

Powerful processor

You don’t need to be a tech geek to get the low-down on processors. A phone’s processor and wider chipset effectively function as its brain: the faster and more powerful the processor, the more easily it can maintain performance for gaming. 

Eye-popping display

Well, size matters. The increasing display size of new phones is part of the reason why mobile gaming is more popular than ever, and it’s no surprise. If you want an immersive gaming experience, go for displays that are bigger, sharper, and more vibrant. 

Plenty of RAM 

Random Access Memory, otherwise known as RAM, is like your phone’s short-term memory – it dictates how much your phone can handle at any one time. Mobile games tend to take up a lot of memory while they’re running, which is why a device with plenty of RAM will perform more smoothly. 

Ample storage space

When you download games, they need somewhere to go. Mobile games can be surprisingly huge, even if they don’t seem particularly detailed or resource-intensive. Getting a phone with plenty of storage space lets you keep a larger catalog of games without needing to uninstall them as often. 

Long battery life

It’s a fact of life that playing games will drain your phone battery faster than general use, so you’ll need to spend more time charging it than the average user. That said, modern smartphones come with some pretty impressive batteries that let you game for longer on the go.

Frequently Asked Questions About Gaming Phones

1. What is the average cost of a gaming phone in Singapore?

The cost of a gaming phone varies significantly in Singapore. It can range from as low as a few hundred to more than a thousand bucks. If you’re looking to score a good bargain, consider making the switch to Circles.Life Combo Plan and enjoy an upgrade to your desired gaming phone with $0 upfront! 

2. What’s the main difference between gaming phones and regular phones?

Gaming phones can be easily distinguished from regular phones by the processor, design touches, and hardware – they are all optimized to give you a competitive advantage when gaming. However, there are also flagship phones that strike the perfect balance between gaming and everyday use.

3. How can I make my Android phone better for gaming?

There are a few simple steps you can take to increase the gaming performance of your Android phone. These include changing to higher screen refresh rates in settings, turning off background apps, and enabling the Force 4x multisample anti-aliasing (MSSA) option. 

 

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