Best Cell Phones for Mobile Gaming

We compare four smartphones to find the best one for gamers
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This is probably the most fun review I’ve done to date—determining the best cell phone for mobile gaming with my son, Tai Armstrong!

We pitted four of the top flagship phones against each other—the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, the LG V60 ThinQ 5G, the OnePlus 8 Pro, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max—to find out which is the best for mobile gaming.

The categories we looked at for this game review are display quality, battery life, sound, and gameplay mechanics. Using those categories, we played Call of Duty Mobile, Sandship, and Vikings II. Basically, games that would tax the Snapdragon processors and graphics processing units, as well as test the heat dissipation. This mix of games spans high intensity through casual gaming experiences.

I would like to note that during our testing, the phones we tested were used straight out the box—we weren’t making this complicated by using modified phones. We weren’t using Bluetooth controllers or anything like that—these tests were done with just the touch response on the screens without anything additional.

Bottom line up front: Our favorite phone for mobile gaming, hands down, was the Samsung Galaxy S20. Read on to find out why.

Best cell phones for gaming comparison
Cell phoneRefresh rateList price (up front)
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra120 Hz$1,349+
iPhone 11 Pro Max60 Hz$1,099+
OnePlus 8 Pro120 Hz$899+
LG V60 ThinQ 5G60 Hz$649+

Data as of 10/1/2020. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

Gameplay mechanics

The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra has a 120 Hz refresh rate and a 240 Hz touch sampling rate (that means 240 times per second it’s checking for touches from your digits).

The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a 60 Hz refresh rate, but it has a touch sampling rate of only 120 Hz. If you’re just starting out, the iPhone 11 Pro Max would be good for gaming.

But to take it to the next level, you’re going to go with the Samsung Galaxy S20. The 240 Hz touch polling rate really made it super responsive, and in-game testing we were able to get the drop on a lot of other players.

Display quality

Display technology and the mechanics of gameplay kind of go hand in hand. The Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra was our winner in mechanics because it was the most fluid. When you get into casual gaming, it seems like a lot of those things really don’t matter as much because it’s more hack and slash and sideswipe shooting.

Out of the four phones, the LG V60 ThinQ 5G and the OnePlus 8 Pro didn’t quite add up to the experience, the responsiveness, or the game mechanics offered by the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra and the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Our verdict on these is that the LG V60 ThinQ 5G and the OnePlus 8 Pro are better suited to be described as casual gaming phones. They’re both still amazing in their own respects, but for that really competitive play, you would want the higher reactivity level that you get with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra or the iPhone 11 Pro Max.

Playing Call of Duty with the LG V60 ThinQ 5G with the dual display, actually using that second display as a controller, was cool. But one issue we noted with that setup was you can’t turn as fast.

Sound quality

When you can hear another person’s footsteps in Call of Duty‘s Search and Destroy, you feel a step above the rest. Search and Destroy on Call of Duty is a quiet game, so situational awareness is key, and the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra hit it out of the ballpark.

Although the Galaxy S20 was pretty good as far as sound, the bass seemed to be the only issue. It lacked bass compared to the iPhone 11 Pro Max. The iPhone 11 Pro Max had a robust sound with the explosions.

Now the interesting thing is these phones actually have front-firing speakers, and that really helps immerse you into the game. But even with those front-firing speakers of both devices being similar, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra was best, with situational awareness lacking in only the bass department—which is where the iPhone 11 Pro Max delivered on that full, robust sound.

The sound held up pretty well for the LG V60 ThinQ 5G, but not as well as it did for the iPhone 11 Pro Max or the Galaxy S20 Ultra. Where the speaker is located on the LG V60 ThinQ 5G—basically right where you put your hands during gameplay—means that during play how you hold the phone can muffle the sound.

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Battery

Across all the phones we tested, the battery life after an hour of play was comparable. There was not one phone that stood out. When it came down to it, most ranged between 87%–89%.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra went to about 80%. At first, we were puzzled, until we remembered that it runs the game at 120 FPS with a 240 Hz touch sampling rate. That will drain a battery faster than the other models.

Interestingly, the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra did not heat up any more than the other devices we tested, even though it was running at higher FPS and touch polling rates. The game booster was showing about 25–37˚C, which is usually how most phones run. The range and heat expansion was less than 10˚C when playing games for about an hour.

Tai’s final verdict

My son Tai, guest gamer in today’s review, breaks it down like this:

For casual gamers, I would say the OnePlus 8 Pro and the LG V60 ThinQ 5G are good choices. You don’t need to spend $1,400 on these phones if you’re a casual gamer. I like both of these phones, but if you want to get more into competitive play, then you’re going to be better off choosing the iPhone 11 Pro Max or the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra.

And if I had to pick just one, I would get the Galaxy S20. If you are a hardcore gamer and you’re playing shooting games or other games where responsiveness, nuanced audio quality, and 360-degree situational awareness are a must, the S20 Ultra is the winner for the best high-end, super-responsive gaming experience.

What do you think?

Best cell phones for gaming comparison
Cell phoneRefresh rateList price (up front)
Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra120 Hz$1,349+
iPhone 11 Pro Max60 Hz$1,099+
OnePlus 8 Pro120 Hz$899+
LG V60 ThinQ 5G60 Hz$649+

Data as of 10/1/2020. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change.

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