The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is one of the best phones available today and is ideal for gamers thanks to its dynamic 120Hz refresh rate and high-end processor.
Other popular premium handsets like the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max and Oppo Find X3 Pro are also worth examining, though customers on a budget may want to look more closely at the Motorola Moto Edge20 Pro too.
Finally, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 offers an excellent gaming screen and good performance, although the price tag will be too high for many.
What are the best smartphones for gaming in 2021?
Mobile gamers need to consider different specifications when looking for the best smartphone for gaming.
While other users may be focused on the quality of a camera or how a handset looks, mobile gamers need to check how good the display is and whether the processor has enough power to keep up with their gaming needs.
We've listed five of our top choices for gaming smartphones in 2021 below, focusing on handsets that will suit people who enjoy mobile gaming but also want a quality handset to use every day too.
1. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
The top mainstream smartphone for gaming is the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
The S21 Ultra is the most expensive device in the S21 range, but it earns the price tag for gamers with its best-in-class processor and dynamic 120Hz refresh rate.
With a 6.8-inch Dynamic AMOLED display, the S21 Ultra offers a substantial screen for gaming. The drawback of potentially being difficult to hold in one hand for regular users is mitigated by the fact many games require both hands or for the device to be held horizontally anyway.
Thanks to the dynamic refresh rate of 120Hz, gamers will enjoy bright and smooth gameplay when they need it while the phone will dial down the refresh rate when it isn't needed to preserve battery life.
The processor used in the S21 Ultra is the Snapdragon 888, the best Qualcomm chipset available right now. If customers can afford to upgrade to the 16GB RAM option, they'll have an extra performance boost, but 12GB is going to be more than adequate for most players.
Performance is complemented by a large 5000mAh battery that supports 25W fast charging as well as 15W wireless charging, meaning gamers should be able to enjoy quite a bit of gameplay during a typical day.
Price is the major downside to the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra with the 128GB version costing around £1,149 outright and the 256GB adding another £50 to that.
These are some of the cheapest high data tariffs available right now with low upfront fees:
As we can see, the monthly costs associated with the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra can be high, but it's also worth remembering that the S21 Ultra is an amazing all-rounder - it isn't solely a device that great for gaming, it's one of the best smartphones on the market in 2021.
Customers who can afford the S21 Ultra and who want a powerful smartphone for gaming that also has excellent camera specs and a formidable processor should look no further.
2. Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max
The Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max is the best iPhone you can buy in 2021 and offers many of the tremendous specs we noted in the S21 Ultra above.
It has a 6.7-inch Super Retina XDR display featuring a 120Hz refresh rate and it's powered by the next-generation Apple A15 Bionic chip.
While the approximate battery size of the 13 Pro Max (around 4350mAh) isn't as big as the Ultra S21 , Apple say it lasts 2.5 hours longer than its predecessor on normal use, so gamers will be able to get a lot out of it.
The iPhone 13 Pro Max is slightly cheaper than the S21 Ultra, starting at £1,049, and is again a smartphone to cover all everyday use and more. Apple opted for a cinematography focus on the 13 series meaning the device comes with an incredible camera setup and internal enhancements to improve the camera and video experience.
Here are some contract options for the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max:
If there's one major criticism of the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max for gamers, it's the notch. Apple may be pleased they reduced it by 20% on their 2021 handsets, but it's still there and it could prove to be a distraction for some.
3. Oppo Find X3 Pro
The Oppo Find X3 Pro is the best handset Oppo has to offer in 2021 and it also occupies third place in our guide to the best 2021 Android phones.
Oppo use the same Snapdragon 888 processor in the Find X3 Pro that we see in the S21 Ultra, plus it also has an adaptive 120Hz refresh rate to keep the display fresh and vibrant.
Like the other devices on this list, the Oppo Find X3 Pro isn't just good for gaming and is a flagship handset with some power behind it.
There are dual 50MP lenses combined with a 13MP telephoto lens and a 3MP microscopic lens to add variety to the camera set-up, plus it offers 65W fast charging and 30W wireless charging for the 4500mAh battery.
Outright, the Oppo Find X3 Pro would cost around £1,099, so it isn't exactly a cheaper option than the handsets discussed above. Yet customers who are tired of the Samsung/Apple choice may prefer to move over to a handset with similar specs and a customised Android interface to go along with it.
Here are some contract options for the Oppo Find X3 Pro:
An Oppo handset may not be the obvious choice for gamers, but it's a good all-round flagship that will allow users to play games alongside their everyday activities.
4. Samsung Galaxy Fold3
With its 7.6-inch main display, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 allows gamers an unparalleled large-screen mobile gaming option.
It has a dynamic 120Hz refresh rate and has ironed out some of the screen creasing difficulties with previous incarnations that might have made gaming a little more frustrating. The Fold3 features the same powerful Snapdragon 888 chipset as the Samsung S21 Ultra and Oppo Find X3 Pro.
Taken together, that's enough for it to make this list, although the Samsung Galaxy Fold3 does have some drawbacks such as the 4400mAh battery that might be on a par with the Oppo Find X3 Pro but is doing some heavy lifting with the expansive display.
Whereas we recommend other handsets on this list for their professional power, the Fold3 is still more of a specialist device that will appeal to a certain subset of a customer but might not be a universal winner. Plus, at £1,599 for the 256GB version, it's an expensive option that will be beyond most customers.
Here are some tariff examples from UK mobile networks:
Find out more about the best foldable phones in 2021.
5. Motorola Moto Edge20 Pro
Rounding out our top five gaming smartphones in 2021 is an option that will appeal to customers who are on a bit more of a budget: the Motorola Moto Edge20 Pro.
The Edge20 Pro is the flagship of the Moto range offering a 4500mAh battery alongside 12GB RAM and a Snapdragon 870 processor. This might not be the 888 chipset we see in other devices on this list, but it's more than sufficient for most gaming activities. In addition, the 870 doesn't have the overheating issues that have been reported by some customers using the 888 chipset.
The device comes with a large 6.7-inch OLED screen that boasts a refresh rate of 144Hz. This is higher than any other device we've seen on this list and makes gaming on the Edge20 Pro as smooth as current technology allows.
Part of the reason the Edge20 Pro doesn't rank higher in this list is due to the bulkiness of the device that makes it trickier to hold than it should be yet, as we've mentioned before, for gamers holding the device in two hands, this shouldn't be a problem.
Overall, the Moto Edge20 Pro is a good device that has been overshadowed by premium handsets from other manufacturers, but it might be a good option for a gamer on a budget that won't stretch to the devices listed above.
The Moto Edge20 Pro costs around £649 if purchased outright or these contract offers are available:
Dedicated gaming smartphones
This guide has focused on devices that can be used for gaming while still being excellent everyday handsets.
However, it's worth mentioning there are some dedicated smartphones aimed at gamers. These include:
- Asus ROG Phone 5
- RedMagic 5G
- Nubia RedMagic 6 Pro
Customers will often need to purchase these devices outright, with UK mobile networks not usually stocking them on contract. After that, they can be combined with a SIM only deal to provide as much data as required.
What to look for in gaming smartphones
Most customers will want their smartphone to do double duty as an everyday device and a gaming phone.
When evaluating whether a handset is going to be suited for gaming, consider the following:
- What chipset does it have? The Snapdragon 888 is the current industry flagship but there are other options available from Apple and MediaTek that also offer excellent performance.
- Does it have a high refresh rate? 120Hz displays are perfectly suited to mobile gaming graphics and 144Hz options are available on some phones too.
- What is the battery life like? A smaller battery might not last very long if a user is a heavy gamer. Watch out for charging time as well.
- Does the handset have specs good enough for everyday use such as a quality camera, water resistance and wireless charging?
Ultimately, the right gaming phone for a customer will usually depend on whether they're looking for a quality handset that has good gaming potential or a dedicated gaming device.
Budget is also a major consideration. Finding a smartphone for gaming that ticks all the other boxes a customer has will often come back to how much they're willing to spend.
Verdict: The best smartphone for gaming
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is our top choice as a gaming smartphone thanks to its buttery smooth display, dynamic 120Hz refresh rate and large battery capacity.
Crucially, it's also one of the best smartphones any customer can buy with high quality camera specs and an overall premium feel. That does come with a premium price tag, however, so it won't be for everyone.
For customers on more of a budget, the Moto Edge20 Pro may be a better prospect - and it has the advantage of a 144Hz refresh rate too.
To compare mobile phone deals from major manufacturers including handsets discussed in this guide, visit the Choose mobile comparison pages and filter by device.