What Makes a Gaming Phone Different from Other Phones?

Man's hands playing a game on a Razer phone.Razer

A few notable “gaming phones” have hit the mobile market over the last year. But any phone can play games, right? So, what’s the deal?

We’re seeing an interesting shift here. Smartphones became a popular platform for games because, well, it’s easy to play games on them. In the ’80s and most of the ’90s, PCs were only thought of as “game machines” in an ancillary, secondary way, when compared to the more singularly focused game consoles. PC gamers became so enthusiastic that specialized parts—and, eventually, entire machines—were dedicated to gaming.

Mobile gaming crossed that threshold, perhaps, even faster, since the smartphone is now the primary focus of most people’s digital interaction. But what makes a “gaming phone” different from a more conventional model, especially since top-of-the-line iPhones and Android phones already use the most powerful hardware around? The answer is a set of small, but sometimes crucial, design choices.

Bigger, Faster Screens

With the touchscreen being almost the sole point of interaction for mobile games, it makes sense that gamers want that screen to be as big as possible. Indeed, most of the new crop of gaming phones have screens above six inches diagonal, putting them among the largest on the market. ASUS has its ROG (“Republic of Gamers”) Phone, Xiaomi has Black Shark, at precisely six inches, and Huawei’s Honor Play is 6.3 inches. In that field, Razer’s self-titled Phone and Phone 2 are almost small at a mere 5.7 inches.

The Razer Phone 2 sitting on a table with a game on its screen.The Razer Phone 2 has a 120 Hz screen—twice as fast as “normal” phones. Razer

There’s another element about the display that puts a gaming phone above the competition: the refresh rate. Most phone screens use a 60 Hz refresh rate, the same standard used on most monitors and televisions. But just like the bigger screens, a faster refresh rate means you can see more frames per second. Razer’s signature feature is a 120 Hz LCD screen. The Asus ROG Phone uses 90 Hz, as does the lesser-known Nubia (ZTE) Red Magic 3. To be fair, though, this feature is leaking into more conventional, high-end phones, like the OnePlus 7 Pro.

Most current mobile games look for a standard 60 frames per second performance rate, so the difference might be unnoticeable. But both Razer and Huawei are partnering with mobile game developers to make more games compatible with these speedy screens.

Louder Speakers
A man's hands playing a game on an Asus phone.Gaming phones usually offer front-facing stereo speakers. ASUS

Naturally, sound is almost as essential to video games as, well, video. As more mainstream phone manufacturers are minimizing mono speakers to make their products even slimmer and free of bezels, gaming phone manufacturers want them big, clear, and loud. Most of the models currently on the market feature dual stereo speakers—the Razer Phone has particularly prominent front-facing blasters.

Fast Processors, Lots of RAM

To boost performance, gaming phones boast the latest-generation processors and plenty of memory. Again, this is not necessarily a big difference when compared to flagship phones, and plenty of those are even using the same processors from Qualcomm. But gaming phones often tune them differently, sacrificing battery life and efficiency for pure speed. This way, they can also feature custom cooling solutions for the extra heat, including liquid/vapor chambers or external coolers.

The ASUS ROG Phone.The ROG Phone runs so hot, it has an optional external heatsink. ASUS

Of course, lots of speed and heat means…

Chunky Batteries

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