With devices getting more and more powerful every year what’s the best phone for gaming?
To find out I gathered a few flagships including the Samsung Galaxy Note 5, LG G4, OnePlus Two and iPhone 6 Plus. With screens around 5.5 inches these are all big phones but that’s not a bad thing when it comes to gaming. The OnePlus Two and iPhone have 1080p screens where the G4 and Note 5 are rocking 1440p displays and while the extra resolution seems like an advantage it actually doesn’t help for gaming. Even consoles usually top out at 1080p so the bigger differences are in the quality of the displays and while all four have solid screens the clear winner is the Note 5. The AMOLED display gives great contrast and excellent colors, this is one of the best screens period. Take a look at the specs and on paper there are some major differences. The iPhone 6 Plus has a relatively tame dual core processor paired with one gigabyte of RAM compared to six cores and three gigs of memory on the LG G4, eight cores and four gigabytes on the OnePlus Two and an even faster eight core processor with four gigs of memory on the Note 5. The specs are only part of the story though. To get an idea of how the phones will handle actual games I have a pair of benchmarks, 3DMark and GFXBench. These run a series of tests that are more demanding than what you’ll find in most games but are a good way to measure the limits of a phone. In 3DMark you’ll see the Note pulls out a solid win with the OnePlus Two putting in a good showing and the G4 and iPhone coming surprisingly close. Move over to GFXBench which focuses less on CPU and more on graphics and the Note 5 still does very well but when you factor in resolution the OnePlus Two and iPhone actually pull out the win. Something else to consider while gaming is heat. When you look at a gaming PC or console you’ll typically find fans to dissipate the heat put off by things like the processor and graphics but phones have to be passively cooled which means the temperature is carefully managed. This is where throttling comes in, for example even though the Note can run as high as 2.1 gigahertz in 3DMark it spends most of it’s time below 1.5 gigahertz with quite a few dips below one gigahertz. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it makes sense to have a phone that can boost up to high clock speeds for short periods like when you’re opening a web page but that also means that when it comes to gaming the specs don’t tell the whole story. The next and arguably biggest test are the actual games. Badland is one of those rare titles that not only looks great but works just as well on a phone as a console or PC. Lara Croft GO is not only a terrific looking game but again performance just isn’t a problem on these high end devices. Modern Combat 5 brings a Call of Duty like first person shooter to phones and while the frame rate can get choppy on all devices this is where the 1440p screens on the Note and G4 noticeably hurt performance. Leo’s Fortune on the other hand is a good looking game that is absolutely no problem to run on all four phones. Telltale’s Game of Thrones might not look quite as nice as on console or PC but it still holds up well on both Android and iOS. PCs are usually where you’ll find MOBAs however Vainglory does a surprisingly good job using just a touchscreen and the new Android version looks excellent. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that the vast majority of games are easily playable on today’s flagships but the extra power of the OnePlus Two and Note 5 should make sure that things run nice and smooth going into the future. One of the bigger differences is actually the game selection between Android and iOS. Games like Fallout Shelter came out on the iPhone months before Android and great titles like Transistor are shared with the PS4 and PC but not Android. In general the selection tends to be better on iOS however Android has a big advantage: emulators. There are dozens of options for playing everything from NES to PSP games and many of them work really well. Depending on how into retro gaming you are this might not be a big deal but powerful phones like this handle most emulators no problem. To play these games though you’ll probably want a controller and here Google has you covered. Many Bluetooth controllers will work but I prefer the Nexus Player controller, it’s made specifically for Android including back and home buttons and not only do most emulators work with it but a lot of Android games do as well. You can find controllers for iPhone as well like the SteelSeries Stratus but the controllers are typically pricey and while some games support them Android tends to have the edge here. There are also the smaller features like virtual reality support which I checked out in a video recently where the screens on the Galaxy S6 and Note 5 really stand out as well as options like HDMI out to play on a TV using either a SlimPort cable on the LG G4 or the Lightning HDMI adapter on the iPhone which paired with a controller can turn your phone into a pretty decent little game console. Being by far the cheapest phone here the OnePlus Two delivers serious horsepower for the price and the LG G4 has a great screen with useful features like a MicroSD card slot and the option for HDMI out. It’s hard to argue with the game selection on iOS but at the end of the day the Galaxy Note 5 pairs a great screen with enough power to handle basically any game on Android giving it the edge in this one. On the other hand with a new iPhone coming out soon the comparison might not quite be so simple.