Gaming Smartphones: Are they really worth the hype?

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In recent times, we have seen a frenzy about mobile phone gaming – in this context, smartphones that are built with those who play games in mind. The Razer Phone arrived last year. And now, the Xiaomi Black Shark is here. Both are being marketed as phones for playing games. And when we talk of gaming smartphones, Candy Crush people need to stay away, please. We are talking about hardcore game-players.

You may have been wondering if they are worth the hype though. Do they really offer a benefit to gamers that other smartphones do not? We have the answer for you. Come along as we have a look at what the current crop of gaming phones have to offer in comparison to other phones.

gaming smartphones - Xiaomi Black Shark
Xiaomi’s Black Shark

Dedicated Gaming Controls

Gaming smartphones used to have dedicated gaming controls similar to what you find on a Nintendo, PlayStation or Xbox console. Remember Nokia Ngage? What of the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, as well as the more recent iReadygo Much i5? This is what those gaming phones looked like:

Nokia Ngage gaming phone
Nokia Ngage gaming phone

Sony Ericsson Xperia Play gaming smartphone
Sony Ericsson Xperia Play gaming smartphone

gaming smartphones - iReadyGo Much i5
iReadyGo Much i5 gaming smartphone

Each of the above phones can be used as a handheld game station, in addition to being used to do all the other things that regular smartphones can be used for.

In contrast, consider that both Black Shark and Razer Phone look exactly like your regular all-touch slabs.

Razer phone specifications
Razer phone

Those who do hardcore gaming are more likely to prefer dedicated gaming controls on their devices – which is why Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 still sell in truckloads. According to The NPD Group, a gaming industry analytics firm, gaming console sales doubled year-over-year in January 2018 (source).

The hardcore gaming industry loves its consoles.

And Xiaomi seems to get this because they created a detachable Gamepad accessory for the Black Shark. This is the Black Shark with the gamepad snapped on:

Xiaomi Black Shark gamepad

That is some smart thinking. But then the gamepad costs an extra $29 apart from the US$500 cost of the phone. Like anything detachable/attachable, carrying the gamepad around can quickly become a chore, especially if you already carry around one or more other accessories.

How Powerful Are These Gaming Smartphones?

External form factor and controls aside, serious gamers know that performance is key to enjoying gameplay. So, how powerful is Black Shark and Razer Phone? The former is powered by a Snapdragon 845 processor, while the latter, a Snapdragon 835. Both are top dogs and are easily among the most powerful processors in mobile devices today.

In other words, they are the same processors you will find in the top flagships from 2017 and 2018. RAM figures are also within the same range as today’s flagships. So, the Razer and Black Shark are as capable as it gets.

Want The Best Gaming Smartphones?

The catch though is that since the hardware across gaming smartphones and flagships are similar, if you really want the best gaming smartphones, you are better off buying a leading flagship device from Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Nokia or LG. Why? You get better value – you get similar performance, leading edge photography, and other cutting edge features.

You see, the best of everything is found on flagship models. If you want the best music phones, buy one of the leading flagship devices. Those who want the best camera phones know that they exist only among the top flagship devices. If you want the best gaming smartphones, it is the same: buy a top flagship device.

Do you see the pattern? Perhaps the only thing that flagships do not have a corner on is best battery life. And that is understandable. Everything else is mostly hype. The current crop of gaming smartphones, while powerful, offer nothing special for gamers and so are more of branding for sales.

A Proper Gaming Smartphone

A proper gaming smartphone would have top performance, plus dedicated gaming controls. Perhaps, it could even be tweaked to produce better performance during game-play than flagship smartphones do.

Do not get me wrong. Both the Razer Phone and Black Shark are solid phones, and most people who play games on their smartphones will be happy with them. The Black Shark more so. I just doubt that they offer enough to pull hardcore gamers away from their consoles.

In my opinion, the Black Shark with its snap-on gamepad accessory is a step ahead of the Razer Phone. Perhaps this is the beginning of an evolutionary path in modern smartphone gaming. We shall have to wait to see what the smartphone industry throws up for gamers next. Our list of the top gaming phones of 2022 will interest you.

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Avatar of Mister Mobility

By Mister Mobility

I have been tech blogging since 2003, I have owned and reviewed hundreds of smartphones since my first in 2001.

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