Gaming Mobile Devices

A Brief History of Gaming Phones

Lately, we have been seeing more and more phone manufacturers release gaming-oriented smartphones. These are devices that apart from serving as a regular smartphone with access to apps, communication features, and media consumption, also come with beefed-up specs to ensure that gaming sessions are smooth and speedy. Oftentimes, phone makers would push these devices to compete with already-established gaming devices such as those made by Nintendo and Sony, although most of the time it has been an uphill battle.

But gaming-specific functions and features aren’t that exclusive to today’s smartphones – let’s take a look at how gaming phones have changed and developed through the years.

Nokia N-Gage Series

Back in 2003, Nintendo’s Gameboy Advance was making waves worldwide. Nintendo’s portable gaming machine was affordable and offered a large library of games which can be picked up and played by anyone. Also at the top of its game during that time was Nokia. The Finnish mobile communications giant wanted to take on the GBA, and so in 2003 it released the Nokia N-Gage.

The N-Gage was an interesting device – it featured a landscape form factor similar to that of the GBA with a smaller 2-inch screen, albeit with more buttons to accommodate its telephonic functions. Reception from the public was lukewarm, however, and the device became infamous due to its taco-like appearance. All this aside though, the N-Gage was still functional, but only 56 games were ever released for the system. It also didn’t help that you had to open the phone’s entire back just to switch game cartridges.

Nokia did release a 2004 upgrade called the N-Gage QD, which featured a more modern design. However, this was not enough to keep the brand alive, with Nokia reporting a total of only 3 million sales by 2007. Eventually, the series was discontinued and Nokia relaunched the N-Gage brand as a software service.

Sony Xperia Play

Launched in 2011, the Xperia Play was a result of Sony’s foray into developing a dedicated gaming phone. Also known as the “PlayStation Phone”, the X-Play adopted some features from Sony’s PlayStation Portable line, such as a sliding design similar to the PSP Go, as well as the trademark PlayStation button layout, including trigger buttons. The phone was compatible with an online store that featured classic PlayStation titles, although sadly the device never got the recognition it deserved.

The X-Play ran on Android, however, it featured less-than-stellar specs, which we think contributed to the downfall of the device’s market performance. Sony never released a sequel, but one can hope, right?

Razer Phone Series

Razer Phone 1st Generation

Even gaming hardware company Razer got into the race. In 2017 Razer released the first-ever Razer phone. The device looked very minimalistic and plain save for the Razer logo on the back and was the first smartphone to offer a 120 Hz display with a high-refresh rate. This means that games played on the large 5.7-inch display will look more slick and better compared to other competing devices. It also helps that the phone shipped with a Qualcomm 835 processor and 8GB of RAM. The only downsides the device had were the lack of a 3.5mm headphone port, as well as a somewhat sub-par camera.

A year later, Razer would launch a follow-up device aptly named the Razer Phone 2. The new phone maintains a lot of the tech found on the first edition but now comes with the more powerful Snapdragon 845, as well as IP67 dust and water protection. In addition, the Razer logo on the back now glows, if the phone isn’t game-y enough for you. We’re still disappointed by the lack of a headphone jack – dedicated gaming handhelds like the Nintendo 3DS and even the Switch retain a headphone jack, given that a lot of gamers still use headsets during play sessions.

Razer Phone 2

Performance is where the Razer phone shines though – games are fast with barely any lag or stutter, and the phone certainly lives up to the Razer brand in this aspect.

ASUS ROG Phone

We finally come to one of the newest players on the block. Taiwanese tech giant ASUS is no stranger to making gaming-centric devices, as shown by their successful brand of ROG Gaming laptops. The company has also branched out into the smartphone industry, as seen with their Zenfone product line. It’s only logical that ASUS would merge the two together – and in 2018 it did just that. The ASUS ROG Phone is a device tailored to cater to portable gaming enthusiasts, offering powerful specs wrapped up in a unique design. The phone features a 6-inch display as well as 8GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 845 processor and runs on a hefty 4,000 mAh battery.

While this may sound like any other flagship smartphone from 2018, that’s where the similarities end. ASUS has equipped the ROG Phone with a striking design featuring streamlined edges, air vents on the back and a glowing ROG logo to go along with it. The edge of the phone also features “air triggers” which simulate shoulder button functionality that you’d usually find on a standard gaming control set-up.

ASUS also saw it fit to release several accessories for the phone, which includes a dock with a second-display that turns gives the phone a more “traditional” handheld feel and a small fan of sorts which you can plug into the side to help cool the phone down during long gaming sessions. The phone also retains the 3.5mm headphone jack, a rarity among 2018 flagship phones. If that isn’t enough, ASUS also included a special performance mode that smartly manages RAM and clock speed to provide a powerful gaming experience.

We think that the ROG Phone is a well-rounded device if you can dig the fancy external design.

Special Mentions

While not as heavily marketed as the other devices on this list, the Xiaomi Black Shark and Nubia Red Magic Mars are likewise powerful phones also aimed at gamers. Both phones come with a Snapdragon 845 chipset, with the latter offering a 10GB RAM version, beating out the Black Shark’s 8GB RAM set-up. Both devices also offer large screens and batteries which make them ideal for media consumption and gaming.

Do you have any gaming-centric phones you’d like to share? Hit us up in the comments section below!

About the author

Mike Viray

A writer with a fondness for consumer tech, Mike is also a music lover, and an avid gamer as well. He and his wife are big fans of Mario Kart.

14 Comments

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  • Really dope article !the evolution of mobile gaming has came so far in just a few short years. I never thought console games would come to phones and even games like pub g , The gaming market still has a lot of people interested because we all grew up with the original Nintendo and Genesis now all you need is a cell phone which is awesome.

  • Omg I remember those Nokia N Gage series, it was big back then. However during that time cellphone in my country, Thailand, was so expensive so I ended up just playing my favorite game on Nokia, snake instead. I couldn’t afford it! Later about 2 years later I bought my first Nintendo DS later, It was so big and everyone had a Nintendog lol. I wish I could afford it back then. Anyways still love playing games on my phone 🙂

  • Your site is organized very well. I enjoyed the read as I’m into gaming on consoles as well as PC’s. I never even knew there was such a thing as a gaming phone so great job on educating me. The text was educational even for a person who may not be familiar with the product. You did a good job as I wanted to go buy one buy the time I was done reading it. 

    • Hi Larry, glad you could check out the site!

      Yeah, they have certainly created a niche market with gaming phones. Personally though I still game more on my Nintendo consoles. 

  • This is an awesome topic. I never even knew there was such a thing as a gaming phone. Looking at the image of the ASUS you inserted makes that image on it look like it’s a pretty close replica to a first person shooter. This would be awesome to have as I love gaming, especially First person shooters. Where do you get phones like this and are they unlocked?

    Thanks for sharing and great website.

  • Wow!  I just saw the next best thing to get myself this gaming phone are awesome and I know I’m going to love it been a game freak, I really do not have a gaming phone to share but I must say the xaiomi black shark  gaming phone is my best pick on gaming phones, with this mobile device your gaming life can’t go wrong.

    • The Black Shark is a good product to consider considering the specs-to-price ratio. it still offers good-enough specs.

  • Wow!!  I kind of remember a few of these phones from the past but absolutely didnt realize they were gaming phones and certainly didnt know they are still being made.You have introduced me to something new with an actual wow factor.  I am really going to have to show this to a couple of my boys.Thank you for taking the time to put so much information together and for presenting it to us.Dale

    • Thanks for checking out the site Dale!

      Unfortunately the Ngage and Xperia play have long since been out of production. The most recent ones on this list are the Razer phone and ROG phone.

  • I am not agamer but that doesn’t mean I don’t the  phones they look good and they have very nice specification’s  I have you man who. Is agamer himself and as always  it to get him the best devices for the gaming and here you just shown be some great phones that are meant for gamers that  will go very well with him.

  • Great and nice post, I quite remember the Nokia N-Gage series back in the good old days of 2004 but I never knew it  didn’t enjoy a global acceptance like you just mentioned. Probably because of the screen size. I like gaming phones that has a good battery life tmand I think I will check out more about the ASUS ROG phone.