Best Samsung Phones for Gaming | Digital Trends April 16, 2021 – Posted in: Smartphone news
Samsung phones are good at pretty much everything. This includes gaming, since most Samsung devices come with powerful processors and generous servings of RAM, and offer dazzlingly vivid — and large — displays, which are perfect for playing the latest games. However, if you’re a serious gamer, you might want to know which are the best Samsung phones for gaming. That’s why we’ve gone ahead and put the cream of the crop together for you in this article.
This list covers the best Samsung phone for gaming overall, as well as runners-up and options in other price brackets. Also, check out our article on the best Samsung phones if you’d like more info on some of the phones covered in this article (as well as other devices). If you’d like to see a wider selection, also check out our best Android phones article, or check out our list of the best gaming phones from any brand.
Best Samsung phones for gaming at a glance
Why you should buy this: You get a beautiful 6.9-inch dynamic AMOLED screen, 12GB of RAM, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus chip, and the ability to stream Xbox games.
Who it’s for: Anybody who wants maximum power and the sharpest display possible.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra: Specs. The Note 20 Ultra has them in spades. To begin with, it boasts a 6.9-inch dynamic AMOLED screen and a resolution of 3,088 x 1,440 pixels, while it’s also equipped to support HDR10+ and a super-smooth 120Hz refresh rate. This renders pretty much every game you’re likely to play as stunningly as possible, with colors remarkably vibrant and details appreciably crisp.
The phone also packs Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 865 Plus processor in the United States (the rest of the world gets the slightly less powerful Exynos 990), and a hefty 12GB of RAM. Basically, you’ll notice very few (if any) slowdown issues, with the smartphone handling even the busiest of games with relative ease. Everything runs seamlessly and loads without delay, giving the Note 20 Ultra performance that’s almost comparable to high-end consoles.
Samsung has given the Note 20 Ultra 256GB of internal storage (or 512GB for extra money) and also a very helpful microSD card slot, so you’ll have plenty of room for downloading games and saving lots of data. There’s also a sizeable 4,500mAh battery, which is capable of lasting a full day of heavy use. Even if you deplete the phone’s energy in a hurry, you get a 25-watt charger in the box, so you’ll be able to return to a 100% charge in around an hour or so.
Looking at the Note 20 Ultra’s special features, it’s worth pointing out that it lets you use Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass to stream console games on it. It also comes with the S Pen, a stylus that can be used with games and in many cases makes using the touchscreen more accurate and intuitive. In other words, it really is set up to be the best possible Samsung phone for gaming.
If you’re interested in its non-gaming features, the Note 20 Ultra also houses a very powerful triple-lens camera. This includes a 108-megapixel main sensor, a 12MP periscope zoom lens, and a 12MP ultrawide lens, providing photographers with impressive versatility. You can also use it to record video at up to 8K resolution at 24 fps, and 4K at 60 fps, so it’s great for shooting video too.
One downside of the Note 20 Ultra is its size and weight. However, if you want a gorgeous 6.9-inch screen and a brawny processor, this is arguably the price you have to pay. Speaking of price, the cost of the phone is also another potential downside, although you can pick up the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra right now on Best Buy for a shade under $1,050, so deals are out there to be had.
Runner-up: Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra
Losing out to the Note 20 Ultra only by virtue of a slightly smaller screen, the lack of a microSD card slot, and the need to buy the S Pen (if you want it) separately, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is also another fantastic gaming smartphone. It actually comes with a more powerful processor than the Note 20 Ultra, the Snapdragon 888, and it features a similarly lush Dynamic AMOLED display (albeit 6.8 inches compared to 6.9). As with the Note 20 Ultra, you’ll get 12GB of RAM as standard (although the S21 Ultra can be had with 16GB), so it can handle any game you care to mention. Its camera is also a little better overall, so anyone who wants a more rounded smartphone may prefer it over the Note 20 Ultra.
Read more in our full Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra review
Why you should buy this: It a high-powered and beautiful phone that isn’t quite as expensive as other Samsung devices with comparable specs.
Who it’s for: Anyone wanting flagship specs without having to pay the highest price.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S21:
It may have a smaller display than the Note 20 Ultra or S21 Ultra, but the standard S21 is just as capable as a gaming machine. It comes with the same all-powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 as the S21 Ultra, as well as 8GB of RAM. This combination is more than enough to handle the most demanding of games, and even if it doesn’t boast the 12GB of RAM of the S21 Ultra, you’ll really, really struggle to notice a difference in processing power.
The S21 also packs a gorgeous 6.2-inch Dynamic AMOLED display, providing you with 2,400 x 1,080 pixels, for a very high 421 pixels per inch. As with the Note 20 Ultra and S21 Ultra, it also offers a 120Hz refresh rate and support for HDR10+, so you’ll be able to squeeze the very best out of your games’ graphics. Everything looks super vibrant and fluid on the phone, encouraging you to come back for more with each new day.
The 4,000mAh battery is enough to see you through most of the day if you’re an avid gamer, although it won’t last quite as long as the S21 Ultra (or S21 Plus). This is perhaps its only minor failing as a games machine, but with a 25W fast-charging capability, you’ll be able to quickly replenish its cell. The phone also provides 128GB of internal memory as standard, or 256GB for an extra $50. There’s no microSD card slot in this case, so you probably won’t be able to download too many new games without offloading others first, although this isn’t really a major issue.
Beyond gaming, the S21 is unsurprisingly a very good all-arounder. It takes impressive and colorful photos, even if its camera hardware is more or less identical to the S20’s. It supports 5G, and its software is very slick, with Samsung’s OneUI 3 being one of the best Android skins you can find. Did we also mention it’s a great gaming smartphone?
Why you should buy this: It’s probably the best phone for under $700 right now, and its specs also happen to make it very good for gaming.
Who it’s for: Anybody looking for the best gaming bang for their buck.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G:
Samsung’s answer to those who criticized the (excellent) Galaxy S20 for being a little overpriced, the Galaxy S20 “Fan Edition” is arguably the best sub-$700 smartphone you can buy right now. It offers all of the core specs of the powerful S20, yet for a significantly lower price, making it ideal for anyone who wants a highly capable gaming smartphone that won’t rip through their savings.
It houses the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 processor that powered the S20, and while the 865 has technically been superseded by the 888, it’s still more powerful than pretty much anything else out there. When combined with 8GB of RAM, it will run all the latest games with ease, providing a seamless playing experience. Even multitasking with numerous apps is a cinch for this phone, so it will be future-proofed against new games for at least a couple of years.
The S20 FE 5G’s 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display is also highly suited to gaming. It contains 2,400 x 1,080 pixels, giving you a high-definition experience that’s enlivened even further by the 120Hz refresh rate and welcome support for HDR10+. Everything you play on this device will look great, and even if it isn’t quite as breathtaking as the Note 20 Ultra or S21, the difference is relatively slim.
Buyers will also get 128GB (or 256GB) of internal memory, which is more than enough when added to the phone’s microSD card slot. As such, you won’t need to worry about running out of storage space. You also won’t need to worry about battery life, since with a 4,500mAh cell, the S20 FE will carry you through a fairly heavy day of gaming without needing a recharge.
Unsurprisingly for a sub-$700 phone, the S20 FE has a few comparative weaknesses, such as its cheap-feeling plastic back. However, these don’t really detract from what is a superb gaming phone.
Read more in our full Samsung Galaxy S20 FE 5G review
Why you should buy this: It’s a great midrange phone whose sharp display, big battery, and strong processor will give you many an enjoyable gaming session.
Who it’s for: Anybody looking to save a little money while also having a very capable gaming phone.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy A71 5G:
You’d struggle to find a better midrange gaming phone than the Galaxy A71 5G. Flaunting a 6.7-inch Super AMOLED display with 1080p resolution, its slimline bezels make the phone look much more expensive than it really is, while its processing power is more than enough to keep pace with most of the latest games.
The Galaxy A71 5G hides Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 765 processor under its hood, in conjunction with 6GB of RAM. This might not seem much compared to Samsung’s flagship models, but our review found that it can handle games like Call of Duty: Mobile and Asphalt 9 without hiccups. It may take a little longer to load certain things than newer, more expensive devices, but things run exactly as they should, letting you enjoy pretty much any game as its developer intended.
Helpfully, the A71 5G includes a microSD card slot, meaning you can expand its internal 128GB of memory to 1TB. The 4,500mAh battery is also very impressive for a low-cost phone, and it will comfortably last a full day of heavy use, putting it in the same league as many a flagship. Assuming you do run down the battery, the phone comes bundled with a 25-watt fast charger that needs only half an hour to take its battery from 0% to 50%.
As the name implies, the Galaxy A71 5G supports both mmWave and Sub-6GHz 5G, which is once again very impressive for a device in its price bracket. When you add a fairly versatile quad-lens camera and Samsung’s tried-and-tested software, the A71 5G really is a fantastic all-around phone, as well as a stellar device for gaming.
Why you should buy this: Despite its low price, this phone offers a very pretty display, a capable processor, and day-long battery life.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a good gaming experience on a budget.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy A51:
It may underperform compared to the other devices on this list, but the Galaxy A51 remains the best Samsung phone for gaming under $300. Its headline feature is its delightful 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display, which furnishes a high-def resolution of 2,340 x 1,080 pixels. If that weren’t enough, it also harnesses 4GB of RAM (upgradeable to 6GB or 8GB) and Samsung’s own Exynos 9611 processor, which is slower than recent Qualcomm chips but can handle many of the latest games without any lag or slowdown.
There’s also 128GB of internal memory, as well as a microSD card slot, which lets you expand its own storage to 512GB. The 4,000mAh battery is good enough to see you through some extensive gaming sessions, although it may not quite last a full day if you spend most of it gaming. It comes with a 15W charger, which is decent enough but won’t refill the phone as fast as the 25W chargers you get with pricier models.
Research and buying tips
Which Exynos processor is best for gaming?
In the United States, the vast majority of new Samsung phones ship with a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip. These rank as some of the fastest processors you can possibly find in any kind of smartphone, making them great for gaming. However, outside of the U.S., most Samsung phones actually use an Exynos processor. Conversely, more budget Samsung phones also ship with an Exynos processor in the States.
Exynos chips are manufactured in-house by Samsung, and while they aren’t quite as speedy as Snapdragons, the higher-end Exynos units do a good job of powering phones. When it comes to gaming, you generally want to aim for a phone with the latest Exynos processor, which at the moment happens to be the Exynos 2100.
This particular chip is carried by the S21 series outside of the United States, and the main reason why it’s the fastest is that it uses transistors with a width of 5nm (nanometers), as opposed to 7nm or larger. This means that it can pack more transistors than other chips, which in turn means it can perform computations more quickly.
In other words, when looking for phones, always try to pick a device with a chip that has the smallest transistor size (all else being equal). In the future, we’ll eventually witness a jump from 5nm to 3nm, and so on.
How do I choose a phone for gaming?
There are two main features to look for when shopping for a gaming phone. First, you want good performance. This means looking for a high-powered processor with a small transistor size (see above), and it also means looking for a higher RAM count. Together, these two features improve the ability of a phone to process data and run games.
Second, you also ideally want a good display. Right now, the best phones use either an AMOLED or OLED display. They also carry a high resolution, with “high” currently indicating anything from 2,400 x 1,080 pixels to 3,200 x 1,440. It’s also a big plus if a phone — as with many recent Samsungs — supports a high refresh rate, either 90Hz or (preferably) 120Hz.
These are the two main features to look out for, but a good gaming phone should also provide a few other things. A big, long-lasting battery is always worth having, for example, particularly if you’re playing games outside. This means something in the region of 4,000mAh to 5,000mAh, although this can vary from one device and manufacturer to another.
Another thing to look out for is internal memory. Nowadays, gamers probably need 128GB of internal storage as a minimum, although 64GB is acceptable if a phone contains a microSD card slot. This is something likely to change in the future, as games become more demanding of storage space.
If you’d like to learn how to get the best out of your smartphone, check out our article on how to optimize your Android smartphone for gaming.