Gaming on your smartphone – Ultimate mobile gaming guide

Gaming on your smartphone – Ultimate mobile gaming guide

0

Mobile gaming is routinely treated as a casual pastime, with minimal to no set-up required. It’s what’s so broadly appealing about mobile gaming. Regardless of experience, anybody who has a smartphone – and who doesn’t nowadays? – can jump straight into gaming.

There’s no upfront cost for an expensive console or gaming-grade rig, a convoluted string of account log-ins, mandatory game-sized patches or any other number of obstacles blocking you from gaming. With mobile gaming, at any opportune moment to squeeze in some extra gaming you can simply whip out your smartphone, tap on your favourite game’s icon and play!

Want the ultimate mobile gaming set-up? We’ll be covering all the important consideration when choosing a smartphone, comparisons to other devices and must-have accessories to augment and enhance your mobile gaming experience.

Top specs for gaming on your smartphone

When contrasted with PC gaming components, a smartphone’s specifications are much easier to understand. CPU, GPU, RAM – all the technical make-up of a computer is still present in smartphones but represented in a simpler form: A ‘system-on-a-chip’ (SoC).

System on a Chip

As the name strongly suggests, an SoC accumulates all of a system’s components into one neatly packaged chip. For PC gamers, builders and enthusiasts who’ve grown accustomed to installing each component separately, the concept of an SoC may sound foreign, but using an SoC in a smartphone is perfectly understandable.

Instead of scattering random parts across the mainboard, everything’s efficiently contained within one unified location. The rest of the remaining space can be used for larger batteries and slimmer form factors. Smartphone manufacturers can focus intently on keeping one all-important chip cool rather than splitting attention over multiple chips.

Qualcomm Snapdragon

An SoC simplifies customer’s lives, too, with no more confusing juggling act of components. Especially since the smartphone industry is dominated by one prevailing force – Qualcomm. Have a gander at our broad range of Android smartphones. Nearly all are powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC. No fierce rivalries between Intel, AMD and NVIDIA, or baffling naming schemes. For many smartphones it’s Qualcomm Snapdragon through-and-through.

SoC designed in-house

The glaring omission is Apple. The company is so far ahead of the competition, they’ve been producing their own custom silicon for years now. Other companies are currently catching up, moving chip design and engineering in-house for less reliance on a singular entity. Samsung splits up supply of their own chips for foreign territories and the recently released Google Pixel 6 is the first in the line-up to feature Google’s own silicon.

This monumental shift is shaking up the industry, but really, they’re all based off an ARM-powered SoC and follow an ingrained hardware tradition – the higher a SoC’s model number, the higher the performance. For instance, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 beats an 870. A more powerful SoC means higher frames rates and graphic settings for mobile gaming.

RAM

RAM is another core foundation of a smartphone’s specification. Smartphones don’t only send and receive calls, they’re multi-tasking machines, which are endlessly assigned all sorts of tasks. RAM is super-fast but temporary memory which is used by applications to write and read data needed at any given moment so they can execute properly.

More RAM allows you to have more memory-intensive applications open at once, without your smartphone slowing down to a crawl. By themselves, the best mobile games are already complex pieces of software with 3-D rendering, AI NPCs, multi-player connection and more built-in. If you want extra processes running in the background (say, Discord for voice comms with mates or YouTube for music and podcasts), a greater amount of RAM will help keep the smartphone operating smoothly.

RAM shouldn’t be the biggest consideration when choosing a smartphone, however, as even budget-orientated models nowadays are loaded with enough RAM for most users. Some mid to high-range smartphones include copious amount of RAM which even exceeds a lot of laptops and desktops.

Inside an iPhone, predominantly taken up by battery
Provided by: Kevin Khoo / Shutterstock.com

Cooling your gaming smartphone

Smartphone chips are extremely efficient, only sipping a few watts under the heaviest loads, usually maxing out around 5-10 watts. While battery life may be the prime consideration behind such a small power draw, cooling simultaneously plays a hugely important role.

Limited space

Power-hungry gaming PC components can get away with consuming in excess of hundreds of watts because they have more than ample cooling potential – all-in-one water coolers, over-engineered heatsinks and a constant stream of the coolest air drawn in by large case fans. Smartphones simply can’t afford the comparative luxury. They’re already pre-occupied with cramming in mainboards, batteries, arrays of camera modules and more into a ridiculously confined space.

Passive cooling

Only a marginal number of smartphones feature active cooling. The vast majority rely solely on passive cooling, leveraging any available material as a makeshift heatsink for dissipation, including the phone’s chassis and screen.

Comfort Vs. performance

Another advantage for PCs is that you’re not expected to hold them. PC components regularly reach sweltering temperatures, but they’re confined to a computer case. Smartphones must be extremely conservative with temperatures to avoid the risk of becoming uncomfortable to the touch or, worse, heating up components like batteries in close proximity to dangerously high temperatures. It’s a constant trade-off between maximum performance and practical comfort, which each smartphone addresses accordingly.

How smartphones manage temperatures

Some are overzealous with thermal throttling at the slightest rise in temperatures, while other are laxer with restriction for sustained boosts of performance. Having as many frames-per-second as possible is important, but you’ll want to be able to handle the phone for an extended session, so ensure your phone’s cooling is robust enough.

Notice the spot for heat transfer between the SoC and rear panel?
Provided by: Orapruek / Shutterstock.com

Does resolution matter for mobile gaming?

No doubt we’ll soon bear witness to an 8K resolution smartphone. It’s inevitable. The opportunity for that attention-grabbing headline is too tempting to pass up. 1440p, 4K, 8K – nothing’s stopping the perpetual chase for higher and higher resolutions. 8K is obviously better than 4K, but at what cost?

Pixel Density

The highest resolution isn’t necessarily the smartest option, especially on a smartphone. There’s a scaling factor associated with resolutions you’ve got to account for. 8K blown up to a theoretical 200” TV has a practical purpose, because at such a colossal size, individual pixels become so large they’re easier to spot. But an 8K smartphone is frankly overkill due to the sheer pixel density, measured in pixels-per-inch (PPI).

With so many pixels crammed in close, they become imperceptible to the naked eye. At a regular usable distance you can’t see the screen-door effect – the border in-between the pixels. Press your nose up against the screen or bust out a microscope and magnify in hundreds of percent and, of course, you’ll sooner or later discover an inconsistency. But at what point do you hit diminishing returns?

Comparing the resolutions

Even with a present-day resolution like 4K lined up side-by-side with 8K in an average 27” form factor, the distinction is so hard to spot that it may as well be a coin toss. Now apply the same scenario to a smartphone-sized screen and the downsides of a higher resolution are exacerbated even further. The downsides will heavily outweigh the positives, if anyway.

Are high resolutions suited for smartphones?

Throwing around all these extra pixels isn’t free. There’s an exceptional cost on performance. Not only will the all-important frames-per-second metric suffer a stunning blow but your battery will also dwindle rapidly, handicapping the main purpose of a portable device. Is the ever-so slight increase in sharpness worth it?

Most common smartphone resolution

Looking at the current smartphone line-up, the general consensus is a flat-out no. Nowadays, 4K is fairly accessible, but even the highest-end smartphones rarely target such an unnecessary resolution. The odd dimensions of smartphones make like-for-like comparisons tricky, but the display resolution of most smartphones falls somewhere inbetween old reliable 1080p and 1440p, which is perfectly adequate for their PPI.

Razer Phone 2 – a gaming-focused phone – has a 1440p display

Refresh rate is transformative for gaming on your smartphone

So, if resolution isn’t as important as once believed, how else can smartphone displays improve? One of the sure-fire methods to dramatically enhance your mobile gaming experience is opting for a high refresh rate display.

A key feature for smartphones

High refresh rates are becoming a huge deal on smartphones. PC gamers have witnessed their tremendous benefits on gaming monitors and they’re gradually trickling down to smartphones. The stand-out feature and selling point of the recently released iPhone 13 Pro is the 120Hz ProMotion display.

What is refresh rate?

Essentially, a higher refresh rate reduces the time it takes to display the latest frame produced by your phone. A high refresh rate display can show many more frames-per-second. At a now bog-standard 60Hz, the display is ‘refreshing’ – showing a new image – only 60 times-per-second, or more accurately, every 16.6ms. Up the refresh rate to a silky-smooth 120Hz and the interval is reduced to just 8.33ms.

How does a high refresh rate effect mobile gaming?

This has a profound effect on how you perceive all sorts of content. System animations (like swiping back-and-forth on the home screen or scrolling up-and-down in applications) look and feel so pleasing. You’re seeing so many more images a second, animations will play out without the slightest stutter. With a decreased delay from when you make a finger movement to the screen refreshing, the system’s responsiveness is elevated entirely. The exact same applies to gaming. An enemy’s head peeking around a corner? You’ll catch it that little bit sooner. Enjoy smoother animations, predict enemy movements quicker and gain the distinct advantage that a high refresh rate affords.

Effects of touch sampling rate on mobile gaming

Although refresh rate and touch sampling rate are often accidentally conflated, they’re completely decoupled from each other in purely technical terms. Touch sampling rate of a display is also measured in hertz, which only compounds the confusion. The touch sampling rate determines how frequently the display registers an input in a second. If you’re a PC gamer, a gaming mouse’s polling rate (as detailed in our Gaming Mouse Guide) is an apt comparison. You’ll understand how sluggish and unresponsive a lower polling rate feels and the same is true of touch sampling rate.

Why touch sampling rate matters

To contextualise the numbers in practical terms… With an ordinary 60Hz touch sampling rate, the display can only detect your input 60 times-per-second, or again more accurately, 16.6ms. Tap your display and it’ll take 16.6ms to react accordingly. Bump it up to 120Hz and the latency is slice cleanly in half, down to just 8.3ms. These miniscule measurements may sound trivial for day-to-day tasks – but for fast-paced gameplay heavily reliant on the quickest reactions, touch sampling rate matters.

Touch sampling rate Vs. refresh rate

While not technologically similar, refresh rate and touch sampling rate are incredibly dependant on one another. As your smartphone’s refresh rate increases, so should your touch sampling rate. It should always at least equal or ideally exceed your refresh rate. Otherwise, you display may end up refreshing a new image without any input information to work with. This will result in noticeable stutters. Even if your touch sampling rate exceeds your refresh rate – a common occurrence on smartphones – you won’t see it, but it ensures heightened responsiveness.

Storage requirements for the best mobile games

We’re progressing past the time of manufacturers shipping a smartphone with an unabashedly low storage capacity. In a cruel reversal, however, they’re erasing the presence of user-friendly SD card slots. There are a few notable outliers clutching onto these expansion slots, but that number is continually falling. Nowadays, a lot of content is streamed over the internet directly to your smartphone with subscription services like Netflix and Spotify, but games haven’t fully transitioned to this method.

Smartphone Vs. console file sizes

Games are highly likely to be the biggest install on your smartphone, but don’t worry. Smartphone games don’t occupy the same territory as consoles or gaming PCs. With optimised reductions to the quality of textures, assets and other graphical settings, console-quality games can be miraculously shrunken down to manageable file sizes on smartphones.

Let’s take the worldwide gaming sensation Fortnite. It may weigh in at a substantial 30GB on next-gen consoles like PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S, but the smartphone version is an astonishing ninety percent smaller at only 3GB. With smartphones moving towards 64GB and even 128GB storage capacity as standard, even on the lowest-end models storage shouldn’t be too pressing a concern if you’re purely focused on gaming.

Smartphone power-users

However, if you’re a smartphone power-user who shoots hundreds of high-resolution photos, downloads whole TV series for offline viewing and enjoys carrying around an entire music library in their pocket, 256GB and 512GB models are also available.

Goodbye, SD card slot

Audio in the best mobile games

You don’t even need to untangle your bunched-up earphone cables for a quick first-minute burst of fun. Playing in public, most forego audio deliberately to stay aware of their surroundings and to avoid the awkwardness of blasting annoying sound effects and deafening ads to everyone around. Anyway, does your one-handed sliding tile puzzle game really require critical listening?

Single speaker

Speakers on smartphones aren’t the highest priority for most users. The ubiquitous inclusion of a single, bottom-firing speaker is enough to emit the ringing of phone calls, notifications and alarms. However, these speakers are situated poorly for content consumption, as the fleshy portion of your palm is likely to block the speaker grill.

Amplified earpiece

If you want more than the bare minimum, the next step-up in audio is amplifying the earpiece to create a pseudo-stereo sensation. With audio now firing from either end of the smartphone, the results are surprisingly convincing and a far departure from a mono-only speaker.

We’re seeing this technique adapted to more and more smartphones as it’s easy enough to add. The earpiece is essential to smartphones for listening to calls, so why not give a little oomph to double-up as a speaker too? Though, be aware: An amplified earpiece isn’t a wholesale replacement for full-on stereo speakers, no matter how hard smartphone manufacturers try to pass it off.

Stereo speakers

Nothing’s comparable to a proper set of dual, full-sized and front-facing stereo speakers. Turned to face you directly instead of randomly off to the sides, they’re truly transformative for mobile content consumption and mobile gaming. You don’t see side-mounted speakers and soundbars on monitors and TV, so why the sloppy compromise on smartphones? Due to demand for ever-shrinking bezels, there’s hardly any room left over for stereo speakers. Gaming smartphones aren’t too concerned with achieving the high screen-to-body ratio, so stereo speakers are a frequent presence.

Headphones

If you’re at all serious about gaming, however, the importance of in-game sound cannot be understated. From detecting the subtlest audio clues of an enemy’s footsteps, to a grandiose orchestrated soundtrack to dramatise a climatic boss fight. No one’s recommending playing the console or PC games without audio, so why shouldn’t the same standards apply to mobile gaming?

Wired Vs. Wireless

The best mobile gaming experience is with a dedicated headset, either wired or wireless depending on your smartphone. Following the same trajectory as the SD card slot, the headphone jack is slowing falling into obscurity. As you’ve probably guessed, it was deemed unnecessary during the slimming of smartphones. With the hard-stuck limitations of current wireless technologies such as Bluetooth, a wired connection with zero discrepancies between the on-screen action and audible feedback is preferred for gaming. For convenience’s sake while on-the-go, a low-latency pair of wireless headphones might be a worthy trade-off.

Noise isolation Vs. cancellation

In-ear and over-ear headphones enable a natural form of noise isolation, though there are also headphones with active noise cancellation for distraction-free audio, even in a noisy environment. Wired or wireless, isolation or cancellation – either choice is a considerable upgrade in audio fidelity, 3-D spatial awareness and immersion over a smartphone’s integrated speaker. Even if muting in-game sounds is your preference, playing a podcast or music in the background is also an option.

Screen size for mobile gaming

Over several years of gradual evolution, smartphones have settled into a predictable form factor. The exciting advent of foldable phones may be the impetus needed to shake up stagnant designs, but a quick glance at the current line-up of smartphones and they can all be categorised the same: rectangular slabs of glass. The only distinguishing factor between smartphones are their screen size, which does affect your mobile gaming experience.

Phablet

Most modern smartphones gravitate towards a ‘phablet’ form factor, straddling a line between a phone and a tablet. They’re immensely popular because who’s going to turn down extra screen real estate? A larger screen is a straight-up improvement for consuming content. It translates to more legible fonts for skimming text, more immersive visuals and less accidental touches, culminating in a greater mobile gaming experience.

Small Vs. large display

For console and PC gamers, going from a wrap-around curved gaming monitor which saturates your peripheral vision to pocket-sized screen can be quite a challenge. We’d recommended a larger display to help ease the transition. Too small a screen and enemies become smeary blobs, blending into their surroundings. On a larger display, enemies are scaled up to manageable proportions for faster targeting. As previously mentioned, the larger surface area will also help shake off heat. Just ensure the phone isn’t so large you can’t reach the corners, or you hands will cramp up and quickly faulter in drawn-out skirmishes.

Which smartphone would you rather game on?

Selfie cameras on smartphones

In direct relation to the screen are selfie cameras and bezels. Year after year, smartphone manufacturers make extreme strides to shrink and eventually wipe them off the screen. Selfie cameras on smartphones are a foregone conclusion – there’s no escaping them – so you’ve got to choose the implementation that’s least offensive to you and won’t disrupt your mobile gaming sessions.

Under-screen selfie cameras

Under-screen selfie cameras are the ultimate end-goal for an uninterrupted display. They’ve begun cropping up on some smartphones, but the technology’s not quite ready for prime-time. No doubt they’re impressive from a technical perspective, but current iterations leave behind a shimmering checkboard pattern from the half-on, half-off pixels for the camera to peer through. It’s arguably more distracting than a basic, no-frills notch.

Do you notice the under-screen selfie camera?

Notches compared

Teardrop or waterdrop-style notches are the least invasive of the ‘old-style’ notches, leaving only the slightest dip in the screen. There’s also hole-punch notches which take up even less room, but a circle floating unsuspended on the screen only draws attention to itself. Then you’ve got massive wedge-shaped notches, the original design, quickly swapped for the above alternatives. Though, industry titan Apple uses these to comfortably house many image sensor for cutting-edge facial recognition and tracking. You’ll want to swerve clear of these for gaming, however, as their mighty size encroaches on crucial on-screen information and head-up displays.

Would you take this over a teardrop-style notch?

Gaming on your smartphone is battery draining

Outside of synthetic, hardware-crushing benchmarks, mobile gaming will be the most intensive task you’ll put your smartphone through. Think about it – what other commonly used application on your smartphone comes even close to the power-draining effectiveness of a graphically demanding game?

Most of your day-to-day smartphone applications are glorified webpages which strain your internet reception more than anything. An hours’ worth of mindless social media scrolling barely dents your battery compared to mobile gaming. A game will happily consume large chunks of charge, leaving you stranded if you aren’t careful. Smartphone manufacturers gladly show off their shiny-new features, but when you’re desperately trying to close out a lengthy match with the charging indicator flickering, nothing but battery life matters.

Battery capacity

If mobile gaming is your primary pastime, battery capacity should rank high on your priority list. As we’ve established, there’s an inherent conflict of interests between a smartphone’s performance and a desire for the slimmest dimensions. A general guideline to follow is: The bigger the screen, the bigger the battery. On a product’s spec-sheet, you’ll find battery capacity measured in milliamp hours (mAh). Around 4000MaH is the sweet-spot for most smartphones, size dependent. It’s enough juice to carry an average user’s daily routine, including a few rounds of your favourite game, with some left over for good measure.

Software optimisations

Too much emphasis shouldn’t be place on raw capacity, as performance is also heavily dictated by software-level optimisations. Smartphone manufacturers are acutely aware of a battery’s importance, fine-tuning settings under the hood to eke out every last drop of juice. Nothing’s stopping you from painstakingly closing each application the moment you’re finished with it to min-max charge, but smartphones are ruthlessly efficient in the suspension and hibernation of background processes when they’re not in active focus.

Fast charging

If you’re concerned with running out of charge mid-day, look for smartphones with fast-charging support to circumvent the issue. They appreciably amp-up the charging rates from an ordinary to triple, quadruple or even more times. Never mind leaving you phone plugged in overnight to charge – a quick pit-stop is all you need to top-up your battery a considerable amount. You can mobile game to your heart’s content all morning, fast-charge over lunch and get straight back into gaming.

Best software for mobile gaming

The sheer user customisation of Android smartphones handily exceeds those of the reigned-in operating system of iOS smartphones. Ultimately, the in-game experience stacks up nicely across either platform, but it’s all of the limitations outside the game where the comparisons fall apart.

Google Play Store Vs. Apple App Store

First and foremost, a quick reminder – the worldwide sensation Fortnite isn’t currently available on iOS devices due to ongoing, court-fought disputes between the game’s publisher Epic Games and Apple over the monopolistic practices of the App Store. To be completely fair, Fortnite isn’t available on the Google Play Store either, for similar reasons, but at least Epic Games leverages Android’s less locked-down ecosystem to offer up a temporary solution.

Android Vs. iOS

On Android, you can side-load content from third-party sources and alternative app stores, such as Epic Games’ own app or simply an installable Android Application Package (APK). This is especially pertinent for mobile gaming and emulators which we won’t delve too deeply into, only subtly mention to pique your interest. Due to less platform restrictions, you’ll find a lot of apps only on Android.

Software customisation

Ignoring these feuds, software has a noticeable impact by letting you custom-tailor your experience. The right software allows you to outright disable notification pop-us that’d otherwise become whack-a-mole targets to swipe away mid-game, to displaying a frames-per-second counters and other performance metrics.

Game modes

Some phones come with pre-configured ‘game modes’, switched on with a software toggle. These prioritise the mobile gaming experience by minimising the amount of background processes, interference from notifications and allocating more power to the SoC for greater performance. Gaming phones also place emphasis on the smartphone’s landscape mode, the orientation you’ll use most for gaming. Most phones focus primarily on portrait only, so this’ll save you from rotating your phones back and forth. These customisation features help block out the incessant reminders you’re using a smartphone and let you simply enjoy mobile gaming.

Provided by: Lukmanazis / Shutterstock.com

5G connection for gaming phones

It’s easy to get swept up in the advances of technology and waive off 5G as yet another marketing gimmick. But it’s the real deal. Infrastructure for the next generation of wireless connection is spreading rapidly. It isn’t restricted to big-name cities either, with deployment reaching many small to medium-sized cities too. A few years ago, you would’ve been called crazy for mobile gaming competitively on a wireless network, but 5G enables a strong enough connection for on-the-go skirmishes. Coupled with the ludicrous bandwidth of 5G, around ten times faster than 4G, beam the latest mobile games and updates straight to your smartphone in a matter of minutes. Or, seamlessly stream music, podcast YouTube and Twitch in the background while gaming, without it incurring lag. As a burgeoning technology, not all smartphone support 5G, but those which do explicitly state so.

Using a virtual assistant for mobile gaming

A growing trend on smartphones is having a physical button devoted entirely to summoning your virtual assistant. Apple Siri, Assistant, Samsung Bixby, Amazon Alexa – whichever is your preference, they’ve become essential elements in our day-to-day lives. From remotely controlling smart home devices, setting reminders and alarms hands-free, responding to voice-activated commands and much, much more. When configured correctly, digital assistants can be extremely beneficial for accelerating otherwise mundane tasks.

Amongst gamers, though, they’ve garnered an infamous reputation. In the midst of an intense skirmish, one unintentional trigger of a virtual assistant, and everything’s ruined – an all-too-common occurrence. Brush against the virtual assistant button and it’ll instantly spring to life and assert control over your entire phone – your in-progress game be damned. By the time you’ve desperately dismissed the virtual assistant, the damage is done and the game’s over.

Re-bind button

Not all is lost, however, as you can relinquish control and dismiss the virtual assistant from their duties, and re-bind the button for other handy shortcuts. Launch your favorite game with one button press, screenshot your victorious position on the leaderboard or any number of custom-made configs. Or, if you’d rather, disable the button outright for zero interference in-game.

Virtual assistant for mobile gaming

The instinctive dismissal of virtual assistant from gamers, although well-warranted, ignores their strengths for mobile gaming. Need reminders of where to progress, a convoluted crafting schematic or not-so subtle tips on cheesing a controller-snapping boss? Your digital assistant isn’t just for regurgitating the weather forecast. They’re intrinsically tied to the world’s most powerful search engines, scouring the web in a split-second to serve up any relevant information, including frequently asked question and top-hits for mobile gaming content. No need to grind the action to a halt, minimise the game and pull up a web browser – just ask your digital assistant!

Provided by: nikkimeel / Shutterstock.com

Android phone gaming – Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3

To demonstrate these considerations in-action, let’s hone in on a specific example, the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3. One quick glance at this flagship foldable phone and the main mobile gaming advantages should become immediately apparent – that screen. Smoothly unfurling to a 7.6” display running up to a silky-smooth 120Hz. It’s easily the biggest, most immersive smartphone display for mobile gaming.

It features Qualcomm’s current fastest Snapdragon SoC and a whopping 12GB of RAM, which is more than a lot of laptops! With a minimum storage capacity of 256GB and a 512GB version also available, it has ample room for even the largest mobile gaming installs. Despite the unique two-halves design of the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3, they’ve somehow managed to divvy up 4,400mAh worth of battery across either side for extended mobile gaming sessions. To top it all off, it’s a fully-fledged 5G smartphone for blisteringly fast wireless speeds. Check out our Samsung smartphone buyer’s guide.

Gaming smartphone Vs. Nintendo Switch

The immense popularity of hand-held, hybrid consoles like the Nintendo Switch and the eagerly anticipated Steam Deck clearly conveys a feverish demand for portable, mobile gaming. In particular, the Nintendo Switch makes for an interesting comparison.

It repurposes a NVIDIA Tegra X1, a system-on-chip released in 2015 which was primarily intended to power car info-tainment systems and TV streaming devices. As such, the performance wasn’t particularly impressive even at the Switch’s launch. In 2021, it really struggles to keep pace, with sub-HD resolutions, middling graphics and wildly inconsistent frame rates even in Nintendo’s own deeply optimised first-party releases.

Any smartphone released in the past couple of years probably has an SoC housed inside which easily exceeds the performance of the outdated-at-release Nintendo Switch in like-for-like scenarios. Gamers put up with the sub-standard performance and continue to hoover up the Switch in droves because of the games and familiar controls.

Mobile gaming peripherals & accessories

The biggest slight against mobile gaming is the input, or rather lack thereof. Gamers are well-accustomed to the signature snap of mechanical gaming keyboards, the unfiltered accuracy of gaming mice and gradual squeeze of a controller’s analogue triggers.

The immense success of PlayStation next-generation DualSense controller defiantly shows that physical, tangible controls aren’t an ancient relic, but fully thriving and even experimenting with adaptive triggers and haptic feedback to eerily simulate the sensation of on-screen actions for heightened immersion.

Controller Vs. touchscreen

On a smartphone, you’re tapping on a flat slab of glass. It’s the exact opposite of satisfying. There’s no audible ‘click’, actuation force, half-presses – or anything! Try pulling off pixel-perfect inputs or fighting game combos without an D-pad or analog stick.

Provided by: Stanisic Vladimir / Shutterstock.com

Touchscreens work well in games with swiping gestures or deliberate taps. Think deck-builders like Slay the Spire, Legends of Runeterra and Hearthstone, or turn-based strategy games like X-COM or Civilization. Yes, these fan-favorite games received fully-fledged mobile ports! But what if you wanted to play something more action-orientated which would traditionally demand a controller?

Xbox & PlayStation controllers

Fortunately, PlayStation and Xbox controllers – which you’ve likely already got lying about – are natively supported on both Android and iOS. The pairing process for each is seamless, connecting wirelessly via Bluetooth. Using a controller on a smartphone for mobile gaming is intriguing in theory, but in a real-world scenario it isn’t a fail-proof solution.

Provided by: Konstantin Savusia / Shutterstock.com

With the controller now in-hand, where’s the smartphone supposed to go? Ergonomics is the blatant issue, a literal balancing act of propping up your phone on any suitable surface, praying it doesn’t tip over. Angling against a wall with a jerry-rigged stand to avoid slipping, or craning your neck with the phone resting in your lap. There are a couple fixes to address this conundrum.

Controller clips

The quickest, easiest and cheapest fix is a controller clip, with surprisingly effective results. As the name implies, these clip a mount for a smartphone onto a controller and better balance the weight. Although the bottom-half may be designed to clip onto either a Xbox or PlayStation controller, the top-half is freely adjustable to fit a broad range of smartphones. This universal design means there’s no one controller clip for a given smartphone. If your smartphone’s dimensions fit within the maximum parameters, these clips get you straight into mobile gaming with a controller. And when you’re done, swiftly remove the controller clip with ease so you can re-connect to your console or gaming PC.

No controller hardware is included, only the clip itself made from a plastic construction. Though you’ll need to supply your own controller for the set-up to work, this makes controller clips extremely cost effective, readily available in-between £5 to £10. The lower end models are no-frills, rigid pieces of plastic. Whereas the higher end feature adjustability in the mounting mechanism for tilting the smartphone’s display at a more comfortable angle.

Smartphone controllers

If you’re looking for a more tailor-fit solution, there are standalone controllers designed with smartphones in mind. Let’s highlight a stand-out example for mobile gaming – the Razer Kishi.

Unlike the bulk of a conventional controller, the Kishi is splits into two halves connected with a flexible band. This adaptable design allows the Kishi to stretch around either end of a broad range of smartphones. When you’re finished gaming, it conveniently collapses down to a more portable form factor.

Most controllers connect wirelessly via Bluetooth, which incurs an unavoidable delay. Instead, the Kishi plugs into a smartphone’s USB-C port – the growing standard – for unmatched responsiveness. With the USB-C port now occupied by the Kishi, how’re you supposed to hook up other peripherals and accessories, like a power bank? Razer’s thought ahead, including a USB-C port on the Kishi itself, so you can pass-through power straight to the smartphone.

Compared to a console controller, you aren’t making any sacrifices. Despite the slim-line profile, it retains clickable sticks and analogue triggers as you’d expect. An unfortunate number of smartphone controllers opt for no-frills digital triggers which register only on or off, with no in-between. This has detrimental effects on genres like racing, as you can’t feather the throttle or progressively apply the break. The feature-rich Kishi further closes the gap between console and mobile gaming.

Powerbanks

Manufacturers like to boast about their latest smartphone’s day-long battery life, which is sneakily achieved by including power-sipping screen off and stand by times. Most applications are barely taxing on hardware, but mobile gaming is the glaring exception. Crank the settings, brightness, refresh rates and you’ll drain the battery fast.

For mobile gaming, you don’t want to dip into a power-saving mode, as it negatively affects performance by throttling the SoC’s performance for poor frame rates, as well as nerfing the brightness to impractical levels. Constantly hooking up to a power outlet defeats the purpose of mobile gaming.

Provided by: Shutterstock

Instead of worrying about your battery flat-lining, a power bank offers up a portable solution. These are units comprised entirely of batteries and come in a broad range of capacities. There are smaller power banks for quick-hits of charge, keeping your smartphone topped-up throughout the day. Then there’s whopping 10,000mAh and even greater power banks to fully recharge all your drained devices. Effectively, they’ll at least double your total battery capacity, ideal for smartphone power-users and mobile gaming away from outlets for extended periods.

Smartphones and mobile gaming at Ebuyer

That’s a whole lot to think about! But ultimately mobile gaming is super accessible. There are billions of smartphones worldwide, with differing features and performance. The entire ecosystem is meticulously engineered to be as adaptable as possible. No doubt any smartphone release in the past couple of years will be capable of a fantastic mobile gaming experience. Check out the broad range of smartphones available at Ebuyer.