If you had to rank the most important uses for your smartphone in order, making and receiving calls might not even make the top five.
Nowadays, we’re far more likely to choose handsets based on their ability to handle gaming and streaming.
But what should you look for in a handset, and which are the best models currently on sale?
Key criteria for a good gaming and streaming device
Honourably excepting budget handsets like Nokia’s evergreen 3310, most smartphones should support streaming across WiFi and 4G, while today’s capacitive screens are great for gaming.
However, not all handsets are equal when it comes to their user experience. These are some of the factors to consider:
- Screen size. Bigger screens are more practical for watching lengthy files like movies, or enjoying sporting events where captions (and people) need to be clearly legible. Avoid screens less than five inches in size, and ideally look for at least 5.5 inches
- Screen resolution. The latest generation of handsets are adopting 18:9 or even 18.5:9 resolutions, which are great for cinema-style broadcasts. However, most apps and streams are still 16:9 – YouTube videos will almost always be bookended with black bars
- Picture quality. Any device described as HD should be decent, with most phones now offering QHD – 2560×1440 pixels at 16:9. Don’t consider a device if it has less than 1080p resolution, but don’t worry about 4K as there’s very little 4K content around
- A good picture needs decent sound quality, yet many handsets are notorious for having tinny and faint speakers even when the volume is turned up full
- Sound quality is very subjective, so we’d recommend testing a handset in-store to see whether its speakers can audibly reproduce dialogue in a TV drama
- How easy is it to attach external speakers, and does the device have a headphone jack? Some Apple iPhones run headphones through the charging socket, limiting practicality
- There’s a lot of technical jargon surrounding smartphone processors, but as a general rule, higher numbers perform better in benchmark tests. A device has to handle graphics (with a GPU) and processing instructions (via the CPU) simultaneously
- Battery life is more easily measured. You don’t want to run out of juice on the final lap of a Real Racing 3 marathon, or miss the end of the latest Marvel movie. There are two key criteria here – how long the device runs on a single charge, and how quickly it recharges
- Other key criteria include RAM (the amount of memory your device can call upon to juggle multiple actions) and internal storage (crucial for downloading media content like games and TV shows, rather than having to stream them). Bigger numbers are better
The best gaming and streaming devices on sale
Having established the essential specifications for a good gaming or streaming device, these five handsets all meet the brief…
- Razer. Better known as a PC hardware manufacturer, Razer’s handset is arguably the most gaming-focused device on the market. An industry-leading screen refresh rate of 120Hz is coupled with twin Dolby-tuned speakers and a superfast 2.35GHz processor.
- Samsung Galaxy S8. The mechanically similar S9 is imminent, so prices are falling for the S8. Its 18.5:9 screen results in black bars on some apps but widescreen content looks glorious. Wireless charging is convenient while streaming, and the CPU is powerful.
- iPhone 8. Despite the dated appearance created by its twin bezels, Apple’s iPhone 8 is a more practical multimedia tool than the overpriced iPhone X. A powerful CPU can be paired with 256GB of storage, while new games tend to be launched on iOS before Android.
- Google Pixel 2. Eyebrows were raised when Google entered the handset market, but the Pixel 2 is a worthy entrant in this list. It has good battery life, stereo speakers and a high-end Snapdragon CPU. 4GB of RAM ensures even 4K videos play without hesitation.
- LG G6. Despite losing the G5’s handy hot-swap batteries, the G6 is a strong gaming and streaming device. It has a powerful processor, a robust speaker and a 5.7-inch quad HD screen inside a very slender bezel. It’s also by far the most affordable handset in this list.
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