When are we going to make an adult gaming phone?


Mobile gaming is big business, regardless of the point of view. Games played on smartphones account for half of all global gaming revenue, according to Statistical, beating traditional console games to a distant second place.

Considering the great popularity of mobile games, then, why does the gaming phone market seem like a niche concern? Why does the gaming phone market seem to only target a particular type of young and headstrong audience?

What I’m really trying to find out is when is someone going to make a gaming phone for adults like me?

Boring old me

I am what many would consider a fairly typical example of a British man who came of age at the turn of the millennium. Overwhelmingly, boringly “normal”, if there is such a thing.

I am fortunate to have a full time job and a house. I am married. I choose to devote my free time and income to movies, concerts, and dining. I play soccer and go to the pub. It turns out that I also enjoy playing video games and have a keen interest (both personal and professional) in smartphone technology.

You might think I would be right in the center of the Venn diagram marked “target audience for gaming phones”. But even though I have used, reviewed, and enjoyed multiple gaming phones in my work as a freelance tech and games writer, I wouldn’t dream of buying a device for myself.

And I would be deeply surprised if many people in roughly similar circumstances felt very different.

What we mean when we talk about gaming phones

Let’s go back a bit. If you pay only moderate interest in the wider smartphone scene, or maybe only play games on an occasional basis, you might not even realize that there is a “phone.” of play ”. So let’s see exactly what this term means.

Gaming phones are smartphones that cater specifically to gamers – or at least a particular subset of gamers. They tend to deliver flagship or near-flagship specs in a design that favors extensive, landscape-oriented media consumption over general day-to-day tasks. They’re typically big and bulky, with custom-made cooling systems that can even incorporate physical fans.

The screen of a decent gaming phone will generally be more responsive than that of a regular flagship phone. For example, the Nubia Red Magic 6S Pro has a screen with a 720 Hz touch sampling rate, which is literally twice as responsive as that of the OnePlus 9 Pro. And believe me when I say the latter isn’t even a little slow.

Meanwhile, non-gaming elements like the camera have a much lower priority in a gaming phone. The likes of the Lenovo Legion Duel 2 and the Asus ROG Phone 5s Pro tend to take on at best. mediocre photos, although they cost hundreds of dollars and have otherwise exemplary specifications.

Savage rift

League of Legends: Savage Rift (Image credit: Avenir)

A common signifier of gaming phones is the provision of additional physical controls, which tend to take the form of side- or back-mounted buttons (physical or capacitive) that can be reconfigured game by game. This provides an advantage. considerable in competitive online games such as League of Legends: Wild Rift and Call of Duty Mobile.

Such devices invariably run on Android due to the greater freedom of customization offered by Google’s platform. Gaming phone makers have free rein to create custom user interfaces and gaming overlays that provide quick access to CPU and GPU modes, do not disturb settings, cooling modes, and RGB lighting.

Which brings me to the heart of my argument.

Flash player

In addition to their inherent heaviness, modern gaming phones tend to merge a curious “gamer aesthetic” into their chunky designs. Such devices are big on bulky sci-fi swooshes and aggressive logos, and they often feature RGB lighting.

While your average phone maker has had to fight tooth and nail for every inch and every amp of battery space and resources, gaming phone makers will choose to insert a strip of plastic that can produce all the colors of the phone. rainbow at the same time.

If that sounds juvenile and unnecessary, well, it is. Deeply.

Such an aesthetic seems to share some commonalities with a certain strand of PC gaming, and shares links to esports and competitive game streaming. Again, this is a heavily subscribed corner of gaming culture, but it’s not for everyone.

And that really brings home my problem with gaming phones. For someone who hasn’t invested remotely in this particular sub-strand of gaming culture, gaming phones strike me as crass and impractical.

Beyond that, for someone with a certain vintage and sensibility, or who has friends and colleagues who are not exclusively (or even primarily) hardcore gamers, releasing such a device in public can be downright embarrassing. .

Alright, boomer

I can hear the answer. “Alright, boomer, stop complaining about the flashing lights and go back to your stuffy old iPhone.”

First of all: thank you, I will. My personal iPhone 13 Pro is a great gaming device, with performance potential that surpasses any dedicated gaming phone and an App Store that’s packed with great games.

iPhone 13 Pro

iPhone 13 Pro (Image credit: TechRadar)

But also, I would appreciate the option of a great phone that prioritizes games. One who doesn’t shy away from the basics of smartphone design and usability, or even simple considerations of good taste. That doesn’t mean I have to forgo taking photos in less than optimal lighting if I want a physical game control set.

Why can’t I have a phone with the elegant appearance and the complete competence of a Sony Xperia 1 III, but instead of the physical camera shutter and Google Assistant buttons it gives me a pair of shoulder buttons to map to my favorite shooter?

Or why can’t I have a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra without a selfie notch (the bane of mobile gaming) and a slightly thicker body containing a bigger battery and a meatier cooling system?

It’s not to distinguish Sony and Samsung, you understand. The simple truth is that no one is making these phones right now, at least not on a global scale.

Reach the next level

I do not think such a request is unreasonable. There have been gaming phones in the past that offered something broadly similar.

Someone remembers the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play? This so called “PlayStation Phone” was a solid Android phone that was considered quite sleek and stylish for its time. It also turned out to have a set of sliding game controls and a game-focused user interface for a portable gaming experience that came close to Sony’s PSP.

Or, before that, there was the Nokia N95 phone, which used its sliding physical controls and Nokia’s dedicated N-Gage gaming platform to produce a pleasantly low-profile gaming machine.

Both of these devices and their associated platforms had their flaws, and neither was an unqualified success as a gaming device. It’s fair to say that the path to phones glory game is littered with chess.

But the general idea of ​​providing a regular phone with a powerful gaming trick up its sleeve still appeals to me a lot. And, I guess, many others as well.

The closest thing I’ve seen to what I’m looking for recently is the iQoo 7 Legend. This phone from a Vivo sub-brand is a sleek and modern flagship with solid full specs and a svelte design. It also adopts an overt gaming angle, with a super responsive touch sample rate, an advanced cooling system, and a two-piece pressure-sensitive display that can be mapped to a game’s existing touch controls.

It’s far from perfect, with a compact battery and a distracting punch screen, and it’s not even available in the West at the time of writing. But it does confirm that I’m not the only one who thinks this way, and that such a balance of overall balance and gaming chops is possible in just one phone.

The question is, which smartphone makers (if any) will take over and go global with an adult gaming phone in 2022?


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