It’s been a while since we rounded up the best Android phones for gaming, and now seems like a good time to do so.
Why? Because while the Android market is a constantly shifting, iterative thing (certainly when compared to iOS), we’d suggest that we’re at the very end of this current generation.
Several of the biggest Android manufacturers are set to announce their 2015 flagships at the Mobile World Congress 2015 show at the beginning of March. Most of the rest will follow in the months to come.
As such, it's a good time to take a moment to stop and look at the best Android phones for gaming right now, when we have something approaching a complete picture of the landscape.
To this end, we’ve split things into three distinct categories, covering each of the main price bands, and selected a couple of top picks for each.
We’ve finished with a brief look at the Android delights to come over the coming months.
Whatever your budget or patience level, each of these phones will give you a great Android gaming experience.
MONEY NO OBJECT
This generation of flagship Android phones is universally pretty great, mainly because the handsets share many of the same core components.
That means that when a handset manufacturer tries to do something a bit different and forward thinking, it’s worth taking notice of - particularly now, as this generation nears its end.
The LG G3 was the first flagship phone to sport a QHD display way back in May 2014. That means that it can boast a 2560 x 1440 resolution, or four times the number of pixels of a 720p display.
Admittedly, support for this standard still doesn’t feel completely there in the Android game and app field, but that’s set to change. The coming new generation is expected to adopt QHD as standard, following the Google Nexus 6’s lead. As such, the LG G3 is one of the most future-proof phones around.
It also has an innovative laser autofocus system for its camera, and an unusual rear-mounted power and volume control set-up. It won’t be for everyone, but the LG G3 is nothing if not distinctive.
We ummed and ahhed over including the Nexus 6 on this list. The truth is, for many people, it’s not a particularly great smartphone.
Its main issue is that it’s simply too big. It’s flipping huge. With a 6-inch display (six!) and a lardy 184 gram body (fat!), you’ll certainly feel its tug in all but the largest and toughest of pockets. It’s also fairly expensive in Android terms, with prices starting from £500.
But this isn’t about the best Android smartphone out there (try the HTC One M8, the Motorola Moto X 2014, or the aforementioned LG G3 if that’s what you’re after). This is about the best Android gaming phone, and in that respect the Nexus 6 is comfortably at the top of the pile.
For starters there’s that 6-inch display, which may be too big for one-handed WhatsApp messaging, but is just great for showing off games. It’s an AMOLED panel, so colours are vibrant, and it’s got the same super-sharp QHD resolution as the LG G3.
Also, it arrived pretty late in the current Android generation - or early to the next, depending on which way you want to look at it. This means that the Nexus 6 has a faster CPU than the rest of the gang - a Snapdragon 805 when the rest are packing the Snapdragon 801.
The Nexus 6 is the most powerful Android phone on the market right now, and power is invariably good for games.
There’s also the not-inconsiderable matter of the Nexus 6’s software. It’s one of the few phones to run a pure, unadulterated version of Android, and the latest version (Android 5.0 Lollipop) is an absolute treat to look at and use. What’s more, it’ll get updates before any other Android phone.
Sony Xperia Z3 Compact
The line between the upper and mid-range has blurred as this generation of Android phones has gone on, but we’ll draw an arbitrary dividing line somewhere around the £300 mark. It also helps to consider each phone’s position within the manufacturer’s wider range.
That’s why we’re going to include the Sony Xperia Z3 Compact in the mid-range section, despite essentially being an alternative to the high-end Xperia Z3 for those who don’t like big phones.
The Sony Xperia Z3 Compact is unique for offering high-end specs in a sub–5-inch package. It’s got the exact same Snapdragon 801 CPU as its big brother, which means that it’s brilliant at running high-end games. It also has the same capable 20-megapixel camera, which is truly premium component.
The main difference is in the Z3 Compact’s display, which is a mere 4.6-inches (small in Android terms) next to the Z3’s 5.2-inch example. It’s also ‘only’ 720p rather than 1080p, but at this size the distinction is hardly worth making. Just ask Apple with its similarly proportioned iPhone 6.
The Xperia Z3 Compact also lacks the Z3’s premium metal-rimmed design, but it’s still a pleasant-to-hold and solidly built (it’s water and dust resistant) phone.
HTC Desire Eye
The HTC Desire Eye is a clever piece of design. It’s essentially the company’s ageing (but still ace) HTC One M8 flagship, repackaged in a more affordable plastic shell.
This means that you’re getting that Snapdragon 801 CPU that we’ve mentioned elsewhere. It’s been replaced as a top-end Android component now, but it’s still a fast chip, and more-than-capable of running high end games for the next year or two at least.
It means that you also get a crisp 5.2-inch 1080p IPS LCD display, which is one of the best to be found on Android.
Another gaming benefit is the presence of Boomsound speakers, which provide unusually loud and clear stereo sound without the need for headphones.
Oh, and if you’re into your selfies, the HTC Desire EYE’s big gimmick is an unusually sharp 13-megapixel front-facing camera.
You know what we said about the line between high and mid-range Android phones being blurred? Mid way through 2014, the OnePlus came along and attempted to destroy the Android hierarchy altogether.
It’s a £229 phone with the specs of a £400 phone. To be more specific, it has that Snapdragon 801 CPU again, as well as an unusually generous 3GB of RAM, and a 5.5-inch 1080p display. It’s a fantastic gaming device, and by far the most capable at this price.
As has always been the case since the OnePlus One’s launch, the only problem here is that it’s tricky to get hold of. The Chinese start-up manufacturer only makes the phones it knows it’s going to sell, which has led to an arcane invite system interspersed with various oversubscribed free-selling windows.
If you can track a OnePlus One down, though, it still offers the most smartphone gaming bangs for your bucks.
Motorola Moto G (2nd Gen)
Whenever someone asks for a budget smartphone tip, we continue to direct people to the original Motorola Moto G - the 4G model of which can be had for around the £130 mark.
However, if we’re talking about a budget gaming handset then we’d now give the nod to that phone’s successor.
The Motorola Moto G (2nd Gen) is a little pricier than its predecessor (around £150), and it runs on the same Snapdragon 400 CPU. However, its larger 5-inch 720p display is better suited to gaming, as are its stereo speakers.
The Moto G (2nd Gen) also has a considerably improved camera, which makes day to day use of the phone much more pleasant.
If you can’t stretch the extra £80 to the OnePlus One, the second generation Moto G will will see you through a couple of years of solid Android gaming, no fuss.
JUST AROUND THE CORNER
Purchasing any of the above phones is a safe bet, regardless of what’s to come. Even when it comes to those pricier flagship phones, our selection will likely offer a very similar gaming experience to the 2015 brigade.
So what is around the corner? On March 1, both Samsung and HTC will announce their new flagship phones.
Both the Samsung Galaxy S6 and the HTC One M9 will almost certainly have bigger-than–5-inch, QHD displays and metal-heavy designs. In this latter sense, the Galaxy S6 will be quite the departure from last year’s model, but rumour has it that the One M9 will come with a slick design overhaul too.
In terms of internals, it’s anticipated that the HTC One M9 will run on Qualcomm’s new chip, the Snapdragon 810. This will represent quite a performance boost over the Snapdragon 801, with a move to a 64-bit architecture and an octa-core configuration (though that’s for power efficiency rather than outright performance).
The Samsung phone, on the other hand, will reportedly ditch Qualcomm’s chip in favour of the company’s own Exynos solution. There have been repeated rumours of overheating issues with Qualcomm’s new chip, which haven’t been fixed in time for the Galaxy S6 launch.
It’ll be interesting to see if Samsung’s own chip can compete with the Snapdragon 810 on raw performance, particularly when it comes to graphics.
Elsewhere, rumour has it that the LG G4 and the Sony Xperia Z4 will be launched a little later in the year - possible some time in early summer. These too should feature Snapdragon 810 CPUs and QHD displays.