A few noticeable "gaming phones" have hit the mobile market over the past year. But any phone can play games, right? So what is the deal?
We see an interesting shift here. Smartphones became a popular platform for games because it is easy to play games on them. In the 80s and 90s, PCs were only thought of as "gaming machines" in a secondary way, compared to the more singularly focused game consoles. PC players became so enthusiastic that specialized parts ̵
Mobile games cross that border, perhaps even faster, since the smartphone is now the main focus of people's digital interaction. But what makes a "game phone" different from a more conventional model, especially since state-of-the-art iPhones and Android phones are already using the most powerful hardware around? The answer is a set of small, but sometimes crucial, design choices.
Larger, faster screens
With the touch screen being almost the only point for the interaction for mobile gaming, it makes sense that players want the screen to be as large as possible. In fact, most of the new game telephones have screens over six inches diagonal, which puts them among the biggest in the market. ASUS has its ROG ("Republic of Gamers") Phone, Xiaomi has Black Shark, at exactly six inches, and Huawei's Honor Play is 6.3 inches. In this field, Razer's self-proclaimed phone and phone 2 are almost small at just 5.7 inches.
There is another element about the display that puts a game phone over the competition: the refresh rate. Most phone screens use a 60 Hz refresh rate, the same standard used on most monitors and televisions. But just like the larger screens, a faster refresh rate means you can see more images per second. Razer's signature feature is a 120 Hz LCD screen. The Asus ROG phone uses 90 Hz, like the lesser known Nubia (ZTE) Red Magic 3. To be fair, this feature leaks into several conventional high-end phones, such as OnePlus 7 Pro.
Most current mobile games look for a standard speed of 60 frames per second, so the difference can be unnoticeable. But both Razer and Huawei work with mobile game developers to make multiple games compatible with these fast screens.
Of course, audio is just as important for video games as well, video. As many standard phone manufacturers minimize mono speakers to make their products even slimmer and without objection, gaming phone manufacturers will have them big, clear and tall. Most of the models currently on the market have two stereo speakers. The Razer Phone has particularly prominent front blowers.
Fast processors, lots of RAM
To increase performance, gaming phones boast the latest generations and many of the memory. Again, this is not necessarily a big difference to flagship phones, and many of them even use the same Qualcomm processors. But gaming phones often adjust them differently and provide battery life and efficiency for clean speed. In this way, they can also provide custom cooling solutions for extra heat, including liquid / steam chambers or external coolers.
Of course, a lot of speed and heat means …
Mobile game is quite tough on a battery. A 3D game is about the most drainage program you can use, short of a benchmark test (which happens to be players too). Throw in a fast processor, a large, light, high-update screen and powerful stereo speakers, and you have a phone that sucks down juice like a hummingbird covered by LEDs.
By Razer Phone 2, ROGEN Phone, Huawei Honor Play, and Xiaomi Black Shark 2, no one has a battery less than 3500 mAh. (Compare it to the 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max at just under 3200 mAh). Razer Phone 2 and ROG Phone are tied first with a generous 4000 mAh. It is enough for a few days to pay – at least it would be if the user did not play continuously Fortnite .
Optional additional forms
Which brings us to the next thing gaming phones have over their several broken brothers: hardware accessories and accessories. Gamers love extra things to play games on, and phones are no exception. ASUS takes the cake on this, as the ROG Phone offers the above cooler, a desktop dock for playing games and apps on a screen, and even a full secondary display to make it something like a powerful Nintendo DS. All this is at the top of the unique dual-charging port (the better to play in landscape mode) and "air triggers", which simulate the feel of the controller shoulder buttons.
Xiaomy's Black Shark and Black Shark 2 have optional dual Bluetooth controls reminiscent of the Nintendo switch. Razer will sell you a shockingly expensive controller designed just for its Razer Phone, and Motorola is still trying to make its Moto Mods one thing with admittedly very appealing controller add-on.
And these are just the things that attach directly to your phone. ASUS and Razer both include RGB lighting on their phones – there are LED lights on the back of the phone, not you, the monitor.
Given, it's not like other phones don't have add-ons. Apple's first-party accessories are quite ritzy, which is Samsung. But for those who want a more customized mobile gaming experience, the gaming phones fit the bill. It's especially important for Android users, who can't always rely on enough interest in their specific model for a good selection of accessories.
So what is the hardware-what about the software?
In addition to the processor and memory tweaks for performance, many gaming phone manufacturers also fine-tune their software. Razer has received critical recognition for his hands-off approach to Android modifications – the mobile equivalent of a "clean" building of Windows. The few software add-ons such as a gallery of highlighted Android apps and an RGB lighting management app will not interfere with the smooth operation of the operating system and its admirable frequent updates.
Razer's competitors aren't quite as dedicated to a pure Android experience, but most of them provide a kind of game mode, with a cautious attendance in the storage clock on the phone's processor. Xiaomi calls it "Ludicrous Mode" on Black Shark. This is the type of performance enhancement you usually need to mess or jailbreak a phone to achieve on its own.
But again, the line between game and flagship phones is blurred. OnePlus 7 Pro has a dedicated game mode in its software package, and an even more intense "Fnatic" mode that blocks all messages and "may cause errors in some apps." It's just the most serious of gaming sessions.  Why not more radical changes?
If you look at it above and think, "Okay, but even with all the extra design choices, they're not all different from normal phones." Threaten. That's because the market has shown that it doesn't really want phones that break with conventional game designs.
Sony Xperia Play, released in 2011, was probably the coolest game phone to come out before this latest crop. With a slider pad, complete with touch-based analog "sticks", it was incredibly versatile and loved by emulator fans. Unfortunately, despite a huge marketing pressure and affiliation with Sony's PlayStation brand, it flopped. The phone never has a follow-up model.
Tepid response to similar mobile game devices, such as the original NVIDIA SHIELD Portable and the notorious Nokia N-Gage, carry this out. While a few lethal players love these gadgets, most only play what is available on the phone they have or are not willing to handle the difficult ergonomics (not to mention space requirements) of something more like a portable gaming console. 
It says that while advancing Fortnite as a selling point in a series of e-sports advertisements last year, Samsung still sold vanilla Galaxy S9 without a game variant model. Apple and Google, while doing everything they can to help promote mobile gaming, are not ready to invest dedicated hardware development beyond conventional phone design.
Gaming phones, even in their more secure, sanitized forms, can be a stick. Or they can become a common subset of the mobile industry, like gaming PCs. It will take manufacturers a while to measure the consumer response to the latest models. Then it will probably be a few years before we find out if gaming phones are going to stick.