It’s no secret that gaming is more popular than ever before. Late last year, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X launched to widespread critical acclaim. And in an era of social distancing, video games have become one of the best ways to stay connected with family, friends, and squadmates. This year is set to take things to the next level, with plenty of hot new and upcoming games like Far Cry 6, Resident Evil 8: Village (Maiden), Mass Effect: Legendary Edition, and more.
As we mentioned in our gaming gift guide, the most immersive gaming experiences will always be found on traditional, full-size home video game consoles. But not everyone wants to be glued to the couch while gaming. Just like cameras, the best game system is the one you have with you. So buckle up, as we take a closer look at the best ways to game on the go.
Best mobile games in 2021
Let’s kick things off by looking at some of the best mobile games in 2021 and beyond. Because let’s face it, good hardware requires good software. It doesn’t matter how fast your phone, tablet, or game system is — without good games to make use of the power, you might as well be playing Pong.
PUBG Mobile is one of the world’s most popular mobile games. The original PC version of this game (Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds) popularized the battle royale genre, in which players land on an uninhabited island, loot up to gain resources, and fight to be the last person standing.
Just like its PC and console counterparts, PUBG Mobile is extremely popular, with over 600 million downloads and 50 million active users daily. The base game is free, though there are in-app purchases for cosmetics and battle pass content. Get it today for free on iOS and Android.
Call of Duty: Mobile is another intense and fast-paced action game that gives you most of the full-size console experience on mobile. CoD: Mobile has two game modes: battle royale and standard 5v5 team-based multiplayer.
Although this free-to-play title has microtransactions, you can have plenty of fun without spending a dime. So if you’re a fan of the full-size version, you have nothing to lose by giving it a try. Get it for free on iOS and Android.
Mario Kart Tour is another great free-to-play option that brings much of the full-size console experience with you wherever you go. As its name implies, Mario Kart Tour is based on the popular Mario Kart franchise. Although it’s not as full-featured as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Nintendo Switch, Mario Kart Tour still has a lot going for it including online multiplayer, a loot system with character unlocks, and more.
Minecraft: Pocket Edition is another fantastic mobile game that replicates the console experience for gamers on the go. This cross-platform game lets you play in both single-player and multiplayer modes, while you explore infinite worlds and build to your heart’s content.
Fortnite isn’t so much a game, as it is a cultural phenomenon. Although originally created as a tower-defense/survival game that quickly evolved into a battle royale similar to PUBG, this title has become more than just a shoot-em-up thanks to routine concerts, movie premieres, and other real-time events. This cross-platform title is available on everything, from game consoles to PCs — and now phones. And the best part is that online multiplayer is cross-play enabled, meaning that you can play with your friends, regardless of platform.
Unfortunately, due to an ongoing legal battle between Epic Games and Apple, you can’t currently play Fortnite on an iPhone or iPad. However, it’s still available for free on Android, direct from Epic.
Pokémon Go is quite literally the most played mobile game, with over 1 billion downloads to date. And unlike the previous titles, Go is exclusively a mobile-only title. This game turns you into a Pokemon Trainer, and your job is to explore the world around you while you capture, raid, and battle to take over various “Gyms” scattered across the IRL world. Naturally, Pokemon Go is an online multiplayer game, so you can play with or compete against your friends. And best of all, it’s available for free on iPhone and Android.
Best gaming phones in 2021
Now that we’ve established that mobile gaming is here to stay, let’s take a closer look at the best bang-for-your-buck gaming phones in 2021. 3D action games require tons of processing power and strong graphics chips, meaning that even flagship phones from just a few years ago may struggle. Obviously, this can get a bit expensive since not everyone wants to keep spending over $1000 every time a Fortnite update is released, but that’s where Swappa comes in.
Best affordable gaming phone: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
The best gaming phone that doesn’t break the bank is the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE. This phone boasts a powerful 8-core Snapdragon 865 CPU and Adreno 650 GPU, backed by up to 8GB of RAM, so all of your current and future games will run effortlessly at max settings for years to come. It also packs a stunning 6.5-inch Super AMOLED display with a high 120Hz refresh rate for smooth motion and HDR10+ certification for amazing visuals.
The S20 FE is good for more than just gaming. It does it all, thanks to its excellent cameras, build quality, and features. You’d think that these top-end specs don’t come cheap, but starting at just $460 on Swappa, it’s downright affordable.
Best premium gaming phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 5G
The Galaxy S20 FE is a phenomenal gaming phone, but what if you crave even more speed? Bumping up to the recently released Samsung Galaxy S21 5G gets you an even faster processor, more RAM, and a better screen — which all amount to an even better gaming experience.
The Galaxy S21 is powered by Qualcomm’s latest 8-core Snapdragon 888 chip and backed by 8GB of RAM and up to 256GB of internal storage. The S21 5G also features a vibrant 6.2-inch Infinity-O Dynamic AMOLED 2X with variable refresh rate support from 48-120 Hz. Mercifully, the S21 5G also features a 4000 mAh battery, able to keep you gaming all day without interruption.
The Galaxy S21 5G retails for $799+ when buying new, but through the magic of Swappa, you can pick one up today for just $545.
Best iPhone for gaming: Apple iPhone 12
What if you prefer iOS to Android? Gamers looking for the absolute best iPhone for gaming should look no further than the iPhone 12. This phone packs the world’s fastest mobile processor (the A14 Bionic chip with third-generation Neural Engine), 4GB of RAM, and an incredible 6.1-inch Super Retina XDR OLED capable of 1200 nits of peak brightness. Just keep in mind that since all iPhones are limited to 60Hz displays, your gaming experience won’t feel quite as buttery smooth as what you’d get on the S20 FE.
The iPhone 12 was launched late last year, alongside the iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max — but it’s really the vanilla iPhone 12 that ends up as the most compelling gaming phone. It packs mostly the same internal specs as the rest, while still offering a large and vibrant display, but at a slightly more affordable price. Retail pricing starts at $830, but you can pick up a gently used iPhone 12 for as little as $680 on Swappa today.
Best affordable iPhone for gaming: Apple iPhone 11
The iPhone 12 is a fantastic gaming phone, and the best choice for anyone who wants to experience the best that iOS gaming has to offer. But what if you want something a bit cheaper that still gives you access to all the same great games? This is where the last generation iPhone 11 comes in.
The iPhone 11’s A13 Bionic chip may not be quite as fast as the A14 Bionic in the iPhone 12, but it’s still more than capable of handling any game at max settings for years to come. It also features a large 6.1-inch Liquid Retina IPS LCD, so all your games will look sharp and vibrant. And best of all, the iPhone 11 starts at just $435 on Swappa, meaning you get most of the performance and features found on the newer iPhone 12 at a more affordable price.
Best gaming tablets in 2021
Gaming phones represent the ultimate in portability, and they let you game wherever you go. But if you’re looking for a more immersive gaming experience to better bridge the gap between mobile gaming and home gaming, you’ll need something a bit bigger.
Gaming tablets are a great middle-ground, giving you access to the same great mobile games, but with a bit more screen real estate to work with. Unquestionably, Apple iPads are the most popular tablets out, but which iPad is the best for gaming? Keep reading to find out!
Best gaming tablet overall: Apple iPad Pro (2020) 11″ or 12.9″
If you’re looking for the absolute fastest and smoothest gaming experience, look no further than the Apple iPad Pro 2020. The latest iteration of the iPad Pro packs a powerful A12Z Bionic chip with 8 CPU cores and 7 GPU cores. The speedy CPU is backed by 6GB of RAM for intensive multitasking and up to 1TB of internal storage so you can load all your favorite games and apps, and still have room left for your entire music library.
Although the A12Z is based on an older processor architecture than the A14 found in the latest generation of iPhones or the iPad Air 2020 (best midrange gaming tablet), the A12Z is actually considerably faster for graphics tasks (read: gaming) than its newer counterpart thanks to its 7-core GPU.
Beyond gaming, the iPad Pro is also a phenomenal mobile computing device. The iPad Pro 2020 can genuinely replace your laptop, thanks to its mouse support, diverse ecosystem of add-ons such as aftermarket keyboard cases, and more. The iPad Pro 2020 is also compatible with Apple Pencil, allowing the creatively-inclined to express their ideas unhindered by traditional touchscreen limitations.
The iPad Pro 2020 is available in two size variants: iPad Pro 2020 11″ and iPad Pro 2020 12.9″. The two screen sizes perform identically in games and apps, so make your choice based on what size you prefer. If you’re asking us, though, the 11″ model is the one to go with because it’s smaller, cheaper, and easier to carry with you when you’re on the move.
With retail prices at the Apple Store starting at $799 for the 11-inch iPad and $999 for the 12.9-inch variant, the iPad Pro 2020 isn’t cheap. Fortunately, you can save hundreds by buying on Swappa instead. Get the best prices on a gently used iPad Pro today.
Best midrange gaming tablet: iPad Air (2020)
The iPad Pro 2020 is an absolute beast when it comes to gaming tablets — but we get it, not everyone can afford to spend $700+ on a tablet, even if it can legitimately replace your laptop. Fortunately, the iPad Air 4th Gen (2020) offers many of the same benefits as the iPad Pro at a more palatable price point.
The iPad Air 2020 is Apple’s latest mainstream iPad. Powered by the exact same A14 Bionic chip found in Apple’s flagship iPhone 12 Pro Max and backed by 4GB RAM and up to 256GB of internal storage, the iPad Air can handle any game or app you throw its way — and because it’s built on energy-efficient 5nm process technology, your battery should last all day, and then some.
Just like the iPad Pro, the iPad Air 2020 can actually replace your laptop, thanks to its healthy ecosystem of keyboard and trackpad cases from Logitech, Apple, and others. The iPad Air 2020 is also the first in its line to support the Apple Pencil.
The iPad Air retails for $599 at the Apple Store, but you can get one today on Swappa for as little as $475. Shop on Swappa to get the best deal on a gaming tablet today.
Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite deliver the best mobile gaming experience
We simply couldn’t close out this article without bringing up the two elephants in the room. Of course, we’re talking about the Nintendo Switch and Nintendo Switch Lite. The Switch and Switch light grant you access to an absolutely massive library of over 3000 award-winning games such as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (best side quests), Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, and countless others. And best of all, you can get one of these dedicated game consoles for a fraction of the price of a new phone.
We recently compared the Nintendo Switch and Switch Lite and found that there are pros and cons to both consoles, so neither Switch is inherently “better” than the other. If you’re looking to spend a good deal of your game time at home, pick up the Switch since it can dock to your TV. But if you’re primarily playing on the go, pick up the smaller and lighter Switch Lite for about half the price.
Swappa Quick Picks
We get it — it can be hard to make a choice with so many great options. To make things a bit easier for you, here’s a quick recap:
- Best high-end gaming phone: Samsung Galaxy S21 5G
- Best cheap gaming phone: Samsung Galaxy S20 FE
- Best iPhone for gaming: Apple iPhone 12
- Best cheap iPhone for gaming: Apple iPhone 11
- Best high-end gaming tablet: Apple iPad Pro (2020) 11″ or Apple iPad Pro (2020) 12.9″
- Best midrange gaming tablet: Apple iPad Air 4th Gen (2020)
- Overall best mobile gaming experience: Nintendo Switch or Switch Lite
Whichever phone (or game system) you choose, you’ll always snag the best deals on Swappa. And more importantly, our expert moderation team weeds out scams and junk devices, so you can rest assured knowing that you’ll always get a fully functional device that’s ready for use. So what are you waiting for? Click the button below and get your game on!