For years now, the performance of iPhones has run circles around high-end Android phones. Combine that with great battery efficiency and a huge catalog of fantastic games (including some Apple Arcade exclusives), and the iPhone may just be the best mobile gaming platform around.
Honestly, every iPhone made in the last few years will have no trouble running even the most demanding mobile games. But if you’re serious enough about phone gaming to make it a priority in your buying decision, you don’t want “good enough,” you want the best.
Updated 11/22/21: With the iPhone 13 series on the market and price drops on earlier models, we have updated our recommendations.
Best iPhone for gaming: iPhone 13 Pro Max
Any iPhone will play casual games well. If you want to play high-end premium games with more advanced 3D graphics and sound, performance matters. All iPhone 13s have the super-fast A15 chip, but the Pro and Pro Max have a version of the chip with a fifth GPU core, instead of 4 in the regular iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini. And if you’re into gaming, you want the larger “Max” variant.
Why? First, there’s the issue of battery life. High-end gaming is a big drain on your phone’s battery, and the iPhone 13 Pro Max has the longest battery life of any iPhone we’ve ever tested. If you play location-based games (like Pokemon Go), you want to play without having to carry around a battery pack.
Second, screen size matters. Games with on-screen virtual sticks and buttons are easier to control when the screen is bigger. Small text in RPGs and the like is easier to read. Streaming games from your Xbox or Playstation? You’re definitely going to want a bigger display.
Finally, let’s not forget about 5G. Playing internet-connected games on the go, away from Wi-Fi, can be tenuous on 4G connections, but at least a little better on 5G. And of course, 5G drains your battery more quickly, so yet another reason to go with the big phone.
If you just can’t stand really really big phones, or if gaming is a secondary concern, there’s nothing wrong with the iPhone 13 Pro or even the regular iPhone 13. But serious gaming enthusiasts will probably be happiest spending the extra money for the big Max variant.
Pros: Top performance, huge display, longest battery life ever
Cons: Really big, really expensive
I have written professionally about technology for my entire adult professional life - over 20 years. I like to figure out how complicated technology works and explain it in a way anyone can understand.