Retro gaming on the go is easier than ever thanks to emulators for Android phones. With a robust device, you can play classic games from consoles like NES, SNES, Genesis, N64, PlayStation, and more anytime, anywhere. This guide covers the key factors to consider when choosing an Android phone for retro gaming along with 10 top recommendations.
Table of Contents
- Opt for phones with the Snapdragon 865/870 or newer for optimal performance.
- At least 6GB RAM and 128GB storage provide headroom for games and ROMs.
- Displays with high refresh rates up to 144Hz make action smooth.
- Large batteries over 4,000mAh enable longer gaming sessions.
- Dedicated gaming phones have added features like shoulder triggers.
- Phones with external cooling systems handle intensive games better.
- Look for software that doesn’t break emulator compatibility.
- Brands like ASUS, Black Shark, and RedMagic cater specifically to gamers.
A fast processor ensures games run smoothly without lag or glitches. Look for a phone with one of the following chipsets:
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 or newer – Popular in flagships in 2020/2021. Offers excellent emulation speed.
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 870/888 – More advanced 2021/2022 models with top-tier power.
- MediaTek Dimensity 1200 or newer – Found in many mid-range devices. Solid performance.
- Samsung Exynos 2100 – Great processor for Samsung phones.
The CPU will be listed in a phone’s specs. Prioritize chipsets above for the best retro gaming experience.
Having enough RAM ensures your phone can juggle multiple apps and games without slowdown. Aim for at least 6GB RAM, although more is better:
- 6GB RAM – Suitable for casual retro gaming. Can run most emulators smoothly.
- 8GB RAM – Ideal for serious retro gaming. Allows emulating more intensive systems like PS2.
- 12GB+ RAM – Found on premium gaming phones. Provides plenty of headroom for multitasking and RAM demanding emulators.
Retro games and ROMs can take up significant storage space on your phone. Get a phone with a minimum of 128GB storage. Additional space is recommended:
- 128GB – Enough for a solid game collection. Manage space by only keeping your favorites.
- 256GB – Gives you room to store your full game library. No need to delete.
- 512GB+ – Massive space for all your ROMs. High-end phones may offer this much.
Also check if the phone has a microSD card slot to expand storage further with a 512GB+ card.
A quality display makes games more immersive and enjoyable to play over long sessions. Here are optimal specs for retro gaming:
- 1080p or Higher Resolution – Allows enjoying pixel art in HD. 1440p and 4K are ideal but not critical.
- High Refresh Rate – A 90Hz, 120Hz, or 144Hz screen makes graphics and motion ultra smooth.
- OLED/AMOLED panel – Provides inky blacks and vivid colors. Great for darker retro games.
- Large screen – A 6 to 6.8 inch display gives you ample real estate for on-screen controls without feeling cramped.
Long gaming sessions can drain your battery quickly. Look for phones with:
- 4,000mAh capacity or greater – Enables extended retro gaming on a charge.
- Fast charging support – Refills battery quickly when needed. 30W, 65W, or 120W speeds are best.
- Efficient processor – Chipsets like Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 use less power, preserving battery life.
Intensive 3D games like N64, Dreamcast, and PSP push phones to their limit resulting in heat buildup. Effective cooling prevents thermal throttling which causes lag. Consider phones with:
- Liquid cooling – A liquid heat pipe dissipates warmth efficiently.
- Heat sinks – Metal plates absorb and diffuse heat.
- Vapor chambers – Advanced chambers evaporate liquid to draw heat away.
- Fans – Built-in fans maintain airflow to actively cool phones. More common on gaming brands.
Look for gaming-friendly designs that enhance the experience:
- Shoulder triggers – For emulator controls resembling gamepads. Useful for shooting and racing games.
- Side charging – Prevents cable interference when holding horizontally.
- Front speakers – Directs audio at you rather than away.
- Landscape orientation – Natural widescreen layout for gameplay.
- Lightweight – Reduces hand strain over long play sessions. But enough heft for good feel.
The Android version and customizations can affect gaming performance and compatibility:
- Android 12 or Newer – Provides latest optimizations plus security.
- Gaming mode – Options to block notifications/calls, tweak performance, etc.
- Mapper apps – For mapping on-screen controls to external controllers.
- Avoid heavy skins – Light skins like OxygenOS offer better performance over OneUI or MIUI.
Prioritize clean, stock Android or purpose-built gaming interfaces. Avoid skins that break emulator compatibility.
Multiplayer retro gaming requires good network connectivity:
- 5G data – Low latency 5G enables smooth online multiplayer gaming.
- WiFi 6E support – For high speeds and minimal lag on home WiFi.
- Bluetooth – Connect wireless headsets and gaming controllers.
Protect your investment with durable designs:
- Gorilla Glass display – Shields against scratches and cracks.
- Aluminum/steel frame – Adds rigidity and impact absorption.
- Water resistance – Guards against spills and accidents. IP67 or IP68 ratings are ideal.
- Shock absorption – On corners/buttons to withstand drops.
Expect to spend $300 to $800+ for optimal retro gaming phones:
- $300 to $500 – Gets you phones with solid mid-range power for retro gaming.
- $500 to $800 – Flagship-level chips for max performance in this range.
- $800+ – Ultra premium phones with all the bells and whistles for gaming.
Deals can be found by buying last generation flagship models. Gaming spec phones often cost less than mainstream flagships too.
Top 10 Android Phones for Retro Gaming
Here are 10 of the best Android phones currently available for playing emulated retro games:
1. Nubia RedMagic 7
With its Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip, vibrant 165Hz AMOLED display, capacitive shoulder triggers, internal fan, and 65W charging, the RedMagic 7 offers one of the best retro gaming experiences.
2. ASUS ROG Phone 6 Pro
Top specs including Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor, industry-leading 165Hz Samsung AMOLED screen, and massive 6,000mAh battery makes the ROG Phone 6 Pro a retro gaming beast.
3. Xiaomi Black Shark 5 Pro
A high-end 144Hz AMOLED display, Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, up to 16GB RAM, and 120W charging gives you formidable firepower for retro gaming on Xiaomi’s Black Shark 5 Pro.
4. Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra
Thanks to the fast Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, gorgeous 1440p 120Hz screen, S Pen stylus, and long battery life, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is great for retro gaming.
5. Google Pixel 6 Pro
Google’s top model offers slick software, the powerful Google Tensor chip, 120Hz QHD display, 12GB RAM, and five years of updates for outstanding emulator performance.
6. OnePlus 10 Pro
With its vibrant 120Hz QHD display, Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip, fast UFS 3.1 storage, and speedy charging, the OnePlus 10 Pro delivers excellent retro gaming capabilities.
7. Motorola Edge Plus (2022)
Motorola’s newest flagship packs the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 processor, silky 144Hz OLED screen, huge 5,000mAh battery and Ready For desktop gaming mode for top-tier retro gaming.
8. POCO F4 GT
For a budget option, the POCO F4 GT has specs like Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, 120Hz AMOLED display, pop-up triggers, and 67W charging for solid retro gaming at just $599.
9. Sony Xperia 1 IV
Sony’s cinema-grade 6.5-inch 120Hz 4K HDR OLED screen, Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 chip, 12GB RAM and microSD expansion makes it stand out for retro gaming.
10. ZTE Nubia Red Magic 7S Pro
An upgrade over the RedMagic 7, this model boosts performance further with Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 processor, 10-bit 165Hz AMOLED display, and up to 18GB RAM for elite-level emulation.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about choosing an Android phone for retro game emulation:
What is the best chipset for retro gaming phones?
The Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 and Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 deliver the maximum performance for retro gaming today. Snapdragon 865 and 870 are also excellent.
How much RAM do I need for retro gaming emulation?
6GB RAM is adequate for casual gaming while 8GB RAM or higher is recommended for advanced systems like GameCube/PS2.
Do I need a lot of storage space on my phone?
128GB is a good minimum as ROMs and BIOS files take up space. 256GB or 512GB gives you peace of mind for a large game library.
What display specs are most important?
A high refresh rate 120Hz or 144Hz screen plus 1080p+ resolution enables smooth, vivid graphics. OLED panels also excel with inky blacks.
Should I get a phone with a fan for cooling?
Fans help but aren’t essential. Efficient chipsets like Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 run cooler already. Heat pipes and vapor chambers also dissipate heat well.
How long will a battery last for retro gaming?
At least a 4,000 mAh battery enables comfortable 4-6 hours of gaming. Fast charging helps top up between sessions. Carry an external battery pack for longer trips.
Do I need a gaming phone or will any flagship do?
Gaming phones optimize the experience but mainstream flagships with top chips like Snapdragon 8 Gen 1 still perform admirably. Gaming phones cost less too.
What’s the best phone for PS2 emulation?
PS2 emulation requires maximum power. A gaming phone like RedMagic 7S Pro with Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 and 16GB RAM can handle it smoothly.
Should I get an iPhone or Android phone for retro gaming?
Android is better thanks to much broader emulator support. Some platforms like 3DS are Android-only. Android also offers greater flexibility for mapping controls.
The ideal Android phone for retro gaming needs a fast processor, ample RAM and storage, vivid display, long battery life, and effective cooling. With the right device, you can experience your favorite classic games anywhere with performance rivaling or exceeding the original hardware.