Top 10 Gaming Phones: February 2009

Ringing in the new year

Top 10 Gaming Phones: February 2009

If you’ve started reading this feature with the hope that it contains some massive shocks then we’re sorry to report that you’re likely to be bitterly disappointed.

Even if you possess only the most fleeting interest in the mobile phone gaming world then you’ll know that only one platform seems to be on everyone’s lips at the moment - and sadly for Nokia, it’s not N-Gage.

Apple’s all-conquering iPhone is capable of some seriously impressive tricks (we just discovered we can use it to set our Sky+ to record even when we’re not in the house) and in terms of mobile entertainment it is quite simply streets ahead of the competition.

However, before we turn this entire feature into an advert for Steve Jobs’s electronic version of the Swiss Army Knife, what of the other phones currently doing the rounds? Do any of our recently-reviewed handsets make the top ten? Read on to find out…

1. iPhone

It was hardly up for debate really, was it? Apple’s iPhone - twinned with the excellent App Store - effortlessly retains its crown and has the privilege of sitting pretty atop the gaming phone throne.

Since we last compiled our chart in December, we’ve witnessed a veritable flood of quality software in the shape of Rolando, Hero of Sparta, Edge, Pop and Silent Hill: The Escape.

Developers and publishers continue to eye the burgeoning iPhone market with intense interest, and the news that Fallout 3 creator Bethesda’s next title is heading for Apple’s device should tell you everything you need to know about the current standing of the machine.

There are issues, of course - the App Store is becoming increasingly user un-friendly thanks to the sheer quantity of products available - but it’s hard to find real fault with this superlative phone, and we can’t see anything usurping it anytime soon (sorry Nokia).

2. Nokia N96

Again, as was the case in December, the iPhone is followed by three Nokia devices all jockeying for position, albeit quite some distance behind Apple’s device.

The N-Gage service continues to get quality games, but not quite in same volume as the App Store. Having said that, titles such as Metal Gear Solid Mobile, Resident Evil: Degeneration and Boom Blox are top notch releases and the ever-popular Reset Generation continues to be something of a poster-child for Nokia’s platform.

In all honesty, there’s not much to choose between the N96 and its N-Series siblings - all of them boast excellent, dedicated gaming interfaces - but we guess this particular phone just shades it thanks to the considerable amount of other features it possesses.

3. Nokia N85

Pretty much everything we said for the N96 applies here: the two phones are so alike even Old Mother Nokia probably has trouble telling them apart at social gatherings.

The N85 isn’t quite as well-endowed as its bigger brother when it comes to technological tomfoolery, but it is a little slimmer and is less likely to cause an unsightly bulge in your undergarments, which might be something that the more image-conscious mobile gamers out there will want to consider.

The screen is bloody gorgeous too, and makes games like Reset Generation look like a million, billion dollars.

4. Nokia N81

The first phone to pack N-Gage as standard is starting to look a little long in the tooth these days, but compared to most other mobiles it handles games with unparalleled confidence - just as is the case with the N96 and N85.

Because it’s been available for a while you may find that you’re able to pick up a second hand N81 for a reasonable price on eBay, so it’s certainly worth considering - unless you’re so loaded with cash that you light cigars with £10 notes, in which case try one of the other N-Series phones instead.

5. LG Cookie

LG is going touchscreen crazy at the moment and as a result we’ve seen plenty of phones boasting a wide range of entertaining stylus-driven entertainment.

While the Cookie’s display isn’t quite as responsive as the iPhone’s (it’s that old ‘resistive’ verses ‘capacitive’ screen argument again: yawn), the pre-loaded Pipe Game (a delightful rip-off of the 16-bit classic Pipe Mania) and feverishly addictive mini-game collection Thomsons & Touch help to create a device that offers hours of fun for mobile games players.

With the lack of a conventional download portal along the lines of N-Gage or the App Store, getting access to future titles might be somewhat tricky (traditional Java releases notwithstanding, of course) but at £99 on PAYG, the Cookie is hardly trying to compete with these more impressive rivals.

In Credit Crunch Britain, this phone is a Godsend to financially-strapped gamers.

6. T-Mobile G1

Fans of the world’s first Android-based mobile handset may have wondered why we cruelly omitted the device from December’s top 10 roundup.

Essentially we left it out because we felt it was far too early to tell if it would shape up to be something special. Now it’s had a few months to overcome those early (and well-documented) niggles, things are looking a lot more positive - although on the gaming front, the device has hardly been showed with greatness.

Pac-Man shows that the phone can attract big names, but it’s hardly a stellar showcase for the technological prowess of the G1. As it stands, this is a great phone backed by a distribution system that has a lot of potential – but will it ever be fully realised?

7. Sony Ericsson Xperia X1

Sony Ericsson’s first Windows-based Smartphone has so many options that the company should include a warning that recommends you have a bit of a lie down and take deep breaths before attempting to delve into its labyrinth of menus, but one area where it affords straight-forward functionality is mobile entertainment.

The bundled copies of Bejeweled 2 and Bubble Breaker are addictive titles in their own right, but when coupled with the excellent stylus-driven interface they become even more compulsive.

Because this is a Windows phone, you’ll already have access to myriad different games to download, and there should be plenty more on the way. The lack of an accelerometer is a bit of a let down, though.

8. Nokia 5320 XpressMusic

Nokia’s cheapest N-Gage-enabled handset clings on for another month, largely thanks to the fact that it represents the most reasonably-priced access point to the gaming portal.

It’s gradually being left behind by rival phones, and the lack of a truly dedicated gaming interface still places it well behind its more illustrious stablemates, such as the N96 and N85 - but it’s still head and shoulders above many other phones out there in terms of mobile entertainment.

9. LG KS360

The plucky little LS360 stays in the chart for its second month, but only just. It may not be able to call upon the kind of software support enjoyed by the iPhone or Nokia’s N-Gage range, but we can’t help but love this unassuming effort from LG.

It’s certainly not been created specifically with gaming in mind, but the slide-out keyboard grants an almost-perfect interface for interactive entertainment. A steady flow of titles is the biggest worry, but if you’re not averse to messing about with Java games - and you’re shopping on a budget - then give this a shot.

10. Samsung i850 INNOV8

Samsung’s 8 megapixel snapper is a chunky customer, and when you consider the disappointing nature of the D-pad you might question why it’s been featured here. The answer is simple - out of the box, the i850 provides an excellent gaming experience.

The pre-loaded version if FIFA 09 is nothing short of breathtaking in its graphical complexity and accelerometer-enabled games function like a dream.

Given the relatively steep price it’s hardly the kind of phone we’d recommend you rush out and purchase solely for its entertainment credentials, but if you’re in the market for a new mobile and are attracted by the numerous other features the i850 boasts, then you can hand over your cash safe in the knowledge that the phone is ably equipped to help while away those boring train journeys, too.

Damien  McFerran
Damien McFerran
Damien's mum hoped he would grow out of playing silly video games and gain respectable employment. Perhaps become a teacher or a scientist, that kind of thing. Needless to say she now weeps openly whenever anyone asks how her son's getting on these days.