2023 mobile gaming gift guide: The best gifts for iOS and Android

Whether you know it or not, your phone might the most powerful gaming handheld you own. While the advent of handheld gaming PCs like the Steam Deck and Asus ROG Ally offer excellent solutions for gaming on the go, you don’t have to drop several hundred bucks to game away from your console or phone. The rise of cloud gaming services, remote game streaming apps, plus amazing dedicated mobile games make it easy to turn most phones into powerful and versatile handhelds.

If you’re looking for some new and interesting ways to elevate your mobile gaming experience, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite devices, services, and accessories to transform your phone into your new favorite console.

Apple iPhone 15 Pro

If you have gaming on the mind, you’ll want to roll with Apple’s latest flagship phone, the iPhone 15 Pro or the larger iPhone 15 Pro Max. This year’s debut of the A17 Pro chipset allows them to play games natively (and play them well) including Resident Evil Village and Resident Evil 4 — both of which are ports with limited visual cutbacks.

If you don’t want your gaming device to be the same gadget you use to make calls and place texts, snag the 2022 iPad Air instead. The 10.9-inch tablet has a more modest storage capacity than current-gen iPhones, but it’s much cheaper to buy at retail, starting at $599. In terms of power, it can handle the same games as the latest iPhones since it’s equipped with the capable, efficient M1 processor found that’s found in some older MacBooks.

Google Pixel 8 or Samsung’s Galaxy S23

Android is the most popular and prolific mobile OS on planet Earth, partially because it’s available on myriad phones and tablets. It’s also the platform where you’ll find some of the fastest phones around. Two such examples of industry-leading speed are the Google Pixel 8 and Samsung Galaxy S23. Both feature 120 Hz displays as to display your games smoothly, and their 8 GB of RAM means each can run apps without a hitch. If you’re splitting hairs, the Galaxy S23 is a bit better in some ways, including its more robust camera array, and larger storage configurations. That said, the Pixel 8 has affordability on its side, starting at $759, as well as a slightly bigger screen of 6.2 inches compared to the 6.1-inch screen on the Galaxy S23.

Of course, you may be looking for a fast Android device with a much larger display. If so, the easy recommendation is the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9, which features an 11-inch, 120Hz OLED screen. The Galaxy Tab S9 features more RAM than Samsung’s latest phones (12GB of RAM). That can help with gaming performance, especially if you have multiple apps running in parallel. And, if those game files are causing you to run out of storage, just pop in a microSD card. The Galaxy Tab S9 uses the same Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 CPU as the Galaxy S23, meaning there isn’t any mobile game this tablet can’t handle.

A cloud game streaming subscription

Multiple platforms already offer apps that allow you to play games remotely for free. The Xbox, Steam Link, and PS Remote Play apps each allow you to stream the playback of certain devices directly to your phone or tablet. However, doing this this relies on having the source console or PC on at all times and, if at all possible, remaining in close proximity to keep latency at a minimum.

Alternatively, paid cloud gaming services like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate and GeForce Now allow you to play a library of games without the presence of a console. They require a speedy internet connection for an optimal experience, and they’re getting better as time goes on.

Apple Arcade is a great option for people who have an iPad or an iPhone. This paid service allows access to a number of exclusive games that you won’t probably find on other platforms (or on Android, at the very least).

A solid set of headphones or earbuds

Investing in a good set of headphones or earbuds is the easiest way to avoid becoming a social pariah when gaming in public. While they can be somewhat expensive, the best earbuds for gaming on your mobile device — or just jamming out in general — are the noise-canceling WF-1000XM5 earbuds from Sony. The XM5’s offer excellent sound quality while tuning out unwanted noise and other distractions.

If over-ear headphones that can keep your ears toasty are more your style, or you’re just looking for something slightly less expensive that you can use with multiple platforms, you should check out the Steelseries Arctis Nova 7 wireless headset. Bluetooth and 2.4 GHz wireless connectivity make the Nova 7 a good choice, since they can pipe audio from your console and let you take a phone call simultaneously. Plus, its retractable boom mic ensures you won’t broadcast your gamer cred to the world if you’re wearing them in public.

A powerful, portable battery

Constant gaming can be a substantial drain on your phone or tablet’s battery. While there’s no shortage of USB-C power banks to choose from to keep your mobile device topped off, or rescued at the 1% line, our personal favorite is the Anker Prime 20,000 mAh power bank, namely for its large capacity and combined output of 200W (its digital readout also looks rad as heck). The small screen shows the current charge, how much wattage is being sent to your attached devices, and it can even provide an estimate of how long that charge will last.

A reliable snap-on controller for your phone

Touch controls are okay, but they’ll only get you so far in letting you feel immersed in console-quality mobile games. If you’re playing games like Dead Cells, Call of Duty: Mobile, or perhaps other titles over cloud game streaming services, you should buy a dedicated controller. Out of the many options available, the most compact and clever option for phones like Samsung S23 and iPhone 15 (and many more) is the Backbone One. This collapsible controller expands around your device and plugs into it using a USB-C connection.

As you use it for gaming, the Backbone One allows for passthrough charging, plus it has spec most unusual in 2023 — an 3.5mm audio jack — that can be used with wired headsets. The controller also lets you take snapshots, in case you want to share them with friends. Backbone Plus, the paid version of its app that unlocks more features, is free for new buyers for a year. The service enables screen capture and sharing, the ability to use the controller as a wired input for iPads, Mac, and PC, plus more features. After the trial, it costs $4.17 a month to keep the service going.

Backbone One USB-C phone controller

Prices taken at time of publishing.

Whether you have an iPhone 15 or the latest Android phone, the Backbone One is the best gaming controller you can buy for it. It stretches around your phone without taking away your charging and audio port.

If you’d prefer a cheaper wireless controller that you can use with more devices, it’s worth knowing that just about any Bluetooth-compatible gamepad will work with your mobile device. For mobile gaming, seek out the 8BitDo Pro 2. The SNES-inspired controller has the trappings of a modern controller, fitted with handles for a comfortable grip, it’s rechargeable via USB-C, and you can remap its inputs using the 8BitDo Ultimate app on your Android or iOS device. 8BitDo also makes an inexpensive phone clip specifically for the Pro 2 controller that can be adjusted to fit a variety of mobile devices without obstructing the controller’s charging port.

An ergonomic mount for your phone or tablet

If you’d prefer a more flexible mounting solution for your mobile device, this $24.99 gooseneck stand from Lamicall is a solid option. The stand is perfect for mounting your device wherever it’s most comfortable for you to view it, whether that’s attached to a headboard, nightstand, desk, or countertop. This 39-inch neck is easy to adjust into the position that’s ideal for your needs.

This particular model is can fit devices ranging from 4.7 inches to 11 inches in width, making it perfect for most phones, tablets, and some gaming handhelds, so long as they don’t weigh more than 2.2 pounds.