For almost as long as mobile phones have existed, people have been playing games on them. This wasn’t quite true of the big, bulky car phones of the 1980s, but it was true of the first ‘smart’ phones of the very early 21st century.
The games might not have been any more complicated than the classic "Snake," but they've progressed from there and become a big part of owning a phone for many people. In some cases, the games that people play on their mobiles are no less sophisticated than the games they play on the latest model of the Xbox or PlayStation.
Mobile phone handset manufacturers are entirely aware of the number of people playing games on their devices. What they haven't yet worked out is how to specifically appeal to them with (relatively expensive) purpose-built gaming phones. We've seen several companies attempt to take gaming phones from a niche idea to a multi-million dollar success in recent years - with Razer trying harder than most - but they always fall just short of having that definitive breakthrough moment. The latest developer to make an attempt is Lenovo with their Legion Phone Duel 2. It's an enormous phone with a screen that's even bigger than the Samsung Galaxy S21
. The initial reviews of its software and hardware capabilities suggest that it’s very good. Sadly for Lenovo and fans of the format, it will probably still fail.
The issue with gaming phones is that - so far, at least - they haven't demonstrated a convincing reason to exist. People who play games on their phones manage just fine on their standard devices. They can do everything they want to do with their normal iPhone or Android phone. For a lot of mobile gamers, their gaming is limited to online slots. It's probably fair to say that no area of gaming has done quite as well at adapting to the mobile format as the online slots industry. Full conversion to the mobile format has already happened. If you were to visit Rose Slots IE
on a mobile device, you wouldn't find a single online slots game that a player couldn't play on that device. Its members don't need a tailored device to play slots with, so they won't buy one. The situation with more traditional games is no different. The games are designed to be run on a "regular" phone, so why would anyone pay $1000 for a gaming phone to play them?
This problem is likely to become worse rather than better for anybody who intends to make a gaming phone in the future. The new Lenovo Legion Phone Duel 2 is packed full of powerful hardware - so much so that there's an unsightly bulge at its rear, which contains a fan to keep it cool. In the future, such hardware is unlikely to be required. Platforms like Google Stadia have eliminated the need for the end-user to own any specialist hardware at all. With Stadia (or another platform like it), a user streams games through the internet rather than playing them on a console. If the format proves to be successful - which seems inevitable in the fullness of time - the age of consoles will be over
. Using Stadia, any phone with a reliable internet connection can run any game, regardless of the phone's processing capability. Controllers can be attached via Bluetooth or WiFi. The processing is done on remote servers. The idea of a hardware-heavy gaming phone is, therefore, redundant.
According to the popular YouTuber "JerryRigEverything," there's another problem with the new Lenovo phone - and it has nothing to do with the size, shape, or price of the unit. It's to do with its reliability. The Youtuber has a long-standing feature on their channel where they test each new device for durability. One of those tests is a stress test, which sees the phone bent to the point of breaking. All phones break eventually, but the level of force that has to be applied to them to make them break is generally extreme. That wasn't the case with the Lenovo Legion Phone Duel 2. With what appeared to be minimal force applied, the casing snapped in two at the base of the "bump" in its back. While it's possible that this was a weakness with the specific unit that was sent to the channel's owner, it appears that the construction of the phone contains a weakness at the sides of the "bump" that becomes a significant liability when the phone is bent. Given the minor amount of force that was applied to break the phone, it's conceivable that someone could break their phone by accident just by putting it in their pocket and then sitting down.
The statistics that Lenovo tout in the marketing for their new creation are impressive. The screen measures 6.92 inches. Its refresh ratio is 144Hz with a touch input of 720Hz, which is out-of-this-world good compared to any other smartphone we can think of. That means your phone is sensitive to 720 "touches" every second, which could be crucial for precision and timing in games. Under the (seemingly delicate) case is a Snapdragon 888 processor, a powerful 5500mAh battery, and 5G compatibility. This is undoubtedly a powerful piece of kit, which is reflected in the price. Where it falls down is that you're being asked to pay the same amount for this phone as you would for a brand new iPhone, and there's no compelling reason to do so. The iPhone is less likely to break, less specialised, and can play all the same games that this Lenovo phone can.
As we said at the start of this article, the Lenovo is far from being the first attempt by a major manufacturer to make a popular gaming phone. However, it might be the last. At the risk of sounding foolish if the phone is a big success, it's destined to be another niche product in a sub-genre of smartphones that's already full of them. As more and more people turn to streaming games rather than relying on native hardware to play them, there will be even less demand in the future than there is now. It's probably time for smartphone manufacturers to end these experiments. Don't worry about the gamers - they're all fine. Focus on making fantastic handsets instead. Maybe one day, we'll finally see the next step in evolution away from the black brick shape we've been stuck with for the past fifteen years.