How To Turn Your Android Phone Into A Gaming Powerhouse

Your Android phone isn't just for widgets, talking, Google Now and photos. It can also be one of the world's best gaming platforms, if you're willing to spend a little time on it.

Once the domain of tinkerers and super-nerds, Android devices have exploded in popularity over the last couple of years, spurred on by the emergence of superphones like the Samsung Galaxy S 4, HTC One and Google's own Nexus 4.

Despite this increase, there remains the perception that — at least in terms of gaming — Android phones are somehow a step behind the iPhone. That things like piracy, a lack of apps and convoluted system specs are hindering the development of games on the platform.

I'm here to tell you this is bullshit. Chances are that if you own an Android phone, and picked it up within the last 18 months, you've got in your pocket a silent killer in terms of portable gaming.

Below you'll find four steps you can follow to turn that humble little smartphone into something a little more gamey.

1. Use Google Play

Well, duh. But if you're a new user, or someone contemplating making the switch, this is important.

Android users have a bad reputation for pirating software, including games, and in many ways that's a fair assumption. Pirating games for the platform is way too easy.

Don't be that guy.

Be the guy that visits the newly-redesigned Google Play Store (Android's equivalent of Apple App Store) and sees that, hey, nearly every big (and small) iPhone game is there too. Just as cheap. Just as plentiful.

To get you started, here are 10 of the best games available in the store.

You'll even find some hot exclusives. Kairosoft's entire catalogue of addictive-as-hell management games is on the Play Store, for example, while only a handful have ever made it to the App Store.

Seriously, there are enough quality games on there already that we could end the guide right here and you'd be set. Luckily, we're not ending the guide here.

Those remaining developers who either delay bringing their games to Android, or don't do it at all, usually cite piracy as one of the big concerns. The more people actually pay for apps and games on Android, the more of these developers will be encouraged to bring their wares to the platform. So do it.

2. Go Retro

Let's say you want to play something more substantial than most mobile titles can offer. Or a classic game from your childhood that, for better or worse, isn't available on the Play Store. The great thing about Android phones is that you can still play these games, and it's a lot easier — and more legal — than you might think.

Two of the most popular means of running old PC games on modern systems — DOSBox (for old DOS games) and ScummVM (for old adventure games) — both have versions available for Android devices.

Before we go any further, then, you're going to need install these three applications:

While that last link isn't necessary, you're really going to want it. What DOSBox Manager does is let you create a quicklaunch screen for the games, so instead of having to enter command prompts every time you want to play a game (which is normally how DOSBox works), you just tap some box art, same as a regular app/game.

The quickest, easiest and most legal way to get hold of old PC games is to visit a site like Good Old Games. Many titles there are supported by DOSBox, so all you need to do is download the game to your PC and copy the files over to your phone.

Tom DuPont has written a great in-depth guide to this process which you can read here.

If you need help using DOSBox Turbo and/or getting your games running, the best place to start is the app's site, which has helpful (and easy to understand) walkthroughs and guides.

ScummVM is an easier proposition, but if you have trouble setting it up, the official guide gives you a great walkthrough on getting set up.

A word of caution, though: be careful which games you bring over. Your phone has limited inputs, most likely just a touchscreen, so trying to play a fast-paced RTS or shooter might not be the best idea. Slower, mouse-driven genres like adventure and turn-based strategy are a good place to start.

Unless, that is, you want to...

3. Get A Controller (Or Use A Mouse)

It sounds crazy, I know. Buying an external controller for your phone defeats the entire point of playing games on a portable device. But the fact of the matter is, as phones become more powerful, phone games become more powerful, and it's a tragedy that people try to play something like Real Racing using touchscreen or tilt controls. Stick a pad on there and some of these newer games will feel like a console game, instead of just looking like one.

There's also the benefit it brings to the retro games you'll be playing. Use a gamepad and suddenly all those amazing old shooters are playable. Connect a Bluetooth mouse to your phone and anything you can't play with a pad, you can probably play with it.

Doing this is pretty simple; provided they don't need drivers, Android natively supports bluetooth peripherals, including keyboards, mice and control pads. It'll even display a mouse cursor if it detects one. Just find your phone's bluetooth settings and pair it up.

To save you buying a gamepad, there's an app that lets you connect a PS3 pad to an Android device.

If you don't have a spare controller or mouse already lying around, or are looking for something a little more tailored, you can always try dedicated controller solutions like the MOGA Pro.

Again, this might sound crazy since you can do this a lot more easily on a regular computer, but consider this: old PC games weren't designed to run on giant 23" desktop monitors. You either stretch their visuals until they look like garbage, or run them in a window.

Phone screens, though, are at the cutting edge. Relatively tiny yet packing amazing colours and now sometimes even 1080p resolution, they breathe new life into your old games. Trust me, fire up something like Colonization or X-Com on a contemporary phone and it'll look better than ever.

4. Get A Bigger Battery (Or A Battery Pack)

The one major downside to the crop of modern Android smartphones is that, almost to the last, they've got terrible battery life. Most can barely last a single day, even with infrequent use. If you're planning on playing a game at home, that's not a problem, but let's be honest, how often will you be playing a phone game at home?

Running 3D graphics — or even just leaving a big bright screen on for long stretches — will kill your battery. So if you're serious about gaming on your Android phone, you should think about getting a bigger battery (if your phone supports removable batteries) or an external battery case/charging pack (if it doesn't).

That should about cover it! There's enough here to get you started on turning your Android phone into a go-to games platform. If you've got something to add, though, let us know below!


    the downside of android phones is bad batteries? My sgs2 lasts longer than my iphone 3gs ever did.

      And my GS4 is still on between 40-60% when I get home from work, 11 hours after I unplugged it.

        My top hints for any smartphone uses (regardless of brand of phone or 'allegience' as it applies to ALL because these seem to be some of the main battery drainers?

        1. Turn off wifi unless you absolutely need it, this seems to be one of the biggies.
        2. Turn your screen brightness down to 1/3 or 1/2. You really never need it all the way up these days.
        3. When finishing using your phone, close all 'unclosed programs'. These still drain a minute big of energy by being resident in the background, this saves that little bit of energy.

        Anyone else got further ideas that can add to this?

          Use a dark background, apparently bright colours use more power.

            As some one who handles customer complaints about battery power on all platforms I find that the best option of android users is to just install a couple of resource saving apps. My current favorites are Advanced Task Killer and Juice Battery Defender Ultimate (however even the free version will provide you with noticeable improvements).

            The thing to take away from this is that the standard for ANY smart phone is one day, the only phone I can think of the contradicts this is the Motorola HD and that has to do with it being a 2500 mAh battery powering a pretty standard dual core processor. With that in mind my old HD still ran both apps to get the most out of it and I think from memory even while playing the likes of galaxy on fire I could get 3-5 days out of it, it was pretty impressive.

            I'm pretty sure the dark background thing applies only to AMOLED displays (e.g. most Samsung devices) and does not have any benefit on regular screens.

          Turn off your gps when not using it

            Personally I never turn on the gps unless I absolutely have to when I'm using googlemaps as a gps when driving (the latest update made it the dominant gps over my actual in car gps! lol) Bluetooth I think in 18 months has been used twice? Just to mess around with?

              Yeah. I never use it. Once or twice I have used it when on foot in sydney and melbourne. I never use bluetooth either. Have same phone sg2 after upgrading from a 3gs too. Best decision ever!

                Jellybean totally refreshed my phone, made it speedier, everythings so much more responsive and the GPS is insanely good now. I use it when driving but its plugged in to the 12v charger of course and the car speaker (sgs2 speaker sucks donkey balls lol)

            The GPS will only activate when required by apps anyway, so the savings from having it off versus on is extremely negligible.

            Better to leave it on IMO so it is ready to be used when you need it, rather than endure the annoyance of needing to remember to switch it on whenever you are using Maps, weather and other location enabled apps.

            I too used to keep mine off but have been leaving it on constantly for about a year now and have noticed no major difference in battery life.

            Last edited 19/05/13 4:53 pm

              I'll keep it off just in case, I've never ever found myself needing it unless absolutely necessary.

      agreed this is worded poorly and should be a more general "The one major downside to the crop of modern smartphone"

        Indeed. I'm not anti iPhone really, I've owned one, I now own an android phone, both do things the others can't but this whole article is a bit... well...

        Android users have a bad reputation for pirating software, including games, and in many ways that’s a fair assumption. Pirating games for the platform is way too easy.

        Don’t be that guy.

        I mean really? I've never actually heard ANYONE throw that reputation on Android users? ANYONE. I've heard people call them 'nerds' and 'elitests', god knows we've definitely displayed elitest attitudes a lot, but never ever heard what he said...

          If anything I know more people who pirate iOS apps via jailbreak - Cydia/Hackulous than people I know pirating on Android. (Despite that source being taken down, others have sprung up in its place.)

          Once it's in place it's far easier and more enabling than having to hunt down APKs, figure out where the setting is to "install non-Market applications" and then find a file manager to access it on your system. It even notifies for updates, etc.

          Last edited 19/05/13 6:35 pm

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now