Home Tech Google’s Play Pass is the ticket for gaming on Android

Google’s Play Pass is the ticket for gaming on Android
Google’s Play Pass is the ticket for gaming on Android avatar

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When most people think of gaming on the go in 2020, the Nintendo Switch or iPhone apps might be the first thing to come to mind. But while gaming on Android phones used to be a thing for enthusiasts and tinkerers only, recent changes to Google's play store in combination with a greater choice of hardware and accessories has made Android a slick casual gaming platform that can hold its own against iOS.

Apple made its play for the traditional gaming market (as distinct from the gambling and psychological manipulation of the mobile gaming market) last year with Apple Arcade, and Google has returned fire this year with the Australian availability of Play Pass.

Play Pass offers hundreds of games with no ads or microtransactions.

For either $8 per month or $50 per year, Play Pass gets you and up to five family members access to a library of hundreds of ad-free, transaction-free games covering everything from indie hits like Limbo, Stardew Valley and Terraria to classics like Sonic the Hedgehog and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, as well as contemporary mobile titles like The Gardens Between, FRAMED, Monument Valley 2 and the Reigns series. Ordinarily these games would cost between $8 and $15 each.

Where an included game is usually free, as with Sonic, Game Pass entitles you to a premium version with no ads or additional purchases. Unlike Apple Arcade there are no exclusive games here, but as an added bonus Play Pass also includes non-game apps, so if you're after an ad-free photo editor or sound recorder you can usually find one here.

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For grazers like me who like to play a bunch of different games, regular app stores are hostile places full of free apps that want to ensnare your attention as much as possible or push you into paying to make the game more enjoyable. But Play Pass, like Apple Arcade, is a far preferable business model where you pay up front and can then play anything that looks interesting knowing it isn't a trap.

When it comes to hardware to play Android games, you have a much broader selection than with Apple devices. Most games in Play Pass will work on just about anything, even older or budget-level phones. But if you want them to run their best, or if you're more into hardcore mobile obsessions you won't find in Play Pass like Fortnite, PUBG, Vainglory or Arena of Valor, Android devices also include the most highly-tuned mobile gaming platforms out there.

The ROG Phone 3 is built for the ultimate gaming performance at any cost.

The ROG Phone 3 is built for the ultimate gaming performance at any cost.

The new ASUS ROG Phone 3 is completely unsubtle in this regard, with its chunky grey-and-holographic finish, pulsing RGB lights and angular vents. It even comes with touch-sensitive zones on the frame that can be used as buttons, and a detachable fan that keeps the body cool and makes the handset look like and sound like a miniature portable air conditioner.

It's an unapologetically gamer-forward device all the way down, even going as far as to add a USB-C port and 3.5mm jack on the fan module so charging and using headphones doesn't get in the way of your hands. It uses the beefiest smartphone processor available, an enormous battery, fastest display, heaps of performance-tweaking options and a bunch of microphone and speaker tech not usually found on smartphones, and in Australia it goes for $1700.

But applying a gaming PC mindset to a smartphone does have some drawbacks, and when you're not gaming on the ROG 3 it's a noticeably inferior general smartphone experience compared to similarly priced devices. The cameras are lacking, the screen is flanked by big bezels (presumably so you have some non-display space to rest your thumbs), it's thick and heavy, there's no water resistance.

This phone built for gaming is kind of like a car built for racing; it does one thing extraordinarily well, but you can't expect it to be comfortable, economical or convenient too.

If you want the power but aren't too keen on a phone that unequivocably shouts "gamer" to everyone around you, my suggestion is the OPPO Find X2 Pro.

This phone is smaller, thinner and lighter than the ROG, but packs a bigger and higher resolution screen. It has a similar processor and same amount of RAM, equally comparable but less customisable game performance.

The Oppo Find X2 Pro is one of the most capable gaming phones available, and also makes an excellent general use phone.

The Oppo Find X2 Pro is one of the most capable gaming phones available, and also makes an excellent general use phone.Credit:Tim Biggs

Of course performance can only be maximised as long as heat is managed, and the ROG would seem to have the advantage here with its included fan, but I'm yet to feel the OPPO get warm at all despite playing for more than an hour at a time. Similarly the OPPO's 120Hz screen would seem like a downgrade over the ROG's 144Hz, but if anything I favour the former, since it's running in QHD resolution as opposed to HD and very few games support 144Hz.

The X2 Pro also misses out on gamer-forward features like the touch-sensitive triggers, but in return it's a device that looks and feels a lot more like a general purpose flagship phone until you need it to bring its power to bear. The display and camera array are pretty close to industry-leading, and since it comes in at $1600 — $100 less than the ROG — it's an extremely solid choice if you're after a game-capable Android.

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Tim is the editor of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald technology sections.

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