When a game transcends its platform to become a cultural phenomenon, one of two things usually happen: It gets turned into a terrible movie, or it expands to another platform in a quest to continue the momentum. While we're still not ruling out Fortnite: The Motion Picture, the game has definitely come to iOS and Android, arriving on the latter just this week, and we're ready to issue our verdict.
In a nutshell: I wouldn't expect Fortnite on Android to get your engine running -- but at worst, it's still a great calling card for the genuinely entertaining version that exists on PCs and consoles. Steve Jobs once apocryphally said that the iPod Touch was "training wheels" for the iPhone, and perhaps the same holds true for Fortnite on Android. And to even get playing, you need to overcome the hurdle of installing and updating.
Like a movie or a port, the transition to another medium or platform is not without its obstacles. While a lot of hard work has doubtlessly gone into putting Fortnite in the mobile space, using a touch screen to control a character in a 3D multiplayer shooter is a challenge even with Epic Games writing the programming code.
Note that the Android version is still technically in beta, and you must have a specific phone to ensure compatibility. And unless you have a qualifying Samsung phone (listed in the linked article), you also need a beta code.
How does Fortnite feel on a phone?
From a technical perspective, the mobile version is still an impressive achievement. Despite the enormity of the island on which you'll be fighting up to 99 other players, view distances don't feel restricted. That's usually one of the first things to go when you need to wedge a console or PC game onto a phone. Character models and objects don't look overly simplified, either.
Overall, Fortnite on Android is easily recognizable as the juggernaut battle royale game that everyone seems to be playing these days. The lighting isn't as fancy, and the visuals aren't quite as detailed, but it's there in most of its glory. You're unlikely to come away feeling like you're dealing with a cut-down version of the game.
You can certainly access all of the content of the regular version -- with all the game modes, challenges, and unlockable items -- just like you can with an iPhone or iPad. Whatever progress you make with your experience points, stars, and V-Buck accumulation is mirrored over to the PC, console, and iOS version.
So in terms of content progression, you can play on your phone, exit the game, walk over to your couch, launch the Xbox or iPad version, and continue your progress right where you left off. The touchscreen control scheme is mainly where the mobile version diverges from consoles and PCs.
(Though we should note that the PlayStation 4 version of Fortnite does not permit cross-play with people playing the Xbox and Nintendo Switch versions, due to restrictions implemented by Sony. So if you want to play with your console friends, either you all need to be on PS4, or none of you.)
How well does Fortnite perform on an Android phone?
That said, you do need a higher-end phone to ensure that Fortnite runs smoothly and looks decent. When we compared the version on our "OG" Google Pixel to the one running on an iPhone 8 Plus, the latter definitely looked sharper and higher res, more so than would be explained by the difference in screen resolution.
The 8 Plus uses the same Apple A11 Bionic chip that's in the iPhone X, so it has one of the beefiest processors currently available. Our Pixel also got noticeably hot during gameplay, while the 8 Plus remained only moderately warm.
We should also note that even the version on the 8 Plus is limited to 30 frames per second, despite the A11's premium potency. If you want a higher framerate, you'll need to play the Xbox, PS4, or PC version (the Switch is also capped at 30 fps, even when docked).
When getting into a match at the office or on the bus, wait times for the Android version were also not noticeably longer than they are on PCs or consoles; the matchmaking process took 30 seconds at most, and usually closer to 10 seconds.
Once that's complete, you get dropped into a temporary waiting area for another 10 to 20 seconds like usual, and then the match begins with you on the "battle bus," ready to parachute down to the island. Poor matchmaking systems can kill a multiplayer game before it even gets off the ground, but Epic's deep experience shows here.
Lastly, Fortnite will drain your phone's battery pretty quickly, but this problem is common to pretty much any game that has to render a lot of 3D objects.
About Fortnite's control scheme on Android
When you drop in, you have no fewer than three different methods to aim and shoot. You can automatically start firing your weapon when your crosshairs are over someone, or tap anywhere on the screen to fire manually, or tap the dedicated on-screen button.
The Switch version has a fourth method that lets you aim using the device's gyroscope -- basically, you can move your phone around to aim, instead of moving your aim by sliding a finger around the screen. Most phones are technically capable of using their gyroscopes for input methods like this, but we haven't seen it in the iOS or Android versions of Fortnite yet.
The aiming methods for the Android/iOS version would probably be all right in a cooperative game, or one where you could pause the action to consider your next move. But in a twitchy shooter where your character gets no respawns and must sometimes frantically build protective structures to deflect incoming gunfire, it's not satisfying, even when you know that everyone else is dealing with the same limitations (mobile users aren't put in the same matches as the PC or console players).
To enforce those limitations, Fortnite also doesn't recognize Bluetooth gamepads, and doesn't let you use a mouse and keyboard.
Installing and updating Fortnite on an Android device
As we mentioned earlier, installing and updating the Android version of Fortnite can be an obstacle. That's because it's not on the Google Play Store. Instead, you need to sideload it. The process is not particularly difficult, but it requires tapping through a lot of confirmation screens, and a moderate amount of waiting while different components are downloaded at different stages.
On one occasion during our testing, the game informed us that it needed to be updated, and tapping to confirm exited the game and put us back on our Pixel's home screen. This persisted until we went to the Fortnite Installer app to get the actual update.
The installer app itself also needed an update. It's more or less a matter of just tapping through a series of confirmations, but it feels awkward to have to do so for the update to the installer, then for the acquisition of some files within the installer app to update the actual game. Then you wait for the game itself to download additional files, then for the game to go through another optimization check, then you can get back to playing.
On iOS, almost all of this updating can happen in the background, while you're not even using your phone, because the game comes from the App Store. But both Apple and Google take a 30 percent cut of revenue for all apps that they host on their app stores.
Since Fortnite is making literally hundreds of millions of dollars every month, that's a boatload of cash to give someone just for hosting your app, so Epic is taking advantage of Android's sideloading feature and hosting the game directly instead.
But this decision creates a few hurdles for users that will persist for as long as you keep playing the Android version. (There's no known method to manually install the iOS version outside of Apple's App Store.)
- If you have a compatible phone and a decent Internet connection, you can now play Fortnite when you're away from a console or gaming PC.
- Other than the control scheme and some reduced visual detail, this is the complete version of the game. Whatever progress you make here is carried over to wherever else you play the game.
- While Epic has made an extensive good faith effort to provide multiple methods to aim and shoot your weapon, it still pales in comparison to what you can do with a gamepad or a mouse and keyboard, which can lead to a lot of frustrating and clumsy gunfights.
- Manually installing and updating Fortnite on an Android device involves considerably more steps than on the other platforms, although the steps aren't particularly complicated.
- The list of compatible phones is currently short, and you need to spend hundreds of dollars if you want one where Fortnite will look reasonably good and run reasonably smoothly, despite all of the optimizations that Epic Games has made.
The battle royale mode (Fortnite's calling card) remains free to play on all platforms, so there are minimal risks to at least trying it out on Android and iOS. But ultimately, we felt more motivated to continue our journey on a console or PC, than to keep playing on a phone or tablet, due to the inherent limitations of precision aiming with a touchscreen.
- PUBG Mobile (Android, iOS): The most obvious alternative, because it also sports a battle royale mode. There's no component where you build structures, but it has plenty of drivable vehicles, whereas Fortnite has only the occasional golf cart.
- Shadowgun Legends (Android, iOS): It's one of the most popular free-to-play shooters on both iOS and Android, and it's set in a persistent world with a hub. You could think of it as mobile version of Destiny.
- Modern Combat 5 (Android, iOS): The Modern Combat series evokes Call of Duty, but in a mobile context. While it doesn't have a battle royale mode, you can select different character classes to suit your play style -- sniper, support, heavy weapons, assault, and others. It also has a sizeable single player mode.
- How to play Fortnite Mobile and win: A Battle Royale guide for beginners
- Fortnite Season 5 brings golf carts, wormholes, basketball, and flintlock pistols
- Fortnite malware aimed at cheaters infects tens of thousands of devices
- How to screen-record Fortnite and other games on Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (CNET)
- These are the best Samsung Note 9 preorder deals (ZDNet)
- Five skills you need when applying and interviewing for a video game tester job (TechRepublic)