When you think “gaming phone”, you think of devices like the Razer Phone or the Xiaomi Black Shark, both of which have a pretty reasonable “gaming” identity about them. But now, after ASUS’ big ROG launch, there should only be one phone you think of when you think “gaming phone”.
That phone is the ASUS ROG Phone and it is absolutely bonkers.
I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t expecting that much from an ROG Phone, mostly because of what I had already seen. Maybe take a ZenFone 5 and slap an ROG sticker on it, maybe give it a proper stereo speaker setup, a big battery, some fancy screen and you’d be set. Y’know, like the Razer Phone.
But no, the ROG Phone isn’t just some rebadged ZenFone 5, it’s a whole nother monster.
I mean, just look at it. The ROG Phone looks nutty. It’s got an angular design pattern on a back that’s mostly glass except for that huge vent-like design element at the side which turns it into an absolute badass. I will say that although ROG Phone does feel like an expensive smartphone in the hand, it doesn’t really feel exquisite in the way some devices do. But it does feel more sturdy than fragile, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
In addition to the USB-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack (YES) at the bottom of the device, ASUS also built a second set of ports on the side of the phone that also includes USB-C so you can charge your device while gaming without the cables getting in the way of your grip.
My biggest problem, at least right now, with the ROG Phone’s ergonomics is its fingerprint scanner. While it looks the part if you’re going for that gaming aesthetic, its shape makes it a really weird scanner to use. It’s a little too high up and to the right, and its long horizontal orientation makes it feel like it won’t be big enough for my finger.
Beyond that, the phone is comfortable to hold in the hand thanks to the gentle curve on the back. Plus, if you were going to design an all out bonkers gaming phone, then this is what I would imagine one would look like — especially that RGB ROG logo at the back. Damn.
However, the ROG Phone isn’t just about gaming looks, it is also a powerhouse of a phone. Inside, it isn’t just running some regular 2.8GHz Snapdragon 845 processor, it’s running on a speed-binned Snapdragon 845 processor that’s clocked at 2.96GHz. Paired with 8GB of RAM and 128GB or 512GB of UFS 2.1 internal storage and ASUS’ benchmarks indicate that it crushes every other phone out there. It’s mad power and for gaming I can’t think of a more appropriate power level.
ASUS isn’t pulling punches when it comes to the ROG Phone’s display either. This smartphone features a 6″ Full HD+ AMOLED display up front with a discrete image processing chip to support HDR. But since we’re talking about a gaming phone, the ROG Phone’s screen also features a 90Hz refresh rate with a response time of just 1ms.
Yes, it’s not quite 120Hz like the Razer Phone, but ASUS tells us that their goal was also to reduce response time and that this lower refresh rate was a compromise to keep to what they considered was the better experience.
I mean, the screen looks gorgeous (sharp, vibrant, good viewing angles) and swiping around it also looked unreasonably smooth thanks to that high refresh rate. It’s a fantastic screen and I don’t think anyone would be disappointed with it.
You also won’t be disappointed by the speakers because the ROG Phone has a pair of solid stereo speakers flanking the screen. They’re really loud so you can enjoy some decent gaming without headphones, which is always good news. Just don’t be one of those people who play games on their phones at max volume in the train because at max volume, everyone will be able to hear you with this phone.
Worried about battery life? Well, ASUS slapped a 4,000 mAh cell into the ROG Phone that also supports Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 3.0, Quick Charge 4.0 and USB-C PD fast-charging standards. That should translate to a pretty long-lasting phone, but only a full review will really be able to tell. Of course, ASUS recommends that you use HyperCharge — ASUS’ own quick-charging solution for the ROG Phone — because will apparently keep the phone cool while also reducing any negative impact to performance when you play and charge.
For photography, this phone does have a set of cameras. It’s got the ZenFone 5’s 12MP + 8MP normal plus wide angle setup so it performs about the same as far as I can tell, and it’s got an 8MP selfie shooter. I didn’t really give this phone’s camera a thorough test this round because, let’s be real here, you won’t be buying this device for its camera prowess.
You’ll be buying this phone for gaming and if you thought I was done talking about that, you’re wrong, because the ROG Phone still has a bunch of gaming-centric tricks up its sleeve. Well, on it’s body, to be precise, but I was being metaphorical there.
Let’s continue with controls. Playing games on a smartphone can be a pain because everything has to be controlled with the touchscreen. Not on the ROG Phone. This particular device from the Republic of Gamers features something called AirTriggers. Y’know the physical trigger/shoulder buttons on a console’s controller? Yeah, it’s that, but on a phone. And ultrasonic, so you just need to touch the marked areas.
Situated on the right of the phone at the top and bottom (designed to be held in landscape), they feel pretty good. Response is nice and although my engineering sample didn’t have it, ASUS says that they will add proper vibration feedback so you know when it registers your touch. These triggers also enable you to squeeze the phone (ala HTC U11) to enable X-Mode aka Gaming Mode where everything turns red (obviously).
If I had to nitpick, it would be that the AirTrigger on the right (when you’re holding the phone in landscape) is a little too far for my index finger to reach comfortably. But, ASUS has informed me that they’re working on adding sensitivity adjustments into the software so I’ll save my final judgement for when I get my hands on a retail unit.
But that’s not all. ASUS has also launched a bunch of accessories that you can use with the ROG Phone. One of it is a clamshell device called the TwinView Dock which basically turns your phone into a Nintendo DS. The idea is, you slot your phone into the top and play your games on both screens.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that it’s still new and support for dual-screen gameplay hasn’t launched (it will start with Asphalt 9 and Free Fire) I couldn’t really try it out. The controller itself feels pretty ergonomic (albeit, a little top heavy) and will have a 6,000 mAh battery inside to power itself and an SD card slot for SD cards.
You can also play 2 games on it simultaneously, though I don’t see this being a 2-player on one device kind of situation. ASUS informs me that the screen will be the same kind of panel as the one on the ROG Phone so that’s good news.
Besides the TwinView dock, there’s also a Mobile Desktop Dock that works kind of like Samsung’s DeX Station, but with a whole bunch more ports and more gaming flair.
When you hook up a keyboard and mouse to this dock to play your mobile games, you can actually remap the keys to touch specific spots on the phone’s screen when you hit a key.
This translates to practically an infinite number of customised layouts. It also means it will work with pretty much any mobile game, which makes it almost unfair.
Finally, there’s the Gamevice controller and WiGig Dock which work together to give you a console gaming experience on pretty much any display you like. The controller straps to the sides of your phone and your phone then transmits a display signal wirelessly to the Dock that will output that signal to a screen via HDMI. Usually, configurations like these have a lot of latency, but ASUS has managed to keep it at about 20ms thanks to the 60GHz 802.11ad WiFi signal. In my experience, there is a little bit of a delay but that could be because the unit I played with was an “engineering sample”.
That said, all of these gaming performance would mean nothing if the phone was prone to overheating. After all, smartphones are tiny, compact devices that are really hard to cool. To work their way around this issue, ASUS has employed 3D vapour-chamber cooling solution alongside carbon cooling pads and a copper heat spreader.
If that isn’t enough, ASUS also bundles each ROG Phone with an Aeroactive Cooler. In essence, the Aeroactive Cooler is a fan that you can stick into the side port and clip onto your phone. Once you do that, the phone immediately switches to landscape mode and the fans whir on. It sucks air towards the phone and vents it out the side so not only will it cool the device, it will also cool your fingers!
You can control fan speed in the ROG software in the phone and there’s also an RGB light on the cooler because gaming, duh. Build quality leaves a little to be desired, but the whole plug-and-play nature of it is great. Plus, it will also give you USB-C pass through and a 3.5mm headphone jack too, so you don’t have to use the ports at the bottom of the phone with this plugged in.
In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I like this phone quite a bit. Even though I’m usually not totally into that gamer-y aesthetic, I think the ROG Phone is going in the right direction. You look at it and it looks insane. It looks badass. It looks like a handset that didn’t conform to the mould and you know I love it when devices push boundaries.
Despite this gamer-y look, the ROG Phone also isn’t too out there that you wouldn’t be able to use it as a normal phone — that a regular Joe couldn’t use it as a normal phone. It’s certainly not as crazy as something like the Nokia N-Gage was when that phone came out back in the day, but it’s also not a tame phone-with-gaming-sticker-on. ROG Phone walks that line about as gracefully as I’ve seen yet.
But, to call it a successful phone, you need to convince people to buy it and the economics of that tend to be a little more complex than just making an insane new phone. There are a whole bunch of other things you need to factor in, especially the device’s price. I think ASUS has had a bit of a hard time convincing people to pay top dollar for one of their smartphones so the ROG Phone — even with all its excellent specs — could run into similar issues.
Then again, this is the Republic of Gamers we’re talking about. It’s about as prestigious as a gaming brand gets. Add that to the fact that there really isn’t a phone like the ROG Phone in the market right now and you’ve got a device that looks poised to take over an entire segment. At least, until the next big thing comes along.
What do you guys think of the ROG Phone? Would you buy it if it came to Malaysia? Let me know in the comments below.
For more details on the ROG Phone, check out our announcement post.