The ROG Phone II, Asus’ latest gaming-centric “Republic of Gamers” smartphone, tries to blur the line between a gaming phone and a mainstream Android flagship. Even though the ROG Phone II is marketed as a dedicated gaming smartphone, after using it for a week, I think it is fair to call this as a mainstream flagship phone built around gaming.
I reviewed the ROG Phone II from a different perspective. Yes, it is a dedicated gaming smartphone, but I wanted to test how the ROG Phone II fits in my universe, where a smartphone is more than a portable gaming machine. Being a demanding consumer, I expect my phone to excel on many fronts, and not just gaming. I want a nice camera, a superior screen, and all-day battery life.
I have been using the Asus ROG Phone II, 8GB RAM/128GB storage variant for a week, and here is my full review.
Asus ROG Phone II specs: 6.6-inch 1080 x 2340 AMOLED display, 120Hz refresh rate|Snapdragon 855+ processor| 8GB RAM/129GB, 12GB RAM/512GB| no MicroSD card slot|Android 9.0 (ROG UI/ZenUI)|6,000mAh battery|48MP f/1.8 sensor with a 13MPl f/2.4 wide-angle sensor, 24MP front camera|3.5mm headphone jack|240 grams
Asus ROG Phone II price in India: Rs 37,999 (8GB RAM/1298GB storage)/Rs 59,999 (12GB RAM/512GB storage)
Asus ROG Phone II review: Design and build
The ROG II has the same futuristic look as the original and I liked the design. The rear panel is made of glass, has a customizable backlit ROG logo and diagonal accent lines across the back. You will also find a red-accented grille on the rear, which helps in keeping the internals cool.
There are a few things that make the ROG Phone II different from the rest of the pack. On the right edge, there are haptic AirTriggers – above and beneath the volume and power button. They do what they are supposed to – the pair of virtual buttons which help you map them to any position on the screen using the settings. I mapped each of the virtual buttons when playing PUBG Mobile.
The build quality is exceptional. However, the phone is on the heavier side and the giant screen makes the ROG Phone II tough to use with one-hand, more so than any other phone. Nevertheless, I wish to see a 5.8-inch version of the ROG Phone II that fits perfectly in the palm of my hand.
While the phone lacks water resistance rating, the ROG Phone II does make up for a 3.5mm headphone jack. The stereo speaker grills at the top and bottom of the phone’s front panel are loud and clear, with thumping bass. I wish every smartphone comes with stereo speakers built-in. The side-mounted USB Type-C port cum accessory port sits on the left and another USB Type-C port along the bottom. Having two USB-C ports is an advantage, because users can charge the phone and play games without worrying about battery life.
One massive improvement in the ROG Phone II over the original is the in-display fingerprint scanner. It does feel fast and works great.
Asus ROG Phone II review: Display
Because of the sheer size, the bezels remain large enough. I am guessing Asus wanted to include front-facing stereo speakers badly. Some people quibble about it, I don’t. Instead, I am interested in the display’s colour management and the screen refresh rate.
What I am getting is a 6.6-inch (1080 x 2340) 19.5:9 AMOLED, HDR10 display with a 120Hz refresh rate with less than 1 millisecond of latency. The result is amazing. This is twice as fast as getting on the iPhone 11 Pro Max or the Galaxy Note 10+. OnePlus 7 Pro’s 90Hz display comes close, though it still can’t match the 120Hz display on the ROG Phone II.
A screen with a higher refresh rate results in fluid scrolling, greater responsiveness, and smoother motion content. It makes scrolling through web pages, Twitter, and playing games is much better. As in the case of the ROG Phone II, Asus is giving users the option to switch between a 60Hz, a 90Hz and a 120Hz depending upon what you are doing. There aren’t many games or apps that take advantage of a 120Hz refresh rate at the moment, but the list is growing.
Asus ROG Phone II review: Performance
Whether you are a mainstream user, gamer or power user, performance is not a concern on the ROG Phone II. The phone comes with a top-tier Snapdragon 855 Plus processor, which is an upgrade over the Snapdragon 855. This new processor is exactly the same as a Snapdragon 855, but its CPU and GPU have been overclocked to deliver performance in the graphics department.
I have tried to push the ROG Phone II to its limit in my week-long testing. The handset is ridiculously fast. In fact, I fired up the Asphalt 9, Real Racing 3 and Mortal Kombat and they run smooth and without a hiccup. Rest assured, the 3D vapour chamber keeps thermals efficient. As I said the phone is zippy and fast, but do note that the model we tested had 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. Asus is selling another variant of the ROG Phone II, the one with 12GB RAM and 512GB storage.
For regular users, the ROG Phone II feels like overkill and I don’t think those users will take full advantage of the phone’s capabilities. That said, I am not going to stop you from buying the ROG Phone II – you are getting a phone with a lot more future-proofing.
Battery life on the ROG Phone II was good, lasting two days with reasonably heavy usage. This is while browsing, playing a lot of graphics-heavy games, taking pictures, streaming music on Spotify and watching Bard of Blood and The President on Netflix. Lighter usage sees battery exceeding two days. The phone does not offer wireless charging, but comes with 30w fast charging support. The charger is included in the box.
The ROG Phone II is powered by Android 9 Pie out of the box and not the latest Android 10. When you set up the device, you can choose between the ROG UI which is the gaming-centric interface and the standard Zen UI that the Asus 6z runs. I chose the former.
The interface is light and is highly customisable. You get a number of game-centric features like Armoury Crate, where you get more advanced gaming and performance settings. For example, you can choose the refresh rate at which a game runs, check fan speed, tweak system lighting and so on. Game Genie is another gaming which allows you to lock the screen, disable notifications while playing games, configure AirTriggers, record your screen or start a live stream via Twitch or YouTube.
Asus ROG Phone II review: Camera
The camera is the least important aspect on a dedicated gaming smartphone, but that is not the case with the ROG Phone II. You will be pleasantly surprised.
Like the Asus 6Z, the ROG Phone II has two cameras: a 48MP main camera, and a 125-degree 13MP camera for wide-angle photos. The phone has the ability to take shots with an excellent amount of details and colour. Yes, at times colours can get a bit oversaturated, but most people don’t mind.
The camera snaps 12MP images by default and a dedicated night mode helps taking pictures in extreme dark. It works, but don’t expect the picture quality that you get with the likes of the Pixel 3 XL and Huawei P30 Pro.
I also really enjoyed using the wide-angle camera on the ROG Phone II. It is useful in certain situations like capturing skyscraper shots which otherwise is difficult to capture using a regular lens.
I recently took the ROG Phone II for a spin on the streets of Seattle. Here are a few samples shots below:
Video recording on the phone has been enhanced at up to 4K at 60fps. The 24MP selfie camera is also fairly decent. What I didn’t like about the ROG Phone II’s camera is that it struggled to autofocus on the subject, resulting in unusable images. This happened not once but multiple times during my testing. I hope this issue can be fixed with a software update.
Asus ROG Phone II review: Conclusion
Asus might not say so, but I do feel that the ROG Phone II is its secret weapon to break into the mainstream smartphone market. The original ROG Phone, launched last year, was a great gaming smartphone, but it never felt like a device that would drive volumes.
But the ROG Phone II is an entirely new phone that changes the narrative around gaming smartphones. The phone starts at Rs 37,999 ($538), a fair price for a device that has a 6.6-inch 120Hz AMOLED display, a Snapdragon 855+ CPU and a 6,000mAh battery.
And don’t forget Asus is also launching a bunch of first-party gaming accessories like a clip-on fan, gamepad controllers and an option to add a second screen. But it probably goes without saying that this is the best gaming smartphone so far, and almost certainly one of the best premium Android smartphones on the market today.