Gaming-centric phones have found little success in the market. Even the heavyweights like Nokia and Sony couldn’t manage to sell phones primarily aimed at gamers. However, Asus’ Republic of Gamers label believes it has finally made a game-centric phone that could potentially change the smartphone mobile landscape.
While one can play mobile games on any smartphone, Asus says its ROG Phone is designed specifically with gaming in the mind. Hence the phone has 90Hz display, an overclocked Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor, a snap-on auxiliary fan and optional accessories designed around the ROG Phone.
So, what are you getting with Asus ROG Phone and what are you giving up? I have spent the last week with the ROG Phone, and here’s what I have found.
Asus ROG Phone specifications: 6-inch AMOLED display, 2,160 x 1,080 (18:9; 90Hz refresh rate with 1ms response time)|Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor|8GB RAM|128GB non-expandable storage|RGB lighting with Aura Sync support|Vapor-chamber cooling system|Fingerprint reader (rear-mounted)|Dual 12MP primary and 8MP secondary cameras with LED flash| 4000mAh battery with fast charging|Android 8.1 Oreo with ROG UI
Asus ROG Phone price in India: Rs 69,999 (Flipkart)
Asus ROG Phone review: Design, build
The ROG Phone is an out-and-out gaming smartphone and it shows in the design language. The phone is heavily inspired by gaming laptops with sharp lines and aggressive stance. It bears your traditional gamer aesthetics, something you cannot ignore. For instance, the back glass panel has the plastic cooling panel with copper-coloured grills, and the light-up ROG logo which can be fully customised using Asus’ own Game Center app. A fingerprint sensor is also there, but it felt slow. The back of the phone also houses dual cameras, a 12MP primary camera, and an 8MP secondary shooter.
The front, on the other hand, is less aggressive. There’s a 6-inch AMOLED display protected by Gorilla Glass 6. While most smartphones have embraced the notch (or simply a cutout to accommodate a selfie camera, sensors and earpiece), Asus stays away from copying the iPhone. I don’t mind seeing the bezels along with the top and bottom of the display. For me, that’s perfectly fine.
You will also notice two stylish copper-coloured grills for the speaker and microphone. A USB Type-C charging port alongside the 3.5mm headphone jack can be found on the bottom. It’s a rarity these days to find a headphone jack on flagship smartphones. Thankfully, Asus realised how critical a headphone jack is to gamers.
The ROG Phone also comes with a side-mounted connector, which can be used to charge your device, or it lets you attach gaming accessories. There are a handful of compatible accessories available in the market such as the AeroActive Cooler, the Gamevice controller pad, which clamps onto the phone to provide more traditional hardware buttons for gaming, the TwinView Dock, and the Mobile Desktop Dock.
The AeroActive Cooler, which is essentially a snap-on auxiliary fan, is included in the retail box. The fan keeps the phone from excessive heating and also provides an additional 3.5mm headphone jack and a secondary USB Type-C port. This way you can plug in your headphones when gaming in landscape mode.
By now it’s well known that the ROG Phone is an unconventional device from the design point of view. It weighs 200 grams, but it’s not uncomfortable to hold. If you ask me I am not going to dismiss the ROG Phone’s design entirely — but it is clear that it will be appreciated only by a very few people who really care about gaming.
Asus ROG Phone review: Display
I am not surprised to see a 6-inch AMOLED display (18:9 aspect ratio, a 1ms response time and supports HDR) with a 90Hz refresh rate on the ROG Phone. Most standard smartphones come at a 60Hz refresh rate. In comparison, the ROG Phone (including the Razer Phone 2 deliver 120Hz refresh rate) can switch between the 90Hz and 60Hz refresh rates. This is a big deal.
The 90Hz refresh rate is higher than on any OLED smartphone we have seen so far. Having a higher refresh rate enables smooth scrolling. For example, scrolling through Gmail or your Twitter feed look more fluid and less jittery.
While most apps do benefit from this higher refresh rate, the same cannot be said about games. Right now, just a handful of mobile games take advantage of the phone’s 90Hz display. Does it really matter? Not right now, but in the future, all smartphones will ship with screens with higher refresh rates.
Otherwise, the AMOLED panel is colourful, bright, and even the viewing angles are great. Sure, the ROG Phone’s screen is seemingly bright, but I still feel the Galaxy Note 9 has the best display on the market.
Asus ROG Phone review: Performance, battery
Like every other flagship smartphone this year, Asus ROG Phone too ships with Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor. But there’s a slight difference between a Snapdragon 845 processor being used inside the OnePlus 6T and the ROG Phone. On the inside, Asus ROG Phone is running an overclocked Snapdragon 845 chipset that can hit 2.96GHz instead of usual 2.8GHz. The phone gets further boost with a healthy 8GB RAM (My review unit had 8GB RAM, 128GB of non-expandable storage).
As you might expect from a flagship smartphone, Asus ROG Phone is fast. I didn’t notice any stutter or lag at any given point. The benchmark also claims that the ROG Phone performs like a champ. On Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance, the ROG Phone scored 8,690. On AnTuTu, the ROG Phone hit 298,264, which is a respectable score.
Under the hood, Asus has used the new GameCool system with a copper heat spreader and 3D vapor chamber that accelerates heat dissipation. This is useful when you play a game on the ROG Phone for longer periods. I played a lot of games on the ROG Phone: PUBG, Asphalt 9, Tekken, to name a few. In my tests, the ROG Phone managed to deliver maximum performance without overheating.
Asus also introduced something called an X Mode, which essentially raises the minimum clock speed of all eight cores in order to get achieve maximum performance. Remember when an X Mode is turned on, the phone could get a little warmer than usual. Which is why Asus includes a snap-on auxiliary fan for the ROG Phone. Honestly, it found it gimmicky, as it did nothing to cool down the device.
The handset also comes with AirTrigger buttons on the ROG Phone’s left edge. They are pressure sensitive (just like Active Edge on the Pixel 3 XL) and act like shoulder buttons seen on actual game consoles. I found them less ideal, as they didn’t provide enough sensitivity.
Even though the ROG Phone uses an overclocked version of the Snapdragon 845 processor, I didn’t notice a significant performance jump compared to the regular Snapdragon 845 chipset, which is used in the OnePlus 6T and other premium phones released in 2018.
The stereo speakers are surprisingly loud and good. The device has very strong signal performance. Call quality was excellent.
Battery life was good, but somewhat disappointing given the large 4,000mAh capacity battery. On an average, I got anywhere between 8 to 9 hours of battery with an X Mode enabled. That was when I used the ROG Phone as my main go-to device with light gaming, listening to 2 hours of music, browsing and using apps and with hundreds of push notifications and emails. I am sure the phone’s battery could last more if one turns off the X Mode. The 4,000mAh battery also supports fast charging.
Asus ROG Phone review: Software
The premium gaming phone runs on ROG UI, based on Android 8.1 Oreo. The phone does not ship with Android 9.0 Pie, but we hope to see the update rolling out in the near future. The ROG UI is heavily skinned with stylised icons. My review unit was pre-loaded with Asphalt 9, Free Fire and a few other apps.
There are a number of special features that will be appreciated by gamers, though. I really liked the Asus Game Center app, which basically acts as a hub for the handset’s gaming options. You can closely keep a tab on temperature, memory statistics, GPU and CPU statistics, and storage capacity. Plus, you can also configure the external fan’s speed, and even customise Aura lighting.
The UI also offers a number of customised options. It’s easy to connect to a YouTube or Twitch account to live stream directly from the phone, one can automatically reject incoming calls when playing a game, and so on.
Asus ROG Phone review: Camera
For starters, the phone has a 12MP primary camera on the back paired with an 8MP 120-degree wide-angle lens. The results are actually not bad, better than expected. The ROG Phone was capable of taking shots with rich details, especially outdoors. There’s plenty of details in light.
Indoors, it does struggle to produce sharp pictures. Though it performed well in low and challenging light conditions, producing good if not quite spectacular images. The bokeh mode works well, but I wasn’t satisfied with the wide-angle camera. The 8MP front-facing camera was reasonably good.
Asus ROG Phone review: Verdict
There’s nothing wrong with the Asus ROG Phone as such. It’s a well-made smartphone that will surely click with a group of hardcore gamers and geeks, though they represent a minority. The handset costs a lot and that’s stopping me from recommending the ROG Phone at the moment. The ROG Phone is priced at Rs 69,999 which is no small amount, although not quite as much as Apple iPhone XS.
In fact, it is priced higher than the Galaxy Note 9, which is one of my favorite flagship smartphones of this year. My biggest gripe with the ROG Phone (it also applies to the Razer Phone 2) is the way they are marketed. No doubt these phones flaunt superior hardware, but they cannot replace a game console yet. If you have a budget of Rs 70,000, get a PS4 Pro and Nintendo Switch together, or buy Nintendo Switch and OnePlus 6T instead. In the end, the choice is yours.