Asus ROG Phone 2 review: The power to change your game

The Asus ROG Phone 2 certainly isn't a beauty, but it performs like a beast

Asus ROG Phone 2 review: The power to change your game

“The massively powerful Asus ROG Phone 2 will appeal hardcore gamers, or anyone who wants raw performance.”
  • Beautiful 120Hz AMOLED screen
  • Long-lasting 6,000mAh battery
  • Incredible processor performance
  • Wide range of accessories
  • Brilliant for games
  • Design may not appeal to everyone
  • No water resistance
  • Niche audience appeal

Asus isn’t playing around with the ROG Phone 2. This is a serious gaming phone, heaving with power and performance, with more add-on parts than a new car. For the obsessive, Asus will even sell you a giant ROG-branded (Republic of Gamers) suitcase with the phone and a mountain of accessories.

However, instead of solely targeting gamers, Asus thinks three groups of people are going to lust after the ROG Phone 2. Fans of the ROG brand who play games for at least six hours a week; hardcore gamers playing for 16 hours or more a week; and tech fans who wants a fun, powerful phone and wants to be a part of a growing community. But can Asus achieve the almost impossible and make a specialist phone that appeals to the less-committed tech lover? The answer is yes — if you can get past the design.

Made ya look

Asus has retained the striking, individual look of the original ROG Phone for the sequel, with a few alterations that make it a little more visually appealing. The offset fingerprint sensor has been removed from the back and replaced by an in-display sensor, and the fake vents on the back have also been taken away, making way for a single, smaller, and functional vent. Reflective, angled lines give the back a sci-fi look, and it’s all slashes and cuts instead of curves and minimalism.

asus rog phone 2 review back
Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

The phone is a loud-and-proud Republic of Gamers device, right down to the RGB-lit ROG logo on the back. I love it. It stands out, it doesn’t look like every other phone on sale, and the matte finish is sleek, modern, and surprisingly resistant to fingerprints. The copper accent on the working vent, the multi-color reflective highlights, and the RGB logo give it real character. I understand the ROG Phone 2’s design won’t be for everyone, and some will consider it too “gamer-y,” but get over this and embrace the design, and you’ll own a phone that won’t be mistaken for any other.

It’s really big, and at 240 grams it’s heavy too. The body’s well-balanced, so it’s not awkward to hold, but you definitely know it’s in your bag or pocket. The RGB-lit logo has to be manually activated and I love the breathing effect it makes as it cycles through different colors. Weirdly, it doesn’t switch off when you have Do Not Disturb mode enabled, and that’s annoying as it lights up a dark room. The side buttons are easy to locate and press, although the off-center USB Type-C charging port is difficult to find in the dark, unlike traditional ports that are centrally mounted.

You get a 3.5mm headphone jack, and on the left-hand side of the phone is a second charging port, made for when you hold the phone in landscape orientation so the cable doesn’t interfere with gameplay. It’s covered over with a rubber grommet that is desperate to be lost the second you take it off, as it’s not attached to the phone at all. Also, the instructions tell you to only use one of the dual USB connectors under the grommet, except it’s not clear on the phone itself, and I can never remember which one it is without going back to check.

The copper accent on the working vent, the multi-color reflective highlights, and the RGB logo give it real character.

Bezels at the top and bottom of the phone mean there’s no notch, but instead, provide space for some great-sounding stereo speakers. There are people who dislike the shift to notched and bezel-less designs, and the ROG Phone 2 is the antidote to them.

Smooth screen

The ROG Phone 2 has a really big 6.59-inch, 10-bit HDR AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. Technically, it’s switchable between 60Hz, 90Hz, and 120Hz, but I’ve left it set at 120Hz without noticing excessive battery draw or incompatibility with apps. Why did I leave it set to this? Because 120Hz is a visual joy and a complete revolution in smartphone visuals.

asus rog phone 2 review front
Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

This is an iPhone level of smoothness (yes, I know iPhones have a 60Hz refresh rate). The scrolling is so slick, regardless of which app you’re using or even if it’s simply navigating Android’s menus — it’s wonderful. What does this mean to you? It lessens fatigue, makes the experience more pleasurable, and gives the phone a more polished experience. Smoothness isn’t about processing speed here, it’s about the screen’s refresh rate.

The screen is also calibrated in the factory to show the most accurate colors and uses 10-bit HDR for 1073.74 million colors, instead of an 8-bit SDR with 16.77 million colors. This means you see what the developer or content creator wants you to see, and more details are revealed in the darker, shadowy areas too.

The fingerprint sensor on the screen is fast and capable — more so than the one on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus, in my experience — but the face unlock system is considerably faster, and you rarely get to the fingerprint sensor in time before the phone has unlocked itself. You can set this so you don’t need to swipe up on the screen too.

Gaming and performance

Gaming is why you will want to buy the Asus ROG Phone 2. Everything about it is geared towards it, so what’s gaming like? Bloody brilliant. My game-of-choice is Danmaku Unlimited 2, a wonderful shoot-em-up that relies on being able to avoid multiple streams of bullets. I progressed faster than usual, lost more lives than usual, and enjoyed playing more because of the ROG Phone 2’s super performance.

asus rog phone 2 review kunai controller
Asus ROG Phone 2 and the Kunai controller accessory Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

Danmaku Unlimited plays at 60 frames per second (fps), but you can still see the difference compared to lesser screens because the ROG Phone 2’s screen refreshes at 120Hz. However, good though this and other non-120fps games look, when you play a game with full support, it really is next-level stuff. Bullet Hell Monday supports 120fps and plays so beautifully, you almost can’t believe you’re looking at a phone screen. Asphalt 9: Legends is tuned to play well on the ROG Phone 2, supports its accessories, and is superb.

I used X Mode, the game-tuning mode that ensures all the power from the Snapdragon 855 Plus goes to running the game throughout to ensure the highest performance. What differences did it all make? I could more effectively avoid the bullet onslaught; I could see everything; there were no stutters; and absolutely no slow-down. I also felt the same playing Hitman: Sniper, where precision is also important to success. Turn off X Mode and revert to 60Hz, and there is a noticeable difference in gameplay. Games are less fun to play when the hardwire isn’t working at its optimum level.

Each game you play can be customized too, right down to setting the screen refresh rate individually, the notification alert frequency, CPU power, and even screen reaction time and touch sensitivity. Playing on the ROG Phone 2 and the specialist hardware makes you a better player too, something that Asus’s own research backs up. The screen has a 1ms touch response time and a 49ms touch latency speed, so you fire before other players, for example. We’re talking about milliseconds, but that can make the difference in competitive play.

asus rog phone 2 review twinview dock
Asus ROG Phone 2 and the TwinView Dock 2 accessory Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

The Air Triggers have been greatly improved over the first ROG Phone. Located in the top left and right of the phone’s body in landscape orientation, they can be configured to activate different touchscreen functions. They’re effective hardware-esque buttons, and the haptics have been sped up to activate when you tap them and give an effective “button” feel too.

How about the Snapdragon 855 Plus? Our ROG Phone 2 unit has the 2.96GHz chip along with 12GB of RAM and therefore performed like a rocket. Not just any rocket, but one with special rocket fuel to make it go even faster. Here are some benchmarks:

  • AnTuTu 3D: 396,749
  • Geekbench 5 CPU: 764 single-core; 2,716 multi-core
  • 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 5,395 Vulkan; 6,189 OpenGL

The results are almost identical to the OnePlus 7T, also driven by a Snapdragon 855 Plus processor, which puts it ahead of every other Android phone we’ve tested, and only behind the iPhone 11 series. Power will not be a concern.

I have no doubt someone who loves mobile gaming will get even more from the phone than I will.

I only scratched the surface of what’s possible with the ROG Phone 2 in terms of gaming; it makes me want to play more and I feel like the hardware is making me a better player. I have no doubt someone who loves mobile gaming will get even more from the phone than I will. That’s before trying out the game controller accessories seen here, the Kunai controller and the TwinView Dock 2, for even better gameplay experiences.

Many people have questioned whether there is a need for a gaming phone or why anyone would buy one in the first place. If I lived and breathed Danmaku Unlimited 2, or PUBG, Fortnite, or Asphalt; then the ROG Phone 2 is the best way to enjoy playing them.

The camera

By all rights, the camera on the ROG Phone 2 shouldn’t be good. It’s a gaming phone with an emphasis on high-tech, so surely corners will have been cut somewhere, like our experience with the Razer Phone 2. The camera hasn’t suffered unduly, and although it can’t quite keep up with the new iPhone 11 Pro or the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, it does a solid job in most conditions and will be more than enough for most.

The main lens has 48-megapixels and the ultra-wide lens has 13 megapixels. Exposure and contrast levels are lovely on sunny and overcast days, while Night mode adds a small amount of additional atmosphere and detail, without ruining the shot. It can’t compete with the OnePlus 7T (I used the ROG Phone 2 back-to-back with the 7T and the iPhone 11 Pro during a weekend away), but the results still look good provided it’s not too dark.

The camera app is easy to use, and there’s a slow-motion video mode to try, but it only shoots at 240fps in Full HD, plus a wide-angle mode and a 2x zoom too. The selfie camera has been positioned in such a way that it won’t get covered by your hand when playing in landscape orientation, making live-streaming from your phone possible. The front 24-megapixel camera takes satisfactory selfies and has a software-driven portrait mode that lags behind the competition in edge-detection.

For a phone where the primary reason to buy is not the camera, the ROG Phone 2 does an admirable job, and takes solid photos you’ll be happy to share.

Software and battery

Asus learned a lot with the Zenfone 6, which came with a Pixel-like Android experience free of previous ZenUI bloat and other user interface atrocities. The ROG Phone 2 gives you the choice of the ROG Phone experience — a software theme called Dark Reactor designed like it should be operating a Klingon Bird of Prey’s flight computer, rather than a phone — or the cleaner ZenUI seen on the Zenfone 6. I recommend you choose the latter.

asus rog phone 2 review ports
Andy Boxall/DigitalTrends

There’s a slide-up app tray, a slide-down notification shade, cute little round icons, and it all feels familiar, comfortable, and user-friendly. It’s what I want from software on my phone. Even the slide-in screen from the left of the homepage is well used — it displays Google News stories and the weather. It’s not entirely free of problems though — first off, it’s running Android 9 and not Android 10, but arguably the rest of my gripes comes down to stuff that could use a bit of refinement. A good example is the always-on screen panel. You get to choose the design, and only one has notifications on show, yet the numbers don’t change according to what’s on your phone. Mine has said 10 SMS for several days, with no actual SMS messages to read.

Now we come to the battery. It’s a 6,000mAh cell inside here, and it’s an absolute endurance machine. It’s like having an enormous V8 engine in your car — it lazily delivers great gobs of power all the time. With minimal use towards the end of my review period, the ROG Phone 2 had to sit idle while other devices got some attention. It happily stayed connected to Wi-Fi and 4G in my bag, collecting notifications, and coming out for the odd gameplay session for four solid days. It went from 100% to 30% battery during that time.

Using it daily as my main phone, a day with five-and-a-half hours screen time still saw 40% remaining at 10 p.m., and with moderate use, two days is not a problem. The huge cell perhaps doesn’t live up to our highest expectations, as given the capacity I really wanted two days heavy use as a minimum out of the phone and it hasn’t achieved that.

Price, warranty, and availability

The Asus ROG Phone 2 is available to purchase on Asus’s own website in the U.S. for $900, and it comes with a one-year warranty.

Our Take

The Asus ROG Phone 2 is an incredible spec-powerhouse, and easily one of the most competent high-performance smartphones of the year. However, its design and gaming credentials do mean hardcore mobile gamers will be the only ones who truly exploit and enjoy its talents.

Are there any alternatives?

Gaming phones are no longer the rarity they once were. A massive base of mobile gamers around the world — PUBG Mobile alone has around 50 million daily active users, according to statistics from June this year — ensures there is hardware to attract players. The Razer Phone 2 is out there but is getting old at this point, plus there’s the Blackshark 2 and the Red Magic 3 as well, and all come with features that will appeal to mobile gamers.

That’s great, but it’s not like other flagship phones are incapable of playing games. The Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus is powerful enough to deal with any mobile game, as is the OnePlus 7 Pro, which benefits from a 90Hz screen too. Then there’s Apple Arcade and an iPhone 11 Pro or Pro Max — a formidable combination with the technical ability to attract many.

However, the real threat to the Asus ROG Phone 2 comes from the Nintendo Switch Lite. Buy the $150 Kunai controller for the ROG Phone 2, which adds Switch-like joypads either side of the phone, and suddenly the phone becomes really expensive. The $600 OnePlus 7T has the same amount of power, a 90Hz screen, and a strong camera. Even if you budget $200 for a Switch Lite, the package is cheaper and just as appealing to the casual gamer as the ROG Phone 2.

How long will it last?

The phone has the power and ability to last for at least two years if not more. It does not have water resistance or a particularly tough body, so you’ll have to be a little careful with it during that time. Asus has not stated when Android 10 will arrive on the phone, only that it’s coming, so patience will be needed.

Should you buy one?

Yes, but only if you’re a committed mobile gamer. The Asus ROG Phone 2 is the best gaming smartphone you can buy, but it’s not the best all-round smartphone you can buy. If you’re a casual gamer, the OnePlus 7T costs less and provides the same performance. However, it just can’t compete with the ROG Phone 2’s hyper-focus, and if you’re invested in mobile games — and that means hours each day playing or livestreaming — and are committed to improving your skill — it’ll do everything you want and more.

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