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Asus ROG Phone review

It's so fast it has a clip-on fan. But the Asus ROG phone isn't just for gamers

Asus ROG Phone
“You don’t need to be a hardcore gamer to love the super powerful Asus ROG Phone.”
Pros
  • Modern, eye-catching design and light-up logo
  • Super-fast performance
  • Features galore for mobile gamers
  • Big battery
  • Attractive screen
Cons
  • No wireless charging
  • Fingerprint sensor is poor
  • AirTriggers are an awkward gimmick

Gaming smartphones have become a trend over the past year or so, with Razer, Honor, Xiaomi, and now Asus, all launching devices specifically aimed at mobile gamers. It’s tempting to think of mini game consoles, but they’re actually more like gaming PCs, which will be called upon to do plenty more than simply play games.

It’s a tough line to walk. Too much emphasis on gaming, and you get an annoyingly niche product nobody wants. Too little emphasis on gaming, and you don’t stand out from the pack. How about the Asus ROG Phone? Asus makes smartphones, computers, and gaming equipment, so it should be better prepared than any of the competition. Is the ROG Phone the ultimate mobile gaming machine, that also works well as an everyday phone?

Design

Before we get into the style, let’s talk about the name. It’s the R, O, G, Phone, which is an acronym for Republic of Gamers, Asus’s dedicated gaming brand. It’s not the Rog Phone, with Rog being short for Roger, which is probably for the best.

Now that’s all cleared up, just look at it. The ROG Phone’s design screams “gaming phone,” with its slash cuts, sharp lines, and general disregard for what would be considered modern smartphone design tropes. There’s absolutely no symmetry on the back (Porsche Design must be horrified), the fingerprint sensor’s placement doesn’t make sense, the USB Type-C charging port is offset, and the massive Republic of Gamers logo actually lights up.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Subtle it’s not, but it is awesome. The mirror black finish on the Gorilla Glass rear panel looks stunning even covered in fingerprints, the plastic cooling panel has copper-colored grills, and the light-up ROG logo is so cool, we want one on every phone. Around the front there are two speakers bookending the 6-inch AMOLED screen — covered in Gorilla Glass 6 no less — which doesn’t have a notch. This phone attracts admiring glances, looks like no other, and is one you’ll be proud to flash around.

Subtle it’s not, but it is awesome.

It’s not all positive. It weighs 200 grams, so you really know it’s in your pocket, it slips around even on flat surfaces like it has a mind of its own, and we dislike the rubber cover on the side-mounted USB Type-C and accessory connector. Not only is it easily lost, but it protrudes from the chassis and looks ugly. The lack of distinguishing marks on the front of the phone means you never know if it’s the right way around in your hand until you feel for the fingerprint sensor or activate the display. But it’s comfortable in the hand, feels pleasing from all that weight, and the 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom is a rarity these days.

The ROG Phone is unashamedly a Republic of Gamers device. Everything fans of the gaming brand love about other ROG products is reflected in the phone. Luckily, although it’s loud and brash, even those who don’t have an affinity for Asus’ gaming arm will like its modern, over-the-top looks.

Gaming

Mobile games are the reason Asus expects you to buy the phone, so what makes it different to any other flagship phone? Reason number one is the “binned” Snapdragon 845 processor. A binned processor will be a familiar phrase to those who have built hardcore gaming PCs, but it’s unique in the smartphone world. It refers to the phone using a more powerful version of the 845, in this case running at 2.96GHz, rather than a piffling 2.8GHz in most other phones. It’s supported by 8GB of RAM.

We’ve played a variety of games on the ROG Phone, from Fortnite to Hitman Sniper, and Reckless Racing 3 to Danmaku Unlimited. While the games don’t instantly appear faster or smoother, the phone didn’t get warm to the touch, and even cranking the graphics right up didn’t see the phone suffer. Everything just seemed effortless, like it could do this all day long, and we think it could.

asus rog phone fortnite
Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

What amazes is the overall slickness. There’s no stutter, no annoying pauses, even mid-game downloads happen swiftly on slightly poor signals. Playing Hitman Sniper to test it all out, resulted in an hour spent on the game, proving it encourages you to play. If anything, the performance improvements were more noticeable elsewhere.

Twitter seemed smoother and more responsive, opening apps — when compared alongside other Snapdragon 845 phones — happened fractions faster too. Taken as a whole, this smoothness, responsiveness, and blazing speed makes the ROG Phone a pleasure to use. It’s why the Apple iPhone is so successful, and the Asus ROG Phone comes closer to that experience than any other Android phone (outside of the Pixel 3) we’ve used recently.

Smoothness, responsiveness, and blazing speed makes the ROG Phone a pleasure to use.

Then there is the wealth of options, features, and settings for gamers. The most notable are AirTriggers, which make use of the phone’s squeezable body, just like the Google Pixel. They can activate certain features, like switching on the phone’s X Mode, or as virtual shoulder buttons for games. It’s confusing to set up though, and requires stopping mid-game, activating AirTriggers, then placing floating buttons over the on-screen controls. They do work; but the phone’s large size makes it awkward to hold when using the shoulder buttons.

The aforementioned X Mode closes open apps, frees up memory, and gives the processor a boost. You use it when playing games, for maximum efficiency and performance, at the expense of battery life. With X Mode active, the phone could get a little warmer than usual, so Asus includes a clip-on fan for the ROG Phone. Yes, really. It’s called the AeroActive Cooler, and it’s very silly indeed. Yes, cooler running devices are more efficient and should perform better, but we noticed no difference with it on or off.

The list goes on. You can connect to a YouTube or Twitch account to live stream directly from the phone, automatically reject incoming calls when playing, and even set individual profiles for each game. The breadth of customization is impressive, and shows Asus’s understanding of this demanding market. It’s hard to imagine what’s missing for the mobile gamer here; but you’ll have to be a dedicated player to make use of all the features. Casual players will find it overkill; but will still appreciate the obvious performance advantages.

Camera

The Asus ROG Phone is obviously a gamer’s dream phone. However, it’s not a console, and needs to meet all our smartphone demands that don’t center around gaming. The camera is arguably the most important non-game aspect, and something that the ROG Phone’s main competitor, the Razer Phone, neglected for the original and the sequel. Can the ROG Phone beat it? Yes.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

It has a pair of lenses on the back, a single Sony 12-megapixel lens with an f/1.8 aperture, 4-axis optical image stabilization, 1.4-micron pixel size, and phase-detection autofocus. It’s joined by a second 120-degree wide-angle lens, for a setup that’s similar to the LG G7. It also has a 48-megapixel Super Resolution mode. We’ve been very happy with the photos it has taken, and enjoyed the creative opportunities presented by the wide-angle camera, which is surprisingly happy in low lowlight too.

Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Sunny day shots have a social media-friendly amount of saturation, but not so they’re unpleasant. Blue skies pop, shadows are minimized with HDR, and there’s plenty of detail. Indoors, the camera does struggle a little with poor lighting, revealing less detail than we’d like when shooting food photos. The wide-angle camera is great, and even if poor lighting can produce great images. The bokeh mode works very well, and there are various modes to play with, including a selfie panorama on the front camera.

There’s no special mode to cope with these low-light issues, so it can’t beat phones like the OnePlus 6T, the Pixel 3 XL, and the Huawei Mate 20. However, for a phone where the camera is not the main focus of its ability, the ROG Phone still impresses, and will satisfy most people considering this phone.

Performance and software

We’ve already mentioned the sheer amount of power that comes from the speed-binned Snapdragon 845 processor, and how it enhances all aspects of the device; but what about some benchmarks? It’s worth noting that before using these apps, the ROG Phone prompted us to use X Mode, which boosts the device’s performance.

AnTuTu 3D: 299452 (with X Mode active)

Geekbench 4: 2387 Single Core/8400 Multi Core (with X Mode active)

3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 3436 (Vulkan, with X Mode active)

This is the highest AnTuTu score we’ve seen, beating the OnePlus 6T, but the Geekbench 4 mark is lower than the Razer Phone 2. It beats the Honor Play in all categories; but not as much as you’d expect in the crucial 3DMark gaming test.

The Asus ROG Phone has Android 8.1 with ZenUI over the top, resulting in a highly customized version of Android. It’s drastically different, visually, from Android on the Pixel 3 XL or OnePlus 6T for example, with stylized icons, flashy animations, special modes and menus, and other unique designs. It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, and like the overall look of the phone itself, it screams “gaming phone.”

However, it operates perfectly well. The issues we had with the Zenfone 5Z weren’t prominent here, perhaps due to the phone not having a notch, and the massive amount of power avoided any slowdown or annoyances from the user interface. Notifications showed on the lock screen but cannot be interacted with, and there are no markers on icons. Hardcore gamers used to tinkering with PC settings may love all the tweaks Asus offers, but everyone else will quickly forget them. Android 8.1 is also out of date now, and the phone had Google’s August 2018 security patch installed, and we are concerned software updates may not arrive on a timely basis.

Battery, screen, and security

A lovely 4,000mAh battery keeps the ROG Phone going, and depending on your use, will do so for a couple of days. If you’re gaming hard, then you won’t get anywhere near that; but the clever side placement of the accessory port means the phone can remain plugged in while you play, without the cable getting in the way. This is the only situation where the AeroActive Cooler comes in handy, as charging makes the phone hotter, and the fan keeps temperatures under control and performance at its best.

Playing for several hours across a variety of games saw the battery take a serious hit. With X Mode on, the logo pulsating on the back of the body, and the brightness at maximum, you can say goodbye to at least 50-percent battery after approximately two hours total of gaming. Do this, and the battery will last a day. Still not bad. Sadly, the phone does not have wireless charging.

It’s exactly what you want from a gaming phone.

The screen can’t match the Razer Phone 2’s 120Hz refresh rate; but it still has 90Hz, and we didn’t notice a lack of smoothness when playing games. Quite the opposite. It’s an OLED panel, has a low 1ms response rate, and handles HDR content as well. It’s exactly what you want from a gaming phone, with beautiful contrast, inky blacks, high resolution, and stunning colors. It’s as good as any to its competitors.

We dislike the fingerprint sensor. Not only did it refuse to recognize our fingerprint consistently and on the first try, but its positioning is awkward. Thankfully, the phone’s face unlock feature is fast and reliable.

Price, availability, and warranty

There are two versions of the ROG Phone available. A $900 model with 128GB of internal storage, or a 512GB version for $1,100. It comes with the AeroActive Cooler in the box, and other accessories — such as a controller and a dock — will be available before the end of the year. There’s a $230 Mobile Desktop Dock, a $400 TwinView Dock with a second screen and physical controls, and a special controller add-on for $90. Asus also makes its own $60 case for the phone.

Asus sells the phone, which is suitable for GSM networks, through its own online store, Amazon, and in Microsoft retail stores. The phone’s warranty lasts 12 months, and covers faults, and defects caused by manufacturing. The Asus ROG Phone will also launch in the U.K. soon, with prices to be announced.

Our Take

The Asus ROG Phone is a supremely capable gaming smartphone, that due to an impressive all-round ability and masses of power, is suitable for everyone and not just gamers. We prefer the style to the Razer Phone 2, praise the presence of an OLED screen and a headphone jack, and consider the speed-binned Snapdragon 845 a genuine reason to buy the phone.

Is there a better alternative?

If you want a gaming phone, the Razer Phone 2 is the most obvious direct competitor; but it’s not quite the all-rounder the ROG Phone is. If you want a gaming phone without the massive price, the Honor Play is also a great purchase. The iPhone XS and XS Max are also excellent gaming smartphones, due to the A12 Bionic processor and considerable developer support.

No other phone comes with a speed-binned Snapdragon 845 processor, but the standard chip is in plenty of other Android phones, including the Pixel 3 XL, the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, the OnePlus 6T, and the LG G7. All are excellent phones, and will play games with similar aplomb; just without all the extra gaming features. Casual gamers would be wise to consider them instead.

How long will it last?

You’re not going to worry about speed for a while, or storage space if you go for the 512GB model. There’s water resistance, but not enough to provide an IP68 rating, and the body is made from glass, so it’ll break if you drop it on something solid. This aside, expect it to last easily two years. However, as with all gaming machines, software takes advantage of new hardware developments that come along, which may leave the ROG Phone behind after that time.

Should you buy it?

Yes, it’s excellent. And for once, it’s not just gamers that should consider buying a gaming phone. If you love the styling, like playing games casually, and want masses of power, it’s still a great buy. For mobile gamers though, it should be at the top of your wish list.

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