ASUS ROG Phone Review: a pure Android gaming console

Rating: 7.5/10

Yay:

  • Excellent gaming performance
  • AirTriggers are absolutely amazing
  • Bundled AeroCooler keeps the temperature in check
  • The 90Hz display brings an entirely new experience

 Nay

  • Battery life is low
  • Bad RAM management
  • Cameras are not that great
  • Targeted for a very niche audience

Introduction

Before we even get started with the actual review, I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions on your mind. This guy, this new guy at Mr. Phone, is calling the ASUS ROG Phone a mobile gaming console. And yet, he gives it an overall rating of just 7.5/10? Is he crazy or what? Well, I won’t blame you for thinking that. But then again, that’s the whole point of this review. To explain why exactly despite its greatness, the ASUS ROG Phone isn’t the best phone out there in the market. But before we do that, I wanted to discuss a bit about gaming phones in general.

What sets a gaming phone apart?

Before I even start with this review, I would like to clear something. A lot of users wonder why they need to spend extra on a smartphone when you can get nearly the same hardware at a much lesser price. Well, the point of a gaming phone is slightly different. It does perform the functions of a smartphone, but that’s not its sole objective. The main motive of a gaming phone is to, well, give the best gaming experience. What sets it apart from the normal herd of flagship smartphones is the inclusion of features that are oriented towards a group of gamers. And it’s a theme that is followed throughout. The design, the aesthetics, the overall experience is tuned to better facilitate gamers. 

My point being, while reviewing this device, I looked at it purely from the point of a gamer. If you’re someone who’s in the market looking for a flagship device, I’ll give you the TLDR version of it – the ASUS ROG Phone is not for you. However, if you’re into mobile gaming, the ROG Phone might just be your best pick. Now that I’ve cleared that out, let’s dig into the actual review of the ASUS ROG Phone.

Design and Build Quality

Starting off with the design, the ASUS ROG Phone is definitely one of the most unique looking smartphones out there. It does not have a notch and comes with fairly big bezels and a chin. However, that’s not really a bad thing. For a gamer, that’s actually useful. There are the dual-firing stereo speakers in the front as well, capped by an orange metallic finish, making them look elegant yet gamer-y.

Turning back, things get even more unique. There’s a lot going on at the backside of the ROG Phone. The device comes with this glass finish on top of a metallic color tone, with vector graphics on top of it. There’s the camera module in the left corner, coupled with the LED flash. On the right side, there’s a segment that is made up of metal. It also houses two vents for throwing out heat in case of an extra load. The company calls it the ROG Aerodynamic System, to better facilitate cooling. Honestly, this seems quite weird to me since this type of design is most useful when there is a fan onboard, like in case of a PC or a laptop. However, on the ROG Phone, I wasn’t able to feel any difference (more on that later).

There’s the Republic of Gamers (ROG) logo in the center. As I said, this is a gamer-oriented phone. And one thing that gamers adore is #RGBEverything. Much like that, the ROG logo lights up with the help of Aura Lighting and supports 16.8 million colors. 

On the bottom of the device, you’ll find a USB Type-C port with the – always welcome – 3.5mm jack. Interestingly, this isn’t the only Type-C port on this device. In fact, the device has a total of 3 Type-C ports. On the left side of the ROG Phone, there is the dual USB-C port. However, only one of them can be used to actually charge the phone. The orange accent port is only to be used when attaching accessories to the device, such as the AeroCooler.

Over to the right side of the device, you’ll find the volume rockers followed by the power button. However, the power button is located pretty low as opposed to most smartphones of its size. As such, it is slightly uncomfortable in the beginning, but nothing you can’t get accustomed to. On either end of the right side of the device are also the Aero Triggers, which unlike the light-up ROG logo on the back, actually have some use for a gamer. 

Now, while all this looks super premium, I would like to point something out here. You see, this isn’t the first flagship smartphone to come with a glass back. However, somehow the aesthetics of the device don’t give you a grippy hold. You always have this fear of dropping the device from your hand, especially when using it vertically. For reference, I’ve used the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, and I currently use the OnePlus 6T as my daily driver. Both the devices have a solid feel in hand. The ASUS ROG Phone, on the other hand, feels weak ergonomically. If we have to compare it with gaming phones even, the Razer Phone feels much more comfortable and confident to hold.

All in all, the ASUS ROG Phone does have a good and unique design. However, I just wish I could feel a little more confident while holding the device in my hands. 

Display

Ah, the display! Honestly, if the price tag was somewhat lower, I would have recommended the ROG Phone just for its sheer display. The 90Hz is obviously inferior to the Razer Phone’s 120Hz display, but it is still miles ahead of all the flagship devices you’ve used that are still stuck at 60Hz. It’s hard for me to describe it in words the experience that a higher refresh rate screen would give you. But I’ll still give it my best shot.

Thanks to a higher refresh rate, the animations look way smoother than you could imagine. Scrolling through the recents had, in reality, become my favorite pass time. I know people argue that only a few of the mobile games out there have support for a higher refresh rate screen. But trust me, those look frigging amazing. And it’s not just gaming. The display is great for everyday usage. After using the ROG Phone for a week, I couldn’t use my OnePlus 6T for a very long time. It’s just so damn good.

But it isn’t just the 90Hz display that does the magic. The 6-inch AMOLED display is one of the best ones you’ll find in the market in terms of color reproduction. In fact, the display has a 108.6% DCI-P3 color gamut which is highest in its segment. And it can get super bright as well. With a reported brightness of 538 nits, the ROG Phone easily gets brighter than the Pixel 3 XL (362nits) and gets pretty close to the Galaxy Note 9 (604nits). It can be used in direct sunlight easily without any issues. What’s more is this beautiful display is protected by the latest Gorilla Glass 6 protection as well. So even if the aesthetics give you the fear of dropping your device, you’ll rest assured that the screen will be fine.

User Interface

The user interface on the ASUS ROG Phone is basically a themed ZenUI. Which can be a good or a bad thing depending upon your liking. Personally, I’m a stock Android guy. And despite the love I have for gaming accents, I couldn’t live with this for long. Like seriously. You must know Ershad and Sreehari from the team, and I literally argued with them that the new ROG theme makes the device look so much better.

However, two days into using it as my daily driver and I really wanted to go back to stock Android. For me, AOSP is the simplest way to experience Android. Now, with my personal biases aside, the ZenUI on the ROG Phone does bring some pretty interesting features.

The ASUS ROG Phone comes with Android 8.1 Oreo out of the box. While it is essentially ZenUI, the company insists on calling it the “Extension ROM”. It comes with a set of “Assistive Tools” inside the settings. You get features such as Page Marker, Twin Apps, the awful ZeniMoji, and some AI features such as fast startup of your frequently used apps. If you recall, all these tools already exist on the ASUS ZenFone 5Z as well, so they didn’t really surprise me. However, the device also comes with the Game Genie and the Game Center app, which are worth pointing out.

The Game Genie app is used to help you stream your mobile gameplay live on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch. The Game Center app, on the other hand, is basically like a monitoring and control tool for your device. You can use it to switch between various game profiles, change the fan speed (of the Aero Cooler), customize the Aura lighting, and much more. 

Personally, I would love it if the ROG Phone rocked stock Android with a dark skin and gamer accents. But that’s not the world we live in, and I’ve had to make peace with ZenUI. That being said, the bundled features and the tools actually make the overall experience much better.

However, that’s mostly the experience of the software that one sees right away. A bigger impact of the software is on how it manages the applications. Or more subtly put, the memory management offered by the device. Despite having a whopping 8GB of RAM onboard, the multitasking experience on this device was horrendous for me. Which allows me to segue into talking about the performance of the device.

Performance

The ASUS ROG Phone comes with 8GB of LPDDR4X RAM and an overclocked Snapdragon 845 processor, clocked at 2.95GHz. Just reading those specifications should be enough for you to estimate the kind of power that this device has. And the performance of the ROG Phone is probably the best. That is if you look at it objectively. Which is why I’ll be dividing the performance section of the device into two parts. One is the day-to-day usage, and the other is when you push the device to its limits while gaming or running benchmarks.

In terms of day-to-day use, the ROG Phone is good, but not great. As weird as that sounds, hear me out. The UI feels fluid, apps are fast to load, and everything feels super snappy. However, all is not that merry. Despite having 8 gigs of RAM, the RAM management on this device is bad. Apps were constantly hibernated in the background. As such, I was missing out on a plethora of notifications from all of my frequently used apps such as WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter.

Even Pushbullet was hibernated. The OS is so hell-bent on optimizing the performance that it even stopped the Battery Logging service. Honestly, this seems super absurd to me. For a device with such great specifications, it is hard to recommend this device to someone having experienced such issues. That being said, I’m certain that this is a software issue. It could have been a problem with the review unit that I got, and I feel (and hope) that your mileage may vary.

Gaming Performance and Benchmarks

In terms of benchmarks, the overclocked SoC handles everything quite well. The ROG Phone managed to score 2,75,268 in Antutu Benchmark, while it tamed the GeekBench 4 test with a single-core score of 2,507 and a multi-core score of 8,877. In AndroBench, the device attained a sequential read speed of 728.62 MB/s and a sequential write speed of 204.31 MB/s. In terms of graphics performance, the Adreno 630 is a powerhouse. When you fire up the 3DMark test, there’s already a notification waiting for you from the app that states “The ASUS ROG Phone can outperform 99% of phones in this test”. And that’s pretty true, thanks to a score of 4,387 in the Sling Shot Extreme OpenGL test and 3,423 in the Vulkan API test.

However, when you compare it with its counterparts with the same Snapdragon 845 SoC, you’ll notice something quite interesting. While the boost in CPU performance is noticeable, the GPU hasn’t been boosted. In fact, the OnePlus 6T manages to outperform the ASUS ROG Phone in the 3DMark tests. Even in AnTuTu, the OnePlus 6T easily beats the ROG and even the Mate 20 Pro. For me, benchmarks are not a scale of judging the actual performance of the device. However, it does give an insight into the performance to expect, and in this case, we know that gaming performance will have a boost only in the processing and not the graphical fidelity.

Coming to the reason why people would want to buy the ASUS ROG Phone. The gaming performance. In a word, the gaming performance on the ROG Phone is the best. It is absolutely the best. PUBG Mobile runs at the highest settings possible and the 90Hz screen absolutely assists it in every way possible. Speaking about that refresh rate, quite a lot of mainstream games now support it. Titles such as Pokemon Go, Critical Ops, Golf Clash, FZ9 Timeshift, and Tekken work amazingly on the device.

Thermals

Performance on the device is top-notch (without actually having a notch). But I cannot talk all about performance without addressing the thermal management on this device. As discussed earlier, the ROG Phone comes with ROG Aerodynamic System. Basically, there are 2 vents for throwing out heat in case of an extra load. The company says it is to better facilitate cooling. However, in my testing, that was not the case.

Even during normal loads, the device would heat up to temperatures of about 37.8-degree Celsius. During charging, the temperatures soar to the 45-degree region. And, there’s gaming and benchmarks. While playing PUBG Mobile, the smartphone attained a temperature of 40-degrees in the first 15 minutes. With extended use of over an hour, the smartphone was nearing the 45-degree mark, becoming it uncomfortable for me to hold. 

In the company’s defense, they do ship the AeroCooler that almost instantly brings down the temperatures of the device. However, from my perspective, that’s more of a necessity than an added benefit. It also adds to the bulk of the device. 

Cameras

The ASUS ROG Phone comes equipped with a dual rear camera setup with a 12MP f/1.8 primary sensor along with an 8MP secondary sensor for depth effect. On the front, there is another 8MP f/2.0 shooter. As for videos, the ROG Phone has the ability to record videos in 4K@60fps as well, so that’s another great point. Now that we’re past the numbers part, let’s dig into the actual performance of the cameras on this device.

ASUS hasn’t advertised the cameras on the ROG Phone, and it seems to be the case for good measure. To be fair, the cameras are decent, even good in certain conditions. That being said, the quality is not at all what you’d expect from a device at this price point. At the same price, you can purchase the Huawei Mate 20 Pro, the Galaxy Note 9, or the Pixel 3 XL. As for the ASUS ROG Phone, the cameras are going to be a major disappointment. In the smartphone’s defense, however, it is aimed to be a gaming phone. And that’s what it is. The camera department isn’t where the company has focused, and it shows.

In good lighting conditions, the ASUS ROG Phone manages to capture some pretty decent images. The color reproduction is good, and there are enough details in the image. In the portrait mode, while the edge-detection is good, the blurring is absolutely absurd. It seems way off the charts, and ASUS hasn’t given a way to manually tone it down.

The dual camera setup on the ROG Phone is different than most of the phones out there. It isn’t there for portrait mode. Instead, the secondary sensor is a wide sensor that allows you to capture more area into the shot. As expected, there is a massive drop in details. However, the sensor does what it claims to do, which is to capture a larger area.

ASUS ROG Phone camera sample using primary sensor

ASUS ROG Phone camera sample using secondary wide sensor

In terms of low-light photography, the story is pretty bad. The smartphone produces results that are full of noise. The noise is slightly less as opposed to other cameras, but the graininess is off the charts. The overall tone of the image is also too soft, and all in all, it is just bad. If low-light photography is what you fancy, the ROG Phone is definitely not for you.

If you follow me, you’d know that I’m super active on my Instagram account. I consider my selfie game to be pretty good, especially thanks to my daily driver, the OnePlus 6T, with Gcam installed. So when I was using the ROG Phone as my daily driver, my daily posts on Instagram suddenly went down. You see, the selfies captured by the ROG Phone on first glance are decent. However, take a look closer and you’ll see a massive drop of detail. And that’s not where the story ends. The selfie camera comes with an off the chart portrait mode and an AI mode that makes your skin pink, and pink only.

Overall, the cameras are decent, but nothing great. It may be alright for a phone priced under Rs 40,000 but not more. 

Connectivity

In terms of connectivity, the only thing missing from the ASUS ROG Phone is a microSD card slot. But that’d be nitpicking, and I’m not gonna do that. The ROG Phone comes equipped with all the bells and whistles you’d expect in a 2018 flagship. There’s the USB Type-C port at the bottom alongside the 3.5mm headphone jack. On the left side, there are two more Type-C ports. One of them can be used to charge the device. However, the main use of this side port is to hook the device up to accessories. And there are a ton of accessories available for the ASUS ROG Phone.

Starting off with the AeroCooler that comes bundled in the package. The module is used to provide extra cooling to the smartphone in cases of heavy load. Then comes the TwinView Dock, that adds another 90Hz screen to your device. It also comes with a high-capacity 6000mAh battery and dual physical triggers. There’s also a GameVice Controller that offers console-like controller experience to the ROG Phone. Lastly, there is the Mobile Desktop Dock. It allows you to hook up your ROG Phone to a monitor along with keyboard and mouse for full control on mobile games. While we did not get a chance to review the accessories, our first impressions of them do give the idea that while they are expensive, they certainly give you unmatched mobile gaming experience.

Audio

The audio department of the ASUS ROG Phone absolutely blew me away. And I mean it. The only other device that I’ve tried which managed to produce such great sound quality was the LG G7+ ThinQ. But that too was mostly with the headphone jack. In the case of the ROG Phone, the performance is absolutely amazing from both the speakers as well as 3.5mm headphone jack.

Talking about the speakers, the ROG Phone comes with dual-firing speakers. Usually, smartphone speakers are either loud or heavy on the bass, or perfectly balanced but limited volume. With the ROG Phone, the speakers are perfectly tuned. But that doesn’t restrict it from getting loud. The ROG Phone can go loud, and I mean super loud. Even on full volume, you’d get the effect of listening to a Bluetooth speaker. But ASUS went one step further and added an “Outdoor Mode” to the device as well. Turn that on and the speakers export a super high volume without cranking up the levels. Honestly, the ROG Phone has the best speakers on a smartphone, hands down.

As for the headphone jack, it comes equipped with an two smart amps. It offers premium audio output. Yes, you need the right pair of headphones to actually experience it. The ASUS ROG Phone will always have your back in terms of audio quality. As a gamer, the sound is one of the most crucial elements of gaming. And knowing that I get rich sound every time I put on those headphones of mine is genuinely a comforting feeling. It gives me an advantage over my opponents to accurately know the direction of footsteps or gunfires.

Battery and charging

The ASUS ROG Phone comes equipped with a 4,000mAh battery inside. One would presume that should last you easily on a day. Sadly, for me, that wasn’t the case. On my average use case scenario of Instagram, WhatsApp, a couple of games of PUBG Mobile, and streaming on SoundCloud, I was able to manage just 3.5 hours of screen-on-time. Now, I’ll admit that I did have the screen set to its 90Hz refresh rate. But just to give you a perspective, I did turn it off and test the device more. Under the same use case, I was able to manage about a little less than 5 hours of SoT.

Honestly, that’s quite disappointing. One, the battery life in itself is quite low for a capacity of its size. Two, I was constantly missing out on notifications in the day. So if the device is not even pushed to its full potential, then why was I getting such low numbers? And things get further interesting. You see, while gaming, I was able to play for a total of three hours continuously on PUBG Mobile. That’s an astonishing figure. But this does raise the question of why is it that both high intensive use cases and average daily use case scenarios result in nearly the same battery life?

From the way I see it, the root cause of this seems to be the overclocked processor. But not just the processor, the fault is with the kernel too. Which is pushing it to the max frequencies for an awfully long period. Since root access wasn’t possible on the device, I was unable to install my favorite Kernel Adiutor app on the device to confirm this. However, I do understand that is a software issue, and ASUS can, and should, fix this.

On the upside though, the charging speeds on this device are pretty great. Thanks to the bundled fast charger, I was able to top up the device from 5% to 65% in less than 45 mins. The charging rate does seem to slow down after that, but that’s always the case with batteries. Personally, I had no complaints with the ASUS ROG Phone in the charging department at least. It isn’t the fastest out there, but it isn’t far behind either.

Should you buy the ASUS ROG Phone?

I guess now it’s time to address the elephant in the room. Should you or should you not buy the ASUS ROG Phone. Well, my Editor, Ershad already expressed his 5 points on either side of the story, so you can read it here. And having used the device personally for an extended period of time, I don’t quite disagree with his findings. Except that I’d like to elaborate on a few.

You see, the ASUS ROG Phone isn’t designed as a smartphone to play the best games out there at the highest frame rates. No. You need to look beyond that. On the contrary, the ASUS ROG Phone is a pure gaming console made especially for mobile games. It has just inherited the features of a smartphone. If your expectations from the ROG Phone is to have a phone that is the best at everything, especially at gaming, you’d probably be disappointed. However, if you are on the hunt for a device that can play all your mobile games at the best settings possible, the ROG Phone is worth your buck. But if basic phone features like notifications, battery life, and camera matter to you, you should look elsewhere. Where, you ask? Well, there are a lot of options available to choose from.

Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Huawei Mate 20 Pro 6

Easily the most recommended phone out there, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro is the flagship of the future. It comes equipped with the Kirin 980 processor that goes head to head with the recently announced Snapdragon 855 SoC and comfortably beats the Snapdragon 845 on the ROG Phone. You get the best camera, a great design, an amazing battery life, and a proper feel of premium. If you have the kind of money to spend on the ROG Phone but want a device that works like a phone as well, the Mate 20 Pro is the best pick.

Buy the Huawei Mate 20 Pro

Samsung Galaxy Note 9

The Samsung Galaxy Note 9 was voted as the Best Flagship Phone in the Mr. Phone Awards 2018. And for right reasons too. The device comes equipped with the Exynos 9810 chipset which is at par with the Snapdragon 845 SoC. You get a fantastic screen, liquid cooling, and one of the best camera systems out there as well. The performance on the device is second to none, and you’d be gaining more features than what you’d miss out on.

Buy the Samsung Galaxy Note 9

ASUS ROG Phone Review: for the hardcore gamers

In conclusion, the ASUS ROG Phone is one for the enthusiasts. If you’re a streamer or someone who’s super serious about mobile gaming, you cannot do better than the ROG Phone. However, if you’re just someone who likes to play PUBG Mobile once a day and is looking for a good performer, just about any flagship should do for you. ASUS has created a thing of beauty. The only issue is that it caters to a very specific set of users. Those who are gamers at heart will adore it. Those who aren’t will know well to not invest in it.

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Varun Mirchandani
varun.mirchandani@u2opiamobile.com

Varun is your go-to guy for everything related to technology. Someone with a keen interest in the Android world, he installs a new custom ROM every week and is always living on the bleeding edge of technology. When not writing for Mr. Phone, you can find him gaming on his beastly gaming rig which is also his prized possession.