The long awaited Asus gaming smartphone is here to take on the Razer Phone for the title of best gaming phone. The firm describes it as a ‘game-changing’ – pun intended, we assume – smartphone designed for mobile gaming. Here’s our Asus ROG Phone hands-on review.
Gaming-focused smartphones are becoming more of a thing and the ROG Phone is highly anticipated. The firm says it’s been working on it since as early as 2013.
Asus ROG Phone: Price and availability
There’s no price for the ROG Phone yet, for any market, as it largely depends on things like what capacity is available and factors like mobile networks.
The ROG Phone has one key competitor though, the Razer Phone which costs a reasonable £699. So Asus will have to keep close to this to compete but we wouldn’t be surprised if the ROG Phone is a little more.
By the time is comes out in Q3 this year, there could be a Razer Phone 2.
Asus ROG Phone: Design and build
In many ways, smartphone design has become pretty stagnant and boring, but that’s not the case here. The ROG Phone is, as you might expect, quite eccentric and unconventional.
While the Razer Phone which is sleek and stealthy with its square black design, the ROG Phone couldn’t be much more different. Aside from the much more rounded shape, there’s a lot more going on.
Mimicking many of the other products from across the portfolio, the ROG Phone has many striking elements to draw the eye – so many that it’s hard to know where to look first.
There are unusual shapes everywhere, from the glass around the camera to the fingerprint scanner. Then there’s the fairly large lump on the side, complete with exposed copper, which is matched on the front for the stereo speakers.
And yes, the iconic ROG logo on back lights up with customisable Aura RBG lights. Sweet.
Overall, the device looks great but you’ve got to be into this kind of style much like you do with Razer’s – they’re just very different approaches.
What you can’t see here is the GameCool 3D vapour-chamber which helps cool the device. This along with a copper heat spreader (we don’t think this is what you can see on the back) means 47 percent improved CPU cooling efficiency, according to Asus.
If that’s not enough, the device comes with an AeroActive cooler in the box. This has a fan and clips onto the phone via the slightly ugly looking custom USB port on the side.
Not only does it add a controllable fan, but USB-C and headphone ports so you can stay plugged in without the cabled getting in your way while landscape gaming. That’s a pretty neat idea and its also got a light-up logo.
Also hidden is a set of ‘ultrasonic AirTrigger touch sensors’. Two of these are used for shoulder buttons when landscape gaming while the other is used like the HTC U12 or Pixel 2 XL so you can squeeze the phone when in regular orientation.
They only need a light touch – 20g where others can need four times as much force – and are fully customisable so you can make the most of them. Sounds great but we need more time testing them to say whether they’re the real deal or not.
Yet another hidden feature is ‘advanced vibration haptics’ so you can feel, for example, whether shots being fired are coming from the left or right.
The ROG Phone is roughly the same size as the Razer Phone, so it’s pretty big and also weighs 200g. That’s more than most smartphones but more understandable here considering everything that’s going on and we didn’t find the weight an issue during our time.
That custom USB port we mentioned earlier is also used to connect the phone to a range of accessories. These include a Mobile Desktop Dock so you can connect to a monitor, keyboard and mouse.
There’s also a Gamevice controller that can stream to your TV via the Asus WiGig dock that utilises 11ad WiFi and a TwinView Dock (below) that works a bit like a Nintendo DS to give you two screens.
Asus ROG Phone: Specs and features
As you’d expect, the ROG Phone has some serious specs, many of which look like they belong on a laptop spec sheet. Almost needless to say, we’re looking at one of the highest spec smartphones of all time.
A large 6in screen makes sense here, to give you as much gaming real estate as possible. After all, there’s little point if you can’t really see what you’re doing or who you’re shooting.
Asus has gone for a different approach to Razer. So instead of a 120Hz LCD panel, the ROG Phone has a 90Hz AMOLED display with a 1ms response time. Which is better is debatable, but during our hands-on it was silky smooth.
It’s worth noting that the refresh rate is locked to 90Hz so you can’t, like the Razer Phone, change it based on the app you’re using.
The screen, like so many now, has an 18:9 aspect ratio and the resolution is Full HD+ (1080×2160) resulting in a decent 402ppi. That might be lower than the Razer Phone but it’s enough to look perfectly crispy and might even help some games run better.
It supports HDR, a 10000:1 contrast ratio and, not that you’ll need it, but 10-point multi-touch input.
Processor, memory and storage
The ROG Phone continues to impress when it comes to core specs. They are among the best we’ve ever seen on a smartphone.
For starters, it has the fastest version of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 available. Asus says this has been ‘speed-binned’ to 2.96GHz – it’s normally 2.8GHz.
Add in that there’s 8GB of RAM as standard and this is some hefty amount of raw power. Asus claims it comes top in benchmarks such as AnTuTu, Geekbench and 3DMark.
The ROG Phone will also come with at least 128GB of storage but there will also be a model with a whopping 512GB. There’s no microSD card slot, so we hope we get both capacities in the UK.
With such a focus on gaming, Asus has barely drawn any attention to the cameras – something that is normally paramount on a modern phone.
The ROG Phone does have dual rear cameras, though, at 12Mp and 8Mp. It appears to be the same setup as the ZenFone 5 with the secondary camera offering a wide 120-degree view.
At the front is a fairly standard 8Mp camera.
We need lots more time to test out the cameras properly, but while they don’t seem like they’re going to challenge the best camera phones out there, the focus here is gaming not photography.
Connectivity and audio
We’ve mentioned the unusual setup of bottom and side USB ports in the design section above, but there’s more to talk about in terms of connectivity.
The ROG Phone comes with up-to-date specs such as NFC, GPS, Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX HD and the usual array of sensor you find on almost any phone such as light and proximity.
There’s also dual-band 11ac/ad Wi-Fi and up to 1.2Gbps LTE (Cat 18) thanks to the Qualcomm X20 modem.
On the audio side of things is a headphone jack (plus the side one via the detachable cooler mentioned earlier), DTS Headphone:X with 7.1 virtual surround sound and Hi-Res Audio support.
The highlight, though, is the front facing stereo speakers that come with a ‘smart amplifier’. After our hands-on time, they’re easily some of the most powerful we’ve heard on a phone.
Like the Razer Phone, the ROG Phone has a large 4000mAh battery – when 3000mAh is about the average for a smartphone in 2018.
How long it will last, especially while gaming, is a big question – especially with the higher speed Snapdragon 845 and high fresh rate on the screen. Asus says you’ll get 11 and a half hours of video playback and seven hours of gameplay, both over Wi-Fi.
If it does run out quickly, there’s some impressive sounding tech going on here in terms of charging. It’s complicated though as it depends which USB port you’re using.
The traditional port on the bottom supports Qualcomm Quick Charge 3.0. However, the custom side port supports up to Quick Charge 4.0 and Asus’ own HyperCharge direct charging, which can get the phone to a whopping 60 percent in just 33 minutes.
Despite having a glass rear cover, the ROG Phone does not support wireless charging.
Asus ROG Phone: Software and apps
The model we looked at was running the latest Android 8.1 Oreo software. It also uses Asus’ own ROG Gaming UI interface that looks very appropriate for the style of the phone.
Overall, it appears to be fairly stock Android even though it looks quite different due to the elements like icon pack. There doesn’t seem to be much bloatware, although this can change by the time the device launches, especially via networks.
Asus namely adds the Game Center which provides you with an overview of system resources and this is also where you can adjust the fan speed of the AeroActive Cooler.
Switch the ROG Phone into ‘X Mode’ and it will free up all the RAM so you can use it for gaming and give you maximum performance from the 845 processor.