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 full in-depth Asus ROG Phone review.
Gaming-focused smartphones are becoming more of a thing and the ROG Phone has been highly anticipated. The firm says it’s been working on it since as early as 2013 and it was announced at Computex 2018 where we also saw the Asus ROG Strix Scar 2 gaming laptop.
Asus has since announced its successor, the imaginatively named ROG Phone 2, which has improvements across the board. Read our comparison of the two ROG Phones to find out if we think the new model is worth waiting for.
Price & Availability
Asus has confirmed the £799/$899 price tag and you can now order the ROG Phone in the UK. It was released on 14 December and is also available from Amazon and LaptopOutlet, though at the time of writing it’s out of stock in the UK.
That price is about right, with its main rival – the Razer Phone 2 – costing £779$799. They both look pretty affordable when you compare the cost to regular flagships like the iPhone XS, which starts at £999/$999.
Check out our picks for the best gaming phones to see how we rank them.
Design & Build: For the gamers
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. ROG does stand for ‘Republic of Gamers’ after all.
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 (which is super awkward to use, by the way). 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 the 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. Which you prefer is down to personal taste, of course. Opinions at Tech Advisor towers are split.
What you can’t see here is the GameCool 3D vapour-chamber which helps cool the device. This along with a copper heat spreader means 47 percent improved CPU cooling efficiency, according to Asus. Those copper bits on the back aren’t just for show either, they’re air vents.
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 customisable so you can make the most of them with what matter most to you. For some games, like PUBG, they’re a god send while others see less impact.
They’re not perfect though as you need a compatible game and they also don’t work well for anything that seeing you tapping them loads in a short space of time.
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 too much of 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.
We’ve only been sent the phone itself for review so can’t comment properly on those accessories.
Specs & Features: Power play
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 set to 60Hz by default.
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. The choice of AMOLED means contrast is better and we’re also impressed with both colours and brightness.
Furthermore, there’s HDR support so you can get the full experience if you’re watching compatible content on something like Netflix.
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. In the software you can even choose what clock speed you want in certain apps.
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. Sadly, we can’t find the latter for sale in the UK. There’s no microSD card slot making this more of a shame.
As you can see below, benchmark results are impressive. However, we didn’t see any improvement when using the X Mode which promises better results. We’ve included the phone’s rivals to see how it compares.
The graphics results are particularly impressive, thanks partly to the 90Hz display. The Geekbench result, should you care, is not the highest we’ve seen with various phones like the iPhone XR and Huawei Mate 20 Pro beating it.
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.
If there’s an area of the phone that lets it down a little, then it’s here. While photography is ok, there’s nothing to write home about here. Considering the price, we’d usually expect a higher quality but the focus here is gaming, not photography.
You can see our results in the gallery below. You’ll still get good enough shots to share online when there’s decent light, but low light is poor. Check out our best camera phones article to find out which handset is the best.
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. That side port is a slightly ugly hole when not in use but can be plugged with a rubber grommet. Asus supplies spares in the box as you’re bound to at least misplace it, or more likely lose it.
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’. 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.
In our usual test using Geekbench 4, the ROG Phone ran out after six hours and 27 minutes. This is a pretty middle of the road result. When gaming in 90Hz and reasonable brightness, you’ll lose about 25 to 30 percent for every hour you’re playing.
This means you’ll be charging a lot, so it’s a good job Asus has gone for quick 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.
Even using the bottom port we got an impressive 54 percent in 30 minutes, which is one of the best results we’ve seen.
Despite having a glass rear cover, the ROG Phone does not support wireless charging.
Software & Apps: Paint the town red
The ROG Phone runs Android 8.1 Oreo software with Asus’ own ROG Gaming UI interface that looks very appropriate for the style of the phone.
The way the interface works is fairly stock, but it couldn’t look much more different when compared to a phone like the Pixel 3. Asus really has gone to town with it, which is exactly what we’d expect for a device like this and it’s very specific target audience.
Everything from icons to colours is overtly gaming in style. The interface even changes when you switch ‘X Mode’ on including lighting up the borders around apps. The wallpaper even changes with a cool animation.
It’s these little things that will really appeal to gamers and add value. A bit like the design of the phone itself, you’ll probably love or hate it.
The Gamer Center is the main addition when it comes to apps and if you’ve used Asus’ desktop overclocking suite before you’ll feel right at home. It provides plenty of info such as the temperature and clock speed for the CPU, as well as usage for memory and storage.
You can also use the app to control things like the Air Triggers, AeroActive fan speed and Aura lighting.
Game Genie is your friend if you want to customise things. If you’re in a game then you swipe in from the right and select the controller icon to load the interface. It provides game capture, live streaming and more. You can also set profiles for individual apps and games from within the Game Center such as the maximum CPU speed, screen refresh rate and more.
The Asus ROG Phone is a little difficult to sum up because it’s such a marmite device – it will either be the kind of smartphone you’ve been waiting forever or pretty repulsive.
One thing is for sure, and that it that Asus has really gone to town with it and we applaud the firm for doing so. If you’re going to make a gaming phone, then you might as well go hell for leather right?
There are plenty of features for hardcore gamers to make use of here including the AeroActive fan, AirTriggers and all the customisation withing the software.
While it will be many gamer’s dream phone, we don’t blame you if you prefer the more understated style of the Razer Phone 2.