We’ve mentioned numerous times how gaming on smartphones and the mobile gaming industry in general has had a huge tilt towards serious gaming in the past recent months and with major eSports being built around mobile games, its easy to see why mobile phone companies may want to dive into it.
While performance is a tough subject to breakdown in mobile phone, the majority of the hardware where mobile phones are built upon are predominantly the same and it is up to the mobile phone manufacturers to find ways and design something that can deliver performance and features that fit into what they feel is for their customers.
A bit of backstory first: in the mobile phone market, nobody holds any gaming creds more than ASUS and for the majority of the existence of their Zenfone line, the ROG branding has been elusive and many fans of ASUS have been clamoring for one for a long while now. The Zenfone 2 Deluxe SE was taken as the first hint of an ROG phone but ASUS never really pushed through with it. For some reason, the company has avoided bringing the ROG branding onto the Zenfone despite having a massive advantage in terms of recognition and back then, a burgeoning mobile gaming market. But ASUS did not give in and it was only after COMPUTEX 2018 that ASUS has finally brought to the world the ROG Phone.
The release was a scene-stealer. COMPUTEX 2018 was plagued with redundant RGB releases and with no new CPU or GPU, it was a dry expo in terms of hype and ASUS stole the show with the ROG Phone release. In what could’ve been shown during MWC or another phone event, ASUS chose COMPUTEX in their homeland of Taiwan to unveil the phone to the world and it was a wise choice.
A few months after its reveal and now after launch, it makes perfect sense that ASUS held out as long as it could. The time was right and the world was ready. Or is it?
Specs-wise, the ROG Phone doesn’t really standout. It features cherry-picked a Qualcomm SD845 processor which are rated for higher clockspeeds than their off-the-assembly line counterparts. ASUS pairs this with 8GB of RAM to give it more flexing power when running multiple apps and storage is available in both a 128GB or 512GB option. The screen is also rated at 90hz. While that may put off 120hz purist, at this point fluidity between the two refresh rates are at the mercy of the games themselves if they even output at that rate.
What ultimately sets the ASUS ROG Phone apart from the other “gaming” phones in the market right now is it features more bells and whistles for gaming than everything else. We have AirTriggers which serve as shoulder buttons akin to console gamepads. There’s built-in streaming software, button remapping, keyboard and mouse support, macro support and an entire suite of accessories dedicated for expanding the gaming experience on the ROG Phone. That said, does it still hold up well as a phone?
Design & Build Quality
ASUS describes the ROG Phone has having a futuristic look and the back of the phone pretty much sums that up nicely: a sleek, asymmetric design at the back with the ROG tech panel lines adorning the upper part of the phone back with the light-up central logo beside the exhaust vents. Its a unique and certainly uncommon approach most phone brands won’t even dare use to maintain elegance but ASUS has pulled it off pretty well, good enough that it actually doesn’t break ergonomics and feel quite good in hand.
The front features a bevelled metal frame which gives the ROG Phone a very sturdy feel. The AMOLED FHD+ screen supports up to 90Hz refresh rate for a more fluid display and it supports HDR.
Our sample has been passed around very much and we received it as if it was just off the factory. The Gorilla Glass 6 enveloping the back holds up well to everyday use and it can withstand my not-so-gentle treatments of phone: leaving them hanging off bedsides to drop when they vibrate themselves off the edge of my nightstand or just simply sliding them around my desk full of tools.
The ROG Phone feels solid in the hand and its cold metal frame gives it a very sturdy feel which is nice to hold. Knowing this helps as the phone supports squeeze input: you can customize the phone to activate an app during long or short squeezes on the lower third part of the phone. By default, squeezing the phone triggers X-Mode.
You can customize this in the settings menu.
Activating X-Mode also lights up the AURA Sync RGB lighting at the back of the phone. This works in tandem with other ROG peripherals that support Aura Sync.
To support the accessory suite of the ROG Phone, it has a a total of two USB Type-C ports: one at the bottom and one at the side. The side port sits alongside a proprietary Type-C interface as well but ASUS warns against connecting anything in this port.
By default, ASUS sets the display refresh rate to 60Hz which you can manually change to 90Hz. Display quality is nice and sharp at 90hz. Other screens may look crisper but non-pixel peepers would never notice the difference.
We have a dedicated article that covers in detail the entire suite of accessories of the ROG Phone, what they do and how you can use them. Check out the link above for more details.
To summarize though, ASUS offers the ROG Phone with a sweet bundle consisting of the full accessory set including:
ROG Phone Case
ROG Mobile Desktop Dock
ASUS Professional Dock
ASUS WiGig Display Dock
GameVice for ROG Phone
Its quite a lot to digest so we suggest going through our breakdown article before proceeding if you’re interested in the full suite of gear.
We’ll focus more on the gaming performance but commenting quickly on the phone’s overall power, even after cramming the phone with nearly every app I use daily which has eventually started to turn my LG G6 to molasses, the ROG Phone has managed to stay snappy. This fact made even better when you realize I don’t close my Mobile Legends app or pretty much everything else.
We have two recordings here to also showcase the performance you get from two accessories. First up we have the ASUS Professional Dock which gives us an HDMI output port along with USB3.0 which nice for connecting a mouse or keyboard to the phone. Its the most portable amongst all the video output dock and is easily my personal favorite. The ASUS Professional Dock allows output via HDMI on either USB Type-C ports and outputs at 4K 30FPS.
The second one and is probably the more convenient in terms of video capture for streaming is the WiGig Dock. This little device has an HDMI output which you can connect to any display with an HDMI input. It connects via 802.11ad 60Ghz WiGig and has excellent performance within recommended setup. This is a totally wirefree link between the ROG Phone and the output display and allows 1080p 60FPS output. In terms of latency, the WiGig feels more responsive than the Professional Dock so if you’re after a realtime large screen experience, the WiGig Dock is the way to go. For streaming purposes where you probably will be focusing more on the phone, the Professional Dock is more suitable.
WiGig Dock Gameplay Recording – 1080p
Professional Dock Gameplay Recording – 4K UltraHD
Despite its higher performing processor, the ROG Phone boasts some pretty impressive battery performance. Watching videos on a fully charged phone for about 1 hour will knock only about 15% off your charge and that’s with X-Mode on, RGB lit up and the volume on around 80%. A 20-minute match of Mobile Legends knocked around only 7-8% off full charge in X-mode as well. Very impressive. Full disclosure though, we never did test out drain while on a data connection.
To be completely honest, I’ve never been a fan of ZenFone since the ZenFone 3 but having reviewed the newer post-ZenFone 5 models, ASUS has really improved on their optics and how responsive their cameras are.
The ROG Phone features two rear cameras with a normal wide angle lens boasting 12MP resolution and another ultrawide lens with 8MP. The camera is great in daylight and has decent color. Video supports up to [email protected] which I absolutely love and slowmo at 240FPS 1080p reso.
The selfie camera meanwhile is armed with 8MP reso and has an f/2 aperture. AI functions allows for simulated bokeh which is quite well done and beauty functions can be finely tuned for the perfect effect.
Main camera samples
Selfie cam samples
Overall, camera performance is decent and if you’re only using them for social media, they’re of excellent quality. For pixel peepers, daylight photos may pass of as decent but once the light goes dim, the images start to get a bit fuzzy. If you’re more invested in photography than gaming, this may not be the camera for you but as I always say: The best camera is the one you have and with a snappy launch on the ROG Phone, you’re sure to get something capture immediately without waiting for the phone to load its camera app.
While a normal phone that can game is no problem to review, the ASUS ROG Phone puts up a more difficult question. Its a flagship smartphone that is tuned for gaming but at the end of the day, its still a smartphone. A smartphone that needs to make calls, send SMS, run social media apps, take pictures and other app-based functionality we may need all the while providing performance to allow us to enjoy games. So, how’s the ROG Phone as a smartphone? Well, a good one.
Many a smartphone of previous years were judged by how good their cameras are and while that still remains prevalent today, the introduction of a gaming segment in the mobile space means there’s now more reason for smartphones to offer other things aside from great photos.
The ROG Phone manages to be a good phone offering a well-made, well-crafted phone that feels great in the hand, works well for everyday messaging and calls, takes decent photos and videos all while looking like it came straight off ASUS’ motherboards with its unique look. Its a real eye-catcher when laid on its back on a table but doesn’t strike as gawdy or overdone. ASUS did a great job with the external design and keeps the ROG Phone elegantly aggressive without going overboard with etchings and cutouts.
The ROG Phone also features a great 90Hz HDR AMOLED display, a very light and snappy UI, excellent battery life and power management and if it wasn’t obvious enough, its highly expandable in terms of function.
So speaking strictly from gaming performance, the ROG Phone may perform the same with its primary competitors but it is the gaming experience that the ROG Phone really stands out.
The ROG Phone isn’t just a high-performance gaming phone, its a versatile gaming experience on mobile. Android’s game library is immense and while a big bulk of that are puzzles and tapping games, there’s a good bunch out there that are just best experienced in specific setups or inputs. ASUS’ accessory bundle, its key mapping function, and Air Triggers allow a unique yet natural way of playing mobile games to rival the console experience. And this is what makes the ROG Phone such a great offering for mobile gamers; the people who much like PC and console gamers, are invested in their mobile phones as their platform of choice for games. ASUS acknowledges the fact that there’s a market out there for people that want flexibility to play their mobile games and the ROG Phone solves that by offering various accessories and docks to expand the function of their smartphone, something unrivaled in the current market.
Its a niche solution but something worth noting especially for the relatively young mobile games industry. While there are tons of games out there, games development on mobile has been limited to certain genres due to input limitations. The concept of the ROG Phone shows us that there’s no reason to limit ourselves in experiencing games on mobile.
Its easier to say justify the cost of purchasing an ROG Phone than say a flagship iPhone or Samsung. While both competitors may have great UI or great cameras, those are highly subjective and is just one check off a long list of things that add value to a phone. The ASUS ROG Phone manages to check a lot of things off to that respect and it is by far the most logical choice for any gamer that seek a great gaming experience on mobile above all else yet still appreciate a well-rounded smartphone that works great as a daily driver.
So should you buy it? If you’re a gamer and aspiring mobile game streamer, its a great launch platform. Built-in streaming and record functions allow you to record mobile gaming sessions for upload or live stream while the AirTriggers provide additional ways to interact with games. Stepping up your game are the large accessory options that allow you to further expand how you play on your ROG Phone. There’s still room for improvements here for the ROG Phone: better camera as always, larger battery for a really longer gaming session possibly on data, more compact gamepad accessories, water-resistance, etc. you name it.
Anyone can claim the title of best gaming smartphone in terms of sheer performance in this world of similarly specced flagship but there is no way another phone besides the ROG Phone can claim the title of the best smartphone gaming experience. Its simply that fun to game with.