Asus, a company well-known for its Republic of Gaming brand of computing hardware, is the latest get into the mobile gaming space with its ROG Phone ($ 899.99 unlocked). With an overclocked Snapdragon 845 processor and a 90Hz AMOLED display, it’s a mobile gamer’s dream. But if you’re a casual gamer or simply want something more versatile, the Google Pixel 3 XL or OnePlus 6T are both stronger options.
Design and Durability
The ROG Phone has a distinctive design that gamers will likely love, but others may find a little flashy. At 6.25 by 3.00 by 0.33 inches (HWD) and 7.87 ounces, it’s a big phone. It’s almost the exact same size and weight as the Razer Phone 2, but heavier than the Pixel 3 XL (6.20 ounces) and OnePlus 6T (6.42 ounces). The combination of size and weight make the ROG a two-handed device that takes up a lot of room in your pocket.
Flip the phone over and you’ll immediately notice the gamer aesthetic. The smoky Gorilla Glass backplate is adorned with geometric line drawings. There’s an asymmetric heat sink on the right side of the phone with copper accents, along with a hexagonal camera sensor. The fingerprint sensor is also hexagonal and off-center, making it hard to access.
And while all the geometric flourishes garner attention, the real showstopper is the big logo that glows when the phone is on. The logo does more than glow, though: It can also alert you of notifications or incoming calls. It’s like the BlackBerry’s notification light, but with a little more flamboyance.
The left side of the phone is home to its metal power and volume rocker buttons, both of which provide a satisfying click when tapped. On the right, there’s a USB-C charging port and a proprietary connector for accessories; a small rubber shield covers the ports when not in use, but it doesn’t attach to the phone in any way, so it’s almost certain to get lost. Special markings are also on each side of the phone to indicate the location of its Air Triggers—pressure-sensitive buttons that can be used during gameplay. A second USB-C charging port and 3.5mm headphone jack take up residence on the bottom of the phone.
The ROG Phone isn’t rugged, nor does it carry any IP rating for water or dust protection. Since the phone is made of glass over an aluminum frame and has multiple ports, you’ll want to treat it with care (and purchase a case).
The ROG Phone’s 6-inch, 2,160-by-1,080 AMOLED display has an 18:9 aspect ratio. And while it doesn’t have a notch, the forehead and chin bezels are chunky. Nevertheless, it’s a gorgeous display for gameplay or streaming video. Viewing angles are solid and the phone has the inky blacks and rich colors you expect from an AMOLED.
In our tests, we found the display to have good color accuracy, though greens were slightly undersaturated. Peak brightness measured at 451 nits, and we had a difficult time seeing the screen in direct sunlight.
The most noteworthy feature of the display is its 90Hz refresh rate—a first for AMOLED. The Razer Phone 2 features a 120Hz LCD, but LCD doesn’t compare with the rich colors on the ROG Phone. The phone’s high refresh rate offers a more responsive experience compared with the traditional 60Hz smartphone display when gaming or scrolling through websites or social media feeds. You can select the refresh rate for individual games and apps in the Game Center, but avoid setting 90Hz as your default refresh rate unless you want to quickly deplete the battery.
Network Performance and Audio
The ROG Phone is available unlocked and works on AT&T and T-Mobile’s networks. It supports LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/17/18/19/20/28/29/32/34/38/39/40/41/46. Band 71 is noticeably missing, which is a shame for T-Mobile customers in rural areas. Network performance in downtown Manhattan on T-Mobile’s network was excellent, with 28Mbps down and 29Mbps up despite heavy network congestion.
Wi-Fi is supported on the 2.5GHz and 5GHz bands. There’s also Bluetooth 5.0 for audio and wearables, as well as NFC for Google Pay.
Call quality is excellent. Transmissions came across clear with minimal clipping, and noise cancellation blocked out all background noise. At 88dB, earpiece volume is loud enough to carry on a conversation on a busy street.
The ROG Phone’s front-firing speakers are solid. At 91dB, they’re loud enough to fill a small office, though sound isn’t as immersive as what you get on the Razer Phone 2. There’s also DTS:X Ultra 1.0 for enhanced audio quality with wired headphones.
Processor and Cooling
The ROG Phone features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor overclocked at 2.96GHz and 8GB of RAM. The model we tested has 128GB of storage, with about 110GB free out of the box, though Asus also offers a 512GB model for $ 1,099. There’s no microSD slot on the phone, but Asus does offer 100GB of Google Drive space for one year.
In terms of benchmarks, the ROG is the fastest Android phone available. It garnered a Geekbench multi-core score of 9,432 and single-core score of 2,572. That’s slightly better than the Razer Phone 2 (9,044 multi-core, 2,432 single-core) and much better than the Pixel 3 XL (8,378 multi-core, 2649 single-core). Keep in mind benchmarks are ideal for comparing similarly equipped handsets, but may not give an accurate representation of day-to-day-performance.
Since the Asus ROG Phone is built for gaming, we put it through its paces by playing several extended matches of PUBG Mobile. We created a customized profile for the game in X mode, an app that allows you to create individual game profiles, customize speed settings, and see overall performance. After creating our PUBG profile, we configured the phone’s built-in gaming buttons, the aforementioned Air Triggers, to aim and shoot. Gameplay was perfect, with no dropped frames or choppiness.
A vapor chamber, cooling pads, and heat spreaders are built in to prevent overheating, and we noticed the phone only began to warm up after playing PUBG for an hour. During that hour of gaming, however, battery life decreased by 20 percent.
If you find the battery depleting too quickly for your liking, Asus bundles a special fan with the phone called the AeroActive Cooler. The fan is made primarily for times when you’re charging the phone during gameplay. It has a thoughtfully placed USB-C charging port that sits on the bottom of the phone, along with a secondary 3.5mm jack for multiplayer games.
Although the ROG Phone has a 4,000mAh battery, we found battery life to be disappointing. During our battery drain test, which runs streaming video over Wi-Fi with the display set to 60Hz at full brightness, the phone died after 6 hours and 9 minutes. That’s better than the Razer Phone 2 (4 hours, 17 minutes), but poor when compared with the less expensive OnePlus 6T (8 hours, 31 minutes) and Pixel 3 XL (8 hours, 10 minutes).
During normal daily use, with X Mode turned off and the display refresh rate set at 60Hz, we had no problem making it through a 12-hour day with moderate use. If you do find yourself running low on juice, the ROG Phone has a feature called HyperCharge that will juice a depleted battery to 60 percent within half an hour with the included adapter, as well as Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0 on both the bottom and side USB-C ports.
You’ll find a dual camera array on the back of the ROG Phone. The primary sensor comes in at 12MP and has an f/1.7 aperture, while the 8MP secondary lens has a 120-degree field of view. On the front of the phone, you’ll find an 8MP selfie cam with an f/2.0 aperture.
Both the rear and front-facing cameras performed well in daylight testing. Test photos were excellent, albeit oversaturated. Depth of field was good in most photos and background details were well-defined. The front-facing camera performed nearly as well in bright light, though there was a slight loss of background detail in the test shots.
Low-light shots on the ROG Phone were a mixed bag. The rear cameras did an admirable job, with only a slight amount of noise and background blur. Photos with the front-facing camera were muddy and noisy.
Although the cameras on the ROG Phone produce decent results, if a good camera is a priority, you’ll want to look elsewhere. The OnePlus 6T produces similar shots in bright light, and does much better in low light, thanks to its Night Mode. If you want the absolute best smartphone camera, the Google Pixel 3 XL is your top choice.
The ROG Phone ships with Android 8.1 Oreo. We’re disappointed it doesn’t come with Android 9.0 Pie, but expect an update in the future. A highly customized skin called ZenUI sits atop Android and changes just about everything, from app icons to the notification bar. The look screams gamer and is once again an acquired taste. Luckily, it can be easily changed with a launcher.
There’s not a ton of bloatware on the phone, but Asus includes a suite of custom apps. The Game Center app sits on the dock and allows you to see stats about the phone and create custom user profiles for games. It’s also where you customize the rear logo.
ZenMoji also comes preloaded. It’s Asus’ take on Apple’s Animoji and Samsung’s AR Emoji. The app allows you to create cute GIFs that follow your facial movements. In addition to a handful of animals, there are several human characters. While you can change the color of your ZenMoji’s background, you cannot make any customizations to the ZenMoji itself. It’s a shame, especially since there are no options that represent people of color.
If you’re in the market for a gaming phone, the Asus ROG Phone is the one to get, with the best balance of hardware and features for hardcore mobile gamers. For casual gamers, however, the phone may be overkill. The OnePlus6T has excellent specs for $ 350 less, while the Pixel 3XL features the best smartphone camera you’ll find, and is first in line to get Android updates and special features.