Asus ROG Phone review: Ideal for gamers due to 'Air Triggers' and high refresh rate display
It has a metal-glass body with a backlit, colour changing ROG logo on the back.
Smartphones are already good for gaming right? The sheer number of games on the app stores is a testament to that. But there are ways to make a device better for gamers. Asus’ ROG (Republic of Gamers) sub-brand is all about gaming and that expertise is now on a smartphone.
Designed for Gamers
If you have seen a ROG desktop or laptop, you know that futuristic design, accented edges and customizable lighting are standard. Asus has tried to do the same things on a smartphone. The ROG phone has a metal-glass body with a backlit, colour changing ROG logo on the back. Its rear panel is a fusion of glass and metal with Gorilla Glass 5 for protection. Unlike most phones, this one has some serious-looking vents for heat dissipation while the fingerprint scanner sits a bit off-center to match the design on the back.
Extra Gaming Buttons
Another unique design aspect of the ROG phone is what Asus calls Air Triggers. These are ultrasonic pressure sensitive sensors placed on the sides of the phone. These can be configured for individual games (more on this later). There is also a unique side port on the phone used to connect official gaming accessories. The trouble with this is that you need to use a rubber plug when this port is not in use. That tiny plug is easy to lose when an accessory is in use. Even though there are two extra plugs provided in the box, we think this is a piece of bad design on an overall greatlooking smartphone.
A Display Made for Gaming
Up front is a 6-inch amoled display with 18:9 aspect ratio and a resolution of 2160 x 1080 pixels. It uses Gorilla Glass 6 for protection against damage and scratches. The screen is unlike any display we have seen on a smartphone till date. For starters, it has 90Hz refresh rate (most displays are 60Hz), HDR support, 1,00,000:1 contrast ratio, 1ms response rate and 108.6% DCI-P3 wide colour gamut. By default, the screen runs at 60Hz, but you can change this for individual apps and games from the settings — you can choose a higher screen refresh rate for racing and fps games for smoother visuals while for other games you can keep a basic refresh rate. This delivers a better experience for general usage and videos while for gaming this is the best screen we have seen till date. That being said, there are only a handful of games that can utilize this high refresh rate at the moment.
Being a gaming phone, Asus has opted for the best available hardware. The processor is a custom 2.96Ghz ‘speed-binned’ Snapdragon 845 processor with optimized Adreno 630 GPU, 8GB DDR4X RAM, 128GB storage and 4,000mAh battery. Performance wise, the ROG phone will be like any other smartphone with a Snapdragon 845 on a day to day basis. You can create profiles for different games in a special app. For instance, you can have the processor run at a higher clock speed for a demanding game like PUBG but set it lower for a casual game like Temple Run. This means that you can run power hungry games at highest settings with antialiasing enabled and not face any frame drops.
Keeping It Cool
Running at a higher clock speed also means that the processor will run hot. To keep the phone from overheating, we spoke about the large vents on the back. In addition, Asus has added vapour chamber cooling on the ROG phone. This comprises a carbon cooling pad, copper heat spreader and a 3D vapor chamber which dissipates heat faster. If that wasn’t enough, Asus bundles the Aeroactive cooler accessory in the price (it has a built-in fan). The cooler fits on the back of the phone and connects using the side-port. It basically acts like an active heat sink, absorbing the heat from the phone and pushing it out faster. This keeps the phone from overheating during long gaming sessions and lets the device maintain peak performance for longer periods. The fan does get loud if you configure it to run at fullspeed, but you typically won’t hear it over your game sound effects (or if you use headphones).
A dedicated X mode enables the high-performance gaming mode on the phone. There is a dedicated game center which shows the current CPU, memory, GPU, storage usage along with the phone’s temperature. You can create custom profiles for each game (set CPU clock speed, screen refresh rate, enable/disable anti-aliasing). The game center is also where you can control the speed of the attached cooler and backlit logo colour. The Game Genie lets you control and lock screen brightness, stop notification alerts and enable real-time, on-screen device info (CPU temperature, game fps etc.). This is also where you configure the AirTriggers or set up macros, record on-screen gameplay or go live on social media. Asus has loaded the phone with all the gaming-related software features you could think of.
IFA 2018 Highlights: 5 Laptops That Stole The Show
It Has Cameras Too
Although it’s a gaming phone, Asus has still managed to add a capable dual camera setup. It is a 12MP f1.7 + 8MP rear camera with OIS and phase detect autofocus. The camera is like the Zenfone 5Z and captures photos with excellent details, low noise and vivid colours. The secondary lens is a wide-angle lens which enables great 120-degree wide-angle photos. On the front is an 8MP camera which mostly takes great selfies. However, we did find it odd that the front camera has focus hunting issue which becomes an issue while taking portrait images. Almost 50% of the time we got photos with no bokeh effect because of this focus hunting issue.
There are a number of other features about the ROG phone we loved. It has a great battery life and comes with a 40W QuickCharge 4.0 charger out of the box — we could charge the phone from 10 to 100% in just over an hour. It’s got front stereo speakers which are loud and clear. Battery life Is great for day-to-day usage — with an hour of gaming, the phone lasts from 9am to 9pm. The side port supports charging via standard USB-C cable which means you can continue to play and charge without worrying about a cable getting in the way. There are a number of official gaming accessories (optional extras). Also, you get a pair of premium ZenEar earphones in the box. It also has a few thigs we did not like. The biggest issue being the slow and inconsistent fingerprint scanner followed by no option of expandable storage (no microSD slot) and that it weighs a hefty 200 grams (without the active cooler).
Overall, the ROG phone is ideal for gamers due to its optimized gaming software tweaks, Air Triggers and the higher refresh rate display. We think there will be few takers for a gaming phone at this price. For half the price you can get the OnePlus 6T which performs equally well in gaming but doesn’t have all the gaming bells and whistles you get on the ROG phone.