The gaming phone is hardly a new concept, and Asus’ ROG Phone is but only the most recent example. Being the new kid on the block does have its perks, though. Not only has Asus gained the experience from devices that came before the ROG Phone, but the company’s actually not new to gaming or phones. That might be what makes the ROG Phone so special. The full line of accessories launched alongside it doesn’t hurt either. We spent some quality time with the ROG Phone to see if Asus could properly marry its gaming traditions with its smartphone strengths to make the best gaming phone yet.
The ROG Phone looks like a gaming phone. Made from a mix of glass and metal, the mobile device is leaning into the whole “gamer phone” look. When I passed the phone around the office, my colleagues called it aggressive and over-the-top, words you’d seldom hear used to describe a smartphone. But I think the look is rather refreshing.
More evidence of this is found on the edges of the phone, where you’ll find squeezable and tappable sides for customizable phone functions as well as game-specific, mappable trigger buttons called Air Triggers, as well as a proprietary port which can be used to unobtrusively charge the device via the USB-C cable during gaming or plug in one of the many ROG Phone accessories.
The mobile gaming experience can be made or broken by the screen you’re not only looking at but interacting with. Fortunately, the ROG’s 6-inch, FHD+ (2160 x 1080 px) display shows sharp details and very good luminosity, reaching 476 nits. Also nice to find is HDR support and a 90Hz refresh rate.
Asus gives you the option to run the display at the more common 60Hz or the noticeably smoother 90Hz rate, and the difference is marked. You’ll plainly see the smoother frame rates scrolling through menus, and, of course, in your gameplay. It may not be 120Hz like we’ve seen on the Razer Phone, but the experience is still solid, and, for a gaming phone, we expect nothing less.
Color reproduction is also decently accurate on the ROG Phone, especially in standard mode. Aside from Standard and Splendid screen modes, you can tweak hues and saturation manually to meet your tastes.
Processor, Memory, and Performance
The ROG Phone features an overclocked Snapdragon 845 paired with 8 GB RAM and 128 GB base storage, with an option for 512 GB. This SoC features the highest CPU frequency of this well-known chip thus far and as such should do some impressive work. In day-to-day tasks, we weren’t disappointed; zipping around the OS is a speedy affair, no matter the task or amount of processes being juggled.
Gaming, of course, is where we really want to see the ROG Phone perform, and perform the ROG did. Without enabling X Mode, we came across almost no skips and absolutely no stutters in gameplay; the ROG has an all-around, composed demeanor.
X Mode is a nice little boost to have to ensure the highest performance at all times, proving it can flow through the most graphics-intensive games like water and cut out entirely any instances where we might’ve seen a skipped frame in regular mode.
Of course, the 90Hz screen refresh rate enhances the gaming experience noticeably over the average 60Hz rate on most phones, making gameplay look as buttery-smooth as it feels. It’s not quite at the same level of the 120Hz experience on the Razer Phone 2, but it’s an appreciable upgrade in which gaming fans will find much delight.
Battery Life, Thermal Performance, and Aeroactive Cooler
Equipped with a 4,000 mAh battery, the ROG Phone wants to make your gaming sessions last. To that end, not only is there a secondary charging port in the middle of the phone for powering up while gaming, but that port also accepts the included Aeroactive cooler accessory, which can certainly affect battery life. In our testing, this impact was a positive one due to the snap-on fan’s notable efficacy in cooling the system, thereby making a better environment for battery life to thrive.
Games like PUBG Mobile don’t tax the battery too much. In about an hour of gaming without X Mode enabled, we lost about 15% battery and the phone’s temperature raised from 71 degrees to 89 – an 18-degree jump. After about an hour break, we spent another hour playing PUBG in X Mode, which saw a moderate increase in battery usage, draining about 20% in an hour’s use and raising the core temperature only 12 degrees from 77 to 89.
We ratcheted things up a bit from here, continuing in X Mode, but with a more intensive game – Asphalt 9. The ensuing half-hour of gaming saw a 20% drop in battery life (nearly double the rate) and a 15-degree uptick in temperature, rising from 89 degrees to 104. Seeing (and feeling) this sharp upturn, we decided it was time to snap on the Aeroactive cooler.
With this accessory attached, we gamed for 30 more minutes, with the fan on full-blast, and witnessed only a 12% battery drop and a dramatic cooling from 104 degrees to 87. All in all, three hours of gaming – two of which spent in X Mode, and 30 minutes with the Aeroactive cooler – discharged the battery by about 60%. Of course, these aren’t the most scientific results, but the theme is clear – you can game for hours on the ROG Phone and snapping on the Aeroactive cooler only furthers your gameplay.
When the battery finally does run out, though, Qualcomm’s QuickCharge 4.0 comes in handy, filling up the ROG from 0 to 100 in just about 90 minutes.