Smartphones do a lot more than just making calls. They have become the primary cameras we use and the primary screens we look at. We all spend multiple hours each day with our phones, but we don't do the same things. If you're on a budget, you might have to pick and choose features that you prioritise. Manufacturers realise this, and have come up with multiple different models that are very good for specific things. We have selfie smartphones, ones with big batteries, and ones with more style than substance. As for the gamers amongst us, we look for phones with the best possible processor in our budget.
If you don't have any budget constraints, you can get everything in one package. Flagship-class phones feature top-end processors and screens, so gaming is just one of the things they do well. However, just like with PCs, gaming can push even the best hardware. Asus is one of a small — but increasing — number of companies trying to design a phone just for gaming, with no compromises or constraints.
Some well-known products from other companies include the Razer Phone, Black Shark, and Nubia Red Magic. Asus is one of the first to launch a gaming phone in India though. The Asus ROG Phone has dedicated hardware for gaming, including a 90Hz display and lots of design tweaks. But do you like gaming on your smartphone enough to spend Rs. 69,999 on it? You are about to find out.
Asus ROG Phone design
The ROG Phone is designed to impress gamers and is inspired by Asus' ROG line of gaming laptops and components. At the back, Asus has opted for an asymmetric design with multiple elements to make it stand out. The dual camera setup, single-LED flash, and fingerprint scanner have irregular polygonal shapes that are unique and help the phone stand out. There's also a metal element with what look like vents on it.
The fingerprint scanner is slightly offset from the centre, but since it is wider than usual, it is reachable when holding this phone in either hand. In the centre of the rear is the ROG logo which has customisable RGB lighting.
Asus has opted for Corning Gorilla Glass 5 at the back, which should be able to resist scratches to some extent, and the curvature makes it comfortable to hold the smartphone. The designers have succeeded in making a device that stands out from the competition.
At the front, the ROG Phone has a 6-inch display with an 18:9 aspect ratio. It is a full-HD AMOLED panel with Corning Gorilla Glass 6 for protection. The smartphone has front-firing stereo speakers that are finished in copper and do stand out. The borders on the sides are thin, but the top and bottom are thicker. The selfie camera is positioned on the top along with sensors and a notification light. The lower bezel is bare as the phone uses on-screen buttons.
Asus has opted for a metal frame which gives the phone a premium feel. There's a 3.5mm headphone jack at the bottom along with a USB Type-C port that is positioned off-centre. The power and volume buttons are on the right and are easy to reach. They also offer good feedback, so you won't second-guess a button press.
On the left there is another USB Type-C port and a proprietary port that is used to connect the phone to several of its accessories. This port is covered by a rubber flap that is easy to lose, so Asus ships two additional rubber covers in the box.
The vents on the back of the ROG Phone help it run cooler.
Asus includes a clip-on accessory called the AeroActive Cooler in the box. This attachment has a fan that helps keep the device's temperature under control when gaming. The cooler has its own USB Type-C port and 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can plug accessories in while gaming in landscape and the wires won't get in your way. Of course, the ROG logo on its back lights up.
On the frame of the ROG Phone are three ultrasonic sensors called “AirTriggers”. There are two of them on the right side of the device which act as touch-sensitive buttons and can be used with your forefingers when gaming in landscape mode. The third one is on the lower left, and when the phone is in portrait mode you can squeeze its lower half to trigger the phone's X mode — more about all of that in a bit.
The ROG Phone has a SIM tray at the top left which can house two Nano-SIMs. It weighs 200g which is mainly because of its 4000mAh battery. Asus ships a 30W charger, in-ear headphones, a Type-C to Type-C cable, and the AeroActive cooler in the box.
Asus ROG Phone specifications and software
It is no surprise that Asus has gone all out when it comes to the hardware. For the ROG Phone, Asus has used specially binned Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processors. These chips are clocked at 2.96GHz, which is higher than the 2.8GHz clock speed on the standard Snapdragon 845. To ensure that the processor does not throttle when under load, there are carbon pads, a large vapour cooling chamber, and a copper heat spreader for heat dissipation.
You get 8GB of LPDDR4X RAM and 128GB of storage which is surprisingly non-expandable. Internationally, a version with 512GB of storage is also available, but Asus has only launched one variant in India.
The 6-inch AMOLED panel on the ROG Phone has good viewing angles and makes use of a special sensor to set the colour temperature. It supports HDR, has a 90Hz refresh rate, and can reproduce 108 percent of the DCI-P3 colour gamut. You do get the option to tweak the display output and also select between a standard 60Hz refresh rate and the higher 90Hz refresh rate. You also have the option to enable an always-on display.
The AeroActive Cooler ships along with the Asus ROG Phone.
Connectivity options include Bluetooth 5, dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, WiGig, Wi-Fi direct, NFC, and five satellite location systems. Internationally, Asus sells a WiGig Display Dock that can be used to mirror the ROG Phone on a TV wirelessly using WiGig, but this can't be sold in India due to licensing issues.
The ROG Phone is a dual-SIM device with dual 4G as well as dual VoLTE. There is support for Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0 and USB Type-C Power Delivery 3.0. This phone also has IPX4 protection which means it is splash resistant but not waterproof.
Asus has taken the same approach for software as it has with hardware. The ROG Phone runs Android 8.1 Oreo with a custom ROG UI on top. This ROG UI has custom icon packs and a dark theme. We didn't find a lot of apps preinstalled on the smartphone, which is a good thing. You get a few apps from Asus, Facebook, Instagram, and Google's suite of apps. We also got two games, Free Fire and Asphalt 9, preinstalled.
Another customisation that Asus has made is its Game Center app. This is a hub for all performance-related tweaks on the phone. When you launch Game Center you are shown information regarding the CPU and GPU temperature as well as current amounts of RAM and storage being used on the smartphone.
The Aura Lighting at the back can be configured using the Game Center app. You can select the colour, brightness, and glow pattern for the ROG logo. If you are using the AeroActive Cooler on the device, the app also lets you control its fan speed or set it to auto.
The fingerprint scanner and the camera module have irregular polygonal shapes.
You'll find a toggle for X Mode, which Asus says is a special mode dedicated to gaming. When it is enabled, the phone frees up RAM and ramps up the CPU clock speed. There are visual indicators as well; all the app icons in the app drawer get a red highlight, and the custom icons turn red. The Aura Lighting at the back glows with a different X Mode setting (this is also customisable).
You also have the option to set custom game profiles in Game Center. Here you can configure whether you want X Mode to be enabled and free up memory, as well as set a maximum CPU frequency. You can also control the screen refresh rate and anti-aliasing, and switch alerts off when playing a particular game.
Asus' Game Genie software gives you the option to record a gaming session or stream it to YouTube. This app also helps you put the AirTriggers to use by mapping them to mimic buttons on screen in different games. When you tap an AirTrigger, it simulates a touch at that point on the display.
The two AirTriggers on the right side of the device become like shoulder buttons on a game controller. When holding the phone in portrait mode, you can use the AirTriggers on either side to simulate a squeeze gesture. Asus lets you map two functions to it when the phone is locked, and two functions when it is unlocked.
Some more features have been tucked away in the Advanced tab of the Settings app. Twin Apps lets you run two instance of supported apps. ZeniMoji uses the selfie camera to track your facial movements to create an animated Emoji. Features seen on the Asus ZenFone 5Z (Review) such as AI charging, AI Ringtone, and OptiFlex are also present on the ROG Phone. It also gets a Smart Screen On feature that keeps the screen awake while you are looking at it.
Asus ROG Phone performance, battery life, and cameras
Asus has left no stone unturned when it comes to hardware and it is evident in the performance. The AMOLED panel is crisp and looks very high-quality. Switching the display refresh rate to 90Hz has an immediate effect and animations appear a lot smoother.
You get a quick toggle for HDR but the phone switches it on automatically if it detects HDR content. We couldn't watch HDR videos on Amazon Prime Video or Netflix, but the phone could detect HDR content on YouTube. HDR videos do look nice on this display.
Audio hasn't been forgotten, and the dual speakers are capable of producing good audio. We enjoyed the stereo effect from these front-firing speakers which could get really loud.
We ran benchmarks on the ROG Phone to see how this speed-binned Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoC stacks up against what we've seen before. In AnTuTu, the phone managed to clock 2,76,867 points, and it got scores of 2,486 and 9,119 in Geekbench's single-core and multi-core tests. It managed to score 4,731 in 3DMark Slingshot Extreme and 60,792 in 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited. The ROG Phone topped out at 60fps in GFXBench T-Rex and 33fps in GFXBench Car Chase.
We tried running a few benchmarks with Asus' X Mode enable and saw a bump in a few benchmark scores. The AnTuTu score rose to 2,97,854, and Geekbench 4 scores went up to 2,521 and 9,221 respectively.
The most affordable Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 powered smartphone, the Poco F1 (Review) scores 2,65,305 in AnTuTu while clocking 2454 and 9048 in Geekbench 4's single-core and multi-core tests respectively. The OnePlus 6T (Review) on the other hand scored 2,94,802 on AnTuTu and clocked 2378 and 8775 in Geekbench 4 tests. So, at least in benchmarks, the Asus ROG Phone doesn't stand out from other Snapdragon-845 powered smartphones.
The AirTriggers can be configured to simulate a touch anywhere on the display.
We were looking forward to playing games on this phone, and we tested it with PUBG Mobile, Asphalt 9, and Arena of Valor. We could play PUBG Mobile at the HDR graphics setting with the frame rate set to Ultra and it was smooth throughout. Asphalt 9 ran at the highest settings without any lag or stutter. We had also enabled the anti-aliasing feature in the Game Center app for this game, and we did not see any jagged edges during gameplay.
Arena of Valor is a heavy game and has support for higher frame rates, but this needs to be enabled in the settings. The phone managed to play this game at the higher frame rate.
The AirTriggers were quite handy especially when playing PUBG where we could tap on the trigger instead of moving our finger on the screen. We could play Asphalt 9 using the triggers with our hands off the display leading to an immersive gaming experience.
The phone did not get hot when we played PUBG Mobile for 36 minutes and Arena of Valor for around 21 minutes. It did get slightly warm to the touch, but it looks like the carbon pads and the vapour chamber do a good job.
Battery life is also good, as the phone managed to still have over 20 percent after 24 hours of use. Our usage during this time included an active WhatsApp account, an hour and a half of navigation, an hour of gaming, and running a few benchmarks.
In our HD video test, the phone managed to go on for 10 hours and 58 minutes with HDR enabled, and 15 hours and 5 minutes without HDR.
When the battery does run out, the supplied 30W charger is capable of charging the phone quickly. From zero percent, it got to 52 percent in 30 minutes and reached 85 percent in an hour.
Asus has opted for a dual camera setup on the ROG Phone, consisting of a 12-megapixel primary camera with phase detection autofocus and an f/1.7 aperture, and a secondary 8-megapixel wide angle sensor with an f/2.2 aperture and a 120-degree field of view. AI is built into the camera app just like with the ZenFone 5Z, and the phone can detect what it is pointed towards and set itself up accordingly.
The camera app is quite similar as well and you get Beauty, Pro, Super Resolution, Panorama, and Slow Motion modes. Google Lens is also integrated within the camera app, and can be quite handy. You can set the intensity of the depth effect in Portrait mode. Auto HDR is available and so is Night HDR. There is also a toggle to switch between the two cameras.
Tap to see full-sized Asus ROG Phone samples
The ROG Phone is quick to lock focus and it usually set the exposure right. AI scene detection helps when shooting any of its 16 preset scenes. Photos taken with the ROG Phone had good amounts of detail and even objects at a distance were recognisable.
The phone automatically enables HDR in scenes with a bright background. You can switch to the wide-angle camera for a wider field of view with a tap, but we found that it lacks autofocus. Macros are quite detailed, and the phone could separate subjects from their backgrounds. While shooting tiny objects we did had to tap a few times to get the focus to be where we wanted it to be.
In low light, the ROG Phone switches to night mode and keeps the shutter open for longer. With the f/1.7 aperture and the slower shutter, it does manage to get good amounts of detail. This is only useful when shooting a still subject, since it will result in a motion blur if the subject moves even slightly. If you zoom in to the image, you can also see some grain in the output.
The 8-megapixel front camera has an f/2.0 aperture and clicks good selfies. Portrait mode is also available for the selfie camera, and edge detection is good.
Video recording on the ROG Phone maxes out at 4K 60fps for the primary camera and 1080p for the selfie shooter. Electronic stabilisation is available but we saw slight warping at the edges of the frame when recording at 1080p. We found the 4K footage to be oversaturated, as the phone exaggerated greens and the yellows aggressively.
With the ROG Phone, Asus is one of the first manufacturers to bring a dedicated gaming smartphone to India. This smartphone is designed to please gamers, and has multiple design elements that draw inspiration from Asus' ROG series of laptops.
Asus has also cherry-picked the best Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 SoCs and clocked them at 2.96GHz giving it a slight edge over other devices with the same processor. The additional carbon pads and the vapour cooling chamber do help in keeping temperatures under control.
We like the software customisations that Asus has made for gaming. The Game Center app gives you a complete idea of how the phone is performing at one glance and also lets you customise how the phone behaves when a particular game is launched. The AirTriggers are handy when gaming. Asus could still tweak the cameras further to improve image stabilisation though.
For the asking price of Rs. 69,999 the Asus ROG Phone will appeal to gamers. It is capable of running most popular titles without breaking a sweat. If you are looking for a smartphone for the primary purpose of gaming, then the Asus ROG Phone will appeal to you.
On the other hand, if you want something that offers a bit of everything, then the Huawei Mate 20 Pro (Review) might be the better choice.