ROG Phone first look – the ‘ultimate gaming phone’

Asus ROG Phone: The latest ‘ultimate gaming phone’ has a lot of potential

The ROG Phone is Asus answer to the Razer Phone. It aims to offer a “portable console” level gaming experience using a combination of top notch hardware and attachable peripherals.

Highlights include a 90Hz refresh rate screen, amazing cooling and a top notch selection of attachable controllers and docks that make it look more like a Nintendo Switch than a phone.

Asus ROG Phone price

Asus hasn’t confirmed pricing, but a spokesperson told us “you’ll be surprised”. Make of that what you will.

Asus ROG Phone release date

The same’s true on the phone’s release date. The representative said they were hoping it arrive around “August”, but that was only a guess.

Related: Best smartphones

While, at first glance, the ROG Phone may not look that original, featuring a nearly-identical set of features to its Razer-rival, having had an opening play you can colour me impressed. Make no mistake, from a hardware perspective the ROG Phone is the ROG GX800 of smartphones and a complete engineering marvel. I just wish Asus hadn’t made it look quite so ridiculous.

Asus ROG Phone: Design

Visually the ROG phone is about as ostentatious as it gets. Unlike most current flagship smartphones, which have elegant mixed metal and glass iPhone-X inspired designs, the ROG Phone takes its visual queues from ROG laptops. As a result, it’s full of RGB lighting and hard edges. I haven’t seen something this over the top in the mobile space since the Acer Predator gaming tablet.

Specifically, the metal sides have hard-line edges all around them and an RGB ROG logo that changes colour every few seconds is emblazoned on its back. Thankfully, you can turn the RGB lighting off in the phone’s custom Republic of Gamers app, which also lets you see things like the CPU and GPU temperature. But even when you do, this isn’t a subtle phone and most non-gamers will likely be put off by the design.

Visuals aside it features a few pretty cool custom design features that will benefit gamers. For starters, it has customisable “Airtrigger” keys on its top right side. These are programmable capacitive controls that you can use while gaming. This may sound small, but playing a few rounds of PUBG on the ROG phone I found them to be fairly useful and made for a much more Nintendo DS, or Switch like gaming experience.

Asus has also loaded it with a secondary custom USB-C charge port on its bottom left side. The idea here is that it’ll let you charge your phone when gaming, without having to have the cable interfere with your grip. It’s also used to connect optional peripherals to the phone.

At the show, I saw four peripherals demoed: a PC dock, Twinview dock, Gamevice Control and Aeroactive cooler.

The desktop dock lets you connect the phone to a monitor, mouse and keyboard and play games and open Android apps on the big screen with more precise controls. If the peripherals are attached to a PC you can also switch between mobile and PC views, though I didn’t get to try this during my demo.

The Twinview dock adds a second AMOLED display, physical shoulder buttons and more powerful haptics. At the moment it can only be used to display other open Android apps and live stream while gaming, but Asus is apparently working with developers to make it so players can have DS-like dual screen experiences using it.

The Gamevice Control is for couch gaming. It’s an attachable controller that makes the phone look like a Nintendo Switch that, when coupled with its base station, can be used to stream games onto a TV. I only got to test it in very controlled conditions but the controller felt well made and I didn’t notice any lag while playing PUBG. Hopefully, it’ll continue to perform with more prolonged testing.

The custom cooler is the only add-on that doesn’t cost extra and is bundled with the phone and does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s designed to help the phone’s already impressive cooling system stop the phone overheating using a secondary fan.

The phone’s own cooling system has also been given a spruce, featuring a 3D vapour chamber and cooling covers across “nearly the whole phone. Asus claims it has a 16x larger heat dissipation chamber than competing phones. If it works anywhere near as well as Razer’s competing custom solution, which turns the Razer Phone’s metal chassis into a heat sink, I’ll be seriously impressed.

Asus ROG Phone: Specs

This is pretty important as the phone has some pretty demanding components in it. Chief of these is it’s custom Snapdragon 845 CPU. The Qualcomm 845 Kryo CPU has been speed binned to run at 2.97GHz – a higher clock speed than the version you’ll find on competing phones with the same CPU. According to Asus, this, plus the ROG phone’s quite frankly ridiculous 8GB RAM makes the handset “the fastest ever made”.

If the Asus-quoted 304183 Antutu benchmark score rings true there could well be some truth to this claim. Either way, I didn’t notice any performance issues during my hands on. The phone also remained cool for most of my tests, despite being put through its paces by multiple journalists. The only heat up I experienced happened when I used it in the PC dock. Though it worked fine the phone was noticeably hot to the touch and definitely close to CPU throttling.

The screen’s also pretty impressive. It doesn’t match the 120Hz refresh rate seen on the Razer Phone, but at 90Hz it’s still a significant improvement on most competing phones that are locked to 60Hz. Playing games and streaming movies, the AMOLED, the HDR-ready screen was significantly more reactive and smooth compared to the Pixel 2 I tested it against.

According to Asus, it’s also more reactive than the Razer, featuring a 1ms response rate. Until I get the two head-to-head I won’t be able to sensibly confirm if there’s much of a difference. Colours were a little oversaturated for my liking, but the lighting conditions mean my naked eye impressions may have been off.

My only serious concern about the screen is that it is locked to run at 90Hz. Unlike the Razer Phone, the ROG doesn’t have a variable refresh rate that can be automatically or manually adjusted on an app-by-app basis.

This isn’t a problem if performance is your primary concern, but it will impact the phone’s battery life. A higher refresh rate increases the number of times a phone has to render an image on the screen each second. The increased number of cycles will require more power.

This was a key issue on the Razer Phone, which has an identically sized 4000mAh battery. Here’s hoping history doesn’t repeat itself.

I’m also a little nervous about the phone’s software. The software is a heavily customised version of Android Nougat. It features a completely reworked UI with custom app icons and more third-party software than you shake a stick at. In the past heavier skinned phones have been seriously slow to get software updates to newer versions of Android. This has been a key problem on past Asus phones.

Outside of this, the specs are pretty par for the course on for a top end 2018 phone. The phone has the same rear camera setup as the Zenfone 5. It combines a 12-megapixel primary and 8-megapixel, 120-degree sensor. Sadly the software I tested wasn’t final, so I can’t really comment how good it is. You can see a full a full breakdown of the ROG Phone’s specs in the tablet below.

Processor Qualcomm SDM845
GPU Adreno 630 (SDM845)
UI Gaming UI & Phone UI
Display 6.0“, 18:9, 2160×1080 AMOLED 90Hz with 1ms response rate; 108.6% DCIP3; 10,000:1 contrast ratio. With Corning Gorilla 6 glass
Capacitive touch panel with 10 points multi-touch (support Glove touch)

Support mobile HDR; gaming HDR; SDR to HDR

Amazon HDR/Netflix HDR/YouTube HDR certified (TBD)

Dimensions 158.83x 76.16x 8.65mm
Weight 200g
Battery 4,000mAh
Storage UFS2.1, 128GB or 512GB
Sensor Accelerator, E-Compass, Proximity, Hall sensor, Ambient light sensor, fingerprint sensor, Gyro, Ultrasonic sensor
WLAN Integrated  802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ad (5G, 2×2 MIMO) ; WiFi-Direct;

802.11ad for Wireless Display (low latency)

Bluetooth Bluetooth V 5.0 ( EDR + A2DP )
Bluetooth Profile:A2DP + AVRCP + HID + PAN + OPP

Sony LDAC certification codec support

GPS Support GPS, aGPS, Glonass, BeiDou
Interface Side: 48 pin Customized connector

USB3.1 gen1/DP 1.4(4K)/Fast Charging (QC3.0+QC4.0/PD3.0) / Direct Charge

Bottom: Type C connector

USB2.0/Fast Charging (QC3.0/PD3.0)/Direct Charge

3.5mm Audio jack
Front Camera 8M
Main Camera 12M+8M (120 degree)
ARCore Yes
Voice Wakeup Yes
Speakers Dual speaker with smart amp with DTS 7.1 virtual surround
Water-proof IP68
NFC Support

Opening impressions

The ROG Phone looks like it’ll be a marmite device that’s perfect for gamers but a little ostentatious for everyone else. Even I, as a hardcore gamer, winced at the over the top design and slathering of RGB lighting.

However, there’s no denying it’s an impressive bit of engineering – featuring a custom, more powerful Snapdragon 845 CPU, top-notch high-refresh-rate display and wealth of gaming-focused peripherals that seem set to offer actually useful extra functionality.

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