The ROG Phone 5 is currently the best gaming smartphone. Asus offers an additional Vision screen, more storage, and a larger scope of delivery with the Pro version. Our review clarifies for whom the upgrade is worthwhile.
The ROG Phone 5 Pro is different from the Standard variant visually and the build quality is on the same level. However, the big difference is on the back because the Pro has a so-called ROG Vision display instead of the dot RGB matrix. This can display smaller animations, also provides information about the current battery status when charging the smartphone and accompanies the connection of accessories with suitable animations.
Another difference is revealed in the scope of delivery, because the external AeroActive Cooler 5 is included in the box.
The equipment is unique for a smartphone. Besides the Pogo PINs for the connection to the fan, there is a USB 3.2 port (Gen. 2, up to 10 GBit/s, HDMI and dP support up to UHD, QC 5.0) right next to it and an additional USB 2.0 port (QC 3.0) on the bottom edge, which can be used for power supply while gaming. Furthermore, the additional ultrasonic keys AirTrigger 5 and an audio jack with High-Res Audio DAC are also on board.
The operating system Android 11 with the in-house ROG UI is used. Users who do not like this can switch, during the setup, to the standard UI, which is very similar to a pure Android.
All modern standards are used for the mobile data connection and the number of supported frequency bands for LTE and 5G has been increased again for the Pro version. Wi-Fi 6E is a fast WLAN standard that can connect to two networks simultaneously via dual WLAN and enables high and stable data rates in the test with the Netgear Nighthawk AX12.
The voice quality of the ROG Phone is really good and delivers a very good intelligibility when held to the ear, which only reaches its limits in very loud ambient noise. The speaker mode reverberates slightly, but has a good microphone range and quality. The Asus smartphone can accept two nano-SIM cards and supports VoLTE.
The ROG Phone 5 not only has a high refresh rate of up to 144 Hz, but the touch sampling rate of 300 Hz is also very high and promises a fast implementation of inputs on the touchscreen with a latency of 24.3 milliseconds. For biometric security, an optical fingerprint scanner is available in the display, which offers quite reliable recognition rates, but is not one of the fastest. Two-dimensional face recognition is also possible.
Cameras – triple optics in the ROG Phone 5 Pro
The ROG Phone 5 Pro relies on a camera setup that consists of three lenses. Besides the 64 MP main lens, an ultra-wide-angle and a macro lens are integrated. Even though the Sony sensor is still from last year, good pictures can be taken with it and the high reserves in terms of resolution allow smaller zoom levels without much loss of quality. Videos can also be recorded in 8k.
The front-facing camera also takes good pictures, but it cannot compensate backlight completely. Videos can be created in Full HD with up to 60 frames per second.
Display – Improved DC dimming
The display of the Asus ROG Phone 5 Pro is identical to that of the Standard variant. It measures 6.78 inches, works with a Full HD Plus resolution and up to 144 Hz. The OLED panel achieves up to 806 cd/m² in a pure white display and enabled ambient light sensor. With an even distribution of bright and dark areas (APL50), it is 1,088 cd/m² and 1,136 cd/m² with APL10. If you adjust the brightness manually, you have 488 cd/m² at your disposal.
It is positive that Asus has improved the DC dimming. Although this still only works with 60 Hz, it actually works now.
Performance, emissions and battery life
The Asus ROG Phone 5 Pro is powered by the Snapdragon 888 with a whopping 16 GB LPDDR5 RAM. The graphics calculations are handled by the integrated Adreno 660. Since the Qualcomm chipset is considered difficult to cool, Asus has focused exactly on this aspect and achieves a stable performance at all times in combination with the fan. Although the surface temperatures increase noticeably, they only get warm to the touch and remain absolutely harmless.
There is no game that Asus‘ smartphone cannot master in the highest detail settings, and it also offers broad support for titles with more than 60 FPS.
The two front-facing speakers can not only get very loud, but also provide a comparatively good sound image. There is also wide support for Bluetooth codecs as well as an excellent audio jack.
In terms of battery runtimes, the Pro model presents itself even more efficient than the standard variant; the manufacturer seems to have improved here as well.
Verdict – Little Pro, but more memory
Asus‘ ROG Phone 5 Pro has surprisingly little added value for its rather steep surcharge. The Vision display on the back is certainly a nice gimmick, but it does not offer any added value in everyday use. The doubling of the memory and the additional frequency bands could be more interesting, and the AeroActive Cooler 5 is included, which would otherwise also cost 60 Euros (~$70).
“The Asus ROG Phone 5 Pro is primarily aimed at memory-hungry users.”
Nevertheless, the ROG Phone 5 Pro remains the best gaming smartphone at the moment, with a strong configuration. Besides the 144 Hz AMOLED display, the performance-stable processor, additional ultrasonic sensor keys, two USB ports, and the broad support of games with 120 and 144 Hz are particularly important.
Cheaper alternatives are the Black Shark 4 or the RedMagic 6R, but they also have to make concessions in the areas of speed, features and optional accessories.
Price and availability
The ROG Phone 5 Pro is currently difficult to get hold of and at the time of this review has even disappeared from the Asus eShop and can primarily be purchased via Asian sites like AliExpress.
Samsung’siPhone display business is under growing threat from Chinese competitor BOE, which is gearing up to match the production of the Korean supplier …
When Apple launched the iPhone X, Samsung was the only OLED supplier able to meet the Cupertino company’s exacting requirements for both sophistication and yield. Since then, Apple has added both LG and BOE as secondary iPhone display suppliers, but Samsung has retained the bulk of the orders.
A new report in The Elec suggests that could be about to change.
Chinese display giant BOE was in the process of converting its three factories __ B7, B11 and B12 __ to manufacture smartphone flexible OLED panels for Apple, analyst firm UBI Research has claimed.
Because of this, BOE will likely overtake LG Display as the larger OLED supplier for iPhones by 2023, UBI Research CEO Choong Hoon Yi said at an online seminar on Friday.
The Chinese display giant is aiming to become the second-largest supplier of OLED panels to Apple by converting its three factories, Yi said.
BOE’s total flexible OLED panel production capacity will expand from its current 96,000 substrates per month (Gen 6 substrates) to 144,000 substrates per month by the fourth quarter of next year, the CEO said.
This is level with that of Samsung Display’s current capacity of 140,000 substrates per month.
LG is also aiming to double its own production to 60,000 substrates per month.
Both increases will likely see Samsung’s own orders fall as Apple seeks to balance out supply to reduce dependence on a single company.
There will, however, be more Apple OLED business to come. Reports point to the possibility of OLED iPads in 2024, and OLED MacBooks in 2025, en route to the longer-term switch to microLED. (The latest flagship models of both iPads and MacBooks currently use IPS LCD displays with miniLED backlighting.)
Another year, another ROG Phone. Asus has relentlessly been keeping up its efforts to deliver “The ultimate smartphone gaming experience” for four years now. With great success, we might we add.
This time around, we have the shiny new ROG Phone 5 to get acquainted with. A Republic of Gamers product through and through, but one that does things a bit differently than its predecessors in some regards, while staying true to form in many others. There’s plenty to discuss, so without further ado, we’ll just jump straight into it.
First things first. Yes, it’s the ROG Phone 5 instead of 4. Don’t worry about it; you haven’t accidentally skipped an iteration along the way. The explanation is actually simple and one that we have encountered before with Chinese and Taiwanese naming conventions. The number ‘four’ in Chinese just happens to sound similar to their word for death, so naming products after this number is considered unlucky and is avoided.
That’s ironically, probably the least intriguing bit about the ROG Phone 5, though. Let’s start with the fact that the ROG Phone 5 is more of a family of devices than a single model.
Asus ROG Phone 5 specs at a glance:
Body: 172.8×77.3×10.3mm, 238g; metal body; RGB light panel (on the back), Pressure sensitive zones (Gaming triggers).
There are anywhere between two to five distinct versions available, depending on how you count them. The vanilla ROG Phone 5 has an A, B and C variant, denoting their differences in available bands and network connectivity, as well as memory variants. Starting from variant “C”, the base configuration is an 8GB/128GB one with a 12GB/256GB tier also available. Variant “B” adds a third option to the list – 16GB/256GB. Variant “A” is not available in the base 8GB/128GB tier, but can be had in both 12GB/256GB and 16GB/256GB configs.
Granted, clearly, some of these variants are meant for different markets. Still, that’s already plenty confusing in our mind, but things extend past the vanilla ROG Phone 5 this year. And we’re not talking about a “Strix” variant, like in previous generations, which might still be a thing. Instead, this year Asus has an ROG Phone 5 Pro, as well as and ROG Phone 5 Ultimate.
The Pro variant has 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, while Ultimate ups the RAM to a whopping 18GB of capacity. The Ultimate edition is expected to be an extremely limited offering.
There are some physical differences compared to the Pro/Ultimate. Both of these have PMOLED ROG Vision displays on the back, instead of the ROG RGB logo, as well as a pair of extra touch inputs. There are some exclusive colors and finishes – Glossy Black on the Pro and Matte While, with a satin matte finish on the Ultimate. You also need to buy either the Pro or the Ultimate to get the Asus Aeroactive Cooler 5 snap-on active cooling accessory in the box. And if you go Ultimate, you will also get an exclusive gift bag of ROG “swag” beyond that.
This particular review and all of the testing and benchmarking was done on a regular ROG Phone 5 unit with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
This variant situation is undoubtedly a bit confusing. Still, there are different ways of looking at it from a more positive angle, namely that of extra choice for the end-user and Asus trying to cast a wider net this time around in hopes of appealing to as many prospective buyers as possible.
On the flip side of this argument, there are definitely some questionable decisions with the ROG Phone 5 as well, that could be passed-off as simplification or diversification measures, but are actually kind of downgrades or “side-grades” at best. Notable examples include the rather odd fact that after two consecutive years of deliberately preserving the same footprint with ROG Phones and compatibility with the growing ROG accessory ecosystem, the chain is officially broken with the ROG Phone 5. It is slightly taller than its predecessors and leaves behind support for such killer gadgets as the Desktop Dock and the TwinView Dock.
Also, the Aeroactive Cooler is not bundled with every unit for the first time ever. And in a more general sense, while still clearly on top of its game, the ROG Phone 5 is arguably a bit “lighter” in the innovation department compared to its predecessors.
We’ll definitely dig more into these “interesting choices” surrounding the ROG Phone 5 in the following pages.
A great place to start seems to be the retail box itself and its contents. Getting a new ROG Phone package has always been a bit of an experience in itself. Doubly so for us, since Asus used to send actual briefcases chuck-full of accessories our way. With last year’s ROG Phone 3, the packaging started getting a bit tamer, sort of synergistically so with the design of the phone itself, which was justifiable and rather sensible.
The ROG Phone 5 takes things to the next level in more ways than one. The box we got was just a regular rectangle. A fancy one, for sure, complete with some art, but it only took us a split second to open the magnetic flap and get to the unit. No alien tetrahedranes, pyramids sliding into each other, hidden compartments, and magic augmented reality symbols. Joking aside, we appreciate the extra sensibility in an otherwise costly package that will ultimately end up in a closet somewhere.
We are a lot less appreciative of the omission of the ROG Aeroactive Cooler 5, though. Every other ROG Phone in the past used to have its corresponding Aeroactive cooler bundled. You can definitely choose whether to see this as a convenient way to save less-demanding users some money or an otherwise manufacturer-beneficial cost-saving measure. It’s up to you. Plus, you do still get one if you go for the Pro or Ultimate variant of the ROG Phone 5. Probably the former, since the latter will be extremely limited in availability.
We didn’t get any spare plastic plugs for the ROG Side connector this time around, which is not a major deal, but is still worth mentioning. On the plus side, Asus still throws in its highly-specific Aero case in black or white, to match your unit’s color. It has a particular shape mostly mandated by the need to be compatible with the Aeroactive Cooler 5, to allow for the ROG logo to be visible, while still providing at least some protection. At least the corners are covered.
For charging you still get a very versatile HyperCharger unit from Asus. It is a 65W brick that uses Asus HyperCharge technology, based on Power Delivery 3.0 + PPS at 3.3V to 21V and 3A of current. This means that you only need a decent USB 2.0 or 3.0 Type-C to Type-C cable rated at the base 3A to take full advantage of the charger. Asus provides a nice braided one in the box.
The ROG Phone 5 actually has two separate 3,000 mAh cells, with MMT tech and double-wired split design, which works in conjunction with the HyperCharge tech to allow the 65W charging speed – a clear upgrade over the ROG Phone 3, while also generating less heat. More on that later.
One interesting side note is that the 65W charger also supports Quick Charge 5.0, making it surprisingly versatile to just have on hand for all sorts of charging needs. Plus, it’s compact, especially for a non-GaN unit.
Even if you don’t appreciate certain aspects of devices Asus brings into the smartphone realm, there is no denying that the Taiwanese giant basically spearheaded the modern gaming smartphone niche with the ROG Phone line. It was a major gamble, a bold move and the space is still marked by plenty of uncertainty and soul-searching. That’s the beauty of big bold steps, though, that they spark innovation, and, today, four years later, Asus is not alone in the gaming smartphone space.
Sure, releases are still sporadic and experimental, more than anything else, but there is competition to point out. ZTE-owned Nubia instantly comes to mind, especially with the very recent announcement of the nubia Red Magic 6 and 6 Pro. Just like the ROG Phone 5, these are based on the flagship Snapdragon 888 chipset and even feature active fan cooling. Only theirs is an actual part of the internal design of the phones, as opposed to a snap-on accessory. Another spotlight feature of the Red Magic 6 pair, in particular, is the 165Hz refresh rate and 400Hz touch sampling rate on their 6.8-inch AMOLED displays. Both industry-leading figures, though we are not exactly sure how actual input chain latency sizes-up against Asus‘ bold claims of delivering the lowest input times in the industry with the ROG Phone 5.
Xiaomi has its Black Shark line, which unfortunately hasn’t been updated since the Black Shark 3S, back in August last year. With a regular Snapdragon 865 (non-plus) under the hood, it’s no longer going to be a benchmark chart-topper. Still, a potent device styled in proper gaming attire. You might want to wait a bit for the upcoming Black Shark 4 family, though.
No gaming smartphone list would be complete without Lenovo’s relatively recent entry into the scene with the Legion line. The last refresh there is the Legion Duel – a solid hardware proposition all-around, with its 144Hz AMOLED display and Snapdragon 865+ chipset. Not unlike Xiaomi, though, a new Legion, allegedly called the Legion 2 Pro is right around the corner and if rumors are to be believed, will have some sort of dual turbo cooling system to boot.
If you are not particularly partial to the gamer aesthetic or don’t really think your gaming performance would benefit all that much from any specific game optimizations, features and tweaks on a hardware or software level, there are plenty of excellent “ordinary” flagship devices to consider and still get excellent flagship performance. Vivo, for one, has you covered with the iQOO 7, which still holds the AnTuTu score record. And just a few points behind – the vivo X60 Pro+. Both are based on the Snapdragon 888 and with fast 120Hz OLED displays. The latter shining a bit brighter in the camera department.
Coincidentally, or rather not so much, we also find the excellent and very popular Xiaomi Redmi K40 Pro also on the same AnTuTu list. To be clear, we are not advising anyone to choose a device simply based on one peak performance score number. However, it is a convenient data point to consider when looking for the best performance around. Plus, with its 120Hz AMOLED panel, the K40 Pro is more than just raw muscle and has the requirements to deliver an excellent gaming experience, as well.
Speaking of an excellent gaming experience, as part of an equally-good overall phone one, why not consider one of Samsung’s Galaxy S21 phones? Ideally, one with the Snapdragon 888, instead of the Exynos 2100, in the particular context of sustained performance and thermal-throttling, which you can read more about in our in-depth comparative exploration of the two chips. Beyond that, it is worth noting that Samsung has a surprisingly competent and in-depth Game Launcher, complete with graphics and resolution tweaks, among other things.
Nobody does smartphone gaming quite like Asus. Four iterations into the ROG Phone line, that remains a fact. The ROG Phone 5 is a true powerhouse in every sense of the word – a phone that is specifically crafted to deliver the best possible gaming experience, with any other concern or consideration taking a back seat. It just so happens that when you make an excellent gaming flagship, you usually end up with an excellent all-around device in general that has plenty of appeal outside gaming.
That has generally been our conclusion for every ROG Phone in the past, and we stand by it for the ROG Phone 5, as well. However, the ROG Phone 5 is probably the least impressive new generation we’ve seen in the ROG family.
On a hardware level, it constitutes a small upgrade over the ROG Phone 3. There are no new major spotlight features, no pushing the envelope in terms of display tech or additional controls and inputs. It’s more a case of Asus refining most aspects of the ROG Phone 3 further, but also, unfortunately, changing some odd things around. We can’t say we particularly like the new design for the side connector. It is hard to operate and fragile. Plus, it breaks compatibility with the excellent Mobile Desktop Dock. The simpler design for the AeroActive Cooler 5 also has its issues, and for the first time ever, it is not included with every unit.
Then there is the slightly taller body, likely related to the return of the 3.5mm audio jack and the newly-symmetrical exquisite speaker system, which we very-much appreciate, as well as the new split battery design, which is more of a polarizing topic, looking at the battery numbers. We don’t really mind the growth spurt, as such, but wish that it didn’t come at the expense of even more lost compatibility with the excellent ROG Phone accessory ecosystem, like the TwinView Dock.
Perhaps Asus is amidst some business “reorientation” here. Shifting focus away from end users and extravagant accessories to capture headlines and laser-focusing on delivering pro tools for the e-sports contestants and organizers exclusively. It seems to be too early to tell. Overall, we feel like the ROG Phone 5 is a truly excellent phone, still on a level of its own when it comes to mobile gaming profess, but one unfortunately experiencing some “changes” this year that managed to rub us the wrong way.
Even more toned-down, but still ROG-inspired gamer’s design with great build quality.
AirTigger 5 ultrasonic touch sensors are very precise and versatile. Motion controls are extended and greatly improved from last gen
Industry-leading stereo speaker performance, complete with gaming-specific sound tweaks
Superb AMOLED screen, 144Hz refresh rate.
Great battery life, even at full 144Hz. Rich battery health prolonging options. Very fast charging (65W charger bundled).
Fastest-available Snapdragon 888 chipset with an amazing thermal management.
Great Android implementation, an unparalleled number of game tweaks, control-mapping and performance options
Solid daylight photos, as well as low-light images. Impressive selfie quality
Very good video quality, impressive EIS
No longer backwards compatible with most ROG Phone II or 3 accessories. Available accessory ecosystem is significantly smaller than on previous models
AeroActive Cooler 5 not included with the vanilla model. The new design for both the cooler and its connector are hard to align and prone to damage
No water or dust resistance
Rather basic camera setup, compared to typical 2021 flagships
Bottom line: Samsung’s Galaxy S21 is a great overall package, delivering 5G, the latest hardware, and all the extras you could ask for in a 2021 flagship.
6.2-inch AMOLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
128 or 256GB
12MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide, 64MP telephoto
25W wired, 15W wireless
151.7 x 71.2 x 7.9mm
Compact and lightweight design
Snapdragon 888 is a performance beast
120Hz AMOLED display
Very capable cameras
All-day battery life
Doesn’t have expandable storage
No MST for Samsung Pay
In 2021, Samsung has released a smaller and more affordable smartphone in the regular Galaxy S21. For shoppers that want a fully-fledged smartphone experience without completely breaking the bank, it’s well worth your consideration.
One of the best things the Galaxy S21 has going for it is the display. It’s a Full HD+ AMOLED panel, and when paired with a smooth 120Hz refresh rate, it is nothing short of excellent. It’s not quite as sharp as the Quad HD+ resolution found on the S21 Ultra, but the picture still looks really crisp thanks to a smaller 6.2-inch display size. Combine that smaller display with plastic construction, and the S21 ends up being a really comfortable phone to use thanks to its small size and lightweight design.
Another highlight is performance; the Galaxy S21 features the Snapdragon 888 and 8GB of RAM. No matter what tasks you throw at the phone, it’ll handle them with ease. There’s also a 4,000 mAh battery for all-day endurance, an IP68 dust/water resistance rating, and your choice of 128GB or 256GB of storage. The camera experience isn’t as jaw-dropping as what you’ll find with the S21 Ultra, though it is a bit better than the S20 FE. Once again, it’s a nice middle-ground between the two.
You get three guaranteed Android updates and four years of security patches on the software front, making the Galaxy S21 one of the best phones for long-term use. That said, the Galaxy S21 shares the same cons as the S21 Ultra, meaning there’s no expandable storage or MST for Samsung Pay. Those are two features you do get with the S20 FE, but the S21 still manages to stand out thanks to its improved cameras, faster performance, nicer design, and more pocketable form factor.
Bottom line: The S21 Ultra stands out as the phone to get if you don’t want to spare any expense. Everything from the display, performance, cameras, and more are among the very best you can get — just be prepared for it to cost you a pretty penny.
What Samsung achieved with the Galaxy S20 FE is nothing short of amazing, and for the vast majority of you reading this, it’s the phone you should probably buy. But if you’re itching for a device that has even more to offer and you’re OK spending more to get that kind of experience, you’ll want to turn your attention towards the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
This is Samsung’s top-of-the-line flagship for 2021, and in virtually every regard, the premium nature of the S21 Ultra is easy to see. Starting first with the display, you’re treated to a massive 6.8-inch panel that’s capable of running a Quad HD+ resolution with a 120Hz refresh rate at the same time — something very few smartphones are capable of doing. This means you get razor-sharp text, buttery smooth animations, and the stunning colors of Samsung’s Dynamic AMOLED screen technology.
Powering the S21 Ultra is the Snapdragon 888 chipset, paired with either 12 or 16GB of RAM. In real-world use, that means the Galaxy S21 Ultra is one of the fastest phones money can buy. Keeping with the theme of high-end specs, other niceties include a 5,000 mAh battery, up to 512GB of storage, an IP68 water/dust resistance rating, and a larger in-screen fingerprint sensor that’s much faster and easier to use than the one found on the S20 FE.
As if that wasn’t enough, the tour de force of the Galaxy S21 Ultra is its camera system. The primary camera is a 108MP sensor that captures extremely detailed and colorful shots. The 8MP ultra-wide lens is a strong performer. The two telephoto cameras — featuring 3x and 10x zoom distances — allow for some of the very best zoom pictures we’ve ever seen.
There’s no denying the impressiveness of the S21 Ultra, but that’s not to say it’s without its faults. Samsung got rid of expandable storage and MST for Samsung Pay, two hallmark features of Galaxy phones before it. If you’re alright with losing out on those features, the Galaxy S21 Ultra experience is well well worth the price of admission.
Bottom line: The OnePlus 9 Pro delivers a gorgeous new design combined with top-notch internal hardware, cameras tuned by Hasselblad, and clean software. OnePlus finally has a phone that measures up to Android’s best, and the OnePlus 9 Pro is an affordable alternative to the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is gunning straight for the Galaxy S21 Ultra. The phone features the latest hardware you’ll find today, including the Snapdragon 888 chipset, along with LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.1 storage modules, and a marquee addition this year is the cameras.
OnePlus always nailed the hardware, but it just couldn’t deliver cameras that held up to Samsung, Google, and Xiaomi. That has changed with the OnePlus 9 Pro. The device comes with an upgraded 48MP camera at the back that takes fantastic photos. OnePlus also partnered with German camera giant Hasselblad to deliver outstanding photos to capture every moment. The result: the OnePlus 9 Pro takes amazing shots in just about any lighting condition. There’s also a 50MP wide-angle lens that may just be the best on any phone today, and you get an 8MP module that offers 3x digital zoom.
The OnePlus 9 Pro is one of the fastest phones you can buy today, and a new 120Hz AMOLED display joins the top-notch hardware. The phone uses an LTPO display to dynamically change the refresh all the way from 1Hz to 120Hz, allowing it to conserve battery life while delivering a smooth and fluid user experience in daily use.
You’ll also find clean software without any bloatware at all in the Android 11-based OxygenOS 11. The interface has plenty of customizability, and unlike Samsung’s One UI, you will not find any errant ads anywhere. The clean UI combined with a focus on performance and customization make OxygenOS the default choice for enthusiasts.
The phone doesn’t miss out in other areas either — you get IP68 dust and water resistance, 5G connectivity over both Sub-6 and mmWave, and dual-band GPS along with NFC. But a key highlight is around battery tech — the OnePlus 9 Pro offers 65W wired charging along with 50W wireless charging, with the phone taking just 29 minutes to fully charge using the bundled charger. OnePlus also recently announced that its flagship phones would begin receiving three major Android updates — up from the two promised previously.
While it’s exciting to see the gains in this area, the one downside is that battery life itself isn’t on par with other Android flagships. For example, the OnePlus 9 Pro barely manages to last a day with heavy use, so you may want to take the charger along if you’re heading out.
That said, the OnePlus 9 Pro is a great overall package that nails the fundamentals. So if you’re not sure about the Galaxy S21 Ultra and are looking for an alternative, you will love what the OnePlus 9 Pro has to offer.
Bottom line: There are many good smartphone deals out there, but none of them are as amazing as the Pixel 4a. From its flagship-grade cameras, reliable performance, all-day battery life, and long-term software support, no other phone gives you this much for so little.
5.81-inch OLED, 2340×1080, 60Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 730G
144 x 69.4 x 8.2mm
Flagship camera on a budget phone
Easy to use in one hand
AMOLED display looks great
Three years of software support
The Pixel 4a is the best phone value available today, period. Google’s packed most of what makes the Pixel 4/5 series good into a smartphone that costs over 50% less. You also get a compact device that, despite its size, excels in the battery life department. Seriously, this phone lasts all day and then some.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the 4a is its camera, which is nearly on par with the Pixel 4 that preceded it. The main camera shoots exceptional photos in all lighting conditions, with Night Sight really showing its strength in poor lighting. Google even added Astrophotography mode this time around and improved the already impressive Portrait Mode. The front-facing camera is also tack-sharp and focuses more quickly than on the Pixel 3a from 2019. Both front and back, you’re getting flagship-level camera quality out of a phone that’s a fraction of the price. Google’s also improved the video quality on the 4a, thanks to an improved Snapdragon 730 chipset and 6GB of RAM standard.
So what do you lose by spending a third of the price of a more traditional flagship? Well, the Pixel 4a is made of plastic and lacks both water resistance and wireless charging, features you can take for granted at a higher price point. It also only comes in one size, a 5.8-inch variant, and one color, black. There are no storage size options, either: you get 128GB of internal memory, which should be plenty for most people, but a lack of microSD expansion may be a problem for the content collectors out there. Also, there’s no 5G support here.
All of these limitations shouldn’t impede your desire to buy the Pixel 4a, which proved to be one of the best smartphone surprises of 2020 — even if it did launch a few months late. Google’s latest budget phone is a winner, from the size to the performance to the battery life and camera quality.
Bottom line: They say that the best camera you have is the one you have with you, so make sure it’s the best it can be. Google’s Pixel 5 takes incredible photos in virtually any setting, and thanks to the company’s top-notch image processing, you don’t even have to be a pro photographer to get impressive shots.
6.0-inch OLED, 2340×1080, 90Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 765G
12.2MP primary, 16MP ultra-wide
18W wired, 15W wireless, 5W reverse wireless
144.7 x 70.4 x 8.0mm
Among the best cameras on the market
Compact and comfortable to hold
90Hz AMOLED display
Great battery life
Three years of software updates
Might be too small for some users
The Pixel 5 is Google’s latest flagship smartphone that you can buy. Compared to past releases, it’s a huge departure. Rather than trying to have the absolute best specs possible, the Pixel 5 focuses on offering a great all-around user experience at a competitive price. And, in just about every regard, it succeeds.
First thing’s first, we have to talk about the Pixel 5’s camera performance. Simply put, if camera quality is a key priority for you, the Pixel 5 should be at the very top of your shopping list. The 12.2MP primary and 16MP ultra-wide cameras may not look all that impressive on paper, but combined with Google’s unmatched image processing, they kick out truly incredible results. The detail is sharp, colors are true-to-life, and the Pixel 5 handles low-light environments without a hitch. The best part? The Pixel 5 does all of this more reliably than any other smartphone.
Outside of killer cameras, the Pixel 5 has a bunch more to offer. We’re in love with its design, which is refreshingly compact and is made entirely out of aluminum. The paint job gives it an exceptional in-hand feel, and if you ask us. The Sorta Sage color is one of the best we’ve ever seen on a phone. Period.
Rounding out the Pixel 5 experience is a 90Hz AMOLED display, fast performance thanks to the Snapdragon 765G processor, and long-lasting battery life. For considerably less money than a lot of other flagships, the Pixel 5 is well worth your consideration.
Bottom line: Samsung’s Galaxy S20 FE is a solid, affordable 5G phone that offers most of what makes Samsung flagships so good in a cheaper, colorful package.
6.5-inch OLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865
12MP primary, 8MP telephoto, 12MP ultrawide
15W wired, Qi wireless charging
161.6 x 71.1 x 9.3mm
Flat 120Hz display is terrific
All-day battery life
Promised three years of software updates
Impressive cameras with 3x optical zoom
Sturdy design with fun color options
Not every color option is available everywhere
Camera can be slow to load
Samsung clearly understands that this is a time for people to pare back their expenses because the Galaxy S20 FE is a value flagship that really doesn’t skimp. It’s based on the successful foundation of the Galaxy S20+, featuring a spacious 6.5-inch 1080p AMOLED display with a luxurious 120Hz refresh rate, a Snapdragon 865, 6GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and an all-day 4,500mAh battery.
Of course, to hit its affordable price point, Samsung needed to make some sacrifices, so it traded the Galaxy S20 series’ back glass for colorful plastic — the FE is available in six delicious colors — and cut back on the quality of the triple-camera setup ever-so-slightly.
Still, the S20 FE has everything you’d expect in a high-end phone and performs just as well. We especially love the IP68 water resistance and wireless charging, two features rare in this price bracket. Plus, it shares the same primary camera sensor as the Galaxy S20 and S20+, ensuring beautiful results in good light and bad.
Samsung’s One UI 3.0 is also on-board, and the company’s promising three years of platform and security updates, ensuring that you’ll be getting the latest Android features well into the next decade.
Finally, Samsung includes sub-6Ghz 5G in all variants of the Galaxy S20 FE, and we found performance to be excellent on both AT&T’s and T-Mobile’s 5G networks. If you want a Verizon version that supports mmWave, it’s also available for purchase.
Bottom line: The Moto G Power 2020 has reliable hardware combined with outstanding battery life and clean software. There are a few downsides — it’s limited to 10W charging and will only get one Android update, but you are getting a great entry-level package overall.
6.4-inch LCD, 2300×1080, 60Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 665
16MP primary, 8MP wide-angle, 2MP macro
159.9 x 75.8 x 9.6mm
At least two-day battery life
Large 1080p display
Will get only one Android update
Charging limited to 10W
If you’re in the market for an entry-level phone, the Moto G Power 2020 is still a great choice in 2021. Motorola has nailed the basics here, delivering a robust phone with all the features you’re looking for in a budget option.
The standout feature on the Moto G Power 2020 is the battery: featuring a large 5000mAh battery, the phone manages to last over two days without fail. The charging situation isn’t ideal, though; the Moto G Power 2020 has 10W wired charging, so you will want to plug in the device overnight.
The phone holds up pretty well in other areas too. You get a 6.4-inch 1080p LCD that’s decent enough in its own right, and the Snapdragon 665 is a reliable performer in normal use. The phone has stereo sound, a 3.5mm jack, a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor, and a microSD card slot. And as the phone is officially sold in the U.S., it works on all the major carriers.
In fact, it’s a better option than the Moto G Power 2021 in key areas — the 2021 model has fewer LTE bands, a lower-resolution 720p display, and a less powerful chipset. You’ll find positives on the software side as well, with Motorola offering a clean interface without any bloatware. The downside here is that the phone will get just one Android update — to Android 11 — and if you’re okay with that, the Moto G Power 2020 has plenty to offer in 2021.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a value flagship and want a phone with a gorgeous design, the latest hardware, stellar cameras, fast charging, and clean software, the OnePlus 9 is the obvious choice.
6.5-inch AMOLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
48MP primary, 50MP wide-angle, 2MP portrait
65W wired, 15W wireless
160 x 74.2 x 8.7 mm
Sublime 120Hz AMOLED display
Clean software with no bloat
65W wired / 15W wireless charging
Three years of Android updates
Single-SIM in the U.S.
With the OnePlus 9, OnePlus sets its sights on the Galaxy S20 FE. The phone delivers on the same fundamentals as Samsung’s value flagship, offering the latest internal hardware, a 120Hz AMOLED display, reliable cameras, and many extras from the OnePlus 9 Pro.
The 120Hz AMOLED display on the OnePlus 9 is one of the best you’ll find in this particular category, and thanks to the Snapdragon 888 chipset, the phone handles anything you throw at it without breaking a sweat. You also get 5G connectivity over Sub-6, Wi-Fi 6, NFC, AptX HD audio codecs, and an excellent vibration motor.
The phone has the same 4500mAh battery as the OnePlus 9 Pro, and you get 65W wired charging. What’s new this generation is the addition of 15W Qi wireless charging. It may not be quite the same as the insane 50W wireless charging on the 9 Pro, but the upside is that the OnePlus 9 works with any Qi-enabled wireless charger available today. This particular feature is missing on the Indian and Chinese models, but you’ll find it on the OnePlus 9 variants sold in North America and Europe.
Coming to the software, OxygenOS 11 continues to set the standard in terms of customizability. The bloatware-free UI is a delight to use, and recently OnePlus announced that it would begin supporting its flagship phones with three years of Android platform updates.
Overall, the OnePlus 9 is a solid contender to the Galaxy S20 FE. It has the latest hardware, great cameras, clean software, and fast charging, and for what it costs, you are getting a great overall value.
Bottom line: The ASUS ZenFone 8 is a bit of a departure from its predecessors, but it is the best smallest Android flagship you can buy right now. It has an excellent build, clean software, great cameras, 5G, and the powerful Snapdragon 888 SOC.
5.9-inch OLED, 2400×1080, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
64MP primary, 12MP ultra-wide
148 x 68.5 x 8.9 mm
Easy to use one-handed
Gorgeous screen with 120Hz refresh rate
3.5mm headphone jack
No wireless charging
No telephoto camera
If you’re one of those people who still pines for a smaller, flagship-level phone, then we have some good news for you. The ASUS ZenFone 8 delivers one of the best Android experiences that you can get in mid-2021 for much less than the competition. Plus, it’s one of the smallest Android flagships around.
Unlike the ZenFone 6 and 7 series and the ZenFone 8 Flip, the ZenFone 8 has done away with the flipping camera module in favor of a more traditional design. While this new (older) form factor makes the device more pocketable, ASUS was able to retain an excellent camera setup nonetheless. It also means that it is now IP68 water-resistant. The ZenFone 8 features a gorgeous AMOLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, and it even retains an old-school fan favorite with its 3.5mm headphone jack.
The ZenFone 8 has top-notch internal specs, too, including the powerful Snapdragon 888 processor, fast 20W wired charging, and one of the cleanest builds of Android we’ve seen this year. However, you miss out on wireless charging, and ASUS’s track record for updates has left us wanting in the past.
This is the perfect phone for someone who admires the size and capabilities of something like the Google Pixel 4a but who also wants a more premium and performant Android phone.
Bottom line: Folding phones are here, and the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the best one we’ve seen yet. It’s basically a smartphone and tablet in one device, and while it is costly, it’s also the best attempt yet we’ve seen for this form factor.
6.23-inch AMOLED, 2260×816, 60Hz refresh rate
7.6-inch AMOLED, 2280×1768, 120Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+
12MP primary, 12MP telephoto, 12MP ultra-wide
25W wired and 11W wireless
159.2 x 128.2 x 6.9mm (unfolded) and 159.2 x 68 x 16.8mm (folded)
Puts a mini-tablet in your pocket
Great cameras and battery
App compatibility issues
Just like any piece of technology, smartphones evolve and change as time goes on. We’ve seen screens get bigger, cameras get a lot more capable, and processors rival those found in computers. The next big thing for phones is the folding form factor, and so far, the best yet in this niche is the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 2.
The best way to think about the device is as a phone and tablet in one. When the Z Fold 2 is closed, you’re treated to a 6.23-inch AMOLED display that you can use for anything you’d like — checking email, scrolling through Twitter, watching YouTube videos, you name it. Should you find yourself wanting a larger canvas, however, all you need to do is open up the Z Fold 2 up. There, you’re treated to a larger 7.6-inch AMOLED screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. It’s a lot like having an iPad Mini that you can fold up and take with you wherever you want, and if you ask us, that’s pretty amazing.
As you might expect for a new technology like a folding phone, the Z Fold 2 does come with some unique dilemmas. For example, the Ultra-Thin Glass for the tablet display is prone to scratches more than traditional glass. The folding design raises questions about long-term durability, and not all apps are properly optimized for that larger display size. There’s also the matter of price, with the Galaxy Z Fold 2 costing more than two OnePlus 8 Pros.
This isn’t a phone that we recommend everyone go out and buy right now, but as far as folding phones go, the Galaxy Z Fold 2 is the best we’ve seen to date. If you’re willing to spend the money and put up with those quirks, the Z Fold 2 has a lot to offer.
Bottom line: The Galaxy A52 5G gives you amazing hardware in the form of a 120Hz AMOLED screen and a Snapdragon 750G chipset with 5G connectivity. Although the design looks similar to the S21 series, you also get great cameras and all-day battery life, which is much more affordable.
If you want to switch to a 5G phone but don’t want to pay too much money, then the Galaxy A52 5G may just be the ideal option for you. Samsung has always delivered value packages with the Galaxy A series, and it is taking things to a whole new level in 2021.
The Galaxy A52 5G offers considerable upgrades over its predecessor; the 6.5-inch AMOLED panel now has a 120Hz refresh rate, giving you a level of immediacy during daily interactions that was missing in last year’s Galaxy A51. The internal hardware has also received a boost, and the Snapdragon 750G chipset is faster in almost every day-to-day scenario.
The camera has received some attention as well, with the A52 5G now offering a 64MP lens at the back. There’s even a MicroSD slot and a 3.5mm jack, two features you won’t find on the Galaxy S21 series. And thanks to a generous 4500mAh battery and 25W fast charging, you don’t have to worry about battery life.
Samsung added IP67 dust and water resistance to the Galaxy A52 5G, making it just that little more enticing. Oh, and there’s, of course, 5G connectivity here, so if you’re thinking of switching to a 5G plan this year and need a mid-range phone, the Galaxy A52 5G ticks all the right boxes.
Bottom line: The ASUS ROG Phone 5 is designed for gamers. It has an incredible build, a stunning 144Hz AMOLED display, and is paired with a massive 6,000mAh battery and 65W wired fast charging. There are also great accessories and extras to help you get the most out of your mobile gaming experience.
6.78-inch AMOLED, 2448×1080, 144Hz refresh rate
Qualcomm Snapdragon 888
64MP primary, 13MP ultra-wide, 5MP macro
172.8 x 77.2 x 10.2mm
Huge battery (6,000mAh)
144Hz refresh rate
3.5mm headphone jack
Gaming inspired design
Fast and fluid performance
This phone is BIG
No wireless charging
No water resistance
Gaming phones are definitely a niche category, but the folks who are interested in these devices really care how they perform. ASUS knows this subset extremely well and has been cranking out heavy-duty gaming phones for several years now. Its ROG line of phones complements its gaming PCs quite well, and there is undoubtedly a lot of crossover between owners of these computers and phones.
The latest in the vaunted ROG series is the ROG Phone 5. It boasts one of the largest capacity batteries we’ve seen (6,000mAh) for extended play sessions, as well as a brilliant AMOLED display with an high 144Hz refresh rate to make your content fly. You also get a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you don’t have to worry about audio latency, and it’s all powered by the latest and greatest Snapdragon 888 chipset.
There are several great accessories that you can purchase separately to help you get even more out of the experience, such as gamepads, coolers, and cases, but the phone looks great au naturale. The biggest drawbacks of the phone are that it doesn’t have wireless charging or an official IP rating, and it is quite a big and heavy device.
Bottom line: The Redmi Note 10 Pro takes things to a whole new level in the budget segment. The phone has a 120Hz AMOLED display, robust internal hardware, a 64MP camera that takes great photos in any lighting, and a gigantic 5020mAh battery with 33W fast charging. You can’t ask for much more in a budget phone.
Xiaomi knows how to deliver a value-focused package, and with the Redmi Note 10 Pro, it is setting a new standard for budget phones. The phone has features previously only seen on flagships, including a 120Hz AMOLED display that makes an immediate difference in day-to-day use.
The Snapdragon 732G delivers decent performance for most tasks, including intensive gaming. The phone also has generous memory and storage options, and you get a 3.5mm jack, microSD slot, NFC, and even an IR blaster that lets you control your TV or other AV gear. The phone also has IP53 dust and water resistance to withstand the occasional splash of water or be submerged in a pool without any issues.
The 5,020mAh battery on the Redmi Note 10 Pro easily delivers over a day’s worth of use as for battery. When you need to charge the phone, the bundled 33W charger ensures the battery is full in just over an hour. You won’t find wireless charging here, but honestly, the battery life is good that you don’t need to plug it in during the course of a day.
The 64MP camera is also new, and it takes great photos in just about any lighting condition. This may just be one of the best cameras you’ll find for under $300, making the Redmi Note 10 Pro that much more enticing. Xiaomi has made a lot of changes on the software front as well. MIUI 12 comes with Android 11 out of the box, and the UI is cleaner than earlier iterations. You get more customization options than you’ll end up using, and there are genuinely useful features here.
Ultimately, the main drawback is that the phone isn’t available officially in the U.S. You can pick up the global version of the Redmi Note 10 Pro from Amazon, but you miss out on the warranty.
How to pick the best Android phone
Android phones have never been better than they are right now. So regardless of how much or little money you can spend, you can go out and buy a phone that you’ll be thoroughly happy with. Out of every single phone on the market in 2021, however, we have to give our top recommendation for the best Android phone to the Samsung Galaxy S21.
Samsung makes amazing phones every year, but you need to pay out the nose for the privilege of owning one more often than not. With the Galaxy S21, you get a top-tier Samsung experience for less than previous years, and that makes it a better overall value.
Compared to a more expensive Galaxy handset like the S21 Ultra, the standard S21 does an admirable job of holding its own. It has a 120Hz AMOLED screen, excellent performance, great battery life, and the same One UI software experience. Even wireless charging and an IP68 rating are here, and the only area it misses out on is the Quad HD+ display and a glass back.
There are plenty of other options on this list if something about the Galaxy S21 just isn’t clicking for you, but we think it’s easy to see why it has our highest recommendation at the end of the day.
1. What size screen should I get?
You should consider many different things when buying a new Android phone, and it all starts with the display. This is the component you interact with more than anything else, so you must get one that you’ll enjoy using. Things like the resolution and refresh rate of a screen are worth talking about, but more so is the size.
Smartphones come in different shapes and sizes, and the biggest determining factor for that is the display. A 6.8-inch screen results in a much larger phone than one with a 5.8-inch one, and because of that, you need to know how big or small you’re willing to go.
Take the Galaxy S21 Ultra, for example. It has the largest display on this list (outside of the Z Fold 2, but that’s different), and because the screen is so huge, it’s a phenomenal canvas for watching movies, playing games, and browsing the web. Basically, any kind of content consumption you do looks better on a larger display because the more room you have, the bigger and easier to see your media is. The downside to this, however, is that phones like the S21 Ultra can be rather unwieldy. Especially if you’re someone with smaller hands, managing a phone like that can be a pain in the butt.
Then there are smaller-sized phones, such as the Pixel 4a. It’s substantially easier to manage and can actually be used with one hand, but you have less room for your movies and games on the flip side. It also means you can fit less content on the screen at one time, and if you’re someone who likes to increase your font size, things are easier to read, which could result in you having to do a lot of scrolling.
And, of course, there are plenty of phones that fall somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. If you’re really concerned about whether or not a phone will be too big or small, your best bet is to honestly go hands-on with it yourself at your local carrier store or Best Buy before making your purchase.
2. Are software updates important?
It’s easy to compare displays, processors, and cameras, but something that’s just as important to talk about is software updates. Android is constantly evolving and getting better, and unfortunately, only certain phones are backed by a few years of software support.
As it currently stands, Google, Samsung, and OnePlus are the best in the business when supporting their phones with long-term updates. All of the Pixels, Galaxy devices, and OnePlus phones mentioned on this list are backed by three years of major OS updates from their initial release, which is by far the best support any Android phone maker has to offer. Google even goes a step further with three years of guaranteed monthly security patches, and while Samsung does the same for its flagships, it is now starting to follow suit for its mid-range devices.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, you have a company like Motorola. Take the Motorola G Power, which is only promised to get a single update to Android 11. Security patches are even worse, with Motorola having a track record of falling multiple months behind on updates.
So, how important is it that your phone gets software updates? That ultimately depends on how much you care about new Android features. Google releases a new version of Android every year, and while these updates don’t tend to be that drastic from year to year, they give your phone important features and security settings that help keep it running in tip-top shape for a long time. It also ensures that your phone stays compatible with all the apps and games on the Play Store because as Android versions become too outdated, app developers eventually drop support.
A phone like the Motorola G Power won’t be unusable two years down the road just because it’s running Android 11 and not Android 13, but it’s also a bit disheartening to buy a product and know it’s backed by such a small window of post-purchase support. This divide in updates is something Android has been faced with for years, and while companies are gradually getting better in these regards, we still have plenty of room to grow.
3. How many cameras and megapixels do I really need?
Over the last couple of years, there’s been a trend going on with certain phone companies where they throw as many cameras onto their devices as possible. As it’s become more common for phones to ship with two, three, or even four cameras, there’s something of an expectation that phones have to have multiple camera sensors to be any good.
Spoiler alert — this isn’t true.
Let’s look at the OnePlus Nord 9, for example. It has a 48MP primary camera, 50MP ultra-wide, and a 2MP monochrome portrait camera. Compared to the single 12.2MP camera on the Pixel 4a, one would assume that the OnePlus 9 takes better photos, but that’s not always the case.
Having those extra camera sensors can be a lot of fun, but only if they’re high-quality. Far too often, we see companies throw in a bunch of extra cameras on their phones only to have these secondary lenses not be very good. The primary camera sensor is always the most important, so that’s the one you want to be concerned about the most.
On a similar note, more megapixels (referred to as MP) don’t always mean you’re getting a better camera. As mentioned above, the 48MP camera on the OnePlus 9 sometimes takes photos that aren’t as good as those taken from the 12.2MP camera found on the Pixel 4a. There are so many other factors that come into play with phone cameras, so don’t let the megapixel count be your only factor for judging them when you’re out shopping. Read reviews, look at camera samples, and you’ll have a much better understanding of what kind of camera you’re dealing with.
4. What size battery should I get?
Battery life isn’t the most fun thing to talk about with smartphones, but ultimately, it’s one of the most important components. Your phone can have the best display and processor around, but if it’s constantly dying throughout the day, what’s the point?
There are many different battery capacities for all of the phones on this list, and if you don’t regularly keep up with them, it can be difficult to know what a good size is and what isn’t. So, here’s a general rule of thumb. If you’re buying an Android phone in 2021, the ideal capacity is 4000mAh or larger. As phones move toward larger displays with faster refresh rates, more battery is needed to keep them powered throughout the day.
Of course, this can vary a bit depending on the type of phone you’re buying. The Pixel 4a, for example, only has a 3140mAh battery but can still get through a full day of use without a hitch. What gives? It has a small display by 2021 standards and only has a 60Hz refresh rate, resulting in substantially less power use.
These are factors you’ll need to consider when shopping for your phone, but generally, more mAh means more battery life.
5. What smaller features should I look out for?
Last but certainly not least, there are a few smaller features and specs that can be easy to overlook when doing your shopping — a prime example being NFC. NFC stands for Near Field Communication, and it’s the chip in most phones that allows you to pay with your smartphone with Google Pay at grocery stores, restaurants, etc. Most of the phones on this list support NFC, but many cheaper Motorola phones often lack the feature. You may not care about Google Pay, but if you do, it’s worth double-checking that the phone you want to buy does, in fact, have NFC.
Another spec to check for is an IP68 rating. This is a seal of protection many phones have, and it ensures they’re protected from a certain amount of dust and water. If you happen to get caught outside in the rain or take your phone to the beach, an IP68 rating is nice peace of mind that your phone should survive just fine.
Some phones lack this IP rating yet boast water resistance or have a water-repellent coating. Those devices are also probably fine to get splashed with water here and there, but you don’t have that same guaranteed protection. The best-case scenario is to avoid getting your phone wet whenever possible, but if you happen to be around the water a lot, it’s probably worth getting something with that IP68 protection.
We should also address a trend that’s been going through the smartphone space for a few years now — the death of the headphone jack. The vast majority of new phones coming out these days no longer have the port, but few holdouts continue to offer it. It’s certainly nice to have if you’re someone that primarily uses wired headphones or earbuds, but if you’ve moved on to the wireless bandwagon, it’s not something you need to be all that concerned with.
According to New Scientist (via Gizmodo), the Mars Perseverance rover uses the RISC CPUs that Apple went all in on before switching to Intel. The iMac G3 was colorful (you could see through it), and it ultimately saved Apple from bankruptcy.
The PowerPC 750 was a single-core 233MHz processor with 6 million transistors, which is now considered slow, but it was the first to incorporate dynamic branch prediction and is still used in modern processors.
Given that the Perseverance launch was in July 2020, you could be wondering why it’s using such an old processor. What it comes down to is reliability.
There’s also a pretty big difference between the iMac G3 CPU and the one inside the rover. This PowerPC 750 chip can withstand 200,000 to 1,000,000 Rads and temperatures between -55 and 125 degrees Celsius.
Given that Mars doesn’t have the same type of atmosphere as Earth, one flash of sunlight could damage the rover before its adventure can even begin.
“A charged particle that’s racing through the galaxy can pass through a device and wreak havoc,” James LaRosa at BAE Systems told NewScientist. “It can literally knock electrons loose; it can cause electronic noise and signal spikes within the circuit.”
Apple used PowerPC chips on Mac until 2005, then switched to Intel. Nowadays, Apple is making a new transition to its own Apple Silicon processors, starting with the M1 chip on MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini.
For the third year in a row, Asus has been unwavering in its quest to deliver “The ultimate smartphone gaming experience”. A task that it takes so extremely seriously that the ROG Phone line has become the ultimate embodiment of a halo product for the professional mobile gaming niche as a whole. By any measure, each consecutive ROG Phone model simply pushes the envelope so hard that it goes beyond just being a great gaming phone – it sets the bar for the entire industry.
Not unlike its predecessors, the ROG 3 is meant to go above and beyond the practical and sensible for an average consumer. It is the latest installment in a line of professional tools, meant to delight and even surprise the pickiest and astute among a growing, yet still small niche of gaming-oriented prosumers.
Asus ROG Phone 3
Body: 171mm x 78mm x9.85mm, 240g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass 6), glass back (Gorilla Glass 3), metal frame; Colors: Black.
Video capture:Rear camera: 8K@30, 4K@30/60/120fps, 1080p@30/60/240fps, 720p@480fps; gyro-EIS; Front camera: 1080p@30fps.
Battery: 6000mAh; Fast charging 30W, Direct Charge (Asus HYPERCHARGE), Power Delivery 3.0 + PPS, Quick Charge 4.0.
Connectivity: 5G (Sub-6), optional Dual SIM support (5G + 4G or 4G + 4G dual standby), Dual-Band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac/ax 2×2 MIMO, Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.1, GPS (GNSS, Glonass, Galileo, BeiDou, QZSS, NavIC), NFC; Side-port: 48 pin, based on Type-C
Misc: Fingerprint (under display, optical), accelerometer, gyro, proximity, e-compass, Hall sensor, ambient light sensor, Ultrasonic sensors for AirTrigger 3 and grip press; RGB logo on back; RGB illuminator LED next to flash; Dual 7-magnet front-facing speakers, dual NXP TFA9874 amplifiers; Hi-Res audio output.
Exuberant and distinctly different from your average Android flagship, the ROG Phone 3 is a genuinely different beast. It’s a product where every aspect has been engineered with the sole purpose of catering to a select crowd without caring for the latest fads in the smartphone industry. Accompanied by an unparalleled, sprawling accessory ecosystem meant to cover every possible use case, and the extremely particular needs and whims of the modern mobile gamer, the ROG 3 challenges the design and feature directions taken by other phone manufacturers.
The ROG Phone 3 is probably the closest thing the smartphone industry currently has to a super car – and we don’t mean that in the gaming sense. Just like a real super car, it comes with high upfront and associated costs and requires a certain level of involvement and technological proficiency and implies a multitude of limitations when used as a regular, every-day driver. We will be taking all of that into account, as best we can in this review and so should you, if you are planning on picking up a ROG Phone 3.
Continuing the super car analogy a bit further, it is equally important to note that just because you don’t personally need one for your work commute or for the trip to the mall, that doesn’t mean it has no place in the world. Same goes for the ROG Phone 3. In fact, Asus‘ continued ROG Phone efforts are not only admirable labor of love, but also a justified investment from a uniquely positioned company, leveraging years of pre-existing PC gaming expertise and pedigree.
Mobile gaming is unsurprisingly getting bigger by the day. Granted, most of its populafrity can be attributes to the casual gaming crowd. But this general growth has also translated pretty well into developing a group of devoted, and even professional mobile gamers.
These users have a different set of needs and requirements for their preferred mobile device. Asus has been dead focused on delivering on those in the best possible way and this has put the ROG Phone in the unique market position it occupies now. It’s an admirable achievement and one that requires huge involvement and constant hard work. A task that is clearly getting harder and harder with each ROG Phone generation, since the ROG 3 is clearly more of an incremental and meticulous generational improvement, instead of the major leap forward the ROG Phone II represented.
A faster 144Hz and overall better OLED display, Qualcomm’s new speed-binned Snapdragon 865+ chipset, improved audio, cooling, cameras and a myriad of other tweaks are thoughtfully stuffed inside the ever so slightly re-designed body of the ROG 3, allowing backward compatibility with the ROG II accessories. Asus has clearly been in the process of fine tuning on the ROG formula and has done so by tackling head-on much harder challenges this time around.
Luckily, this particular kind of struggle fits perfectly into the company’s core business philosophy of building hardware and software specifically for gamers and not simply as an afterthought, with a great level of dedication and attention to detail.
Unboxing ROG Phone 3
Mobile gaming presents a surprising number of specific challenges to work out on the road to a perfect experience. These range from very particular hardware ones to ergonomic concerns and everything in-between. Before we get to all of those, though, there is yet another aspect of modern gaming culture that Asus has also fully embodied – aesthetics.
There is no single criteria as to what a “gaming aesthetic” is or should be, but it is definitely part of the culture. People want to flaunt their favorite past time and entertainment. Style points are surprisingly important. And the ROG 3 starts scoring these instantly even before it is unpacked.
Just like its predecessors, the ROG 3 ships in a bold and avant-garde geometrical cylinder box. Aggressive gaming lines and accents all over the place. The particular geometric pattern on the side of the box actually pulls double-duty as a magic AR symbol for unlocking the Armoury Crate app.
There is also the distinct way of opening the box – this time a huge chunk of it slides out of the other. Getting to the rest of the contents inside beyond that is still as challenging as it was with the previous ROG Phone generations. The phone is wedged in a deep pocket where it’s well protected for sure, but almost impossible to get out.
A rich accessory package is housed in the other part of the box. The AeroActive Cooler 3 is clearly visible and sits inside a neat groove. The rest of the goodies are housed a level deeper.
Also in the box – a compact, 30W Asus-branded, Type-C wall charger. It is a PD unit, equipped with the more-advanced PPS tech for finer power adjustments. To go with it – a nice, braided Type-C to Type-C cable that’s not overly thick. Then again, it probably doesn’t need to be since Asus still has its Direct Charging tech, now branded ASUS HYPERCHARGE. We can’t be certain exactly how it works, but it has some of the charging circuitry in the charger instead of the phone, which leads to less heat buildup inside the handset and also, apparently, can work at full power with just a good-quality 3A Type-C cable instead of requiring a 5A one. This might partially explain the slightly thinner profile of the bundled cable. QC4.0 is also a supported standard by the ROG Phone 3, if you find yourself without the bundled charger.
You get another cable with the ROG Phone 3, which is nice and also unfortunate at the same time. It is a Type-C to 3.5mm jack. The unfortunate bit is that the ROG Phone 3 has dropped the 3.5 mm audio jack. As per Asus, the maintain the same external size with the increased internal space requirements from things like 5G simply left no space for the jack. Make of that what you will. At least you get a dongle and, as a nifty bonus, the AeroActive Cooler 3 has a 3.5mm jack on its bottom side, as well.
Asus also includes a case inside its retail box. It is not a “case” in the conventional sense since the Aero case leaves a big chunk of the phone’s body exposed. It is more of a bumper to protect the corners. Its gamer-y design is not purely for looks. It is also meant to allow for better cooling or rather not get in its way. The case itself is fully compatible with the bundled AeroActive Cooler 3 and also leaves the RGB ROG logo visible.
Last, but not least, Asus tops the extensive ROG Phone 3 retail package by throwing in a couple of spare rubber dust covers for the Side-port, in case you lose the one already on the phone. Even a variant with two separate smaller dust covers is included. And, hidden away in a smaller box, you also get a bunch of Asus and ROG stickers to decorate some of your other things. As we said, gaming can be a fashion statement, and Asus know how to play this game well.
For what is now the third time in a roll, Asus set out and created a benchmark device for mobile gaming. The ROG Phone 3 continues the device family’s tradition of not conforming with popular industry norms and trends, basing product decisions on the needs and wants of its target audience above anything else.
Compared to the ROG Phone II, and especially the original ROG Phone, the ROG Phone 3 constitutes more of an incremental upgrade than a major splash in the industry. It is no longer the sole player inside the niche either. Even so, the ROG Phone line is, arguably, one of the main architects of the increasingly-expanding gaming-specific mobile hardware market in its current form. Plus, no competitor still comes even close to the level of engineering and even over-engineering that Asus has put inside its devices.
The incremental upgrade mentality seems to stem from a good position of confidence from the design team that they have zoned-in well into a formula that works, listened to customer feedback, and are now polishing what is currently the ultimate gaming experience on Android. This new approach of fewer leaps and more well-measured smaller items has also enabled major inter-generational compatibility with its existing accessories this time around.
Asus has successfully managed to stick to its guts and believes and the ROG Phone line is now successfully transcending from an incredibly niche and odd halo product into a shining leader in its own expanding little segment of the mobile realm.
Like we said, back when Asus was still taking big gambles with the original ROG Phone, there was no proper gamer-specific Android hardware segment in the market to speak of. Since then, the scene has been expanding gradually, as has the popularity of professional mobile gaming scene.
While we continue to maintain that no competitor has managed to even come close to the sophistication of the numerous ROG Phone features and design solutions, without even discussing its unparalleled accessory ecosystem, nubia’s efforts with the Red Magic line seem to come the closest.
At the time of writing this review, the Red Magic 5G is still the latest available model, wit the Red Magic 5S right around the corner. From what we’ve heard about the latter, it will feature an upgrade to the Snapdragon 865+ and some cooling improvements as its headlining features. If we assume the rest of the Red Magic feature set remains identical, prospective pro gamers will have to give up the excellent Asus AirTrigger 3 ultrasonic, mappable inputs and the vast ROG accessory ecosystem. And these are just the most prominent omissions from the Red Magic 5G, from the top of our head.
On the plus side of the Red Magic equation, nubia has been working hard of its Game Space platform. Last we saw it, its options weren’t nearly in-depth as those offered by Asus Armoury Crate. Especially in regards to the unparalleled access to actual hardware performance settings and modifiers that Asus is providing. Still, it is getting there. And, of course, going for the Red Magic 5G or the upcoming 5S, you get a built-in active cooling fan. A truly unique feature that is objectively more convenient that the ROG external fan solution. Though, not necessarily directly comparable in terms of results.
ZTE nubia Red Magic 5G • Lenovo Legion Duel • Asus ROG Phone II ZS660KL
Speaking of upcoming gaming phones, we know that Lenovo is on the cusp of launching its new Legion Duel smartphone, as the first of what will likely be its dedicated gaming phone line. Lenovo held its announcement event just a few hours before ROG 3‘s in an attempt to overshadow Asus. Specs of the Lenovo Duel are a close match to the ROG 3, and Lenovo has embraced a horizontal-first approach to developing the phone to such an extent that even its motorized selfie camera is positioned on the side of the phone. Lenovo has yet to prove itself in the gaming smartphone space but it certainly has the expertise to rival Asus if it plays its cards right. We’ll definitely keep an eye on their efforts in the space.
We also can’t fail to mention the Xiaomi Black Shark 3 Pro, as the latest and greatest from the company’s gaming-specific series. We can’t exactly recommend it over the ROG Phone 3, nor the nubia Red Magic 5G, for that matter, since it is even slimmer of additional features, has a lower 90Hz refresh rate and seem to be both more expensive and harder to find than the nubia. For these reasons, we won’t be butting it on the list.
We really wish Razer hadn’t given up on its gaming phone efforts. With actual variable refresh rate IGZO panels, despite more than a few technical issues, their hardware propositions were still very intriguing. Perhaps, they just didn’t get the timing right and unfortunately came in a bit too early.
Honestly, looking through the relatively small selection of gaming-specific smartphones, the ROG Phone II still stands out as a great, if not the best alternative to its successor. It basically offers all of the same core features, only missing a few of the incremental feature upgrades. And with Asus‘ newfound inter-generational accessory compatibility a thing, you can expect to likely get ongoing support for most additional gadgets you pick up for the slightly older phone, as well. Honestly, the jump from 120Hz to 144Hz, as well as from a Snapdragon 855+ to the 865+ is not that major.
Oppo Find X2 Pro • OnePlus 8 Pro • Samsung Galaxy S20+
Finally, topping-off the list of viable alternatives for the ROG Phone 3, we did manage to pick out a few contenders from the general, non-gaming smartphone population. Since we are still picking-out hardware with the best possible gaming experience in mind, certain criteria remain, like having a flagship chipset and a high-refresh-rate OLED panel, preferably one certified for high-fidelity HDR content. The Oppo Find X2 Pro, OnePlus 8 Pro, and Samsung S20 family all fit the bill. Going for one of these, you can get certain bonuses, like ingress protection and truly flagship camera setup, as well. To varying degrees, of course.
The final verdict for ROG Phone devices has always been the same in our view. Much like a super car is hardly the most comfortable, convenient or value-centric vehicle you can get, the ROG Phone 3 is hardly the best all-round smartphone, nor the best value proposition out there. What it is, though, is the absolute best at its target niche – gaming.
If you are after the best possible Android gaming experience in 2020, there is nowhere else to turn right now. It really is as simple as that. The ROG Phone 3 is the shortest and most accurate answer to “What is the best gaming Android phone in the world right now?”. Once you start putting some nuance in that question, though, its answer instantly changes. If you want the best 2020 flagship, one with the best possible camera, display, chipset, battery, and user-experience combo, then the ROG Phone 3 is not it. And that’s kind of the point. There are plenty of big-name players constantly pouring all they can into that particular ongoing battle for “the best phone ever”. The ROG Phone 3 takes no part in it since it already has a proud podium of itw own in the gaming nice.
Slightly toned-down, but still ROG-inspired gamer’s design with great build quality.
Backwards compatibility with many of the ROG Phone II accessories.
AirTigger 3 ultrasonic touch sensors are very precise and versatile.
Rich retail package, including 30W charger and AeroActive 3 cooler.
Superb AMOLED screen with HDR10+ (true 10-bit), 144Hz refresh rate.
Great battery life, even at full 144Hz. Rich battery health prolonging options.
Industry-leading speaker performance, complete with gaming-specific sound tweaks.
Asus and more specifically the Republic of Gamers division has always been pretty straight-forward about its smartphone goals and priorities. To put it in their own word, the ROG Phone II is meant to deliver: “The ultimate smartphone gaming experience”.
Just like its predecessor, the latest ROG Phone has been designed from the ground up as a professional gaming tool. The kind potentially aimed at the growing professional mobile e-sports crowd. An extremely niche, exuberant product offering for the very pro-grade and/or very affluent gamers out there.
This is an important point to make straight off the bat before we start drooling over the beastly ROG Phone II and its unparalleled accessory ecosystem.
Asus ROG Phone II specs
Body: Metal frame; Gorilla Glass 6 front; 170.99×77.6×9.48mm, 240g.
Memory: 12GB of LPDDR4X RAM, up to 1TB of UFS3.0 storage.
Battery: 6,000 mAh Li-Po (sealed); 30W HyperCharge (25W for phone and 5W for accessories), QC4.0+/USB Power Delivery compliant.
Connectivity: Dual SIM (Nano), 4G on both slots; LTE Cat. 18 (1Gpbs download) on Elite edition/Cat. 20 (up to 2Gbps) on Ultimate Edition, Cat. 13 (150Mbps upload); 2x Type-C USB 3.0 port (USB 2.0 on bottom, USB 3.1 gen2/DP 1.4 on side); Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac/ad, WiGig Wi-Fi ad 60GHz; GPS, GLONASS, BDS; NFC; Bluetooth 5.0; FM radio.
Misc: Under-display fingerprint reader; 3.5mm jack; proprietary 48-pin Side-mount connector for accessories (a second Type-C port is part of it); ultrasonic sensors for AirTriggers and grip press.
When it comes to gaming Asus is definitely on its home turf and the company’s analysis and projections more than justify an investment and sustained effort into mobile gaming hardware development. Mobile gaming actually comprises 37% on the entire world wide gaming industry, with a whopping 50 billion dollar revenue stream. It is also the fastest growing niche in gaming – 29% year over year, especially in Asia – 3.5 times faster than PC growth and 6.3 faster than console.
So mobile gaming is unsurprisingly getting bigger by the day. Granted, most of these numbers stem from a casual gaming crowd. Firing up the occasional puzzle or clicker game on your daily driver smartphone. But this general growth has also translated pretty well in serious and even professional mobile gaming. An average gaming session of Honor of Kings lasts about 116 minutes and the average daily playtime for PUBG Mobile is about 80 minutes. Multiply that by 100 million active users and you can quickly see why more and more specialized gaming smartphones might just have a place under the sun. That being said, even by gaming phone standards the ROG Phone II takes things to a whole different level.
The ROG Phone II is meant to be an overkill device – one that is meant to satisfy a gamer’s every whim. It takes absolutely every bit of the original ROG Phone, with no exception or omission, and somehow manages to improve every aspect of the already impressive formula.
Calling the ROG Phone an incremental update over the original would be an insult. Even with its near showcase status, the ROG Phone II can still be considered a milestone device for the industry as a whole. Boasting the title of “world’s first and fastest 120Hz 1ms AMOLED with 240Hz touch response”, it offers a glimpse into the future of smartphone and general end-user display tech as a whole. And that’s just the cherry on top of the sundae. The ROG Phone II is so vastly overengineered in so many ways that even trying to go through it all in a review manner is a daunting task. That being said, we’ll do our very best to showcase it in all of its trend-setting and affluent gaming glory.
Starting with the box, things already start getting out of hand. Just like the original ROG Phone, the second edition came to our office in a special reviewer’s kit. It’s a briefcase, which houses all the possible accessories you can get for your ROG Phone II. In case anybody counting really cares (pun intended), the briefcase is exactly the same as the original ROG Phone one.
While you won’t be able to buy this kit, you can get pretty much all of the contents separately, but they are going to cost you.
Its contents, however, are slightly different this time since Asus made some changes to its accessory ecosystem. First the familiar bits from last year – the Desktop Dock is an impressive docking station for the ROG Phone II, complete with a number of powerful expandability options, as well as seamless passthrough for a regular PC. The WiGig Display Dock II also looks the same as last year’s 60GHz wireless display solution. The second version has been refined, though. The same goes for the TwinView Dock II. Just like the original, it offers a second display for the ROG Phone II, along with physical controls and extra battery. It, however, has been re-thought from the ground up this time around to address most of the issues with the original.
Also in the briefcase is the new ROG Phone II Lighting Armour Case. It is an intriguing edge protector that incorporates light guides for RGB goodness and integrates an NFC chip for unlocking exclusive content. All pretty lavish and over the top and a perfect fit for the general tone of the phone. A nifty carrying case for the phone and all of its accessories is also included.
Last, but definitely not least – the ROG Kunai Gamepad. It comes to replace last year’s third-party GAMEVICE accessory and is probably the extra most ROG Phone II owners are going to want and buy. This time around Asus designed its own solution and quite a versatile one at that, complete with the option of using it as a separate wireless controller.
For more in-depth info on the ROG Phone II accessories, skip forward a few pages in the review.
As for the core retail package of the ROG Phone II itself – it’s pretty rich in terms of goodies and very eye-catching. It has an asymmetrical hexagon shape with a distinctly alien look to it. Pretty much the aesthetic you would expect from a Republic of Gamers product. Shape-wise, it is not too dissimilar from the original ROG Phone box, but has a totally different “slide-out” two piece design. Oddly enough, actually getting the stuff out of it turned out to be just as convoluted as its predecessor. Just in a different way.
Inside the odd container, you get the phone itself, which also features similar design language, but more on that in a bit. Alongside it – a Type-C to Type-C braided USB cable and a pretty compact wall adapter, rated for a maximum output of the hefty 30W. The adapter is actually rated for QC4.0, PD3.0, as well as a proprietary Asus direct charging standard, making it amazingly versatile to carry around.
On the surface, the brick itself and all the charging rates look airily similar to those on the original ROG Phone as well. However, Asus‘ own proprietary HYPERCHARGE Technology has been pumped up from 20W to 25W in this generation. The clever 30W HyperCharger will deliver up to 25W to the phones and another 5W directly to whatever accessory is connected to the phone at that time.
Just like the original, the ROG Phone II still supports Quick Charge 4.0 as well, using its internal IC which in turn can accept a PD current, making it pretty versatile. But, more on charging in the battery section.
Back to the retail box and the run-down of its contents, which is far from over. Bundled with every ROG Phone II you get the new AeroActive Cooler II. Just like the original, it incorporates a snap-on design and it’s powered by the proprietary side port. It also has RGB lighting on both sides, a Type-C port for charging an a 3.5mm jack. Along with it you also get an optional small rubber stand attachment, which allows the AeroActive Cooler II to act as a stand and hold the phone upright. The fan itself is improved compared to the first generation, which we will also discuss in the accessory section.
Speaking of rubber attachments, Asus also provides a couple of spare rubber plugs for the side port in the box. Apparently these are purely there for aesthetic and comfort purposes while you grip the phone. Leaving the port exposed is also perfectly fine. But it’s still nice to see some nifty spares are included.
You also get a pair of earbuds in the box. Better still, like the phone itself, these are HRA certified. Finally, in certain markets, users will also find the funky ROG Aero case in the box. Well, it’s sort of a case and more of a bumper protector since it barely covers any of the rest of the phone. Of course, this was done entirely purposefully to strike the best possible balance between protection and the ability to use the AeroActive Cooler II while the case is on.
Actually, this is sort of a core design principle for the ROG Phone II and all of its accessories which we will definitely be bringing up time and time again during the review. Every little detail was clearly adjusted and perfected with one thing in mind – to deliver the best possible gaming experience. Of course, that mission takes many shapes and has numerous nuances. And it all starts with design. Join us on the next pages as we first take a look at that.
There is A LOT that does into designing a modern smartphone, both inside and out. Even more so a flagship, especially one packed full of optional features. Connectivity in particular takes up a huge amount of space and antenna positioning is a real challenge. So a lot of thought has went in that department to provide the best possible connectivity.
As for the exterior, Asus didn’t simply curve a couple of Gorilla Glass pieces, slap them on to a metal frame and call it a day either. Whether you personally like the aesthetic or not, there is no denying that the particular “gaming” look of the ROG Phone II takes a lot of meticulous crafting to do just right. So, all and all, the engineers and designers all deserve plenty of praise for this one.
Speaking of the proverbial “gaming look”, there are definitely some things worth mentioning about the direction ROG has taken is second generation smartphone. Compromising on looks in a personal “gaming” laptop for the sake of better performance and at the cost of a few weird glances in public is one thing, but having to endure the same every time you whip out your phone just takes things to the next level. Asus appears to be arriving at this realization as well, or at least taking it to heart, since the ROG Phone II is definitely more subdued in the “gamersness” of its design. In fact, we would even go as far as to call its take on the gaming aesthetic tame and “stealth”.
To be fair, the original ROG Phone also tried to moderate its gamer’s looks quite a bit. The general shape and silhouette hasn’t really changed much from the previous generation. You still get some aggressive “strong” and sharp lines, like the “alien” diagonal patterns on the back. However, all of these accents end up fitted in a surprisingly rounded and ergonomically comfy body at the same time. Asus has really managed to strike a great balance in more ways than one in our opinion.
Since we are already talking generational comparison, is is definitely worth noting that the ROG Phone has grown bigger in pretty much every single way. It stands taller at 171mm (compared to 158.8mm) and thicker at 9.5mm (up from 8.3mm). It is also 40 grams heavier, tipping the scale at a hefty 240 grams. To be honest this might just be a bit too much weight for many to carry around and use one-handed.
On the flip side, to Asus‘ credit, the growth spurt was clearly not unsupervised. Quite the contrary, the ROG Phone II has the huge 6,000 mAh to show for some of its extra volume and weight. Also the noticeably bigger 6.59-inch display. This is the part where designers took extra case not to go overboard. It is worth noting that the extra real estate comes mostly at no added width to the phone – 77.6mm (compared to 76.2mm on the original). This was a conscious and actively sought-after design feature, since Asus wanted users to still be able to comfortably reach the edges of the display with one finger.
Still, the ROG Phone II is a “big beast”, no two ways about it. Asus also worked actively to, get this, PRESERVE a lot of the bezels around the display! Wouldn’t you know it, as it turns out, having the extra room is a great way to accommodate great powered speakers, of which the ROG Phone II has two, also all the front-facing sensors you might need and a decent selfie camera. Then there are the ergonomic aspects of having space to let your fingers idle. Or rather the issues that arise from having to constantly touch the display on a phone that has it curving all over the place in a bid to look cool. Turns out that gamers really don’t benefit from or particularly enjoy the accidental touch inputs. Who would have thought? Well, we may be taking this joke too far but we’re sure there are many power users out there who are disgruntled by the sea of all-display flagship devices. And thankfully Asus and ROG as well.
Pretty sensible decision all around. And like we already mentioned, all done with one singular purpose in mind – to provide the best possible gaming experience. In fact, since we are already on the topic, Asus has another explanation still for going with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio instead of something even taller. Most android games aren’t really optimised for every exotic and boundary-pushing aspect ratio out there. And the company’s research deemed 19.5:9 the best possible option to go with to ensure maximum compatibility. This kind of sound mentality and clear work towards a singular goal simply puts a smile on our faces.
Also, after spending some time with the ROG Phone II we can safely say that it does not feel “chunky”, if that makes any sense.
The weight takes some getting used to, but the overall body shape combined with the solid in-hand feel and good weight distribution make the ROG Phone II a surprisingly easy to handle phone.
Another benefit from the extra girth of the unit, besides the beefy battery, is that Asus has managed to hide the complex internal cooling solution a lot better this time around. Where the back of the original ROG Phone protruded quite a bit, the area around the copper heat pipe on the ROG Phone II is barely raised and almost sits flush with the rest of the Gorilla Glass 6 back. Asus calls its new refined cooling GameCool II. It is still a very complicated layered vapour chamber affair, incorporating copper and graphite pads, a 3D vapour chamber and actually extending on both sides of the main phone PCB effectively sandwiching it in.
We’ll be looking in more detail at the performance of the new thermal solution and validating Asus‘ claims that it can keep the beefed-up Snapdragon 855+ perfectly thermal-throttling free for prolonged periods in the performance section. Our first impressions are that it’s not the coolest phone out there.
The ROG Phone II can get quite toasty under load. Especially certain areas of the metal central frame. To be fair though, this is expected and happens with most gaming phones.
The general idea is that when you are after top performance on what is essentially a passively cooled system, the only natural sacrifice to allow for higher than usual surface temperatures so that you take away more of the heat generated inside without throttling the processor performance. Also worth noting is that Asus offers an unprecedented level of control over the behaviour of the internals via their Armoury Crate app, including their power and relative heat output. So you could easily set it up for a perfectly comfortable in-hand temperature at the expense of some performance, if that is what you want. More on that in the software section.
What you really can’t get around though, no matter how much clever software Asus puts on the ROG Phone II is the fact that it is extremely slippery. Using a case is highly advisable. This phone skids around even on level surfaces. It might have something to do with the particular curvature of the back or the finish. Although it is worth noting that we have the Ultimate Edition ROG Phone II for review, which comes with a Matte Black finish, instead of the glossy one on the lesser Elite version. If nothing else, this definitely contributes to the “stealth” gaming look we mentioned earlier.
Of course, if you are into the gamer’s look, the ROG Phone is more than happy to oblige with its pretty big RGB Logo on the back. It seems to be pretty much unchanged compared to the original ROG Phone and still leaves little to be desired as far as RGB implementations go. It can shine really bright if that is your thing and offers a full-color spectrum to choose from. Light modes include Static, Breathing, Strobing and Color Cycle. The logo is also Aura sync compatible and offers quite a few tweaks through software.
Besides the RGB Logo, the ROG Phone II also has a full-featured RGB status LED on the front. Also, we were surprised to discover that there is still more RGB baked right into the phone. If you look at the back side of the phone, you can clearly see two LED modules next to the camera. The natural thing to assume is that they make up a dual LED flash setup. Well, turns out on of these is actually meant to shine through a ingenious light guides built inside the optional Lighting Armour Case.
This allows for various designs, likely to be provided by third-party partners, which can offer custom lit-up decals or logos. That way you can have a cool case and not sacrifice any of the RGB goodness. The attention to detail is just mind-boggling. And clearly yet another example of Asus having its priorities squarely aimed at the hardcore gamer crowd.
The set of controls you get on the ROG Phone II is pretty much identical to that on the original ROG Phone. No courageous omissions or moving forward to new horizons or anything of the sort. Everything is present and in a proper place. That being said, what has effectively become standard now for an ROG Phone is hardly a common sight, if at all found on any other device.
Let’s start with the basics – the buttons. The ROG Phone II has a total of three physical ones – a power button and volume rockers, all on the right-hand side. Positioning works great and we are happy to say that compared to the original ROG Phone, the buttons are no longer a mushy mess! On the contrary, they feel great, tactile and responsive.
Also on the same right frame of the phone are the rest of the phone’s “buttons” or rather air triggers. Carried over from the original phone, these apparently use the same ultrasonic sensor. However, they’ve also been massively improved enough for Asus to brand them a second generation – AirTrigger II. Now the touch areas recognise both taps and swipes. Also, it is now possible to press the triggers continuously without the need to remove the finger from the sensor between every press. The sensors themselves are apparently more precise and their haptic vibration feedback is three times faster – from 63ms down to just 20ms – to avoid any subjective lag or delay in the feedback.
The vibration feedback comes from a pair of powerful haptic actuators that provide 3D feedback. These can be engaged individually and offer up to six times faster and three times more powerful operation than an average phone. And the end results are really impressive. Pressing the air triggers is eerily similar to pushing actual buttons. Other than that, the premise behind the extra control layer is the same – you can map two extra on-screen buttons in any game to the air triggers for added convenience. The system is really versatile and can easily be tweaked, in terms of sensitivity.
This functionality is actually just one bit of a potent input mapping system, as implemented on a system level within the ROG Game Genie platform. We will get into more detail when we discuss the ROG Kunai Gamepad, as well as docking the phone and using it with a mouse and keyboard, where the system really comes into its own and shows its potential.
The whole setup works amazingly well. In fact, so much so that we frankly consider it cheating for the most part, as far as competitive mobile gaming is concerned. Even if you don’t spring for any of the other available ROG Phone accessories that enable broader remapping functionality, the pair of AirTriggers alone offers an enormous edge in online games where everyone esle is playing on a touchscreen.
The AirTriggers also enables the phone to be long- or short- “squeezed” in portrait mode for different quick-actions depending on the phones state.
While most aspects of the ROG Phone II‘s display are pretty traditional and intentionally so, Asus did decide to jump on the under display fingerprint reader wagon. The module in question is a pretty conventional optical one. Nothing too fancy. When it works, the reader is pretty snappy. However, we did experience some issues with accuracy and reliability. Pretty odd, in fact. Right after a finger is set up it seems to work splendidly. But give it a day or two and recognition rate drops rapidly. Hopefully this is a mere software issue Asus can address.
For audio on the ROG Phone II you get a dual speaker setup. Both of these front-firing units uses a 5-magnet design for better clarity and louder distortion-free output and are powered by a dedicated NXP amplifier. There is also DTS:X Ultra virtual surround sound technology, if you have the video content to make use of that. Asus also did its best to position the speakers in such a way that they can’t really be easily covered up by your hands.
The company also tried to do the same for the microphones on the ROG Phone II. But since that is significantly harder to pull off, they just fitted a Quad-Mic Noise Cancelling Array instead. So no matter how you hold your device or what attachment you have on, you voice will always come out background-noise free while streaming your favourite game with a face cam.
Since we are already on the subject of audio, we are happy to see that the 3.5mm audio jack is alive and well. Not only this, but Asus also has it hooked up to an impressive 192kHz/24-bit DAC capable of playing back Hi-Res Audio. DTS Headphone:X is also part of the mix.
And if you have moved on to an entirely Bluetooth setup already, you will be happy to leans that aptX HD, adaptive, LDAC and AAC are all supported.
Finally, the most unusual part about the ROG Phone II design is the set of Type-C ports. Or rather one standard Type-C at the bottom and one proprietary 48-pin Side-mount connector. The latter is primarily intended for use with accessories like the dock or fan. However, it still has a regular Type-C port as part of its design. The other bit just seems to be a shrunken-down Type-C as well to prevent any accidental insertions. Probably for the better since Asus is likely way outside the USB specification on that side of the Side-mount connector.
This is actually a perfect segue into connectivity on the ROG Phone II in general since the two normal USB Type-C ports are actually different in terms of the controllers they are housing. The Side-mount one is actually more advanced, offering a USB 3.1 gen.2 connection, as well as Display Port 1.4 output. The bottom one, on the other hand, is limited to USB 2.0 data transfer. Charging capabilities differ as well, even if slightly. Both ports apparently support Asus’ 25W direct charge implementation and both can do Quick Charge 3.0 and Power Delivery 3.0/. Only the Side-mount USB is, however, listed as having Quick Charge 4.0 capabilities. Frankly, this doesn’t really make a ton of sense, considering both apparently do Power Delivery 3.0 identically. Still, if you ever find yourself trying to charge the ROG Phone II with a Quick Charge charger, you might just want to use the side port.
As a side note, yes, of course we tried plugging the ROG Phone II into itself. And just like the original ROG Phone, nothing happened. We also tried other ambiguous setups, so you don’t really have to, like hooking up to separate power sources to the two USB-C ports as well as two other smartphones. Also a combination of the two. We even threw in a PC conection, to see just how the whole Type-C host/client negotiation works while having to manage two ports at once. Long story short – nothing bad happened. Asus clearly anticipated such mucking about. Generally speaking, the side Type-C port tends to take precedence over the bottom one when both are in use and whatever it say, goes.
That’s enough cable plugging fun for one day. On to wireless. The ROG Phone II has a total of four Wi-Fi antennas for its regular 2.4GHz/5GHz dual-band networking. The idea behind this was the exact same one that motivated four microphones – maintaining perfect operational efficiency no matter how you hold the phone or what you have attached to it.
Then there is WLAN 802.11ad, also known as 60GHz or WiGig. It is great for short-distance ultra fast and low-latency connections, which its wireless display accessory actually leverages masterfully.
For network connectivity, the ROG Phone II has two nanoSIM cards, each going up to 4G (4×4 MIMO and CA) and with dual-SIM standby. As for speeds, there is a slight note worth making here, namely that the higher-tier Ultimate edition ROG Phone II, the one with 1TB storage comes with Cat.20 LTE, capable of speeds up to 2Gbps.
Not all chips are made equal and the layers of the LTE modem are just one of the ways two chips that bear the same marketing name, in this case Snapdragon 855+, can actually incorporate different features. The regular Elite Edition ROG Phone II “only” gets a Cat.18 theoretical speed maximum for its LTE. In other words, not the full 20 layers. This is a point Asus has brought up in its promotional material and which comes to basically illustrate that the SD855+ inside the Ultimate Edition is the very best Qualcomm currently has – overclocked, speed-binned, unlocked and with the best LTE speeds. The message here being – “we are not saving money by cutting any corners”. A no-compromise gaming experience simply demands no-compromise hardware.
Just to finish up the supported connectivity section, in no particular order we have: CDMA Less, VoLTE/VoWiFi, Bluetooth 5.0 (aptX HD, aptX adaptive, LDAC and AAC), Wi-Fi direct, GPS (L1+L5), GLO, BDS, GAL (E1+E5a), QZSS (L1+L5), NFC and, of course, the all-important FM radio receiver. In all seriousness though, it really seems like the only notable omission in terms of I/O remains the lack of a microSD card slot. But with up to 1TB of fast on-board storage, we feel like we should kind of let this one slide. Not to mention the built-in UFS 3.0 storage is much faster than a microSD card.
120Hz AMOLED screen
“The world’s first and fastest 120Hz 1ms AMOLED with 240Hz touch response” – that’s the official title Asus PR is sticking with and it does sound mighty impressive to the right display enthusiast crowd. A marriage between OLED, with its infinite contrast, perfect blacks, punchy colors and fast pixel response times and high-refresh rate technology is a coveted one and has been a long time coming.
Without getting too technical, for all their benefits OLED pixels do have a few inherent disadvantages. Most notably, due, in part to their organic nature, they tend to be quite slow when completely turning off and turning back on. In technical terms this is referred to as MPRT (Moving Picture Response Time) and is quite different from the otherwise stellar GtG (Grey-To-Grey) OLEDs have. The latter can easily go as low as the advertised 1ms on the ROG Phone II, since such a color change does not require the OLED pixel to be turned off.
In a theoretical perfect 60Hz OLED display, you can expect a minimum persistence in pixel visibility time of about 16.7ms. That is the primary cause of the so called “smearing” or “jello” effect on most smartphone OLED panels. There are certain approaches to combating this OLED blurriness, like rolling scan (commonly used in VR headsets) and Black frame insertion (BFI). The best thing you can do to reduce the effect, however, is a higher refresh rate. Generally speaking, this is what makes the 120Hz native refresh rate of the ROG Phone II so valuable for a crispy fast moving image – great for gaming and general UI operation.
Once you experience the smoothness and sharpness of moving images on the ROG Phone II at 120Hz you won’t want to go back. It pretty much blows any other smartphone display out of the water.
Of course, this is a bit of an oversimplification of the tech and hurdles of high refresh rate and OLED panels in general. If you want a more in-depth dive on the matter in a future article, be sure to drop a comment.
Unfortunately, Asus doesn’t really disclose all the inner-workings of its industry-leading 120Hz panel. The main thing we would be interested in from a consumer standpoint is whether or not some compromises like constantly running all the pixels in dark grey to reduce response times and blur have been put into place. This is somewhat of a common practice. The major downside being potentially not ideal blacks and more importantly – much higher power consumption on average. OLEDs are great for power efficiency, but not if you keep all the pixel on all the time. Unfortunately, we did record some unfortunate spikes in power consumption using the 120Hz mode on the ROG Phone II, which you can read about in the battery section.
As for the black concern, we can at least say with confidence that our color accuracy test picked up perfect blacks. Asus talks a pretty big talk regarding colors on its fancy panel as well, quoting numbers like 108.6%, or even 111.8% coverage of the DCI-P3 color space, depending on which version of the press materials you choose to believe. Also, deltaE values lower than 1.
While the display on the ROG Phone II is indeed incredibly accurate under the “Standard” display mode, we didn’t really match the quoted deltaE number. Even so, a max deltaE of 2.2 and an average of 1.3 are perfect even for professional color work. So, we won’t hold too much of a grudge.
There are quite a few other built-in display modes to choose from as well. The default “Optimal” setting strikes a nice balance and is great for showing off the “punchy” nature of OLED displays. “Natural” tents to warm the image up a bit, taking away too harsh blues and ramping up greens and reds. “Cinematic” pretty much keeps the same color profile as “Natural”, but takes color intensity down all around.
Speaking of colors, we also can’t fail to mention that the ROG Phone II‘s display is true 10-bit, rather than 8-bit with FRC. The actual perceivable difference might be minute, but this is yet another instance of top-level hardware for the best possible gaming experience. Naturally, that means HDR support as well. Just like last year, however, Asus is not openly sharing any particular certification (Dolby Vision, HDR10+ and the like). Still, both Netflix and Amazon video were perfectly happy serving us up their HDR video streams and these looked great on the ROG Phone II.
Asus has also promised a pair of visual optimization modes will be part of a future software update – Contrast Enhancement mode and an SDR-to-HDR converter. Unfortunately, we can’t test either at this time.
Samsung Galaxy Note10+ (Max Auto)
Sony Xperia 1 (Max Auto)
Xiaomi K20 Pro/Mi 9T Pro (Max Auto)
Asus ROG Phone II (Max Auto)
Xiaomi Mi 9 (Max Auto)
OnePlus 7 Pro (Max Auto)
Huawei P30 Pro (Max Auto)
Huawei P30 Pro
Asus ROG Phone (Max Auto)
Asus ROG Phone II
Asus ROG Phone
Asus Zenfone 6 ZS630KL (Max Auto)
Xiaomi K20 Pro/Mi 9T Pro
OnePlus 7 Pro
Black Shark 2
Xiaomi Mi 9
Razer Phone 2 (Max Auto)
Asus Zenfone 6 ZS630KL
Sony Xperia 1
Samsung Galaxy Note10+
Razer Phone 2
ZTE nubia Red Magic 3
The ROG Phone II is no slouch when it comes to brightness and contrast. Asus claims it can reach 600 nits outdoors, which is definitely true. In fact, we measured a max auto boost brightness of 626 nits with our standard test that shines 75% of the display. Without any extreme external light sources, you can expect the brightness slider at 100% to give you around 480 nits, which is still a great result.
Speaking of the brightness slider, the ROG Phone II has a really odd one. Pretty much every mobile slider is non-linear by nature. However, most tend to space things out a bit more. On our review unit, the 200 nit brightness level we use for our battery test ended up at 85% on the brightness slider. That leaves 250 or so nits crammed up in just 15% of the slider. Not a major deal, but still worth mentioning.
Touch latency is another area where Asus has clearly spent a lot of time and effort. It is only logical, seeing how important it is as part of the input lag chain for gaming performance.
A high refresh rate display also demands faster input polling. On the ROG Phone II it is set at an impressive 240Hz. But, the engineering team didn’t just slap on a fast digitizer and leave it at that. They also optimized the rest of the touch data pipeline from hardware to software, tweaking the Android Framework. As per their own in-house metrics this resulted in a whopping touch latency of just 49ms. Industry leading, in fact, if we are to believe the rest of the numbers Asus quoted for a few of its competitors: iPhone XS Max – 75ms, Xiaomi Black Shark 2 – 82ms, OnePlus 7 Pro – 85ms, Samsung Galaxy S10+ – 87ms.
Rounding the display section off, we feel like we need to reiterate certain concious design choices and how they came about. Asus remains firm in its assessment and commitment to mobile gamer needs. The average “prosumer” or ROG gamer allegedly wants the biggest display feasible, which is how the 6.6-inch diagonal came about. The panel needs to be easy to handle as well, which is part of the reason for the thicker bezels and the lack of curves. The 19.5:9 aspect ratio apparently hits a pretty nice “sweet spot” as far as mobile game engine tech and optimization goes.
The same rational can also be used to explain the FullHD resolution. Of course, there are many other technological limitations at play as well. Plus, the simple fact that driving demanding games at 4K or QHD in high refresh rate is not really within reach for current generation mobile GPUs. Still, if we had to point out a single downside of the magnificent ROG Phone II display it would have to be the resolution.
One pretty major aspect of the ROG Phone II that seems to take a little bit of a back seat, overshadowed by its other features is the enormous 6,000 mAh battery. Seeing how portable power is vital for an on-the-go gaming experience, Asus paid plenty of attention to in. In more ways that one, in fact. Beyond its sheer capacity, which is advertised as lasting 35% longer than other gaming phones under the same gaming load, there are also a few other bits and pieces worth mentioning.
Before that, though, lets get the numbers of out of the way. We ran the ROG Phone II through our standard battery test routine quite a few times, just to cover all scenarios and validate the results. Turns out that running X Mode does not intrinsically increase battery consumption in any meaningful way in the absence of a load. That is kind of logical, since all X Mode does is adjust maximum thresholds for various things, but we still had to check. What does make a noticeable difference in on-screen tests is display refresh rate.
Set at the lowest 60Hz, the ROG Phone II manages pretty solid on-screen scores. It is worth keeping in mind that 6.59″ AMOLED panel is still pretty huge.
Even at its maximum 120Hz refresh rate, the ROG Phone II still holds its own in on-screen tests. Looking at the difference in numbers, our web browser test clearly seems less affected by the change in refresh rate. Asus has no intelligent system in place to detect things like a 30fps video being played back and have the refresh rate automatically lowered to save battery. That might be a good idea for a future update, since it does make a difference.
As for 3G talk time and standby – both were understandably excellent on the 6,000 mAh ROG Phone II. Overall, it is one of the top battery champions we have ever tested at the office. And it kind of has to be when you consider its intended typical use case – extended periods of high performance load and increased heat with what will likely be frequent top-offs and prolonged periods of stressful usage while tethered to the wall for power. Generally speaking, this is the worst kind of abuse you can inflict on any Li-Ion pack. Frequent charge cycles, a lot of heat, spending a lot of time at full charge.
However, to Asus’s credit, all of this does appear to have been taken into consideration while designing the ROG Phone II. For one, simply having a larger battery pack means less recharge cycles. Plus, ROG claims its ROG Kernel Optimization feature can save up to 180mA per hour of gaming, allegedly resulting in over seven hours of gameplay in PUBG and Arena of Valor on a single charge.
Then there is the question of charging – an area where Asus has also clearly made quite a few proactive decisions. Most notably, it’s the choice to skip on the modern trend of pushing extremely fast charging speeds. On one hand, that saves room within the battery itself due to the smaller separator between the anode and the cathode. Also, slower charging is generally better for the battery itself.
Asus’ own HYPERCHARGE technology is also pretty sparing when it comes to heat generation. It actually has all the necessary conversion circuitry within the power brick itself, instead of the phone. That means even less heat while charging. The bundled charger itself is rated at 30W, but it should be noted that the phone can only take a 25W current. The other 5W are a convenient overhead for powering any attached accessories. HYPERCHARGE also works with any good quality 3A Type-C to Type-C cable and does not require a more expensive 5A one.
As a fallback, the ROG Phone II also supports Quick Charge 4.0. As for the power brick, it can also output a PD current making it really versatile for charging other devices.
Asus is also taking steps to ensure the health and longevity of its battery pack. In addition to all the hardware steps discussed so far there is also the built-in PowerMaster feature. It works kind of similar to Qnovo, albeit a bit simpler and prevents against a constant prolonged trickle-charge overnight while the phone is already at 100%. It is basically a charging scheduler which makes sure the phone will not fully charge until the user is ready to unplug it.
Speaker test (NEW)
Already familiar with the ROG Phone II‘s truly impressive speaker setup, you shouldn’t be surprised that it aced our new test as well. Its Outdoor mode loudness is miles ahead of anything else we’ve seen on the revamped test bench, but it’s also comfortably louder in regular, non-outdoor mode as well. As such, it’s the only phone with an ‘Excellent’ rating for the time being.
Speaker test (OLD)
Audio is definitely an essential part of the gaming experience. Hence, it gets plenty of attention from the Asus design and engineering team. Those two fairly wide areas on top and bottom of the ROG Phone’s display house what might very well be the most impressive pair of smartphone speakers we have heard. Failing that, they are definitely somewhere in the Top 5.
Pink noise/ Music, dB
Ringing phone, dB
Black Shark 2
Sony Xperia 1
Xiaomi Mi 9
ZTE nubia Red Magic 3
Samsung Galaxy Note10+
Samsung Galaxy S10+
Asus Zenfone 6
Huawei P30 Pro
Asus ROG Phone
Razer Phone 2 (Dolby dynamic)
Razer Phone 2
OnePlus 7 Pro
Xiaomi Mi 9 SE
Asus ROG Phone II
Asus ROG Phone II (Outdoor mode)
Each of these uses a 5 magnet design and gets its own dedicated Smart NXP amplifier. This results in some impressive loudness numbers. So much so that you might rarely find yourself actually cranking the volume to the max. Which would frankly be a shame, since the ROG Phone II is not only loud enough to punch through a hall of talking people, but also do so with impressive depth and clarity.
Seriously, we don’t know if we need to praise the DTS:X Ultra tech alone for this accomplishment, but the ROG Phone II has an amazing sound stage. You actually feel the bass while holding the phone and best we can tell it’s not the vibration motors contributing to the effect, like certain Xperia phones try to do. The speakers simply resonate, as it should be. Mids also come out very rich and full and highs remain crisp.
You also get quite a few equalizer options in the settings menu, including an Outdoors mode. The latter seems to boost the average volume even more, but also pushes down lows and mids and brings up higs to almost unpleasantly squeaking levels. We don’t particularly like what it does to the otherwise splendid sound stage, but to Asus’ credit it does result in an even more piercing and permeating sound – assuming it’s really needed.
The Asus ROG Phone II put in a stellar performance in our test, demonstrating super loud output both with an external amplifier and with headphones. The clarity was impressive too – perfect in the first case and almost as good in the second one.
Even the expected drop in stereo separation is much smaller compared to most other phones out there and certainly makes the ROG Phone II one of the best performers in the market ever.
IMD + Noise
Asus ROG Phone II
Asus ROG Phone II (headphones)
Asus ROG Phone
Asus ROG Phone (headphones)
nubia Red Magic 3
nubia Red Magic 3 (headphones)
Xiaomi Black Shark 2
Xiaomi Black Shark 2 (headphones)
OnePlus 7 Pro
OnePlus 7 Pro (headphones)
ZenUI meets ROG UI
As far as gaming-styled launches go, the ROG UI is very, very out there. Straight out of the box, the UI screams “gamer”. Seriously, it’s like browsing your alien friend’s phone who just happens to be very much into fighter jets and the all the known shades of red. Sharp lines flying all over the place. One swipe down for the quick toggles and you might just feel like you are operating a nuclear reactor. The amount of options you are expected to want to “quick access” is a bit staggering.
The there is the X Mode toggle, which is definitely the first one you absolutely need to press. Doing so triggers an animation on the wallpaper, symbols start shifting, glowing borders start shining around icons. If set up accordingly, the RGB logo on the back fires up, as well as any compatible Aura Sync logo on attached ROG accessories. Yes, it’s full on battle mode engaged!
All of this is ROG UI hard at work. Interestingly enough, however, it sits on top of the new ZenUI 6, which is borrowed from the Zenfone 6 and couldn’t be more on the polar opposite in terms of its styling. Popping into the Theme menu in Settings illustrates this perfectly, since Asus decided to still leave the default ZenUI 6 there as an option on the ROG Phone II.
What you get is basically an AOSP experience. With just a few click, no less. It’s frankly a bit eerie. Almost feels like what a kid would alt and tab to if you catch them playing instead of studying on the computer. It’s almost too clean, is what we’re getting at. Still, it’s a great alternative to have for when you get a bit tired from the overly aggressive gamer’s looks.
And since we already touched upon themes, it is worth mentioning that ZenUI 6 has a fairly versatile theming engine in place and a rather rich online library with plenty of free and paid options.
The battery menu, for instance, has a few interesting gems hidden away. First off is the PowerMaster which offers a centralized place for managing app consumption, scanning for issues, as well as toggling battery savings options and managing autostart. Since the ROG Phone II is tuned for gaming above all else, it kind of makes sense that most apps are barred from autostarting by default. This is the menu you should hit up if you have issues with something like a messenger service not running fine in the background.
Battery Care is particularly nifty. It offers you the option to set off hours and have the phone charge in the most efficient and battery-friendly way possible during said period. It’s not as sophisticated as Qnovo, but still good enough to keep your battery healthy for a longer time without altering your overnight charging habits.
The display settings menu has a few interesting entries of its own. Most notable among which is the screen refresh rate selector. It has three options – 60Hz, 90Hz and 120Hz. 90 offers a pretty decent middle–ground between fluidity and extra power consumption. It might just be a good idea to run the UI at 90Hz then set up any 120fps capable game to toggle 120Hz through the X Mode game launcher we will talk about in a bit. In case you were wondering, there is an always-on mode for the AMOLED on the ROG Phone II, as well as an option to only pop-up notifications, if that is your thing.
And if you are not into the under-display fingerprint reader, or are having some issues with it, like us. Face unlock is present and works great.
The Advanced settings menu houses pretty much all the other system-wide additional goodies ROG and Asus added on top of the Android Pie core. Mobile Manager is actually a sister tab to PowerMaster. It handles all the rest of the phone maintenance aside from the battery. Things like memory and storage cleanup, permission and security as well as data caps and usage.
Thin Apps is fairly self-explanatory. It does require support from the app itself to work though. For convenience, there is a nifty list of apps you can download in alphabetical order. Neat! Safeguard offers SOS emergency contact options. And OptiFlex is a proprietary app launch optimizer that works in the usual way – caching certain resources, often times in RAM, so that they can remain easily accessible.
None of these are really new since we’ve seen them on the original ROG Phone, as well as some other Asus handsets. Still, compared to the original ROG Phone, every bit of software seems a bit more refined this time around. Even if it’s little touches like having the apps comply to the system-wide dark color scheme option. Which, by the way, you should definitely use with the ROG Phone’s OLED panel.
Then we get to the good stuff, the things meant to improve gaming experience. Game Genie is the name Asus chose for its in-game optimizer/tools interface, which slides out from the left side of the display while in game.
There are plenty of options on it, most of which absolutely self-explanatory. In order to work properly, or at all, certain bits of Game Genie do need some extra setup. Most notably, the live streaming functions. Once set up you can use a single key to go live on YouTube and Twitch. Pretty great.
Another great bit about Game Genie is that it offers real-time readouts for things like CPU and GPU, temperature, battery level and and fps count within the Game toolbar. There is even an experimental feature that tries its best to estimate how much game time you have based on your current load with the battery charge remaining in the phone.
Game Genie is also where you can map your two AirTriggers to certain on-screen controls. If it is a button, you can map it. There is even a macro interface, which is really powerful and can be used to map whole sequences of inputs.
If that sounds a bit like cheating to you, wait until you hear about Key Mapping. In our books, it is probably the single greatest gaming-geared software tool Asus has brought to the table with the ROG Phone family. It’s an incredibly in-depth interface for mapping on-screen controls to physical ones. Directional pads, buttons, sliders all work and do so really well.
So the real fun begins when you connect the ROG Phone II to a compatible accessory, like the new ROG Kunai Gamepad. Every button on that controller can then be mapped to an on-screen control, effectively giving you console-grade physical controls inside a game meant to be played on touch screens.
In fact, it gets even better once you connect the ROG Phone II to a mouse and keyboard via the Mobile Desktop Dock or the Asus professional dock. Then you can map all the controls to an actual mouse and keyboard. Imagine using a mouse to aim and look around in PUBG!
Well, that bit you can actually keep imagining since PUBG is one of the few titles that has become aware of the ROG Phone’s “secret sauce” and can detect the use of control mapping. At least currently, that is. And even so, the majority of games we tested, even competitive online ones are perfectly fine with you totally owning the scene due to the huge advantage in controls precision.
We are aware that other similar mapping solutions do exist on Android (most notable Octopus), but they seem to operate with a lot more restrictions and naturally all sorts of warnings for drawing over other apps and the like. What Asus have crafted for the ROG is clearly done right and on a much lower software level, making it a really added-value offer for any hardcore mobile gaming enthusiasts. Or are they even mobile once a keyboard and mouse come into play?
Anyway, if you’re not really the streaming type but still want to capture your game sessions or other content in some manner, the ROG Phone II does offer a quite in-depth screen recorder. Beyond things like resolution and audio capture, you can also set delays on capture, block notifications from showing up and show touch inputs. As for screenshots, you could opt for JPG or PNG, depending on your needs.
ASUS Armoury Crate – Gaming portal
But even if you couldn’t care less about streaming or game capture of any kind, if you bought the ROG Phone II, it’s fair to assume that you will be using it for some serious gaming sessions. For those you definitely want to pop into the ASUS Armoury Crate – Gaming portal. It basically augments your entire smartphone experience, bringing it as close to a portable gaming console as possible.
Once here, your phone is locked in landscape mode and your recent apps button or gesture is disabled. The only way to quit out of the launcher is a rather small dedicated “X” button near the top left corner. This is very much intentional design to prevent any manner of accidental minimizing of the active game.
From the main ASUS Armoury Crate interface you get a few options. The most obvious one being your game card interface (or benchmark and any app you would like to run with a custom performance profile). Each entry gets its own “crate”, as the Asus terminology goes. And each crate has its own Game Profile. Profiles are a set of settings for different aspects of the ROG Phone II that get automatically applied when the game/app is launched via ASUS Armoury Crate.
Quickly going through the various tabs available, you get a lot of control on Performance Here you can choose to have X Mode enabled for the app alone, as opposed the default where it follows the system-wide toggle, as seen in the quick toggle bar above the notification shade.
Manually enabling X Mode from this menu actually allows you choose between thee levels of X Mode. Each consecutive step pushes the hardware a bit further, including clocks and tolerance to heat. If you are really feeling adventurous and know what you are doing Hardcore Tuning actually gives you access to sliders for internal Android System value pertaining to performance. That’s the level of tuning Asus is commited to giving its users. Pretty much unparalleled in our experience.
If you are not really feeling quite so adventurous, there is also a simpler CPU frequency slider in the main profile menu. That and a Temperature control slider. The latter allows you to choose between optimal heat dissipation through the body of the ROG Phone II and hand comfort. If you value performance and are ready to sacrifice pretty much anything else you can let the ROG Phone II raise its external temperature quite a bit. And that’s while even in its default setting, the ROG Phone II is not exactly a cool phone under load.
Moving past raw internal performance, game profiles also let users choose a custom Refresh rate on a per-app basis. There is also the option to turn on addition anti-aliasing if you think the edges of any particular game are just a bit too “jaggy” for your taste.
Then there is Touch tweaking. You can use this menu to fine-tune the sensitivity of the display, as well as Air Trigger touch and swipe. Again, on a per-app basis. The built-in false touch rejection algorithm can also be fine tuned.
And rounding things off in the profiles we also have a few network and audio options. Honestly, we kind of feel like we’ve seen too many options already. Yet, we still have to check out the second Console tab from the main ASUS Armoury Crate interface.
Unlike profiles, the options here apply on a system-wide or at least ASUS Armoury Crate-wide level. Aside from the cool meters on the left-hands side, this is where you find general settings like a list of games that automatically trigger the ASUS Armoury Crate no matter where they are launched from as well as another list that says which apps can have access to data at all while a game is running in the foreground.
Unlike profiles, the options here apply on a system-wide or at least ASUS Armoury Crate-wide level. Aside from the cool meters on the left-hands side, this is where you find general settings like a list of games that automatically trigger the ASUS Armoury Crate no matter where they are launched from as well as another list that says which apps can have access to data at all while a game is running in the foreground.
Fan controls for the attachable AeroActive Cooler II are also available. You can either leave it on auto and have the system decide when and how much to ramp it up. Or, alternatively, set it to full blast and have maximum cooling for both the phone and your hands. Now, this does come at the cost of noticeably more noise and increased battery consumption. Dealer’s choice, really.
And we finally come to System Lighting and RGB controls. Asus has a pretty clean system set up to control the RGB effects on the phone’s built-in logo, as well as those on optional accessories. All of it is done through this interface. Of course, there are synchronization groups for other Aura Sync compatible devices. Different color patterns, intensity, speed. The works.
You can also choose what gets to trigger the RGB lights and which effect should be triggered, with a fair bit of conditions available to choose from.
Last but not least there is the Game Genie in-game overlay interface we mentioned earlier. Aside from housing various button mapping options and settings screen when a compatible accessory is connected tot the ROG Phone II it also has quick toggles for streaming and other nifty things. Everything is pretty self-explanatory, but does require quite a bit of fiddling to set-up just right and gain real in-game advantages from. The macros feature, for instance, is particularly powerful for easy combos.
Search is also pretty nifty. It basically lets you access online search results like videos and articles in a single click even going as far as to fill in the current game title in the query box.
Beyond the extensive ASUS Armoury Crate interface there really aren’t all that many proprietary Asus apps pre-loaded on the ROG Phone II. Just a couple of basics like a Clock, calculator, Gallery and File manager. Not really getting in the way while also offering theming support for a really consistent look. Nice job, Asus.
Just to finish the software overview off, we will mention a few words about AudioWizаrd. Seeing how the ROG Phone II doesn’t skimp out on audio hardware, it only makes sense to include a powerful equalizer suite to match. Asus calls it AudioWizard and it comes packed with plenty of features to enhance both the stereo speaker output, as well as the headphones experience. Yet another really in-depth tool. That really is the underlying theme with every single aspect of this phone.
Asus’ dedicated gaming phone in a beast of a device. The ROG Phone has an overclocked processor, a fast display, and a bevy of accessories meant to help it out-game the competition. Did we mention the AeroActive Cooler snap-on cooling fan? We spent some time with the ROG Phone and these are our first impressions.
Asus announced the ROG Phone earlier this month. This device is meant specifically for gaming, and the company designed it from the ground up to excel at running hardcore games. It’s a niche device, to be sure, but it is an interesting one. We decided to take a look at the phone and the ecosystem of accessories Asus has conjured up.
Asus warned us that the unit on hand was a prototype. It’s nowhere near a factory build. It’s possible some aspects of the hardware will change before the device reaches the market, and we can’t necessarily comment on the quality of the build.
I dig the design, which is clearly inspired by gamers. There are lots of lines, textures, angles, and shades stretching here and there. It’s a busy design. I like the color selection, which includes black, gray, and copper. It looks like it is straight out of a science fiction movie.
The ROG phone is a big phone. Thanks to the 6-inch screen, it has a tall and wide footprint. It’s fairly thick, too. At least it is not very heavy, and that’s good news. The ROG Phone has a glass front, a metal frame, and a polycarbonate rear plate. Asus did well to go with polycarbonate rather than glass or metal. This phone needs to be semi-rugged for the abuse it will surely take as it is used to interact with games.
The front face is mostly glass. There are two trapezoidal cutouts at the top and bottom to accommodate stereo speakers. The speakers are covered by copper-colored grilles. In order to deliver high-quality sound during games, the ROG features 24-bit high-resolution audio at 192 KHz. It supports DTS Headphone and 7.1 virtual surround sound, in addition to Bluetooth aptX HD.
The 6-inch screen has a 2:1 aspect ratio with full HD+ resolution. It boasts a 10,000:1 contrast ratio for incredibly deep blacks and a 90 Hz refresh rate so games look their best. (By way of comparison, the Razer gaming phone’s display has a 120 Hz refresh rate.) It includes a discrete imaging processing chip to support HDR playback. It looks good. The games and video content I sampled appeared rich and sharp. I’m sure it will be a good screen for gaming. The Android controls are of course built into the software rather than the hardware.
The two main buttons are on the right edge of the phone, and included a ridged screen lock key and a volume toggle. Both buttons have fine profiles and are easy to find and use. Travel and feedback is quite good. The left side houses a proprietary port that connects the ROG Phone to Asus‘ accessories. You’ll find a headphone jack on top and a USB-C port on the bottom.
Left Side Port
There’s lots going on with the rear panel. To start, the two copper-colored grills stand out visually. These allow air to circulate through the chassis to help keep the processor cooler. The angular fingerprint reader, shaped as a parallelogram, is not centered. The sensor is recessed a bit, so that helps your finger locate it. The camera module has a similar shape and is pushed into the upper left corner.
The Aura is the main feature of the rear panel. Taken from Asus‘ other gaming devices, the ROG Phone features a pulsing LED on the back that changes colors. It is meant to let people personalize their phone a bit. It doubles as a notification and alert light. The Aura can be fully controlled by software.
The phone runs Android 8 Oreo and will run a custom UI from Asus. Asus told us the UI isn’t anywhere near to complete. It features a lot of blacks and bright colors. The phone ran smoothy while we looked at it.
The story does not end with the phone itself. First, there’s the fan, called the AeroActive Cooler. The fan accessory is meant to help the phone run cooler. It attaches to the proprietary port on the right side and hooks onto the left. The fan runs air over the copper vents, drawing heat out of the phone. Cooling the processor allows it to run faster and more efficiently. The accessory includes an additional USB-C port and headphone jack for more comfortable gaming.
ROG Fan Accessory
What’s particularly neat is that the fan includes the Aura. It physically obstructs the Aura on the back of the phone itself, and replaces it. Neat! Asus reps on hand are pretty sure the fan will be included in the box with the phone.
ROG With Fan
Then there’s the gaming case. This enormous clamshell-style accessory holds the ROG Phone on one side and includes a second display on the other. The idea is to double the screen real estate of the game. Asus says it will give gamers the APIs and other developer tools necessary to make this work. As it is for the moment, the second screen can mirror the first. Asus envisions that it will be able to split gameplay so the main action is on one screen while the screen-based controls are on the other. Or split the gameplay so a heads-up display or game map are available on one of the screens. The accessory will include its own 6000mAh power cell and can charge the phone during use. It includes its own buttons and headphone jack.
ROG Gaming Case
Rounding out our discussion, it’s worth pointing out that Asus worked with Qualcomm on a custom version of the Snapdragon 845 that handles clock speeds up to 2.96 GHz. The processor also ups the minimum clock speed to keep games running smoothly. The 845 is paired with 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB of storage, and an Adreno 630 GPU.
Asus developed what it calls “air triggers” at the corners of the phone, which are pressure sensors in the frame to accommodate gaming actions. These were not active on the phone we saw.