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.