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.
- Display: 6.59″ AMOLED, 1080x2340px resolution, 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 391ppi; HDR10+, 144Hz refresh rate, 270Hz touch sampling rate. TÜV Low Blue Light hardware.
- Chipset: Qualcomm SM8250 Snapdragon 865+ (7 nm+): Octa-core (1×3.09 GHz Kryo 585 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 585 & 4×1.8 GHz Kryo 585); Adreno 650.
- Memory: 128GB 12GB RAM, 256GB 12GB RAM, 512GB 12GB RAM, 512GB 16GB RAM; UFS 3.1 storage LPDDR5 RAM.
- OS/Software: Android 10, ROG UI.
- Rear camera: Wide (main): 64 MP, f/1.8, (wide), 1/1.7″, 0.8µm, PDAF; Ultra-wide angle: 13 MP, f/2.4, 11mm (ultrawide); Macro: 5 MP, f/2.0; LED flash, HDR, panorama.
- Front camera: 24 MP, f/2.0, 27mm.
- 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.
- Fastest-available Snapdragon 865+ chipset, rich performance tweaks. Blazing-fast LPDDR5 RAM and UFS 3.1 storage.
- Clean underlying Android ROM, with an unparalleled number of well-organized game tweaking, control-mapping and performance option.
- Unrivaled accessory ecosystem.
- Solid daylight photos, as well as low-light images.
- Very good video quality, impressive EIS
- No water or dust resistance
- No microSD, no 3.5mm jack
- The beta software we tested still has a few kinks
- Rather basic camera setup, compared to typical 2020 flagships. HDR needs some extra work