Asus ROG Phone 5 review: New gaming phone, new benchmark
Product: ROG Phone 5
Key specs: 6.7-inch AMOLED display with 144Hz, 8 GB RAM, 128GB UFS 3.1 storage, Snapdragon 888 chipset, 6000 mAh battery.
Asus is no stranger to the PC gaming segment across the world and in India. And since the past few years, it has made itself familiar with mobile gaming as well, thanks to the ROG Phone lineup. This year, as expected, we get the torchbearer for the series - ROG Phone 5 and if you are familiar with the lineup, you already know we are talking about a no-compromise smartphone that has top of the line specifications, features that you hardly see in any other flagship premium, and all this while sporting a design that appeals to gamers. With ROG Phone 5, Asus has managed to pull off all this, and a bit more. So, we got our hands on this gaming smartphone that costs ₹49,999. But can we call that hefty? Or something that justifies the needs of gamers, while giving them a price tag that seems just about right? Read on...
Design and display
‘Refined' is the word that is best suited for the ROG Phone 5 gaming smartphone's design and looks. Like it has been the case since the first ROG handset, Asus has been tweaking the look regularly every year while managing to keep the ROG feel intact. It's exactly the same case this time around as well. If you have seen ROG Phone 3 last year, at once you will know ROG Phone 5 is from the same family, just more polished. The edges are curvier and the entire back is just one smooth slab of glass (except for the camera bump). And the accents are still there with the ROG logo and certain design art.
Although it looks more premium and less aggressive, it might be something that hardcore mobile gamers might not be a huge fan of. They might want to stick with a more gamer-centric geometric cut design instead of a premium and smooth feel. However, the red accent on the power button, at the back and on the SIM card tray does give it a distinguished appeal.
What's new, however, is the AnimeMatrix LEDs at the back. You can change the LED colours and animation patterns of the logo, which is the ‘cool' factor here. This not just brings the attractiveness but also brings the ROG Phone 5 in sync with the recent ROG gaming laptops that come with AnimeMatrix animations. The higher-end models even have an OLED screen, displaying useful information and app alerts. We do see this as a nifty feature that you may need when the handset is kept facing down and you don't want the entire screen to light up to check a single notification.
That said, you get the same edge-cut camera bump with three sensors, a 3.5mm headphone jack with a USB-C port at the bottom and another USB-C on the side along with a pogo pin connector for accessories.
Nonetheless, this is definitely a ‘big boy' handset that is large at 173.00 x 77.00 x 9.90 mm dimensions and heavy at 239grams weight. Fortunately, during general use it feels balanced and nothing that will topple from your hand. And since the ROG Phone 5 is a gaming phone, the weight distribution balance while playing games in the landscape mode is nothing but perfect.
Since gaming is at the heart of the Asus ROG series, you can expect a no-compromise device, especially when it comes to the screen. Gamers need a big area to play games and that's exactly what they get with a 6.7-inch Samsung AMOLED screen that delivers really good, punchy and saturated colours, making games nicer to look at. At 6.7-inch, it is definitely tall (20.5:5 aspect ratio), which also results in you having a really small part of the screen accessible with one hand while browsing in general or using the keyboard. However, for gaming and viewing videos, this works like charm.
The rest of the specs are premium as well including QHD+ resolution and 144hz refresh rate. What gamers might like the most here is the 1ms response rate and 300Hz touch sampling rate. Club these with a 144hz refresh rate and the supported games work impressively smooth. Although the touch sampling rate is not as high as what you get in BlackShark phones, it sure gets the job done and is satisfactory in most cases/games. HDR10+ support is just a cherry on top.
However, in case you want to change the colour temperature or the saturation level of the screen, there's always the Asus Splendid option under Settings to change the tone or opt for presets like Natural, Cinematic, Standard or Customised. You can also change from Auto to 144Hz, 120Hz and 60Hz refresh rate. You don't see as many options in other flagships often.
One can expect the best of performance from the ROG Phone 5 as it is a smartphone for gamers and they can't settle for anything but sheer power. So, as expected, the device is run by Qualcomm's high-end Snapdragon 888 processor that is capable of pushing better performance while being more efficient than its predecessor. Being Qualcomm's first with a 5nm manufacturing process, the Snapdragon 888 worked like a charm in our testing, which included a lot of multi-tasking, video streaming and a whole lot of hours of continuous gaming.
The processor works alongside Adreno 660 GPU that was able to render graphics on most titles like Call of Duty Mobile, Genshin Impact, Asphalt and more pretty well. Specifically, in Genshin Impact we did see a minor delay in loading of details for landscape. However, that was negligible. You also get ample LPDDR5 RAM and USF 3.1 inbuilt storage, both of which result in quick loading of saved game data and app launches. We did see a visible difference in the loading time of Genshin Impact.
However, the heat signatures too rise a bit when playing continuously for hours. It's not a lot but you can feel the warmth after a while, especially in this Delhi heat. But that said, ROG Phone 5 does a really good job in handling thermals. And that is because of the impressive cooling system that you hardly find in any of the other Snapdragon 888 smartphones. Asus says it has placed more heating components at the centre of the handset, which is a clever move, considering when you are holding it in a landscape mode. There's also a vapour chamber with graphite sheets to keep things in check.
You can also change the mode via the Armoury Crate app to keep the heat signatures in check. Talking about the Asus Armoury Crate app, it is now improved with more modes and customisations and something that is the most gamer-centric software found in a handset. You can customise the touch, display and performance of each game. And not just that, it is also possible to adjust key mapping and air triggers, and choose different console modes to change the overall handling of games, audio, network and performance in general. It is also the hub from where you can customise colours and animations for the secondary screen at the back and the ROG logo.
As for the Air Triggers, these are also improved for ROG Phone 5 as they are closer to the edge now, in case you have smaller hands. And not only can you customise it for each game, but it is also possible to launch specific apps using it, outside the games. However, we usually found ourselves using air triggers for easy shooting in FPS titles. But this is only for the regular version. With ROG Phone 5 Pro and Phone 5 Ultimate, you get two additional Air Triggers at the back panel, which might be overwhelming for a casual gamer but it might make things easier for professionals.
Audio has been given special attention this time as it is one of the key features while gaming. We found the balanced front-firing stereo speakers really good and those with a 3.5mm headphone jack will get DAC support and Class G ESS Sabre Headphone amplifiers as well. This time, the audio is a bit louder with 7-magnet speakers too.
And that's not all, Game Genie comes as an add-on over the Armoury Crate, offering some extra features while you are gaming. Over the years, it has turned out to be one of the most useful quick access features from where you can access Bypass charging, Brightness Lock, Scout Mode, Haptic Audio and more. A special mention here goes to Haptic Audio, which the company defines as a ‘2-zone customizable immersive haptic feedback' for any game. This basically generates vibrations based on the audio cues it picks up from the designated area marked by you.
Asus ROG Phones don't have a perfect track record when it comes to cameras. Now, anyone can argue that the smartphone is not really made for photographers. However, at the given price you do get some good camera phones so one can at least have some expectations. In our usage, the handset fared just fine. We won't call it the best camera smartphone but the improvement is definitely there from the older iterations.
The 64-megapixel primary camera has a Sony IMX686 sensor with 0.8um pixel size, Quad-Bayer tech, which stitches the image into a smaller and more detailed 16-megapixel shot with 1.6um effective pixel size. A major plus point here shows up when you are shooting at night. The resulting images, both in Night mode and regular auto mode, work well and are well-lit. The shutter is snappy and with f/1.8 aperture and PDAF, the daylight shots are crisp.
The secondary 13-megapixel ultra-wide rear camera has a field of view ranging to 125-degree and f/2.4 aperture. What's interesting is that the distortion that you usually see in wide-angle camera shots at the corners, was handled well this time. It won't be as blatantly visible but add to the overall quality. And in case you want to shoot a specific macro shot, which is less likely from a gaming customer, you do have that option thrown in. Just in case.
Some upgrades are there in the video shooting section as well. Thanks to the capabilities of the processor and the image sensor, you can now shoot 8K resolution videos at 30fps besides 4K videos at 30fps and 60fps along with 3-axis image stabilisation for clearer shots and less jittery videos.
Understandably, all the aforementioned features require a whole lot of power to run. And gamers being gamers, need enough battery that can last them for hours on continuous gameplay. And the ROG Phone 5 doesn't disappoint here. Being consistent with the battery life and performance, ROG Phone 5, like previous models, can run longer than any other flagship out there with so many features running simultaneously. It has a 6,000mAh MMT battery, which is split into two - 3,000mAh batteries on the inside.
Asus says the benefit of this move is that ROG Phone 5 can keep the thermals in check while charging because of two separate batteries. Another plus point is that you can double the charging to 65W. In addition, the placement of the dual batteries at the top and bottom leaves the central area for the processor, which keeps heat away from the reach of fingers while holding it in landscape mode.
ROG Phone 5 is claimed to charge up to 4200mAh (70%) in 30 minutes and 100% in 52 minutes. We were able to easily run the handset for almost a day with regular use and X-Mode enabled at all times. However, with intense gaming (Genshin Impact) for four hours continuously, we saw the battery go below 50%. So, if your gaming sessions are for 30 minutes or an hour in a day, you might be able to stretch the device's battery through the day. Two hours of gaming is also possible in a day, considering you are not working on other heavy apps. However, all this is subjective and the battery performance can vary based on how you operate. Everything from X-Mode to audio, screen refresh rate, Air Triggers and performance modes, all influence the overall battery performance.
What we liked the most here are the features like setting a custom charging limit, steady charging for lowering the temperature, scheduled charging and app hibernation, battery-draining app detection and more, all of which can be tweaked to change how long your device can run.
Like what we have seen in previous models, Asus is offering accessories for the current ROG Phone 5 models as well. The most common is the AeroActive Cooler 5, which comes inside the box with ROG Phone 5 Ultimate and Pro. It attaches with the connector on the side and has a built-in fan to keep the central area cool. The addition this time is that the AeroActive Cooler 5 now has two extra triggers on the side, making your gameplay more productive and the accessory more useful than before. Unfortunately, this is not compatible with ROG Phone 3. You can also get ROG Kunai 3 gamepad that attaches to the top and bottom of the phone and has controllers to play. So, when the ROG Phone 5 is in landscape position, it leaves the entire screen for gameplay visual as the controls are on the gamepad, on either side.
If you are all-in for the looks, ROG Lighting Armour case might be the one for you as it not just protects the handset but also supports Aura Lighting for a better visual experience.
Asus has once again proved that it can deliver a gamer-centric smartphone that has everything that a flagship smartphone has and a whole lot of extra features. We can easily recommend this for someone who is not just looking for a hardcore gaming smartphone but for someone who is all-in for the bulky handset that has some unique looks and excels in almost every department from battery performance to 144Hz AMOLED screen, high-end processor and a whole lot of features. We found Asus ROG Phone 5's camera performance better, since we have used all the ROG Phones launched till date, However, it's not the best out there and some refinement is still required.
If you are a casual gamer and want an all-rounder device with basic high-end features and design, this might not be the one. However, if you are into gaming and really want to push the performance to the next level, you definitely need more than just a premium, high-end smartphone and that's where Asus ROG Phone 5 shines. What makes it a worthy buy is the ₹49,999 price tag that is lower than the flagships you get from Samsung and at par with other OEMs.