ASUS ROG Phone 5 review: Game on
In a market crowded with phone launches week after week, the ASUS Republic of Gamers series of smartphones stand alone, garnering much praise for the single-minded focus towards delivering a phone built ground-up for gamers. The ROG Phone 3 from last year did just that, appealing to the pro-gamer crowd at the risk of turning away folks who might have preferred a better camera here or a handier design there. Does this year’s successor, the ROG Phone 5, retain its core audience while winning over untapped mainstream customers?
There’s something distinctive and instantly recognizable about the design of the ROG Phone 5, even as the brand tones down the out-and-out gamer elements for a phone that you can pull out of a pocket in a meeting at work and not give advertise your gamertag. You still get the ROG labelling, the 8-bit-style dot-matrix ROG logo with programmable lighting (much like the Asus Zephyrus G14 gaming laptop), a proprietary port for accessories, an added side-mounted USB Type-C port for charging when the phone is held in landscape orientation…and the much loved Air Triggers (more on that later), but there’s no hulking air vent like last time. The logo serves as a notification LED so you can see it light up when you receive notifications from specified apps. Good stereo speakers are always a plus, and surprise – the phone packs in a 3.5mm headphone jack! Add to this the built-in high-res certified DAC and the phone is a winner for audio fiends as well.
There are a couple of downsides, though. For instance, it ships with the latest Gorilla Glass Victus protection on the front (and Glass 3) on the rear, but there’s no wireless charging or IP68 certification, both of which are a clear miss at this price point. And even if your pockets can afford this phone, they’ll have to be rather roomy for this phone – it’s all of 10.3-inches thick and 238g heavy, which is rather bulky for regular use for any but the most dedicated of gamers. The large footprint accommodates a 6.78-inch, full HD+ E4 AMOLED panel, which is by far the most responsive display you can get on a smartphone in India with its 144Hz refresh rate and 300Hz touch sampling rate. It may look a bit dated with the noticeable screen bezels but ask any gamer, this little design decision allows for better palm grip and avoids any accidental screen touches. The screen itself is HDR10+ certified and lends itself well to an immersive experience for both games and content consumption.
Yet, if there’s one thing you can count an ROG phone to do right is to spec the phone to the gills. A Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor working alongside 8GB/12GB of LPDDR5 memory and 128GB/256GB of UFS 3.1 storage are almost a given here, as is the vapor chamber and the graphite cooling elements which allow the phone to sustain its peak performance for longer durations while gaming. Key to this unbridled performance is X mode, ASUS’ performance tuning app which activates maximum CPU and graphics performance for higher frame rates and graphics quality. The flexibility to tweak your performance settings is insane, on a per-app basis. Playing demanding games like Call of Duty: Mobile, Asphalt 9 and Genshin Impact on the ROG Phone 5 was a boatload of fun, and the phone never seemed to slow down even after 40-minute sessions in COD.
Of course, the argument could be made that you could get similar (if not as sustained) performance from any other 888-toting phone out there, which is where the ROG Phone 5 trumps the competition with its extreme responsiveness (great for sharp in-game reflexes) and the Air Triggers.
The latter are ultrasonic buttons that are similar to a gamepad’s left and right trigger buttons which can be mapped to any in-game command you want, freeing up your screen and gameplay controls. Coupled with the Game Genie platform for further gaming options, the side mounted USB-C port that allows you to charge while handheld in landscape mode and the ability to connect to mobile data and a WiFi network simultaneously to have a stable network connection during your gaming session, the ROG Phone 5 makes a bunch of small tweaks that make a discernible difference while gaming.
Just keep in mind that over longer durations, the Snapdragon 888 is known to run hot and the ROG Phone 5 is no exception, and you’d do well with putting down another three grand for the Aero Active Cooler accessory if you regularly want to push the phone to the limit.
Software wise, the ROG Phone 5 ships with Android 11 with a skin that is rather restrained in how much clutter and bloatware it has added to the base Android. The 6,000mAh battery lets you manage nearly seven hours of 144Hz screen-time, which means you don’t need to bump the refresh rate down to 120Hz or 60Hz to eke out more life. The phone supports 65W fast charging but ASUS bundles only a 33W fast charger, which takes a little over an hour to fully charge the battery.
Where things stay much of the same is the camera, with specs (triple camera, 64MP+13MP ultra-wide+5MP macro) and images that are easily outclassed by the competition. Images are muted in terms of the color palette and lack a high degree of sharpness, although the main sensor is usable enough in good light.
Low light images in night mode are passable but get grainy if you peep in for details.
It set out to do one job really well, and in that respect, the ROG Phone 5 succeeds rather triumphantly. It’s not just the game play and visuals, but the amount of tweaking and control the phone allows to eke out the best for your games. If you’re the sort who takes their games and content consumption seriously, and don’t care too much for form factor and cameras and all-weather durability, look no further.
Higlights: ASUS ROG Phone 5 Review
Pros: Exceptional performance, Air Triggers and responsive display are the X-factor while gaming, good stereo speakers and 3.5mm jack with DAC, great battery life
Cons: Bulky design, middling cameras, no IP rating or wireless charging
Price: Rs. 49,999 (8/128GB), Rs. 57,999 (12/256GB)