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Asus ROG Phone review: The best way to play games on Android

Thanks to its thoughtful design innovations, the Asus ROG Phone almost feels like a portable console.

5
Patrick Holland
5

Patrick Holland

Senior Editor

Patrick Holland has an eye for photography and a passion for everything mobile. He is a colorful raconteur who will guide you through the ever-changing and fast-paced world of phones. He also is one of the hosts of CNET's I'm So Obsessed podcast.

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7 min read

Update, May 13: We compared the Asus ROG phone to the Razer Phone 2, Nubia Red Magic Mars and Black Shark to see which is the best gaming phone. The in-depth testing covered everything from game play and processing power to cooling systems and screens. Read: Best phone for gaming in 2019: Razer 2 vs. Asus ROG, Nubia Red Magic Mars, Xiaomi Black Shark.

asus-rog-1368-003
7.9

Asus ROG Phone

The Good

The Asus ROG Phone has innovative AirTriggers to expand game control beyond the screen, excellent battery life and a ton of optional gaming accessories.

The Bad

It costs $100 more than the Razer Phone 2 and the design might be too out there for some. The screen was too dim in some situations and the detachable fan unit is just asking to be lost.

The Bottom Line

Let there be no doubt: this is a serious gaming phone. Nongamers should look at the Pixel 3, OnePlus 6 or Galaxy Note 9 instead.

If you can't tell from the angular lines, exposed copper heat sinks and pulsating light-up logo, the Asus ROG Phone is designed for gaming. While I can't say the looks are my cup of tea, there will be plenty of people who think this styling looks badass. And it's nice to see a phone maker go for something different.

But what exactly makes this a gaming phone? Well let's start with the AMOLED display that can refresh 90 times a second -- a first for any OLED phone. The higher refresh rate means less motion blur and faster response times. It's not as high as the Razer Phone 2's 120Hz LCD screen, but the fast refresh times are a noticeable improvement over other phones when playing certain games. And even though the ROG's screen looks nice, sometimes it was too dim even at its brightest setting.

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Watch this: Asus ROG Phone is the best phone for playing PUBG
Asus ROG Phone is the best phone for playing PUBG
2:56

Pressure sensitive buttons called AirTriggers

Perhaps one of the coolest and most innovative features on the ROG Phone is AirTriggers. These are pressure sensitive corners that double as bumper buttons for games. I've used phones with pressure sensitive features before like the Pixel 3 where you can squeeze the sides to open Google Assistant. But Asus' approach here is by far my favorite implementation of the technology on phones.

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In landscape gameplay, the top right and left corners of the phone have pressure sensitive sensors that can be used as bumper buttons.

Aloysius Low/CNET

AirTriggers can be programmed for specific functions. For example in PUBG, I assigned one to fire a weapon and another to crouch. It's a curious solution to the lack of physical controls on phones and yet it's so well-implemented and feels so intuitive that I became much more immersed in the games I played.

The curved bezels and sides make the phone incredibly comfortable to hold especially in landscape. The speakers, dotted with copper colored grills, are wonderfully loud and sound fantastic. They're right up there with the amazing speakers on the Razer Phone 2 in terms of being able to produce bombastic high-quality sound.

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(Top photo) With AirTriggers activated, a blue circle "L1" and red circle "R1" appear onscreen. (Bottom photo) I dragged the circles on top of controls for firing a weapon and crouching. Now when I tap the top right corner of the phone it throws a punch or fires a weapon.

PUBG

ROG X mode and AeroActive cooler

The ROG has two USB-C ports, one on the bottom and one on the side so when you're playing games in landscape mode the power cord doesn't get in the way of your hands. The side port also supports accessories like a detachable fan called the AeroActive cooler which comes with the phone.

Now, it might seem silly to attach a fan to the back of your phone, but it makes a big difference in terms of performance, especially if you're going to be playing a game for 20 to 30 minutes without a break. The fan keeps the phone from getting too hot to hold and along with a software setting called "X mode" lets the processor run at its highest speed for longer during gameplay.

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The detachable AeroActive cooler keeps the phone cool during gameplay and along with Asus' X mode improves processor performance.

Josh Miller/CNET

Quick break for a Patrick thought: I'm neutral on the detachable fan. I have a strong fear I'd lose it, but the gain in performance is beyond impressive especially when I played a game for a long amount of time. But then, I am attaching a fan to my phone which seems like a clunky solution.

But don't get me wrong, you don't need the fan and X mode to use this phone in everyday tasks. The phone opens apps lighting fast, even big ones like the camera. Android animations are peppy and appear smooth. There's no lag when processing and saving photos.

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Watch this: Asus ROG phone unboxed
Asus ROG phone unboxed
3:29

I ran GeekBench 4 when I first got the ROG without the fan and X mode enabled and got a single-core score of 1,413 and a multi-core score of 5,592. Then I ran it again with the fan attached and X mode turned on and got 2,556 for single-core and 8,445 for multi-core. That ranks it up there with the Razer Phone 2, Galaxy Note 9 and OnePlus 6 as one of the fastest current Android phones.

However, Apple's iPhone XS is in another league in terms of raw processing power and performance -- and it doesn't require a detachable fan. Check out the results of our performance tests below.

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

Asus ROG Phone 6,438Razer Phone 2 6,526Galaxy Note 9 6,344OnePlus 6 6,275iPhone XS 8,309
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Asus ROG Phone 62,751Razer Phone 2 63,253Galaxy Note 9 58,832OnePlus 6 62,952iPhone XS 76,823
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 single-core

Asus ROG Phone 2,556Razer Phone 2 2,417Galaxy Note 9 2,406OnePlus 6 2,454iPhone XS 4,816
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 multicore

Asus ROG Phone 8,445Razer Phone 2 8,905Galaxy Note 9 8,827OnePlus 6 9,068iPhone XS 11,585
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Camera and battery life

Then there's all the regular phone stuff. It has a 4,000-mAh battery that lasted an incredible 15 hours and 5 minutes battery life in CNET's battery lab test for continuous video playback on airplane mode.

Image quality from the dual rear cameras is good. They capture a nice amount of detail. HDR mode adds a bit more dynamic range without going over the top with highlights and shadows. Take a look at the photos below I took inside a cafe: one with HDR enabled and the other with it off. Notice how the HDR captures the details outside the door and windows whereas the non-HDR photo just shows a white blob of clipped highlights.

The second rear camera gives you a wider field of view so you can pack more into your frame. And it is really wide. I found it great for moments I wanted to take a panorama but didn't want to go through that capture process. I also liked putting the camera on the wide-angle setting and placing the phone super close to an object in the foreground to create a perspective effect.

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This was taken with the ROG's main 12-megapixel camera rear camera.

Patrick Holland/CNET
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This was taken with the second rear camera that is wide-angle. I was standing in the same place when I took this photo and the one above.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Video looks decent but definitely suffers in low-light situations. The ROG has slow motion in 1080p resolution at 240 frames per second. It's not as impressive as the iPhone XS, but it is definitely worth trying.

Below are some more photos I took with the Asus ROG Phone.

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Here's a photo of Stella the cat. Notice the detail in her fur.

Patrick Holland/CNET
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Even with HDR, the ROG doesn't have the dynamic range abilities of the Pixel 3 or iPhone XS. But it still does a decent job with this sunset over Twin Peaks.

Patrick Holland/CNET
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The ROG handles this indoor shot of a Four Barrel cappuccino pretty well. I noticed the phone tends to protect highlights -- look at that foam.

Patrick Holland/CNET
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The ROG has a tendency to underexpose images like this one of the California Street cable car.

Patrick Holland/CNET
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This photo was taken at sunrise. Low-light shots aren't this phone's strength. Notice the noise in the building on the right.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Asus ZenMotion and (sigh) ZenMoji

There's also a cool feature called ZenMotion. When the screen is asleep you can draw a letter on it to launch an app. Draw a "W" to unlock the phone and open the weather app or a "C" to open the camera. Besides showing this feature off to my friends, I didn't find myself using it but once or twice.

For those of you inclined, there is an app called ZenMoji that maps an AR cartoon avatar of an animal like a horse, cat or bear over your face. The characters are pretty adorable and yet another entry in the animated emoji wars: Apple has Memoji, Samsung has AR Emoji, LG has animated emoji and Huawei has 3D Live Emoji. You'll never be at a loss of ways to express yourself.

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The ZenMoji rabbit winking.

Asus

Asus designed a lot of gaming accessories for the ROG that really take it beyond just playing games on a mobile phone. Accessories include:

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In the TwinView dock, the phone sits on top, while it runs the game on another display below. 

Aloysius Low/CNET

TwinView Dock: It transforms the phone into a Nintendo DS-like dual screen device and adds two physical shoulder buttons, a 6,000mAh battery and a selfie camera to stream and record yourself as you play.

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The Gamevice controller for the ROG Phone.

Aloysius Low/CNET

Gamevice controller: The ROG fits in the middle of the vice like device which has dual joysticks, fire triggers, bumpers, a D-pad and all the buttons you'd expect.

WiGig Display Dock: Stream content wirelessly from your ROG Phone to a TV with minimal latency.

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Here's how the ROG Phone sits in the Mobile Desktop Dock. 

Aloysius Low/CNET

Mobile Desktop Dock: Turn the ROG into a mini gaming rig complete with nearly every port you can imagine: HDMI, DisplayPort, USB-C, USB-3.1, micro-USB, Ethernet, headphone jack and an SD card reader.

Professional Dock - It has less ports than the Mobile Desktop Dock but has HDMI for a monitor and two USB ports for a keyboard and mouse.

All of these are sold separately and there's currently no word on pricing or availability.

Asus ROG Phone is definitely for gamers

The Asus ROG Phone is designed inside and out for gamers. The 128GB model costs $899 which converts to £690 and AU$1,265 while the 512GB model is $1,099 converts to £840 and AU$1,545. The Razer Phone 2 costs $100 less, but you get less battery life.

I didn't expect to like the ROG as much as I did. The extras really do make a difference in how this thing performs: the AirTriggers, X mode and the fan actually work to enhance the gaming experience. But the ROG also has a solid camera and a great battery life.

While I wouldn't recommend this to nongamers (the Pixel 3, OnePlus 6 and Galaxy Note 9 are better all-around choices), if you're a gamer trying to decide between this and the Razer Phone 2, Asus has the edge when it comes to controls and optional accessories. Of course that edge comes at a higher price.

Personally I find the design of the Razer Phone 2 much more appealing as a phone and high-end mobile gaming device. And even without a fan, it beat the ROG in nearly every performance test I ran.

Yet as I write this, Apple is preparing to ship the iPhone XR which costs less than either the Razer or the ROG, has bonkers processing power -- although we've yet to test it -- and access to a larger library of games on iOS. It doesn't have a high-refresh rate display or pressure sensitive buttons, but it's definitely a worthy consideration for a gaming phone.

Spec comparison


Asus ROG PhoneRazer Phone 2Samsung Galaxy Note 9OnePlus 6iPhone XR
Display size, resolution 6-inch AMOLED; 2,160x1,080 pixels; 90Hz screen refresh rate5.7-inch LCD; 2,560x1,440 pixels; 120Hz screen refresh rate6.4-inch Super AMOLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels6.28-inch OLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels6.1-inch LCD Retina Display; 1,792x828 pixels
Pixel density 402ppi514ppi516ppi402ppi326ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.3x3x0.34 in6.2x3.1x0.33 in6.37x3.01x0.35 in6.13x2.97x0.31 in5.9x3.0x0.33 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 158.8x76.2x8.7 mm158.5x79x8.5 mm161.9x76.4x8.8 mm155.7x75.4x7.75 mm150.9x75.7x8.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 7oz; 200g7.8oz; 220g7.09 oz.; 201g6.2 oz; 177 g6.8oz; 194g
Mobile software Android 8.1 OreoAndroid 8.1 OreoAndroid 8.1 OreoAndroid 8.1 OreoiOS 12
Camera 12-megapixel standard with OIS, 8-megapixel ultra wide angleDual 12-megapixel (standard with OIS and telephoto)Dual 12-megapixel (wide and telephoto)16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephotoSingle 12-megapixel
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel8-megapixel8-megapixel16-megapixel7-megapixel with Face ID
Video capture 4K4K4K4K4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (2.96GHz)Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (2.8GHz)Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz + 1.7GHz), or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 9810 (2.7 GHz + 1.7 GHz)2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845Apple A12 Bionic
Storage 128GB, 512GB64GB128GB, 512GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB64GB, 128GB, 256GB
RAM 8GB RAM8GB6GB, 8GB6GB, 8GBNot disclosed
Expandable storage NoneUp to 2TB512GBNoneNone
Battery 4,000 mAh4,000 mAh4,000 mAh3,300 mAhApple claims it will last 90 min. longer than iPhone 8 Plus
Fingerprint sensor BackRight spineBack of phoneBack of phoneNone (Face ID)
Connector 2 x USB-CUSB-CUSB-CUSB-CLightning
Headphone jack YesNoYesYesNo
Special features 90GHz screen, Sides of phone can be customized as buttons for games, ZenMoji120GHz screen refresh rate, water resistant (IP68), wireless chargingWater resistant (IP68); wireless charging; S-Pen; Iris and facial scanning, AR EmojiDual-SIM, Dash ChargingWater-resistant: IP67, dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging; Memoji
Price off-contract (USD) $899 (128GB), $1,099 (512GB)$800$1,000 (128GB), $1,250 (512GB)$529 (64GB), $579 (128GB), $629 (256GB)$749 (64GB), $799 (128GB), $899 (256GB)
Price (GBP) Converts to £690 (128GB), £840 (512GB)£780£899 (128GB), £1,099 (512GB)£469 (64GB), £519 (128GB), £569 (256GB)£749 (64GB), £799 (128GB), £899 (256GB)
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$1,265 (128GB), AU$1,545 (512GB)Converts to AU$1,105AU$1,499 (128GB), AU$1,799 (512GB)AU$702 (64GB), AU$769 (128GB), AU$835 (256GB)AU$1,229 (64GB), AU$1,299 (128GB), AU$1,479 (256GB)
asus-rog-1368-003
7.9

Asus ROG Phone

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 9Camera 7Battery 9
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