Asus ROG phone - for the mobile gamer on the go

I had thought I was too old for gaming.  Having an 11 year old helps try to keep one foot in, but I still feel as though I'm out of my depth when it really comes to 'gaming'.  I'm not that serious, but I'm like a step up from casual.   Definitely not a 'n00b' right, so I gotta have the right equipment.  But how does that equate to phones?  Let's check out the ROG phone today.

If you're serious about gaming then you're going to probably be using something dedicated: Nintendo Switch, Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, etc...

But if you're like me and there's that level of burn out of console wars. I haven't really used one since the PS1.  And even then I think I was at the point of leaving my gaming days behind.  That being said, there's nothing wrong with a fun little game here and there.  Something I can dig my teeth into for a few moments' distraction and put down.  But, it's got to be more than just a momentary distraction, I kinda like something that has a story to it, something to keep me coming back.  Those games are rare to find.  But there are some.

For me, I want to play a game or 2, but I don't want to invest a lot.  The Nexus Player was supposed to be my answer to this conundrum however it never really panned out, and I just never mustered up the courage to pick up the Nvidia shield.

Besides, that's only something while at home.  Why not play with something while I'm out and about.  Waiting at the airport, killing a few waiting for a client at a cafe... you might as well play on the device you have with you already.

Often, as good as these devices are, they just don't cut it on the AAA level games, and Stadia isn't quite out ... yet.  Man, I cannot wait for Stadia.  Until then...

This brings us the ROG Phone.  ROG - Republic of Gamers.  The brand that Asus has made just for those really serious PC Master Race players (never really liked that term).

Top end spec gaming rigs with sweet keyboards and mice.  All for gamers.

Take all that pride and preparation and slam it into a phone and there you have the ROG phone.  The device has been out since October of '18, so it's almost a year old and yet still is on level with many of the top end flagship devices currently.

I've been playing with it for about a week and a bit now and the short of it is ... yup, it's exactly what you'll be expecting.  A top end spec phone ready to blaze through whatever 3D game you want to throw at it.  That being said, would it replace a daily driver... it's pretty niche and has a hard time crossing that gap.

Let's dive into this week's review:

So, cost a top end gaming rig (not a home build like Martin has recommended over on his site) can set you back a pretty penny, but if you're a serious gamer and you're making the twitch rounds, well, you don't want to skimp on something 'n00b'.

For this phone, it's in that weird area where a serious gamer wouldn't want to leave their device behind, so it can't compete there, so what is the cost? Depending on where you go, I've found it for about $1000-1100

Here's what you get for that trade-off of the price for specs:
  • 6.0" @ 2160x1080 90MHz
  • Snapdragon 845
  • 2.96GHz x4 + 1.7GHz x4
  • 8GB RAM
  • 128GB storage
  • 4000mAh
  • IP68
  • accessory port
How does that compare against your other major flagships?  You can always visit our for a comparison.  It doesn't have a top end QuadHD display, but I don't really notice.  It's the top end processor from last season, which still screams and married with 8GB of RAM it will be a beast in performance.

But often it's not just a comparison of spec to spec... we've seen what happens when people try to start a spec war, the diminishing returns just makes it difficult for all but the true elite enthusiast to discern.  What ROG here isn't doing is fighting the spec war.  They're building on their brand of ROG.  If you're a serious gamer, this is the brand you want.  Phone or rig.

One of the ways in which they do that is to make sure they've accessorized the hell out of the device in the same manner that they've done with the computer.

Out of the box you get your first taste of how they make sure you know they take your gaming seriously: the AeroActive Cooler accessory.

But, let's not gloss over the box quite yet... let's pay respects to whoever designed this box porn.

So neat how it 'rolls out'

Okay, before we get to the accessories and the lifestyle that is the ROG, let's first take a look the device on its own.

You hold the phone.  For a 6.0" display it is slightly larger than a 6.4" device like my Pixel 3 XL.  The housing feels sturdy, but whether it actually is or not, is strengthened by the 'technical' design that is around the chassis.  Lines and angles making it seems like Transformers built it.  It feels like a Megaman level put into a phone.  Martin calls it 'techno' style.

You audio purists will get your 1/8" jack, as well as front firing dual stereo speakers (you even get a pretty loud speaker on the back of the device too).

Even the fingerprint sensor is 'futuristically shaped'.  It's a little oddly shaped, but works (just makes it a little hard to do the swipe down gesture as it's not so tall to be able to swipe down).

While looking at the back, you'll see what looks like a ROG logo 'swoosh', but actually that logo is able to light up and cycle colours.

One thing you'll notice in the 'design' is some marks and notches in the right-hand side of the chassis and these are the 'air triggers', and we'll get to that in a bit.

So, good hand feel, just slightly large for the display size (maybe we're spoiled by notched display phones with high body to screen ratios).

Turn the phone on and you're met with a display that looks like Martin put it together.  Very techy, very microchip looking display.

It's a 'flavoured' take on the ZenUI of other Asus devices, and not much out of the norm from there; however, there are a couple of device unique 'features' that are pretty cool - Game Center, which includes opportunities to screen record and live video upload and a neat feature for 'Air Triggers' and  their "X mode" which turns on the logo on the back and 'optimizes' for game mode.

Let's leave the software items to the side for the time being and get back to hardware.

Okay, now back to accessorizing it.  Remember, this is coming from a hardware company who makes accessories for their PC rigs.  So, making sure there were accessories that could add to the experience of this phone, something that parallels what their fans use on a PC end.

Before I get into that, I want to mention the side port.  When you get it, there's a rubber capper on it, and it was a real pain to get off of the phone.

Like, it was really a pain.  In the box, there are 2 replacements, which tells you that either they expect you to lose them, or it will eventually damage them taking them off and trying to put them back in.

First up, the AeroActive Cooler:  a neat 'clip on' accessory that slots into the accessory port and has an adjustable clamp so that once it's 'in' you can let it close and secure itself to the phone.  Once plugged in you may hear a tiny little 'whirr' as it has a cooling fan on it.

At first, you say not a big new deal that it allows for some cooling, how much hotter can it really get based on some of the newer techniques these days?  Aside from the fact that those may not cut it while you are trying to play top end games while charging etc...this will help.

But the biggest advantage comes in from how it's laid out for you on the phone.

Without it, if you wanted to plug in your device and headphones you're doing so right where you'll be holding it.  Ack... conundrum.  well, the aero allows you to plug in almost exactly where you'd expect a wired controller to be hanging out, so it doesn't feel awkward.

My only downside to this is it makes carrying it around while not playing a little awkward.  I'd be afraid of taking the aero off and not putting the cover back on and getting crap in there, but I also don't want to be taking off and putting back in that rubber cover as I know it'll probably not last too long (hence they give you spares).  I'm wondering if pogo ports would be easier to work with that a larger physical connector.

What's cool, is that since the Aero covers the logo on the back, so it has a logo which will light up as needed.  So no losing out on that X mode feature.

Right, 'X mode' ... if you squeeze the device while holding it, it'll launch into X mode, which means that it'll 'optimize' for games (clearing out some unused memory, etc...).

That's what it comes with out of the box.  But like any good computer company, there are other accessories to purchase

What you can continue to order:
  • WiGig dock
    • a 'box' to connect to your TV that the phone wirelessly sends its video to
    • $430CDN
  • TwinView dock
    • a Nintedo DS esque that lets you plop your phone in and give you a second screen with controllers etc...
    • $400CDN
  • Desktop Dock
    • a dock to plug your phone onto and plug it into a TV or connect other peripherals to
    • $270CDN
  • Professional Dock
    • a dongle to connect to the phone to allow for other accessories to plug in like SD cards and peripherals
    • $170CDN
  • Game vice controller
    • a game pad connector
    • $110CDN
You can play all your games to your heart's content in the way that you'd want to.

And how does it play?  Everything is flawless... I did have to turn PUBG / Fortnite down from EPIC levels of play to HIGH and it was so smooth.  I noticed on EPIC mode that FN was a little janky, but it's still better than devices like my Pixel etc...

Okay, let's go back to air triggers.  This is far and away the coolest feature of the phone and the biggest draw for a gamer.

It comes as part of the 'game center' where they have a lot of neat features they can play with, stuff like live recording etc...

...but what you want to play with is Air Triggers.

This mode takes advantage of 2 'soft spots' on the side of the phone that will act like shoulder buttons just like a controller.  You set it up so that when 'triggered' (and you can adjust sensitivity) it registers a tap on the screen where you specify.  It's awesome how you can set it up for different games differently.  So for PUBG the left can be a fire, the right can be a scope.  For Fortnite right is a fire and left is a jump... you gamers can be very finicky on how you set up your button layout right?

Other 'phone things'... oh, right, this isn't just a small console, this is a device meant for you use as you walk around and text and send email.

Hrmm..., I never even thought of using it that way.  Some of the features, like the camera ... in using the 'mundane' apps on the phone there isn't a hint of delay, so if you wanted to use it for that you wouldn't notice any issues whatsoever.

Speaking of the camera, it has a typical camera.  Nothing exciting, nothing bad.

I wasn't overly wow'd by it - but it's okay.

Overall, this is a beast of a phone with great specs.  It's comparable to the top end flagships for just slightly less.  The comparison why you'd choose this would be the gaming feat.  If you're not a gamer, then a flagship would buy you better camera or Qi charging.

But if you're a gamer, those don't matter and this would be the device to rock out on.

For me, it's not really the draw.  Playing games is good.  I'm enjoying how fluid it is - but I find mobile gaming still a little cramped.  But really enjoyed my experience.

I, personally, would find myself some missing some of the features I get in the majors.  But that's a personal choice.

Just like if you're looking for a decent phone and basic tasks, this wouldn't be for you either.

Specifically, if you're a gamer that wants in that ecosystem or even just extend your own ROG enthusiasm - this is the phone for you!