Every year, smartphone OEMs flood the markets with hundreds, if not thousands of devices with varied specs, designs and USPs. Correspondingly, buyers in the market for say, a camera-centric phone would look keenly towards the new Pixel devices from Google, or the latest Galaxy S-series phone from Samsung. In a similar fashion, ASUS has been the go-to brand for gamers for a while now and over the years, the company’s ROG Phone series has been aptly dubbed “overkill”, “a gamer’s paradise” and much more. On the flip side, the devices have also been scrutinised for their sub-par camera performance and have been titled superfluous by many- after all, you don’t necessarily need a ‘gaming phone’ to run Android games at the best possible settings. So, can the brand finally win over all the naysayers with its latest smartphone – the ROG Phone 5? Well, let’s find out in this review.
If this isn’t your first rodeo with a gaming phone, then you’ll know what to expect with the ROG Phone 5 in the design department. Although the brand has somewhat streamlined the aesthetics of its gaming phones, the ROG Phone 5 is indubitably more gamer-y than its predecessor and more radically designed than anything else on the market. To that note, the back of the phone employs glass for its construction and features edgy accents and a carbon fibre-esque print, along with the company’s Republic of Gamers RGB logo, which by the way, has been repositioned a tad towards the bottom of the phone. And, that’s not the only thing that has changed this year, as the logo comprises a dot matrix LED this time around, the likes of which you might’ve seen on the brand’s Zephyrus G14 gaming laptop too.
I should also add that the RGB logo isn’t just for show and doubles up as a notification LED too. So, if you want, you can customise the RGB effect from the smartphone’s Armoury Crate app and choose to light up the logo when you receive notifications from select apps. The smartphone also features bright red accents on the power button as well as the SIM tray, making it stand out that much more. Rest assured, if you don’t like to draw attention, then you might want to look elsewhere as the ROG Phone 5 will undoubtedly attract eyeballs every time you take it out of your pockets. Oh, and they’ll have to be pretty accommodating pockets too as the ROG Phone 5 is among the biggest (10.39-inch thickness) and heaviest (238g) phones I’ve tested this year. Suffice it to say, the smartphone wasn’t designed with one-handed usage in mind.
As for the ports, the smartphone comes equipped with the company’s famed side-mounted dual USB Type-C connector that allows gamers to charge the device without changing the orientation of the phone. You also get a Type-C connector at the bottom, along with, wait for it – a headphone jack! That’s right, the company has gone back on its decision and has reintroduced the headphone jack with the latest ROG Phone. You’ll also be greeted by a pair of stereo speakers that take up space on the top and bottom bezels, along with a clicky volume rocker on the phone’s right-hand spine.
Finally, much like most other gaming phones, the ROG Phone 5 also comes with a pair of capacitive trigger buttons that you can map to an in-game function or command. Before I wrap up the design section, here are some other tidbits about the ROG Phone 5’s design –
- The handset ships with Corning’s Gorilla Glass Victus on the front, and Gorilla Glass v3 on the back. That said, the phone has been primarily constructed out of glass and therefore, I’d urge buyers to use the phone with a case.
- Unlike some other competing devices, the ROG Phone 5 isn’t IP68 certified, so think twice before using the phone near a pool.
- The ROG Phone 5 ships with a massive battery that refuels quickly too. However, the smartphone doesn’t come with support for wireless charging.
- The haptic feedback on the ROG Phone 5 is quite satisfactory. It isn’t the best, at least for typing, but it’s not terrible either.
The ROG Phone 5 ships with a 6.78-inch, Full HD+ E4 AMOLED panel from Samsung that refreshes at 144Hz and sports a peak brightness of 800 nits. Having used the phone for a bit, I can assure you that the panel on the ROG Phone 5 is a class apart. For one, the screen is extremely responsive owing to its 300Hz touch sampling rate and therefore, can register the faintest touch or swipe, thereby ensuring no input goes amiss. Funnily enough, I found the ROG Phone 5 to be a tad faster than the OnePlus 9 Pro I reviewed recently. Seeing how both the devices are backed by the same CPU as well as the same type of storage, I am confident that the ROG Phone 5’s more responsive panel had something to do with it. But, I digress.
You should also know that the ROG Phone 5’s display isn’t locked at 144Hz and you can switch to 60Hz and 120Hz profiles to better the phone’s battery life. But, seeing how I was netting a remarkable screen on time with the display locked at 144Hz, I didn’t bother reducing the panel’s refresh rate. What’s more, the screen is fairly colour accurate too and offers a Delta-E < 1, along with HDR10+ certification, ensuring you can stream your favourite shows and movies at the highest quality possible.
Lest I forget, the panel also comes with support for an Always-On display, meaning you can glance at the time and check on your notifications without unlocking the phone. All things considered, the display on the ROG Phone 5 will not only elevate your gaming experience, but will also pave the way for a fantastic media consumption experience.
Audio, Connectivity and Biometrics
A smartphone’s audio setup plays a crucial role, not just in games but whilst consuming content on the fly too. To that note, the ROG Phone 5 ships with what is in my books, the loudest stereo speaker setup to ever grace a smartphone. The unit comes equipped with a pair of 12×16 Super Linear speakers, each with a dedicated Cirrus AMP that purportedly delivers 21 percent more ‘oomph’ than the ones on its predecessor. Rest assured, you will revel watching your favourite TV shows and movies on the phone.
Moreover, as prefaced previously, the smartphone revives the headphone jack too and ships with a high-res certified 3.5mm connector that has been paired with an ESS SABRE ES9280AC Pro DAC along with an ESS SABRE amplifier. Per the brand, the handset can comfortably drive headphones with impedances ranging from 8-1000 ohms – let that sink in for a minute. Now, in all honesty, I didn’t have any high-impedance headphones to test the company’s claims but, my high-res certified IEMs paired wonderfully with the ROG Phone 5, so no complaints here.
In terms of connectivity, the ROG Phone 5 can house two SIM cards at once. Moreover, seeing how the phone is backed by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 888 processor, the handset is 5G ready too. During my testing, I didn’t run into any issues with LTE connectivity on my Airtel Postpaid SIM and was getting stellar upload and download speeds with the phone. The same holds true for the smartphone’s biometrics as well, and I was more than happy with the unit’s responsive fingerprint sensor too. That being said, the facial recognition software onboard the phone managed to unlock the device even when I was wearing a mask. Fast? Sure. Secure? Ehh…
No surprises here, the ASUS ROG Phone 5 is the fastest Android phone you can get your hands on at the moment. The device is backed by Qualcomm’s flagship Snapdragon 888 processor which works alongside 12GB of LPDDR5 memory and 128GB of UFS 3.1 storage. Coupled with the handset’s rapid display, animations and transitions fly on the phone and I didn’t run into any performance-related issues with the device during my stint with it. You can comfortably max out all the graphics settings on your favourite games without affecting the frame rates, which is great. Moreover, seeing how the phone ships with a high-refresh rate screen, you’ll notice minimal tearing on titles that can output high frame rates too.
Now, thankfully, you don’t have to scour the interwebs to find the games that can make the most of the ROG Phone 5’s innards. In fact, ASUS has a dedicated section in its armoury crate app that’ll highlight all the games which are bettered by a 120Hz or a 144Hz screen, the likes of which include Unkilled, Into the Dead, Injustice 2, etc. For the purpose of my testing, I stuck with Call of Duty Mobile and Genshin Impact as they are two of the most demanding Android titles. To that note, the smartphone was able to run the games effortlessly and be it exploring the vast jungles of Genshin Impact, or getting into heated gun battles in CoD, the handset never slowed down to catch its breath.
Obviously, you can get the same experience on devices like the Samsung Galaxy S21 series, or the OnePlus 9 series which begs the question – how does the ROG Phone 5 stand out? Well, in my opinion, while your gaming experience will remain the same across most high-end flagships, the ROG Phone 5 offers a slew of quality of life changes that makes gaming on the phone all the more fun. Take, for instance, its Air Triggers which can be mapped to pretty much any in-game command of your liking. In my case, I had mapped the left trigger to mimic the hip-fire command on CoD mobile, and the right trigger to ADS on my enemies. Ergo, not only did I have more space on the screen to view my surroundings better, but I found my aim to be more consistent too. What’s more, much like last year, you can tweak the sensitivity of the Air Triggers, as well as use slide/swipe-based gestures on the capacitive buttons for input too.
You can also invoke the smartphone’s Game Genie platform by swiping inwards whenever you’re in a game. For the uninitiated, Game Genie is an all-encompassing tool that’ll let you record your gameplay, mute notifications, assign macros, speed up your system and show you real-time GPU and CPU temps, along with your in-game FPS simultaneously. Heck, you can even put up a customisable crosshair at the centre of your screen in games like CoD Mobile. Consequently, you will be able to aim better with long-range weapons like a sniper rifle in CQC situations where you don’t have the time to ADS on your enemy.
Then, there is the side-mounted USB Type-C port that’ll allow you to charge the phone whilst gaming without hampering your grip. You can even attach a slew of accessories to the device, including the company’s ActiveAero Cooler 5 which by the way, offers two additional inputs that can be further mapped to any on-screen command. You can also pick up the company’s Kunai 3 gamepad that slaps two mini controllers on either side of the handset, akin to the Nintendo Switch. I’d also like to add that the ROG Phone 5 dissipates heat admirably, which can be accredited to the phone’s GameCool5 system that employs two graphite sheets to keep the temps in check. Put simply, the ROG Phone 5 doesn’t necessarily run games better than the competition but the experience in itself is drastically superior compared to say, the OnePlus 9, which also ships with a Snapdragon 888 processor.
Software and Battery life
The ASUS ROG Phone 5 ships with Android 11 out of the box. The custom skin doesn’t stray too far away from stock Android albeit does ship with a plethora of features and utilities, including a built-in theme store, support for navigation as well as screen on and off gestures and much more. On the whole, I was quite satisfied with the software experience on the phone and if anything, I would’ve liked to see support for third-party icon packs. Also, ASUS doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to software updates, but I hope the company has turned a new leaf with its latest handset.
As for the battery life, well, the ROG Phone 5 is easily the endurance champ amidst flagships. The handset ships with a 6,000mAh battery (comprising two 3,000mAh cells) that will see you through the end of a heavy workday without breaking a sweat. During my testing, I was netting over seven hours of screen on time with the phone and that is with the display set to 144Hz, which is nuts. What’s more, the handset charges quickly too as it comes with a 65W charging brick in the box.
ASUS claims that the camera setup on the ROG Phone 5 wasn’t all that high on the company’s priority list and it shows. Not only does the phone make use of pretty much the same camera setup as the ROG Phone 3, but the images pale in comparison to the competition (quite literally). Specs-wise, the smartphone comes with a 64MP Sony IMX686 sensor that works alongside a 13MP wide-angle lens with a 125-degree FoV and a 5MP macro sensor. For selfies, the device gets a 24MP shooter up front.
Coming to the quality of the images, I noticed that the smartphone tends to tone down the colours in any given shot so as to make it appear ‘natural’. Consequently, the blue sky and the lush green leaves in a landscape appear – for the lack of a better phrase – washed out. What’s more, at a closer crop, it’s evident that the images lack sharpness and correspondingly, bushes or shrubs appear quite smudged. Now, I will admit, the main sensor is serviceable enough and you can get away with some quality photos under ideal lighting conditions. However, the handset is outclassed by the competition quite easily, so if you are planning on getting the ROG Phone 5, you might want to steer clear of photo walks.
In terms of low light, the smartphone managed to output a passable image with the night mode enabled, but the photos were quite grainy at a closer crop. Also, the ROG Phone 5 doesn’t bring out the details from the shadows or the darker parts of the scene all that well either. As for the wide-angle sensor, the unit undoubtedly allows buyers to paint on a bigger canvas, though the images lack details around the edges and there’s noticeable fringing too.
As for selfies, the handset’s 24MP shooter clicks reasonably detailed photos with accurate skin tones during the day, however, you will have to rely on the smartphone’s screen flash functionality to get a decent image after the sun has set.
The ASUS ROG Phone 5 starts at Rs 49,999 and for the price, offers the ultimate smartphone gaming experience. Consequently, if you’re the type to take your mobile gaming seriously, you need not look any further than ASUS’ offering. That being said, the ROG Phone 5 comes with its fair share of compromises too, and from its sizable form factor to its sub-par cameras and lack of any sort of weather-proofing, the smartphone will make prospective buyers second-guess their purchase decision.
Now, from where I stand, I wouldn’t personally buy the ROG Phone 5 as I don’t game on my phone all that often. Don’t get me wrong – I am still all about that fast-phone life but I can achieve the same performance with say, the Samsung Galaxy S20FE 5G (review) which by the way, is a more balanced phone as it offers a better camera setup, along with wireless charging and IP68 certification. That said, I know fully well that the S20FE 5G or even the SD888-toting OnePlus 9 (review) cannot hold a candle to the ROG Phone 5’s gaming experience, which isn’t just limited to the in-game FPS or graphics settings, but also comprises factors like a quality headphone jack and a spacious, responsive screen.
Therefore, if you consider yourself an avid gamer, then you’ll feel right at home with the ASUS ROG Phone 5. Otherwise, you’d be better off with a OnePlus or a Samsung flagship in the same price range.
Editor’s rating: 3.5 / 5
- Class-leading performance
- Spectacular audio setup
- Stunning display
- Long-lasting battery life
- Large and heavy
- Sub-par cameras
- No IP rating or wireless charging
Photos by Raj Rout