ASUS ROG Phone 5 hands on: that gamer vibe

Hands on with the new gaming monster from ASUS

Most smartphones are meant to be all-rounders and users generally prefer those which deliver on most aspects. However, the one, somewhat niche use case that has emerged in recent times is gaming, and with mobile gaming growing in popularity, brands have come up with smartphones that can deliver. On the premium side of the fence, these devices are not just powerful, they marry special hardware and software capabilities designed to deliver the most immersive gaming experience possible on a smartphone. And if there’s one name that stands out in this segment, it has to be ASUS. The Taiwanese brand’s ROG Phone 3 (review) was the only true-blue gaming phone in India last year, and now ASUS is following it up with the ROG Phone 5. Among other features, the ASUS ROG Phone 5 is the first smartphone in India to come powered by Qualcomm’s latest flagship SoC, the Snapdragon 888. Here’s a closer look.

Before I get to the phone though, here’s a look at the box contents. Apart from the phone, you get a two-pin wall charger, charging cable, and also a funky-looking case. The ROG Phone 5 is a rather big and bulky device, and right off the bat, gives hardcore gamer vibes thanks to its design.

The front is dominated by the massive 6.78-inch display, and surprisingly, ASUS hasn’t opted for a punch hole design for the front camera. The bezels on the side of the screen are quite slim, but the top and bottom have visible bezels, with the 24MP selfie shooter placed on the top right. It seems ASUS has paid attention to the minutest of details, since the front camera has been such so it doesn’t get obstructed by the gamer’s thumb while streaming to platforms like YouTube and Twitch. The screen itself is an AMOLED panel, with a resolution of 2,448 x 1,080 pixels. It’s a beauty too, being HDR10+ compliant and a refresh rate that can go up to 144Hz, as befitting a gaming phone. The panel is supposedly custom-made by Samsung for the ROG Phone, and we all know how capable Samsung’s AMOLED displays are. The display is layered with Gorilla Glass Victus, while the rear gets a layer of Gorilla Glass 3. 

Speaking of, the rear is where all the action is. The glossy dot matrix design at the back takes cues from the brand’s Zephyrus gaming laptops and features an illuminated ROG logo. The triple camera setup stands out in a funky-looking module, which ensconces a 64MP primary shooter with Sony IMX686 sensor, alongside  13MP ultra-wide and 5MP macro sensors. On the left side of the phone is the side-mounted port, which includes a secondary Type-C port which lets you charge the phone without the cable getting in your way, while holding it in landscape mode.

Of course, the side-mounted port also allows one to connect accessories, such as the AeroActive Cooler 5. That latter is a bundled accessory that features two physical AirTrigger buttons, a fan for cooling the phone, a kickstand, and a 3.5mm headset socket. A bright red-coloured SIM tray is also placed on the left. 

On the right of the ASUS ROG Phone 5, you’d find the volume rocker, a power key with red accents, and the new AirTrigger 5 ultrasonic buttons for gaming. And on the bottom, a Type-C port towards the left, and a 3.5mm socket on the right. ASUS says the AirTrigger system has been significantly improved this time, with more sensors and more motion sensing inputs. 

A gaming phone launching in 2021 needs the fastest SoC available, and ASUS has taken care of that by equipping the ROG Phone 5 with Snapdragon 888, the latest flagship chipset from Qualcomm. Coupled with the overclocked Adreno 660 graphics, the combination is said to deliver 35 percent better performance than the previous ROG Phone. Also on board is up to 16GB of RAM and up to 512GB of UFS 3.1 storage. Apart from 5G support, you get Wi-Fi 6, simultaneous connection to Wi-Fi and mobile data (with automatic switching), and three Wi-Fi antennas (also with automatic switching to make sure the signal isn’t obstructed regardless of the way the phone is held in the hand). 

Also on board is the GameCool 5 cooling system that makes use of a redesigned internal structure, a reshaped vapour chamber and graphite sheets for heat dissipation. ASUS has also focussed on the audio bit, offering front-facing stereo speakers, plus a Quad DAC to to deliver Hi-Res audio while gamers use wired headphones. And as far as Bluetooth connectivity is concerned, the device supports major standards including aptX HD, LDAC and AAC. 

As a wise man said, with great power comes great responsibility. For the ROG Phone 5, the statement can be tweaked to something like: “great power needs a powerful battery”. ASUS has taken care of that by including a 6,000mAh battery in the device. This dual-cell battery supports 65W fast charging, and can be juiced up to 70 percent levels in about half an hour, while a full charge should be possible in under an hour. 

On the software side of things, you get to choose between ROG UI and the more stock-like Zen UI, based on Android 11. There are a smorgasbord of software features thrown in to enhance the gaming experience too. This includes the Armoury Crate, which acts as a hub for installed games and aims to offer a console-like experience, along with access to a bunch of settings which can be saved as custom profiles for different games. The settings include those for customising the display, touch, network, AirTriggers and other stuff. Then there’s Game Genie, which is an in-game quick access tool, that allows you to access various settings and modes without moving away from your game. 

That’s not it. ASUS has added various other software tools and utilities designed to help users get the most of their ROG Phone 5. For instance, there’s AudioWizard, which allows you to set and choose different audio profiles for a custom sound experience. The battery settings include scheduled charging, which lets you set trickle charging options so the battery doesn’t wear out if you leave the phone on the charger overnight. There are tons of other battery-saving features on board as well. 

There’s no doubt that ASUS has crammed in a lot in the ROG Phone 5, and the above is just a bird-eye view of the entire package. At one level, the ROG Phone 5 does look like overkill, but hardcore gamers would disagree. And if this seems like a lot, the brand even has Pro and Ultimate editions of the ROG Phone 5, with the Ultimate edition sporting a secondary monochrome PMOLED display at the back, and an industry-first (not to mention heart-stopping) 18 gigs of RAM.

So, it’d be safe to say that mobile gaming aficionados have a lot to look forward to with the ROG Phone 5. Now, about that PUBG ban…

Photos by Raj Rout