Gaming phones have now become a thing and manufacturers are standing up and taking attention.
This all kicked off back in 2017 when Razer released their first Razer Phone. I reviewed it shortly after it arrived on our shores and was very impressed. At the time it was one of the more powerful devices out there. It did not, however, come without problems. Some of these were addressed by the Razer Phone 2 which got released the following year. That, however, was the end of the story for Razer.
Gamers who wanted something that was custom designed for their pastime (or profession) were left a bit in the lurch. There was nothing out there until Asus stepped into the breach with their sub-brand “ROG” and we saw the arrival of the ROG Phone. While it certainly saw some sales it wasn’t really that popular. Now Asus is back again with the ROG Phone II and they are hoping that this time around it will be a bigger hit.
I have the Asus ROG Phone II Ultimate Edition here to explore and I have been using it for about two weeks now. It is time to deliver my opinion of this Goliath of gaming. I will also be able to put it up against the Razer Phone 2 and see how they stack up against each other.
Design and Hardware
This is where Asus has started on their “go big or go home” strategy. This phone is certainly no shrinking violet and this can be seen from the moment you get it out of the box. The phone is festooned with nods to its ROG gaming heritage. From the powerful front-firing speakers to the air vent on the rear – this phone just wants games to be played on it. You also get some very cool additional features that you would not normally see on a flagship phone such as “Air Triggers”.
The one thing that most people won’t notice at least, to begin with, is the inclusion of the secondary USB Type C port on the left-hand side. This is hidden behind a large rubber grommet and it is used to allow the phone to essentially “dock” with peripherals.
There is also a feature on here that gamers and audiophiles will both appreciate in the form of a 3.5mm headphone jack!
Let’s take a quick walk around the phone and see all the bits and pieces we have got to play with.
On the top, we have got some antenna lines and a sole pinhole microphone.
Next up as we move around to the right-hand side is where we can find the volume rocker and the power key. That is not all though, flanking both of these keys are the aforementioned air triggers which come into their own when gaming, but more on that later on. They are indicated on the phone by some engraving – as seen in the pictures here.
Moving around to the bottom is where we can find the 3.5mm headphone jack and the main USB Type C port. This port will pull double duty both for charging and data transfer but sadly no display output.
Next is the right-hand side which house the SIM-card slot
This will take a dual SIM slot but no memory card. Then there’s the secondary USB Type C port – this one supports charging, data and display output.
This is positioned on the side to allow the use of various Asus ROG peripherals to enhance your gaming experience. I have not been able to test these as I was not provided with them but there are various peripherals out there. Here is a list of the available ones.
TwinView dock, Give you a second screen to allow you to concentrate on the gaming itself. It can also be combined with the ROG Kunai Gamepad as seen here
Mobile Desktop Dock, PC-style setup with monitor, keyboard and mouse for mobile games.
WIGiG Dock, using wireless connectivity to allow you to game on the phone and stream to you big-screen setup.
These are some pretty neat add ons if I am honest but they do all come at additional cost and availability in the UK at the time of writing is unknown.
That takes in all the edges now lets head around the back which has a lot going on.
First things first are the camera array. Yes I said array – there are two lenses present here. We have 48MP primary f/1.8 and 13MP secondary ultrawide cameras. Now the primary camera is, in fact, a 48MP Quad Bayer camera, so it will give you an output of 12MP. This is surprisingly good given the inclination of this phone. The secondary lens allows you to capture wider angle shots of 125 degrees.
More on the cameras later though, because just below the cameras, you may notice not one but two LED flashes. Well, dear reader, sadly you are mistaken as only one of these is actually a flash. The other is used for an optional case that will then provide a light show when in use. This was not part of the review kit so this image will have to suffice. However, the most interesting parts, especially for gamers, lie further down the phone.
We are of course talking about RGB lighting! Yes the ROG emblem on the rear of the phone is fully RGB illuminated and will pulse or flash away to your hearts content as defined within the “Armoury App” on the phone. This is a cool effect and can be put to good use as well as it will give a visual cue for things like calls or notifications if desired.
Lastly on the rear is the ROG Aerodynamic System, more commonly known as an air vent. This, if you like, is the exhaust port for the phone. Beneath this area is where the phone vapour chamber sits and works at cooling things down when you are playing games. I’ll also kick in if you’re doing other intensive tasks such as video editing. There is no fan as such but we will come back to that.
Now onto the jewel of the phone – the screen.
As far as I am aware this is the first and only AMOLED screen on the market that can support a refresh rate of up to 120hz. It is also a beautiful screen to look at and interact with. It is massive as well but in a good way!
Measuring in at 6.59-inch diagonal with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio and 1080 x 2340 resolution. The PPI is 391 which is a bit low when compared to some of the 4k screens out there on other flagships but I really can’t see the point in going any higher than 1080p on a phone screen anyway. What you also get with this screen is the stupidly accurate colour representation with a Delta E of less than 1. The human eye cannot detect anything lower than 3!!
We also have HDR 10 Support and a fantastically quick response time of 1ms. Oh, and it is also made up of Gorilla Glass 6 for toughness!
Some of you might be thinking at this point that this is all a bit much and why do you need all these things. Well, I’m not the best-equipped person to answer that question however what I can say is that this is a bloody gorgeous display and I really like using it for everything from reading emails to gaming and viewing pictures or movies.
The last few things to point out on the front are the front-firing speakers which are both loud and punchy, as you would expect from a gaming phone, and the front-facing 24MP camera which is very much up for the task of selfies or video.
So that is the externals done with what about pulling back the shiny exterior and looking at the core of this thing?
Well unfortunately for you I cannot crack this thing open but i can go through what lies inside for you. However, the first thing that you need from a gaming rig is horsepower, and this is provided by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+. This can clock up to 2.96Ghz at full tilt. This is backed up in my review sample by 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage.
Now to put this into some perspective, my Mac Mini runs on a 2.3Ghz Core i5 chip from Intel and has only got 8GB of RAM with a 128GB SSD! The last gaming phone I tested was the Razer Phone and that came with an SD 835 processor and 8GB of RAM and 64GB, at the time people thought that was excessive however these specs are now becoming normal. There are a few phones out now that are running the same processor but not all of them are running it with the amount of cooling that Asus can bring to the party.
During the normal mundane use of the phone – things like calling, texting using social media web browsing – the phone will run on just a few of the lower power cores and as a result, needs minimal heat management. However when you engage “Beast mode” (Asus call this “X Mode”) then everything gets cranked up to max and normal phone can get a bit toasty.
The Asus, on the other hand, remains cool and collected. It does this by firstly using a very clever Vapour Chamber to spread the heat over a much larger area and also minuscule amounts of liquid which will absorb the heat and turn into vapour. This helps to dissipate the heat from the phone.
But that wasn’t enough for Asus they had to raise the stakes higher. This is where the included add-on comes into play. I am of course talking about the Aero Active Cooler II.
This is essentially a fan that plugs into the side-mounted USB Type C port and then draws the hot air from the ROG Aerodynamic System (airvent) and expels it out the other side in a cooling breeze just in the right place to cool your hands a bit.
Now before we move on to the next section I want to take a bit of time to compare this phone to the Razer Phone 2, as some may say that was the first real mainstream gaming phone.
Here are a few images of the phones next to each other to try and give you an idea of the size difference in these two phones.
In the first two images, you can see the screen at different brightness settings. The first one is with brightness set at about 20% on each phone then the next is with the brightness fully cranked up. Credit is due to the Razer Phone 2 here as although it is using LCD technology as opposed to the ROG’s OLED tech the screen is not that much dimmer especially at the lower brightness setting. Where the difference really becomes more apparent is when the sun is out as the OLED screen on the ROG is more vibrant and clearer.
The RGB effects on both phones are shown below and these are pretty much the same and are controlled by specific apps within the phones UI. I did notice that you have got a bit more control over what you can use the RGB lighting for on the ROG phone as on the Razer it seems to be more that you always have it on or off. On the ROG you can use it for various things such as Music playback charging indicator and call/notification alerts. Although this is possible on the Razer it is easier to dial it in on the ROG phone to exactly what you want.
You can also toggle lighting on or off more easily within the notifications dropdown on the ROG whereas on the Razer you cannot.
It is just little touches like this that put the ROG slightly ahead in terms of ease of use for me. In terms of hardware, the ROG is clearly the bigger of the two phones with a much larger screen. The Razer’s screen measures in at 5.7″ in comparison to the ROG’S 6.59″. Also, the speaker design is massively different as the ROG goes for more subtle and inset speakers whereas the Razer’s Speaker grills are a lot chunkier. This does not reflect in the actual quality of sound output though as they are both pretty well matched to my ears – I would be happy to use either of them for listening to music or watching a video.
Here is a small video demonstrating the speakers…
One aspect that does favour the Razer is the screens aspect ratio as it is the more traditional 16:9 aspect ratio so you dont have any space being wasted by black bars on the side. It is not a problem on the ROG with its 19.5:9 aspect ratio but I thought it was worth mentioning. You can see what I mean in the pictures below.
In the first picture the videos are both at the standard 16:9 aspect ratio and you can see the black bars on the ROG, and in the second image I have set the ROG to full screen and the video is squeezed cropping the top and bottom off to fill the screen. On the Razer, you dont have this issue. As I said, not a big problem but something to be aware of.
Lastly, I want to cover one-handed use. After all this is going to be used as a phone as well. To my surprise, I found it easier to use the ROG in one hand than I first thought with the Razer being that bit wider meaning it was more of a stretch to get to some of the UI with one hand. Admittedly there is not much in it but for the size of the phone, the ROG is not that difficult to use in one hand which was pleasing to see.
Obviously, if I need to get into the notifications menu then that was tricky on either phone. I tend to use my phone two-handed normally anyway so this was not a concern for me. As to which is more comfortable to hold then again the winner here has to be the Asus as the curved edges to mean it fits into your palm better. This is also true when using the phone for playing games.
This is a big area for both the phones and one where the ROG Phone II is pretty much the clear winner across all the metrics. I have long since abandoned the use of benchmarking in my testing as it really doesn’t give a good idea of what the phone can do. I much prefer to actually use the phone as it is intended to be used.
Concerning the “engines” of the phones, we are testing here the ROG is running the newer improved Snapdragon 855+ and the Razer is on last years tech with the Snapdragon 845. This a generation shift in terms of pure computational power, efficiency and also in thermal control. Simply put the ROG can run for longer, faster and cooler than the Razer under the same conditions. I have tested the phone using the same games on both and, as you would expect, things just feel better on the ROG. One area where they are both excellent however is the framerates on games. This is because both phones can use a display that refreshes at 120hz and this is awesome. It is a great thing to have in games but it also works really well when browsing the web, scrolling through emails and various other activities. I like the feature so much that I have actually bought one of the phones, I will reveal which later.
Here are a few videos trying to demonstrate what I mean. The first is of Asphalt 9 running the tutorial first up is the ROG followed by the Razer..
Next up is the game loading speed between the two devices…
You can see that the Razer Phone 2 is edged out ever so slightly by the ROG Phone II, but it is very difficult to ascertain the winner. So much so that had they not been side by side you wouldn’t be that concerned.
Battery on this phone is quite frankly awesome. I have regualarly been getting two days usage out of it and on a particularly quiet-use week when it was mostly in standby I got 5 days out of a full charge!
For me that about wraps up the performance side of things and, although not a massive difference, it can be seen here or felt when used. That being said the ROG Phone II is the faster of the two in most tasks. While writing this review I stumbled across this test that tested the fastest and most powerful phones on the market – the ROG Phone II faired well in the testing so if you do want a deeper dive into the benchmarks etc then I would advise giving it a read. You can also see how the Razer Phone 2 compares against the ROG Phone II.
Here are the specs of the phone in case you missed the unboxing article that I did when I first got the phone in to test.
- 6.59-inch 19.5:9 aspect ratio AMOLED display, 1080 x 2340 resolution
- 120Hz refresh rate, 240Hz touch responsiveness
- Snapdragon 855+ processor, 8GB or 12GB RAM
- 128/256/512 GB or 1TB storage
- 3.5mm port
- 6,000mAh battery capacity
- Quick Charge 4.0 – 30W HyperCharge
- Dual camera rear setup
- 48MP primary f/1.8
- 13MP secondary ultrawide
- 24MP front camera
- Dedicated port for add-on mods
- ROG Kunai gamepad
- Touch-sensitive panels on edge
- Control mapping for unsupported games
- Measures: 171 x 78 x 9.5mm
- Weight: 240 grams
This is an area where the phone could have been broken for me. You can make a phone with the most powerful hardware in the world and then break it with crappy software. I am happy to report that this does not seem to be the case with the ROG Phone II. Apart from some gaming-specific additions which are mostly isolated to the Armoury app Asus has left the software pretty much as Android is meant to be. What I mean by that is that we have a fairly clean version of Android 9 here with a little bloat. A few apps have been added and there is a very light skin plus some predefined themes but not much else.
During the time I have been writing this review I have also been using not just the Razer Phone 2 but also the Google Pixel 3 XL. This has been updated to Android 10. Apart from the obvious addition of a system-wide Dark UI (which is sadly missing from Android 9) I actually prefer the UI of the ROG Phone II over the Pixel 3XL.
Yes, there area few niceties to be found in the new Pixel UI on Google’s homegrown devices, but I hate the way that the new app drawer is set up and also that the Google search bar cannot be moved to the top of the screen anymore. It is for this reason and also a few more that I have preferred to use the ROG instead.
So I mentioned the Armoury app earlier, well this is a one-stop-shop for all your gaming stuff which is nice as – if you don’t need it – then you can hide it away. In this app, you have access to your games and also, more importantly, a control panel for adjusting how those games take advantage of the hardware to best optimise your gaming experience.
It is also where you can set up the ROG peripherals and lighting effects. When you first enter the app you get a very gameresque splash featuring the ROG logo in blacks and red. This makes sure that you know that you are now entering a gaming environment. I could now spend the next couple of paragraphs explaining how and what you can do in this app but instead here is a video showing it off for you.
We also have the inbuilt GameGenie service that will allow you to monitor your performance of your components whilst the game is running. You do a few more things but I can really see this as its main function. I have briefly covered it above as well
Next up is the extra bit of kit on the box. It is, of course, the ROG Kunai Gaming pad! I featured this a little in the unboxing videos before but I thought that it was time to go into them a bit more thoroughly.
So the Gamepad comes with two setups in mind. One looks like a Nintendo Switch and the other looks like a regular console controller. They both allow you to have more tactility in your gaming to provide a better experience. In the standalone gamepad mode then you connect via Bluetooth, 2.4GHz RF or the lowest latency which is a long USB Type C cable. When using the docked mode then the connection is taken care of by a USB Type C port within the dock and the controllers are physically connected via Pogo pins in the side rails.
In the video below I have given a bit of a run through whilst testing some games on the setup..
I have been really impressed with how well this all performed and if I were buying this phone then this is something I would definitely want to have included with it. You can also use the Aero Cooler II with this setup as well, so no need to worry about overheating your system.
This is an area where I was almost prepared to be disappointed but I shouldn’t have judged it so quickly – it is quite good. Don’t get me wrong, it is not as good as my Huawei P30 pro, but it can certainly hold its own. I have also been using a Pixel 3XL and Razer Phone 2 during the time with this phone and I have to say this is closer to the Pixel in terms of quality.
What particularly impressed was the low light performance which is greatly assisted by the inclusion of Night mode. Here are a few examples from the Pixel and the ROG.
They are pretty close to being fair. Just for sake of comparison here is what you get with the Razer Phone 2 without night mode.
Pretty nasty it is fair to say.
In daylight, this phone does not disappoint either as I have been able to get some truly stunning pictures including the odd selfie as well I will put them into a gallery below so you can take a look and make your own conclusions. If you wish to see them at full size then just click on the image you want to see.
All in all for stills very impressive so how does it cope with video work. Here is a small sample below for you to puruse..
I find that it handled the stability quite well as well which was good to see.
Overall I have been very impressed with the battery performance of this phone and credit is due to Asus for not skimping in this area as normally happens in other gaming phones.
So, after covering all the aspects of the phone it is time for the conclusion. Is this the best gaming phone money can buy?
The simple answer is yes.
Can it compete with the other flagships that are available on the market?
In essence yes, it can – mainly due to the fact that it is so much cheaper than them.
Yes there are a few of the flagship-features missing but they are really niceties and are not essential. Things like wireless charging and water resistance are indeed absent, but I didn’t really miss them. I would like to see them on version 3 but not at the cost of the cooling system. I have been very impressed with the gaming side of the phone obviously but I was surprised how good that camera was too.
I have used the Razer Phone and also the Honor Play before I got a chance to use this and the difference in the camera is mind-blowing. This is a big area for me, so having a great camera with awesome gaming performance ticks a lot of boxes. I also think that the availability of optional accessories to enhance your gaming experience is a really unique aspect of the proposition.
So if you can live without the niceties of a full flagship (see above) and want the best gaming phone you can buy then I recommend the ROG Phone II wholeheartedly.
I do however have a second option for you if you are a gamer and a bit strapped for cash. You may want to have a look at the ROG Phone or the Razer Phone 2. These phones may not have the best cameras, but in the case of the Razer it does have the other things that I wanted in a phone. Also, I was able to get a pre-owned one for just over £200 with a bit of hunting. Don’t get me wrong had I been able to afford a ROG Phone II (£899 from the Asus website) I would get one in a heartbeat – I have really enjoyed using it.
Thanks to Asus for the use of the device and long may the ROG Phone range continue!