Yes there are flagship smartphones aplenty that offer the best cameras, the best UI and maybe the best display, but if you belong to this discerning tribe known as ‘gamers’, then none of these will truly tickle your fantasies. So let me introduce you to this monster of a smartphone – The ASUS ROG Phone 5.
Unlike the previous ROG Phones, this year it has mutated into three distinctly different smartphones, each more powerful than the other. And what I have here is just the starting variant — The vanilla ROG Phone 5. Then again, even this vanilla flavour packs some of the most cutting-edge hardware we’ve seen, and supports all the accessories the ROG Phone lineup offers.
Performance: Dragon, untethered and unbound
While ASUS is selling the ROG Phone 5 with up to 12GB RAM in India, the variant we received for review comes with 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM. The Snapdragon 888 and 256GB UFS 3.1 storage completes the core hardware inside. There’s also a 144Hz AMOLED display, an additional USB-C port and pressure sensitive air triggers on the edges. So as far as gaming phones go, the ROG Phone 5 nearly offers it all. Only, the Pro and the Ultra offers two additional triggers on the back panel and a full-fledged display.
This time, the PCB housing the chipset and other components is placed in the middle, allowing the heat to spread evenly across the body. There’s also a vapour chamber and a graphite sheet to cool down the phone while you’re gaming. But, despite all this effort to keep things cool, the ROG Phone 5 gets warm when the X-Mode is engaged during gaming, which leads to throttling.
What’s X Mode?
It’s the heart and soul of the ROG Phone. Turning it on puts the CPU and GPU into overdrive making use of all the available resources to deliver rock solid frame rates at the highest possible graphics quality, along with enabling a secret weapon of course.
This time there’s three levels of X Mode Game Tuning, each increasing the power draw to extract more compute. The last one, Level 3, can only be engaged with the Aero Active Cooler attached.
Then there are options to tweak the graphics with almost a PC-like settings panel for each game you play, along with the touch sensitivities. The Air Triggers aside, you can bind macros to execute multiple moves at once, or use a keyboard and mouse without letting the game know you’ve switched input modes.
And, this is what makes the ROG Phones unique. Where other flagships will give you plenty of options to arrange the homescreen the way you want, or change how the fingerprint animation looks, this one here gives you exclusive access to the engine. I feel like I’m in a racing car everytime I open up the console. And with each iteration, Asus has been opening up the raw capabilities of Snapdragon chips a little more. You can individually increase the thermal cap, CPU, GPU speeds and the whole shebang, just like in a PC game. Only this time, more isn’t always better.
The ROG Phone 5 has a heating issue, but the fault may not entirely be Asus’. The Snapdragon 888 this year seems to be a hungry beast that guzzles power and heats up even on phones like the OnePlus 9 Pro.
My unit’s internal thermal sensors picked up 56 degrees while playing Genshin Impact at the highest graphics settings, with X Mode Level 2 engaged. The surface temperature was even higher. The visual fidelity was fantastic though and the AMOLED display (with a peak brightness of 800 nits) offers one of the best experiences, but the screen itself gets too hot to touch, the rear panel becomes a hot sheet of lava, and even the air triggers get warm. And, this while testing even before the maddening Delhi summers kick in.
But Genshin Impact is anyway a power hungry game. How about Call of Duty: Mobile? It was slightly better in terms of thermals, with the temperatures ranging around 41-46 degrees with everything maxed out. And being a regular at this game, I could see a marked improvement in my gameplay. The reasons?
The 300Hz touch sampling rate and the Air Triggers. Both are meant for taking your game to the next level, and my in-game reflexes saw a massive improvement, be it aiming or strafing or quickly switching weapons, the ROG Phone 5 registered even the quickest touches, while the Air Triggers allowed for aiming and shooting simultaneously while moving around like using a four-finger grip. The audio has also improved a lot from last time. It’s not just loud anymore, but more dynamic and it’s easier to figure out which direction the footsteps are coming from or you’re being shot from.
But the biggest advantage of the ROG Phone 5 is also its most fatal flaw. The raw performance it unleashes cannot be held within the chassis. During multiple runs of benchmarks, games and stress tests, the ROG Phone 5 registered significant heating, which in turn led to throttling. Take AnTuTu scores for instance. The first run registered a very high score of 700612. And that’s at X-Mode Level 2. Then, all the tests I ran hardly lived up to its previous record. I even got a score as low as 372235 after four runs, which is lower than the Samsung Galaxy F62 (Freezer Edition). The throttling, my friends, is real on this one.
My fears were further confirmed by a 45 minute run of CPU Throttling Test, where the CPU throttled to 79% of its max performance, which is again near about the same range as the OnePlus 9.
On the 3DMark Wildlife Stress Test which takes the GPU route into maxing out the capabilities show a marked decline of FPS as the temperature rises. And, in this 20-minute long test, the temperature jumped from 35 degrees to a whopping 49 degrees. I registered surface temperatures of above 50 degrees on the screen and the rear panel.
In conclusion, it’s clear that the performance claims aren’t just a marketing gimmick. This is the real deal for true performance enthusiasts. But the Snapdragon 888 is so power hungry that this time the Aero Active Cooler is mandatory if you want to make full use of the phone. It costs an additional Rs 2,999 and comes bundled only in the Pro and Ultimate.
Display: Tuned for eSports
The 144Hz display on the ROG Phone 5 is right now the most responsive display you can get on a smartphone in India. Coupled with that 300Hz touch sampling rate, the ROG Phone 5’s panel feels like it was designed keeping a gamer in mind.
The peak brightness of the panel is only 800 nits but the Samsung panel feels really immersive while gaming, and watching movies. It supports HDR on both video streaming apps and games. And, the ROG does feel a bit old fashioned with noticeable bezels around the panel, but if you’re a gamer, you’ll appreciate this conscious decision. The bezels let you rest your palm while your fingers do all the moving around, preventing accidental touches.
The ROG Phone 5 also has a strong rumble for vibration feedback, and it springs to life when you’re typing on the keyboard or using the Air Triggers to shoot enemies.
Well, the ROG Phone 5’s display isn’t going to put OnePlus or Samsung out of business any time soon, but credit where it’s due, the visual fidelity on this 144Hz panel feels just insane while gaming.
Software Experience: Access to the cockpit
To keep the UI from hogging all the resources, Asus picked a near-stock Android experience for the ROG Phone 5, with an optional ROG theme on top, which looks a tad bit overdone, if you ask me. Nothing that can’t be fixed with a few minutes of going through the Settings App. But then again, with the likes of OxygenOS and Samsung OneUI ruling the roost, stock Android on a smartphone that costs Rs 50,000 does feel a little too simplistic for everyday use.
But for a gaming phone, Asus doesn’t hold back. The Armoury Crate is where your games reside. It also houses a dashboard to monitor your hardware vitals, and set an overall performance profile for all games housed in the app. And this time, the Armoury Crate lets you connect with other ROG Phone users with access to a forum within the app. You can also download gaming profiles made by ROG moderators for the games you play to get the best experiences.
As for updates, Asus still has a patchy record, but considering the ROG Phone 3 received the Android 11 update quite some time back indicates that the company is at least trying to seamlessly transition this heavily customised phone to the next Android build.
Battery Life: Strictly average
The ROG Phone 5 sticks to a 6000mAh battery which roughly gives you the same battery life as the ROG Phone 3 last year, which is around 6 hours of SoT with time spent majorly gaming. My usage for the review primarily involved running this phone through multiple hoops of our benchmark and gaming tests, day after day which resulted in a 5 hour 30 minute SoT, which frankly speaking, is quite average for a flagship smartphone. Games like Call of Duty: Mobile and Genshin Impact guzzled around 35% battery per hour!
Then again, if you don’t really game on it much – which defeats the purpose of the phone – the ROG Phone 5 can last well over 24 hours on a single charge. A good improvement this time is the charging speed. Asus has finally brought in support for 65W charging, and this is in the universal PD standard. But the 65W charger has to be purchased separately. In the box, you get a 33W charger which topped up the battery from 0-100 in 60 minutes. Asus also does good by gamers by including a second USB-C port for charging while gaming. That way, the charging cable doesn’t come in the way. You can also choose to just power the system and not charge the battery while gaming when plugged in to this port.
Network and Connectivity: Future Ready
The ROG Phone 5 supports all availabe 5G bands, so long term use isn’t going to be an issue. It also lets you keep two WiFi networks connected while gaming for stable network and there’s also option to dynamically switch between mobile data and WiFi. Oh, and you can also turn off carrier aggregation if the network is too patchy while gaming.
Camera: Switch to Gcam ASAP
The camera hardware is top notch with a 64MP Sony IMX686 primary camera, a 13MP ultrawide camera and a 5MP macro camera. On the front is a 24MP selfie shooter that’s also used while streaming a game. But despite the good hardware, Asus is simply doing the bare minimum for the final JPEG output.
There aren’t any of the AI optimisations you’d expect from the flagship, and while the daytime photos are just about acceptable, it really disappoints in low light photos. A simple Gcam Port, whenever it becomes available, should be a good way to eke more out of the camera hardware.
Design and Build: Game ready
The ROG Phone 5 is designed just like a gaming phone should be. It ticks off all the essentials – the mandatory ROG markings, a PMOLED ROG logo with programmable lighting, dual stereo speakers, a POGO pin port for accessories, and a sturdy aluminum chassis. The design is more flushed and streamlined this year. There’s no air vent and the camera module is ever so slightly raised, rendering a cleaner minimalist design for a gaming phone, if at all such a thing exists.
I must thank Asus for bringing back the 3.5mm headphone jack. With the added DAC, audiophiles has good reasons to make this their primary driver just for this feature. But it remains too bulky for regular use, and the weight distribution is only uniform when holding the phone in landscape orientation. Honestly, this remains a smartphone that will appeal only to serious gamers, and that continues to remain a small niche in India.
Should you buy the Asus ROG Phone 5?
All things considered, the ROG Phone 5 does that one job it’s made for, really well. It provides you with the best gaming experience. And, that goes beyond just the stable frame rates and the superior visuals. The level of control you have over your device is something PC nerds are used to, and that’s exactly what Asus had set out to do with this one. But another use case for the ROG Phone 5 would be content consumption. The large battery and the excellent audio output makes this a perfect device for that long vacation you were planning. Only, you better have a big pocket because this one’s gonna weigh you down. In front of options like the OnePlus 9 and the Vivo X60 Pro, the ROG Phone 5 feels like a niche affair, but for that small niche it caters to, I doubt anything else will feel as good.
Asus ROG Phone 549999
Design and Build6.4/10
What Is Good?
- Beastly performance
- Most responsive display
- Air Triggers
- Excellent Stereo Speakers
- 3.5mm Headphone Jack with DAC
What Is Bad?
- Bulky Build
- Camera output of a budget smartphone
- High surface temperature while gaming
- Thermal Throttling