Asus ROG Phone 5 Review: Undeniably Spunky, Great for Pro Gamers, Overkill for Rest

Asus, the Taiwanese electronics manufacturer, has succeeded in establishing itself as a recognised entity in the global gaming space, thanks to its Republic of Gamers series of gaming laptops. Over the past few years, the company has also established its presence in the mobile gaming space thanks to its eponymous smartphone. Now, in its latest generation, we have the Asus ROG Phone 5 – a gaming phone that at the very least looks its part quite well. Boil things down to specifications, and the ROG Phone 5 is undoubtedly right up there with the best. The competition, therefore, will be with the best too.

In terms of specifications, the Asus ROG Phone 5 features the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC, 12GB of LPDDR5 memory and 256GB UFS 3.1 internal storage. The display makes for a big part of the experience, offering a 6.78-inch AMOLED full HD+ panel with 20.4:9 aspect ratio, 144Hz refresh rate, 300Hz touch sampling rate, HDR10+ certification, 1200 nits peak brightness, 111 percent DCI-P3 colour gamut coverage and more. Other key features include AirTriggers 5 soft shoulder buttons for a better gaming experience, two front-firing speakers with a whole host of underlying enhancements such as the ESS Sabre ES9280AC Pro audio engine, HyperStream Quad II DAC and GameFX in-game audio system with low latency audio delivery. You also get a Sony IMX686 64MP primary camera at the back, as part of a triple camera setup – while to the front is a 24MP camera as well. All of this is powered by a 6,000mAh battery setup that also offers 30W fast charging.

All of this is very good, but the question is – would you as an average user really want to spend your money on a phone such as this? Or is it too niche for the general user to like? The Asus ROG Phone 5 costs onward of Rs 49,999 for the 8GB + 128GB variant, which means that the OnePlus 9 – a “non-gaming” phone with comparable specifications, would be among one of its key competitors. Here’s what we find out.

Performance: No shortage of firepower, none expected either

From the above-mentioned specifications, it should most likely be quite clear that no performance shortcomings are expected from the Asus ROG Phone 5. What’s good to report is that it doesn’t fall short, either. Despite a custom UI that looks quite strenuous on resources (and idle RAM usage suggests so too), the ROG Phone 5 largely remains fluid and uncluttered in terms of its overall performance. From menu animations and transitions, to browsing in-game features, to multitasking with everyday apps, and of course gaming, there isn’t really anything that the ROG Phone 5 struggles with. In fact, in the approximately two weeks that we have spent with the Asus ROG Phone 5, there have only been a handful of minor jitters, which too could have happened due to network quality.

On comparative terms, the Asus ROG Phone 5 is at par with the other flagship grade offerings in the country right now. The OnePlus 9 series, for instance, is equally fast and adept in terms of performance, and so is the Samsung Galaxy S21 series. This also means that in terms of absolute performance, the ROG Phone 5 does not particularly deliver hitherto-unseen performance. The silky smoothness of menu transitions and the blink-of-an-eye switching between everyday apps are what you’d expect from an all-out flagship phone today, so that’s also pretty much what you get here.

Undeniably Spunky, Great for Pro Gamers, Overkill for Rest

In this department, Asus has attempted to eke out a diversified gaming experience by adding “gamer-like” features to the phone. This includes its Armoury Crate software customisation hub to tune performance and the AirTriggers on the phone’s shoulders, among other cosmetic features. The former allows users to set a performance mode the way you can on a high performance laptop, in order to tune it to suit your usage. In X-mode, which is dedicated for gaming, the ROG Phone 5 heats up quite fast – a situation made only worse if you want to plug in the phone to its wall adapter and snap on the Kunai 3 gamepad while playing.

To handle this heat, Asus also has an optional cooling fan accessory that snaps into the multi-pin port to the left edge, and that does make a bit of a difference. The AirTriggers also make a difference in terms of the way you would use a phone to game, and it is undeniably a more ergonomic experience to have the AirTriggers as customisable buttons in a game. Combat shooters such as Call of Duty: Mobile are easier to play by mapping the weapon controls to the AirTriggers. However, I personally found the left AirTrigger shoulder button to be a bit too far towards the edge, and placing it more inward would have been ergonomically fit. This is a slightly odd overlook from Asus. Other features, such as customising the pressure points and the way they recognise inputs, are quite good.

The ROG Phone 5 is one of the tallest phones you’ll use today, with its 6.78-inch display being even taller than the 6.9-inch display on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Display: Really good, and among the best around

The 144Hz display really makes the most of the performance capabilities of the ROG Phone 5. The AMOLED panel looks as visibly crisp as you’d expect, and black levels are excellent. The marginally oversaturated colour balance that loads by default may remain a sweet spot for many users; however, if it does not work for you, the custom Asus interface allows you to adjust it to your tunes for saturation and warmth.

Given the smoothness of the display’s refresh rate, the 144Hz panel also reflects any instance of screen tear on the ROG Phone 5 a bit too clearly. Since you particularly get used to the smoothness of the display, any instance of scaling down the refresh rate to 60Hz becomes a bit too apparent. Thankfully, the ROG Phone 5 also features automatic refresh rate adjustment, which tunes the screen with the highest compatible refresh rate of the content on the screen. This further reflects in the Asus Armoury Crate, where games that can load at 144Hz show up separately.

All things considered, the Asus ROG Phone 5 has a display that is as good as the display you’d see on other phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. However, there is a slight problem here in terms of the overall ergonomics – the ROG Phone 5 is simply too tall for most average users. In order to keep the phone narrow and fit palms from either end while in horizontal orientation, Asus has ended up increasing the aspect ratio to make the display tall. This means that the ROG Phone 5 is one of the tallest phones you’ll use today, with a 6.78-inch display that is even taller than the 6.9-inch display on the Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Along with that, the ROG Phone 5’s 10.3mm thickness and close to 240 grams body weight means that it is one of the biggest overall phones that you can use today. It’s simply not built for the average pocket, and the weight also means that your hands will start paining if you are playing on the go. You will need to support your hands on a desk during gaming sessions, and in terms of normal usage, single handed usage is simply not possible.

LEDs and special features: Loads of toys for gamers

The Asus ROG Phone 5’s big party piece is the multi-colour LED ROG logo at the back, that you can tune in terms of how you’d want it to flash. The next big party piece is the Kunai 3 gamepad that is an optional accessory, which closely resembles the Nintendo Switch JoyCons and adds a controller setup to your phone. When snapped in and switched on, there is no denying that the ROG Phone 5 looks like a wickedly cool spaceship contraption of sorts.

In terms of usage, it takes a while to get used to the wide size and the gamepad format on the phone. The controls themselves are closer to the style of the Microsoft Xbox controllers, which itself is a good thing since the overall control set is fairly ergonomic. The ROG Phone 5 can also be plugged into an optional cooling fan even with the controller snapped on, which certainly makes it look at work unlike any other phone out there. This, though, is a very niche area of application for the phone, which you will find useful only if you are a professional esports player who can make use of this setup.

Essentially, the special features include the above mentioned configuration, and is geared to enable you to play for long hours without interruption. The side-mounted USB-C port further helps its case, and the wide range of LEDs – which you can configure for multiple different flashing and colour styles, add to its aesthetic as well. Until such long hours of gameplay is achieved, all of this will remain an aesthetic addition for you, and nothing more in terms of the overall performance factor.

The audio performance of the ROG Phone 5 also deserves a special mention. The ESS Sabre ES9280AC is a tried and tested DAC for offering a notch better audio performance from smartphones, and while earphones with low latency wireless connectivity support and hi-res playback are your best bet here, even the dual stereo speakers on the ROG Phone 5 offer surprisingly pleasant audio – far better than the average smartphone. The playback offered brings comparable depth to the dual-speaker stereo output of the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, which is pretty much the benchmark for all-out Android flagships today.

Cameras: Still an also-ran, but better

The 64-megapixel triple rear camera setup is not bad by any metric – the camera offers enough for you to take the odd good landscape photograph while out in daylight. However, the focus is clearly not on the camera here, which is also pretty much what you’d expect from a phone that caters so specifically to gamers. The 13-megapixel ultra-wide unit adds to the versatility, while the 5-megapixel macro unit feels more of a marketing suggestion than a willful, deliberate addition.

In this setup, the main camera does acceptably well in terms of details produced, to make sure that as long as you use the ROG Phone 5 to share the occasional view out of your gaming room’s window on social media, you’ll be more than well catered for. Thankfully, the ultra-wide camera also produces acceptable results in terms of details, and the overall colour levels are also well balanced and not too saturated or bleak. The balance is still towards the higher saturation side, but that isn’t particularly bad.

Impressively, the Asus ROG Phone 5 does quite well in terms of videography, thanks to its ability to record 4K videos at 60fps. This makes the most of the ISP onboard the Snapdragon 888 SoC inside, and makes sure that the on-chip phase detection autofocus also manages to lock focus well enough – even in not so bright conditions. All of this sums up the ROG Phone 5 camera as a more than usable one, but that’s what it is – a camera that you won’t mind using if you have it, but won’t go chasing for the memorable shots that it could take. It’s still an also-ran in certain ways, but given that it doesn’t really pretend otherwise, it’s difficult to penalise Asus for this.

Design and ergonomics: Looks good but difficult to use

Over time, I’ve realised that the design language of the Asus ROG Phone 5 has grown on me. Not only have I grown to like it, but I’m actually quite fond of it by now. The geometric cuts on the camera, paired with the dot-matrix segment towards the bottom with the LED ROG logo, all add up to contribute to a distinctly different experience. In a word where smartphones are so standardised, the ROG Phone 5 definitely stands out in a good way.

It attracts plenty of fingerprint smudges, but thankfully, oleophobic coating on both the front and rear make sure that it’s quite easy to clean as well. In terms of ergonomics, however, the story isn’t all that fabulous. The volume buttons are a bit too high up the right edge to be comfortable to access, and while the narrow width ensures that gripping the phone is not too cumbersome, the height of it simply takes away all the ergonomics. The gently curved back panel makes usage easy as well, and while you do have to spend a few days to get used to the unorthodox charging port placements, you don’t mind it after a while.

All things considered, the Asus ROG Phone 5 is a good-looking phone in my books, albeit one that isn’t particularly comfortable to use. It’s meant to be a gamer’s toy of choice, and while that it mostly is, it lacks a fair bit of ground in terms of ergonomics – something that’s critical for a phone to be good for everyday usage.

Battery life: Good enough to be reliable

The split 6,000mAh battery is good enough to be reliable at all times. On everyday, average usage, the Asus ROG Phone 5 actually delivers fairly good battery life. If you aren’t particularly intensive in terms of how you use your phone through the day, you can simply put it on the power consumption mode and eke out two days of usage from the ROG Phone 5 – all without struggling in terms of the overall performance. For hardcore gaming, a full 100 percent charge cycle lasted for 6 hours and 47 minutes of screen-on gaming time, with the Kunai 3 gamepad and Bluetooth audio connected. That is pretty impressive, even though be very careful about soaring processor temperatures that can marginally throttle peak performance. This, however, kicks in after over one hour of an intensive game such as Call of Duty: Mobile, with all graphics turned to max.

The ROG Phone 5 isn’t just a flashy LED toy – it means business, too.

Verdict: Clearly focuses on gamers, and that isn’t too bad

The Asus ROG Phone 5 is an undeniably good smartphone. It is a novelty, which isn’t what we get to say about phones these days at all. It is excellent in terms of performance, has a very good display, usable cameras and great battery life, too. The software features have plenty of gaming optimisations to make it a good enough toy for enthusiast gamers, and most features here are functional – thereby showing that the ROG Phone 5 isn’t just a flashy LED toy, it means business, too.

However, unfortunately, the Asus ROG Phone 5 is not your ideal everyday phone. As a non-gaming user, you won’t ever make the most of the features that it offers, and it is simply too big to suit single handed usage. At Rs 57,999 for the 12GB + 256GB version, the Asus ROG Phone 5 is priced well too for what it offers. But, in the general sense, you’d probably be better off buying the OnePlus 9 Pro or the Samsung Galaxy S21, or even wait for the upcoming Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra, should you only want a phone that offers the best performance – and also looks good while doing so.

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