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ROG Phone 5 Review: The Penultimate Gaming Smartphone

ROG Phone 5

It took a while, but we finally got our hands on the ROG Phone 5, which seems to be the best gaming smartphone out there in the market. It’s definitely got all the bells and whistles a gaming smartphone should have, but how well is the execution on the ROG Phone 3’s successor? The ROG Phone 5 has got one heck of a beastly spec sheet, so let’s go through that first, shall we?

The model we have for review is the base ROG Phone 5 with 16GB of RAM and 256GB storage.

ROG Phone 5 – Specifications

ROG Phone 5
Processor2.84 GHz Qualcomm® Snapdragon 888 5G Mobile Platform with 5 nm, 64-bit Octa-Core Processor
GPUQualcomm® Adreno 660
UIAndroid 11 with new ROG UI
Display6.78″ 20.4:9 (2448 x 1080) 144 Hz / 1 ms Samsung AMOLED display
800 nits outdoor readable brightness
1,200 nits peak brightness
Delta-E < 1
111.23% DCI-P3 color gamut coverage
Corning® Gorilla® Glass Victus
Supports Always-On HDR display
HDR10 and HDR10+ certified
Capacitive touchscreen with 10-point multitouch (supports glove touch)
Dimensions173 x 77 x 9.9 mm 
Weight239 g
Battery6000 mAh typical capacity
Memory16 GB LPDDR5 RAM
Storage256 GB UFS 3.1 ROM
SensorsIn-display fingerprint sensor, face recognition, accelerometer, e-compass, gyroscope, proximity sensor, ambient-light sensor, ultrasonic sensors for AirTrigger 5 and grip press
Wireless TechnologyIntegrated WiFi 6E (802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax, 2×2 MIMO)
Bluetooth® 5.2 (HFP + A2DP + AVRCP + HID + PAN + OPP)
supports Qualcomm® aptX AdaptiveWiFi DirectNFC
GPSGNSS support GPS (L1/L5), Glonass (L1), Galileo (E1/E5a), BeiDou(B1i/B1c/B2a), QZSS (L1/L5) and NavIC (L5)
I/O PortsSide and bottom: USB-C®
Front Camera24 MP
Rear Camera64 MP (Main camera Sony® IMX686) + 13 MP (125° ultrawide-angle lens) + 5 MP (Macro)
Voice WakeupYes
SpeakerSymmetrical dual front-facing speakers with Dirac HD Sound 7-magnet stereo speaker with Cirrus Logic amplifier for louder, deeper and less distorted sound effect
NFCSupported
ColorPhantom Black and Storm White

What’s In The Box?

  • ROG Phone 5
  • 65W HyperCharge Adapter
  • Braided USB Type-C Cable
  • SIM Ejector Pin
  • Quick Start Guide
  • ROG Bumper Case
  • ROG Holographic Stickers

Design

ROG Phone 5

The ROG Phone 5 may look similar to previous generation ROG smartphones, but if you look closely, there’s actually quite a bit of change (that we love!). Taking a look at the front on the display side, the side bezels aren’t as thin as before, and I actually prefer this because it gives your hands more space to hold the phone as to not accidentally touch the screen. The curved edges also give it a very cohesive look that goes will with the phone’s overall aesthetics.

The back of the phone also had the vapour chamber outlet removed, and it’s gone with a more edgy design, complete with the AniMe Matrix style RGB lighting. This is in line with the minimalistic aesthetic cues as seen on recent ROG laptops. On the more premium Pro and Ultimate models, the RGB lighting system gets upgraded with a secondary OLED display. You can virtually design and put anything on the display.

The back also features a glossy finish, which unfortunately, makes it very prone to fingerprints. I couldn’t handle the sight of fingerprints, so I’ve always had the ROG bumper case on the phone 24/7. That being said, it does give the phone a good grip, regardless how you hold the phone.

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ROG Phone 5 Review: The Penultimate Gaming Smartphone 28
ROG Phone 5

Speaking of holding the phone, the phone feels lighter than previous models and that is mega bonus for me. The fact that it’s lighter just makes it less of a burden on my hands and pinky. Since we’re on the topic of pinkies, that’s where I usually rest the phone on my hands. With the phone itself, the curved edges make it extremely comfortable to hold. However, when the ROG Bumper Case is used, the case’s bottom cutout feels very sharp and does cause pain on my pinky. Hence, my dilemma – to save the phone from fingerprints, or to save my pinky from dented red lines.

Connectivity wise, the ROG Phone 5 has two USB Type-C ports – one on the bottom, and another on the left side of the phone. Right beside the left USB-C port, there’s also the metal connectors for you to connect the new AeroActive Cooler 5. Apart from the power and volume buttons on the right, there’s also the 3.5mm audio jack on the bottom of the phone. You’ll notice there’s a red block on the bottom left of the phone, and that is in fact the SIM tray. Usually, SIM trays are kept hidden and streamlined from the rest of the phone, so I liked Asus’ approach to this and made it stand out with the ROG red/fuchsia gamer-esque design.

Surprisingly, the camera bump on the ROG Phone 5 is kept rather thin this time around. When placed on a flat surface, there is no wobble at all. When the ROG bumper case is used, it’s kept firmly place even more as it flats out the camera bump on the back.

Display

ROG Phone 5

The ROG Phone 5’s display might just be one of the best looking screen on a smartphone. It has a 6.78-inch Samsung AMOLED FHD+ panel, complete with a custom 20.4:9 aspect ratio, 144Hz refresh rate, and 1ms response time. That’s a lot to cover, but that’s not all. The display even has a 1,200 nits peak brightness with an 800 nits outdoor readable brightness. Colour accuracy wise, it has a rating of Delta-E < 1, supports HDR10 and HDR10+, has an Always-On HDR display, and it covers 111.23% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut. To protect the display, it utilizes Corning’s latest Gorilla Glass Victus.

Having a 144Hz refresh rate is already 24Hz higher than the industry standard, it’s also on a Samsung AMOLED panel with 1ms response time. The screen is not only smooth, but is also extremely quick to display graphic visuals. The AMOLED panel also increases visual quality, while ensuring the battery life is well managed. The display works great both in and outdoors – it’s bright, colours are extremely vivid as they really pop off the screen.

Having the 20.4:9 aspect ratio makes the ROG Phone 5 a great device to watch your favourite shows and videos on Netflix and YouTube. That being said, it’s recommended to not watch Zack Snyder’s Justice League on the ROG Phone 5 because the movie’s in the 4:3 aspect ratio.

User Experience

ROG Phone 5

Even before you get to touch the device, you’d already be impressed with the unboxing experience. Apart from checking out the accessories included in the packaging, the box itself contains certain AR elements for you to experience by interacting with the phone. Once you start up the device, you’re required to scan the comic panels on the box and see them come to life. You’re then treated to a quick taste of the new AirTriggers before initiating start-up for the first time.

ROG Phone 5

After using the ROG Phone 5 as my daily driver for the past few weeks, to be honest, I’m loving the entire experience. But, there are several things I dislike too. but, let’s start with the pros. I love that the phone is lighter, more compact than before. Smaller chassis, but larger display, which translates to a higher screen-to-body ratio.

ROG Phone 5

No matter the game you throw at the device, it handles the graphics like smooth, creamy butter. Every game plays fast and smooth, and the display also does the whole gaming and movie watching experience justice. Trust me, it’s unlike any other smartphone I’ve tested. The colour, clarity, just heightens the entire immersiveness, especially when paired with the phone’s dual speaker setup. The surround sound really shines because the speakers are front-facing, and doesn’t get muffled when you hold the phone in landscape orientation (even when gaming).

The gaming features on the ROG Phone 5 elevates the experience even further with the AirTrigger sensors, along with the X Mode in Armoury Crate. Not only does the phone automatically adjust settings to allow for optimum gaming experience, you can custom tailor it to fit your needs just by swiping in from the left of the device.

ROG Phone 5

The AirTrigger sensors can be customized to press virtually any area/button on screen. For example, on Genshin Impact I use the left AirTrigger for ultimates, while the right sensor is used for sprinting. It sort of mimics the console controller experience, and that to me, is a plus. In PUBG Mobile, you can also adjust the sensors to either shoot, aim, and more, depending on what your needs are. Not only that, the AirTrigger sensors can also be swiped instead of tapping to trigger an action. E.g. swipe to crouch and etc.

Now comes the cons to using the ROG Phone 5 on a daily basis. As mentioned before, the back is a fingerprint magnet, but that can easily be remedied by slapping on the ROG Bumper Case. However, the bottom part of the case might be a tad bit sharp, so you have to be careful, or adjust the way you hold your phone.

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ROG Phone 5

Gaming on the ROG Phone 5 puts you in a state of euphoria, but the heat management is a little underwhelming this time around. Playing Genshin Impact on max graphics settings on 60fps heats up the phone pretty fast, where even the sides aren’t comfortable to touch at all. But of course, when you do lower down the graphics settings, the heat isn’t that bad. That’s where the AeroActive Cooler 5 comes in, but more on that in the next section.

While I do appreciate having the 65W HyperCharging feature, I still would’ve like to see the ROG Phone 5 come with wireless charging this time round. Plugging in a cable would definitely result in faster charging, but there are times when I’m too lazy to pick up a cable, and I’d just rather throw the phone onto a wireless charging pad to trickle charge it back up. I do understand this isn’t a necessity, but it would be a nice feature to have.

Accessories

ROG Phone 5

In terms of accessories, the ROG Phone 5 has a bunch of them lined up, and all with different purposes. In our review kit, we received the new AeroActive Cooler 5, ROG Kunai 3 Gamepad, and the ROG Cetra II gaming earphones.

The AeroActive Cooler 5 does a great job at managing the phone’s overall heat, and this time it doesn’t stick directly onto the back of the phone. Instead, there’s a small gap in between the fan and the device, which I guess improves the overall cooling performance. The cooler now also has two trigger buttons on the back, which acts like the AirTrigger sensors where you can map them to press any on-screen buttons. If you want to kick back and enjoy a movie, the back of the cooler also has a kickstand for you to prop the phone up.

ROG Phone 5

That being said, Asus removed the ability to pull the top up for better installation of the cooler. Instead, the cooler’s width is fixed, and you’d have to slide the cooler into the place and make sure the connectors at the bottom are matched up properly. Not to mention, this also makes the the side of the device prone to scratches that may be caused by the cooler. Unlike previous generation AeroActive Coolers, the new one doesn’t have a dedicated slot for you to keep the side port rubber protector. You can easily lose it if you don’t keep it properly or remember where you stored it.

ROG Phone 5

The ROG Kunai 3 Gamepad is a rather complete package when it comes to having a console-like controller for the ROG Phone 5. It has these Nintendo Switch-like Joycons, which also comes with a grip to make it feel even more like a proper controller. There’s also a separate bumper case that lets you slide on the controllers directly onto the sides of the phone, making it look and feel even more like the Nintendo Switch. Personally, I love the idea of having the versatility of playing on the phone and remotely with the controller. But, I hate the idea of mapping every single button to every key. However, if you’re gung ho about it, you can definitely take the time to set it up for once, and be done with it for days or months to come.

ROG Phone 5

The ROG Cetra II earphones work great with the ROG Phone 5’s 3.5mm audio jack with Quad DAC amplification. It sounds good for games, music, and even movies. Vocals are clear, and with a decent amount of treble and bass. But with it being a wired earphone, you’d still have something protruding from the left/right of your phone while you game. It would’ve been nice if the connector head had a 90-degree angled head instead. The earphones themselves has a nice, cool aluminum touch, and it also comes with these stabilizers (optional) to allow the earphones to stay firmly placed in your ears.

Performance

ROG Phone 5

Running on the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 processor, paired with up to 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, there’s no doubt when it comes to the performance for daily tasks. The ample amount of ram with the raw processing power of Qualcomm’s chip and 144Hz refresh rate allows for buttery smooth navigation and app handling. It is also 5G capable for when Malaysia is ready to launch the 5G network spectrum.

As mentioned above, gaming also isn’t much of an issue, except the heat that occurs when you really crank up the graphics settings. That, of course can be remedied by equipping the phone with the AeroActive Cooler 5. However, if you don’t have it, you could just lower down the graphics settings or adjust X Mode settings.

Here are some of the benchmarks we ran on the ROG Phone 5. Do note that on “Sling Shot”, test couldn’t be done because it was remarked as “Maxed Out” because the device was recognized as too powerful for the test. That’s how capable the ROG Phone 5 is.

Camera

ROG Phone 5

Being a gaming smartphone, the ROG Phone 5’s camera admittedly isn’t the best in the industry, but it does a decent photography job. It has a triple camera setup on the back which consists of a Sony IMX686 64MP main sensor, a 13MP ultra-wide angle sensor, and a 5MP macro sensor. While the camera isn’t the first thing you’d consider when getting the ROG Phone 5, it’s good to know the camera performance is actually decent this time around.

The main 64MP sensor takes photos with great clarity under well-lit situations, but the colours are a little undermined in certain situations. The ultra-wide angles lens however, did a better job at colour reproduction, but there seems to be a little warped effect on the edges of the photo. As for the macro camera, it’s a nice tool to have if you have something small you want to capture up-close. With enough light, you can capture the finer details from your tiny object.

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Here are some of the photo samples we captured with the Asus ROG Phone 5:

Audio

ROG Phone 5

The ROG Phone 5 is packed with symmetrical front-facing speakers, and these are one heck of a setup. To me, front-facing speakers are definitely the way to go because the chances of your hands covering them up are reduced, and they deliver impactful audio directly to you instead of from the sides.

Regardless of which volume level I’m listening to, there are no distortion whatsoever. It can go really loud and fill the entire room if you want it to. The highs are clear and bright, while the vocals are very punchy. The lows also had quite the thump to them, and it’s convinced me that a Bluetooth speaker isn’t required for me to fully enjoy my songs while I’m away from the phone.

With Bluetooth 5.2, TWS earbuds work absolutely great with the ROG Phone 5 on top of the already excellent speakers. That being said, the phone also has the built-in HyperStream II Quad DAC to deliver great wired audio performance via the built-in 3.5mm audio jack.

Battery Life

ROG Phone 5

Where battery life is concerned, the Asus ROG Phone 5 is equipped with a 6,000mAh battery that uses the dual-battery setup (2 x 3,000mAh). It supports 65W HyperCharge via the charging adapter that comes in the box, via USB Type-C. Charging from zero to 50% takes about 17 minutes, while charging to full requires only 48 minutes.

The ROG Phone 5 could last the entire day (and sometimes, two days). Even on 144Hz, the phone still had about 25% battery left at the end of the day. This includes casual web and social media browsing, with about an hour of gaming. Turning the refresh rate down to 120Hz bumped up the battery life a little more, while setting the refresh rate to 60Hz gave the phone more than one and a half day’s worth of battery life.

While the previous generation did also have a 6,000mAh battery, we’re really glad the battery is much better optimized on the ROG Phone 5 this time around. Its endurance is increased, charging is faster, all while keeping charging and discharging temperatures well managed.

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Conclusion

ROG Phone 5

The Asus ROG Phone 5 is one of, if not, the best gaming smartphone in the industry right now. It offers PC-level graphics on a smartphone, with unmatched flexibility in gaming accessories. When it comes to price, it may be a little steep for some. But see it as an investment, instead of a burden. If you’re upgrading from an entry level or mid-range device, you’re getting a flagship device with the latest features the industry has to offer, and it could well last you for years to come.

Why did the title of this review mention penultimate? That’s because the ROG Phone 5 we reviewed is actually the base model. There are the more powerful ROG Phone 5 Pro and Ultimate model, which could have up to 18GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, which to me, is total overkill. But with a device like that, you’re bound to futureproof the phone for years to come.

Written By

Chief Content Developer at The AXO

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