Asus ROG Phone 2 review: The power to change your game

Asus isn’t playing around with the ROG Phone 2. This is a serious gaming phone, heaving with power and performance, with more add-on parts than a new car. For the obsessive, Asus will even sell you a giant ROG-branded (Republic of Gamers) suitcase with the phone and a mountain of accessories.

However, instead of solely targeting gamers, Asus thinks three groups of people are going to lust after the ROG Phone 2. Fans of the ROG brand who play games for at least six hours a week; hardcore gamers playing for 16 hours or more a week; and tech fans who wants a fun, powerful phone and wants to be a part of a growing community. But can Asus achieve the almost impossible and make a specialist phone that appeals to the less-committed tech lover? The answer is yes — if you can get past the design.

Made ya look

Asus has retained the striking, individual look of the original ROG Phone for the sequel, with a few alterations that make it a little more visually appealing. The offset fingerprint sensor has been removed from the back and replaced by an in-display sensor, and the fake vents on the back have also been taken away, making way for a single, smaller, and functional vent. Reflective, angled lines give the back a sci-fi look, and it’s all slashes and cuts instead of curves and minimalism.

The phone is a loud-and-proud Republic of Gamers device, right down to the RGB-lit ROG logo on the back. I love it. It stands out, it doesn’t look like every other phone on sale, and the matte finish is sleek, modern, and surprisingly resistant to fingerprints. The copper accent on the working vent, the multi-color reflective highlights, and the RGB logo give it real character. I understand the ROG Phone 2s design won’t be for everyone, and some will consider it too “gamer-y,” but get over this and embrace the design, and you’ll own a phone that won’t be mistaken for any other.

It’s really big, and at 240 grams it’s heavy too. The body’s well-balanced, so it’s not awkward to hold, but you definitely know it’s in your bag or pocket. The RGB-lit logo has to be manually activated and I love the breathing effect it makes as it cycles through different colors. Weirdly, it doesn’t switch off when you have Do Not Disturb mode enabled, and that’s annoying as it lights up a dark room. The side buttons are easy to locate and press, although the off-center USB Type-C charging port is difficult to find in the dark, unlike traditional ports that are centrally mounted.

You get a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and on the left-hand side of the phone is a second charging port, made for when you hold the phone in landscape orientation so the cable doesn’t interfere with game play. It’s covered over with a rubber grommet that is desperate to be lost the second you take it off, as it’s not attached to the phone at all. Also, the instructions tell you to only use one of the dual USB connectors under the grommet, except it’s not clear on the phone itself, and I can never remember which one it is without going back to check.

The copper accent on the working vent, the multi-color reflective highlights, and the RGB logo give it real character.

Bezels at the top and bottom of the phone mean there’s no notch, but instead, provide space for some great-sounding stereo speakers. There are people who dislike the shift to notched and bezel-less designs, and the ROG Phone 2 is the antidote to them.

Smooth screen

The ROG Phone 2 has a really big 6.59-inch, 10-bit HDR AMOLED screen with a 120 Hz refresh rate. Technically, it’s switchable between 60 Hz, 90 Hz, and 120 Hz, but I’ve left it set at 120 Hz without noticing excessive battery draw or incompatibility with apps. Why did I leave it set to this? Because 120 Hz is a visual joy and a complete revolution in smartphone visuals.

 

This is an iPhone level of smoothness (yes, I know iPhones have a 60 Hz refresh rate). The scrolling is so slick, regardless of which app you’re using or even if it’s simply navigating Android’s menus — it’s wonderful. What does this mean to you? It lessens fatigue, makes the experience more pleasurable, and gives the phone a more polished experience. Smoothness isn’t about processing speed here, it’s about the screen’s refresh rate.

The screen is also calibrated in the factory to show the most accurate colors and uses 10-bit HDR for 1073.74 million colors, instead of an 8-bit SDR with 16.77 million colors. This means you see what the developer or content creator wants you to see, and more details are revealed in the darker, shadowy areas too.

The fingerprint sensor on the screen is fast and capable — more so than the one on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus, in my experience — but the face unlock system is considerably faster, and you rarely get to the fingerprint sensor in time before the phone has unlocked itself. You can set this so you don’t need to swipe up on the screen too.

Gaming and performance

Gaming is why you will want to buy the Asus ROG Phone 2. Everything about it is geared towards it, so what’s gaming like? Bloody brilliant. My game-of-choice is Danmaku Unlimited 2, a wonderful shoot-em-up that relies on being able to avoid multiple streams of bullets. I progressed faster than usual, lost more lives than usual, and enjoyed playing more because of the ROG Phone 2’s super performance.

Danmaku Unlimited plays at 60 frames per second (fps), but you can still see the difference compared to lesser screens because the ROG Phone 2’s screen refreshes at 120 Hz. However, good though this and other non-120 fps games look, when you play a game with full support, it really is next-level stuff. Bullet Hell Monday supports 120 fps and plays so beautifully, you almost can’t believe you’re looking at a phone screen. Asphalt 9: Legends is tuned to play well on the ROG Phone 2, supports its accessories, and is superb.

I used X Mode, the game-tuning mode that ensures all the power from the Snapdragon 855 Plus goes to running the game throughout to ensure the highest performance. What differences did it all make? I could more effectively avoid the bullet onslaught; I could see everything; there were no stutters; and absolutely no slow-down. I also felt the same playing Hit man: Sniper, where precision is also important to success. Turn off X Mode and revert to 60 Hz, and there is a noticeable difference in game play. Games are less fun to play when the hard wire isn’t working at its optimum level.

Each game you play can be customized too, right down to setting the screen refresh rate individually, the notification alert frequency, CPU power, and even screen reaction time and touch sensitivity. Playing on the ROG Phone 2 and the specialist hardware makes you a better player too, something that Asus’s own research backs up. The screen has a 1 ms touch response time and a 49 ms touch latency speed, so you fire before other players, for example. We’re talking about milliseconds, but that can make the difference in competitive play.

 

The Air Triggers have been greatly improved over the first ROG Phone. Located in the top left and right of the phone’s body in landscape orientation, they can be configured to activate different touchscreen functions. They’re effective hardware-esque buttons, and the haptics have been sped up to activate when you tap them and give an effective “button” feel too.

How about the Snapdragon 855 Plus? Our ROG Phone 2 unit has the 2.96 GHz chip along with 12 GB of RAM and therefore performed like a rocket. Not just any rocket, but one with special rocket fuel to make it go even faster. Here are some benchmarks:

  • AnTuTu 3D: 396,749
  • Geekbench 5 CPU: 764 single-core; 2,716 multi-core
  • 3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 5,395 Vulkan; 6,189 OpenGL

The results are almost identical to the One Plus 7T, also driven by a Snapdragon 855 Plus processor, which puts it ahead of every other Android phone we’ve tested, and only behind the iPhone 11 series. Power will not be a concern.

I have no doubt someone who loves mobile gaming will get even more from the phone than I will.

I only scratched the surface of what’s possible with the ROG Phone 2 in terms of gaming; it makes me want to play more and I feel like the hardware is making me a better player. I have no doubt someone who loves mobile gaming will get even more from the phone than I will. That’s before trying out the game controller accessories seen here, the Kunai controller and the Twin View Dock 2, for even better game play experiences.

Many people have questioned whether there is a need for a gaming phone or why anyone would buy one in the first place. If I lived and breathed Danmaku Unlimited 2, or PUBGFortnite, or Asphalt; then the ROG Phone 2 is the best way to enjoy playing them.

The camera

By all rights, the camera on the ROG Phone 2 shouldn’t be good. It’s a gaming phone with an emphasis on high-tech, so surely corners will have been cut somewhere, like our experience with the Razer Phone 2. The camera hasn’t suffered unduly, and although it can’t quite keep up with the new iPhone 11 Pro or the Huawei Mate 30 Pro, it does a solid job in most conditions and will be more than enough for most.

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