When you finish setting up most other phones, the process just drops you onto the home screen. With the ASUS ROG Phone 5, a phone that unabashedly knows its target market, you get a message: We hereby invite you, the top gamer, to join the next awesome mission.
It doesn’t stop there. You’re then invited to join Cyberpunk Anime Genji on a mission to play an AR game, which changes depending on which ROG Phone you bought. (There’s three: the baseline ROG Phone 5, ROG Phone 5 Pro and the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate, which will all be available in Australia later this year, but ASUS couldn’t confirm how much each device would cost.)
It’s all signalling to the crowd, of course. The ASUS ROG Phone is a phone for gamers. It’s so much a gaming phone that in an embargoed briefing for press lass week, the only amount of time spent talking about the camera was one slide out of eighty five.
Literally any other smartphone company would talk about their post-processing algorithm, selfie cams, maybe their night cam and other software updates. ASUS? They talk about overclocking. In your phone. And the “highest temperature reachable” on your phone, with breakout boxes for your left and right hands.
Even if you don’t give the slightest of shits about mobile gaming, you have to respect ASUS’s sheer commitment to the bit.
I’ve had about half a day or so to play around with the ROG Phone 5. It’s technically ASUS’s fourth crack at the mobile gaming market, but the number four is considered deeply unlucky in many Asian cultures, so ROG Phone 5 it is.
ASUS loves their specs, so if Big Number Go Up is something that appeals to you then the ROG Phone 5 has it in spades. The 144Hz Samsung E4 OLED screen is basically a mini TV in your pocket. The 6.78 inch screen isn’t necessarily the highest resolution — at 2448 x 1080 it’s actually a bit lower than a lot of other phones over the last couple of years. All three ROG Phones have the same resolution, with the main differences being extra memory in the Pro and Ultimate editions (16GB and 18GB respectively) and slightly more storage (256GB to 512GB in the latter two models).
The Snapdragon 888 is at the heart of the ROG Phone 5, which sports better CPU, GPU and AI performance from previous generations. The Snapdragon 888 also has variable refresh rate shading (VRR), something console users have become more intimately familiar with the Xbox Series X and PS5. It’s a first for Android phones, although it’s worth noting that Apple has supported VRR for a while too.
What the ROG Phone 5 really excels at is latency, or the lack thereof. The biggest headline feature here is a 300Hz sampling rate, meaning the screen is refreshing for touch inputs at 300 times a second. ASUS reckons that measures out to an overall touch latency of 24.3 milliseconds. That’s supposedly almost half the response rate of the Xiaomi Mi11 or the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra. It’s all a bit moot though because the ROG Phone’s real competitor — the Red Magic 6 — is launching next week with the same Snapdragon SOC and a faster sampling rate.
But we can’t draw comparisons with the Red Magic 6 today, so for now the ROG Phone 5 stands unparalleled for Android gaming.
Like the ROG Phone 2 I played with over a year ago, ASUS’s mobile is really best defined by excess. Do you need a potential 18GB RAM in your phone? I don’t, and I sure as hell don’t know anyone who does.
The regular ROG Phone 5, however, sports a more normal 8GB RAM. A lot has carried over from the previous generation, although the 6000mAh battery has been split into two units this time. Interestingly, the ROG Phone 5 is actually a little lighter than the ROG Phone 3 even though it’s a fractionally taller phone.
On the camera side, you’ve got a 24MP selfie cam, with a 64MP main camera on the back. There’s 13MP ultra-wide and macro cameras, although as is customary for phones, it’s really the post-processing that counts.
I haven’t had a lot of time to play around with the phone, but a lot of what I liked about the previous iteration is back in spades. Being able to set individual overclocking profiles not just for every game, but individual CPU, GPU and scheduler processes, is insane and I love it. I can’t think of any other company or phone that gives you such extreme low-level access as a feature.
You want to increase the upper temperature limit of the phone for Wild Rift sessions? Go ahead. Feel like overclocking the CPU on your phone to play chess? Fuck it, why not.
Other bits and pieces that you’ll immediately notice: a pretty reliable underscreen fingerprint sensor, HDR10+ support, a 3.5mm headphone jack with a ES9280AC Pro DAC. You can customise up to 20 different inputs through the Airtriggers and gesture features, and not all of that needs to be used for gaming, either.
The battery has gotten some cool upgrades too, like delayed charging that slows the rate of charging over certain times so you don’t unnecessarily drain the hell out of your phone overnight. The hardware monitoring within the Armoury Crate app will also let you lower the refresh rate, touch sensitivity and background activity on an app-to-app basis if you want, so you can really lock down certain apps that are known for eating up your juice.
There’s a ton more I simply haven’t had time to play with, including the phone’s 5G performance, usefulness of its quad-microphone tech, or the full experience of the supplied ROG Kunai controller. The Kunai’s interesting in that it tries to turn your phone into what is essentially a knock off Nintendo Switch. Its latest iteration is massively improved from the deeply cheap, unergonomic mess that was the first Kunai, although ASUS’s D-Pad designs still need a lot of work. But the face, shoulder and bumper buttons are much nicer this time around, and the sheer length of the ROG Phone 5 means it actually feels pretty decent in the hand. I want to spend some more time testing it with other mobile games, as well as services like Project xCloud. If the Kunai doesn’t work with basic Xbox controllers, that’s a huge miss, but I’ll report back next week on how that fares.
I still need to run separate battery tests at different resolutions, but in initial testing yesterday I comfortably got a full working day out of the phone while running at 144Hz. One bonus is that the phone supports 65W charging, so you can get juice back quickly enough. It doesn’t support wireless charging, but ASUS figures most users will work around that.
The ASUS ROG Phone 5, Pro and Ultimate doesn’t have Australian pricing, but expect it to be in flagship territory. The base model is priced at 799 euros internationally, which is equivalent to at least $1232 here. But given the ROG Phone has usually sold for around $1500-1700 in Australia, I’d expect the base ROG Phone to come in closer to that territory. The ROG Phone 5 will come in three different variants — 8GB RAM/128GB storage, 12GB/256GB and 16GB/256GB — but it hasn’t been announced if all of those options will be sold in the Australian market.
The ROG Phone 5 will be available internationally later this month, while the Pro model will start shipping from April and the Ultimate from May.