Since the time of its inception in 2006, the Republic of Gamers or ROG brand has had just one goal - and Asus defines it clearly on its official website – to “deliver the most innovative hardcore hardware for truly dedicated gamers.” The ROG brand doesn’t shy away from experimenting with diverse form factors either. Why else would a brand, long associated with laptops and PCs, launch a smartphone? Just like its laptops and PCs, the ROG Phone – launched last year – was also an unapologetic gaming rig. But it was also rough around the edges – literally and figuratively – and it cost a bomb to own.
The second-generation ROG Phone or ROG Phone II tries to fix both these aspects – and succeeds mostly. The ROG Phone II is, as a result, a much more refined product that’s priced just right. Especially in India where the base variant with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage has been launched at Rs 37,999. For those looking to splurge, Asus also has a maxed-out 12GB RAM and 512GB storage variant of the ROG Phone II priced at Rs 59,999 which will be available later. For some perspective, the original ROG Phone was launched in India at a whopping Rs 69,999.
If you’re serious about mobile gaming, the Asus ROG Phone II is the only gaming phone to get – there are no two ways about it. The ROG Phone II just beats the hell out of every gaming phone in the market out there, in every perceivable way. And then some.
This starts with the design. While the original ROG Phone was ripped and too-out-there for its own good, the ROG Phone II is a lot more subdued and stealthier to look at. Make no mistake though, this is still a gaming phone and it’s still not subtle about where it’s coming from – or where it’s going. It’s a glass and metal sandwich, the ROG Phone II, with sharp lines tattooed across the entire back panel – these radiate a rainbow-like effect when light hits them at specific angles. An equally sharp ROG logo studded with RGB lighting sits dead center to complete the whole package.
The same sharpness in looks is thankfully not carried over to the ergonomics. The ROG Phone II has curved edges that ease into your palms making life sort of bearable – for this is a big phone. No scratch that, this is a very big phone.
Standing tall at 6.59-inches and weighing in at 240 grams, the ROG Phone II’s physical dimensions will test you. At 9.5mm, the ROG Phone II is quite thick too. But at least, Asus hasn’t wasted all that space you know. The phone has a ginormous 6,000mAh battery inside for starters. Plus, it has the most elaborate set of thermals that you can get in a smartphone at this point of time – including an exquisitely crafted vent to flush out all the excess heat. There are two USB Type-C ports, and another proprietary connector to attach accessories to it. The ROG Phone II also retains the headphone jack.
And the ROG Phone II is built well. And it’s built intelligently. All the buttons, for instance, lie on one side on the right. They’re well positioned and offer good tactile feedback. These are flanked by dedicated areas earmarked for Asus’ one-of-their-kind AirTriggers, or AirTriggers II as they’re now called suggesting there’s some sort of improvement over the last-gen. And there is. AirTriggers, which essentially let you re-map and mimic two on-screen buttons, can now identify a casual tap and an actual press. This means you can rest your fingers on them without having to worry about accidental triggers – this feels more natural, sort of like using the shoulder buttons of an actual game controller. The sensors themselves now have a response time of 20ms which is three times faster than the last-gen version (63ms). Also, you can now squeeze the sides of Asus’ phone for added functionality like activating the Google Assistant.
Let me tell you that once you get a knack for these AirTriggers, there’ll be no looking back. If that’s not enough, the ROG Phone II also supports individual key mapping, so you can get rid of every on-screen button with physical ones – you'll need to get accessories for that though.
The same attention to detail has gone in positioning the connectivity ports as well. While one USB Type-C port lies at the bottom, the other (along with a proprietary connector for accessories) lies on the left. The idea is to offer a charging solution that doesn’t come in the way of gaming. Asus has also thrown in four mics on this one, so no matter how you hold your phone, you’ll still be able to talk your way through it – again, without compromising on your usual gaming style.
The front remains largely unchanged – but only in design. Thick bezels, while they may seem so yesteryear, have a method here – so I can’t say I mind them at all. For one, you get plenty of space to comfortably rest your palms while gaming. Secondly, you get the loudest pair of stereo speakers I have heard in and around this price – even more expensive phones don’t sound this good. So, I’ll take it.
Everything else changes. The ROG Phone II has a 6.59-inch AMOLED 1080p+ display with a 120Hz refresh rate and 1ms response time – the screen is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 6. Asus is using a 10-bit (also called deep colour) panel here which in tandem with HDR can, on paper, help create depth and a sense of reality while watching content (that supports HDR). Asus has also made under the hood changes to Android to achieve a touch sensor sampling rate of 240Hz making the ROG Phone II smoother than even the latest and greatest iPhones. The screen of the ROG Phone II is an absolute delight. Not only is it the fastest in its segment, it is also high-quality in terms of peak brightness and colour accuracy.
The phone’s optical in-screen fingerprint scanner could do better though. It’s fast but it’s not very reliable – a software update could change that of course.
Speaking of software, Asus lets you choose from two distinct styles here – a stock Android-based Zen UI 6 and a gamer-centric ROG UI. You can do that in the beginning while setting up your phone, or as and when you like later as well. The difference will be like night and day, in looks that is because these are simply themes at the end of the day – and not two different ROMs. As for user experience, it’s the same across the board mostly, at least at heart. Which means it’s mostly the same as the one inside the Asus 6Z – a flipping genius of a phone I recently reviewed. The software inside is near stock Android with a few Asus tidbits thrown in – that remain largely unnoticed unless you really want to put them to use. And, it really helps that Asus has been able to well optimize the software with the hardware, so everything runs effortlessly – all the time.
Being a ROG gaming phone does bring in some gamer-centric additions – because, well, obviously. There are two that really stand out.
-- ROG’s hallmark Armoury Crate which allows for per game customizations - the level of granular control on offer here is just ridiculous especially for a smartphone. You can manually tweak the CPU clock speed, the temperature, the refresh rate and touch sensitivity, audio as well as network settings – all from within the Armoury Crate’s console-like interface.
-- Game Genie which allows you to view CPU and GPU, temperature, battery level and FPS count stats, all in real-time while playing a game.
Just like the original, the second-generation ROG Phone also packs more firepower than you’ll probably ever need. The ROG Phone II is powered by Qualcomm’s latest and greatest Snapdragon 855+ processor – which is an enhanced Snapdragon 855 designed specifically for gaming with 15 per cent faster GPU performance. You’re free to push both the CPU and GPU to their limits – if you want to. That’s up to 2.96Ghz for the CPU and up to 740MHz for the accompanying Adreno 640 GPU. This is paired with up to 12GB LPDDR4X RAM and up to 512GB UFS 3.0 storage (non-expandable).
The ROG Phone II is so powerful, I don’t even have words to describe it – and I've been using the 8GB/128GB variant just so you know. Not once has this thing hung up on me or kept me waiting. Everything’s snappy, snappier than any other phone out there – even the new OnePlus phones, if you’ve been wondering.
And it games like a champ. I must say, I had approached the ROG Phone II’s 120Hz display, with the assumption that it was an overkill. I was wrong. I have been pleasantly surprised with the sheer number of games that now support 120Hz refresh rate. And the number’s growing. Asus compiles them in a handy blog (that’s also being updated frequently) that you should totally check out, and just in case you’re too lazy to do that, the ROG Phone II’s Armoury Crate app also lists them as featured. It’s as if Asus really wants you to play these games, and it wants you to play them all on the ROG Phone II – no other gaming phone gives you so much opportunity.
Speaking of opportunity, the ROG Phone II has a dedicated X Mode that you’ll need to hit if you’re looking to unlock the phone’s full gaming potential. There are a few presets that you can either toy with, or you can also choose to go rogue – all the options are in there, depending on how much performance gains you'd like to squeeze from all that hardware.
All that power does come at a price though. The ROG Phone II has a tendency to get hot – sometimes even alarmingly so – when pushed to the edge which isn’t surprising, but Asus also has a neat way to cool things down. An improved cooling system – Asus calls it GameCool II - that consists of a vapour chamber and vents keeps check on temperature and the resultant throttling. There’s also an active cooler accessory that you can get separately if you’re in the habit of pushing the ROG Phone II to the extremes more often than not.
The ROG Phone II further packs a 6,000mAh battery inside which is claimed to offer 7 hours of non-stop PUBG playback. The phone also supports 30W fast charging and 10W reverse charging. Even with everything maxed out, this thing refused to die on me before a full day while toning things down will easily take you through one and a half/two days with ease. Simply put, you can set the ROG Phone II’s display to 120Hz and play all the demanding games you want, without looking at its battery stat most of time. In our video loop test, the ROG Phone II lasted for just over 15 hours – in X Mode and 120Hz – which is nothing short of phenomenal.
Gaming phones have built quite a reputation when it comes to cameras - they’re expected to be bad at photography, because gamers don’t somehow, engage in photography? I am not sure where it came from, but the thing is, gaming phones have had disappointing cameras – so far. And no one seems to be trying to change that perception either. The ROG Phone II is no different, but at least Asus isn’t shying from putting in good hardware here. In fact, the setup has been directly lifted from the Asus 6Z – and that one did not disappoint much. The ROG Phone II doesn’t disappoint much either but there’s certainly room for improvement. It has the best cameras on a gaming phone though, if you’re into that sort of thing.
The ROG Phone II has a 48MP primary rear camera with Sony’s IMX586 sensor with f/1.79 aperture. There’s also a secondary 13MP ultra-wide camera on the back with a 125-degree field-of-view. The dual cameras don’t flip like in the Asus 6Z, so this one gets a 24MP front camera.
Like the Asus 6Z, the ROG Phone II is also a jack of all trades. Camera quality is good, if not great. The 48MP main sensor (that shoots 12MP photos by default) can capture good-looking photos with good detail and good dynamic range in good light. I really like the fact that it shoots photos with a more pleasing and a neutral colour palette, instead of going overboard with saturation. That main camera really takes a tumble in tricky and low light situations though – photos come out soft and mushy in such cases.
As for the wide-angle camera, it offers a wider perspective so you can capture a lot more of your subject. The quality may not be as good as the primary camera, but at least you get the option. So that’s nice.
The front camera, likewise, performs well in good light but low light selfies leave a lot to be desired.
The Asus ROG Phone II has a lot going for itself. It’s by far the best gaming phone that you can get in the market today, and unlike say last year, you don’t even have to burn a hole in your pocket to get it. The price is just right. No other smartphone – gaming or otherwise – offers you so much power, and so much control over it. It’s like, Asus isn’t even playing fair here - there’s no doubt, those interested in competitive mobile gaming, will have their work cut out quite a bit should they be looking to invest in the ROG Phone II. The rest of the deal will be sealed by their own skill set.
Which is why you’ll have to be serious about mobile gaming should you be looking to invest in the ROG Phone II. If not, it’s just power without responsibility – you won’t even know what to do with it. This is because every mid-range phone, from the OnePlus 7T to the Redmi K20 Pro to even Asus’ own 6Z, today has the necessary hardware to play PUBG and Call of Duty well – if you’re a casual gamer. It’s going to take something special to appreciate everything that the Asus ROG Phone II brings to the table.
(Photos by Saurabh Singh)