The ASUS ROG Phone 5 has everything you could ever want in a Gaming Phone
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying: “The best camera is the one you have with you.” I would argue the same is true for gaming, which is partly why the Nintendo Switch is so popular. Even though your typical gaming smartphone won’t have access to the huge library of AAA games that are available on the Switch, it’s far more convenient to play on because you’ll always have it with you. Plus, we’ve reached a point where gaming phones have become so powerful and so long-lasting, and publishers are finally taking mobile more seriously, that there’s actually great value in picking up a gaming phone. And there’s no better gaming phone than the new ASUS ROG Phone 5, which rights some of the wrongs of the previous-gen ROG Phone 3.
Yes, you read that right: There’s no ROG Phone 4. ASUS has jumped from the ROG Phone 3 to the ROG Phone 5 because of a common superstition with the number “4” in East Asian countries. So if you were expecting to see two generations’ worth of upgrades, you’ll be disappointed. Within less than a year, though, ASUS has made so many improvements and trimmed so much fat in their formula that I can’t see any reason why you’d choose another gaming phone (if you can afford it, that is.) I’ve had the ASUS ROG Phone 5 (well, the limited edition “Ultimate” model) for nearly two weeks now, so here’s an in-depth review of its gaming chops.
About this review: I received the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate from ASUS on February 25, 2021. ASUS did not have any inputs regarding the content of this review.
ASUS ROG Phone 5 Specifications. Tap/click to expand.
|Specification||ASUS ROG Phone 5 / ROG Phone 5 Pro / ROG Phone 5 Ultimate (Limited Edition)|
|Dimensions & Weight||
|SoC||Qualcomm Snapdragon 888:
|RAM & Storage||
|Battery & Charging||
|Security||In-Display Fingerprint Scanner|
|Front Camera(s)||24MP, f/2.4, 0.9µm, 4-in-1 pixel binning|
|Software||ZenUI + ROG UI based on Android 11|
Navigate this article:
- Design: What does the ASUS ROG Phone 5 look like?
- Ergonomics: How does the ROG Phone 5 feel in the hand?
- Display: How well the ASUS ROG Phone 5 show content?
- ROG Vision: What does the second display do?
- Audio: How good are the speakers on the ASUS ROG Phone 5?
- Gaming: What makes the ROG Phone 5 a good gaming phone?
Design: What does the ASUS ROG Phone 5 look like?
“Gaming” hardware isn’t typically known for its…subtlety, and ASUS’s ROG products are not immune to flaunting their gamer aesthetic. But with each new ROG Phone model, ASUS has continued to tone down how gamer-y each phone looks, resulting in the relatively sleek and subdued look of the ROG Phone 3. However, ASUS may have gone a bit too far with the ROG Phone 3, creating a phone that looks boring. Fortunately, the company has corrected its course as the ROG Phone 5 doesn’t look like a boring black rectangular slab. The new model comes in four different designs that are all sleek yet still have that gamer aesthetic.
While each ROG Phone 5 model proudly displays the ROG logo on the back, that’s where the similarities end. Like on every ROG Phone before it, the ROG logo on the regular model is illuminated by RGB lights, but it’s now contained within a slick dot-matrix just like on the ROG Zephyrus G14 laptop. If you opt for the higher-tier ROG Phone 5 Pro or ROG Phone 5 Ultimate, though, the dot-matrix is replaced with an actual display called ROG Vision. According to ASUS, this tiny display has a PMOLED (Passive Matrix OLED) panel, the kind of panel you’d find in a wearable. Since it’s an actual display, it isn’t limited to showing just one graphic (ie. the ROG logo), though obviously, it’s too tiny to be used for anything other than that. I love the ROG Vision not because it’s practical (it’s not) but because it lets you add a bit of personal flair to your gaming smartphone. I’ll talk more about the ROG Vision in the “Display” section down below.
When I compared the ROG Phone 5 to the ROG Phone 3 earlier and said that the ROG 3 is essentially a boring black rectangular slab, what I really meant was that the ROG 5 is still a rectangular slab, just not a boring black rectangular slab. Well, it can be a black rectangular slab if you buy the regular model in Phantom Black, but ASUS finally offers another color option that makes the phone stand out a bit more: white. You can pick up the regular ROG Phone 5 in Storm White or if you’re lucky, the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate in Matte White. Sadly, the ROG Phone 5 Pro is only available in a Glossy Black color to match its “black space opera aesthetics.”
I’m lucky enough to have the chance to review the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate, and it’s one of the best-looking white-colored phones I’ve ever used. The matte finish makes it feel great in the hand and keeps my fingers from slipping while holding the phone. There are no visible smudges or fingerprints from when my fingers slide across the back while gaming. Except for a small blue line underneath the camera, the blue power button, and the blue SIM card tray (which has a cute “GLHF!” [Good Luck Have Fun!] text etched into it), the rest of the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate fits the monochrome design that ASUS was going for. Even the ROG Vision display on the Ultimate is monochrome—that technically makes it a step down from the color display on the ROG 5 Pro, but it’s a minor change that goes to show how committed ASUS is to this aesthetic.
Not every tweak to the design is as obvious as the choice of color or logo illumination on the rear. There are a couple of subtle yet visible and totally invisible changes, such as the addition of two AirTrigger touch sensors on the back (Pro and Ultimate only) and a layer of Corning’s latest Gorilla Glass Victus on the front. Gorilla Glass Victus is said to be twice as scratch-resistant as Gorilla Glass 6 and can protect the display from drops of up to 2 meters in height, though I’m not willing to risk damaging the phone to test these claims. According to ASUS, the front-facing speakers of the ROG Phone 5 are actually bigger and more symmetrical than on the ROG Phone 3, but I can’t really tell them apart visually.
What I can tell quite clearly are the big changes to the ports. First of all, ASUS has brought the 3.5mm headphone jack back! It’s located on the bottom right just like on the original ROG Phone and ROG Phone II. ASUS says they removed the jack on the ROG Phone 3 because they didn’t want to compromise on the battery or backward compatibility with accessories. Since the new Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chip has an integrated Snapdragon X60 5G modem, ASUS now had enough PCB space to accommodate the 3.5mm jack. When ASUS ditched the jack in the ROG Phone 3, we heard some skepticism about the company’s intentions, with some saying it was a ploy to sell wireless audio accessories. Fortunately, that isn’t the case (though they do probably still want you to buy their wireless audio products), and the headphone jack has become one of the key selling points of the ROG Phone 5. But the audio chops are something we’ll talk about in a later section.
The other big port change is on the left side. If you’re unfamiliar, each ROG Phone typically has two full USB-C ports (one on the bottom and one on the side) that can handle charging and data. ASUS included a USB-C port on the side to let you charge your phone while holding it in landscape orientation so that the charging cable won’t get in your way. The inclusion of this port also lets you connect to more accessories, including the ones that ASUS specially designed. Every ROG Phone since the original has the two aforementioned ports, but they also have a tertiary USB-C port on the side that is only used for data transfer. The ROG Phone 5 is the first in the lineup to get rid of that tertiary data port.
Like before, the top port on the side is a full USB-C port, and it handles charging, data transfer, and video output. However, below that are 5 pogo pins rather than a full-sized Type-C port. That third Type-C port only assisted in data transfer when special accessories were connected. Since the ROG Phone 5 gets rid of that port, it isn’t compatible with the TwinView Dock, and ASUS has no plans to make new ones. I’m not too disappointed by this news, though, since we struggled to justify its existence given its poor compatibility with games and high price. (The Mobile Desktop Dock is also no longer compatible, but I haven’t formed an opinion on it since I haven’t had a chance to use it.) ASUS has made a new AeroActive Cooler that’s compatible with the ROG Phone 5, though, and it’s aptly called the AeroActive Cooler 5.
The benefit of switching to pogo pins is that you no longer have to worry about damaging the phone by accidentally plugging in a Type-C cable into the wrong port. The downside is that connecting the AeroActive Cooler is now more finicky since you don’t have the stability of the connection between the Type-C connector and port to rely on when trying to snap the top over the other edge of the phone. This is a minor nitpick, though, and one that’ll go away with time as you get used to popping the AeroActive Cooler 5 on and off.
The last thing I’ll mention about the design is the included case. As always, ASUS has bundled a hard plastic case that leaves enough room on the sides for the AeroActive Cooler to fit. It’s called the Aero case, and it’s transparent if you buy the ROG Phone 5 in white or it’s textured black if you buy the ROG 5 in black.
Ergonomics: How does the ROG Phone 5 feel in the hand?
Since you’ll need to hold the phone to play games, it’s important to consider its ergonomics. Unfortunately, the ASUS ROG Phone 5 is a fairly heavy smartphone, weighing in at 238g or 8.39oz. That means the ROG Phone 5 can be quite uncomfortable to hold in one hand for long periods of time.
Fortunately, it’s much easier to handle with two hands, which is basically required if you’re trying to game while holding the phone horizontally. ASUS built the ROG Phone 5 to be used in landscape, so they made all of the ultrasonic AirTriggers easy to reach when held this way. In landscape use, the side port makes it easy to charge the battery while gaming. On the other hand, the 3.5mm headphone jack on the bottom will get covered up by your hands, but ASUS designed the AeroActive Cooler 5 to have a 3.5mm audio jack of its own so you’ll still have the option to use wired headphones. ASUS has also put three Wi-Fi antennas into the ROG Phone 5 so at least one antenna won’t be blocked by your hands. The same is true of the four microphones placed throughout the body. And the front-facing camera has also been placed so it’s out of the way of where your thumb typically extends, though that depends on where games put their buttons.
While the weight is pretty manageable when the phone is held horizontally with two hands, the thickness is just something you’ll have to get used to. At 10.29mm or 0.36in, the ASUS ROG Phone 5 is a chunky gaming phone. Given its large display, many internal components, and huge battery, the thickness makes sense.
Display: How well the ASUS ROG Phone 5 show content?
The ASUS ROG Phone 5 may not have the best smartphone display on the market for watching TV shows or movies, but it may very well have the display components best suited for gaming. For the best gaming experience, you’ll want a display that’s big, high-resolution, color-accurate, bright, comfortable, and refreshes quickly. The ROG Phone 5 meets all these criteria with its 6.78-inch AMOLED display, Full HD+ (2448×1080) resolution, ΔE<1 color accuracy, wide 111% DCI-P3 color gamut coverage, 800 nits of outdoor-readable brightness, support for DC Dimming and night mode, and 144Hz refresh rate. ASUS has chosen a Samsung-made E4 AMOLED panel for the ROG Phone 5, so you can expect that the display will be high-quality.
Good calibration is just as important as panel quality, and for that ASUS worked closely with display processing company Pixelworks to incorporate the company’s i6 processor and calibrate the display. The partnership with Pixelworks also brings features such as AI scene detection for real-time SDR-to-HDR upmapping; AI adaptive display for brightness, tone, and contrast; dark noise suppression to reduce background noise in low-light scenes; flesh/skin tone management; and smooth brightness level adjustments.
In my experience, colors appear accurate, the display gets sufficiently bright, and text renders crisp in typical lighting conditions. The display also gets very dim and doesn’t hurt my eyes at night or in low-lighting situations. I haven’t noticed any black crush, blue shift, purple smearing, or other issues commonly seen in poor-quality OLED panels or improperly calibrated displays. These are all things you would expect from a premium flagship smartphone that costs as much as the ROG Phone 5 does, though.
What distinguishes the ROG Phone 5 from most non-gaming phones on the market is its reduced latency. There’s an incredibly low 24.3ms latency between when you tap your finger on the display and a tap is registered by Android (touch latency). This is especially important for gaming as it ensures your taps are recognized as quickly as possible, and this is made possible by the incredibly fast 300Hz touch sampling rate and end-to-end optimization of the touch data pipeline. Slide gestures are also incredibly fast to register on the ROG Phone 5, with a latency as low as 18ms.
Equally as important as low latency is the viewing area. The ROG Phone 5’s big, tall display is uninterrupted, meaning there’s no notch or hole-punch cutout to find on this phone. The selfie camera is located in the top bezel, and its diameter is 27% smaller than on the ROG Phone 3. The bezels themselves are also small — 25% smaller than on the ROG Phone 3 — so you get a larger viewing area without making the phone any more taller than it needs to be (it’s already pretty tall).
Underneath the display is an optical under-display fingerprint scanner. These types of scanners have been around for years now, and there’s not really anything new I can say about it. It’s fast when it works, but you may have some trouble unlocking your phone when there isn’t a lot of ambient light. To make it easier to unlock, you may want to register the same fingerprint twice.
Once you do unlock the phone, the ROG Phone 5 is as fluid as you’d expect thanks to its Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 chipset and 144Hz refresh rate display. ASUS may not be ready to bring us the 160Hz refresh rate mode they’ve been working on, but such a small increase to the refresh rate would be unnoticeable to most users anyway. I personally can’t tell the difference between 120Hz and 144Hz on the ROG Phone 5, but I can tell the difference between 60 and 90 and 120Hz. I also don’t really notice a difference in calibration whenever the refresh rate changes, which means each display mode has likely been properly calibrated.
Regardless of what you set the refresh rate at, you’ll have a buttery smooth experience in most applications. In fact, I haven’t noticed many frame drops or micro stutters while using the ROG Phone 5 as my daily driver for the past nearly two weeks, and the results from JankBench basically confirm what I’m seeing. In the two albums embedded below, the top row shows the results from the ASUS ROG Phone 5, while the bottom row shows the same results from the ROG Phone 3.
This benchmark simulates a handful of common tasks you’ll see in everyday apps, including scrolling through a ListView with text, scrolling through a ListView with images, scrolling through a grid view with a shadow effect, scrolling through a low-hitrate text render view, scrolling through a high-hitrate text render view, inputting and editing text with the keyboard, repeating overdraws with cards, and uploading bitmaps. Our script records the draw time for each frame during the test, eventually plotting all the frames and their draw times in a plot along with several horizontal lines representing the target frame draw times for the 4 common display refresh rates (60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz, and 144Hz.)
The results mostly show that the ROG Phone 5 has less UI stutter/jank compared to the ROG Phone 3 in typical tasks you’ll see in apps, though there is one regression in the text input test. Both phones are running different OS versions (Android 11 on the ROG Phone 5 and Android 10 on the ROG Phone 3), so that could have factored into these results.
If I were to nitpick, one of the areas that I hope to see an improvement in is resolution. Every ROG Phone has more than enough battery to power a Quad HD resolution display, and the last two Snapdragon chipsets have been capable of pushing Quad HD resolution at high refresh rates like 120Hz. Another area I’d like to see an improvement in is refresh rate switching. Some premium flagships coming out later this year with OLED panels will feature lower-power LTPO backplanes and true variable refresh rates. Samsung was the first to make this happen with the Note 20 Ultra, and they’ve also replicated this on the Galaxy S21 Ultra. If ASUS can make this happen in a future ROG Phone, then the gaming experience will be even better than it is right now.
Lastly, I wanted to mention a small bug I’ve encountered since I got the device. On every boot, the device is unresponsive for about 10 seconds after the lockscreen first appears. I’m not sure why this happens, but it’s happened on every boot for me. It’s not a huge deal since it doesn’t last very long and I don’t reboot that often, but I’ve notified ASUS of this bug and will report back if it gets fixed in a future software update.
ROG Vision: What does the second display do?
Exclusive to the ROG Phone 5 Pro and ROG Phone 5 Ultimate is ROG Vision, a small PMOLED display used to show custom graphics. On the ROG Phone 5 Pro, ROG Vision can show color, while on the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate, it’s a monochrome display to match the phone’s aesthetic. You can enable ROG Vision in the Armoury Crate app by going to the “Console” tab. Here, you have the option to change the graphic/animation that plays when you connect an external accessory (like the AeruoActive Cooler), turn on X-Mode, plug in the phone to charge, launch a game (that you’ve added to Armoury Crate), or receive an incoming call.
Each scenario has a couple of premade graphics/animations you can choose from, but you can create your own custom ROG Vision for any scenario by simply tapping the “+” button. You can add an image effect, text effect, or signature to your custom ROG Vision graphic. I made a simple “XDA” text effect that fades in and out every few seconds just to test it out. You can even share and import ROG Vision graphics stored in the “Download” folder.
I’ve kept ROG Vision on for most of the time that I’ve had the phone and haven’t noticed many issues with it. However, I have occasionally encountered a bug where the ROG Vision refuses to start up, forcing me to reboot to get it working. Once I’ve rebooted, though, it usually doesn’t act up unless I reboot again. I’ve informed ASUS of this bug and will see if it gets fixed in a future software update.
You probably won’t see ROG Vision that often unless you like to leave your phone face down on the table or you frequently dock your phone, but it’s a nice piece of visual flair that adds a bit of personality to your device. It was totally unnecessary for ASUS to add this in, but I’m glad they did it anyway. It’s clear that the ROG Phone is a passion project aimed at mobile and gaming enthusiasts and features like ROG Vision show that ASUS is unapologetic about it. If you’re asking yourself “why?”, then you’re asking the wrong question. You should instead ask yourself, “why not?”
Audio: How good are the speakers on the ASUS ROG Phone 5?
With the return of the 3.5mm headphone jack comes an upgraded audio system, which ASUS calls GameFX. ASUS has equipped the ROG Phone 5 with hi-res audio output powered by “an ESS SABRE ES9280AC Pro DAC with HyperStream II Quad DAC technology and a built-in Class G ESS Sabre Headphone amplifier,” the latter of which “automatically detects load impedance between 8 to 1000Ω.” ASUS says the ROG Phone 5 can deliver “best-in-class signal-to-noise of 130 dB” and an “unprecedented Dynamic Range of up to 122dB” thanks to a “patented Time Domain Jitter Eliminator.” In addition, the ROG Phone 5 is Hi-Res Audio certified so it can playback 24-bit/96kHz or 24-bit/192kHz audio files, and it supports high-quality Bluetooth audio codecs such as aptX HD, aptX-Adaptive, LDAC, and AAC.
If all of that sounds like music to your ears, then we’re in agreement: the ROG Phone 5 can output really great-sounding audio. I’ve been using a pair of wired earphones that ASUS sent me (the new ROG Cetra II Core) along with the corrected frequency response profile that’s available in the AudioWizard app. I’ve been listening to music using the ROG Phone 5 + ROG Cetra II Core instead of my PC + Sony WH-1000XM3, though admittedly I don’t have the best audio equipment nor is the WH-1000XM3 in the top-end of audio gear. Still, I would wager that this combination will exceed the expectations of your casual listener who doesn’t need active noise cancellation (for that, you’ll need the pricier ROG Cetra).