Asus ROG Phone 5 review: On top of its game

But no longer the ultimate gaming phone around.

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The ROG Phone 5 starts at Rs 49,999. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

In a world full of pros, maxes, and ultras, it was surprising Asus chose to go vanilla with the ROG Phone 3. Its follow-up spawns three models — regular, pro and ultimate — collectively referred to as the ROG Phone 5 series: the point being Asus wants to offer more choice to the customer so if they choose to upgrade to a higher specced variant (and if their budget allows it) they are getting more than just a memory increment. What a difference a year can make.

Also Read | ROG Phone 5 maker Asus on building a holistic flagship, hardware overkill, benchmark scores and competition

The ROG Phone 5 starts at Rs 49,999 for the base variant with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage going up to Rs 57,999 for the top-end variant with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage, same as the ROG Phone 3 which is remarkable, considering how much things have changed in the last one year. The pro variant of the phone with 16GB RAM and 512GB storage has been launched at a price of Rs 69,999. Chip in Rs 10,000 more and you can get yourself the top-of-the-line “ultimate” variant with 18GB RAM and 512GB storage — that’s a first for any smartphone in India.

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The ROG Phone 5 is a far cry from the original. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Luckily, you are getting the same hardware regardless of the variant you choose. The differences (aside from the memory bump) are largely cosmetic and their usefulness completely subjective. You can buy the regular ROG Phone 5 over the ultimate edition and it will not make much of a difference at least as far as performance is concerned. Everything beyond that is pure indulgence.

Long story short, just because Asus has launched an ROG Phone worth Rs 70,000 this year, it does not mean you are getting a lesser package for Rs 50,000. Let’s dig in and find out if that package is any good.

ROG Phone 5 hardware

The fourth gen ROG Phone is a far cry from the original — or even the one after that — in aesthetics. It does not have the same gamer-y vibe anymore. You can get it in new colours (black/white) and styles (glossy/matte) sure, but you can tell Asus wants this thing to blend in rather than stand out, which kind of deviates from the main plot. Only Asus is making “real” dedicated rigs currently and the way that it looks really sets the ROG Phone apart from the wannabees. Why change that?

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The side port is USB Type C 3.1. Bottom port sticks with 2.0. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Much like any other phone at its price point, the ROG Phone 5 has glass on the back. Lots of it. This is Corning Gorilla Glass 3 though for some curious reason same as the ROG Phone 3 and ROG Phone II before it, so not the latest and greatest from Corning, Victus. This is reserved for the front. There are fewer lines, streaks, and counters, those that formed bulk of previous models. There are no vents on the outside, not even fake ones, to accentuate its rugged appeal. By the way, there is still no IP rating on this phone (wireless charging neither) to accommodate the bevy of connectivity ports these phones have become synonymous with. The outer frame is made of metal.

Asus has borrowed a page from the ROG Zephyrus G14 laptop and tried to mimic its dot matrix design in the ROG Phone 5. This is only in spirit since that technology seems far-fetched to replicate at this scale, still, it is the only major visual change we’re getting this year — and I am all for it. The ROG logo has received a fresh coat of paint with the ability to display two colours leading to a gradient effect. This is also customisable with up to 8 different lighting schemes. The pro and ultimate models swap this ROG logo with a PMOLED display for quick notifications. A novelty feature, but cool, nonetheless.

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The headphone jack makes a return. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

There’s gazillion changes on the inside mostly to do with keeping the phone from overheating (also for battery longevity). Guess, Asus got the memo from Qualcomm in advance and to tame the beast — Snapdragon 888 — it has split the battery into two and placed the PCB in the middle but seemingly at the expense of structural integrity. I haven’t tried to consciously break the phone or anything, but as @ZacksJerryRig advises in his teardown video, you should be cautious about keeping it in your back pocket and sitting on it. I do have my reservations to say it’s built like a tank, something I could say with confidence about the past models.

The re-engineered internals entail a more even distribution of weight which is nice. Better than any other ROG Phone. It is surprising that the ROG Phone 5 has the same dimensions and the same 6,000mAh battery as the ROG Phone 3 and yet it feels sleeker to hold. (Just to be clear, this is relative to past ROG Phones only. Relative to everything else, it remains big and bulky.) It has more screen real estate too and up to 25 percent slimmer bezels. All this and the ROG Phone 5 continues its legacy of offering high-end audio with easily the best sounding stereo speakers (and some of the best haptics) on any phone in the market today. If that wasn’t enough, Asus has also brought back the headphone jack in this generation.

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The AirTriggers now pack more sensors. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

The other big upgrade comes by way of AirTriggers. They pack more sensors (9 over 7 in ROG Phone 3), lie closer to the edge of the phone and in the case of the ultimate model, can map up to 18 specific touch points on the screen simultaneously (with some help from the upgraded Asus AeroActive Cooler accessory that bundles two additional buttons). The regular ROG Phone 5 can map up to 14 specific touch points only.

Speaking of which, the ROG Phone 5 has a 6.78-inch Samsung-made AMOLED display with HDR10+ support, 144Hz refresh rate (with 300Hz touch sampling rate and 24.3ms touch latency) and 1080p resolution.

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It has more screen real estate and up to 25 percent slimmer bezels. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Rounding off the package are 5G support, LPDDR5 RAM, non-expandable UFS3.1 storage, Android 11-based ROG UI, quad microphones with OZO noise reduction technology, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2, triple rear cameras consisting of a 64MP main (Sony IMX686), 13MP ultra-wide angle, and another 5MP macro camera plus a 24MP front camera, and 65W fast charging.

A day in the life with ROG Phone 5

Over the years, Asus has meticulously crafted its ROG phones to maintain a degree of consistency whether it be in styling or user experience while refining most of the areas that needed immediate fine-tuning, something that has been well artriclauted in both user and critical reviews. There has been no rush, or hurry to add features just for the sake of it. The ROG Phone is quite unorthodox in that sense since the element of surprise is not its main USP, rather it is the familiarity.

The ROG Phone 5 is also a very familiar phone but Asus in its own way, has dropped subtle signs that it marks the beginning of a new chapter. Launching multiple variants is of course, one hint. Then there is the fact that Asus has not launched any new gaming accessory (aside from the cover and AeroActive Cooler) this year while ending support for the TwinView Dock and Mobile Desktop Dock citing poor sales. And we are still to hear any concrete plans on developer partnerships to jump-start the ecosystem.

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Armoury Crate gives PC-like control of the SoC. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

There is no denying that it wants non-gamers to feel at home too, possibly the main reason behind the phone’s toned-down looks. All for good reason. You can choose to disable all its gaming shenanigans and use this thing as a regular Android phone. You can’t do that with a Black Shark or Lenovo Legion or even the Red Magic without drawing unnecessary attention. At a time when OnePlus is marketing the OnePlus 9R as a gaming phone — of all things — can you really blame Asus for stepping in and setting the record straight? There are also brands like iQOO launching near identical gaming rigs at even more affordable prices that most people would be happy to pick. It is all connected.

Problem with Asus’s current approach is that it isn’t taking a lot of risks. Neither is it giving buyers any incentive. Even though it has a very capable product in its kitty.

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The ROG Phone 5 lives up to its hardware. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

With the kind of hardware that the ROG Phone 5 comes with, it is expected to have:

  • A great, colour accurate display which is both fast and smooth.
  • Top-notch performance, clean user interface without any duplicate apps or ads, Armoury Crate for PC-like control of the SoC.
  • Great battery life.

The ROG Phone 5 lives up to its hardware, but it could have done better had Asus:

  • Cranked up the resolution to Quad-HD (at least, in the pro and ultimate models).
  • Supplied the AeroActive Cooler accessory in the box with the regular ROG Phone 5 free of charge or for early bird buyers (pro and ultimate models ship with one) to ensure more people could enjoy “throttle-free” sustained performance. As much as Asus would have you believe it has managed the thermals well, the ROG Phone can get toasty really fast even more so during unforgiving Indian summers.
  • Let users actually benefit from 65W fast charging since all the models ship with a paltry 30W charger in the box.
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Cameras remain unchanged. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

If you are wondering why I did not mention the cameras, well, that’s because Asus chose to not change them at all this year. They were barely serviceable last year anyway, and competition has only got better in all this time. If there is one thing that Asus needs to work on right away, this is most definitely it.

ROG Phone 5 is on top of its game but at what cost?

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ROG Phone 5 with AeroActive Cooler 5 accessory. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

There is no doubt that the ROG Phone 5 is the best gaming phone in the Indian market today, but it is no longer the ultimate gaming phone around. Before you ask, this is not a clever wordplay — the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate isn’t the ultimate gaming phone either though I must say, all the extra goodies that Asus is bundling with it (considering it is a limited edition) are tempting. Asus has priced these phones well keeping them more affordable than a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra or iPhone 12 Pro Max or even the OnePlus 9 Pro for that matter. But to be completely honest, the ultimate gaming phone no longer exists in India.

Question is with more and more brands breaking the ceiling for high-end gaming on a budget, how many would be willing to take the leap of faith for the ROG Phone 5.

Pros: Great, colour accurate display, Fast performance, Ad-free software, Gaming chops work well, Great battery life

Cons: Big and bulky, Heats up when stressed, Average cameras, No 65W charger in box

Also Read | Asus ROG Phone 5 first impressions: We spent some time with “India’s fastest Android phone”

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