Hands-On, Smartphone

Asus ROG Phone II Hands-On: A Serious Gaming Smartphone

As far as gaming smartphones are concerned, the Asus ROG Phone II is easily one of the most anticipated devices in this segment. After all, it is bigger, faster, and much better equipped than its predecessor; what more can you ask for?

Well, after spending a couple of days with the ROG Phone II, there are a few areas where it could be better. But as a gaming smartphone, it is very, very impressive, and I’ll explain why in this hands-on.

Since this is a gaming smartphone, let’s talk about the gaming experience of the ROG Phone II first. I’ve played a couple matches of PUBG Mobile to get a feel for the phone’s gaming performance, and the game ran extremely well. Even with maxed out graphics settings, I was still getting a stable frame rate.

Of course, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855+ chipset under the hood is one fast chipset. According to Qualcomm, the 855+ promises up to 15% increase in gaming performance, and it certainly shows in PUBG Mobile. In fact, Asus’ built-in game tool shows that the game was consistently running at 60fps.

Okay, while 60fps is a very good frame rate for PUBG Mobile, it doesn’t quite take advantage of the ROG Phone II’s 120Hz display. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of mobile games that can run at that frame rate, and PUBG Mobile isn’t one of them. Despite that, it’s still very enjoyable to game on this smartphone, and I can’t wait to test out games that can actually run at 120fps with this device.

Another feature that further improve the ROG Phone II’s gaming experience are the AirTrigger buttons. Basically, the right side of the phone has two ultrasonic buttons that act as shoulder buttons when the phone is in landscape orientation. These buttons can be customised to “simulate screen touch in games.”

Again, let’s take PUBG Mobile as an example. I can set the left shoulder button to scope in (I can do this by just dragging the icon to the aim button), while the right button is set to fire. Once that’s done, I can quickly scope in, fire, and still control my movement and camera with my thumbs. In my opinion, this makes shooters far more enjoyable to play.

The AirTriggers themselves are also very easy to activate. They never felt difficult or cumbersome to activate, and if you want them to be even more sensitive, you can lower the threshold for the buttons to recognise your input.

That’s the gaming experience of the ROG Phone II; what about other aspects of the device? Design wise, not much has changed from the first ROG Phone. It still retains the same design language, but it is far, far bigger now, which affects the ergonomics of the phone.

See, its predecessor only had a 6-inch display, while the ROG Phone II has a much larger 6.59-inch 2340 x 1080 AMOLED HDR screen. On top of that, it’s also a lot heavier, tipping the scales at 240g. For context, the original ROG Phone weighed 200g.

Collectively, these make the ROG Phone II a large and heavy smartphone, so it is quite unwieldy to use as a daily driver. The glass back and matte frame of the phone are pretty slippery too, making it harder to get a good grip on the phone. Sure, there’s a bumper case bundled with the phone, but the plastic finish doesn’t exactly add any extra grip.

Beyond design, I do like the rest of the ROG Phone II. It has ample amount of storage – the Malaysian market will receive the 512GB and 1TB models – the 12GB RAM is plentiful, there’s a very generous 6,000mAh battery, and its in-screen fingerprint sensor is surprisingly fast.

Another hardware worth mentioning again is the ROG Phone II’s 6.59-inch 1080p AMOLED display with a fast 120Hz refresh rate. Thanks to the high refresh rate, everything looks extremely smooth, even in the simplest of actions like scrolling and swiping through the home screen. Mobile games that can run at 120Hz will definitely feel a lot more responsive and smooth too.

Quality of the AMOLED display itself is good as well. This being an AMOLED panel, it has deep blacks, vibrant colours, and great viewing angles. Even though the 1080p resolution isn’t particularly impressive – especially for a display this large – texts and images look sharp enough when viewed at a normal distance. You can definitely see pixelation if you view the display up-close though.

Camera performance of the ROG Phone II, on the other hand, is decidedly mediocre. It’s not a horrible shooter by any means, but it doesn’t appear to be a great performer either. The primary 48MP f/1.8 sensor can take relatively good-looking shots, but for some reason, the 13MP f/2.4 wide angle shooter feels a lot more sluggish with much more noticeable noise level.

In any case, I’ll need to spend more time photographing with the phone to really give the camera performance a fair assessment, especially in low light conditions.

After using the Asus ROG Phone II for a couple of days, there’s no denying its appeal as a gaming smartphone. It has a fast 120Hz display, excellent performance, a huge 6,000mAh battery, and the AirTrigger ultrasonic buttons’ functionality cannot be found on other smartphones. At least, not without the addition of other accessories.

Without a doubt the ROG Phone II is a serious, powerful gaming smartphone, but until its pricing for the Malaysian market is revealed, it remains to be seen just how compelling it would be. Yes, it’s a high-end, premium smartphone that can command equally premium pricing, but in a price-sensitive market like Malaysia, it will be tough to consider if it’s priced too high.

Nonetheless, we will find out for ourselves once Asus officially launch the ROG Phone II on our shores next month on 16 October.