Review, Smartphone

Asus ROG Phone II Review: Gaming First, Smartphone Second

Gaming smartphones are tricky. On one hand, it has to offer features that meaningfully improve the mobile gaming experience. Whether it’s in the form of better performance, faster display, or other gaming-centric features, there has to be something that sets gaming smartphones apart from “mainstream” options.

But on the other hand, gaming smartphones are still that: smartphones. I’ve used the Asus ROG Phone II as my daily driver for a few weeks now, and while it’s a fantastic gaming device, the smartphone aspect of it takes a back seat.

Specifications

Display6.59-inch FHD+ AMOLED (2340 x 1080) 120Hz
ChipsetQualcomm Snapdragon 855+ 2.96GHz octa-core
GPUAdreno 640
RAM12GB
Storage512GB/1TB, non-expandable
Camera (rear)48MP f/1.8
13MP f/2.4 (ultra-wide angle)
Camera (front)24MP f/2.0
Battery
6,000mAh
Dimensions170.99 x 77.6 x 9.48 mm
Weight
240g
OSROG UI based on Android 9 Pie
ConnectivityLTE
NFC
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz)
USB Type-C
3.5mm headphone jack
PriceRM3,499 (512GB), RM4,499 (1TB)

Without a doubt the ROG Phone II is a well-equipped gaming smartphone. The Snapdragon 855+ is Qualcomm’s best chipset yet, it has a fast 120Hz display, and the 6,000mAh battery capacity is ridiculously generous. If there’s one thing you don’t have to worry about this phone, it’s battery life.

On top of that, even if the ROG Phone II lacks expandable storage, the base model for the Malaysian market still comes with 512GB of internal storage. In fact, you can even go up to a whopping 1TB if you wish to.

Design

One look at the ROG Phone II, and you’ll immediately recognise it as a gaming smartphone, for better or worse. The ROG logo on the rear panel of the phone lights up – in RGB, of course – the back design has an aggressive styling, and it has two front-facing stereo speakers.

Besides that, the ROG Phone II is also a large, heavy smartphone. To put this into context, this phone is taller and heavier than the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+, which is already a sizeable device. While I wouldn’t say the ROG Phone II is too cumbersome to use on a daily basis, its sheer size and weight don’t exactly make it a very ergonomic smartphone.

On the flip side, Asus’ gaming smartphone does have solid build quality. The glass back and metal frame feel good to the touch (even if they are quite slippery), and the extra weight does give the impression of a premium smartphone, which it really is.

Oh, the ROG Phone II also has two USB-C ports on the left side of the phone, so it has a grand total of three USB-C connections. The side-mounted ports are meant to be used with Asus’ range of accessories for the phone, but it can also be used to charge the phone when you’re gaming.

This way, the charging cable won’t be blocking your right hand when you are gaming on this phone. It’s quite a thoughtful design that emphasises the phone’s focus on mobile gamers.

User Experience

Okay, so how is it like to game on the Asus ROG Phone II? Absolute bliss. The Snapdragon 855+ can keep up even in the most demanding of games, providing high and consistent frame rate in games that I’ve tested with the phone. Either it’s PUBG Mobile or Call of Duty: Mobile, gaming on this phone is very, very enjoyable.

But performance alone doesn’t quite describe the whole gaming experience of the ROG Phone II: the AirTrigger buttons are what make it such a joy. Basically, there are two ultrasonic buttons on the right side of the phone that act as shoulder buttons, which can be configured to activate certain parts of the screen.

So what I can do is set the left AirTrigger to aim, and the right one to shoot, freeing my thumbs to control the camera and continue moving my character. It mimics the functionality of a physical gamepad, and it makes shooter games a lot easier. In fact, it feels like…an unfair advantage, if I were to be honest.

Anyway, you can also adjust the sensitivity of the AirTrigger buttons if you’re having difficulty activating them, though I never had any trouble with this feature. It’s almost as easy as pressing physical buttons – that’s how good the AirTriggers are.

Now, let’s move on to the fast 120Hz 6.59-inch 1080p AMOLED display. It’s a bright, vibrant display, and thanks to the high refresh rate, every element on the screen looks extremely smooth. Whether I’m gaming or just using the phone for other tasks, the extra frames make a lot of difference. If you’re transitioning from a “conventional” smartphone with a 60Hz display, you’ll definitely notice the higher refresh rate.

However, for games to truly take advantage of the 120Hz display, they have to first support it. Thankfully, there are quite a number of games that can run at this frame rate, including Rayman Adventures (pictured above), Assassin’s Creed Rebellion, Don’t Starve, and even Vainglory. You can find the full list of games that support 120Hz in this list prepared by Asus.

When it comes to software, the ROG Phone II is quite interesting. When you’re setting up the phone, you’ll be prompted to “choose system style” between the default ROG UI and Classic. Unfortunately, this change is only skin deep; they’re basically different themes. It’s not like you can choose between stock Android or Asus’ own version of Android.

But, thankfully enough, ROG UI is very close to stock Android. Throughout my time with the phone, never did I encounter any major bug or issue with it. It feels lightweight, responsive, and there aren’t that many bloatware either. There’s also a game launcher of sorts that places all of your games in a single place.

And then we’ve got the ROG Phone II’s incredible battery life courtesy of the large 6,000mAh cell. On average, I was getting between eight to nine hours of screen on time with this phone; not many devices can match this level of battery life. If you’re a lighter smartphone user (and you set the refresh rate to 60Hz), I reckon you can get up to two days of usage out of this phone.

Another area where the ROG Phone II is quite impressive is the in-screen fingerprint sensor. A quick tap is enough to unlock the phone, and it can accurately recognise my fingerprint most of the time too. Sure, a conventional capacitive sensor is still quicker and more accurate, but this in-screen one isn’t bad either.

Next up is the camera performance of the ROG Phone II, which is…surprisingly adequate.

Camera

Given its focus on the gaming experience, I wasn’t expecting much out of the ROG Phone II when it comes to photography. After all, it only has a dual camera system made up of a 48MP f/1.8 main shooter and a 13MP f/2.4 ultra-wide angle camera. In a market where triple – or even quad – camera systems are commonplace on mobile devices, the ROG Phone II doesn’t quite stand out.

But to my surprise, it can actually capture good-looking shots. Sure, the pictures can be quite oversaturated, but for the most part, they are pleasing to the eyes. Detail preservation is decent, colour reproduction isn’t half bad, and it can lock in focus relatively quickly.

However, nighttime photography is a bit of a hit-and-miss. The camera interface is more sluggish in less than ideal lighting – which also affects the autofocus speed – and the results can sometimes look…dull with limited dynamic range. But given some time and patience, you can capture good night shots with this phone.

Just don’t expect it to be a painless experience.

And then there’s the ultra wide-angle sensor. It’s a decent performer under good lighting, but it gets a lot worse in low light conditions; just look at the sample shots above. It can capture a good amount of detail in daytime, but in nighttime, the wide angle sensor has issues with noise control, detail preservation, and exposure.

But at the end of the day, the ROG Phone II is a gaming smartphone: camera performance is not exactly a priority here. For what it’s worth, I do think this phone has above average camera performance, and the ultra wide-angle – even if it’s not particularly great – can be useful to fit more subject into a frame.

Yes, you get definitely get better camera performance with other smartphones in this price range. But if photography is your priority, the ROG Phone II…shouldn’t even be in your list to begin with.

Competition

Retailing from RM3,499 for the 512GB model (RM4,499 for the 1TB variant), the ROG Phone II is positioned slightly above the price range when compared with other gaming smartphones. At this price point, it has a number of noteworthy competition.

Nubia Red Magic 3S

Compared to the ROG Phone II, the Nubia Red Magic 3S’ much lower asking price gives it a distinct advantage. The 128GB model with 8GB of RAM goes for only RM2,299, while the 256GB variant with 12GB of RAM retails at RM2,899. This undercuts the ROG Phone II’s starting price by RM1,200 – that’s a big price gap.

Despite its far more affordable price tag, the Red Magic 3S still has a Snapdragon 855+ chipset, so it should be able to offer the same level of gaming performance as the ROG Phone II. On top of that, the 3S also comes with two touch-sensitive shoulder buttons that are just like the ROG Phone II’s AirTriggers.

Of course, the ROG Phone II does still offer a number of advantages over the Red Magic 3S. For one, the former’s 120Hz display is faster than the 3S’ 6.65-inch 1080p AMOLED display with a 90Hz refresh rate. You’re also getting a bigger battery (6,000mAh instead of 5,000mAh), an in-screen fingerprint sensor, an ultra-wide angle camera, and far more storage capacity at 512GB.

Black Shark 2 Pro

Another decent alternative is the Black Shark 2 Pro. Just like the ROG Phone II, this gaming smartphone is powered by a Snapdragon 855+ chipset, and it’s more affordable too. It starts from RM2,499 for the 128GB + 8GB model, which goes up to RM2,999 for the 256GB + 12GB option.

Unfortunately, pricing is really the Black Shark 2 Pro’s only advantage. After all, it only comes with a 6.39-inch 1080p AMOLED display locked at 60Hz, a smaller 4,000mAh battery, and the storage capacity is only limited to 256GB; even the base model of the ROG Phone II has twice the amount of space at 512GB.

On top of that, Black Shark’s gaming smartphone doesn’t offer the utility of the ROG Phone II’s AirTriggers either. At least, not without adding attachments to the phone.

Conclusion

The Asus ROG Phone II is easily one of the most – if not the most – complete gaming smartphones in the market now. It has a fast 120Hz display, excellent performance, incredibly long battery life, and the AirTriggers make gaming on this device that much more fun and enjoyable.

Unfortunately, too much emphasis was given to the “gaming” aspect of this gaming smartphone. Its sheer size and weight can be a dealbreaker to those who prefer a more compact and ergonomic device, and the camera performance leaves much to be desired.

However, there is no denying this: the ROG Phone II is a fantastic, no-compromise mobile gaming machine. If that’s what you’re looking for, look no further than the ROG Phone II. Even if its starting price is a little steep, you’re getting a lot of value for your money here, especially with the generous amount of storage to store all of your games.