Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

A lot of people still aren’t convinced gaming phones are something that should even exist. But if there was one phone that might be able to sway peoples’ opinions, it’d be Asus’ Republic of Gamer (or ROG) Phone. In fact, based on some recent corporate shuffling, Asus is so emboldened by the ROG phone that the company is shifting its mobile strategy to focus even more on mobile gaming and high-end users. That’s an ambitious bet, but after playing around with ROG Phone, I have to admit there is a little sparkle to this mobile battle bus.

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Sure, the phone features an overly edgy design that caters to an increasingly played out gamer aesthetic. But on the ROG Phone, Asus goes so hard with all the gunmetal and orange, it’s honestly kind of impressive. In front, there are two stereo speakers adorned with shiny copper grilles, while around back, there’s a pseudo circuit board thing going complemented by another tangerine grille (this time for air circulation) and a hexagonal fingerprint reader and camera module. And to top everything off, Asus’ angry ROG logo is dead center and sports, you guessed it, customizable RGB lighting. Truly, this is a masterclass showcase of gamer design. *kisses fingers*

But behind its aggressive facade, there’s actually a lot to like about the ROG Phone’s chassis. Down below, there’s a USB 3.1 Type-C port and a 3.5mm jack, but if you look around to the side, there’s a tiny silicone plug that hides two more USB-C ports. Actually, it’s more like one and a half USB-C ports, because if you look closely, you’ll see that one of the ports is colored orange. That’s your warning that it’s not meant to be used as normal, but only in tandem with Asus’ assortment of ROG Phone accessories (more on those later). However, that still leaves a second full USB-C at your disposal, which is something I wouldn’t mind seeing on more phones in general.

That little alien-like chevron symbol etched into the side of the phone is one of the ROG Phone’s AirTriggers.
Photo: Sam Rutherford (Gizmodo)

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And if you look even closer at the ROG Phone’s sides, you’ll see three small symbols (two on the right and one on the left) that are actually touch sensitive buttons that be customized for gaming. The way it works is that by going into the phone’s Game Genie settings (yes, that’s really what it’s called), you can drag little circles over a mobile game’s traditional on-screen controls and set them so that can be triggered by the ROG Phone’s touch-sensitive AirTriggers. While it’s not a perfect fix for on-screen buttons, it does instantly give you a better way to play titles like Fortnite or PUBG Mobile.

Meanwhile, the ROG Phone’s UI sports a heavily themed look that apes its exterior design, with the Game Center app serving as your portal to control things like the phone’s rear RGB light, various game profiles, performance mode (Asus calls it X Mode), and more.

You can even see the phone’s memory usage and the clock speed of your CPU and GPU, which might normally seem out of place on a mobile device. But on the ROG Phone, it makes perfect sense, because if you want speed, the ROG Phone has got it.

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Featuring a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip (which Asus claims was specially selected to deliver optimal performance), 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage (or 512GB if you upgrade), the ROG Phone is a mobile powerhouse. On Geekbench 4 and 3DMark, it delivered five to ten percent higher numbers on benchmarks compared to other flagship phones, and easily matched the kind of performance we saw from the Razer Phone 2. And while the ROG Phone’s vibrant 6-inch AMOLED display doesn’t offer the same 120Hz refresh rate found on Razer’s competitor, its color pop-more than the Razer’s LCD display, and Asus’ 90Hz screen (which is actually the refresh rate the Razer Phone 2 is set to out of the box) still makes games look a tiny bit smoother than normal.

What might be even better than the ROG Phone’s horsepower is its battery life. Thanks to a big 4,000 mAh battery, the ROG Phone lasted 12 hours and 57 minutes our on rundown test, which puts it in the same range as the iPhone XS Max (13:07) and only about an hour behind the Galaxy Note 9 (14:11).

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Ok, so how bout those accessories? Well they are plentiful and quite varied, and are one of the ROG Phone’s main advantages over the Razer Phone 2. Included in the box, the ROG Phone comes with a nifty little fan add-on that attaches to the phone’s side-mounted USB-C port. Sadly, it’s ability to keep the phone cool is kind of hit or miss, but even when it isn’t properly moving air around, it also features a pass through USB port and an extra headphone jack. This means when you’re holding the phone in landscape mode—as you often do while gaming—the sides of the phone are clear of cords and cables.

My favorite ROG Phone Accessory is probably the $230 Mobile Desktop Dock. Not only does it prop the phone up for use as a mini display, it also includes a ton of ports so you can hook the ROG Phone up to a mouse, keyboard, and an external monitor so you can game in style and with enhanced precision. Ain’t no one going to out snipe you again. And if $230 feels a little steep, there’s also a smaller Pro Dock that has a few less ports but does essentially the same thing.

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However, the one accessory that didn’t quite live up to expectations is Asus’ batshit $400 TwinView Dock. From the outside, it sort of looks like a controller add-on, but when you open it up, there’s actually a second 6-inch screen that connects to the ROG Phone. Sadly, even though it looks like it should, the TwinView Dock doesn’t turn the ROG Phone into a futuristic Nintendo DS, since almost no apps can actually use the second screen in a meaningful way.

I was hoping that in games like PubG, you’d be able to use the lower screen as a control pad, leaving the top display clear for playing the actual game. But aside from a handful of titles, that’s not really possible. Basically, that means the best you can do is put two different games or videos on each screen, which sounds better in theory than it functions in real life. And because multitasking on Android is still somewhat limited, when you go to play one game, the other gets suspended. So you can’t even really play two games at the same time, no matter how hard you try.

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As a regular phone, one bright spot of Asus’ gaming handset is that thanks to the company’s experience making handsets, the ROG Phone is actually a pretty decent picture taker. In front, there’s a 8-MP selfie cam, while the back offers a 12-MP main camera with a 8-MP secondary shooter for snapping wide-angle pics. Compared to the Razer Phone 2, the ROG Phone generally captures slightly more detailed and vibrant photos. And in the one shot of some noodles where the ROG Phone’s came out slightly underexposed, Asus’ gaming phone suffered from way less noise and captured things like the texture on the bowl and garnishes more accurately. For a phone targeted at gamers, it would have been so easy to cut corners on the ROG Phone’s camera quality. But Asus didn’t, and instead of being just OK—while still not quite on the level of a Pixel 3 or Galaxy S9—it turns out that the ROG Phone ain’t half bad.

In the end, the most divisive thing about the ROG Phone is its $900 starting price. That’s not to say that Asus’ gaming phone doesn’t have the specs or features to back that up, it does, well at least as much as any phone that cost close to $1,000 can. But anything this niche and this expensive is always going to be a tough sell.

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But when compared to the Razer Phone 2, the ROG Phone is better in almost every way. It’s got superior cameras, longer battery life, and nifty AirTriggers, and its collection of admittedly pricey accessories allow you to flex your mobile gaming muscle in a way Razer’s competitor doesn’t. And with outrageous styling and RGB lighting, the ROG Phone is unapologetic embrace of GaMeR LiFe, for better or worse.

README

  • The ROG Phone’s performance is as good as it gets for a Snapdragon 845-powered device, and its battery life is pretty solid too.
  • For a gaming phone, the ROG Phone’s cameras are better than expected.
  • Asus’ gamer aesthetic is so aggressive it’s almost endearing.
  • Starting at $900, this thing ain’t cheap, especially if you are thinking about tacking on some of Asus’ pricey ROG Phone accessories.
  • Only works on GSM carriers like AT&T and T-Mobile.

SPEC DUMP

Runs Android 8.1 • Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 • 8GB of RAM • 128GB of storage • 6-inch 2160 x 1080 90Hz OLED display • 8-MP front camera • 12-MP/8-MP rear cameras • stereo speakers • 4,000 mAh battery • USB 3.1 type-c port plus bonus USB-C port • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac/ad wi-fi • Bluetooth 5.0 • 3.5mm jack • 6.25 x 3 x 0.33-inches • 7.05 ounces

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