The ROG Phone 5 is an excellent smartphone, combining a premium screen, killer specs, a decent camera, long-lasting battery life and fantastic stereo speakers. Its styling won’t be for everyone – and it’s very similar to the ROG Phone 3, which enjoyed a more limited release – but if you can hack its size and styling, and want a fantastic portable media player and gaming device, you’ll be hard-pushed to find more for less.
- Long-lasting, fast-charging battery
- 144Hz AMOLED screen
- Fantastic stereo speakers
- No telephoto camera
- No wireless charging
- Display resolution could be higher
- Rear cameras: 64MP, 13MP ultrawide, 5MP macro
- Battery size: 6000mAh
- Screen size: 6.78 inch AMOLED
- Chipset: Snapdragon 888
- Front camera: 24MP
- RAM/Storage: 8/12/16/18GB RAM, 128/256/512GB storage
- Weight 238g
Skipping the number four and going straight to five, Asus is dropping not one, but three versions of its latest gaming handset, the ROG Phone Phone 5. Available in vanilla, a Pro and Ultimate versions, the series is the world’s first to deliver up to 18GB of RAM, and more customisable on-body buttons than any other handset on the market.
The Asus ROG Phone 5 builds on a legacy of smartphones tuned to tickle gamers, matched with custom accessories, RGB lighting and speakers that will flood sound your way from a front-firing direction. Hits and misses have paved the way for a gaming phone in 2021, from the Razer Phone and Razer Phone 2, to the Lenovo Legion Phone Duel and, of course, past ROG Phones. But have generations of cautionary tales taught the Taiwanese tech giant enough to make the perfect gaming phone?
Asus says, yes – and at a first glance of the ROG Phone 5’s specs I’m inclined to agree. This device comes loaded with gamer delights, from a 144Hz custom Samsung AMOLED screen, Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 power, a 6000mAh battery, stereo audio with a built-in high-grade DAC (plus a headphone port), a sweet suite of accessories, and software tuned to turbo-charge control over your gaming.
But do its impressive specs translate into a positive real world experience? After thoroughly using the device I can confirm, for the most part, yes they do. Here’s why.
ROG Phone 5 combines gaming grunt with a dash of dot matrix
- One of the better-looking gaming phones
- Heavier than most smartphones at 238g
- RGB lighting in dot matrix pattern on the back
Asus’s ROG Phones have always looked like gaming phones. Past iterations wouldn’t look out of place in the Fortress of Solitude, or as a new Decepticon in the next Transformer’s movie (please God, no). However, taking it out of the box I found the ROG Phone 5 is much less angry-looking than older Asus models.
Unlike the ROG Phone 2 and Lenovo Legion Phone Duel, for example, the ROG Phone 5 sports a single textured back panel – high-gloss curved glass with uncharacteristically subtle flourishes for the Asus ROG brand. Don’t get us wrong, the ROG Phone 5 still looks disgruntled, but stops before it gets enraged.
On the glass rear, you’ll spot an asymmetric camera bump that’s home to the triple-camera setup, there’s the dot matrix RGB ROG insignia, some red and white flourishes and a bit of typography. The front of the phone is screen and bezel, bookended with stereo speakers, while the sides, top and bottom play host to no less than two USB-C ports, one headphone jack, a pogo pin connector and volume and power buttons.
The phone weighs 238g, which is 10g heavier than the iPhone 12 Pro Max, making it a substantial mix of glass and metal. That means it does feel a lot heavier than traditional phones. It’s thick at 10.29mm, and will prove too hefty for most. On the plus side, though, this weight leads to a phone that feels well put together and more premium than its main rival from Lenovo. As is the case with most gaming phones, there’s no IP68 water- or dust-resistance – but that might be a small price to pay for all those lights around the back.
Also of note, the ROG Phone 5 has two touch-sensitive triggers that support tap and slide interaction on the top-left and right sides of the phone (when held in landscape), and a second USB-C-port to the left for landscape charging. In fact, Asus says the phone was built to be enjoyed in landscape orientation, and in this position, the back of the phone sports two additional touch inputs, while all versions of the device now support shake, tilt and turn command input.
The ROG Phone 5 screen combines a 144Hz refresh rate with AMOLED splendour
- The custom Samsung AMOLED panel is one of the best for gaming
- It has an ample sized 6.78-inch display with a 2448 x 1080 resolution (Wide Full HD)
The ROG Phone 5’s display is 6.78 inches big, which is larger than its predecessor, and most smartphones on the market. With a 20.4:9 aspect ratio screen, it’s tall and well-suited for widescreen gaming and watching films; but small hands will have trouble navigating it based on my experience using it.
The ROG Phone 5’s screen quality is where it needs to be, thanks to a custom Samsung AMOLED panel that delivers a Galaxy S21 Ultra-beating 144Hz refresh rate, lightning-fast 300Hz touch sampling, up to 800-nits of brightness and 111% DCI-P3 coverage.
All those stats are impressive, but the specs of the ROG Phone 5 screen aren’t world-beating in every respect. With wide Full HD resolution, I wouldn’t have minded a QHD+ panel on a screen of this size, and 800-nit peak brightness is good, but fails to beat the best out there. To non techies this means it is wonderfully bright and immersive, but not best in class at the moment.
Quibbles aside, one thing Asus gets very right is responsiveness. The ROG Phone 5 is the fastest-feeling screen I’ve tested, with nuanced haptic feedback and a lightning-fast refresh rate coming together fantastically. This makes playing games a blast with each shot and explosion offering much more immersive vibration feedback than you’ll find on most regular phones.
Saturation is strong, with movies and media looking a total treat set against inky, deep blacks and decent levels of detail, not to mention HDR10+ dynamic range for an excellent balance of contrast and tonal nuance.
A gaming beast – you’ll want the Asus ROG Phone 5 on your team
- The use of a Snapdragon and up to 18GB of RAM make it a powerhouse when it comes to performance
- Android 11 support means its one of the most up to date gaming phones available, when it comes to software
- It has lots of optional accessories
With Qualcomm’s Android chipset a la mode fitted inside the ROG Phone 5, combined with Asus’s own cooling system, the handset games fast, cool and smooth – even when the performance is cranked up to the max.
You’ll find the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 inside such corkers as the global edition of the Galaxy S21 Plus and Xiaomi’s Mi 11, and it powers the ROG Phone 5 with all the gusto I’d expect from it, benchmarking with a Geekbench 5 single-core score of 1100 and a multi-core score of 3540 (16GB/256GB configuration). Where the ROG Phone comes into its own for gaming isn’t in its specs alone, though; it’s the whole setup.
Starting with software, the ROG Phone experience is much more considered than anything else it competes with. From firing up the phone and engaging an anime AR experience, to the Armoury Crate gaming customisations that make every other gaming interface pale by contrast by adding super-intuitive tools to create macros, map your gamepad buttons to games of your choice and more. During testing I found this is a dream setup for gamers such as myself. There’s also the option to totally strip back the gaming features and enjoy a more stock Android UI.
With a view to saving battery life, Asus sets the ROG Phone 5 to standard mode by default. You can switch to X-Mode+ performance mode with the squeeze of the sides of the phone. Adding to the gamer-focussed combination of hardware and software, the theme and wallpaper switches from cool blue to electric red with the switch into X-Mode+, and it doesn’t get old.
Despite identical internals, the ROG Phone 5 runs games such as Genshin Impact and Injustice 2 Gods Among Us more smoothly than the Xiaomi Mi 11, with more consistent frame rates at max settings. It also runs games cooler, and when combined with that AeroActive Cooler fan accessory, you even get two more hardware keys in addition to better heat management.
If two extra hardware keys still leaves you wanting, then I tested the phone with a Kunai 3 gamepad for the ROG Phone 5, to create a Wii-like handheld controller experience. It worked well, even when mapped to touch-controlled games such as Genshin Impact. If you already have a console, an alternative route would be to pick up a ROG Clip, so you can hook up your gaming phone to the PS4, Stadia and an Xbox controller.
Great for a gaming phone, but the ROG Phone 5 can’t beat the best flagships
- 64-megapixel main camera misses out on OIS, which can make blurs creep in
- The 13-megapixel ultrawide and 5-megapixel fixed-focus macro camera aren’t industry leading
The ROG Phone 5 has a disappointing camera setup if you’re familiar with the ROG Phone 3, in that it’s exactly the same. This means it’s spearheaded by a 64-megapixel IMX686 sensor with no image stabilisation. There’s a 13-megapixel ultrawide camera, and a fixed-focus macro camera backing it up. Rehashing the same camera is something both Samsung and Google have done with some success – so if you’re put off, don’t be just yet.
Shooting 16-megapixel snaps by default, the ROG Phone 5 combines four pixels into one to create a sharper shot with better noise handling and dynamic range than a full-resolution photo. What Asus also gets very right is its software. It loads up the ROG Phone with the modes needed to get a good snap, from a smart automatic option that fires up Night mode by itself, to advanced Pro photo and video modes.
In turn, even though the hardware isn’t new, the ROG Phone 5 still captures decent photos. In bright environments, it can happily cope with a little backlighting as a result of auto HDR. When the lights drop, an automatic Night mode kicks in – which, when combined with a steady hand, results in printable photos.
The ultrawide camera is weaker than the primary camera and misses out on nice-to-haves such as autofocus, which is a shame if you want to capture landscape shots. That said, it’s supported by both Night mode and Pro mode, so even if it isn’t fed great light, it can still deliver the goods if you know your way around a manual camera.
As for the macro camera, on seeing the 5-megapixel count, I was hoping for the module on the Xiaomi Mi 11 with autofocus, which has the ability to grab some genuinely special shots. Sadly, it’s the same macro cam as found on last year’s ROG Phone. While it’s okay, it isn’t great, with fussy fixed focus, mediocre noise-handling and below-par results for a flagship smartphone in 2021.
Despite these gripes, I can’t help but think about the ROG Phone 5’s gaming phone competition: the Black Shark 3, Legion Phone Duel and Nubia Red Magic 3. The ROG Phone 5 is better than all three in every respect as a camera phone – and as a phone in general.
Adding to the appeal, video captured on the ROG Phone 5 looks decent, with electronic image stabilisation making up for a lack of OIS. With resolutions climbing up to 8K (30fps) and noise-handling respectable, despite mediocre low-light performance, the ROG Phone 5’s video capture is at least competitive.
Day-long gaming? Not quite, but not far off with the ROG Phone 5.
- It has a huge 6000mAh battery, but still doesn’t quite last a full day’s use
- Charges at 65W (charger included) which makes it quick to top up the battery
- There’s no wireless charging support
With 6000mAh of battery power, the ROG Phone 5 has one of the biggest power cells around, which is handy because all that gaming makes for thirsty work. It’s little wonder the phone battery depletes significantly faster when in X-Mode+. However, unless you’re full-on smashing the battery with high-pace blasting and blitzing, you shouldn’t have any trouble lasting a full day.
A 65W charger and a dual-cell battery ensure the ROG Phone 5 powers up fast. Just 10 minutes plugged in gets you 25% power, plus 20 minutes half-fills the tank, and you can get a full charge in just 58 minutes.
I can’t overstate how good the ROG Phone is for watching content, and you’ll be able to stream for hours, with 30 minutes of Netflix streaming on full brightness depleting the battery by just 7%. Gaming is more demanding, with 30 minutes of Genshin Impact and Injustice 2 zapping it by 15-20%. That said, it kept its cool better than the competition, including the Galaxy S21 Plus, Huawei Mate 40 Pro and Xiaomi Mi 11.
Asus ROG Phone 5 conclusion
The Asus ROG Phone 5 is one of the best gaming phones ever made. It offers a top notch, wonderfully fast and immersive screen, super fast performance and a wealth of custom gaming features you won’t find elsewhere. But its outlandish design and below average, for a flagship, camera will put off non-gamers looking for a top end flagship.
You should buy the Asus ROG Phone 5 if:
- You love watching or listening to anything on your smartphone: The ROG Phone 5 screen and speakers make it one of the best multimedia phones around, and if you can handle its gaming look and feel, then you’ll be glued to it.
- You want to game on your phone regularly: As for gaming, the ROG Phone 5 is the best Android gaming phone you can buy thanks to its stability, on-body controls and optional accessories.
You shouldn’t buy the Asus ROG Phone 5 if:
- You’re a fan of subtle design and small phones, or need the best camera phone you can buy: The ROG Phone 5 is a gaming phone, brimming with features that look loud and proud with RGB lights and gaming themes preinstalled. While it may be one of the more subtle-looking gaming handsets on the market, it’s anything but demure when set against more traditional mobiles. If you’re a phone user first in need of a compact device, or a telephoto camera and optical image stabilisation, then you’ll want to opt for a non-gaming phone.