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ASUS ROG Phone 3 review: the gaming beast

On: August 31, 2020

Let me come clean before I begin my review, I am not a huge gaming smartphone advocate mainly because I personally prefer an all-round package. And by an all-round package, I mean a phone that delivers on design, performance, display, cameras and battery life, and above all, offers clutter-free software. Most gaming smartphones are designed for hardcore mobile gamers and thus are built for solid performance and customisations, but miss out on one or other criteria mentioned above.

Also read: OnePlus 8 Pro long-term review: a stellar flagship experience

Therefore, when I received the third-generation ROG Phone 3 for the purpose of this review, I was sceptical from the very start. And sure enough — right out of the box — the bulky frame of the smartphone was off-putting. However, over the course of my review, the ASUS ROG Phone 3 completely changed my opinion of gaming smartphones. I have come to realise that ROG Phone 3 is more than just a one-trick pony and will also appeal to a non-gamer average user. Without any further ado, let’s find out why I say so.

Design and display

As I mentioned before, the ASUS ROG Phone 3 is a massive smartphone and is not designed for one-handed usage. ASUS has also switched things up when it comes to design as the ROG Phone 3 doesn’t have the radical lines and massive heat vent from the last year’s ROG Phone 2. This time around, the smartphone has a single very subtle aura line across the back panel and the massive vent has been reduced to a small slit above the transparent window revealing the Aerodynamic System chamber. The signature RGB-lit ROG logo is in the same position and so is the geometrical camera module with two LED flash units.

The ROG Phone 3 tips the scales at 240g, which is extremely heavy for a smartphone. Combined with the massive frame, this makes ROG Phone 3 a very unwieldy smartphone for one-handed usage as I mentioned before. To top that, the slippery glass back panel makes ASUS ROG Phone 3 a nightmare to handle. I strongly advise putting on the provided Aero Case, which gives it a much-needed grip as well style. The heft and bulk of the smartphone can be credited to the copper heatsink, which is six times larger than the ROG Phone 2, and its mammoth 6,000mAh battery.

Other elements include the volume and power button as well as Air Triggers (ultrasonic buttons) on the left and the proprietary port for accessories alongside a secondary Type-C port on the right. There’s a SIM tray as well on the right, which only takes two nano-SIM cards. There’s no microSD card slot on the device. The top edge has a single noise-cancelling mic, while the bottom edge houses a Type-C port that is offset to the left side. What surprised me is that despite being a gaming smartphone, ROG Phone 3 omits a 3.5mm audio jack. This will disappoint the hardcore gamers, who prefer wired headphones for zero latency. However, ASUS is providing a Type-C to 3.5mm dongle in the package and the Aero Cooler accessory (sold separately) also comes with a 3.5mm jack.

The fingerprint scanner is embedded in the display, whereas the speakers are located on the top and bottom of the display. The dual front-firing speakers are tuned by Dirac and offer true stereo separation for surround audio. They are one of the loudest in the biz and provide immersive audio while gaming. The ASUS ROG Phone 3 features a Goodix in-display fingerprint scanner, which is fast and accurate. However, it’s located slightly towards the middle of the display and there’s a learning curve involved to be able to locate it in one go. The face unlock works very fast too, but struggles in the dark.

Let’s talk about one of the biggest highlights of the ROG Phone 3 now. The ROG Phone 3 comes with a 6.59-inch AMOLED display with full HD+ resolution, a 19.5:9 aspect ratio, HDR10+ certification and 1,000nits of peak brightness. However, the cherry on the top is the 144Hz refresh rate. The screen also features a 270Hz touch sampling rate and 25ms touch latency. It’s evident that the display is designed for gaming, even though there are not many games that support a 144Hz refresh rate at the moment.

The ROG Phone 3 lets users switch between 60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz, 144Hz and auto. While I suggest setting this to auto mode as it intelligently selects the most optimised refresh rate based on the app and conserves battery, I had the refresh rate set to 144Hz throughout my stint. This is because the drop in battery life is a very minute trade-off for the ultra-smooth animations and transitions that the 144Hz refresh rate offers.

The 10-bit screen can display 1.07 billion colours and also has Widevine L1 certification. The online videos I streamed on the handset were extremely vivid and sharp. Users can customise display viewing experience by selecting preset profiles including default, natural, cinematic, standard and customised.

Cameras

Gaming smartphones are known for cutting corners in the camera department, however, the ASUS ROG Phone 3 comes with serious upgrades over its predecessors. I was pleasantly surprised by its imaging prowess. Let’s get the specs out of the way first. The ROG Phone 3 comes with the 64-megapixel Sony IMX686 primary sensor backed by a 13-megapixel ultra-wide camera and 5-megapixel macro lens. In the front, the ROG Phone 3 features a 24-megapixel selfie camera.

During the day, the camera setup captures crisp and detailed images, which are commendable. I did notice a slight oversaturation in the images as well as slightly awry dynamic range. Setting the HDR toggle from Auto to always on improves the dynamic range to some extent. There is a 64-megapixel mode as well, which captures more details but is not so evident to the naked eye on the display. The low-light images taken using both standard and night mode have hazy details, but the latter helps in improved exposure.

The 13-megapixel wide-angle lens captures good images with negligible barrel distortion, but the details are slightly on the lower side due to the lower resolution sensor. The 5-megapixel macro lens lets you get up close with the subject and captures good details as well. However, since the macro lens has a fixed focus, it will take a lot of patience to get a good image in the macro mode.

As for the selfies, the 24-megapixel snapper on the front captures 6-megapixel pixel binned images, which turn out well in the daylight. However, the selfies are below par once the sun goes down and I would suggest not clicking any after the day fall.

Performance, software and battery

The ASUS ROG Phone 3 is the world’s first smartphone to come powered by the Snapdragon 865+ chipset. The smartphone features an overclocked Snapdragon 865+ with a maximum clock speed of 3.1Ghz. Apart from being the first device to cross the 3GHz threshold, the ROG Phone 3 also features up to 12GB super-fast LPDDR5 RAM and up to 256GB UFS 3,1 storage, depending on the variant. I received the 8GB variant of the ROG Phone 3 with 128GB storage, and the smartphone handles normal day to day usage like a champ. Even with around 15-18 apps opened in the background including PUBG, the smartphone switches between apps smoothly without killing any in the background.

Coming to the gaming performance, PUBG Mobile opens with High frame rate and HD graphics as the default setting, but can go up to HDR graphics and Extreme frame rate. The game doesn’t support the 144GHz refresh rate but during my stint, there was nary a frame drop or lag even at HDR + Extreme graphics setting. I also played Bullet Force and Alto’s Odyssey to experience the full 144Hz gaming experience and quite frankly, the gameplay had me extremely impressed. Alto’s Odyssey — a truly beautiful game when it comes to visuals — is a delight to play with the 144Hz refresh rate.

There’s a dedicated gaming section in the software called Armoury Crate, where all your installed games are added in a carousel. From here, users can customise numerous gaming elements for individual games like touch sensitivity, display settings, performance tuning, in-game network settings, Air Triggers, Key Mapping and Macros. I particularly liked the ability to set customised profiles for different games.

There’s also an X-Mode, which is a hardware-level profile to override the processor’s heat and power restrictions to unleash the maximum performance that the Snapdragon 865+ SoC can offer. By default, the X-mode is set to Level 2, which is suitable for high-quality 3D games, whereas Level 1 is for all kind of games. The X-mode also has a Level 3 but it can only be activated when the Aeroactive Cooler is connected to keep the heat in control.

The Air Triggers on the shoulder have been upgraded and can now map up to two functions on each side, which makes a total of four functions. I assigned only two functions to each side in PUBG Mobile and it greatly improved my performance in the game since my thumbs were free to navigate while at the same time I could scope and fire using my index fingers. There’s a Game Genie feature, which can be accessed by swiping inward from the right edge. It offers various features like frame rate tuning, screen recording, changing the refresh rate, configuring Air Triggers and live streaming on YouTube or Twitch.

Coming to the software, the ASUS ROG Phone 3 boots the Android 10-based ROG UI, which is close to stock Android barring gaming-themed visuals and the Armoury Crate. You get standard features like Digital Wellbeing & parental controls, dark mode, themes, gesture support, and more. There’s also a feature called OptiFlex, which accelerates app launches, reduces app reloads and saves power on standby.

The ASUS ROG Phone 3 features a massive 6,000mAh battery, which is the largest at this price point. As I mentioned before, during my tenure with the ROG Phone 3, I had the display set at 144Hz the entire time. Despite this, the ROG Phone 3 lasted me at least two days with my moderate usage. The charger provided with the smartphone outputs at 30W, which takes around 2 hours to completely charge the battery.

However, the buck doesn’t stop here. ASUS has extended loaded customisation features to the battery as well. There’s a PowerMaster option inside the battery settings on the phone. This lets users set the charge speed to 10W, which results in longer charging duration but improved battery health. There’s another option called scheduled charging, where you can set your sleep time as the charge schedule, and the smartphone will adjust charging speed to completely charge the phone in a healthy manner by the time you wake up. Users can also limit the maximum charging capacity of the battery to 90 percent or 80 percent to increase battery life.

The competition

The ROG Phone 3 is available in two configurations – 8GB + 128GB variant and 12GB + 256GB. While the former is priced at Rs 49,999 and is up for grabs on Flipkart, the latter went on sale a couple of weeks ago for Rs 57,999 but is currently out of stock. The ROG Phone 3 is currently the only smartphone in India with the Snapdragon 865+ chipset and 144Hz display. While there’s no competition for ROG Phone 3, smartphones like Realme X50 Pro 5G  (review), iQOO 3 5G (review) and OnePlus 8 Pro (review) come close to challenging it.

The Realme X50 Pro 5G is Snapdragon 865-powered flagship phone that comes with a 6.44-inch FHD+ punch-hole display with 90Hz refresh rate. The phone offers up to 12GB RAM and 256GB storage. It offers a powerful 64-megapixel quad-camera setup on the back and 32-megapixel dual cameras on the front. The handset boots Android 10-based Realme UI out of the box and is powered by a 4,200mAh battery with support for 65W SuperDart Charge technology.

The iQOO 3 5G is another Snapdragon 865 device with up to 12GB RAM and 256GB storage. It features 6,4-inch FHD+ punch-hole display as well but misses out on higher refresh rate. There’s a 48-megapixel quad-camera on the back and 16-megapixel punch-hole camera on the front. The phone runs on iQOO UI based on Android 10 and is backed by a 4,440mAh battery with 55W fast charging support.

The OnePlus 8 Pro features a 6.78-inch 120Hz Fluid AMOLED display offering QHD+ resolution. The phone is powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 SoC and boots OxygenOS based on Android 10. The processor is backed by up to 12GB RAM and 256GB storage. For cameras, there’s a 48-megapixel quad-camera module on the back accompanied by a 48MP ultra-wide camera, 8MP telephoto lens and 5MP colour filter camera. For selfies, there’s a 16-megapixel camera on the front. The phone is powered by a 4,510mAh battery with Warp Charge 30T fast charging technology and is also the first OnePlus device to feature wireless charging.

Bottomline

The ASUS ROG Phone 3 is in a league of its own and if a bulky form factor doesn’t bother you, this is the absolute best Android smartphone that money can buy right now. Even if you are not a gamer and not too keen on the truckload of gaming features, the ROG Phone 3 offers unparalleled performance as well as battery backup at this price point. If you are looking for a sleeker phone with better cameras, there are other options as mentioned above.

Pricebaba’s rating:  9 / 10

What works:

  • Blazing fast performance
  • Brilliant 144Hz display
  • Multitude of customisation options for gaming
  • Superb audio
  • Long battery backup

What doesn’t:

  • Bulky build quality
  • No 3.5mm audio jack
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Abhiman Biswas

Abhiman is obsessed with all things tech. His hobbies include reading on his Kindle and clicking random pictures on his phone. His secret superpowers happen to be mixing great cocktails and lip reading. In his spare time, you are likely to find him cleaning his aquascape, researching new species of aquatic fishes and planning which aquatic plants to buy next.