Asus ROG Phone

Asus had promised us a few surprises at Computex this year, and the company is staying true to its word. The Taiwanese PC and smartphone company came to this year’s event with it’s first gaming smartphone under its ROG brand.

The company calls it the ROG Phone right now, under the model number ZS600KL and it’s the third gaming-centric smartphone we’ve seen in recent times, with the Xiaomi Black Shark and the Razer Phone being the others.

Unlike the company's Zenfone series, this one follows the ROG design language and a few neat tweaks that could tickle a gamer's fancy.

Price and availability

At the moment, Asus seems reluctant to confirm that the device will be launched in India, though we do expect it to make it there eventually. The ROG Phone will almost certainly be priced in the premium range, though that's another aspect Asus hasn't revealed right now.

However, some company representatives did say that the APAC region should be covered, along with the US and UK.

Design

While smartphones from Asus have so far been sold under the Zenfone monicker, with the ROG Phone, Asus is effectively launching an extension of its PC Gaming brand to mobile devices..

The device follows the ROG design language, with sharp lines, a black finish and distinctly "gamer" looks. Even the fingerprint sensor, camera and flash modules on the back are distinct from other phones, and you see the glowing ROG logo under them. And yes, the ROG logo does light up and you can change the colour if you want.

Most of the back is covered in glass, with a cut out metallic section on the right, that holds the speaker grilles. While Asus says there's glass on the back, it does feel more like plexiglass than the Gorilla Glass backs you find on flagships today.

The company has also curved the rear edges, so the phone nestles in your palm. It's heavy, but not too heavy to complain, and it's tall, which makes it easier to use with one hand, though it isn't perfectly suited for that either.

What the ROG Phone doesn't have is a notch on the front. You can see another speaker grill on the top bezel here, while an identical notch is placed on the bottom bezel too, both in a reddish gold colour, to continue the stealthy looks of the phone.

The power on/off and volume buttons are on the right, accompanied by two USB Type-C ports, to attach accessories. There's another Type-C port on the bottom, meant for charging the phone.

Overall, while the ROG Phone wouldn't qualify as slim or sleek per se, it's definitely distinct and "gamer-focused".

Specs and Performance

The ROG Phone runs on the Snapdragon 845, but the chipset does a higher clock speed on this device. Asus says it worked with Qualcomm for the chipsets on this one, and the clock speed can rise up to 2.9GHz – about 100MHz higher than normal.

But more importantly, the ROG Phone has a 1080p AMOLED display with 90Hz refresh rate. While that's lower than Razer's 120Hz spec, neither would make a big difference until games really start supporting them. The same is true for HDR playback, which the display does support.

However, what's more, interesting is the vapour-cooling technology Asus employs on this device. This is the first phone to sport such tech and on first look, it does seem to work. We spent a good half an hour playing Asphalt 8 and Marvel: Contest of Champions on the device, there was no noticeable difference in frame rates, there was no frame drop even after the phone got considerably and uncomfortably hot.

In fact, we streamed the game to a TV from a ROG phone, for over half an hour, and though you could feel the phone getting hot, frame drops didn't happen.

There's also a version of Asus' ROG Gaming Center app on this device. This shows you what frequency the CPU and GPU are at, the phone's temperature and more. Of course, you don't get the same level of control over these as you do on gaming PCs.

However, this app can let you toggle the "X-Mode", that lets you set the CPU clock higher and to its maximum, if needed. You can also squeeze the edges for this, or turn it on from Android's quick settings dock.

Though there's a lot of testing yet to go, the ROG Phone does look like a one-of-a-kind device. Its specs may not make a difference just yet, but with the right pricing, Asus may be able to spark a new market amidst the sea of similar smartphones out there.

Audio

The ROG Phone may also be the loudest smartphone out there today. Its speakers can easily fill medium sized rooms as long as there is no peripheral noise. Audio quality is also noticeably better than regular smartphones, though we wouldn’t recommend making this your go to music device. The speakers are loud, but they still lack bass and audio seems more biased towards the high frequencies.

Accessories

One of the major elements of this device are the accessories that go with it. Other than vapour cooling, Asus will be bundling a fan accessory with the phone. This helps cool it when you're playing for long hours and attaches to the USB-C ports on the side. It's worth noting that this is the only accessory Asus is bundling, while the rest have to be purchased separately.

There's also a TwinView Dock, which allows a dual-screen handheld gaming experience. It looks like a military box, where the phone fits on the top. You can then use the phone to watch a movie etc, while the screen on the base can be used to game.

There's also a Gamevice controller that gives you console-like controls for gaming, while the WiGig Dock allows you to cast the phone onto a monitor and play using keyboards and mice. The ROG Phone also supports Asus' AuraSync and RGB lighting features.

Early Verdict

While it is still too early to tell whether this phone is actually worth it, it's safe to call it a new innovation for the smartphone market. Companies seem to trying to make the "gaming phone" a thing, and Asus may have just taken the biggest step towards it.

It's certainly a niche product, but the ROG Phone could easily be marketed as a flagship class device. Moreover, if it's successful enough, Asus may want to come up with variants of the device and with developer support, make it a cross between a phone and a handheld console.

The ROG Phone will tickle a gamer's fancy, look distinct in your hand and offer some nifty features that no one else can. Your move, everyone else.

Prasid Banerjee
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