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ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate Review: The Ultimate Mobile Gaming Machine

ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate Review
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The ROG Phone 5 Ultimate provides the best mobile gaming experience of any other phone on the market. Period.

ASUS ROG Phone 5 Ultimate
Rating
star star star star star
Pros
  • The 3.5mm audio port is back
  • New fan attachment has back paddle buttons and a kickstand
  • Four ultrasonic buttons instead of two
  • More RAM than you'll ever need
  • 144Hz display with a higher touch sampling rate than any previous ROG Phone
  • Dual front-facing speakers deliver great audio for gaming or other media
Cons
  • The phone still gets really hot without the fan attachment
  • The charging port is once again off-center

When it comes to mobile gaming, certain devices stand above the rest, and the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate is one of those devices. It’s ASUS’ most powerful, most desirable, and most capable mobile gaming machine yet.

Ticking off nearly all the boxes of what you might want in a gaming smartphone. It’s a good physical size, it has powerful hardware, and it delivers on performance. As if anyone would have expected otherwise though. Yes, from head to toe the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate is dripping with both performance features and nifty add-ons. And while it certainly is a towering monolith amongst its rivals, it’s still not perfect and there is always room for improvement.

For example, despite ASUS’ efforts and advancement in cooling for its ROG Phone series over the years, the latest iteration of the ROG Phone still gets very hot during more intense gaming. Though it’s worth clarifying, that this really only applies to high-end graphics intensive games. Such as Genshin Impact.

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That said, the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate is what you would expect peak performance to look and feel like. From actual performance to little quality of life touches, it’s a device that has one main purpose. To deliver the ultimate mobile gaming experience to you, its owner. And deliver it does.

But what about specifics? What really makes this the best gaming smartphone around? In this review we take a closer look at the moving parts. And why the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate is the pinnacle of mobile gaming hardware.

The ROG Phone 5 Ultimate has a sleek, more muted design, and it’s excellent

There’s nothing wrong with unabashedly carrying a design that says “I like gaming,” which is what ASUS’ ROG Phone devices have always had. But with each iteration, ASUS has toned down the design bit by bit.

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The ROG Phone 5 Ultimate is the best example of this so far. Partly because it has less gaming-centric design features like the visible cooling vents the ROG Phone 3 and ROG Phone II had.

But also because it comes with a monochromatic design. The body of the device is matte white. Unlike the glossy black of the ROG Phone 5 and the mirror gunmetal-like finish of the previous three devices. This more subtle color immediately makes this a more unassuming device. Which I absolutely love.

Having said all that the phone isn’t forgetting its roots. There are still touches of gaming in the design that, if you spent more than a few seconds looking at, will tell you this is a gaming phone. Like the straight lines that are draped across the back. Or the Republic Of Gamers logo in the bottom left corner. Or the long secondary display in the back’s center which can show anything from phone alerts and battery charge percentage to custom-designed or pre-installed gaming images.

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Then there’s more nuanced design features. Like the cobalt blue sim card tray cover. Which is stamped with a GLHF! (good luck, have fun!) message you’ll see often before a match in many different gaming communities.

These little touches won’t necessarily be spotted right away. But once you notice them it’s clear this phone was made for people who love gaming. And I really dig it.

Use the AeroActive Cooler 5 fan attachment

There are a couple of major reasons why this is such an important accessory if you really take your mobile gaming seriously. The obvious reason is that it helps keep the phone cooler during longer gaming sessions with games that are going to really put stress on the CPU and GPU. Again, Genshin Impact is the best example here.

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The level of detail, color, and gorgeous animations it delivers, the components of the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate really work overtime. The game runs at a mostly consistent 60 frames per second. But, the phone will eventually get pretty hot without the AeroActive Cooler fan.

And it doesn’t take that long either. Every time I booted up the game, the phone was significantly warmer within 30-45 minutes. And fairly hot after an hour. I want to clarify though that the phone was never too hot to handle. Which shows that ASUS has definitely improved the cooling since the ROG Phone II.

In fact the phone’s heat dissipation system has been re-engineered. The PCB (printed circuit board) now sits in the middle of the phone. Which does move heat away from where your fingers rest at the edges.

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Still, it gets hot enough that it may convince some people to stop playing sooner than they’d like. Just to let the phone cool down and have a break. Luckily, the ROG Phone 5 Pro and the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate come with the AeroActive Cooler 5 in the box. So there’s no reason not to snap it on when you’re settling in for a good gaming session. Why else should you use it? Extra controls.

The fan’s paddle-style buttons really make a big difference

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The nice thing about the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate is that it comes with the two back touch buttons. Which are really just two additional AirTriggers. But the AeroActive Cooler fan has two buttons too.

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They’re designed like the paddle-style buttons you can find on the backs of controllers like the Xbox Elite and Elite Series 2. Which just feel really great to use. They’re easy to push, not too far out of the way, and they provide extra controls for you.

Allowing you to up your game and really improve your skills. Having said that, they do take some practice. And they don’t really feel that good in every single game. While I did find they came in very useful for Call Of Duty: Mobile, I didn’t feel like they were any better than the touch controls in Genshin Impact. Because there aren’t that many controls to begin with when it comes to movement and combat.

These are the only two games I tried them with though so far. And I can imagine they’re awesome in other games with numerous controls. Like racing titles and other shooters such as the upcoming PUBG: New State for example. They may even work well in games like League Of Legends: Wild Rift. Which enters the US via open beta on March 29.

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To reiterate, use the fan attachment. It makes the experience a lot better.

These are the best speakers yet, which means the best audio yet

First, let’s pump out a couple of stats about the audio that feel pretty important. Dual front-facing stereo speakers make a return from the ROG Phone 3. But these are not the same speakers as before.

The speakers on the ROG Phone 5 line have 35% larger combined speaker volume than the ROG Phone 3. And in addition to that ASUS says that each speaker has a mono amp that can pump out 21% more power than the amplifiers that phone had.

ASUS also once again partnered with Dirac to tune the speakers for enhanced audio. Not just for games, but for all the audio you might enjoy with the phone. Dirac also helped create a series of different sound profiles that you can access within the AudioWizard app.

Including Dynamic, Cinema, Music, and Game modes. Since this review is focused on gaming, I’m going to focus on the Game mode here. In short, enable this mode before you start playing games. It’s good. In a more specific explanation, you want this mode active because it’ll amplify game-specific audio sounds. Such as bullet fire, footsteps, and more.

Beyond the sound profiles you can also use the AudioWizard app (which you access from the quick settings menu) to adjust equalizer settings. If you’re a Hi-Fi nerd who enjoys messing with this kind of stuff you can use it to personalize the sound tuning to your liking.

Overall, the audio on the ROG Phone 5 is louder with more clarity than previous models. Which made me feel more immersed in the games I was playing when I was playing them. The best comparison I can give here is with the Panasonic SoundSlayer gaming sound bar that I reviewed recently.

Similar to that, the ROG Phone 5 speakers gave me a feeling of the sound being more spatial and more like I was in the game world. While this doesn’t matter to absolutely everyone that loves games, I feel it’s an important part of the experience. And so does ASUS. And after you experience it on the ROG Phone 5, you probably will too.

Prefer headphones? That’s fine too. Because the ROG Phone 5 brought back the 3.5mm audio port and it supports all major high-res Bluetooth audio standards. Including aptX HD, aptX adaptive, LDAC, and AAC.

How’s the battery life on the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate? Excellent

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Probably no surprise here but the battery life on this phone is pretty damn good. As to be expected since it’s been top-notch since the first ROG Phone.

And why shouldn’t it be with a battery capacity of 6,000mAh? This is split up between two 3,000 mAh batteries, and each one charges at the same time as you plug it in. Once you get it plugged in you’re looking at maybe an hour to two hours to a full charge if the battery is completely dead.

ASUS says the phone will charge up to 70% in only a half an hour, and 100% in 52 minutes. Both values took a little bit longer for me personally though. A more accurate time for the charge for me was about 45 minutes for 70% and over an hour for a full battery. Of course these times can be increased if you’re using the phone while it’s charging. So keep that in mind.

If you’re playing games and simultaneously draining the battery as you charge it, the battery will charge faster than you can drain it. But it will obviously charge much slower. So the times ASUS listed and the times I experienced won’t necessarily be what you experience if the device isn’t just sitting there.

You can customize the ROG Vision image

One cool aesthetic with the ROG Phone 5 is the ROG Vision. This is an image that will play in a loop on the secondary display that sits on the back of the device.

While there are a handful of different pre-installed choices to use here, you can also customize your own. By choosing the Screen On option you can then hit the “+” symbol in the top right corner of the UI to create a custom Vision.

Then you select from a series of photos or images on the device, and the phone will apply that image to the ROG Vision. There’s even a selection of different animation styles you can apply. This paired with the phone’s ability to sync lighting with other ROG Phone 5s could be a really cool thing for Esports teams. Or just friends who like to play with each other locally.

As they can both adorn the backs of their phones with a team logo or a favorite image. Mine for example is using a picture I’ve taken of a Tanjiro figure that I have sitting on my desk. I then applied the Fireworks animation to it to give it a more anime-like design.

This is a neat feature that while not really relevant to the performance in any way, still adds to the cool factor of this device. You can even download other ROG Visions and apply those as well.

The ROG Phone 5 display is really damn good

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When it comes to gaming smartphones the display is just as important as the tech underneath that powers the experiences. And the display on the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate (and the other two models) is really damn good.

It has 23% higher brightness than the last phone in the series, and it has HDR10+ certification and is 6.78-inches in size. So, it’s a big boi. But more importantly the screen has a touch-sampling rate of 300Hz and a refresh rate of 144 fps as it’s a 144Hz display.

You won’t really see many games that take advantage of that yet, but it’s there and waiting for when they do. For now, it’s the touch-sampling that makes more of a difference. ASUS says the phone has a touch latency of about 23ms, and a slide latency of about 18ms.

Both of which are extremely low. Basically you can expect super low latency for your touch responses in games. Which means faster reflexes and potentially better outcomes in matches.

Should I buy the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate?

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If you want the best gaming smartphone on the market because you want the best mobile gaming experience you can possibly have, then yes. No question. Buy the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate.

Or at the very least one of the ROG Phone 5 models. Because when it comes to mobile gaming you honestly won’t find better than what ASUS has delivered here. There are more than a few competitors in this space. RedMagic for instance recently released the RedMagic 6 series devices and these also come with the Snapdragon 888 mobile platform. In fact it has many of the same specs as the ROG Phone 5 series.

But ASUS still pulls ahead here in a few different areas. Making it the overall better choice. You’ll likely pay for that though. The Ultimate model at least, is going to be more than the top-tier model coming from RedMagic. So you’ll want to factor in whether or not you want to spend that extra money.

Another thing to consider is that the ASUS ROG Phone 5 series isn’t yet available in the US, and ASUS hasn’t announced US pricing at this time. You’re looking at about €1,299 though in Europe, so expect it to be around $1,199-$1,299 in the states. And even when it does arrive, the Ultimate model is going to be extremely limited. All of that aside, buying this phone will deliver the best mobile gaming experience.

And the best bang for your buck out of the three is probably the ROG Phone 5 Pro. Since it comes with the same mobile platform, display features, audio features, and battery as the Ultimate model, but for less money. It also has 16GB of RAM compared to the Ultimate’s 18GB. So you’re not really losing out on a lot, as even 16GB is likely more than you’ll ever need for mobile gaming.

Having said all that, the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate is the ultimate mobile gaming machine. And it’ll probably stay that way until ASUS replaces it with the next version.