In this review we touch base on the ROG Phone II and see whether it stacks up to the hype. Whether you like it or not, whether you agree with it or not, gaming smartphones are a thing, and ASUS was undoubtedly going to make one at some point.
After the first ROG Phone, ASUS has come back with the ROG Phone II that launched a little earlier this year.
We've spent a little over a month with it to check out how well it holds up during gameplay. ASUS would have you believe that this is the best of the best when it comes to gaming smartphones. It would have you stop looking elsewhere the moment you learn of this device.
Should you? Perhaps. This is the gaming smartphone to beat. So from a pure performance and overall standpoint, this is the best. It's never that cut and dry though. There are some things which may cause you, the consumer, to consider another device. And that's why we're doing gaming review on the ROG Phone II.
To detail what makes this a good gaming phone and help you decide whether or not you should grab this for your next device. Obviously, if you have little to no interest in smartphone games, save for casual ones that don't demand high-end specs, then this phone isn't for you.
If however, you play your fair share of smartphone games, some high-end and some not, you should definitely learn more about this phone. At $899, it will be too rich for some people's blood, and that's ok. Whether or not the ROG Phone II is worth the price though is what we aim to find out in this review.
A refresh rate you can be proud of
First things first, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the 120Hz display on this phone, seeing as that's one of the selling points. It's not only a selling points, it's one of the best things about the device.
The display has a fast refresh rate that really is noticeable during games. High-end ones especially. Though it's also worth noting that the 120Hz isn't supported by every single game. You will however notice the smoothness when just scrolling.
When constantly checking new feeds, flicking up and down rapidly, the screen has nearly zero lag. It's an experience on a smartphone that I've never had before, and one that will get you thinking more about the quality of your smartphone display.
Are phones without this type of screen utter garbage? No. Absolutely not. My main phone is a Pixel 3a XL and its refresh rate is nowhere near 120Hz. It makes a difference though. One you can see and one that you will love.
As time goes on, more and more devices that are billed as gaming smartphones will start to feature such displays too. For now, though, ASUS is one of the only companies to feature it on a smartphone. The other being Razer with the Razer Phone 2.
If you've never played any games on a screen with a high refresh rate, you don't know what you're missing. We're here to tell you though, it matters. If there's any reason to consider the ROG Phone II should there have been only one, it would be this.
The only and I mean ONLY drawback of the 120Hz display is that it really kicks up the demand for higher performance. It's not only drawing more power from the battery, but it's also utilizing more of the CPU/GPU, and that causes heat issues. More on that later though.
Aside from the increase in performance demand, everything else about the 120Hz display feels fantastic. And, it'll only get better once more games support it.
A visual design for the discerning gamer
There's no hiding that the ROG Phone II is a gaming smartphone. It has the ever-familiar "gamer look" by way of the holographic lines, RGB lighting, and giant ROG logo. It also has the "ROG aerodynamic system" vent that sits near the top of the phone.
That being said, this is really what you see only from the back. From the front, this just looks like a normal phone, and this is what you'll be looking at most.
Keeping that in mind, ASUS isn't shy about being a gaming-heavy company. It's a company that's proud to be gaming-centric and it shows. And, if you play games on the ROG Phone II, it'll show for you too.
You can turn off the RGB lighting, so it's a little less loud of a gamer design, but unless you're trying to be conservative no battery power, why would you? The RGB logo on the back is one of the coolest aesthetic pieces. Even more so because it's not excessive.
I am not one to embrace RGB on everything. I don't particularly care for having lights on every inch of my gaming hardware as well as my mouse pad, mouse, headphones and everything else. A little is fine, and definitely adds a cool look to things. But there is such a thing as too much.
That isn't the case here. The only RGB lighting you'll see is on the back ROG logo and that's it. Just enough to add a little gamer flavor to the design of the phone without being overpowering. As for the rest of the design, It's nice. It's not gorgeous or earth shattering, it's simply nice. It looks good, and I'm not disappointed by it in any way.
Chances are, you won't be either. At least, not if you were already considering buying a gaming smartphone.
Air triggers for that controller feel
Let's face it. A lot of people hate touch controls on mobile games. Some of us like them, some of us have even come to love them. Many however still complain about how they're terrible for the gaming experience.
The Air Triggers on the ROG Phone II take away some of that. They're not quite physical buttons like what you'd find on a controller, but they are close. That's because they're haptic triggers that sense your touch and how much force you use to activate them.
Not too unlike the Active Edge feature on the Pixel 2 and up. The obvious difference here is that both triggers are one side. One trigger on the bottom corner and one on the top corner of the right side of the phone frame.
This is so they can act like the trigger buttons you would have on your controller. Setting these up didn't take too much effort. In fact it was quite easy. You can adjust the sensitivity of them so that they will require more or less pressure from you when using them.
This became a really big benefit for different games. Some games seemed to respond to them better with a more forceful press. While others needed them to be a little more sensitive. If you play FPS games, these are a huge advantage.
By using the air triggers, you can focus your thumb on different actions that would otherwise be taken up by using the ADS (aim down sight) and fire buttons. This still isn't a complete substitute for a proper gamepad, but that's why the ROG Phone II has an optional gamepad accessory.
One thing to note is that ASUS sent out an update to the ROG Phone II last week. Among other things, it included an update for the Air Triggers, which now allows you to apply a slide gesture on them either horizontally or vertically. This adds a second button essentially to each trigger, letting you have a press, and a slide on both the left and right triggers for four buttons in total. You do still have to choose which trigger action to use though, as you can't use the slide gestures and the tap simultaneously.
If you prefer touch controls for mobile games and wouldn't mind an added button or two, the air triggers are sure to be a delight. They definitely make gaming easier, so long as you're not opposed to a little bit of key mapping. If you're not, that's a good thing, because you will need to map the air triggers to the keys you want them to press.
Battery life that's a challenge to kill
Battery life is probably the most important feature of a phone to most people. That's not really an understatement either, given how tied into the phone many people are. If you're a mobile gamer, battery life might be more important to you than others.
This is how I personally feel and the ROG Phone II made it a real challenge to actually kill the battery. Even before starting to use it, I didn't figure it would last for days. I was pleasantly surprised to see that I could take it past a day and a half to two full days with normal use.
This is all thanks to its 6,000mAh capacity battery. I could pull the phone off the charger in the morning, and be able to play a few hours of games throughout the day while still using it for social, emails and videos, and still have around 50-percent battery life left by the time I go to sleep.
If you do less social checks, and really just spend time gaming, you may be able to come out with even more than that. The gist of it is, this is a long-lasting battery. ASUS knew what it was creating in the mobile gaming space, and it knew that a long-lasting battery would be one of the most important factors of the phone.
I can happily say that ASUS executed the battery life exceptionally well. You might think, "it has long-lasting battery life. Big deal..," but it's not just the battery life. ASUS was able to achieve the long-lasting battery without making the phone ridiculously thick.
No, it's not as thin as some phones out there, but it is pretty thin all things considered. It's heavy, sure. Noticeably heavy even, but still pretty thin for a device with a battery that has the capacity this one does. That means you can still have a phone that easily fits in your pocket (unless your pockets are insanely small) and not give up good battery life.
Overall, the battery in this phone is amazing and will keep you gaming well into the night, as it has for me.
The phone can get extremely hot, but there's a fan to help with that
If there's one downside to this phone, it's how powerful it is. Not because it provides you with stellar performance. Which it does do. But because all of this phone's power can cause it to get extremely hot during certain situations.
My one and only gripe about this device is how hot it gets. Like, almost uncomfortably hot to the point you just don't want to play games on the phone any more.
This doesn't happen every time I boot up a game. It does however happen during very demanding games. A good example of this was Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition. This is one of the confirmed games to support the 120Hz display.
It helps the game run super smooth. Unfortunately, when playing this game with the 120Hz display, the phone gets really hot to the touch after about 20 minutes. For an RPG the size of Final Fantasy XV, that's not great. As this is a game which is designed to provide you with many hours of enjoyment.
That isn't going to happen very often if you have to keep putting the phone down. Luckily there are some things to help with this. For starters, there's a fan attachment that can be fixed to the phone to help cool it down.
Trust me when I say you will need this. Without it the phone will simply get too hot during some games over lengthier periods of time, and the vapor cooling chamber just doesn't do a good enough job on its own to keep the temperature comfortable.
The nice thing is that the temperature didn't really affect performance for me. That might be because I never really played games on the phone for a solid three or four hours in one sitting. Nevertheless it performed quite well even while hot.
With the fan attachment, which comes with the phone in the box, you can plug it into the port on the left side of the phone frame and even adjust the fan speed in the phone's Armoury Crate app. This app is also where you can adjust other gaming-related settings.
In short, use the fan if you think you'll be gaming longer if it's a demanding game and you'll be using the 120Hz display settings. Otherwise, just turn the refresh rate down and that should help.
Incredibly rich system lighting
If you like your RGB lighting when it comes to gaming hardware, you won't be disappointed with the ROG Phone II. While it doesn't have lights everywhere, it does come with some pretty deep lighting features.
You have some basic stuff like the color of the lights that flash through the logo on the back. You can also set the lights to cycle through all the colors.
The advanced features though is where it gets interesting. For starters, ASUS integrated a feature that lets you create lighting groups, which you can allow other ROG Phones to synchronize with. You can join already created groups too.
When synced, everyone's phone in the group will have the same lighting. How the lights look will depend on how they're set up by the person who created the group. So if they set the lights to static, and choose a color, your ROG Phone II lighting will be that color and be static.
Aside from the groups, you can also set up atmospheric lighting for different scenarios, like music, when the screen's on, when it's off, and one that's specifically for the phone's X Mode feature.
You can even set if it comes on during boot and for notifications. This is definitely a dream feature if you like your gaming lighting, even if it's just for a small logo. Keep in mind that the RGB lighting will definitely drain your battery more.
Clip on the Kunai Gamepad for more traditional controls
One of the main reasons the ROG Phone II is such a great gaming phone is all of the optional accessories. It's great without these, but these really set it apart from most other devices.
Take the Kunai Gamepad for example. You can use the gamepad like any other controller and connect it to the ROG Phone II wirelessly. If you want to be a little more portable, you can put the special case on the phone and clip the controllers to the sides.
This gives you ROG Phone II a Nintendo Switch feel, but with slightly better grip than the Joy Con controllers thanks to the actual grips on the Kunai. This is the perfect setup if you're on a flight or somewhere where you can't really prop your phone up.
You can hold it to game like normal, but without actually having to touch the display. Of course, a lot of this relies on if the game you want to play supports gamepads. So keep that in mind.
If the game doesn't properly support gamepads, you can use the ROG Phone II's built-in key mapping to set things up yourself. I personally had mixed results with this. It worked fine for some games, like the recently released King of Fighters All Star, but not so well on others, such as Call of Duty Mobile.
For the latter, controls just felt really unresponsive and not very smooth. There seemed to be a slight input lag too. This isn't really a knock on Call of Duty Mobile or the Kunai Gamepad. I just think the nature of the game as well as it lacking proper gamepad support caused it to play worse than if you just used touch controls. Call of Duty Mobile's touch controls are pretty good anyways, so even with proper gamepad support they may still be preferable.
The more you use the gamepad, the more you may stumble upon instances like this. Most games should be fine though. For the most part, the Kunai Gamepad is great, and really adds to the gaming experience on the phone. It might be a bit steep for some at $150, but if you want the added capabilities of a gamepad that can also clip onto the phone, it's worth it.
Is this THE gaming phone?
In short, yes. It's more complex than that though. It won't be the best option for everyone. Namely because of price. Not everyone is willing to spend $900 on a new smartphone designed mostly for mobile gaming.
And while you don't need any of the accessories, they definitely amplify the mobile gaming experience. They're also a big part of the ROG Phone II in terms of what sets it apart. The end result is a gaming smartphone that costs well over $1,000 if you buy two more or accessories.
Overall though, taking the cost factor out of it, yes. This is THE gaming smartphone to beat. It has too much going for it not to lift it to the top of the list of currently available options.
If you're serious about mobile gaming and you plan to play more hardcore games, like FPS titles, racing titles and more, you definitely should consider the ROG Phone II.