The ROG Phone 3 flaunts an AMOLED screen with a 144Hz refresh rate.
It is armed with a 6,000mAh battery with 30W fast-charging support.
The smartphone supports 30W fast-wired charging.
Smartphone and PC maker Asus is known for making components such as routers, motherboards, and monitors, along with gaming-branded mice, headphones, and more. Asus also makes gaming desktops and laptops under the ROG (Republic of Gamers) series. In 2018, the company introduced its first gaming smartphone, the ROG Phone, and refined the series with each iteration every year. The latest is the Asus ROG Phone 3 which brings the fastest hardware and some interesting gaming-centric features to a smartphone.
Gaming smartphones is a niche segment and there are only a few available in the market. These include the Razer Phone series, Xiaomi-backed Black Shark series, Lenovo Legion gaming phone, and Nubia’s RedMagic series. These are all designed keeping the gaming community in mind and include a few unique features that you will not find in other flagship smartphones.
Asus ROG Phone 3 Specifications and Pricing
Design: More Refined and Ergonomic
Design-wise nothing much has changed since the first ROG Phone, but with every generation, Asus has refined it more. While other OEMs have been offering near edge-to-edge displays, the Asus ROG Phone 3 still has thick bezels along the top and bottom, which enable it to offer front-firing stereo speakers.
It features a durable metal frame and glass back with more subtle styling. The triple camera modules with LED flash are in the upper half, whereas the RGB lighting ROG logo is in the center. It has been present since the first ROG Phone and adds a distinct look and feel to it.
The color of the RGB light can be customized based on user needs. Just beside the logo, there is a small heat vent and a heatsink to dissipate the heat during those intensive gaming sessions.
The glowing RGB logo is an uber-cool addition.
One of the unique additions comes in the form of pressure-sensitive ultrasonic buttons “Air Triggers” on the right frame. You can configure these buttons for different games. For instance, in PUBG Mobile, the bottom trigger can be used to fire a bullet or jump or even reload. Similarly, when playing Asphalt 9: Legends, the top button can be used as a trigger to drift, whereas the bottom one can be used as a nitro booster.
Another differentiating factor of the ROG Phone 3 is that it comes with two USB Type-C ports – one at the bottom and one on the left side. It is a clever implementation too. When the battery is low, and you want to charge the phone while gaming, it becomes uncomfortable to play, especially for games in the landscape mode.
The side port comes in handy at such times as it does not interfere when gaming. There are a couple of other things about the side port too. The first thing is that it supports regular charging speeds, and the other is that you can attach the “Aero Active” cooler fan accessory to it. This accessory not only helps bring the thermal levels down but also has two ports – one to add a 3.5mm headphone and the other a USB Type-C port for charging.
The side-mounted USB Type-C port means comfortable gaming without the wire dangling around.
How are Gaming Smartphones Different from Flagships?
The Razer Phone was the first gaming smartphone to bring an LCD screen with a 120Hz refresh rate, whereas the first ROG Phone brought a 90Hz refresh rate on an AMOLED panel. And since then, we have seen the high refresh rate screens on mid-range, affordable premium and flagship smartphones. The gaming phones also come with liquid cooling or vapor chamber cooling system to keep thermal levels low, and the same feature has also trickled down to mainstream smartphones.
Research analyst Maurice Klaehne said, Gaming smartphones have come a long way, and while certainly still a niche product, they have given us new and worthwhile features that are being incorporated into “mainstream” smartphones. Many flagship smartphones are now coming with high refresh rate displays and are incorporating cooling features. It is safe to say that gaming phones give us a glimpse into what features we might expect in new flagships from OEMs such as Samsung, OnePlus and Xiaomi.
Certain features are only present in gaming phones. Talking about the ROG Phone 3 that we are reviewing, it comes with special pressure-sensitive hardware function keys that can be configured for individual games. The smartphone also features heat vents at the back, a dual charging port – one at the bottom and one on the left side, and RGB lighting at the back. Asus has also made specialized add-on accessories that include a twin view attachable screen, a desktop dock, an external fan, and gamepad controllers.
Lastly, on the software front, there is also an Armory Crate that lets you customize and fine-tune the hardware and software settings for each game. Before I talk about the performance, let me first talk about what is unique about the Armory Crate, a feature that makes the gaming experience on the Asus ROG Phone 3 worthwhile.
Armory Crate: Custom Tweaks for Each Game
There are three interesting things about the Armory Crate – Game Library, Console and Featured sections. A lot of smartphones now come with higher refresh rate displays that enable smooth scrolling and better gaming. But not all games support high refresh rate gaming. For instance, popular battle royale game PUBG Mobile does not support over 60fps (frames per second) gaming. Similarly, the Asphalt 9: Legends car racing game maxes out at 60fps.
The Featured tab in Armory Crate has a full list of games that support 144Hz and 120Hz screen refresh rates. There is also a get button that lets you download these games right from the play store. As you keep switching tabs further, you also get to explore games that support the Twin View add-on and Air Triggers.
The Armory Crate has a lot of settings and features to fiddle around with.
Moving on, the Console tab lets you customize the game settings. The different settings include a display, where you can set the refresh rate on auto or toggle between 60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz and 144Hz. The settings also let you increase or decrease the sliding sensitivity and precision, and touch sensitivity. Then there is the performance tab that lets you tune the temperature control, GPU and CPU between low, medium and high settings.
Lastly, there is also a memory cleaner option that clears background apps every time you start a game. All the above settings can be universally configured for all games, or you can manually configure different settings for each game in the Game Library. There is also a console tab that lets you activate the “X-Mode” with all settings maxed out with one touch.
Game Genie: Floating Toolbar to Quickly Switch Settings
Game Genie is another interesting feature that offers a floating toolbar to quickly activate or deactivate settings. Swiping from the left of the screen in the landscape brings up the Game Genie. It lets you adjust and lock screen brightness, switch screen refresh rate, and mute calls, messages and other notifications.
You can also activate air triggers, record macros to repeat certain actions in a game, speed up the device with a single touch, and more. The toolbar also shows the phone temperature, clock speed, screen frame in real-time, and lets you record the gameplay. It sure is a good addition to control certain aspects of the gameplay.
Performance: Hyper Beast on Steroids
Talking about performance, the Asus ROG Phone 3 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+ SoC with a peak clock speed of 3.1GHz, making it the fastest smartphone around. It is paired with up to 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 512GB of UFS 3.1 storage. We had the base model with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage and did not face any lag during the usage. The ROG UI on top of Android 10 OS is well optimized to ensure smooth functioning.
The smartphone flaunts a 6.59-inch FHD+ AMOLED panel running at 2340x1080pixels. The screen also supports HDR tone mapping and brightness smoothing solution from Pixelworks to offer immersive gaming and video viewing experience. The panel supports a 144Hz screen refresh rate with a 270Hz sampling rate and 25ms touch latency. Now, the screen is not the best one around compared to other smartphones. The colors look too gaudy at times while the text and content do not look too crisp as you would expect in normal usage. But surprisingly, the graphics looked good when playing games. Fine-tuning the colors and brightness could help get better results.
Now coming to gaming performance, I extensively tested the phone playing games like PUBG Mobile, Asphalt 9: Legends, Shadowgun Legends, Alto’s Odyssey, and CSR Racing 2. First things first, all these games ran buttery smooth without any hiccups whatsoever. But not all support a 144Hz refresh rate. There is a toolbar that you can activate from Game Genie settings which displays the framerate, CPU and GPU load, temperature, and battery in real-time, as you can see in the image below.
For instance, PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9 Legends max out at 60fps. Shadowgun Legends supports up to 144fps, and the game would steadily hit between 125 to 140fps. Alto’s Odyssey and CSR Racing 2, on the other hand, hit up to 90fps, but not more than that.
While the gaming experience was great, the back of the smartphone does get a bit too warm after an intensive one-hour gaming session. It reached levels of 44-degrees. The temperate would come down to normal levels after a five-minute break.
The ROG Phone 3 also offers good haptic feedback when playing games, which makes the experience even more immersive. It is like what you get on console gaming. So, Asphalt 9, for instance, offers strong vibration feedback when you hit a perfect nitro, and also when you crash the vehicle. Similarly, Shadowgun Legends and PUBG Mobile offer strong vibration feedback when you fire a bullet.
Loud, detailed audio and haptic feedback offer a great gaming experience.
Complementing the haptics is the loud audio with strong bass from the stereo speakers. It is the loudest and immersive audio experience I have found on a smartphone to date. This also works when watching content on Netflix and other apps.
Good Battery Life for Prolonged Gaming Sessions
The ROG Phone 3 is a beast, offering the fastest processing on a phone and a high screen refresh rate. Typically, this means it will be a battery hog. But in real-world usage, the smartphone does surprise with its battery endurance. The monstrous 6,000mAh battery is good enough to offer one full day’s worth of backup. One hour of intensive gaming like Asphalt 9 drains the battery by 32% at max settings. With low settings mode, the battery drain is 19%. Similarly, for PUBG Mobile, the battery drains 21% for one hour of gaming at max settings.
Despite power hungry specs, battery lasts a whole working day, and some more.
With regular usage like social media, binge-watching and so on, you can easily get a full working day worth of juice. The phone supports 30W fast-wired charging using USB Power Delivery, and it takes about 30 minutes to charge 50% and close to two hours to fully charge.
Cameras: Mediocre Performance
In the photography department, the smartphone comes with a triple rear camera featuring a 64MP Sony IMX686 primary sensor with f/1.8 aperture. It is paired with a 13MP ultra-wide f/2.4 aperture sensor and a 5MP macro lens as well. Ideally, a telephoto lens would have been a better option. For selfies and video calling, there is a 24MP front shooter with an f/2.0 aperture. With specifications out of the way, let us talk about quality.
One area where gaming phones have always suffered is in the photography department. And the Asus ROG Phone 3, sadly, does not change that. The photo quality is average at best. Asus can make some improvements and fine-tune settings with future software updates, but to get the most from the cameras, it will need to focus on AI and post-processing algorithms.
I shot some photos on a trip to a hill station in partially sunny and cloudy weather. Both wide and ultrawide photos have a slightly warm tone, and lacks crisp details. Portrait mode shots are below average and barely usable. There is a lot of skin smoothening that the AI and processing try to do, offering mediocre results.
In low light, the quality takes a further hit. There is night mode which takes multiple shots at different exposure levels, and photos in this mode are quite usable.
Asus needs to work on improving the camera performance.
The front camera fared relatively better. It does do a lot of skin smoothening and brightens the skin tone, especially in portrait mode, but it offers good details at the same time.
Conclusion: A Gaming Beast and Solid Performer, But Cameras Could Have Been Better
To conclude, we come back to the conversation – how do you differentiate a gaming smartphone from other flagship smartphones? They boast the same chipset, similar hardware in terms of RAM, storage, and display with high refresh rates. What makes gaming phones like the Asus ROG Phone 3 tick is the gaming experience that it offers with the software additions and haptic feedback. It has set a new benchmark and is definitely a gaming smartphone to beat.
It is also 5G Sub-6GHz compatible using Qualcomm Snapdragon X55 5G modem and supports cloud gaming via Google’s Stadia platform. Fast-charging, battery life, and compatibility with gaming accessories are a few things that work in its favor.
There are also a few things that are left to be desired, which Asus can improve in the next iteration. Support for even faster charging, wireless charging, and IPXX rating could be good additions. But one thing that will hold back users will be the cameras. Improvements in the photography department can make the ROG Phone an all-rounder, and not just a gaming beast.
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