First Impressions: Asus ROG Phone 5 Brings Promising Upgrade, But Competition Gets Fierce

  • The Asus ROG Phone 5 is powered by the latest 5nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC.
  • It is one of the first smartphones to feature up to 18GB of RAM.
  • The gaming smartphone supports Sub-6GHz 5G and Wi-Fi 6E connectivity.

Asus has refreshed its gaming smartphone line-up by introducing the ROG Phone 5 series nearly three months earlier than the usual June time frame. This time around, there are three models – the regular ROG Phone 5, followed by the ROG Phone 5 Pro variant, and then a special limited-edition device, the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate. Compared to the ROG Phone 3 which we reviewed last year, the new smartphones bring a bold design language, powerful stereo speakers, and display with the lowest touch latency on a smartphone, among many other features.

One of the highlights of the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate edition is that it comes with a whopping 18GB of RAM from SK Hynix. I got a few hours to spend with the regular ROG Phone 5 and below are my first impressions.

Asus ROG Phone 5: Specifications, Pricing and Three Device Strategy

The bump in specifications along with new and improved features has also resulted in a price increase over the previous generation. While the ROG Phone 3 was priced around $560 in regions like India and around $820 in the US, the ROG Phone 5 starts at $950 in the US. In India, the same sees a jump to around $690. A lot of factors could contribute to the price rise, such as the ongoing global chip shortage, and increase in prices of key components like PMICs for 5G and display.

Commenting on Asus’ strategy, Senior Research Analyst Maurice Klaehne said, “The latest Asus ROG 5 devices once again push the boundaries for gaming smartphones a little further. The devices once again feature a 144Hz refresh rate and AMOLED screen, but bump up the touch-sampling rate to 300Hz, and touch-sampling rate of 24.3ms which is the lowest on a smartphone. The latest 5nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC makes the phone blazing fast. Asus is also coming out with three different models to cater to its growing customer base. While the devices still lack wireless charging and camera features continue to fall behind the competition, Asus is clearly showing it wants to differentiate by focusing on gaming-specific enhancements and features.”

counterpoint rog phone 5 series specifications

Improved Gesture Controls Along with Unique Unboxing Experience

Right from the unboxing experience, Asus has given special attention to offering something unique to the users. After you unbox the phone and begin the setup process, a screen will prompt you to give camera permissions to be able to scan the augmented reality (AR)-based graphics printed on the box. It makes the characters come alive and is an experience that you will not find with other smartphones.

Talking about the design, Asus has constantly improved the look and feel of the ROG Phones. These refinements also aim towards offering a console-like gaming experience, and the ROG Phone 5 takes it a step further. It offers a glass back with a nice two-tone texture with gaming aesthetics. The RGB logo still exists, but it now has a dot-matrix anime style that stands out, without looking too flashy.

counterpoint ROG Phone 5 back

The four ultrasonic touch controllers (Air Triggers) on the right edge, along with motion control, rear touch and buttons on the aero active cooler, now offer a total of 18 controls to enhance your gaming skillset. Aeroactive cooler accessory is bundled along with the smartphone and offers a USB Type-C port for charging, a 3.5mm audio jack, a dedicated cooling fan, and a kickstand.

counterpoint ROG Phone 5 aeroactive cooler attached

Fastest Hardware, More Responsive Touch, and Immersive Audio

The Asus ROG Phone 5 features the fastest hardware available today to offer the best experience. This includes a 5nm Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SoC with 8GB/12GB LPDDR5 RAM, and 128GB/256GB UFS 3.1 storage. As mentioned above, there is also an Ultimate edition model that gets 18GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. But Asus is not the only gaming smartphone maker to offer 18GB of RAM, even nubia Red Magic 6 Pro has a variant with the same RAM and storage configuration.

Moving to the display, you get a Samsung AMOLED panel with a 144Hz screen refresh rate and FHD+ resolution. But Asus has improved the touch sampling rate to 300Hz, and latency to just 24.3ms, which is the lowest on any smartphone to date. This should improve the touch response when gaming. Asus has also added a Pixelworks i6 co-processor for dark noise suppression, skin tone management, real-time SDR to HDR conversion, and more.

counterpoint ROG Phone 5 front

For sustained peak performance during your gaming sessions, keeping the thermal levels low is important. And the ROG Phone 5 comes with a centered CPU design, and a larger 3D vapor chamber cooling using graphite sheet along with direct airflow design. Asus says it helps in lowering CPU temperature by 10%, and surface temperature by up to 15%. With the entered CPU design, the ROG Phone 5 also comes with two separate 3,000mAh batteries with up to 65W HyperCharge technology. However, the box comes with a 30W adapter.

Lastly, Asus has also brought back the legacy 3.5mm audio jack. It features an ESS DAC and Dirac tuning for better frequency response, and clear audio. You also get front-firing stereo speakers on the smartphone. In the little time when I used the smartphone, the audio was loud enough with a wide soundstaging. The volume was the loudest I have experienced on a smartphone yet.

Initial Impressions: Can Powerful Hardware, Improved Gesture and Touch Controls be Enough?

The ROG Phone 5 brings a striking design that sets it apart from the competition. Under-the- hood improvements in terms of more RAM, new Snapdragon 888 SoC, dual battery and improved thermal management make it a promising upgrade. Asus has also improved the audio quality and refined the software among many other changes. Asus says it has fine-tuned the cameras as well. Given that the ROG Phone 3 cameras had mediocre quality, it will be interesting to see how the new smartphone does it better. We will answer that in our detailed review, so stay tuned for that.

Besides, the ROG Phone 5 also faces fierce competition from nubia RED Magic 6 series which brings 165Hz screen refresh rate, and top end model with 18GB of RAM. Even Black Shark launched the 4 and 4 Pro gaming smartphones yesterday, whereas Lenovo is set to launch Legion 2 Pro gaming smartphone on April 8. Certainly, more smartphone makers are now focusing on the hardcore gaming users.

BONUS VIDEO: Unboxing and Top 5 Features of Asus ROG Phone 5

Also Read: Strategic Reviews and Insights on Latest Smartphones

Ritesh is a Global Content Manager with Counterpoint Technology Market Research. With over 10 years of experience, he is joining Counterpoint from BGR India where he was the Head of Features. At BGR, Ritesh also used to cover tech news, product launches, and review consumer tech. Ritesh is a science graduate from Mumbai University, with major in Physics. He followed his passion for tech, took up writing as a career and is also a well-known tech journalist in the industry.

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