KEY Features / Specifications
- Body: 172.8×77.3×10.3mm, 238g; metal body; RGB light panel (on the back), Pressure sensitive zones (Gaming triggers).
- Display: 6.78″ AMOLED, 1B colors, 144Hz, HDR10+, 800 nits (typ), 1200 nits (peak), 1080x2448px resolution, 20.4:9 aspect ratio, 395ppi.
- Chipset: Qualcomm SM8350 Snapdragon 888 (5 nm): Octa-core (1×2.84 GHz Kryo 680 & 3×2.42 GHz Kryo 680 & 4×1.80 GHz Kryo 680); Adreno 660.
- Memory: 128GB 8GB RAM, 256GB 12GB RAM, 256GB 16GB RAM; UFS 3.1.
- OS/Software: Android 11, ROG UI.
- Rear camera: Wide (main): 64 MP, f/1.8, 26mm, 1/1.73″, 0.8µm, PDAF; Ultra wide angle: 13 MP, f/2.4, 11mm, 125˚; Macro: 5 MP, f/2.0.
- Front camera: 24 MP, f/2.5, 27mm (wide), 0.9µm.
- Video capture: Rear camera: 8K@30fps, 4K@30/60/120fps, 1080p@30/60/120/240fps, 720p@480fps; gyro-EIS; Front camera: 1080p@30fps.
- Battery: 6000mAh; Fast charging 65W, Reverse charging 10W, Power Delivery 3.0, Quick Charge 5.
- Misc: Fingerprint reader (under display, optical); NFC; 3.5mm jack.
For the past four years, Asus has worked relentlessly to provide “the ideal smartphone gaming experience.” We could add, with considerable success.
This time, we’ll be getting acquainted with the gleaming new ROG Phone 5. A Republic of Gamers product from start to finish, but one that does things a little differently than its predecessors in certain ways while remaining true to form in others. There’s a lot to talk about, so let’s get started right away.
Yes, the ROG Phone 5 replaces the ROG Phone 4. Don’t panic; you haven’t inadvertently skipped an iteration along the way. The reason is actually rather straightforward, and we’ve seen it previously with Chinese and Taiwanese name standards. Because the number ‘four’ in Chinese sounds close to their term for death, naming things after this number is considered inauspicious and should be avoided.
But, unfortunately, that’s perhaps the least interesting aspect of the ROG Phone 5. Let’s start with the fact that the ROG Phone 5 is a series of devices rather than a single model.
Depending on how you count them, there are anywhere from two to five separate versions offered. The ROG Phone 5 is available in three varieties: A, B, and C, which denote changes in available bands and network connectivity, as well as RAM options. Starting with variation “C,” the standard configuration is 8GB/128GB, with a 12GB/256GB tier also available. Variant “B” adds a third storage option to the mix: 16GB/256GB. Variant “A” is not available in the 8GB/128GB tier, however, it is available in 12GB/256GB and 16GB/256GB configurations.
To be sure, some of these versions are plainly intended for distinct markets. Still, that’s enough perplexing in our minds, but things go beyond the plain ROG Phone 5 this year. And we’re not talking about a “Strix” variation as in prior generations, though it may still exist. Instead, Asus has a ROG Phone 5 Pro and a ROG Phone 5 Ultimate this year.
The Pro model features 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, while the Ultimate model has 18GB of RAM. The Ultimate edition is supposed to be a very limited edition.
Design & Controls
It’s difficult to make a mistake with a ROG Phone. This is true for the ROG Phone 5. Having said that, after four versions, the aesthetic is quite different from the initial ROG Phone. Overall, Asus appears to be aiming for a less daring and quirky appearance. Most of its ROG Products, including phones, are gradually losing their “gamer” appearance.
We already thought last year’s ROG Phone 3 was elegant and “low-key” enough to carry into a boardroom. The ROG Phone 5 pushes this trend even further. The major aspects are all present, such as the large ROG RGB logo, which is now somewhat off-center, as well as the steeply slanted camera island.
No exposed inner cooling surfaces or even enclosed windows with shiny metal showing through this time around. There are fewer “fighter jet/alien” shapes and lines as well. Instead, a much tamer and stylish assembly of text and branding elements, paired with a geometric match in one bottom corner and a “dot-matrix” style background around the centerpiece ROG Logo. One that instantly reminded us of the distinctive back design on the ROG Zephyrus G14 laptop. There is clearly some design synergy going on, and we love it.
Speaking of the ROG Logo, it has a new trick this time around – simply put, there are now two distinct RBG LEDs for you to control. This allows for some eye-catching shades to be achieved. Of course, you can still choose from a wide selection of effects and animations (8 different lighting schemes in total) and also sync up the pattern with other ROG Phones
Other aspects haven’t changed from the ROG 3: the ultrasonic shoulder buttons, for example, haven’t shifted in placement or function (they still have, but we’re informed there’s a larger density of sensors put closer to the edge, making them more sensitive, at least in principle). In practice, we just found the shoulder buttons on the ROG 5 to be simpler to use, map, and enjoy when gaming.
The phone includes four microphones distributed evenly around the phone – at the top, bottom, right side, and next to the camera block on the back – to pick up voice from most angles, regardless of how the phone is handled or what accessories are glued on.
The Asus ROG Phone 5 packs a modest array of cameras for its price range, notably missing a telephoto lens for zoom photography. While its high-megapixel main lens does manage to take sharp enough images to crop-zoom, it’s not a replacement for the kind of magnification that the Space Zoom-packing Samsung Galaxy S20 and S21 feature.
Still, the Asus ROG 5 has casual photography covered with its triple rear cameras: a 64MP main shooter, 13MP 125-degree field of view ultra-wide camera, and a 5MP macro lens. There’s a 24MP front-facing camera that works just fine.
The ROG 5 takes decent photos in daylight, capturing a vivid range of colors and a decent level of clarity, though it’s handily outclassed in the latter by top-tier phones like the iPhone 12 Pro and Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus (the phones we tested against). And while the Samsung phone won out overall in distance photography thanks to its Space Zoom, the Asus ROG 5 actually outperformed the iPhone 12 Pro at maximum (8x) zoom in daylight conditions, producing images with less blur and more true-to-life balance of light and shadow.
The Asus ROG 5 can produce impressive depth of field effects and background blur. While its portrait mode isn’t quite up to par with top-tier flagships. The low-light performance is good, but better with ambient light, and you may have to battle with the camera to alter focus (for example, if you want to secure depth-of-field).
The ROG 5 can record up to 8K video at 30 frames per second, 4K video at 60 frames per second (or 30 frames per second with the ultra-wide camera), slow-motion video in 4K at 120 frames per second, and still images while recording video.
The ROG 5 can shoot up to 8K video at 30fps, 4K video at 60fps (or 30fps with the ultra-wide camera), slow-motion video in 4K at 120fps, and take still photos while shooting video.
The Republic of Gamers brand has always logically been associated with a “gamey” aesthetic. Buyers appear to appreciate and even anticipate a certain amount of aggressive lines, every conceivable shade of red, and an abundance of mechanical, geometric, and alien visuals. Even though there is a clear trend of toning down the truly “out-there” aspects of the ROG Phone line, particularly with the new ROG Phone 5, it still delivers plenty of gamer “chic” right out of the box. Motion animations that appear massive, glowing effects, flames, and reactors. You get the idea.
Visually, not much has changed since the ROG Phone 3 and, indeed, the ROG Phone II. However, there are still plenty of improvements under the hood, with the ROG Phone 5 running Google’s current Android 11 out of the box. So it’s not just Asus being lazy and rehashing old software. On the contrary, it is yet another example of well-defined priorities and deliberate actions.
The ROG Phone 5 is crammed with advanced options, toggles, and menus all over the place. With the default ROG theme, one swipe down for quick toggles and you might feel like you’re operating a nuclear reactor. The number of options you are expected to “quickly access” is mind-boggling.
The first thing you absolutely need to try out is pressing the X Mode toggle. That kick-starts an impressive sequence that would fit right in a Transformers movie. An animation on the default wallpapers gets initiated, symbols start shifting, glowing borders start shining around icons. If set up accordingly, the RGB logo on the backfires up, as well as any compatible Aura Sync logo on attached ROG accessories.
Just in case this all gets a bit too much for you or simply isn’t your cup of tea. Asus still includes a clean, almost AOSP-like theme as an option.
In the advanced menu, there are detailed controls for both screen recording and screen capture. Configurable options include resolution, orientation, whether or not to record sound, and touch inputs. A minor detail, but one that demonstrates Asus’s commitment to catering to their streamer and content creator audiences.
System-wide optimizations and tools are nice. But Asus has made a point of putting the majority of its effort into the software. Aimed specifically at improving the gaming experience. The majority of it was present on the ROG Phone 3 and the ROG Phone II. Prior to that and has been inherited from them, but has also been incrementally improved.
Game genie is essentially an in-game overlay that is enabled by default for games. But can be enabled for any other app based on your preferences. A swipe from the left side of the screen brings it up, and its main goal is to offer convenient access to gaming-relevant features.
The ability to get a real-time performance overlay is a nifty, albeit not entirely new ROG trick. CPU and GPU load, temperature, battery level, and fps count are all available in the Game toolbar, which can be freely dragged and positioned over the game. There is even an experimental feature that tries its best to estimate how much game time you have based on your current load with the battery charge remaining in the phone. A new addition to the mix is also a simpler timer interface.
Some of the more-powerful goodies are those arranged vertically on the right end of the Game Genie interface. Speed up simply triggers a background app cleaner task. Nothing too special, but still convenient to have in reach.
Asus has previously pulled off some impressive binning and overclocking stunts for ROG Phone models. The company’s primary goal has always been to obtain the best possible chips and even individual units for its gaming phones. The modern mobile silicon scene, on the other hand, is quite different. For some time now, Qualcomm has been doing its own in-house binning and optimizing. Largely eliminating the ability or viability for an enthusiastic third-party like Asus to do its own cherry-picking.
The Asus ROG 5 packs top-tier specs and gets top-tier performance. Making it competitive with 2021’s best smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy S21 range in terms of sheer muscle.
The one variable between the different Asus ROG 5 versions is RAM and storage. The standard version starts at 8GB of RAM. But you can get it in 12GB and 16GB configurations, all in the latest LPDDR5/UFS 3.1.
AeroActive 5 cooler
The AeroActive line of cooler attachments has been one of the staples of the ROG Phone family since the beginning. Kind of a spotlight feature. Since it essentially kickstarted the admittedly still niche but growing endeavor of trying to introduce active cooling to mobile phones. While v1, v2, and v3 of the accessories certainly had their share of differences and innovations from one to the other. The AeroActive Cooler 5 represents the biggest change to the accessory in more ways than on. Unfortunately, not all positive.
Let’s start with something positive – the AeroActive Cooler 5 now has two physical AirTrigger buttons of its own. This is a new development that adds yet another layer of controls that can be mapped using the industry-leading Asus solution.
Now that we’ve introduced the AeroActive 5 cooler as our “secret weapon” in the fight against thermal throttling, let’s see how the ROG Phone 5 handles prolonged loads and heat generation. When it comes to those real-world gaming sessions, this is arguably a much more valuable and relevant metric. We used the CPU Throttling Test for this, which is an excellent app that we’ve used in the past to see how ramping-down performance is handled. This is a process over which manufacturers have some control via hardware and software solutions.
Competions, Pros and Cons, Conclusion
Even if you disagree with some aspects of the devices Asus introduces into the smartphone market. There is no denying that the Taiwanese conglomerate effectively pioneered the modern gaming smartphone niche with the ROG Phone line. It was a big bet, a risky move, and the space is still fraught with uncertainty and soul-searching. The beauty of big bold steps, however, is that they spark innovation. And Asus is not alone in the gaming smartphone space today, four years later.
Sure, releases are still sporadic and experimental, but there is a competition to be mentioned. Nubia, which is owned by ZTE, immediately comes to mind, especially with the recent announcement of the nubia Red Magic 6 and 6 Pro. These, like the ROG Phone 5, are powered by the flagship Snapdragon 888 chipset and include active fan cooling. Only theirs is an integral part of the phone’s internal design, as opposed to a snap-on accessory. The 165Hz refresh rate and 400Hz touch sampling rate on the Red Magic 6 pair’s 6.8-inch AMOLED displays are another standout feature. Both are industry-leading figures, though we’re not sure how actual input chain latency compares to Asus’ bold claims of delivering the industry’s lowest input times with the ROG Phone 5.
Xiaomi has its Black Shark line, which hasn’t been updated since the Black Shark 3S, which was released in August of last year. It’s no longer going to be a benchmark chart-topper with a regular Snapdragon 865 (non-plus) under the hood. Still, a powerful device dressed appropriately for gaming. However, you may want to wait a little longer for the upcoming Black Shark 4 family.
No gaming smartphone list would be complete without mentioning Lenovo’s relatively new Legion line. The Legion Duel is the most recent refresh, offering a solid hardware package with its 144Hz AMOLED display and Snapdragon 865+ chipset. But, like Xiaomi, a new Legion, dubbed the Legion 2 Pro, is on the way, and if rumors are to be believed, it will feature some sort of dual turbo cooling system.
Asus is the undisputed king of smartphone gaming. That is still true after four iterations of the ROG Phone line. The ROG Phone 5 is a true powerhouse in every sense of the word – a phone designed specifically to deliver the best gaming experience possible. With any other concern or consideration taking a back seat. It just so happens that when you build an excellent gaming flagship, you usually end up with an excellent all-around device with a lot of appeal outside of gaming.
That has been our general conclusion for each ROG Phone in the past, and we stand by it for the ROG Phone 5. The ROG Phone 5 is, however, the least impressive new generation we’ve seen from the ROG family.
Overall, we believe the ROG Phone 5 is a truly excellent phone. Still in a class of its own when it comes to mobile gaming prowess, but one that has unfortunately undergone some “changes” this year that have irritated us.
- 6.7″ 144Hz 1B color, HDR10+ OLED gaming-oriented screen
- Gaming-friendly Snapdragon 778G 5G chip with 8GB RAM
- Ready For support
- Good overall camera quality
- Water-repellent design
- No special gaming features
- No stereo speakers
- Average battery life