Asus ROG Phone 3 review: At the top of its game

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Asus showed how seriously it takes mobile gaming with last year’s launch of the Republic of Gamers-branded ROG Phone 2, which was packed with tech and features specifically engineered to help improve gameplay. Now it’s back with the ROG Phone 3. Externally, not much has changed, and if anything, the space-age design has become less showy — but the story is different inside.

The difference the internals make is remarkable. It’s so powerful that if Thanos played PUBG Mobile, he’d do so on an ROG Phone 3. Let’s get into it.

The ROG Phone 3 shares a similar look, and an almost identical size, with the ROG Phone 2, but with the sci-fi madness ever so slightly toned down. The glass back is shiny rather than matte, and the exposed vents slashed into the back of the ROG Phone 2 have gone, replaced by a cool transparent section showing the new cooling system inside. I’ve not seen glass transition between transparent and dark like this before, and it looks superb.

Despite its exterior, the ROG Phone 3 has not collected fingerprints, and the RGB-equipped ROG logo looks even brighter and more colorful than it did with the matte glass of the ROG Phone 2. The camera module has gained another lens to total three, and it runs horizontally across the device. Asus has reduced the silver, angled lines on the body, which makes the design more mature.

Still, the gaming focus remains. The USB Type-C port on the bottom is set to the side to make holding the phone in landscape more comfortable when it’s plugged in, and hidden behind a rubber stopper on the opposite side is another USB Type-C charging port. The phone also has shoulder-mounted “AirTriggers” on the side of the phone (we’ll talk more abut those later).

Though comfortable to hold, this is a large smartphone. It’s 9.8mm thick, 171mm long, and 78mm wide. For comparison, the OnePlus 8 Pro is 8.5mm thick, 165mm long, and 74.5mm wide.

At 240 grams, the ROG Phone 3 is also one of the heaviest phones out there. It’s neatly balanced in landscape orientation, but I found in portrait mode that the weight was tilted toward the front of the phone. Combined with the slippery body, it often threatened to fall on my face when using it laying down.

One thing ROG Phone 2 users may notice is the disappearance of the 3.5mm headphone jack. The integration of 5G antennas in the ROG Phone 3 is one of the reasons the connector wouldn’t fit inside the phone anymore, but if you really want it, there’s a dongle in the box. There’s also an add-on AeroActive Cooler 3 accessory that clips onto the body to aid cooling, and you get that in the box, too.

It’s a great accessory. Asus has added two very helpful features: A space to store the rubber port cover you remove from the phone to attach the AeroActive Cooler 3, and a kickstand, too.

The kickstand’s great, putting the phone at the perfect angle for movies or for playing games with a controller. The AeroActive Cooler 2, made for the ROG Phone 2, isn’t compatible with the new phone. However, if you bought other accessories including the Twin View Dock or Kunai controller, they will work, due to the two phones having almost identical dimensions.

I appreciate the ROG Phone 3’s new, more mature design, but do miss some of the madness from the ROG Phone and ROG Phone 2. I think gaming phones need craziness. Nothing about their existence is sensible, so why not celebrate it a little more?

The ROG Phone 3 is the king of gaming smartphones.

I’m a casual gamer, meaning I don’t spend hours each day playing online, but the ROG Phone 3 still manages to make the games I do play look better and play more smoothly, all the while providing useful tools that enhance the experience. If it makes me feel like that, I have no doubt people who are more into mobile games will see even greater benefits.

The shoulder-mounted AirTriggers are a great example of where the ROG Phone 3 succeeds. They are easily mapped to on-screen controls, can be tapped, held down, swiped, or even spilt into two sections to effectively make four buttons. They made Asphalt 9 Legends’ simple controls quicker to use, and stopped my fingers from covering the screen.

The feature is activated in-game using the slide-in screen Game Genie menu, and when you position the AirTrigger activation points on screen, they vibrate when you get the placement correct. In Transformers: Forged to Fight, I used both the tap and swipe features, and while tapping worked well, the swipe feature could be quite awkward to activate at the right time.

By squeezing the sides of the phone, you activate X Mode, which boosts phone performance and minimizes distractions when playing games. Use the Enhanced X Mode setting, where everything gets turned up to maximum, and the processor won’t be throttled at all. I didn’t notice any slowdown, dropped frames, or other performance problems playing games on the ROG Phone 3.

The 6.59-inch AMOLED screen has a 144Hz refresh rate, 270Hz touch sampling, 10 bit HDR, HDR 10 Plus support, and 25ms touch latency. It’s insanely responsive. Dariusburst is played in a small window in the center of the screen, and requires deft, careful controls to weave between the scenery and the onslaught of bullets. The ROG Phone 3 made this considerably easier because of its large, highly responsive touchscreen.

Then there’s the sound. Asus has worked with an audio company called Dirac, passing over bigger brands like Dolby, and the result is often extraordinary. There’s a level of detail, clarity, and definition you don’t always find on phones, along with a wide soundstage and a genuinely full sound from the dual stereo speakers. The ROG Phone 3 sounds like no other smartphone.

Over the course of a few hours, I played Asphalt 9 Legends, 1945, Real Racing 3, and Dariusburst, plus a few other casual titles, and it performed impeccably. You can feel some heat generated from the phone, but it’s located at the center bottom edge of the device in landscape mode, so you have to feel around for it. My hands didn’t get sweaty, and I never felt the need to shift my grip because the phone’s body was warm.

The ROG Phone 3 is compatible with Google Stadia as well, and it comes with three months of free Stadia Pro access, meaning it’s not all about games from Google Play. It’s easy to pass gaming phones off as pointless, but when they’re done correctly and thoughtfully, the benefits are obvious. The Asus ROG Phone 3 demonstrates this perfectly.

Asus has worked hard to make the ROG Phone 3 a usable smartphone for daily use, whether you are dedicated to gaming or not. The camera is an integral part of this.

The triple-lens rear camera has a 64-megapixel IMX686 main sensor with an f/1.8 aperture, joined by a 13-megapixel ultra-wide sensor and a 5-megapixel macro sensor. In the bezel above the screen, there is a 24-megapixel selfie camera. The rear camera has a variety of different modes, including a night mode, portrait mode, a motion-tracking video mode, and a pro video mode. It shoots video at 4K and in HDR with electronic stabilization.

It’s decent, and more than capable enough provided it’s your second priority on a smartphone. There’s no zoom mode, but both the wide-angle and macro modes provide creative fun, so it’s not desperately missed. It can be inconsistent, especially in overcast conditions, where it underexposes quite a bit, resulting in a loss of detail. Sunny day HDR shots can look great, and the macro camera definitely surprises with it ability.

The selfie camera has a heavy-handed beauty mode enabled by default, a portrait mode with only average edge-detection that can also wash out skin tones.

I found the ROG Phone 3’s camera to be fine for general use. While there are more versatile camera phones out there, it’s solid. For a gaming phone, where the camera will always be a secondary concern, it’s much better than many will expect.

Asus says it wants to “lead the industry to the next level” with the ROG Phone 3. It pioneered 120Hz screens and high touch sampling rates, as well as how to use a high-end processor to the best of its ability, with the ROG Phone 2. For the ROG Phone 3, the 144Hz screen, 270Hz touch sampling rate, and the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus processor with up to 16GB of RAM sees it easily win the current smartphone spec sheet wars.

The Snapdragon 865 Plus is a monster, and the first mobile processor to exceed a 3GHz clock speed. Paired with 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 512GB of UFS 3.1 storage in my review phone, it’s hard to imagine ever needing more power or capacity.

Here’s how it performed in some benchmark tests:

3DMark Sling Shot Extreme: 6,601 Vulkan (Without X Mode. App crashes with X Mode active)

Geekbench 5: 970 Single Core/3340 Multi Core

These scores beat the ROG Phone 2, but are only a little higher than the OnePlus 8 Pro. They are very similar to the Red Magic 5G, where the 3DMark test was actually lower on the ROG Phone 3, but this may be to do with app issues, as it would not run with X Mode active on the Asus phone.

The 6,000mAh battery lasts two days, which may seem a little disappointing given the overall capacity, but don’t forget it’s powering a great deal of high-end hardware. Asus’s own tests say it’ll play 9.6 hours of Asphalt 9 Legends on a full charge, compared to 5.7 hours from a OnePlus 8 Pro.

Asus has added a new PowerMaster app, part of its efforts to increase the longevity of the battery. Interestingly, it has a slow-charge mode, definable limits to make sure the battery doesn’t just sit at 100% all night (not good for making it last, says Asus), and a selection of battery modes too. The wired charging provides 30W of power, but there is no wireless charging.

Elsewhere inside, if you were to take the phone apart, you’d find carefully placed Wi-Fi antennas to ensure the best signal possible in portrait or landscape orientation, four microphones positioned so they don’t get covered during landscape gameplay, and 5G support. Cellular and Wi-Fi reception has been consistently excellent, and call quality is great, too. I don’t have 5G reception in my local area, so I have not been able to test this aspect.

There are two main theme options on the ROG Phone 3: Showier, stylized themes, and a classic theme to make the phone look more like Android on a Pixel. It’s the same approach the company took with the ROG Phone 2 and the Asus Zenfone 6, and a very sensible decision. Both operate in an identical way, but there’s no question the Classic theme makes the phone look more mature, and is perhaps a little faster for everyday use.

Apps are hidden inside a drawer in both themes, while the notification shade provides interactive notifications, plus there is a standard dark mode. Asus installs its own game app called Armory Crate where all your games are stored together, with the option to set individual parameters for each, like automatically activating X Mode, upping the screen refresh rate, and assigning macros. It’s also the place to modify the system lighting.

I used swipe gesture controls, which worked without a problem. Although there is an always-on screen option, the notification options are limited, reducing its usefulness.

Asus’ software on the ROG Phone 3 has been reliable and fast, and it’s great to see the company continuing the good work it began on the Zenfone 6. The in-display fingerprint sensor is fast and reliable, with face unlock to back it up. I’ve had no problems with either.

Asus has not announced the final price in dollars for the ROG Phone 3 at the time of writing, only the price in euros. The 16GB/512GB version reviewed here is 1,099 euros, and a 12GB/512GB version is 999 euros. The phone will be available from the end of July in Europe, but starting out with the basic “Strix” edition, which has a Snapdragon 865, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB storage for 799 euros.

The ROG Phone 3 will be available in North America before September, and we’d expect the euro prices to convert directly over to dollars, meaning the 16GB/512GB model should be around $1,099. Asus will officially confirm prices when the U.S. launch date is announced. The cheapest Strix model will not be sold in the U.S..

The ROG Phone 3 is unrivaled among gaming phones. This should tell you all you need to know about whether it’s for you. It’s a spec monster, providing all the power anyone will need for just about any task they’d want to do on a phone. If a game doesn’t run well on the ROG Phone 3, it doesn’t run well on a phone, period.

What if you’re not a big mobile gamer? The ROG Phone 3 is one of the best multimedia phones available. Video is superb due to the phone’s excellent screen and speakers. However, you won’t have a use for the many game-centric features, and may miss a better camera.

If you want a straight-up gaming smartphone, no. If you want a phone that’s an all-rounder, the $900 OnePlus 8 Pro has good gaming credentials and masses of power, while the $1,100 Samsung Galaxy S20 Plus and the $1,300 Oppo Find X2 Pro are strong flagships that put the emphasis on the camera. Perhaps the best alternative to the ROG Phone 3 is the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max, due not only to the phone’s performance, but to the games available in the App Store.

Asus promises Android 11 will come to the ROG Phone 3, and that it will get security updates for at least two years. However, it has not given a time frame for Android 11’s arrival. The ROG Phone 3 is not water resistant. It’s made of glass and quite heavy, so getting one of Asus’s cool cases is wise.

This aside, the massive specifications ensure the phone will still feel fresh in a couple of years time, and Asus’ efforts to help the battery perform its best for longer should help push the phone’s usefulness way past two years as well. If you want to hang on to your new phone, the ROG Phone 3 is a very safe purchase.

Yes. It’s the mobile gaming champion that has the guts and ability to make you a mobile gaming champion too.

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