If there’s one thing we can trust Asus ROG with, is that the gamification of any and every gadget is possible. We won’t be surprised if they make a vacuum cleaner focused around gaming.
But what you’re staring at here is not a jacked-up vacuum cleaner with lights but a jacked-up smartphone that can blow the socks off any and every game. And, it comes with lights on the back. When we tested the ROG Phone 2 last year, we said it was the ‘Best smartphone for gaming. Period’. So, does the ROG Phone 3 keep up with the standards set by its predecessor and what all improvements can we expect from the ROG Phone 3 to deliver?
Build and design
The design and build of the ROG Phone 3 is pretty much the same as last year. In the front, you get a massive 6.59in display, two front-facing speakers and an in-display fingerprint scanner. Around the back, you have a triple camera setup, the RGB logo and a pretty cool transparent area which shows you the belly of the beast.
For the time skipped on redesigning this smartphone from the outside, they definitely did some tweaking on the inside. The heatsink that you can see from the back is six times larger than last time. Which means there should be a considerable amount of headroom for cooling on the ROG Phone 3. There’s a lot happening under the heatsink too. There’s a larger graphite sheet inside now, something which Asus gave us an hour-long presentation on. Albeit the TL;DR is that the ROG Phone 3 is stacking up some great performance numbers and keeps the heat out efficiently.
It’s definitely a premium feeling phone though. The curved edges at the back blend into the aluminium bands quite seamlessly and it feels nice to hold as well. Button placing is done absolutely right even if you have small mitts. Be careful though, it might slip out easily as it's a tad on the heavier side. We did manage to lose our grip simply from the weight of this thing. That 6000mAh battery is quite a workout for your wrist.
To let you in on Asus’ hardware secrets, there’s a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus along with 8GB RAM and 126GB storage, or 12GB RAM and 256GB storage.
Our 8GB RAM variant was quite sufficient to get through all the daily activities along with some intense gaming sessions. It’s also rocking the UFS 3.1 storage for rapid performance. Getting past loading screens and scrolling down our massive photo library was a breeze.
The 6000mAh battery juices up using a 30W bundled fast charger and there’s an option to set a lower charging limit of 90% or 80% for your smartphone. Which means you can let your smartphone charge only 90% or 80%. There’s also a slow charging feature that does exactly as advertised. Asus says this is a way to extend battery lifespan and also not overcharge your phone when you’re asleep and we do agree with them there. Rapid charge cycles do wear out the battery lifespan and having the option to control it to your liking is every nerd’s dream.
We literally got through the day and some more with intense gaming on 144Hz. The phone was on 144Hz all the time (because why not) and it did last a whopping full day and a half. We think, if you drop it to a modest 120Hz in between, you could squeeze more battery life. Truly it boils down to your usage and gaming patterns. Either way, the battery doesn’t disappoint. That 6000mAh battery is well worth the wrist workout.
However, the crowning feature of the ROG Phone 2 was the AirTriggers and with the 2020 version, we’re getting better customization options for it. And some more touch options as well. You can now swipe left and right, tap and hold and also partition the tapping area for dual tapping (like L1 L2 and R1 R2 on controllers). With that you also get to fine tune the pressure sensitivity of these shoulder buttons.
This time you get one extra lens from ROG to pump up your social media game. The primary lens comes at 64MP. Meanwhile, the other two are a 13MP and a 5MP lens for doing ultra-wide and macro jobs respectively. This is the only area where the smartphone needed to deliver and make this a complete package but the ROG Phone 3’s camera quality is quite disappointing.
Much like its predecessor, the photos are not up to the mark. Especially with the price bump this time, we were expecting a better performance from the cameras. The primary camera is somewhat a saving grace but the ultra-wide and macro are simply there to add lens count. Shots from the macro lens lack sharpness, clarity and just overall quality. The ultrawide is soft and lacks clarity as well.
The phone’s post-processing is quite aggressive as well. The colours are very saturated and it has no control over hues.
Surprisingly the front camera does a better job than all three rear cameras. You get a respectable 24MP camera without any cut-out, hole-punch or drop notch nonsense. Photos are clean and controlled. Even in tricky light situations, it manages to keep the face evenly lit and sharp.
We should’ve started with this but almost got lost in a pool of features. There’s a mind-bending 144Hz screen on this thing. Yes, they’ve successfully gamified this for the spec-sheet audience and unlike its PC monitor contemporaries, it doesn’t feel like much of a compromise in the colour department too. The FullHD+ AMOLED display is HDR10+ certified and has a pixel density of 391. It also has a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio with 113% DCI-P3 and 1000nits of brightness.
So how does all of that translate to everyday usage? Pretty good. In terms of colour, it cannot wrestle with superior Samsungs and Apples, and not even OnePlus’ 8 Pro for that matter. But that 144Hz screen is absolutely addictive, to a point where it feels like an overkill. Beyond 120Hz it wasn’t as useful in gaming. Unlike PCs where you absolutely need that high-refresh-rate to give you the edge in competitive gaming, and also have games dishing out frames to match the screen. Smartphone games haven’t matured enough to make use of a 144Hz refresh rate.
That said, everyday scrolling and getting around the ROG Phone 3’s UI is so smooth and great that we’d be lying if we said that we won’t miss it after the review. Although if you reduce the brightness to its lowest, you might find a bit of noise in dark places at night. For example, Google Chrome on the dark mode will have grainy dots when the brightness is reduced to zero at night. Something that is quite common on high-refresh rate displays.
It won’t affect your Netflix or everyday usage, to be honest. We played Cursed on Netflix and we could tell that the smartphone handles darker scenes fairly well. It’s not pixel perfect but it’s not a blotchy mess either. There’s a clear forehead and chin on this smartphone and it's for a very gamer reason. First is to make room for that mammoth battery. Second, it helps avoid accidental touches while gaming in landscape mode and the third reason is our favourite. It gives ROG room to add two front-firing speakers which truly change the way you consume multimedia on your device. Watching TV shows and movies on Netflix is exciting and wholesome. We played Boss Bitch by Doja Cat and the speakers absolutely floor any other smartphone in terms of audio quality. The bass is punchy and precise. A proper stereo separation delivers equal quality audio from both sides of the phone and they get really loud too. It’s not the most accurate but there’s plenty here to stay happy. However, it’s best you wear headphones for PUBG to detect footsteps accurately.
ROG Phone 3 is giving us the same feeling as the ROG Phone 2. It’s a gamer-centric smartphone with over-the-top features and touted for really heavy-duty performance.
Are we experiencing old wine in a new bottle here? Not exactly, AirTriggers 3 has better customization features than before and the UI is very clean and quite Google-like. The 144Hz screen is rapid and the battery life keeps up with all your unreasonable demands.
You’re not going to buy it for the camera but we wish it did a better job.
The 144Hz display will absolutely spoil you but we think the audio experience is also something that shouldn’t be neglected. It’s the front-facing speakers add a new layer of immersion to gaming, social media and TV show binging.
The only bad thing about Asus ROG Phone 3 is that lack of good games that make use of its hardware.