Mobile gaming is growing even bigger than Piers Morgan’s ego, so it’s no surprise we’ve seen quite a few smartphones launched with PUBG aficionados in mind.
This week Asus unveiled a sequel to last year’s ROG Phone, imaginatively called the ROG Phone 2, and after a day of hands-on action it’s already looking like the best gaming smartphone around.
This weighty slab is the first to come packing Qualcomm’s ultra-powered Snapdragon 855+ platform, as well as a behemoth 6000mAh battery and a shedload of worthy gaming accessories. Somehow Asus has improved on almost every aspect of the original (and still brilliant) handset, making this an ideal device for anyone who enjoys ‘capping fools’ online (or whatever it is the kids say these days).
DESIGN AND DISPLAY: ABSOLUTE BEAST
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the clever tech packed inside, the ROG Phone 2 is a bit of a unit.
Just one quick glance at that stylised glass frame and it’s obvious you’re looking at a gaming handset, complete with an obligatory light-up logo around back. It’s a chunky, hefty 240g beast, but at least it’s pocket-sized unlike the Nintendo Switch.
The ROG Phone 2’s 6.59in AMOLED screen is perfectly flat, which is better suited to mobile gaming compared with curved panels. Those surrounding bezels also help make for a comfortable grip, which is essential if you’re playing action titles like PUBG Mobile for a full afternoon, like we did. Yeah, it’s a tough gig.
This ROG sequel upgrades the display refresh rate to 120Hz, matching the Razer Phone 2 and beating rivals such as the Black Shark 2. Like the Black Shark, this device also boasts a 240Hz touch sampling rate - basically you can expect a puny 49ms delay between tapping or swiping the screen and seeing the phone react. We certainly didn’t notice any lag when playing fastpaced games like Asphalt.
The ROG Phone 2’s gorgeous display also delivers 10-bit HDR support, and we were suitably impressed by the punchy colours and sharp contrast when viewing HDR video. Good news on the durability front as well, because the display is coated in Corning Gorilla Glass 6 to help prevent scratches.
FEATURES: ACCESSORIES AHOY
Of course, quality audio is also a key component of many games, and Asus has definitely delivered on that front too. This handset packs powerful front-facing stereo speakers with DTS:X Ultra support. On top volume, this thing packs a heck of a punch - try blasting your music on the bus and you’ll probably give half a dozen grannies a heart attack. That stereo effect really shines with supported content too - the left and right channels are impressively distinctive, even through those built in speakers.
Want to plug in some headphones instead? No worries, there’s a proper 3.5mm port here, which can even be relocated to the edge of the device along with the charging port for easier access when gaming. This feat is accomplished with the nifty optional AeroActive Cooler 2 accessory, which also helps to whisk away hot air pumped out of the ROG Phone 2’s rear vent.
That’s not the only accessory on offer for Asus’ gaming handset. Not by a long shot. Our favourite is the ROG Kunai Gamepad, which allows you to ditch those fluffy touch controls and use proper physical buttons and thumbsticks. This consists of two separate controller sticks which look quite similar to the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons, which can be used as they are or physically connected to a plastic gamepad shell.
Alternatively, you can stick those controller sticks directly onto the ROG Phone 2 itself using the ROG Kunai Bumper, which gives the ROG Phone 2 even more of a Nintendo Switch feel. There’s also a TwinView Dock 2 accessory which adds a second 120Hz display with its own 5000mAh battery (can anyone say ‘overkill’), as well as docks to stream your gaming session to a TV or monitor.
The new ROG Phone packs plenty of great built-in gaming features. One of the best is the updated Air Triggers, a pair of touch-sensitive spots located on the edge of the phone which work like trigger buttons. A clever spot of haptic feedback makes you feel like you’re pushing an actual button when you tap these hotspots, with significantly less lag than before.
The ROG Phone 2 also introduces dual vibration feedback - in other words, two separate internal motors offering directional rumbles, with a slightly startling amount of power. Asus’ Armory Crate app serves as an all-purpose gaming hub and control centre, for tinkering around with the Air Triggers and vibration settings, as well as customising the performance, LED logo and other elements. Most of these options can also be accessed in-game as well, by tugging out the Game Genie menu from the edge of the screen. The Game Genie even lets you record your gaming skills to share with the world, if that’s your bag.
No worries if you want to carry around a huge collection of games, either. The ROG Phone 2 packs in a whopping 512GB of storage space. There’s no microSD memory card support as Asus couldn’t physically get a slot in there, but seriously - 512GB, people. That’s gonna take some filling.
PERFORMANCE: COCKED, LOCKED AND READY TO ROCK
Another area where the ROG Phone 2 excels is the performance. This is the first smartphone to use Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 855 Plus chipset, with the fresh Adreno 640 GPU clocked at 675Mhz.
In simple terms, this offers up a 4% CPU performance boost and 15% graphical performance boost over the standard Snapdragon 855 found in many flagship smartphones. Which, to be fair, is already nippier than a barrel full of angry crabs.
We blazed through a handful of pre-installed games with no stutters or stammers, as you’d expect. On those top detail settings you can still expect silky smooth performance, as well as gorgeous visuals. And while the back of the ROG Phone 2 did get a little toasty after a couple of hours, Asus’ dedicated thermal cooling seems to work. We didn’t see any signs of throttling, even as our fingers grew numb.
Even better news if you’re into all-afternoon gaming is the frankly massive 6000mAh battery. That enormous capacity means your battery percentage only trickles down, even if you refuse to switch off the PubG. And with 30W fast charging, you can keep the ROG Phone 2 plugged in and powered up indefinitely.
CAMERAS: NIGHT FEVER
Although the optics are often mediocre at best on gaming mobiles, the ROG Phone 2 rocks the same powerful rear camera as the excellent Zenfone 6.
What that means is a 48MP primary lens, backed by a 13MP ultra-wide angle shooter offering a 125-degree view of the world.
Sony’s IMX586 sensor is back on board too, so you can expect some great looking snaps even in tricky lighting. Asus has served up the full range of camera features including a dedicated night mode and the ability to shoot up to 4K resolution video at 60FPS.
Unlike the Zenfone however, this camera can’t flip around a full 180 degrees, so the ROG Phone 2 sports its own separate 24MP selfie camera. This is positioned near the corner of the display, so you can record your beautiful visage twisted with pleasure as you murder strangers online.
ASUS ROG PHONE 2 INITIAL VERDICT
If you’re after a super-powered gaming machine with dedicated features and accessories for getting the most out of your favourite Android titles, the ROG Phone 2 already looks like your next handset.
It’s a chunky monkey with typically over-stylised design for sure, and it won’t come cheap when it launches in the UK. But after a few short hours, we’re already head over heels.
Full review coming soon...