Sometimes it’s easy to get tired when it comes to tech. I’m pretty sure I’ve written the words before that launch cycles get pretty predictable. This year, Samsung is bringing their big launch of the Galaxy S21 forward but the leaks have been underwhelming to say the least. Thankfully there are phones coming to the market that freshen things up a little bit and they usually come from unusual places. The example I’m going to look at here is the Asus ROG Phone 3. This is a phone will some simply bonkers specs and ideas, but do they work?
What Is The ROG Phone?
Asus is a Taiwanese hardware manufacturer best known for their laptops. They’re also well known for innovation. I remember a few years ago buying an ambitious Asus Transformer Book. It was a laptop where you could simply unclip the screen to enjoy the benefits of a tablet. It was ahead of it’s time but the word to focus on there is “ambitious”. ROG or Republic of Gamers is a kind of sub-brand of Asus focused on, you guessed it, gaming.
The first ROG Phone launched in 2018 as it tried to surf the wave of mobile gaming and the growing demand for gaming smartphones. Not many companies went in this direction with Razer perhaps producing the best known gaming phone prior to the ROG Phone. It’s still a massively niche market and after a few weeks of living with the ROG Phone 3 I have my doubts about the practicality of these phones for every day users. But for gamers, there’s is none better than what Asus has created here. Let’s dive in.
ROG Phone 3: Design
This is one serious lump of a phone. The phone weighs in at 249g with a 6.59-inch screen that has a big forehead and chin without skimping on the bezels either. It’s often the claim of Apple and Samsung that their design is uncompromising. Well, Asus has absolutely compromised on design here. Why? Well, they want to focus on something most companies don’t; pure power and performance.
Now, that might sound like a damning intro to the phone and for most it would be. I wouldn’t carry this around in my pocket while doing the shopping. I know that because I’ve done it. If you have a pair of sweatpants you like that lost the drawstring, this phone will literally leave you with your pants down. But the whole thing here is that this phone hasn’t been designed for everyone. It’s been designed for gamers. It’s been designed purely for people who want their phone to be a gaming device first and everything else second.
Now we look at the ROG Phone 3 through a different lens. The forehead and chin reduce accidental touches. The weight is somewhat reassuring while you’re shooting zombies. The overall design of the phone is perfect. Flip this phone around to landscape in your hands it suddenly it feels perfect, like an Xbox controller. Everything adds up in the design once you forget everything you know about phone design.
Asus does opt to omit the headphone jack on the ROG Phone 3 but there is a plan B. Personally, I found this to be a bit of a gimmick, but the ROG Phone 3 does come with a fan kit. This clips into the second USB-C port on the side of the phone to cool it during marathon gaming sessions. It also adds a 3.5mm headphone jack. Which is nice.
ROG Phone 3: Camera
The camera is a tough one on the ROG 3. I snapped some shots with this phone and they weren’t bad. However, the smartphone camera market has moved forward at a blazing pace. You should expect either fantastic camera hardware (eg P40 Pro), software (eg Pixel 5) or a marriage of both (eg iPhone 12). I can’t stop imagining the ROG 3 sitting in a room with these three phones talking about their cameras and not quite knowing when to join the conversation.
It’s a funny image but it really helped me in placing the camera. It’s just ok. The photos it takes aren’t so bad that it ruins the phone but they’re also nowhere near good enough to be a reason to buy the phone. It brings me back to my point from earlier though. This is another compromise on the way to being the perfect gaming phone and likely shifting some budget from the camera system into the gaming hardware.
ROG Phone 3: Battery
I’m going to get onto the gaming in the next section but we’ve got to talk about the battery here. I get asked quite a lot what’s the best battery on the market. I usually tell people Huawei P40 Pro or P30 Pro New Edition if you need Google. If you are purely after battery power in a phone, today the answer is the Asus ROG Phone 3. I’ve never seen anything like it. My broadband went at home one day so I used the ROG Phone 3 as a 5G hotspot. Barely made a dent into the battery.
When I said the phone was heavy, it was abnormally heavy, which was what prompted me to check the battery power. Asus have put a 6000 mAh battery into this phone and it’s paid off. In a year where I’ve never been more than a few meters away from a charger or away from my house for less than an hour, this still wow’d me.
Again, it’s not a load of battery in a phone just for the average user. The idea here is that gamers need more power and Asus delivers it.
What Asus doesn’t deliver is wireless charging which also means there’s no reverse wireless charging either. Bit of a pain if you travel and have wireless earbuds for example. You do get 30W fast charging which is great for that one time this thing runs out of power in the year!
Gaming on the ROG Phone 3
Right, so the whole reason this phone exists is for gaming. And, while I’m personally not a big mobile gamer, I can see what Asus was going for here. They nailed it. You might remember back when you first played Tomb Raider and how those graphics blew your mind at first. Or, as was the case for me, Gran Turismo looked like TV when you first played it on the first PlayStation. Coming back it looked very dated indeed.
Well, I expected that kind of aged look back while gaming feel with the ROG Phone 3 but I didn’t get it. Some of the mobile games I tested include Call of Duty, Asphalt 9, Dead Trigger 2, LIMBO and Alto’s Odyssey. They al brought something a little different to the table for the phone to absolutely nail the gaming experience with.
The ROG Phone 3 has a stupidly impressive 144Hz refresh rate screen which makes gaming so buttery smooth. Air Triggers, ultrasonic buttons on the side of the phone, complete the gaming controller feel though they are supported only by a few games unfortunately. Even without an additional controller or support for Air Triggers, gaming on this phone feels great. As great as it possible can feel. But, and it’s a massive “but”, mobile gaming is awful.
The Problem With The ROG 3
The problem with the ROG 3 isn’t a problem Asus can do anything about because it’s the mobile gaming industry itself. Maybe I’m going to show my cranky tech reviewer cards here, but I generally think mobile gaming is awful. It’s a systemic issue in the industry. Games on Android are largely “free”. But by “free” I mean you don’t pay for them up front. Instead you pay for them by watching ads or buying in-game purchases. I really struggled to find games to test out the ROG 3 that weren’t just me avoiding paywalls and generally awful games purely designed to scam you.
Now, the bigger gaming world of consoles and PCs isn’t free from this either. While it wasn’t a scam, the whole Cyberpunk 2077 fiasco shows that paying €70 for a game is no guarantee of quality. However, the entire mobile gaming thing doesn’t appeal to be at all. There’s one saving grace and that’s how quickly mobile gaming is morphing with regular gaming. Google Stadia, Steam Link and other game streaming options open up a new world of opportunity with hardware like the ROG Phone 3 hitting the market.
I know there are hardcore mobile gamers out there. Any you’re reading this and rightly thinking I’m a bit arrogant in saying mobile gaming is a bit crap. You might be right, but much like the ROG 3 isn’t aimed at the wider market, this review isn’t aimed at gamers.
Which brings me to the conclusion.
Asus ROG Phone 3: The Verdict
The Asus ROG 3 is a fantastic phone. This is a rollercoaster of a review right?
But in all seriousness it is. From the specs in general to design the ROG Phone 3 a world beater. One of the best pieces of kit on the market. It’s available from €880 with DID which also makes it unbelievable value. It might be hard to believe that price for a phone being in the same sentence as “value” but the specs are insanely good with that price tag.
The problem for most is that this phone is unwieldy for general use. My fear is that people will buy it because they’re thinking about getting into mobile gaming before realising mobile gaming is a bit crap. If that’s you, really think about what it is in the ROG 3 that you need.
If you’re just a regular shopper looking for a phone, it’s really hard for me to see how this phone makes sense. You could dabble in mobile gaming with nearly any phone on the market and take better photos – which I would expect you’ll be doing more of.
If you’re a gamer and think this phone fits your new game streaming life, then you’re into the maybe pile. Remember, most modern phones will let you stream games.
If you live for mobile gaming, then the ROG 3 is a no brainer. There is no phone like it or near it on the market and I can’t see why you would consider anything else.