Gaming laptops and desktops are generally sought after by even non-gamers because it comes with aggressive specs that meet the demands of gamers which makes them great for music and video content creation, or for users who multi-tasks heavily. Similarly, the ASUS ROG Phone 5 can be easily enjoyed by non-gamers, like myself. ASUS Singapore sent me the latest ROG Phone 5 for my review. It’s the third ROG phone I review, having previously tried out ROG Phone 2 and ROG Phone 3, so I can personally experience how the series have evolved.
There was a time when I love ASUS smartphones. Their Zenfone series between 2014 and 2016 were extremely value for money. They even manufactured a 3x optical zoom periscope camera phone. But they could not compete in the consumer market and retreated from the Singapore market for a while. Eventually, they leveraged on the immense brand power of ROG – Republic of Gamers – and developed their gaming smartphones to great success.
The ROG Phone 5 is the immediate successor to the ROG Phone 3. There is no “ROG Phone 4” as Chinese companies usually skip the number 4 as it is pronounced similarly to the Chinese word “die”. The AeroActive Cooler5 is not included in the retail package which sells for S$1,499. The ROG Phone 5 Pro and ROG Phone 5 Ultimate are yet to be available in Singapore, but the difference is on the RAM and internal storage.
The overall design style remains largely similar to the previous ROG Phones, but ROG Phone 5’s rear is now completely covered without vents, like a normal smartphone. All the upgrades are in line with the latest mobile hardware and technology available in the industry, and that includes: 5G network, Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 SM8350, 144Hz refresh rate, 300Hz touch-sampling rate, Delta-E<1 colour accuracy, DC dimming technology, 65W Hypercharge adapter supporting Power Delivery (PD 3.0). The phone supports WiFi 6E, and can connect dual-band Wi-Fi at the same time to further increase bandwidth.
The phone is large and heavy, tipping the scale at 239 grams. But most flagship phones are over 200 grams: the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G weighs 229 grams, while the Huawei Mate 40 Pro is 212 grams. For gamers, the size is certainly not an issue, considering other gaming consoles are just a bulky.
The side sensors support the same multi-gesture – tap, dual partition, swipe, slide. Now the ROG Phone 5 can even support motion control with the entire phone – you can tilt forward and back, tilt left and right, turn left and right, move left right and forward, and shake the phone to control the game. These gestures sure help to make gaming more interactive, though I find it a hit-and-miss affair, not as responsive as the ultrasonic buttons. In any case, having more control options offer great variety. These various controls need to be mapped to the on-screen position which may be different on each game. Whenever you run a game, you can slide from the left to access the Game Genie toolbar and adjust the AirTrigger controls, and also manage the device performance like blocking incoming calls, adjust refresh rate, clear memory, do on-screen game recording. I find that the AirTriggers feels more responsive than the predecessors.
In addition, the new AeroActive Cooler 5 also comes with 2 additional physical buttons which provides even more controls. And you can also purchase additional attachments like the Kunai gamepad. Note that the side-mounted port is slightly redesigned to prevent incorrect plug-in of the USB-C cable. Besides using the side port for connecting accessories, you can plug the charging cable so that gamers can hold the phone without the charging cable getting in the way. Additionally, the 3.5mm audio port is located such that it does not get in the way.
The phone runs really smooth and fast, I have not experienced any operational lag during my length of review. I recalled the previous ROG Phone models felt slow due to the animation, so on ROG Phone 5, there is option to speed up the animation from the Display menu. This option is available only in the Developer settings. When running the phone at full throttle, it gets hot very fast, but it also means the heat dissipation is good.
The phone also allows quite a handful of customisation and personalisation, like selecting status bar icons to be visible. The Aura RGB lighting at the back of the phone can be set to illuminate according to scenarios. It also allows user to specify the schedule to enable slow charging, e.g. overnight, to prolong battery life. The ROG Phone 5 even retains the front LED indicator that blinks a different colour based on the app. I like that it supports call recording out of the box, which is a feature I find important in this day and age.
Speaking of 3.5mm port, it’s good that the ROG Phone 5 continues to support normal audio cable connectivity, even though they could have followed the rest of the manufacturers, more so since ROG Phone 5 has 2 USB-C ports. There is a resurgence of analog audio experience, and wired audio headphones are essential to deliver the analog sound all the way to your ears. Besides analog, audio purists are also counting on hi-res audio which can only be delivered over wires. Even without headphones, the front-firing dual speakers sound quite good. Thanks to Dirac, the audio specialist that ASUS incorporates, the speakers project audio with good stereo imaging. The bass is understandably feeble, but the overall sound is warm and not shrill. Lastly, for consumers who choose to go for wireless audio, ROG Phone 5 supports aptX Adaptive specs. Although AudioWizard cannot be disabled, choosing the “Music” mode delivers the sound tuning that is not too coloured nor compressed.
The camera specs are not particularly outstanding given the specs are similar to other flagship phone models, but perhaps ASUS does not want the camera system to outshine the gaming aspects. The triple camera system features a Sony IMX686 64MP main camera, 13MP ultra-wide camera, and a macro camera, plus a front 24MP camera. It supports 8K video recording, but ultra-wide camera can only be used for 4K 30fps video and lower resolution. Another limitation is that you can only switch between ultra-wide and main camera when recording video in FHD resolution and below.
Indeed, while the hardware may be similar to other models, it’s the software processing that makes the difference. The ROG Phone 5 images are bright and punchy, which do not require much post-processing before social sharing. I find the need to reduce the exposure slightly to retain highlights in brightly-lit scenes.
The maximum digital-hybrid zoom is 8X, same as Google Pixel 4XL. When pixel-peeping, while the ROG Phone 5 delivers brighter exposure, I find the Pixel 4XL is slightly more contrast, less washed out. At least, the ROG Phone 5 images are not too over-processed which I often find on Samsung Galaxy phones.
For Night mode, the ROG Phone 5 performs impressively. The exposure time to capture a night scene is faster than Pixel 4XL yet the outcome is similar (Pixel 4XL shoots at lower ISO hence less noise but ROG Phone 5 is quite clean too), and the exposure level is sufficiently high without appearing too HDR. The sensor brings out the red rather prominently, resulting in a white balance that is tuned towards the warm tone.
Macro mode is rather limiting: I cannot zoom in for a tighter crop, and the subject needs to be 4-6cm in distance, causing shadow cast since I have to move the camera so close to the object.
The ASUS ROG Phone 5 is a phone designed for mobile gamers with a lot of gesture controls to improve play interaction. Even as a non-gamer, I enjoyed using the ROG Phone 5, because it runs very smoothly, comes with sufficient amount of personalisation, flagship-grade camera features, immersive speaker sound, 3.5mm audio port with audiophile-grade DAC, flashy RGB illumination. If you think the additional gestures will help in your gaming, you should get it. For everything else, it’s probably not an essential upgrade if you already own the ROG Phone 3. After all, the accessories are not compatible at all and it would cost a lot to replace them.
The ASUS ROG Phone 5 retails at S$1,499 and comes in black and white variant, for the first time. Visit the official product page here.
- Excellent performance for gaming and apps
- More AirTrigger gestures available
- Good speaker quality
- Comes with 3.5mm audio jack
- Macro camera is not that usable
- Accessories from previous ROG Phone models are not compatible
- Lacks IP-rating