ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review


Introduction

Let’s get it out there right now, by the time you read this review the ASUS ROG Phone II has officially launched and the pre-order price has already been announced. We’re coinciding this launch with the Philippine formal launch but by this time we’ve already had a month with the ROG Phone 2.  At Php49,995, it is by far a premium smartphone but gauging the price against the current top-end flagships spec-for-spec, this phone is actually quite competitive but it stacks all its features in pure internals and gaming features. That said, all top-end smartphones are always subject to scrutiny: they will be judged according to each and every individual’s taste henceforth impossible to put a realistic view of what value in general a smartphone may have. In the case of the ROG Phone II, it was and still is heavily marketed as a gaming smartphone and ASUS isn’t competing in the best camera or best synthetic benchmark results category, they are explicitly after the gaming experience and as I’ve mentioned in our original ROG Phone review, its a foundation of an ecosystem to enjoy mobile gaming.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

In modern times, all smartphones can do phone calls and send SMS, that’s as basic as basic can get. But this also falls at the mercy at what the phone is designed for. For photography-inclined smartphones this may be a smaller issue, but for gaming smartphones there’s more to consider than saying it is “good for gaming”. We’ll talk more about this as we go on in this review as well as how ASUS’ has progressed their gaming experience offering with the new ROG Phone II.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

Tencent Dilemma: Global vs Tencent Edition

Let’s talk about versions. Right now there are two device variations of the ROG Phone II: the Global model and the Tencent model. The Tencent model is a China-only release. This has been released a few months earlier and has been heavily sold via grey market importers, circumventing the Chinese-firmware with a global ROM. This model is sold at only $599 via these importers and has been well-received thanks to its price and spec-offering. Still, many people are aware of the limitations that the Tencent version has versus the global version but are willing to give those up due to the lowered cost. Still, the Tencent model is designed for China and ASUS’ has made its users aware that using the global ROM on the Tencent model may be faced with instabilities and other issues that may not be immediately apparent. ASUS has warned against this practice and with the very nature of grey imports, has urged their users to choose official releases as ASUS does not officially support re-flashing the Tencent models to Global ROMs.

From a technical standpoint, the ROG Phone II Global release features overall higher specs, albeit Tencent has released their own 12GB RAM / 512GB storage model but with similar signal band support and some other design considerations to make it meet its lower price tag. The ROG Phone II Global is also technically more geared for its higher specs with included AeroActive Cooler and an AeroCase which you’ll see later in this review.  The charger is also a 30W ASUS HyperCharge charger versus the 18W brick of the ROG Phone II Tencent model. The cable used is also a sleeved USB Type C to Type C end cable versus Tencent’s traditional A-C. This makes the ROG Phone II a handy partners for people that use modern devices that favor USB Type C connections. Last up we have the more stylish packaging. Its not really a thing, but ASUS decided to throw it up there.

Accessory Pricing

As mentioned, the ASUS ROG Phone II is currently listed at a launch price of Php49,995. At other territories, it retails at $899. We do always get the short end of the stick when it comes to pricing but ASUS does make it worthwhile with some launch and pre-order bonuses.

As with the original ROG Phone and its accessory bundle, the ROG Phone II will also come with an updated accessory family of its own. We’ll cover those together and individually in their own articles but to summarize, the ROG Phone II will feature a new set of accessories, some of them are making a comeback while there are some new ones that are a new approach to older accessories.

ROG Phone II Gaming Accessory Detailed Guide

The complete bundle of accessories for the ROG Phone II is presented in a luggage bag and is available as a limited release called the ROG Champion’s Super Pack. ASUS Philippines is offering the bundle at a pre-order discount of Php41,995. This is for the accessories alone and with the ROG Phone II, amounts to a total pre-order cost of Php91,990. The normal price would be Php109,960. This is lower than the ROG Phone original mega-bundle which was around Php120,000.

The ROG Champion’s Super Pack accessory bundle will include the following:

  • Lightning Armor hard case – Php2,495
  • ROG Kunai gamepad – Php6,995
  • Twinview Dock II – Php14,995
  • Mobile Desktop Dock Revised – Php10,995
  • ROG Phone Bag – Php2,495
  • ASUS WiGig Display Dock (new 1440p resolution + LAN adapter) – Php13,995
  • AeroActive Cooler II (included with ROG Phone II Global model) – Php2,995
  • Aero Case (included with ROG Phone II Global model) – Php995
  • ROG luggage bag suitcase – Php7,995
  • ROG Exclusive Jacket – Php2,495

ROG Phone II – Design

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

The ROG Phone II, if the name doesn’t scream it already, is a gaming phone. And if you didn’t know, ROG stands for Republic of Gamers which is ASUS’ gaming sub-brand and has been the pinnacle of PC hardware for more than a decade. This means that their design aesthetic follows their principle and the ROG brand has a very distinct look to them. The same goes for the ROG Phone II, albeit, it has cut back on the aggressiveness of the design. Simpy put, the aesthetic follows ROG principle of a gaming brand and people outside this realm are usually the first ones to comment how bad the design is. Truthfully though, the ROG Phone II doesn’t seem as overbuilt like the original ROG Phone. It got rid of the busy back design in favor of a more flashy, holographic rainbow panel lines and the intake vent is now a tad more subdued than before.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

The front of the phone still remains the same with front firing loudspeakers as well as retaining top and bottom bezels with a bronze highlight on where the speakers are. The big difference here and one of the ROG Phone II’s major bragging rights is its extra large 6.59-inch display. Packing a 2,340×1080 resolution with 120hz refresh rate on this AMOLED panel means it packs the highly-coveted high refresh rate which is meant for gaming coupled with deep blacks and a spot-on high contrast ratio to give it a better screen for a greater visual experience.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

It makes sense that ASUS didn’t go with punch-outs or notches, as game interfaces will flow more naturally on the screen and not have any distractions. The extra length also gives it more space for landscape grip.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

Looking over the phone once again, we can see the camera sits flush on the back with nice aesthetic highlights to blend it in with the design.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

ASUS still uses an intake vent for increased cooling performance which also means this phone is not waterproof.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

The volume rocker and power button sits on the right side of the phone. The edge is all metal and tapers from the front then curves out to the back providing a secure feel when held. This is really helpful as the ROG Phone is a really hefty phone.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

The left side has a rubber slot cover which hides the USB Type C ports for use during gaming mode. A regular Type C port can be used like a normal one while the red Type C port is a proprietary interface for ASUS ROG Phone II accessories. ASUS makes it very clear from the start when using this phone to NOT PLUG ANYTHING on the red Type C port.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

Just below the gaming Type C ports we have the SIM card slot. The ROG Phone II accepts dual SIM but does not have expandable memory support. The SIM card tray also features a nice  little detail with a GLHF! print on the tray.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

Worth noting is that the ROG Phone II also retains the Air Triggers from the original. Air Triggers are programmable shoulder buttons that can function just like traditional LR shoulder buttons on console gamepads. This is extra helpful for a more console like experience in games and generally adds a more natural gaming feel to your games once you map the keys with it.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

As mentioned, the back case is now less busy and we’re pretty sure ASUS was chasing after a way to implement RGB on the entire back case but probably hit issues so they settled with the holographic panel lines which are equally ok in my eyes. The ROG logo is still RGB Aura Sync illuminated and will support lighting on select accessories.

ROG Phone II – Camera

ASUS has improved over time with their cameras and the ROG Phone II continues that effort and has at least made gaming phone cameras show improvement as the connotation for gaming phones usually means sacrificing the camera. As the ROG Phone II pushes technical specifications to its limits, this is the top end for ASUS in terms of cameras. The ROG Phone II has a ultra-wide and wide camera on the back which is a great pair for general use. Captured image are detailed and with more light, especially on sunny days outdoors, the images are very much alive and ASUS addresses low light with a night mode. The images still very much overprocessed for my taste but are enough for social media sharing but it has graduated enough that I can actually use images on the phone for my reviews.

The selfie camera is decent and also has improved resolution. In decent lighting, the camera can hold its own amongst most of its competitors. As with most modern phones, the front cam features portrait processing which allows fake bokeh or background blurring.

The stock camera app offers plenty of options including a pro-mode which offers manual controls for typical settings e.g. ISO, exposure, etc.

ROG Phone II – Software

Out of the box, the ROG Phone II global model comes preinstalled with Android 9. On first boot, you will be asked to choose between the ROG UI or the Zen UI. Both of which are very light as ASUS has stripped nearly all bloat from their phones and went with a near-stock experience with all models, including the ROG Phone II. The ROG UI features the familiar stylized design but still favors ASUS’ cleaner UI feel. The Zen UI features the much lighter color pickings of the Zenfone line.

The ROG Phone II will also soon support Android 10 but as of release, does not have any solid date of roll out.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

As a stock experience Android, there’s really nothing much going on in terms of software features. We do get the Armoury Crate which is ASUS ROG’s software suite name but for the ROG Phone II, it acts more like a console launcher akin to the home UI of most game console. This serves as pretty much the only bloatware in this phone and is absolute unnecessary. As a launcher, ROG Phone II’s Armoury Crate should provide options immediately on access, tying those options to a game once launched. This is present in the phone, but is hiding on another tab which probably won’t see the light of day for most gamers who won’t bother with it.

ROG Phone II – Gaming Performance

The ROG Phone II runs a 120hz screen and is very capable of running games at 120FPS if the game supports it like VainGlory. The game must officially support 120FPS+ to make use of the 120Hz screen. Otherwise, the situation is similar to a 60FPS game running on a 120hz screen.

This phone, like many other phones, will only output HDMI signals at 60Hz.

How we benchmark: HDMI signals is passed to a capture card which records RAW, uncompressed signals from the devices and records it a RAW format. This RAW format is processed by trdrop and rendered to video. Note that you cannot use any video to capture performance stats. It has to be raw, lossless video output.

For this test, it is known that all games will top out at 60FPS and anything that levels on that is great. Anything more will not be measured until we develop a new method for benchmarking mobile games.

Capture Card used: Elgato HD60S

Call of Duty Mobile

Mobile Legends

NBA 2K20

PUBG Mobile

ROG Gaming Accessory Impressions

ROG Phone II Gaming Accessory Detailed Guide

For this release, I feel ROG has streamlined their accessory bundle with a smaller array. Sans the luggage and bag, you’re primarily looking that the TwinView Dock II and Kunai Gamepad as the main gaming accessory if you’re a mobile gamer and the Mobile Desktop Dock if you’re into FPS mobile gaming as well as multi-tasking.

ROG Phone II Ultimate Form

With the Kunai Gamepad and the TwinView Dock II, you can form the unnamed final form of the ROG Phone II. Whatever game you’re playing, this allows full use of the Kunai Gamepad while utilizing the TwinView dock. We really didn’t have a use for this but I imagine emulators running on the mains screen while a Youtube video guide on the top would be a decent use. Still, not something to warrant the price. And this is one of the main walls blocking the ROG Phone II which will talk more in-depth in our conclusion.

The Mobile Desktop Dock looks the same although ASUS says it has some improvements. In our use, it allows a nearly PC experience for FPS gaming on the phone albeit, an unfair advantage for those playing on screen.

The new Lighting Case feels useless and just increases the thickness of the phone and disables pretty much the rest of the phone’s compatibility with its accessories. If you don’t have any of the accessories and you like the look and feel, it may be an option but it just bulks up the phone and hides gamer aesthetic of the actual unit.

User Experience & Conclusion

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

As we’ve mentioned in the beginning, people will dismiss this phone if they don’t game. iPhone users may not feel any significant performance advantage aside from the 120hz screen but going from a phone like the Huawei P30 Pro or Samsung Galaxy S10+ to the ROG Phone II, the gaming experience, just feels substantially better. Of course this is coming from a PC reviewer who in practice can tell the difference between framerates visually but removing those technicalities, at the very basic if you’re rocking a flagship phone right now and you feel the gaming performance is lacking, chances are it is and the ROG Phone II will prove that.

While support for 120Hz screens is a bit limited especially in blockbuster titles like PUBG or Mobile Legends, games that do support the 120Hz screen and deliver 120FPS like Vainglory make it apparent what high-performance gaming is like on mobile. This leads us to dev support.

We mentioned in our original ROG Phone review that dev support is an integral part of making the phone really excel and the situation has not changed since with the ROG Phone II. The phone does not have a game partner at launch and from a developer standpoint, there’s really little reward in optimizing for a single system when you need to optimize for a larger, more diverse install base. It is this sole issue that the phone has to live with and with the mobile gaming scene currently engaged in Call of Duty Mobile, Mobile Legends, PUBG Mobile and Rules of Survival amongst others, ASUS has to at least try to get these devs to polish the game for their new, shiny ROG Phone II.

That said, the accessory set is interesting and very striking but the Kunai Gamepad lacks any purpose aside from being an expensive emulator gamepad. The TwinView II and Mobile Desktop Dock still sit on top of the accessory must-haves and the ROG Phone Bag is a nice addition if you plan to lug any of the accessories around.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

Bringing it all back to the ROG Phone II, its certainly the phone to beat in terms of performance. Any brand can boast their benchmarks all they want but if isn’t complimented by an ecosystem to fully articulate performance then benchmarks mean absolutely nothing. The ROG Phone II combines absolute CPU performance with equally fast screen and equally fast storage. The near-stock UI, regardless if Zen or ROG, makes everything feel more responsive and with the 120hz option on, its definitely iPad Pro level in terms of visual goodness.

Usability can be a hit or miss due to its size. Men my size can easily hold it with one hand and handle the heft but for the ladies and smaller folks out there, its definitely a massive fondleslab to bring around or pocket. Its a heavy phone, heavier with a case so take note of that. We do have lady readers who have the phone are perfectly fine with the size and weight of the phone.

ROG Phone II Gaming Accessory Detailed Guide

Moving on battery life, this 6000mAh monster can last you 2 full days on with data, gaming and calls mixed in. Your mileage will vary of course but in my case, that is a huge battery. The fact that you can use the phone to charge another Type-C device is also impressive. Battery management feature on this phone allows it to last longer. Turning the screen to 120hz and keeping the AURA sync lights on will add to drain but nothing that could really hurt your battery on a normal day outdoors.

Camera is decent, nothing really impressive but absolutely usable in most situations. The speakers are incredible and probably the loudest and clearest we’ve heard in a phone. The AirTriggers are great for gaming with just the phone and it really adds more dimension to your control.

ASUS ROG Phone II Gaming Smartphone Review

With phones currently on a plateau in terms of performance, the battle for supremacy relies on what features consumers need most. For gamers, of course, that’s absolute performance and with the ROG Phone II adding experience-enhancing features like a 120hz screen, great audio as well the AirTriggers and X-Mode, gives the phone an edge amongst performance seekers.

At Php49,995 its definitely cheaper than flagships from Samsung, Apple and Huawei and while its main rivals from Xiaomi and Razer are more affordable than the ROG Phone II, the fact that they’re not locally available and supported makes this a nice middle-ground for the ROG Phone II.

That said, the ROG Phone II is easily a top-performing phone and the experience is better in practice. You can say its ugly. You can say its heavy. But at the end of the day, this phone will outlast, outplay and outprice current flagships from top brands and ASUS definitely hit the right checkboxes for this one.

We give the ROG Phone II our B2G Gold Award!

More Stories
Must-Have Learning Apps for Your Smartphone