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The ASUS ROG 5 is as beastly as gaming phones get, even if it’s a bit much

The ASUS ROG 5 is as beastly as gaming phones get, even if it’s a bit much

The new ASUS ROG phone brings nearly 7 inches and 144Hz of beauty in its display.

The new ASUS ROG phone brings nearly 7 inches and 144Hz of beauty in its display.

Image: zlata ivleva / mashable

It’s been a little less than a year since ASUS let us toy around with the ROG 3, a beefy gaming smartphone that left us impressed. Now, a mere eight months (and a skipped model number) later, ASUS is preparing to launch its successor, the ROG 5.

Yes, you read that right: ASUS skipped the number “4” for the next in its Republic of Gamers line of gaming phones. The official reason? Superstition. The word for “four” can sound similar to the word for “death” in certain Asian countries like China. Regardless, the ROG 5 is still impressive as hell, but the improvements, like a bigger screen and a newer processor, are more incremental than revolutionary.

That said, hardcore mobile game enthusiasts may find plenty to love with the ASUS ROG 5.

Big phone, small steps

It's an excellent phone screen by any standard.

It’s an excellent phone screen by any standard.

Image: zlata ivleva / mashable

Remember a couple of sentences ago when I said the changes to the ROG 5 were incremental? I wasn’t joking.

ASUS made a couple of noteworthy hardware changes, both on the outside and inside of the ROG 5. First up is the addition of a 3.5mm headphone jack on the phone’s base — a rarity for smartphones today — that will appeal to gamers in particular thanks to the number of gaming headsets that still interface with devices that way. Beyond that, the 144Hz AMOLED display from last time returns, but it’s been bumped up from 6.59 inches to 6.78 inches. The screen itself appears to be a little longer and the bezels have been slightly reduced in size, giving you a bit more room.

ASUS also switched out the ROG 3’s Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 5G processor for the newer Snapdragon 888, so people who are serious about having the latest and greatest mobile hardware can rest assured this Android 11 handset won’t be behind the times. Combine that with an absolutely ludicrous base configuration of 12GB of RAM (that’s twice as much as the iPhone 12 Pro Max) and you’ve got a phone that really hums through anything resembling a basic daily task, like web browsing.

If 12GB of RAM isn’t enough, a Pro model of the ROG 5 will offer 16GB. Oh, and there’s also a limited edition “Ultimate” version of the ROG 5 that comes with 18GB of RAM. Nonsense. Nonsense! ROG 5 phones also support WiFi 6E and 5G mobile networks, though not the faster mmWave ones

You can pull up Game Genie mid-game to make changes on the fly.

You can pull up Game Genie mid-game to make changes on the fly.

Image: screenshot: Alex perry

Most of the best (and strangest) features from the ROG 3 have been carried forward to its number-skipping successor. The Game Genie app is still here, and it’s still confusing if you’re old enough to remember when there was another thing with the same name. It pulls together all of your installed games; lets you manually regulate things like CPU and GPU usage; and display the current frame rate and refresh rate. You have an impressively granular amount of control over most aspects of the gaming experience on a ROG 5, making it more akin to a PC than a game console.

The gigantic 6,000mAh battery is back, giving it nearly twice the capacity of an iPhone 12 Pro Max. I went nearly two days between charges, downloading games with large update files and testing them at max settings, and still had 24 percent left to go. The included 65-watt charging box is an upgrade from the 30-watt model included with the ROG 3. It can get you from zero to 100 in a little less than an hour, too. That’s as impressive a phone battery as I’ve ever seen.

Peak performance, high heat

“Genshin Impact” is a real looker on the ROG 5.

Image: mihoyo / screenshot: Alex perry 

When I got to fiddle with the ROG 3 last year, I was most impressed by its ability to run some of the more visually impressive mobile games at max settings with frame rates at least close to 60 FPS — generally considered ideal for gaming. Given that the ROG 5 is very similar but with a few internal upgrades, you won’t be surprised to hear that hasn’t changed.

PUBG Mobile and Call of Duty Mobile both look and run great on a ROG 5, just as they did on the ROG 3. I did notice some minor frame drops in PUBG on the highest settings, but that’s been consistent across most versions of that game that I’ve played. It’s a big online multiplayer island with a lot going on. These things happen.

What really blew me away was Genshin Impact, a free-to-play open world action game about finding scenic vistas and occasionally pulling a virtual slot machine in the hopes of adding more anime fighters to your squad. It was one of Mashable’s top games of 2020, and one that I put dozens of hours into on a PlayStation 4. 

Genshin comes shockingly close to hitting that 60 FPS target at the highest settings on a ROG 5. For reference, the PS4 version has trouble hitting its ceiling of 30 FPS sometimes. Granted, there are probably differences in visual quality at play here: The mobile version might have lower resolution textures, a worse draw distance, and so on. But the end result is a mobile game that broadly looks and feels better than its last-gen console counterpart.

The AeroActive cooler is useful, but not exactly elegant.

The AeroActive cooler is useful, but not exactly elegant.

Image: zlata ivleva / mashable

Unfortunately, my least favorite thing about the ROG 3 is back and still feels necessary. There’s a new version of the AeroActive cooler, a portable fan that clips onto the ROG 5 and connects via a proprietary port on the left side of the phone, next to a second USB-C port you can use for nonintrusive charging in landscape mode. This helps keep the ROG 5 cool when gaming at high settings, but it’s still bulky. And frankly, it’s a little ridiculous to plug an external fan into a phone to keep it from melting your fingers off.

Yes, you can use the ROG 5 without the AeroActive cooler, but it will warm up quickly. I have to give ASUS some credit for finding a solution to a problem that might plague gaming phones for eternity, given how much power needs to be packed into such a small body. It’s also relatively quiet, which is a plus. I just try to avoid doing anything that might make people look at me funny on the subway. Pulling out a huge phone with a fan strapped to the back fits that description.

But maybe you don’t care about that. Perhaps anyone who’s willing to pay what’s sure to be a hefty but still unconfirmed U.S. price for such a powerful phone wants to flex as much as they can when it launches later in March. (The Pro and Ultimate models are coming later in the spring.) 

If that floats your boat, the ROG 5 might be the way to go. It’s tough to gauge its value with the information we have right now. But based purely on its performance and customization options, the ROG 5 is something to keep an eye on for those of you who simply can’t get enough of high-end mobile gaming.

Source: The ASUS ROG 5 is as beastly as gaming phones get, even if it’s a bit much

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