Even a couple of years ago, I’d shudder at the idea of the term “gamer” being associated with any mainstream consumer product. Companies of yore never really got to grips with the fact that the average gamer is over 30 and not a hormonal, snotty-nosed teenage male whose voice is yet to crack.
At the time, “gamer” aesthetics implied epilepsy-inducing RGB lighting, radioactive colour schemes, and cringy artwork that, today, would be problematic, at best.
Thankfully, gaming is now a legitimate pastime, but more importantly, one that now involves a tonne of money. Companies are taking gamers seriously, watching esports and/or streamers is no longer considered nerdy, and aspiring to a career in gaming doesn’t automatically entail a walloping with a handy chappal or kitchen utensil.
Enter the ASUS ROG Phone 3. ROG aka Republic of Gamers is to ASUS what AMG is to Mercedes-Benz. It’s the gaming and performance-focussed arm of a mainstream consumer electronics company and has a rich history of supporting gamers and esports.
When it comes to gaming, ROG has pedigree. And one look at the ROG Phone 3 is proof enough of this, because the ROG Phone 3 is easily one of the best phones I’ve ever had the pleasure of testing.
Designed for gamers
While phone-makers of today are opting for designs that range from simplistic to minimalistic, ASUS has gone for something that I can best describe as a refined edginess. While an iPhone is minimalist almost to the point of seeming staid and boring, the ROG Phone 3 has oomph, a sense of flair and style that’s very refreshing.
The design stands out, but it’s also not ostentatious. You get the obligatory RGB lighting, but it’s subtle and only serves to enhance the look of the phone rather than detract from it. The heft and build quality also mean the phone feels like a quality product. A 35-year old gamer, aka the average gamer, will not feel self-conscious when whipping this thing out for a quick game on a commute or at work.
Then there’s the specs, which include (takes deep breath)… a Snapdragon 865+, 8/128 GB and 12/256 GB variants (in India), a 64 MP IMX 686-based primary camera with pixel-binning and an f/1.8 lens, a 13 MP f/2.0 ultra-wide, a 5 MP macro, a 24 MP f/2.0 front camera, support for 8K 30 fps and 4k 60 fps HDR video recording, 480 fps slo-mo, Dirac-tuned speakers, a quad-mic array with noise reduction tech, dual USB-C ports, a multi-layer cooling system, dual SIM dual standby, mmWave 5G support, a 30 W fast charger, a 6,000 mAh battery, NFC, and the pièce de résistance: a 10-bit HDR display with a 144 Hz refresh rate, 270 Hz touch response, 650-nit brightness and 1,000 nits of peak brightness, FHD+ resolution, and Corning Gorilla Glass 6 protection.
(wheezing) Hang on. I need a minute to catch my breath.
Almost everything about the phone has been designed and tuned with gamers in mind.
The 6.59-inch display means that the phone is very large, but it’s also narrow (19.5:9 aspect ratio) making it comfortable to hold in portrait or landscape mode. The width also means that the air triggers on either end of the right edge are within easy reach when gaming.
Those fancy speakers are front-firing and very loud, beautifully tuned, and feature excellent stereo separation. They are, in fact, and without question, the best smartphone speakers I’ve ever heard. Hell, they’ll even put the speakers on some gaming laptops to shame.
The secondary, side-mounted USB-C port ensures that headphones and chargers don’t interfere with your grip.
The 144-Hz 10-bit display (though to be honest, it’s hard to tell 144 Hz from 120 Hz) is truly fantastic and has spoilt me for other smartphone displays, even Apple’s pricey, finely tuned OLEDs.
That fancy cooling system ensures that the chipset doesn’t overheat and cause stuttering during gameplay. The phone itself can get very warm, however.
That massive battery and fast charging means that your gaming sessions will never be interrupted by low-battery warnings, even when playing all day at 144 Hz.
As with the ROG Phone 2, there’s even a custom port at the side, alongside that second USB-C port, that supports a multitude of accessories and docks — whose availability in India is yet to be determined — including those supported by the ROG Phone 2.
The third-generation Air Triggers — ultrasonic sensors along the right edge that function as additional buttons — are, as expected, game-changers. And they’ve gotten an upgrade. Rather than two buttons, one on either side, these buttons can now be split into two, giving you four off-screen buttons to map as you see fit.
I was a bit skeptical of the design at first, expecting false inputs and a loss of accuracy, but there was no cause for concern. Never once did I accidentally tap the wrong trigger. The included software overlay also makes it very easy to map the triggers to on-screen input in any game.
There’s simply too much to like here.
Performance: The best you can get… on Android
Given the specs and the fancy cooling system that ASUS has tossed in, there’s no way you’re getting a better gaming experience on any other Android phone you can buy right now.
Everything from PUBG to Dead Trigger 2 to Grid Autosport ran smoothly and without a hint of stutter, and this despite playing continuously for hours on end (and even on an external display). The phone does tend to get very warm within 10 minutes of heavy gaming, and uncomfortably warm in about 30 minutes, but it handles the heat better than most high-end phones I’ve used.
If you’re worried about battery life, don’t be. One would imagine that a 144 Hz refresh rate would significantly impact battery life, but it doesn’t. Or rather, playing games at max settings and 144 Hz does drain the battery more rapidly than playing at 90 Hz, but with a battery this large and 30 W fast charging, you needn’t worry about play time.
I did nothing but play games on the phone for two days straight and only had to charge the phone twice in all that time. This was with an average screen-on time of a little over six hrs while playing Dead Trigger 2 at 144 Hz and PUBG at its maximum settings.
For regular use, even at 144 Hz, I measured about 10 hrs 20 minutes of screen-on time (via PCMark). Dropping the refresh rate to 90 Hz gave me an additional 30 minutes or so of screen-on time, and while I didn’t bother testing at 60 Hz — Why on Earth would I want to subject myself to that plebeian refresh rate? — I expect you’ll eke out another hour or so of screen-on time from that mode.
But, as you can see, 10.5 hrs are more than enough time for a full day’s use. And that fast charger will have the phone up and running in 90 minutes anyway. Set the phone to 60 Hz, drop the brightness, enable power saving features, and you’re looking at, easily, two-days of use from this battery.
The best part is that if you’re concerned about the longevity of your battery, and you should be, there’s no need to charge at 30 W all the time. ASUS includes Battery Care options that enable slow charging (10 W), scheduling, and even charging limits.
There are issues
As good as this phone is, there are a couple of issues with the design and hardware. One is minor, and the other is only a concern if you really care about it.
The first is the side-mounted slot for USB-C and ASUS’ proprietary connectivity port. This slot is inset into the metal frame on the left edge of the phone. The issue here is that it has a little dust cover that, I assume, also prevents water ingress. That dust cover is tiny and not mounted to anything, not even to the bundled protective case that comes with the phone. It’s tiny and easy to lose, and I myself almost lost it within the first hour of unboxing the phone.
The second issue is more serious and has to do with the camera.
On paper, these cameras are quite epic. A 64 MP pixel-binned primary camera with support for 8K30, 4K60 HDR and 720p 480 fps video modes sounds special, but it isn’t.
Image quality is passable in anything but great lighting, and even in bright light, images are washed out. The 8K30 recording feature is more gimmick than feature and doesn’t appear sharper than 4K60 HDR, and recorded video suffers from the same issues as the photos.
The ultra-wide camera is a bit soft and the 5 MP macro is just there for stat-padding purposes. The selfie camera is decent but not exceptional.
These aren’t bad cameras per se, but they’re not great ones either. They get the job done, but if you really care about image quality, get something from OnePlus, Google, or Apple.
Verdict: If you’re a gamer, you’ll want the ROG Phone 3
I’d recommend the ROG Phone 3 outright if it wasn’t for the existence of the OnePlus 8 Pro (Review). Practically speaking, the phones are evenly matched on the performance front. And in terms of software support and cameras, I think the OnePlus has quite an edge.
The practical difference in performance between the ROG’s Snapdragon 865+ and the OnePlus 8 Pro’s 865 is academic at best. The 120 Hz vs 144 Hz argument is also similar.
In terms of features, the ROG Phone 3 gives you split air triggers, fantastic speakers, an accessory ecosystem, a massive battery, and gamer-friendly ergonomics.
The OnePlus 8 Pro offers better cameras, a higher resolution screen, a smaller battery, a better UI, exceptional software support (for an Android device) and IP68 water and dust resistance.
Aesthetically, I prefer the ROG Phone 3, but both phones look great and the choice for you will come down to personal preference.
If you want a great phone, I think the OnePlus 8 Pro (Review) is the better all-rounder. If you want a great gaming phone, you just can’t go wrong with the ROG Phone 3.
Bonus note: If you really care about gaming, consider an iPad Mini. It’s much cheaper, is more powerful, the larger screen is more practical than a high-refresh rate one, battery life is not an issue, the speakers beat anything on Android, and apps and games are just generally better designed and better optimised on iOS. GRID Autosport, for example, runs at a native 1080p on Apple devices vs the upscaled, unsharpened 720p you see on Android.
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