ASUS Rog Phone II review: Ambitious gaming phone misses the mark

ASUS ROG Phone II

Quick Verdict

ASUS certainly succeeds in producing a gaming powerhouse phone with the ASUS ROG Phone II. However its size and distinctly average camera are large drawbacks if this is going to be your everYday phone.


The good

  • 120Hz display is gorgeous for gaming
  • It certainly commands attention
  • Great battery life
  • Good general app performance

The bad

  • Cameras are ordinary
  • Easier and cheaper to pair a game controller with a regular phone
  • Only easily fits into Hammer pants
  • No storage expansion
  • No wireless charging
  • You look ridiculous answering a call with the gamepad attached

The smartphone market needs ambition and experimentation. Without that, we’d all still be tapping away at T9 keyboards on our candy bar feature phones, or even worse, working out how to play Candy Crush on a rotary dial.

The ASUS ROG Phone II is certainly ambitious. As befits that ROG (Republic Of Gamers) sub-branding, this is a smartphone pitched squarely at the gaming market, with a serious focus on improving your Android gaming experience in a very large frame.

Ambition is fine, but as we’ve seen with so many other ambitious phones, you’ve also got to deliver a workable everyday phone experience. That’s where the ASUS ROG Phone II falters.

ASUS ROG Phone II

Design

  • 6.59-inch AMOLED display is gorgeous
  • It’s also MASSIVE
  • Range of accessories makes it even bigger
  • Supplied case is more of a phone bikini
  • Lacks IP-rated water resistance

If there’s a single word to use to describe the ASUS ROG Phone II’s design, that word has to be intimidating. This is a huge phone, measuring in at 170.99 x 77.6 x 9.48mm and a hefty 240g all by itself. Outside the Samsung Galaxy Fold and its foldable display, it’s easily the largest flagship phone I’ve reviewed this year.

That does have its benefits. The 6.59 inch 120Hz capable display has a pin-sharp resolution of 2,340 x 1,080 at 391ppi, which means it’s genuinely gorgeous to look at, especially in widescreen. While ASUS’ push for the ASUS ROG Phone II is around gaming, it’s also a very good platform for Netflix or Disney+ binge watching sessions. If you don’t like notches you’ll appreciate their absence here, although the trade-off is prominent top and bottom bezels, making for an even larger handset.

It is possible to put the standalone ASUS ROG Phone II into your pocket, but only just, and sitting down may involve doing yourself some damage in a sensitive area.

ASUS does provide a “case” for the ASUS ROG Phone II, although it’s not really like any other case I’ve ever seen supplied with a flagship smartphone. It’s a weird thin angular plastic shell that’s essentially there to show off the rear RGB lighting and angular camera module, rather than protect the phone itself. ASUS set out to produce a premium gaming phone, but along the way it seems to have also invented the phone bikini.

You won’t find a fingerprint sensor on the rear of the ASUS ROG Phone II, because like many premium 2019 phones, it uses an in-display fingerprint reader for identification. It also borrows the “squeezable sides” concept from HTC/Google, although in the case of the ASUS ROG Phone II it’s to enable the overclocked mode of the phone – more on that later. Controls are on the right-hand side, covering power and volume, while the left-hand side houses the dual 4G LTE Nano SIM card tray, and a small, easily missed rubber cover for the phone’s expansion port.

The ASUS ROG Phone II features a USB-C charging port at the bottom, as well as a regular 3.5mm headphone jack, but the side mounted port is for the range of accessories that ASUS sells specifically for the ASUS ROG Phone II. In the box, you get an accessory that points to this phone’s heritage in PC gaming harder than anything else.

ASUS ROG Phone II cooling fan

It’s a cooling fan with (of course) its own LED lighting rig. In Australia – but not all markets – ASUS is also bundling in its ASUS ROG Kunai gamepad with the ASUS ROG Phone II. This is a two-part accessory gamepad that can either be assembled like the “dogface” Nintendo Switch controller, or slid apart and used with an included, slightly less bikini-like case to slot in the sides… at which point it also looks like a Nintendo Switch.

This has lots of application for Android gaming of course, and it’s not an entirely unique idea – Motorola did something similar with its Gamepad Moto Mod. It’s even feasible – if a little weird – to use the gamepad for regular Android app control.

What’s considerably less desirable is trying to answer a phone call when it’s in gamepad docked mode, because you can’t help but look idiotic, no matter what you do. It’s highly reminiscent of the whole Nokia N-Gage “side talking” phenomenon. Then again, that was another ambitious phone that tried to specifically capture the gaming market, so there’s something of a pattern here.

The ASUS ROG Phone II is priced well into the premium price bracket, so it’s disappointing to note that it lacks any kind of IP-rated water resistance. You get Gorilla Glass 6 for durability, but getting it anything more that lightly wet would be a bad idea indeed.

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ASUS ROG Phone II

Camera

  • Dual rear cameras feel underwhelming for a flagship phone
  • Acceptable, but never exciting

Most of 2019’s flagship phones sell on their camera prowess, with 3 or more lenses, superb low light modes and advanced video processing to boot.

Nobody told ASUS this, it seems, because camera technology is a notable weak point for the ASUS ROG Phone II. It features a rear dual lens array, with a primary 48MP f/1.79 sensor using pixel binning alongside a 13MP 125 degree wide angle lens. At the front there’s a single 24MP f/2.0 selfie camera.

That’s not a bad recipe for some photographic exploration, but it absolutely pales against what you can get in this kind of price range. It’s even outpaced by a number of phones from the likes of Oppo, Huawei or realme that cost less than a third of the ASUS ROG Phone II’s asking price.

You do get access to a range of photo and video modes, including portrait modes, slow motion, timelapse and full pro control, so it’s possible to get decent photos from the ASUS ROG Phone II, but never spectacular ones. As an example, it has a night mode that uses the usual multiple blended exposures method seen in other flagship phones, but results are murky and noisy by comparison, and often with a slightly off colour hue as well.

It’s entirely possible that the gamer crowd that ASUS pitches the ASUS ROG Phone II towards may not care as much about extra lenses and photographic options, and for everyday usage it can produce acceptable photos in decent light. However, it feels very unusual to have a phone this powerful and with this price point deliver such an ordinary-at-best camera experience.

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ASUS ROG Phone II

Performance

  • Snapdragon 855 Plus delivers great gaming results
  • Gaming experience is good, but you’ve got to work to make it happen

The ASUS ROG Phone II runs on a Snapdragon 855 Plus with 12GB of RAM, and ASUS’ own internal engineering does something rarely seen on a smartphone, although it’s commonplace in the PC gaming world.

With a squeeze of the sides – and a neat little onscreen animation if you’re using ASUS’ own Android theme – the processor is put into “X Mode”, pushed to maximum frequency and optimised. It’s not quite “overclocking” in the classic sense, but it’s intended to grab every last processing cycle and deliver it to you for a premium gaming experience.

This can be seen in the difference between how the ASUS ROG Phone II benchmarks on a pure CPU level, and then how it performs with a gaming-specific benchmark.

First up, here’s how the ASUS ROG Phone II compares using Geekbench 5’s CPU test:

In regular mode the ASUS ROG Phone II lags behind its competition, but squeeze those sides and it most definitely perks up its performance. The ASUS ROG Phone II isn’t a slouch when it comes to everyday Android tasks. Just like every other flagship phone released in 2019, you won’t be left waiting to launch just about any app you could name. Also just like every other Android flagship, it’s outpaced very handily by Apple’s own in-house A-series processors.

However, when we throw a gaming benchmark at the ASUS ROG Phone II it shows its real strength, and not in a subtle way.

The ASUS ROG Phone II officially sold in Australia comes with 512GB of onboard storage, although ASUS does produce variants ranging down to 128GB and all the way up to 1TB of storage, so it pays to check what model you’re getting if you buy one online. That’s especially true because it’s one of the rare breed of dual SIM phones that don’t support storage expansion via sacrificing a SIM card slot.

Gaming is where the ASUS ROG Phone II really does shine, and that’s true whether you use the Kunai Gamepad or not. The top and bottom right-hand sides of the ASUS ROG Phone II feature small etched sections, but they’re not just there for visual flair. They’re touch sensitive buttons that ASUS calls “Air Triggers”, and you can configure them to tap on a specific area of the display. The idea here is that in landscape mode, you use them like you’d use the triggers on a gamepad, once you’ve configured their use with ASUS’ inbuilt games launcher.

It’s the same story with the Kunai gamepad, whether you’re using the controller paired over Bluetooth or in the case with the individual legally-distinctly-not-joycons-but-they-are slotted into the sides. What this means is that you can get a console-like experience from the ASUS ROG Phone II, but only after you’ve configured each game of choice to match its on-screen tap or slide areas.

It can be something of a painstaking process, and the entire time I was testing out the ASUS ROG Phone II, I was reminded that just about any Android phone can pair with a PlayStation or Xbox controller with relatively little fuss, and a lot of Android games are built with those controllers in mind, so there’s no configuration at all to be done. ASUS is to be commended for the customisability of its approach – but sometimes you just want to play a game, you know?

It’s pain for gain, especially if you throw a game with inbuilt 120Hz compatibility. ASUS has a maintained list of compatible games on its website, with, at the time of writing around 170 Android games with 120Hz support.

Switching from games as diverse as Mortal Kombat to Minecraft on the ASUS ROG Phone II and then on the Samsung Galaxy Note10+, that difference in refresh rate was absolutely noticeable. It doesn’t mean that your regular phone is playing those games like rubbish – they’re just not at their peak best.

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ASUS ROG Phone II

Battery life

  • 6,000mAh battery performs slightly under expectations
  • Lacks wireless charging

A big old phone body gives you plenty of space to cram in batteries, and I can’t accuse ASUS of skimping in the power department. The ASUS ROG Phone II packs in a stunning 6,000mAh battery into its sizeable case. It’s the largest battery capacity we’ve seen in any smartphone handset to date.

That has to be measured against that larger screen and heftier processor, however. Adding accessories such a cooling fan or gamepad are only going to sap that battery even faster.

With that in mind, I set the ASUS ROG Phone II to our standard battery benchmark, running fullscreen YouTube video at maximum brightness and moderate volume for a full hour. This was done in X mode to tax the processor to the maximum, with generally good results.

As a percentage of course it means that the ASUS ROG Phone actually burnt through more power for that hour’s watching time than comparable phones, but it also speaks to its overall endurance. A single day’s use is easily achieved, and multi-day use would be feasible if you were only using it lightly.

When it comes time to add juice to the ASUS ROG Phone II, you’re limited to USB-C cable charging, however. Unlike most other 2019 flagship phones, wireless charging is notably absent from the ROG Phone II, which is disappointing.

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Should you buy the ASUS ROG Phone II?

  • Lots of power for Android gaming fans
  • Limited camera and large size are an issue for everyday use

If I was assessing the ASUS ROG Phone II purely as a gaming device, it would sit at the top of the Android gaming tree. There’s really nothing that compares in terms of game support, screen quality and battery life in the Android space, and the fact that the Kunai Gamepad is a standard inclusion in Australia adds real value.

However, that bundling raises the price to the level of the most premium flagship phones, and the reality here is that using the ASUS ROG Phone II day to day for more than gaming does show its weak aspects. It’s huge in the pocket, and even a tad too large for really comfortable single-hand use.

The accessories are interesting, but they’re a chore to set up, and unless you tell the ASUS ROG Phone II to hold all calls, you’re going to end up looking like an idiot if your phone rings while you’re busy gaming. There’s no wireless charging, and the camera quality lags quite far behind what you could get for this kind of money.

The ASUS ROG Phone II is chock full of ambition, and that’s laudable. However, it’s a phone for such a super-specific niche of gamer, and one that ignores the easier and cheaper route of pairing up a game controller to a regular phone, that it’s a tough phone to recommend.

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Pricing and availability

The ASUS ROG Phone II is available in Australia outright with 512GB of onboard storage and the ROG Kunai Gamepad bundled for $1,699 through JB Hi-Fi.

We’ve seen it considerably cheaper elsewhere, but often that’s with less onboard storage, and of course, the gamepad isn’t a bundled inclusion.

Alternatives

In the Android gaming space there are a few competitors to keep in mind, although nothing that’s super-current in phone terms.

While it’s essentially abandoned its phone business, you may be able to score a Razer Phone 2 relatively cheaply. You could pay even less for a Motorola Moto Z2 Play and the Moto Mod Gamepad if that kind of Nintendo Switch style gameplay appeals to you.

Still, for the ASUS ROG Phone II’s price, you could also take pretty much your pick of the best phones of 2019, most of which are better everyday handsets.

ASUS Rog Phone II Specifications




Display size 6.59 inches
Resolution 1080 x 2340
Pixels per inch (PPI) 391.1














Rear camera megapixels 48MP + 13MP
Rear camera aperture size f/1.79
Video recording 4K
Front camera megapixels 24MP
Front camera aperture size f/2.0



Dimensions 170.99mm x 77.6mm x 9.48mm
Weight 240g




NFC Yes
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Network category speed N/A









Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus
RAM 12GB
Operating system Android 9
Internal storage

128GB


512GB


1TB


External storage support Up to N/A
Battery capacity 6,000mAh





Headphone jack Yes
Fingerprint sensor Yes
Water resistance N/A
Wireless charging No

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