Any time you see Asus ROG put before a product name, you better believe you’re getting hardware specifically designed and tuned for the best gaming experience. That is what the Asus ROG Phone 3 delivers. There is simply nothing quite like this beastly metal and glass slab when it comes to smartphones.
I reviewed last years ROG Phone 2 and fell in love with the incredible 120Hz display, fast processor, indefatigable battery and the best speakers I’ve ever heard on a phone. And don’t get me started on the incredible ROG Kunai gamepad and tons of other gaming peripherals made for it. It really made mobile gaming a worthwhile pursuit for me and I could see how any hardcore mobile gamer would be in heaven with this phone.
It wasn’t perfect though. For one, it is a ridiculously big phone that makes it too unwieldy for regular smartphone use and the cameras were pretty much trash. The ROG Phone 3 follows closely in its predecessors footsteps, simply refining and improving the formula. The design, screen, processor and cameras are all improved. But is this $1700 ROG Phone 3 enough to overcome the very serious competition from the likes of Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max and Samsung Galaxy Note 10+?
Asus ROG Phone 3 Review
The ROG Phone 3 stays close to its roots in terms of design but refines some things. Yes, it still looks like a gaming phone and it’s still huge. The phone measures 17cm tall and 7.8cm wide which dwarfs the giant 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max. And at 240g, it quickly gets tiring to hold in one handed use plus it won’t fit in your skinny(or baggy) pants either.
In saying that, the curved chassis makes for easier grip and support for the massive size. Gone are the over the top copper lines and etchings from the ROG Phone 2 — now replaced with a more elegant and streamlined look. The backlit ROG logo returns as well as a much sleeker camera array that is flush with the phones body. This means the phone won’t wobble when placed on a surface.
At front is the massive 6.57-inch AMOLED display flanked by two front facing speakers(which are responsible for the phones extra height). The display is still one of the best on any smartphone and features HDR10+ support that really elevates the gaming and media consumption experience. The screen reaches a peak brightness of 1000 nits which is crazy; something only high-end PC monitors and TV’s can achieve.
Even more impressive is the color accuracy of the screen. It boasts 113.3% DCI-P3, 108.8% NTSC and 153.7% sRGB color gamut coverage. I mean seriously, there’s no OLED desktop monitor that can match these specs and if it did exist, would cost up wards of $5000. So, the screen alone makes the ROG Phone 3 a must have. Viewing even non professional content like Instagram feeds will come to life with a vibrancy that’s hard to go back to another phone.
However, this screen is first and foremost made for gaming. The panel is a headspinning 144Hz refresh, a first for any mainstream smartphone. Asus combines this with a 270Hz touch-sampling rate which all translates into a extra buttery smooth and responsive interactions. You’ll quickly feel this in games, especially those that are optimized for high refresh screens. Here’s a handy list for your convenience.
As for the speakers, well, lets just say there’s really nothing like them on a smartphone. They produce very loud, rich audio with a surprising amount of bass. Asus says it increased the speaker size for greater volume and separation. Working with specialist firm Dirac, Asus optimized the speakers for better game audio and yeah, it worked.
Sound is crystal clear with incredible left/ right separation that makes it easy to pinpoint the source. And listening to music or watching Netflix on the ROG Phone is so good, you’ll only ever need headphones for your own privacy. One odd thing is when you are playing games in portrait orientation, the left/right channels become more of top/down which sounds a little weird but that’s a testament to how good the audio separation is.
Gaming PC in your pocket
Powering the ROG Phone 3 is the Snapdragon 865 Plus 5G — the most powerful processor available on Android phones. It’s a 64-bit processor with 3.1Ghz clock that enables a wealth of features like 10-bit HDR gaming, HDR video recording up to 8K 30fps, WiFI 6, Bluetooth 5.2 and of course 5G. The embedded Adreno 650 GPU is more than powerful enough to drive games at 144Hz with ease.
Adding on the whopping 16GB of RAM and a huge 512GB UFS 3.0 fast storage means you basically have a gaming PC in your hands. The ROG Phone 3 multitasks with ease. You can have an absurd number of apps and games open in the background without ever needing to refresh. Everything runs along smoothly while swapping apps and navigating the OS.
I was able to test a huge number of games from Asphalt 9 to Shadow Legends to Genshin Impact looking for something to make the ROG Phone 3 stretch. This is not a phone for Candy Crush, no sir. You need big, beefy games and while not all games can run at 144Hz, the list is ever growing.
Fast paced games like CoD Mobile and Asphalt 9 truly benefit from the higher refresh and run beautifully with everything so much smoother and responsive. If you’ve ever played any kind of first-person shooter on mobile, you’ll appreciate the faster response immediately. In games like Genshin Impact and Rayman Legends, framerates aren’t the priority but smooth and gorgeous visuals and audio take center stage. Playing these is a breathtaking affair thanks to the AMOLED display and boomy speakers.
Controlling your games on the ROG Phone 3 is even better than on the ROG Phone 2 in part thanks to the improved AirTriggers on the side of the phone. These ultrasonic buttons are indistinguishable from the rest of the side rail of the phone but operate like your shoulder buttons on a controller. Asus has done some incredible magic with these new AirTriggers so they can accept inputs beyond simple taps. You can now press and hold, slide or even swipe them to trigger different functions.
These can all be customised in the Game Genie control center that also gives you control over a vast host of performance and gaming functions. The Genie overlay slides out on top of your games or apps, allowing you to quickly adjust settings. Here you can also activate X-Mode, which basically puts the ROG Phone 3 into ultra performance mode. This turns on all the RGB lighting, blocks annoying system notifications, frees up RAM and overclocks the phone so you get the best gaming performance.
Purpose built to game
All the hardware and software of the ROG Phone 3 is purpose built for hardcore mobile gaming. There’s even a special side mounted USB port that is designed specifically so you can charge the phone while gaming without that pesky cable getting in the way. It’s also a dock for the dizzying array of ROG modular accessories that connect to the phone.
The AeroActive Cooler 3 is one such accessory and as the name suggests keeps the phone cool when gaming. And while it does a decent job at that, what I really like about it is that its also a kickstand to prop the phone up while you game with a wireless controller or if you are just watching movies. The AeroCooler 3 comes in the box at no extra cost. Other accessories must be bought separately and depending on your needs, there’s something for every type of gamer.
If one screen isn’t enough for you, the TwinView Dock transforms the ROG Phone 3 into a dual screen gaming beast. And if that isn’t big enough, the Desktop Dock allows you to connect an external monitor, keyboard and mouse to use the phone as a desktop machine. The ROG Kunai 3 which was probably the inspiration for the Razer Kishi is the one most owners would probably benefit the most from. It gives you a wealth of physical controls which are far better than touch screen controls.
Yeah, it’s a phone too
It’s easy to forget that the ROG Phone 3 is and yet everything that makes it great for gaming and media consumption also makes it a great everyday phone. Chief among those things is the exceptional battery life. Asus packed a 6000mAH battery which lasted me an average of 3 whole days on a single charge with close to 8 hours of screen on time.
Admittedly, I wasn’t gaming like a madman all that time because unfortunately I’m an adult and have too many adult things to do. But a lot of those things involve taking tons of pictures and videos of my daughters, watching YouTube, reading news feeds and doom scrolling Instagram reels multiple times a day. I also do a ton of email and messaging with some Spotify and podcasts.
When the battery does eventually run out, thanks to Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0 you can get a whole day’s worth of battery with just 30min of charge.
The ROG Phone 3 has a Quad-mic array that works great for both game chat and phone calls. If you happen to be blessed to live somewhere that has 5G connectivity unlike me, you can expect some wicked speeds. And should you desire to use the ROG Phone 3 for Xbox xCloud (or Google Stadia if it ever comes to Australia) 5G will be indispensable. But even better, with WiFi 6 connectivity, you’ll experience much faster data transfer speeds with rock solid connection.
The phone is powered by Android 10 which isn’t the latest but Asus custom skin is very polished with a ton of features and customization to make the phone play to your tune. The ROG live themes take on a whole new life when you activate X-Mode – wallpapers come alive with electrical currents and glowing bits. If that isn’t your thing, you can just use the standard Android theme which you can pretty customize to whatever you want.
And keeping your phone safe is a very good in-screen fingerprint reader. It’s very accurate a quick to recognize my fingerprint. There’s also the option to pair it with face unlock so given the pandemic, if you are wearing a mask you won’t be locked out of your phone like iPhone users.
Cameras are better but not the best
The cameras were the biggest failing with last year’s model and I’m pleased that this time around, things are much better. The main camera is a Sony 64 MP sensor that’s paired with a 13MP Ultrawide and a 5 MP Macro camera designed for those super close up shots of small subjects. On the front of the phone is a 24 MP Selfie camera that is intended for live-streaming yourself as you game on the go.
Video is great though, thanks to the ROG Phone 3’s raw power that allows for 8K video at 30 fps which is no joke. Most people should stick with 4K at 30 or 60 fps because it’s not like 8K displays are commonplace. The phone does get hot when recording such high quality video so whip out that AeroCooler when you do. And the 512GB of storage is perfect for those who want to record a lot of video as 4K and 8K video files do get pretty big.
Overall, these cameras take decent shots especially when the lighting is good though night shots and dimly lit situations struggle. The ROG Phone 3 can’t touch my Google Pixel 4, the iPhone or Galaxy phones in terms of picture quality. It’s perfectly fine for Instagram and Facebook pictures which is what most people care about.
The ROG Phone 3 is a certifiable mobile gaming powerhouse. No other gaming phone comes close to the overall package, finesse and performance that Asus is offering here. With a ton of power, storage and gaming peripherals, mobile gamers have nothing to complain about.
The high end components and solid construction ensure that the ROG Phone 3 will still be more than capable for the next 2-3 years which makes it a great investment. And considering some of the incredible mobile games like Diablo Immortal or Odin Valhalla Rising coming out in the next year. That’s not even including the soon to be launched Xbox xCloud and hopefully, Google Stadia.
At $1699, the ROG Phone is not cheap but compared to something like the latest iPhone 12 Pro Max, it’s still far better value for money. The ecosystem of accessories is unbeatable and even if you aren’t a gamer, it’s a great phone for media consumption. Netflix and Disney+ shine on this screen and so does pretty much everything else.
Once again, the ROG Phone 3 retains its crown and garners a must buy for any serious mobile gamer.
Asus Australia loaned the ROG Phone 3 to PowerUp! for the purpose of this review