ASUS ROG Phone Review: Blistering Performance, Intelligent Design
ASUS ROG Phone: Software, User Experience And Camera Performance
The ASUS ROG Phone ships with Android 8.1 Oreo, which is a step behind the latest major upgrade from Google, Android 9 Pie. We presume ASUS will update to the latest release at some point, though we don't have a firm date as to when that might happen.
While the core software of the ROG Phone is Android 8.1 Oreo, it sits beneath a layer of ZenUI, ASUS's custom Android skin. This would be familiar to anyone who has used an ASUS phone before, except it's been further decked out with an ROG theme that is clearly aimed at gamers. As with the physical construction of the phone, it's an edgier theme with a digital font for the clock and softly illuminated outlines around the icons.
ASUS also makes clever use of live wallpaper that serves a purpose beyond just visual flair. Squeezing the sides of the ROG Phone engages "X Mode," which is essentially a game mode that boosts the CPU's frequency, frees up memory for games, and enables certain configuration tools. When X Mode is activated, the sides of the cube in the wallpaper extend outward and the whole thing is illuminated. You can see the difference in the two top screenshots above. This lets you know at a glance if you're in regular mode or X Mode.
The Game Center provides an overview of the phone's vitals, including the CPU and GPU clockspeeds and temps, how much memory is currently being used, and the amount of storage that is left. Most of the time, however, the vitals only show the phone when idle. Unless there is an app running in the background, or you're able to quickly switch out of a running program, you're going to see low clockspeeds and lower temps most of the time.
We managed to snap a screenshot when the CPU was racing at full bore by running AnTutu's stress test, hence the 2.96GHz clockspeed you see above, and accompanying triple-digit temperature, at least in Fahrenheit—100F is a tick under 38 degrees Celsius.
Other parts of the Game Center are more useful. This is where you can configure the fan speed, and also customize the Aura lighting. And if you dart into the Game Profiles section, you can configure settings for individual games, like turning on anti-aliasing and whether to automatically run in X Mode settings or default to the phone's configuration.
ASUS put a lot of thought into the software experience, and it shows. Some of it is window dressing, sure, but there are vital components. For example, you can adjust the sensitivity of the AirTriggers, configure live streaming settings, and more.
All of these nifty features don't mean a whole lot if all you want to do is poke around Facebook and play casual games like Candy Crush or Mafia City. Where the ROG Phone flexes its muscles is when playing titles that are more fleshed out. In PUBG, for example, the AirTriggers made things a little easier, and we never experienced any choppiness or performance quirks.
In Need for Speed No Limits, you tap and hold whichever side of the screen you want the vehicle to turn. Using the AirTriggers didn't necessarily make steering the vehicles any easier, but they did allow us to lift our thumbs up and away from the display, exposing more of the on-screen action.
What's impressive here is the how well ASUS integrates its gaming software with actual games. In the shot above, for example, you can see a persistent status bar that can be moved around the screen. This lets you monitor system vitals to see if you might want to connect the external fan, and also how much battery life is remaining, a feature that's in beta.
You can access the real-time status bar by swiping left from the right-side of the screen and tapping the controller icon, which brings up the Game Genie utility. There are various options available—you can record macros, lock the brightness, kick alerts to the curb, and more.
ASUS ROG Phone Camera Features, Software And Performance
The ROG Phone is armed with an 8-megapixel camera on the front featuring an f/2.0 aperture and 84-degree field of view. Around back, it pairs Sony's flagship IMX353 12-megapixel dual-pixel image sensor (f/1.7 aperture, 78.2-degree FOV) with an 8-megapixel 120-degree wide-angle lens.
The camera controls are fairly robust, at least if you jump into Pro mode. In default mode, as shown above, it's a basic setup with quick access to commonly used features, like the flash setting, aspect ratio, and a timer switch. You can also change to a wide-angle view that extends the frame the length of the phone, rather than squished in a box as shown.
Switching to the Pro mode affords fine grain control over the camera settings, such as ISO, white balance, and so forth. We snapped our test shots in the standard mode to show what a typical smartphone user can expect.
As is typically the case with cameras, lighting is the key to a good shot. The ROG Phone's front-facing camera highlights this, as seen in the pair of selfies taken on a gloomy, winter day. In the left shot, the colors are richer and more true to life, though it's a bit dark around the face. The right photo was taken in slightly better lighting that shows the face better, but washes out the colors a bit. Experienced photographers will find a happy medium, while casual shooters will take whatever the setting gives them.
The rear camera arrangement opens the door to fancier capabilities, like adjusting the depth of field. We didn't make any manual adjustments to the camera settings in the above photo—it automatically applied a small amount of blur to the background, keeping the focus on the subject. It also did a good job of picking up details, like the individual strands of fur that are visible.
The ROG Phone takes good looking photos in auto mode, albeit we found the results to be inconsistent, partially because of the gloomy lighting that we had to work with. In less than ideal lighting, you might find (as we did) that the color reproduction can look different from photo to photo, depending on the angle and how close you are to the subject. Overall, though, the ROG Phone is capable of snapping share-worthy photos, it just may take a few extra attempts in some cases.
Where the ROG Phone really struts its stuff is in low light conditions. Here's a look...
We took a pair of photos of a dark kitchen setting, one without the flash (left) and one with the flash (right). You can't tell from the images, but there is not much light—the kitchen is far removed from a window, and no lights were turned on. The level of detail the ROG Phone is able to pick up in low light situations is nothing short of impressive, as is the lack of graininess that often accompany photos taken in darkened rooms.
Here's one more photo, for good measure. Once again, this was taken indoors on a gloomy day, with no lights turned on. In real life, the carpet is actually darker than it appears in the above photo. Some of the color is also lost, but overall, we'll take this over a grainy photo any day.