A ‘gaming' smartphone might seem like a very exciting proposition for enthusiasts, but how can a manufacturer get the average smartphone buyer to feel the same way? Asus launched the first ROG Phone (Review) last year, and while it was a good product, the high price of nearly Rs. 70,000 at the time meant that you really needed to be a die-hard gaming addict to even consider it over an iPhone, Google Pixel, or Samsung Galaxy device. That's exactly what Asus wants to change with the ROG Phone 2.
While Asus has taken its time to launch this phone in India, we have seen other companies try to break into this niche segment throughout this year. We now have the Black Shark 2 (Review) which has a pressure-sensitive display, and the Nubia Red Magic 3 (Review), which boasts of an internal cooling fan, to consider as alternatives as gaming smartphones. However, Asus hasn't left any stone unturned for its follow-up, packing it with pretty much every feature one could think of. The icing on the cake is definitely the price. The ROG Phone 2 starts at Rs. 37,999 in India, which is great not only for gaming enthusiasts but also for anyone who's looking for a powerful flagship on a budget.
The Asus ROG Phone 2 continues to sport an industrial look, just like the first version, but it's a bit more tame this time around. The exposed air vent at the back is smaller and more discreet; the orange highlights for the stereo speakers on the front look more subtle; and the darker finish makes it look even more stealthy. There's still no mistaking this for an ordinary smartphone though, especially when that ROG logo on the back lights up.
The size ROG Phone 2 is both bigger and heavier than its predecessor, making it one of the heaviest phones we've held in a while. It's very thick at 9.48mm and weighs a whopping 240g. The weight isn't a big issue when using it in the landscape orientation with both hands, but normal one-handed usage gets fatiguing quickly.
Asus has swapped the rear capacitive fingerprint sensor for an in-display one. Authentication works well but we found that we had to rest our finger there a little longer than usual before this works. It's not as quick as some of the other in-display sensors we've used, like the one on the OnePlus 7T (Review). Face recognition is a lot quicker and works at odd angles too. The power and volume buttons are placed low on the right side of the phone and have good feedback.
The left side has an additional USB Type-C port, along with a custom port beside it for accessories. This Type-C port supports USB 3.1 (Gen2) standard, along with video output upto 4K resolution and Quick Charge 4.0, and it can be used for charging when you're gaming in landscape mode. The Type-C port at the bottom supports USB 3.0 speed and also supports fast charging. The 3.5mm headphone socket is placed on the extreme right at the bottom, so wired headphones won't get in the way when you're gaming.
The 6.59-inch AMOLED display has a full-HD+ resolution but what's impressive is that it has a 120Hz refresh rate. It also supports 10-bit HDR and is claimed to be colour accurate with a Delta E average of less than 1. The max brightness is 600nits and there's Corning Gorilla Glass 6 for protection. The display has thick bezels on the top and bottom, but it doesn't make the phone look ugly. The earpiece and the bottom speaker are forward-facing, for a better stereo effect. The dual Nano-SIM tray is placed on the left side, but there's no slot for expanding storage.
The ROG Phone 2 also features the second version of Asus's AirTrigger system, or shoulder buttons on the right side. Asus says the algorithm has been reworked, so you can now rest your fingers on them without activating them. There's a new dual vibration system present too. The phone also uses a 3D vapour chamber system for cooling. According to Asus, a total of four Wi-Fi antennas and microphones have been placed at strategic points around the phone, which should provide optimal signal performance no matter how you hold it.
The base model of the ROG Phone 2, which we have, ships with an 18W charger, Type-C cable, SIM eject tool, and the Aero Case. The latter is more of a bumper case, as only the top and bottom portions have good plastic reinforcements while the rest of the body has large cutouts for the rear vent and logo. Asus says that this case was designed so that you can use the AeroActive Cooler without taking it off. This cooler is an optional accessory but if you buy the 512GB variant, it comes bundled. The top-end version, which costs a whopping Rs. 59,999, also gets you a 30W charger in the box.
You can also get other accessories for the ROG Phone 2, with prices ranging from Rs. 1,999 all the way up to Rs. 19,999.
According to Asus, the ROG Phone 2 has been built using some of the best components available in the market, including a special speed-binned Snapdragon 855+ SoC, LPDDR4X RAM, and UFS 3.0 storage. The phone is available in two RAM and storage variants — one with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage (Rs. 37,999) and the other with 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage (Rs. 59,999). There's a big jump going to the higher-end variant, and even with the extra accessories, that price seems way too high.
You also get dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5, NFC, FM radio, the usual variety of sensors, satellite navigation systems, and USB-OTG. The ROG Phone 2 supports high-resolution audio through the 3.5mm headphone jack, with the ability to decode 192kHz/24-bit files. However, this phone does miss some flagship-level features such as an IP rating for water resistance and wireless charging.
Just like the first ROG phone, Asus has put a lot of work into the software this time around too. You get Android 9 Pie with the August security patch and a custom skin. For the ROG Phone 2, you can choose a more vanilla Android theme during the setup process, instead of the default ROG theme. The latter does look cool and you have a choice between a dark and light version of it. Plus, when you enable X Mode, which is Asus's performance mode, the wallpaper and highlights around the icons get aggressive red accents. If you're not a fan of this, there's always the classic theme to fall back upon.
In terms of installed apps, there isn't much bloatware. There's an Asus Data Transfer app for moving data from your old phone to the ROG Phone 2, and the Armoury Crate app, which is where you configure lighting effects for the logo; monitor the temperatures of the CPU and GPU; set the force level for the AirTriggers, etc. Android 9's Digital Wellbeing suite is also present.
There's more customisation to be had in the phone's Settings app. AudioWizard lets you choose different sound presets. There's an ‘Outdoor' mode which boosts volume by sacrificing a bit of sound quality. You can manually choose between 60Hz, 90Hz, and 120Hz refresh rates for the screen, but you can't switch between these dynamically based on the activity being performed.
Display colours can be tweaked; there's an always-on display mode; and you can choose what icons you want in the status bar. The latter feature is very handy as you can have icons for things like NFC, X Mode, the refresh rate, etc, in the status bar so you can see what's enabled without having to check the toggles in the notification shade.
The ‘Advanced' menu in the Settings app has a tonne more options to tweak. Mobile Manager lets you clear RAM, manage data usage, and scan for viruses, and Game Genie is a very useful toolbar which can be accessed from within a game for configuring the AirTriggers, live streaming on YouTube, Twitch, etc. There are various touch and motion gestures, screen recording, and a one-handed mode. The AirTriggers menu lets you add ‘squeeze' gestures for the bottom trigger, which can launch an action or an app with a short or a long squeeze.
The ROG Phone 2's mammoth size and weight are a little hard to get used to. As we mentioned before, it's not a problem when you're holding the phone with two hands for gaming, but for most other use cases, it gets fatiguing very quickly. However, if you're someone who doesn't mind large, heavy phones then you'll probably like it. The glass back is a little slippery but the bundled case makes it easier to hold this phone with one hand. The addition of a notification LED near the earpiece is a nice touch.
As you'd expect, the ROG Phone 2 is also a beast of a performer. The 120Hz refresh rate makes scrolling through apps and gameplay (in supported games) incredibly fun and fluid. 90Hz offers a pleasing experience too, if you want to save a bit of power, but battery life isn't really a concern here, which we'll talk about in a bit. Apps load quickly and multitasking is handled very well. Of course, the main draw of this phone is gaming, and this is hands-down one of the best devices — if not the best one — for that.
We ran a mix of heavy games such as PUBG Mobile and Asphalt 9 Legends, along with simpler ones including Rayman Adventures and Mario Kart, all of which ran flawlessly. Even on the 8GB RAM version of this phone, we were able to switch between any of these games quite effortlessly.
Now keep in mind that the back of the phone gets quite warm when gaming, especially a few spots near the side-mounted Type-C port which get very hot. We recommend playing with the bundled case, as you don't feel the heat as much and it offers better grip. The heat could possibly be better controlled with the AeroCooler II accessory, but that will cost extra and we didn't have one with us to test.
We didn't feel the need to use X Mode most of the time, other than a couple of instances in PUBG when the framerate began to get mildly choppy. X Mode prevents throttling of the CPU and also doesn't let the speed drop below 1.3GHz. Keep in mind that this will also drain the battery faster, so we'd suggest not using it unless you absolutely need to.
Game Genie also lets you enable an overlay in games to keep an eye on the framerate, system temperature, and CPU and GPU usage in real-time. Through Armoury Crate, you can set a customised profile for each game. For instance, Rayman Adventures supports 120Hz refresh rate, so you can have the display switch to it when playing the game and go back to a lower refresh rate for regular use.
Just like with the original ROG Phone, we found the AirTriggers to be immensely helpful in games such as PUBG Mobile. The vibration effect, when they are triggered, is instantaneous and you can now rest your fingers on them and simply apply pressure when you actually need to activate them. This reduces fatigue in your index fingers, since you don't have to keep them hovering in mid-air. If you're going to be doing this, then it's best to increase the amount of pressure required to activate the triggers, to prevent accidental activation.
Other than gaming performance, the display and speakers are two other highlights of this phone. HDR videos look great — the brightness is automatically boosted when HDR content is detected, and it drops back to the level it was at before when you close the video. The speakers get really loud and sound quality is good. The stereo sound is evenly distributed across both channels, with decent bass and a good soundstage. When using Outdoor Mode, the sound quality is terrible as it simply cuts the bass and boosts the treble, making everything tinny and shrill.
Battery life is equally impressive, and not just because of the massive capacity. In our battery loop test, the 6000mAh battery lasted for around 11 hours and 48 minutes with the screen set to 120Hz, and 14hours and 13 minutes at 60Hz. These numbers might not look particularly impressive compared to those of other phones which have run for over 20 hours with smaller batteries, but the ROG Phone 2 exceeded our expectations in real-world usage.
Even with the screen running at 120Hz and a lot of camera, gaming, and social usage, we still managed to easily go past one full day on a single charge. When playing heavy 3D games non-stop for two hours, with X Mode on most of the time and the refresh rate set to 90Hz, the battery level dropped by around 27 percent, leaving us with plenty of juice left for another two full days of standby time.
The ROG Phone 2 supports multiple fast charging standards -- Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0/3.0 and USB Power Delivery 3.0. With the bundled 18W charger, we were able to charge the battery up to 52 percent in an hour and it took about two hours to charge it completely. This might seem a little slower than the competition but keep in mind that this is also a much bigger battery than what most others offer in this price range. With the optional 30W charger (Rs. 1,999), the charging should be much quicker.
The rear sensors on the ROG Phone 2 are the same as those on the Asus 6Z (Review). This phone is missing the laser autofocus sensor, but everything else seems to be identical. The ROG Phone 2 also gets a 24-megapixel front camera with an f/2.0 aperture, since it lacks the motorised rear camera of the 6Z. The main 48-megapixel camera uses the Sony IMX586 sensor, with an f/1.79 aperture and PDAF, but no optical stabilisation. The second camera uses a wide-angle lens with a 13-megapixel sensor.
The camera app is quite feature-rich, offering plenty of shooting modes such as Motion Tracking, Pro, and Night, among the usual others. A toggle within the viewfinder lets you switch between the regular and wide-angle lens. The latter can be used to shoot video, but you can't switch between cameras while recording.
In daylight, the ROG Phone 2's primary camera was quite capable and manged good details and colours. HDR images looked vivid and striking, with good exposure and white balance. The wide-angle camera captured slightly weaker details but HDR was handled well and landscapes looked good, with little to no barrel distortion. Close-ups looked good too, with sufficient details and good colours. The camera app lets you adjust the level of background blur in Portrait shots, but edge detection wasn't always too accurate.
Low-light landscape shots captured using the Asus ROG Phone 2 were a bit grainy, but using Night mode helped. Details were still a little weak and the resulting images were oversharpened to bit too much.
The selfie camera captured fairly detailed selfies during the day, with good skin tones, but we noticed some minor artefacting in the background, and the edges of our face could have been sharper. The screen flash is quite effective in low light, providing good illumination. Portrait mode with the front camera is present but the final output looks a little artificial.
The quality of video shot in daylight was also quite impressive. Electronic stabilisation worked very well, even at 4K resolution, and details and colours were represented well. Selfie videos were also stabilised, and the quality was equally good. The phone faltered a bit in low light, as video was a little grainy and the electronic stabilisation caused mild distortion when we moved about.
The Asus ROG Phone 2 is a solid piece of hardware and is definitely the most polished and impressive gaming phone we've seen so far. It lacks some features such as waterproofing and wireless charging, but at Rs. 37,999, those things aren't big deal breakers. The higher-end version feels too expensive at nearly Rs. 60,000 even with the massive bump in storage and the bundled accessories. A price of around Rs. 50,000 would have been more accessible.
The OnePlus 7T (Review) is one of the main competitors for the base variant of the ROG Phone 2. It's a solid offering running Android 10, and it has a good set of cameras as well as a fast 90Hz display. If you're not a fan of the weight of the ROG Phone 2, the OnePlus 7T would be a good alternative.
However, if you're looking for a beast of a phone, then the Asus ROG Phone 2 is one of the best out there and is priced starting at under Rs. 40,000. Even if you aren't a gamer, the vivid display and stereo speakers make this an excellent multimedia device, if you can put up with the bulk.