Asus ROG Phone II First Impressions: The headshot machine

Asus ROG Phone II First Impressions: The headshot machine

Subhrojit Mallick | 22 Jul 2019
HIGHLIGHTS

The Asus ROG Phone II is a monstrous smartphone with a host of new features.

The phone runs on the Snapdragon 855 Plus and comes in 8GB or 12GB RAM with up to 256GB storage.

More than the phone, it's the ecosystem of accessories that makes the ROG Phone II all the more exciting.

The  Asus ROG Phone that launched last year essentially kickstarted the gaming phone genre in the Indian market. It was the first to arrive, albeit a little late as compared to other markets, but it was soon followed up by the likes of the Black Shark 2 and the Nubia Red Magic 3. As a result, the successor to the ROG Phone will have a lot of competition to beat. The ROG Phone II launched in China on Monday and while there’s no confirmation on when the smartphone will launch in India, we did find ourselves holed up in a hotel room with a brand new ROG Phone II unit and all the accessories it comes with. Here’s what we thought of it —

The Asus ROG Phone II is not a major upgrade from its predecessor. There aren’t any mind-bending new features that the first ROG Phone was credited with. Instead, it refines the existing features to give a better gaming experience on a smartphone. Having said that, the phone and the ecosystem of accessories it launched with is an indication that mobile gaming is finally being taken seriously. Read on to know why.

Maxed-out hardware

The biggest upgrade is in the hardware inside the phone. Every component inside has undergone an upgrade, which honestly, is quite expected. Replacing the speed-binned Snapdragon 845 is the new Snapdragon 855 Plus. It’s the same concept as before. The prime core in the Snapdragon 855 runs at a higher clocked speed of 2.96GHz as compared to 2.84GHz in the regular variant. The Adreno 640 GPU housed in the SoC also received a spec-boost. Asus claimed the GPU frequency has been bumped up from 585Hz to 675Hz, offering a 15 percent boost in graphics rendering. This leads to a higher benchmark scores as claimed by Asus. We’re yet to test the phone on our test-bench to verify the claims. The ROG Phone II comes in two variants — 8GB RAM with 128GB storage and 12GB RAM with 256GB storage. While the RAM module is the same LPDDR4X as last time (it’s still the latest generation), the storage is now UFS 3.0, promising a 2x boost in I/O speeds compared to its predecessor.

The display on the ROG Phone II is a massive 6.59-inch AMOLED panel with a 120Hz refresh rate. That’s a first for AMOLED panel. Before this, the Razer Phone 2 also came with a 120Hz panel, but that was an IPS-LCD display. The panel on the ROG Phone II tops out at FullHD+ resolution and has a 1ms response rate and 240Hz touch sensitivity. These things combined makes playing games super smooth. It seems as though the whole aim with this gaming phone was to reduce the various latencies involved, be it in the display refresh rate, or the touch responsiveness or even the audio. There is a 3.5mm headphone in a time when the legacy port is quickly phasing out in smartphones, once again to reduce audio lag. There are four microphones on the body, intelligently positioned so that your voice doesn’t get muffled whichever way you hold the phone.

The ROG Phone II is also engineered to prevent thermal throttling. There’s a three-layer cooling system which includes a vapour cooling chamber (much larger than before), carbon cooling pads below the processor and heat dissipation vents on the body. It still lacks a physical fan inside though, like in the case of the Nubia Red Magic 3. The ROG Phone II can have a fan on the outside though. The upgraded Aero Active Cooler II that comes in the box, adds that missing part and the fan inside it is now much quieter. The airflow is also designed to be pushed downwards towards the vents, so much so, that Asus claims the phone’s thermal performance is 5 degrees lower than the competition.

The hardware is enough to allow games to run at peak frame rates with high stability. Asus cited Gamebench metrics claiming most resource-intensive games like PUBG Mobile, Shadowgun Legends, Asphalt 9 and the likes run at peak frame rates (40, 60 and 30 FPS respectively) with around 97 percent stability. The display also helps eke the most out of the visuals. The AMOLED panel is HDR10+ rated and supports 108 percent of the DCI-P3 colour gamut. It can also upscale SDR content to HDR.

The list goes on. The Asus ROG Phone II houses a ginormous 6,000mAh battery with support for 30W fast charging on QC4+ standards. Asus claims you can play 7.1 hours of PUBG Mobile without a pause. Using the proprietary charger and cable, the phone also charges to 4,000mAh capacity in an hour.

On top of that, gamers can choose between gamer-centric ROG UI or stock Android interface, courtesy the Asus 6z. There’s the Armoury Crate which houses the carousel of installed games and offers the ability to tweak the CPU, GPU and RAM limits.

There’s also a 48MP Sony IMX586 camera on the back combined with a 13MP wide-angle camera with f/1.79 primary lens. The setup is similar to the one present in the Asus 6z and the company has borrowed the optimisations from its high-end flagships. On the front is a 25MP camera.

All this is just the smartphone itself. The ROG Phone II also comes with a host of accessories.

Gaming ecosystem

There’s the Kunai Gamepad which now works with the phone as well as a PC. It looks like the usual gamepad but you can pull out the sides and install them on the phone like in the Nintendo Switch. You will need the Armoury case for that though. The Gamepad comes with 21 buttons and can bind macros. We used the gamepad to play a few games and while I’m not very proficient in using a gamepad to play, I’m sure console gamers will feel right at home.

There’s the TwinView Dock II. It looks like the predecessor but this time, there’s a fan, a 5,000mAh battery, and is much lighter with the weight evenly distributed. To augment the experience, there’s another 120Hz AMOLED screen on the dock. The best part? It also works with the older ROG Phone.

There’s also a Desktop Dock which is the best accessory to get in my opinion. It gives an edge to the player in games like PUBG Mobile. You can not only connect the phone to a larger display without any delay in transmission whatsoever but also pair a physical keyboard and mouse or a gamepad to play. Now you might think that’s cheating, but Asus essentially uses the same method other OEMs use to allow gamepads to be mapped to the on-screen buttons. Using the setup, I was able to play a Team Death Match game on PUBG Mobile with a mechanical keyboard and a gaming mouse. Needless to say, I raked in headshots like a pro, with nobody on the other end knowing anything about the special ability I had.

There’s also the WiGi dock but that likely won’t make its way to India due to frequency interference. The WiGi dock allows you to wireless relay the feed from the phone to a supported display, essentially running it untethered.

Is it worth the money?

There are now 38 games that are optimised for the phone. By optimisations we mean the games will make good use of the 120Hz display, and the dual vibration, as well as exclusive content in games like Asphalt 9. Now that’s an impressive number definitely, but it still won’t use the full capability of the processor or allow games to crank the frame rates to match the refresh rate without the developers exclusively working on it. Having said that, the ROG Phone II has enough firepower to go beyond the usual Android games, but it’s only constraint is support from developers. Will it be able to attract the bigwigs in game development and hopefully get titles that are close to the experience one gets on PCs and consoles? Only time will tell.

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Subhrojit Mallick

Asus ROG Phone II

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