When Asus unveiled the original ROG Phone, it was both expected, since more gaming-focused hardware was ever so slowly starting to hit global markets, but also a surprise, given how Asus only enjoyed marginal market penetration with its Zenfone lineup in recent years. Still, the ROG Phone proved an instant hit, not only because it really was a gaming phone for gamers, but because it also was crowned with a second, more broadly appealing title: "The Spec King".
And its reign continued last year with the ROG Phone II, a follow-up that refined the core ideals of the original and remained the one device that cumulatively offered the very best specifications a phone could possibly have. High refresh-rates, the best internals, superior cooling, a hefty battery, it basically had it all at a time where competing phones made you choose, and as we know, there are power-users out there who simply won't pick and choose features, they want all of them.
That leads us to today, where Asus has unveiled the tricky third outing, the ROG Phone 3. It's safe to say that the pressure has been on the design team, but I've both used the phone for over a week, as well as spoken with Technical PR Director Chih-Hao King about some of the ideas that defined the device, and the design process. Having done all that, I can now safely say that not only does the ROG Phone 3 retain its regal title, but it's still by far the most competent gaming phone on the market.
So, instead of dwelling on the chassis, the weight, the materials, or the design, let's start by talking specs, shall we? This third iteration of the ROG Phone comes with a range of impressive features that should appeal to anyone looking for a high-performance gaming device. Powered by a Snapdragon 865 Plus processor and a Qualcomm Adreno 650 GPU (which has been overclocked, by the way), the ROG Phone 3 goes toe-to-toe with flagships from OnePlus and Samsung, and also offers up UFS 3.1 storage as well as up to 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM. Put simply, it's the fastest Android phone on the market, as it should be.
But really, why stop there? Paired with that you get a 6000mAh battery, and that's actually quite impressive considering that the overall physical shape of the chassis remains the same, and Asus had to fit a bigger 5G chipset through the Snapdragon 865 platform. Safe to say, our ROG Phone 3 lasted not just one day but two between trips to the plug - if you're strictly using it for streaming, texting and browsing. It's just one of those things that makes the ROG Phone stand out - they didn't have to go through the trouble of fitting the biggest battery in any smartphones, but they just wanted to. Also, it comes with a 30-watt fast charger. There's no wireless charging though, and as with the Galaxy Fold, I'm disappointed with it being left out.
The screen has received a massive overhaul this time around too. Last year's phone featured "the world's first and fastest 120Hz 1ms AMOLED with 240Hz touch response", but this third iteration is fitted with a 6.59 inch 144Hz 1ms AMOLED display that comes with 10-bit HDR10+ support, and a 270Hz touch sampling rate for increased responsiveness. The effect of this pretty profound. While most probably won't notice direct differences between 120Hz and 144Hz, the main advantage here is the increased colour accuracy, the contrast, and the peak brightness. It might not be what Asus wants us to focus on, but this really is one of the best screens on any smartphone, and I'd even recommend this to a consumer that considers him- or herself a power-user in areas other than gaming, simply because of the responsiveness and the accuracy of the display. It's that good.
Asus has also stepped up their game in a few other departments here, one of those being cooling. While there's not a lot of evidence to support that any existing games create serious thermal throttling in even regular flagship phones, there is honesty in simply wanting to cram your "ultimate" device with the most "ultimate" of solutions. Introducing Gamecool 3. The heatsink in the ROG Phone 3 is six times the size of the one in the ROG Phone 2, there's flared vents on the back, a new type of vapour chamber and a large graphite film layer to distribute heat. I've also tested the bundled in Aero Active Cooler 3 Kickstand, an accessory that not only adds a cooling fan but also a headphone jack, seeing as that's now missing on the device itself. Not having it is a shame, but at least Asus is giving you the opportunity to use jack-based audio equipment without needing to spend the extra.
So is all of this cooling necessary? Well, I did notice the Aero Active Cooler 3 Kickstand ramp up during the 252 games (and counting) on mobile platforms that support the 144Hz native refresh-rate on the ROG Phone 3, but not once did I notice any particular slowdown. To be quite frank though, neither have I noticed slowdowns or particular hardware-based bottlenecks in any of the Snapdragon 865-based units on the market, such as the Sony Xperia 1 II, the OnePlus 8 Pro and the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, and certainly not on the newer iPhones. So a gimmick then? Perhaps, but when you're "The Spec King", you need the best specs, and Gamecool 3 is a testament to that mission.
So let's talk exterior for a bit. So no, the ROG Phone 3 does not have a full-screen display. There's still a noticeable top and bottom framework here, however, that's needed to support the upgraded dual front-facing stereo speakers which now contain HD sound tech through DIRAC for a clear, more punchy audio experience, where you can adjust your speakers with enriched bass via "artificial over-tones". The speakers are really nice - they really are - but it's still disappointing to see Asus sticking to their guns here, and not offering up something a bit more fresh and modern, perhaps by having the speakers underneath the glass, or using hole-punch technology, or even a pop-up. Furthermore, while the back is a more subtle gradient blue colour, there are still these metallic accents that create the distinct impression of a "gamer phone", which isn't necessarily helped by the flashy ROG logo on the back. While creating a unique design language is expected, I'd love to see Asus create a more subtle one. It's not ugly though per se, and the dimensions are the same to increase hardware compatibility, so you can use existing stuff on the new phone, which is nice given how many accessories Asus offers up here.
Like with last year's phone though, it's pretty easy to forgive once you not only consider the specifications but also the list of auxiliary features. There's new networking tech called HyperFusion Network Technology for a strong signal, quad mics (so you can flip your phone without worrying about covering the mic), and a new one-click mode, which offers up customisable system-wide performance for different games, changing things to suit particular titles. It's difficult not to be taken aback by the sheer amount of features here.
Even though some functionality, such as wireless charging, the headphone jack, and a full-screen display is missing, it's hard not to be impressed by the gaming experience here. I played both Kingdom: Two Crowns and Grimvalor, both of which support 144Hz, and through the quality of the speakers, the lack of noise or heat thanks to Gamecool 3, and in particular the vibrant screen, it was truly impressive and immersive. I even utilised the new AirTrigger 3 feature, which has been upgraded with a touch sensor and accelerometer-powered gestures via a motion sensor. That means you essentially have two pseudo-shoulder buttons at your disposal, which can be mapped, adapted and personalised. New additions include Swipe, Dual Partition buttons (so inner and outer buttons), and continuous triggers to register multiple clicks. While it does take a while to create a profile, I did find it drastically improved the experience (however, one could perhaps more easily see oneself using a controller here).
Speaking of which, Asus has also refreshed its range of supporting products, including the TwinView Dock 3, which offers a second screen solution for certain games, and the Kunai 3, which lets you key-map gestures to buttons (it can also be used with the TwinView). The ROG Clip is a new accessory compatible with Xbox, Stadia, and DualShock controllers, with keymapping also coming to the platform, similar to the Kunai.
That leaves us with the camera, and while I'm pretty sure that no-one specifically buys "The Spec King" for the quality of its cameras, Asus has made a few significant changes to at least ensure that its competent in most situations, as even the most tireless gamer might see a butterfly from time to time, or have children. The main shooter is a 64 megapixel Sony IMX686 sensor, followed by a 13 megapixel 125 degree ultra-wide and a 5 megapixel macro lens. No, there's no telephoto here, and Asus instead relies on software for basic facial recognition and bokeh effects. Honestly, it's fine, there's an acceptable level of detail and colour saturation in most shots, especially from the main shooter, but think more in line of the Poco F2 Pro, the Redmi K30 Pro, or the Xiaomi Mi Note 10 Lite.
So, more importantly, is the ROG Phone 3 still The Spec King? Yes, it most certainly is, and furthermore, it's really hard to think of any other phone on the market that is both this narrow in its focus, while offering up such an impressively complete package of features for even the most discerning of consumers. There are a few omissions though, such a lack of a headphone jack on the unit itself, no wireless charging, and the very... let's say showy design, but other than that the ROG Phone 3 is a sheer triumph, a masterclass in excess, and for a price at around €1099 for the most expensive version, it's somehow over €300 less than a Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, and more than €500 less than the most expensive iPhone 11 Pro Max, well, what's not to love.