Asus ROG Phone 3 Review: Best in its class with space for improvement
Are flagship gaming smartphones worth your hard-earned money? Did Asus manage to improve upon the outgoing ROG Phone 2? Do you even need a 144Hz display? Here is our review for the Asus ROG Phone 3 to address all your questions.
Published:Thu, August 13, 2020 8:31pm
By Rehan Hooda
Asus India launched its latest flagship gaming smartphone, the ROG Phone 3 last month. This device is a successor to the outgoing gaming beast, the ROG Phone 2. The incoming device landed in the market about 10 months after Asus launched the ROG Phone 2. Talking about the latest device, the company ensured that the Indian launch coincided with the international launch. Looking at the specifications, the company has launched three different RAM and storage variants of the smartphone. These include the base model with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage, and 12GB RAM and 256GB storage. In addition, the company has also launched a 16GB RAM and 512GB storage variant in Europe.
The 8GB RAM option is priced at Rs 49,999 while the 12GB RAM costs Rs 57,999. It is also worth noting that the company has not launched the 16GB RAM variant in India. The company noted that it decided against bringing it in India due to the higher cost price. However, things are subject to change based on consumer demand. Beyond the smartphone, the company also launched a number of gaming accessories. These include ROG Kunai 3 gamepad, TwinView Dock 3, Mobile Desktop Dock 2, Professional Dock 2, and ROG Clip.
Watch: Asus ROG Phone 3 Video Review
We can also get the AeroActive Cooler 3 and the "Lightning Armor Case" for the smartphone. All of these accessories are optional, and amount to separate purchases. The latest flagship gaming smartphone is currently available on Flipkart and interested buyers can head there to make the purchase. Asus also clarified that the 12GB RAM variant is set to go on sale starting from August 21, 2020. However, before the purchase, I am sure that you have a lot of questions regarding the smartphone. Here is our review for the Asus ROG Phone 3 to address all your questions.
Asus ROG Phone 3 specifications
Before we get started with the review, let's get the specifications out of the way. The ROG Phone 3 features a 6.59-inch AMOLED display with FHD+ (2,340 1,080 pixels) resolution. This panel also comes with a 19.5:9 aspect ratio, 144Hz refresh rate, HDR10+ certification, and 270Hz touch sampling rate. Beyond this, the 2.5D curved panel also comes with 25ms touch latency and Corning Gorilla Glass 6 for protection. Asus has opted for Snapdragon 865 Plus SoC with an Octa-core CPU clocked at up to 3.1 GHz. We also get Adreno 650 GPU, up to 12GB LPDDR5 RAM, and up to 256GB UFS 3.1 storage.
The new device features an upgraded rear camera system with three sensors. These include the 64-megapixel primary camera with a Sony IMX686 sensor, a 13-megapixel ultra-wide sensor, and a 5-megapixel macro camera. Moving to the front, we get a 24-megapixel camera for selfies and face unlock. Talking more about the camera, we also get 8K video recording at 30fps, and 4K HDR video recording at up to 60fps. Asus has also added Android 10-based ROG UI on the smartphone along with the option to select the device theme.
Other features include accelerator, compass, proximity sensor, in-display fingerprint scanner, ultrasonic sensors for AirTrigger 3, and more. ROG Phone 3 also offers 5G support, GPS with NavIC, Bluetooth v5.1, Wi-Fi 6, NFC, and dual front-facing speakers. The smartphone maker has also added Hi-Res audio with USB Type-C port on the bottom and quad-microphone setup. Finally, the device runs on a 6,000mAh battery with support for 30W fast charging technology with two Type-C ports (one on the bottom, and one on the right side). Our review unit features 8GB RAM and 128GB internal storage.
Familiar design and tank-like build quality
Now that the specifications are out of the way, let's get on with the review. Now, the first thing to focus on is obviously the design of the smartphone. The Asus ROG Phone 3 comes with a design that is very familiar to the one that we have seen in the past. The new version does come with some tweaks while keeping the basics identical. Most of the design effort has gone on the insides of the ROG Phone 3 instead of the outside. The new device features a multi-layered cooling solution with a larger than ever heat sink. This includes a cooling vent on the back covers, an Aluminum frame, Copper "3D vapor chamber" and Graphite cooling pads. More of this in the thermals sub-section below.
Talking about the rest of the aspects of the smartphone, we get a very familiar package crafted from metal and glass. Aura Sync compatible Asus ROG light-up logo on the back makes a comeback with the dark-grey finish. Other elements including the dual USB port with a proprietary port for accessories also make a comeback in the device. Beyond this, it looks like the company has somewhat muted and "simplified" the rear and front panel of the smartphone.
The stealthier look without extra color accents and designer lines make this device more serious. This also means that users can rock this smartphone in slightly professional and formal settings. Asus has tried its best to ensure that the overall footprint of the ROG Phone 3 is identical to its predecessor for better backward accessory compatibility. This also means that the 240grams weight and 6.59-inch display make it massive, especially for users with small hands. However, like all past ROG smartphones, the latest one is made like a tank with top-notch quality.
Display on ROG Phone 3
The 6.59-inch AMOLED panel with FHD+ (2,340 1,080 pixels) resolution is one of the highlights of the smartphone. We get a number of firsts in the Indian market including the 144Hz refresh rate, and 270Hz touch sampling rate. Other numbers include 1ms display response time, 25ms touch response time, HDR10+ panel, TUV Rheinland Certification, and more. As mentioned above, the device also comes with Corning Gorilla Glass 6 protection against damage and scratches. On paper, it likely one of the most compelling display panels on the smartphone right now.
Moving to the software, Asus has added a plethora of options to back up the impressive display panel. We get a dedicated Night Light with scheduling, multiple color profiles, a "Smart screen on" feature, and multiple refresh rate options. These color profiles include "Default", "Natural", Cinematic", "Standard", and a custom option under the "Splendid" option. The company has also added system color schemes, app scaling, Always-on Panel (AoD), an option to customize the display options on the smartphone. ROG Phone 3 display impressed us with its level of brightness, color reproduction, and obviously the 144Hz panel.
We locked our device to 144Hz refresh rate instead of the given options for "Auto" adjustment, 120Hz, 90Hz, or even 60Hz. This does take a toll on the battery but more on that in the "Battery" segment of the review. The display brightness levels do take a hit when held at extreme angles but if and when held directly, there are no issues. Beyond this, I found the brightness levels to be more than adequate for the indoors. However, I would want a slightly brighter display for the outdoors, under direct sunlight. Suffice to say that the smartphone offers an impressive, overall experience in this segment.
Software experience and Gaming-focused software
ROG Phone 3 comes with the Android 10-based ROG UI 3 and 1 July 2020 Android security patch. Similar to past Asus smartphones, the ROG UI comes with a number of familiar features. These include Mobile Manager, Game Genie, Twin Apps, Safeguard, "OptiFlex", "Gestures", built-in "One hand mode", AirTriggers, and Screen recorder. We also get "Pocket mode", and "Glove mode" options on the device along with an integrated Theme store. Out-of-the-box, the company asks users to select between the "Apex Galactic Armor" theme and "Classic" Asus theme. In addition to these two, the device also comes with the Light Luminous Core theme.
The company has also baked in the "Support" section inside the "Settings" app to provide access to the FAQ, ZenTalk, and MyASUS sections. Considering that this is a gaming smartphone, the company has also added a number of specialized gaming features. These include the "Armoury Crate" app along with "X Mode", "Game Genie", "AirTriggers" 3, "Fan speed" controls, and "System lightning". The app allows users to enable "X Mode", a one-button "Game-ready" environment. This mode overclocks the CPU and GPU on the smartphone to improved performance while gaming. This does result in increased power consumption and more heat generation.
In addition, the app also notes that the device offers three levels of performance. One can switch between the first two levels while the third level requires the AeroActive Cooler attached to the smartphone. The app also allows users to select the frame rate, touch sensitivity, and Network settings for each game of the device individually. One can dig deeper to set "scenario profiles" with tweaks to "Performance", "AirTriggers", "Key Mapping", and "Macro" programming. Taking about AirTriggers 3, now the user can divide the air trigger buttons into two segments. Game Genie also allows notification blocking and real-time game info.
Asus ROG Phone 3 Performance
ROG Phone 3 chewed through anything and everything that we threw at it. The smartphone zipped through regular to extremely heavy tasks without any hiccups, stuttering, or lag. The 144Hz refresh rate made things more smooth and flawless. We do know that there is a hidden 160Hz refresh rate on the ROG Phone 3. However, we did not try it because it is not officially supported by the company. It is possible that the level of performance may dip slightly after one year but there is more than enough headroom to combat that dip. We did not face any issues while making calls or media consumption. In addition, ROG Phone 3 likely offers the best audio experience due to the dual front-facing speakers with great stereo separation. It was a delight to consume media including Netflix, YouTube, or Disney Plus Hotstar viewing sessions.
Gaming and thermals
Moving to the main event, the smartphone can handle the highest settings available on the most challenging of games. We tested multiple games during our review to check the gaming performance of the game. Some of the titles include Call of Duty: Mobile, PUBG Mobile, Dead Cells, and Sky Force Reloaded. We also tested Monument Valley 1 and 2, Asphalt 9, Breakneck, Sky, Fortnite, Alto, Smash Hit, LIMBO, and FishingLife.
The "Real-Time Info" floating toolbar helped us monitor both the frame rates of the game as well as the temperatures, battery, CPU, and GPU utilization. Most games ran at the maximum supported frame-rates. For instance, PUBG Mobile and Call of Duty Mobile ran at 60FPS on the highest possible settings. Dead Cells and Sky Force Reloaded ran at a cool 144Hz. AirTriggers 3 along with the improvements and increased custom controls offered a slight advantage in games like CoD: M and PUBG Mobile.
However, there is one thing that we should note when it came to gaming performance; the thermals. Though the smartphone internals managed to peak around 45-degrees Celsius; the external frame got quite toasty. In fact, got quite close to very uncomfortable. We reached out to Asus for a statement regarding this and the company issued an explanation.
The company noted that the device used the metal frame on the sides and the back panel for heat dissipation. This ensured that the actual internals of the device remained cool throughout. So, we would suggest you use the included case or get a new case to keep the device temperature comfortable during your long gaming sessions.
The camera setup on ROG Phone 3
Asus has upgraded the camera on the ROG Phone 3 from the 48-megapixel in the second generation to a 64-megapixel. The primary camera features a Sony IMX686 sensor and comes with a 13-megapixel Ultra-wide sensor and a 5-megapixel macro camera. Asus noted that it could not add a more useful telephoto lens due to the space requirements. In the front, we get a 24-megapixel camera for selfies. Moving to the software, we get multiple camera modes including Pro Video, Time Lapse, Slo-Mo, Motion Tracking, and more. Beyond the dedicated Video and Photo modes, Asus has also added Portrait, Night, Pro, and Macro modes. One can also toggle the AI scene detection mode along with other settings including camera aspect ratio, timestamp, watermark, Pre-AF, and more.
Talking about the performance, the ROG Phone 3 manages to capture decent images in ideal lighting conditions. The primary sensor manages to capture a good dynamic range along with a decent amount of details and texture. It also manages to capture good images in portrait mode. However, things get a bit challenging in less than ideal lighting. Here, the camera sacrifices texture and details for brighter images. You can check all the camera samples here.
The images are fine for sharing on social media but close inspection reveals muddled up textures with borderline oil-painting effect. Switching things to ultra-wide, ideal lighting results in fine images but they don't have that a dynamic range or details. Ultra-wide mode at night results in bad quality and "Night" saves them to offer brighter, yet softer images. "Macro" mode also manages to capture okay images but it can be better in the future. Overall, ROG Phone 3 can capture good images in the right conditions but it falls short of challenging the likes of Google, Samsung, or Apple.
ROG Phone 3 features a massive 6,000mAh battery along with support for 30W Quick Charge 4.0 protocol. We also get multiple power-saving and optimized charging modes in the PowerMaster app. This offers essential modes such as "Battery-saving options", "Battery care", and "Battery modes". The Battery care mode allows users to check the status of the battery with useful features such as "Slow charging" and "Scheduled charging". This will ensure that the battery degrades at a slower rate while lasting longer.
Talking about the performance, the smartphone offers about 8-9 hours of battery with extended gaming sessions at a 144Hz refresh rate. During this time, we got about 7.5-8 hours of screen-on-time. However, during regular workday use, the device lasted about 26-27 hours at 144Hz with 7-7.5 hours of screen-on-time. Dropping down the refresh rate to 120Hz increased the battery backup by 0.75-1 hours and 90Hz resulted in a 1.5-2 hours increase. We would suggest you keep the refresh rate mode at "Auto" for the best balance between the battery and gaming experience. However, if you want the best battery then lock the device to 60Hz. During charging, the device took about 2 hours to charge from 0 to 100 percent.
Verdict: Should you buy the Asus ROG Phone 3
Asus has yet again managed to create the ultimate gaming smartphone in the market. ROG Phone 3 is ideal for anyone looking to play games with no compromises. The company has also managed to improve upon the ROG Phone 2 in key areas including performance, software, and cameras. We do think that the company needs to improve things in thermals and the camera quality.
The company has also offered a vast array of software features to back up the top of the line hardware. If you want to game then this is the best choice but if you are looking for a compact smartphone with a better camera then look elsewhere. If you want something stellar in terms of Camera then you can look at the Samsung Galaxy S20 Lite, iPhone 11, or even the OnePlus 8 Pro.