Asus promised us a few surprises at Computex 2018 this year, and the company is staying true to its word. The Taiwanese PC and smartphone company came to this year’s event with its first gaming smartphone released under its ROG brand.
The company calls it the ROG Phone (the model number ZS600KL), and it’s the third gaming-centric smartphone we’ve seen in recent times, following the Xiaomi Black Shark and Razer Phone.
Unlike the Asus' Zenfone series, this one follows the ROG design language, with a few neat tweaks designed to appeal to gamers.
Price and availability
Asus hasn't confirmed pricing or availability for the new phone, but it's expected to carry a premium price tag, and Asus representatives have said the phone will be released in the US, UK and APAC region.
While smartphones from Asus have so far been sold under the Zenfone monicker, with the ROG Phone, Asus is effectively launching an extension of its PC Gaming brand to mobile devices.
The device follows the ROG design language, with sharp lines, a black finish and distinctly 'gamer' looks. Even the fingerprint sensor, camera and flash modules on the back are distinct from other phones, and you see the glowing ROG logo under them. And yes, the ROG logo does light up, and you can change the color if you want.
Most of the back is covered in glass, with a cut-out metallic section on the right side that houses speaker grilles. While Asus says there's glass on the back, it does feel more like plexiglass than the Gorilla Glass backs you find on flagships today.
The company has also curved the rear edges, so the phone nestles in your palm. It's heavy, but not overly so, and it's tall, which makes it easier to use with one hand, although it isn't perfectly suited to one-handed use.
What the ROG Phone doesn't have is a notch in the screen. There's another speaker grille indented in the top bezel, and an identical grille in the bottom bezel, both in a reddish-gold color, to continue the stealthy looks of the phone.
The power on/off and volume buttons are on the right, accompanied by two USB Type-C ports for attaching accessories. There's another Type-C port on the bottom for charging the phone.
Overall, the ROG Phone is certainly distinct, and clearly 'gamer-focused'.
Specs and Performance
The ROG Phone runs on the Snapdragon 845, but the chipset hits a higher clock speed on this device. Asus says it worked with Qualcomm for the chipsets, and the clock speed can reach 2.9GHz, about 100MHz higher than normal.
But more importantly, the ROG Phone has a 1080p AMOLED display with 90Hz refresh rate. While that's lower than Razer's 120Hz spec, neither would make a big difference until games really start supporting them. The same is true for HDR playback, which the display does support.
However, what's more interesting is the vapor-cooling technology Asus employs on this device. This is the first phone to sport such tech, and on first look it does seem to work. We spent a good half an hour playing Asphalt 8 and Marvel: Contest of Champions on the device and there was no noticeable drop in frame rates, even after the phone got considerably and uncomfortably hot.
In fact, we streamed the game to a TV from a ROG phone for over half an hour, and although you could feel the phone getting hot, we still experienced no frame drops.
There's also a version of Asus' ROG Gaming Center app on this device. This shows you what frequency the CPU and GPU are at, the phone's temperature and more. Of course, you don't get the same level of control over these as you do on gaming PCs.
However, this app can let you toggle the 'X-Mode' that lets you set the CPU clock higher and to its maximum, if needed. You can also squeeze the edges for this, or turn it on from Android's quick settings dock.
The ROG Phone may also be the loudest smartphone out there today. Its speakers can easily fill a medium-sized room if there's no peripheral noise. Audio quality is also noticeably better than from regular smartphones, although we wouldn’t recommend making this your go-to music device. The speakers are loud, but they still lack bass, and audio seems more biased towards the high frequencies.
One of the major elements of the Asus ROG Phone are the accessories that go with it. In addition to the vapor cooling, Asus will be bundling a fan accessory with the phone; this attaches to the USB-C ports on the side, and helps cool the phone when you're gaming for long periods. It's worth noting that this is the only accessory Asus is bundling – the rest have to be purchased separately.
One of these is a TwinView Dock, which allows a dual-screen handheld gaming experience. The phone fits into the top part of the dock, and you can then use the phone to watch a movie, for example, while a screen on the base can be used to game.
There's also a Gamevice controller, which gives you console-like controls for gaming, while the WiGig Dock enables you to cast the phone onto a monitor and play using a keyboard and mouse. The ROG Phone also supports Asus' AuraSync and RGB lighting features.
While we'll need to put the Asus ROG Phone properly through its paces before we can deliver a more considered verdict, it's safe to say it represents real innovation in the smartphone market. Companies are trying to make the 'gaming phone' a thing, and Asus may have taken the biggest step towards achieving this.
It's certainly a niche product, but the ROG Phone could easily be marketed as a flagship device. Moreover, if it's successful enough, Asus may look to produce variants of the device and, with developer support, make a true phone/handheld console hybrid.
The ROG Phone will certainly tickle the fancy of gamers, with a distinct look and some nifty features that no one else is offering just now, and with the right pricing Asus may be able to spark real interest in the nascent gaming phone market. Your move, everyone else.