But does it all add up to a smartphone that’s worth $1,545? Find out below.
Asus ROG Phone 5 Ultimate Edition Review
Asus ROG Phone 5 Ultimate Edition – Designs and Features
Despite the ROG Phone 5’s aspirations to be the ultimate gaming phone, it’s actually the least gamer-looking handset Asus has put out thus far.
This is especially true of the phone’s Ultimate Edition, which features a stark white paint job, matte finish, and angular silver streaks, giving it the look of a futuristic building or space station. The only real gaming flare here is an azure blue tab on the side with the acronym GLHF etched into it. There’s also a small monochromatic OLED screen on the back. By default, it cycles through a ROG logo animation, but you can customize it to display any image or animation of your choosing.
Interestingly, Asus has removed the ROG Phone 5’s cooling vent. Instead, this handset features two layers of graphene sheets and a restructured thermal layout to help keep it and your hands cool. The main processor has also moved to the middle of the device to help keep heat away from your digits as you play.
The front of the phone doesn’t look dramatically different from its predecessor. The main difference is even slimmer bezels, measuring only 7mm thick. This is largely thanks to the front-firing speaker being reduced to only a sliver in thickness.
Don’t think they’re any less powerful though. These thin speakers still pack a wallop, as is especially evident in the boisterous, electronic unsheathing sound effect that plays every time you turn on the phone. That’s not to say the speakers sound unpleasant though. In fact, they have a surprisingly nuanced sound when playing music while offering plenty of bass for games full of gunfire and explosions.
The headphone jack has made a triumphant return, and this time it comes with a HyperStream II Quad DAC. In other words, not only will you be able to pull your wired headphones and earbuds out of storage, but you’ll also get premium Hi-Res audio out of them.
The screen is bigger than last year’s offering, now measuring at 6.78 inches instead of 6.59 inches. Asus has also moved up to a Samsung E4 OLED panel, which is capable of a 1080 x 2448 resolution with 800 nits of peak brightness and HDR10+.
In real life, it’s a dramatically good-looking display with deep blacks and colors that pop off the glass. The smoothness is also exceptional thanks to the display’s maximum 144Hz refresh rate. Unlike most phones that automatically turn the refresh rate up or down depending on what you’re doing, you can set the refresh rate to always be 144Hz, 120Hz, or 60Hz. This means you can finally scroll through Instagram and Twitter with maximum smoothness, though be warned that locking to a high refresh rate will mean sacrificing some battery life.
The shoulder-mounted Air-Triggers make a return, while the Pro and Ultimate Editions also get two additional capacitive rear sensors to act as virtual buttons, similar to the rear touch buttons from the PS Vita. Mapping two extra rear touch controls is great, but to actually use them you have to uncomfortably pin the phone between your palms since your fingers can’t cradle it from the back anymore.
Another major change on the ROG Phone 5 is the accessory port on the side of the handset. Whereas the previous three generations of Asus gaming phones have used two USB-C ports, this latest model trades one out for a pogo pin interface.
The new pogo pin system is a big improvement as it frees up the other USB-C port for charging the phone, even while holding the device in landscape mode. The first accessory to go with the new system is the AeroActive 5 cooler, which also features two new physical buttons you can use like the paddles on an Xbox Elite Series 2 controller. Compared to the rear touch buttons, these physical buttons are much more comfortable to use, with a much preferable tactile feel.
Unfortunately, this new pogo pin-based connector also means most existing side-mounted ROG Phone accessories – such as the Twin View Dock 3 and Mobile Desktop Dock – won’t work with this new phone.
At the same time, Asus has only introduced a small family of gaming accessories for the ROG Phone 5. In total there are four accessories including the aforementioned AeroActive 5 cooler: the Kunia 3 controller – which is actually a holdover from the ROG Phone 3 – the ROG Gaming Clip, which lets you mount the phone to an Xbox, DualShock, or Stadia controller, and lastly the Professional Dock, that’s basically a USB-C Dock with an HDMI and two USB ports.
Overall the limited number of accessories and lack of backward compatibility with older attachments is a bit of a letdown. One of the big things that drew me to the ROG Phone over other gaming phones was its large ecosystem of accessories. The new accessories work well enough, but it’s unfortunate that existing users will have to jettison their current hardware if they upgrade to the ROG Phone 5.
Asus ROG Phone 5 Ultimate Edition – Gaming and Performance
The ROG Phone 5 comes running with the same Snapdragon 888 processor you’ve probably seen in most flagship Android phones. Unlike years past, this gaming phone isn’t running a Plus version of the mainline processor, so it won’t have any extra power over a high-end handset like the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.
What it does have over other Android phones is faster memory and storage, with 18GB of LPDDR5 RAM (specifically on the Ultimate Edition) and 512GB UFS3.1 SSD storage, respectively. Those graphene sheets and the improved cooling system I mentioned earlier also mean the ROG Phone 5 can run at full tilt for longer while remaining cooler than other devices.
Compared to most standard smartphones, the screen is much more tuned to gaming with a 144Hz refresh rate and a 300Hz touch sampling rate. That means the touchscreen reports your touch inputs 300 times every second, giving you a distinct edge of response time and accuracy over other players on regular phones.
Turning on X-Mode, which is activated by squeezing the sides of the phone, also tells the device to max out and prioritize CPU clocks, GPU power, network speeds, and memory for gaming. While you’re gaming you can also slide out the Game Genie interface to quickly adjust settings such as refresh rate and disable notifications. This is also where you map the Air Triggers, Rear Touch, and the Kunai 3 controls.
While there’s been a growing market of phone controllers, nothing allows you to map physical buttons to every on-screen control quite like this. The only thing I don’t like is Asus still has yet to add an option to invert the thumbstick controls.
Of course, the best thing of all about having a controller that connects directly with the Asus ROG Phone 5 is it’s a fantastic combo for streaming games on Stadia or GeForce Now. The layout of a standard controller perfectly lines up with that of the Kunai 3, and the hardwired connection with the handset helps reduce any input lag as you play games streaming from the cloud.
Asus ROG Phone 5 Ultimate Edition – Camera Samples
Asus ROG Phone 5 Ultimate Edition – Camera
When it comes to cameras, there’s nothing new compared to the ROG Phone 3. Spec for spec, you’re looking at the same exact camera setup as last year’s model.
- 64 MP, f/1.8, 26mm (wide), 1/1.73″, 0.8µm, PDAF
- 13 MP, f/2.4, 11mm, 125˚ (ultrawide)
- 5 MP, f/2.0, (macro)
- 24 MP, f/2.5, 27mm (wide-selfie), 0.9µm
The good news is the ROG Phone 3 basically has every camera option you would need on even a mainstream Android phone, let alone one so focused on gaming.
The ROG Phone 5 takes sharp, highly detailed photos, but colors can often look washed out. Oddly enough, I think the extra processing put on night mode images actually makes them look better than any pictures taken in daylight and good lighting.
Asus ROG Phone 5 Ultimate Edition – Battery Life
The Asus ROG Phone 5 comes equipped with two 3,000mAh batteries for a total of 6,000mAh of battery capacity. Twin battery setups like this are becoming the norm with smartphones because it allows them to charge at faster rates without sacrificing capacity or getting too hot.
With a fast-charging rate of 65W, the ROG Phone 5 was able to get back up to 45% battery capacity after just 30 minutes and then 75% capacity after a full hour of charging.
As for longevity, the 6,000mAh battery is plenty big enough to get you through a long day. Without the least bit of restraint, I played games and streamed videos for hours, took photos, browsed the web and social media all day long, and yet I still ended the day with 48% battery capacity still in the tank. This phone can definitely see you through a long day and then some.
The standard model features a simpler dot matrix display similar to Asus’ latest slew of gaming laptops. You also lose the rear touch sensors and there isn’t an AeroActive Cooler 5 included with the phone. Aside from the exterior differences, this phone features the same processor, cameras, and overall internals. You start with 12GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 128GB of storage for €899 (about $1,070) and there’s a higher-end SKU with 16GB of memory and 256GB of storage for $1,359 on Amazon or $1,329 on Newegg.
The €1,199 (about $1,430) Pro Model is essentially the black version of the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate Edition I’ve reviewed, but with a color OLED screen instead of a monochromatic one. At this point, you get the rear touch controls and the AeroActive Cooler 5, plus the memory and storage are bumped up to 16GB and 512GB.
Last up is the Ultimate Edition I’ve reviewed here. It comes with all the bells and whistles, plus the greatest amount of 18GB of RAM and 512GB of storage for €1,299 (around $1,545).