Asus Rog Phone 3 review
Quick verdict: If you're after a phone specifically tailored for Android gaming, the Asus ROG Phone 3 hits all the sweet spots.
- Amazing battery life
- 144Hz display
- Air Triggers are superb for gaming
- Ordinary cameras for a premium phone
- Huge, heavy and sometimes hot
- Headphone jack is on fan accessory
- No water resistance or wireless charging
Power, storage and battery
|Launch price (RRP)||$0|
Mobile phones are a mature enough category that the idea of a "gaming phone", built specifically for those who want premium performance when they're blasting their foes is no new matter.
Asus's third crack at a gaming phone, the Asus ROG Phone 3 isn't a phone for everybody, but with superb app performance, a super-slick 144hz capable display and astonishingly good general battery life, it's an easy recommendation if your passion is Android gaming.
- 6.59-inch, 144hz display
- Big and heavy
- Headphone jack is on the fan accessory
A phone with a 6.59-inch display isn't huge by modern standards, but if you're like me, you're still likely to be a little surprised at how big the Asus ROG Phone 3 is in your hands the first time you pick it up. At 171x78x9.85mm and 240g, this is a chunky phone with noticeable top and bottom bezels around the front display. Much of that weight has to be a consequence of Asus's inclusion of market-leading battery capacity in the phone's body.
That 6.59-inch display takes the mantle of 120Hz that Asus already had in the Rog Phone II and ups the ante with support for up to 144hz refresh rates, making this the smoothest phone screen you can buy in Australia right now. Those of a PC gaming persuasion won't need much convincing as to why 144hz is better for responsive gameplay, and it's backed up by a souped-up response rate of 270Hz, again accentuating this phone's gaming credo.
There are a few design choices that really make the Asus ROG Phone 3 stand out from the crowd, for both better and worse. Unlike many flagships, there's no choice of colours, with a single black frame choice accentuated with a glowing ROG logo at the rear alongside a very PC-like cooling vent displayed under a small glass panel. At the right of the phone, you'll find standard power and volume controls very deliberately placed in the middle of the phone body. That's because, like its predecessor, the Asus ROG Phone 3 features "Air Triggers", touch-sensitive areas on the side of the phone intended to be used as in-game controls. They're also how you fire up the phone's overclocking features – but more on that later.
On the left-hand side, when you first unpack the Asus ROG Phone 3, there's a seal covering a wide port that's used for the variety of Asus ROG Phone 3 accessories you can buy to pimp your new gaming phone. You only get one in the box in the form of a cooling fan that clips onto the phone body. There's a slight gap between the fan array and the rear of the phone, which strongly suggests that what it's actually doing is drawing heat out through that overlarge port before venting it with the fan, rather than supplying more traditional contact cooling.
However, the fan isn't just there for cooling because it's also where Asus has shifted the 3.5mm headphone jack. Sure, plenty of premium phones have shifted to not providing a headphone jack at all, but it makes sense to allow gamers who may have fancy wired headsets to use them.
At the same time, it's an entirely impractical suggestion if you want to use wired headphones on the go because the addition of the fan adds a lot of bulk, and naturally sucks up more battery power than when it's not present. It's neat that there's a kickstand leg on it for desk-based gaming, although this isn't the most robust part. I didn't break it during testing, but it's not very solid and I have my doubts about its ability to last in the medium term.
Speaking of durability, the modular nature of the Asus ROG Phone 3 means that like its predecessor, there's no sign of IP-rated water resistance. Indeed, with that large gap on the left-hand side, I'd be wary of having it near any fluids at all.
- Triple-lens system compares poorly to other flagships
- Macro lens is hard to focus
Last year's Asus ROG Phone II wasn't impressive in camera terms relative to other premium-priced flagship phones, but Asus says it has improved matters with the Asus ROG Phone 3. It features a triple-sensor real array, anchored around a primary 64MP f/1.8 Sony IMX686 sensor, alongside a 13MP f/2.4 125 ̊ ultra-wide sensor and a 5MP f/2.0 macro sensor.
The problem here is that for the asking price of the Asus ROG Phone 3, you'd expect more than the recipe you can pretty easily find in mid-range phones these days.
Again, it feels like a sacrifice that's been made to keep the Asus ROG Phone 3 within sane price grounds, but the end result is a phone that definitely lags behind the flagship crowd in terms of overall camera performance. Naturally, in fair light and with time, it's feasible to grab quite decent shots.
However, push it into low light or with fast-moving subjects and it struggles more than you'd expect out of a phone that sits in the above-$1,000 price bracket.
There's also a slight tendency towards overexposure in shots taken in auto mode, and like many low-grade macro cameras that are found in mid-range phones, results from the macro lens can take a lot of careful work to get right.
The lack of a real telephoto lens is also felt pretty strongly here; I would have happily traded away that macro lens for some real telephoto capability.
Around the front, Asus equips the Asus ROG Phone 3 with a 24MP f/2.0 single lens sensor. Given the large bezels on the Asus ROG Phone 3, it feels like a missed opportunity not to throw in either a depth sensor or secondary wide lens there, but the results are fairly decent for simple portrait-style shots.
In the interests of science, I also trialled out shooting with the Asus ROG Phone 3 while the fan accessory was attached. It's a distinctly odd way to shoot because it totally unbalances the phone in your hands. While it's not a lot of work to remove it, if you were trying to get a fast shot when it was still installed, you're going to struggle to do so.
- Great everyday app performance
- Astonishingly customisable for every game setting
- Tricky finding games that support 144hz
The Asus ROG Phone 3 as tested ran on a Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus clocked at an impressive 3.1GHz, paired up with a slightly ludicrous 16GB of RAM and 512GB of fixed storage. Given the size of some mobile games and the modularity of the whole ROG phone concept, it's a tad annoying that there's no support for microSD expansion.
Where the Asus ROG Phone 3 differs from your standard premium smartphone is that the specifications on the tin aren't the only story in performance terms. It's possible to punch its performance up with what Asus calls "X Mode", which comes with 3 steps of performance boosting. To jump from standard (X Mode 1) to X-Mode 2, you simply have to squeeze the lower sides of the phone. The default wallpaper has a cool little animation that plays when you do this and there's a colour shift to make it clear you're in an enhanced performance mode.
If you want to push it to the maximum this phone can do at X-Mode 3, you have to install the fan accessory before the Asus ROG Phone 3 will even consider it. That's almost certainly why it's an included accessory because if you're going to spend up big on a gaming phone, you're going to push it to the max, right?
In basic performance terms, that Snapdragon 865+ and 16GB of RAM is, of course, ample for everyday tasks, and that's reflected in its Geekbench 5 CPU scores.
There you won't see quite as much of a push with X-Mode 3, but then Geekbench isn't built towards gaming tasks at all. Here's how the Asus ROG Phone 3 compares to a range of flagship phones:
In the gaming space with a more specific graphics benchmark, however, the Asus ROG Phone 3 really shines. Here's how it compares using 3DMark's Slingshot Extreme benchmark:
Synthetic benchmarks can only take you so far, so to more fully appreciate the Asus ROG Phone 3, I had to engage in some serious games testing. Yeah, it's a tough job reviewing phones for a living sometimes.
The Asus ROG Phone 3 is a superb phone for gaming, whether you're using the on-screen controls or a paired controller. Asus does sell an optional gamepad that makes the Asus ROG Phone 3 even larger, but it didn't supply one for review, so I paired a more regular Bluetooth gamepad for testing purposes.
While much of Android gaming is taken up by millions playing Match-3 puzzle games, there's such a wide variety of titles available to play, and the Asus ROG Phone 3 makes this highly enjoyable, with great sound from its stereo speakers and the appeal of both that fast refresh rate and the ability to boost in-game performance at will.
There are a few aspects with the Asus ROG Phone 3 to take into consideration for gaming, even though you're going to be most keen to punch it into X-Mode 3 and 144Hz display mode most of the time. While the Air Triggers and customisability of Asus's in-game controls are absolutely second to none, the chances are good you're going to have to do a bit of tweaking for each game you want to play, especially if you want that rich 144Hz goodness in your game.
Simply put, there aren't that many fast action Android games that actually run at 144Hz just yet. If you're a PUBG or Call of Duty Mobile player for example, you're stuck in 60Hz land exclusively. Shadowgun War Games does run at 144Hz and looks very nice doing so, but it's a rarity in the field of Android FPS so far.
There are plenty of other Android games out there that will operate at 144Hz rates, and if you're so inclined, you can leave an on-screen indicator to show you current frame rates while you play.
However, a lot of titles use that refresh rate as part of the game cycle clock, which means punching it up to 144Hz means that you're also overclocking the game's play rate, making some titles much faster and harder than they really ought to be. It's nothing that a little per-game tweaking can't overcome, but if you're hoping to just sit back and enjoy everything at maximum performance rates, you're going to be disappointed.
Playing games on the Asus ROG Phone 3 for any length of time does make it very clear why Asus includes a fan accessory as well. This is a big phone, which means it's got a lot of space for heat dissipation, and it needs it. After one longer session of gameplay in X-Mode 3 with the fan running and placed on a desk, I unclipped it and grabbed the phone, only to be rather shocked at just how hot it got.
- 6000mAh battery is a monster
- Games can chew a lot of power
- Lacks wireless charging
Like its predecessor, the Asus ROG Phone 3 packs in a massive 6,000mAh sealed battery into its ample frame. The Asus ROG Phone II ultimately disappointed us in terms of battery life, but the inclusion of the newer and more battery efficient Snapdragon seems to have done the trick this time, giving the Asus ROG Phone 3 the battery endurance it needs… sort of.
That's a highly qualified statement, because in a straight-line test, the Asus ROG Phone 3 has exceptional battery life. Our standard battery testing regime involves running a full screen, maximum brightness 1080p YouTube video for an hour at moderate volume to gauge battery drain. At 144Hz, I was expecting the Asus ROG Phone 3 to really struggle relative to other flagships.
I was really wrong, at least in standard mode, although as you'll see, if you push it into X-Mode 3, it's a somewhat different story.
Does the Asus ROG Phone 3 need X-Mode 3 to run a simple YouTube video? By no means. It's total overkill, but it does serve to show how this is a phone where the battery-life story is nowhere near as simple as a simple battery-life test.
Mobile gaming is the easiest way to drain down a phone's battery bar none, and this is explicitly a gaming phone.
While it's rather more anecdotal, I tested the Asus ROG Phone 3 with a number of games from 100% in X-Mode 3, and in every case, I could get the battery to dip down under 80% within an hour's gaming time.
Its focus on landscape orientation does make it reasonably easy to have it plugged in while you're gaming, and realistically, this is something you're going to want to do much of the time when you're busy sniping your foes. It's entirely too easy to run the Asus ROG Phone 3 flat within a day if you're gaming on it a lot.
If you're not… why exactly are you buying the Asus ROG Phone 3 in the first place?
The modular nature of the Asus ROG Phone 3, which also supports optional game controller overlays does rather prohibit the inclusion of wireless charging, so when you do boost up its power, you've got to do so via its supplied 30W charger. 6000mAh is a lot of battery power to supply, so this can take some time, and even more if you're stuck using somebody else's lower power charger or a battery pack.
Should you buy the Asus Rog Phone 3?
- Buy it if you want the best gaming phone available right now.
- Don't buy it if you want premium cameras, water resistance or a smaller phone.
The Asus ROG Phone 3 serves a very specific niche indeed. As an everyday phone, it's fine and that 144Hz display is indeed lovely for matters such as web page browsing, but that's very much not the point.
The point of this phone, and the question you need to ask, is whether your primary purchasing decision around buying a smartphone rests on its ability to enhance your gaming experience. If the answer to that question is yes, then the Asus ROG Phone 3 is absolutely the phone you should buy.
If it's no, then this probably isn't the phone for you. While its general battery life is very good for everyday tasks, you're not going to benefit from its enhanced gaming modes, and you can easily get a phone with a better camera than the Asus ROG Phone 3.
Pricing and availability
Where to buy
Power, storage and battery
Images: Alex Kidman
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