ROG Phone 5 cover review

Previously, we took a look at what came in the box with the ROG Phone 5 and took a first look at what it had to offer, how it stacked up to its predecessors and its higher end siblings the ROG Phone 5 Pro and ROG Phone 5 Ultimate. Now, we see how it fares after putting it through its paces in our full-on ROG Phone 5 review.

 

ROG Phone 5 review top box

ROG Phone 5 Review – Performance

Every aspect of the new ROG Phone 5 has been optimised towards turning it into the best gaming phone that money can buy. The core aspects of its design, such as a heavy emphasis on ensuring superior cooling in its chassis for sustained heavy gaming performance, a side-mounted USB port for in-game charging along with the hardware to match, enables it to excel in its chosen role as a gaming phone bar none.

ROG Phone 5 Review - side USB

The side-mounted charging port features a USB-C and a pogo pin connector.

Like its pricier variants the ROG Phone 5 Pro and ROG Phone 5 Ultimate, the ROG Phone 5 comes with the latest flagship Snapdragon 888 processor. Built on a 5nm process, the SD888 combines a main 2.84 Cortex X1 core with a trio of Cortex A78 2.42GHz cores and a quartet of Cortex A55 1.8GHz cores for general workhorse duties along with an Adreno 660 GPU. 

Where the ROG Phone 5 differs from its pricier siblings is that it has a modest 8GB LPDDR5 RAM and 128GB of fast UFS3.1 storage while the ROG Phone 5 Pro and Ultimate have more. There’s no microSD card tray so you’re stuck with what they’ve issued. 

Combined, this setup is currently more than sufficient to handle any mobile game on the Google Play Store as of 2021 and likely for the next couple of years even at maxed out settings without trouble.

With hardware this powerful, daily tasks run like lightning on the ROG Phone 5 with silky smooth animations onscreen while apps turn on in an instant and swapping between Chrome tabs was almost instantaneous.

The ROG Phone 5 is also somewhat future proof as it integrates 5G support as well as WiFi 6E connectivity which ensures that it won’t be left out when these technologies become more widespread in the coming year.

Price RM2,999
Display 6.78-inch FHD+ (2448 x 1080) AMOLED display, 144Hz  refresh rate, 300Hz touch sampling, HDR10+, 150.89% sRGB, 111% DCI-P3, Delta E <1, 800 nits (typical),  1200 nits peak brightness, Gorilla Glass Victus
Processor Snapdragon 888 2.84GHz octacore processor
OS Android 11 with Armoury Crate app
Memory 8GB LPDDR5 RAM / 128GB UFS 3.1 storage (non-expandable)
Connectivity WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax (WiFi 6E support)
Bluetooth 5.2
Dual-band GPS
5G: n41/77/78/79, n1, n3, n5, n7, n8, n12, n20, n25, n28, n38,n40
FDD-LTE: Band 1/ 2/ 3/ 4/ 5/ 7/ 8/ 18/ 19/ 20/ 26/ 28
Cameras 64MP F/1.8 + 13MP F/2.4 ultra wide angle camera + 5MP F/2.0 macro camera [rear] / 24MP F/2.0 [front]
Battery 6,000mAh (3,000mAh x 2), 65W HyperCharge (USB-PD), 10W reverse charging
Size/Weight 173 x 77 x 9.9mm /239g
ROG Phone 5 Specifications

ROG Phone 5 – Software, X-Mode, X-Mode+ and the ROG Armoury Crate

One of the key differentiators in the ROG Phone 5 that elevates it over the competition is its implementation of firmware to optimise the gaming experience. Refined over previous ROG Phones, the ROG Phone 5 has their gaming-focused X-Mode that can be accessed via the proprietary Armoury Crate app, dragging down the top notifications bar or by squeezing the  haptic triggers in the base of the phone to toggle it on or off.

Like its predecessors, turning X-Mode on changes the home screen from a cool blue into an angrier red scheme.

It’s not just cosmetics as turning on X-Mode also removes background apps and dials up CPU, GPU and RAM performance to their limits. If you slap on the AeroCooler Active 5 attachment, you also unlock an additional mode – X-Mode+ with even higher performance and tolerance limits.

ROG Phone 5 review - customisation

You can customise the controls for each game via the Game Genie.

The ROG Armoury Crate app in itself is an impressive affair as it allows you to tweak a slew of settings ranging from thermal limits, CPU, GPU all the way to RAM performance on a per app basis on the ROG Phone 5. This means that you can, for example, create a custom set of performance tweaks when you fire up a specific game.

The vast majority of these features aren’t needed to get excellent performance in games for most users outside of the phone’s standard X-Mode and X-Mode+ but the option to tweak the ROG Phone 5 at such a deep level exists for those who know what they’re doing and looking eke out just that little of extra performance. 

ROG Phone 5 Review – Benchmarks

There’s way too many parameters to factor in so we left the benchmarks purely to X-Mode+ on and off with the AeroCooler Active 5 attachment bolted on to the rear to truly test the full potential of the phone. We’ve also omitted some of the 3DMark benchmarks as the phone was too powerful.

Benchmark X-Mode off X-Mode+ On
3DMark Wild Life 5786 5825
3DMark Wild Life Stress Test 5479 5790
Geekbench 5 Single Core score 1116 1125
Geekbench 5 Multi Core score 3656 3489
PCMark Work 2.0 10090 14970
Benchmark Tests done with AeroActive Cooler 5 attached on the ROG Phone 5

The resulting benchmarks showed a noticeable difference with X-mode off and X-mode+ on especially in multi core performance and in intensive, graphically demanding tasks which the ROG Phone 5’s raison d’etre. 

Under field tests, we put Call of Duty Mobile Garena, the localised Southeast Asia version of the game and dialled the settings to Very High, with Maximum frame rate, Ragdolling and all applicable settings including water reflections in.a 3 hour marathon with the AeroCooler Active 5 on through a series of multiplayer and battle royale matches. It was also able to tackle Genshin Impact at maximum settings without undue trouble and silky smooth frame rates. 

ROG Phone 5 Review CODM

Call of Duty Mobile Garena version. 120Hz, 60fps on maximum settings

ROG Phone 5 Review asphalt 9

Asphalt 9, 144Hz, 60fps, maximum settings

ROG Phone 5 Review Injustice 2

Injustice 2, 144Hz, 144fps, maximum settings

ROG Phone 5 Review genshin impact

Genshin Impact, 144Hz, 60fps, maximum settings

The centre of the phone certainly got warm under the highest performance settings when gaming but it didn’t affect comfort as the heat generating components – primarily the CPU and batteries – are centered in the middle of the phone which keeps it away from your hands when held in landscape mode.  

Cooling is further enhanced with a sandwich of graphite sheets and a reshaped vapour chamber. The addition of the AeroActive Cooler 5 on the back of the phone makes a tangible difference in keeping the heat down and is well worth the additional cost, especially for ardent gamers.

ROG Phone 5 Review game genie

That’s not to put shade on the phone’s X-Mode sans the AeroCooler Active and the ROG Phone 5 is perfectly capable of tackling gaming at a full 144Hz refresh rate though it’s typically set at 120Hz and you have to go into the Game Genie settings when you’re ingame by swiping the phone from the left to manually enable 144Hz, presumably to manage heat and battery life.

On the gaming front, our ROG Phone 5 review sample with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage was able to tackle every mobile game thrown at it without faltering. 

ROG Phone 5 Display

The 6.78-inch FHD+ touchscreen on the ROG Phone 5 uses an AMOLED panel custom made by Samsung that notably is 23% brighter than its predecessor the ROG Phone 3 at about 800 nits with 1,200 nits peak brightness. It’s also exceptionally fast on the draw with a 144Hz dynamic refresh rate.

By default, the refresh rate is set to Auto which adjusts it for the task at hand but you can force it to go down to 60Hz, 120Hz and 144Hz. Naturally, not all games and tasks are able to go at a full 144Hz and many games, especially the more popular ones don’t have very high frame rates with most maxing out at 60fps.

ROG Phone 5 Review - blacks

The ROG Phone 5 features a Samsung manufactured panel and beautifully deep blacks with a 144Hz refresh rate

In Call of Duty Mobile, the screen maxed out at 120Hz but the game itself has a maximum 60fps while in Asphalt 9, the screen dialled up to 144Hz but ingame frame rates were kept at 60fps. This was also true in Genshin Impact with the display running at 144Hz while frame rates were at 60fps.

Needless to say, not many games currently available in the market can take advantage of the full power of the ROG Phone 5’s display though ROG does provide a list of more casual, simpler games on their Armoury Crate app which do indeed take full advantage of the screen like Injustice 2 that runs at a full 144fps and 144Hz.

Detractors may wonder at the FHD+ screen resolution when competitors have already cranked out sharper WQHD+ displays like the Galaxy S21 Ultra but the extra pixels don’t particularly benefit mobile games and are somewhat superfluous seeing as the vast majority of games max out at 1080p resolution.

ROG Phone 5 Review -  gaming

The ROG Phone 5’s display is also rated for exceptional colour accuracy with a Delta E<1 and 111% DCI-P3 colour space as well as HDR10+ support. The phone also has Widevine L1 support, which ensures it plays well with Netflix. 

In test footage, the AMOLED display was able to serve up deliciously deep blacks and excellent colour rendition; no surprise seeing as the panel was manufactured by Samsung. Clarity outdoors was excellent too and the phone display was very legible under sunlight.

Flanking the display are a pair of speakers, set symmetrically on the top and bottom of the screen and facing forwards. Each of the speakers integrates a 7-magnet design with a Cirrus Logic CS35L45 amp capable of kicking out 35% more combined speaker volume compared to the ROG Phone 3. 

A combination of impressive hardware, strategically symmetrical design and good solid tuning by Dirac make these one of the best speakers yet mounted in a phone. You’re getting surprisingly good bass, great detail and a pleasantly wide soundstage; qualities that make gaming and movies on the ROG Phone 5 a delight.

ROG Phone 5 Review – AirTriggers and More

One of the key differentiators for the ROG Phone 5 is its veritable arsenal of additional gaming controls. Earlier versions introduced the ultrasonic AirTriggers placed at the top side of the phone where a console gamepad’s shoulder trigger buttons would be. 

ROG Phone 5 Review Ultrasonic trigger customisation

The ROG Phone 5 has customisable ultrasonic Air Triggers that are analogous to shoulder buttons with deep customisation options

The Armoury Crate app lets you further tweak them including subdividing each trigger into two assignable buttons and more. The ROG Phone5 also now has motion controls that can detect how you move the phone. 

Much like a driving game, you can customise what it does if you tilt or turn it left or right, shake it up or down. If you opt to add in the AeroCooler Active 5 attachment, you get access to two additional buttons mounted on the cooler itself where your ring fingers would be.

ROG Phone 5 Review - rear triggers

The AeroCooler Active 5 has a set of additional buttons to let you add an additional set of controls to the phone.

There are literally too many options to cover even in the scope of an in-depth review but we managed to map the shoulder triggers in Call of Duty Mobile with the right one to aim down sight and the left to throw a grenade.

It does require a learning curve to take advantage of these new controller inputs but if you’re serious about gaming, it’s well worth the trouble. It falls down to just how deep down the customisation rabbit hole you’re willing to go.

ROG Phone 5 – Cameras

The rear ROG Phone 5 cameras consist of a modest triple camera setup with a primary 64MP F/1.8 camera using a Sony IMX686 sensor paired with a 13MP F/2.4 ultrawide angle camera and a 5MP F/2.0 macro camera. This setup enables it to capture up to 8K@30fps video and 4K@60fps video. The front sports a 24MP F/2.0 camera and can take up to 1080P@60fps video.

ROG Phone 5 camera

Ultra wide angle camera on the ROG Phone 5

ROG Phone 5 macro mode

The ROG Phone 5 requires you to specifically access macro mode to use the macro camera

ROG Phone 5

The primary rear camera of the ROG Phone 5

Needless to say, photography and videography isn’t the ROG Phone 5’s forte. There’s a slight bit of distortion seen in shots taken by the wide angle camera. Typically this is corrected by algorithms in other phones but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. 

ROG Phone 5 Review ultra wide night

Ultra wide angle in dim light with somewhat soft results and poor dynamic range

ROG Phone 5 Review primary camera low light

Shots are better on the main rear camera on the ROG Phone 5

Low light on the wide angle camera are also decidedly soft though you can get pretty decent shots with the main camera with some patience as the phone requires a 4-second delay to capture a shot in dim light conditions.

ROG Phone 5 first look dual camera

Shots on the main camera can be zoomed in digitally at up to 8x and the zoom is by cropping the sensor so the results aren’t stellar. You’re not getting this phone for its cameras and it’s strictly functional like scanning your receipts, remembering where you parked your car and the odd Facebook food post or two.

ROG Phone 5 Review – Battery Life

The ROG Phone 5 adopts a rather unusual battery design. Rather than one large capacity battery, they’ve integrated a pair of 3,000mAh batteries into the phone.

There are a number of benefits with this approach as the phone charges faster at 65W from last year’s 30W without significant compromises in battery lifespan over its service life and is able to, on paper, get to a full charge in 52 minutes along with a 70% charge in 30 minutes while remaining 7°C cooler during the process. 

ROG Phone 5 review cover

In terms of battery life, the ROG Phone 5 proved to be fair, if somewhat unremarkable with about 5 hours and 30 minutes of active usage time combining data, WiFi, social media, emails and gaming while the screen refresh rate was set on auto. 

ROG Phone 5 Review PC Mark battery test

In PCMark’s Battery 2.0 test which involves the above general usage mix minus gaming in, it scored 7 hours and 54 minutes of usage time.

You can likely eke out more battery life by limiting refresh rates or ensuring it only maxes out in certain applications, further reducing screen brightness and limiting background app usage but that does require quite a bit of tinkering.

ROG Phone 5 first look

The AeroActive Cooler 5 has a helpful kickstand to prop up the phone for Netflix watching duties.

The bundled 65W charger allows the ROG Phone 5 to charge to its full potential and it was able to charge up to full from dead zero in just 56 minutes which is quite a feat.

ROG Phone 5 – Is it worth buying?

Anyone can shoehorn a bunch of high-end components together and call it a gaming phone but the ROG Phone 5 is an entirely different beast. Not only does it have the hardware to handle any game that you can throw at it in the market today, it also offers a deep, highly customisable user experience and a proven design optimised for a superior mobile gaming experience

The Armoury Crate app lets users tweak almost every conceivable setting while their renowned AirTriggers, a new haptic ‘shake’ control and an enhanced, button-packing, AeroCooler Active 5 attachment lets you enjoy a gamepad like gaming experience. 

Add in the enhanced cooling capabilities via the aforementioned AeroCooler Active and their innovative side-mounted USB-C port and you have the ability to enjoy high-performance, sustained gaming for hours on end.

ROG Phone 5 First Look front

The ROG Phone 5’s laser-focused emphasis on being the best gaming phone possible comes at the detriment of its utility as a general workhorse phone.

The lack of expandable storage especially in the most basic version of the ROG Phone 5 and generally middling cameras reduces its appeal to the mainstream crowd. Quirks aside, the ROG Phone 5 sets an exceptionally high bar as a gaming phone that’s tough to beat even for other gaming phones. and deserving of our Gold award.
Hitech Century Gold Award

ROG Phone 5 Review sample courtesy of ROG Malaysia. Available for purchase online at ROG’s official page at https://rog.asus.com/my/phones/rog-phone-5-model/

ROG Phone 5 Review
4
  • Display
  • Performance
  • Cameras
  • Battery Life
  • Value

ROG Phone 5 Review

With a veritable cornucopia of customisation options, hardware optimised for sustained high performance gaming and a superior user experience for gamers, the ROG Phone 5 sets the bar as the gaming phone to beat. As a gaming smartphone, the ROG Phone 5 is first among equals.

Pros

Excellent 144Hz display

Air Triggers offer impressive gaming capabilities

Powerful performance

Breathtakingly deep customisation with Armoury Crate app

Has a 3.5mm audio jack

Superb performance

Swift 65W fast charging

One of the best stereo speakers on a phone

Cons

Basic version doesn’t come with bundled Aerocooler Active Cooler 5

Gets really warm with heavy gaming

No IP water resistance

No wireless charging

Middling cameras

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