Mobile gaming is growing rapidly. What was once just for mums playing Candy Crush, or kids playing doodle jump, has now expanded massively. We’re up to 2.2 billion mobile gamers globally, that's 28% of the entire population! With massive names in the gaming industry such as COD, PUBG, Minecraft, Fortnite and League of Legends offering mobile games, it's actually possible to be a pretty serious and competitive gamer without owning a console or PC. This is where the new ASUS ROG Phone 5S comes into play. If you are an avid mobile gamer, or think you could be, this absolute beast of a phone is absolutely worth checking out. ASUS has a long and storied history as one of the leading brands in PC parts, laptops and desktops, so you know that this phone has some pedigree.
Let's dive straight into the specs of this phone. It has a FullHD, 6.78” display, with an aspect ratio of 20:4:9, capable of running at a whopping 144Hz. The ROG Phone 5S boasts a 64 MP rear camera and 24 MP front camera, and this rear camera is capable of recording video at 8K UHD at 30FPS, or 4K UHD at 60. It has dual front-facing speakers, and a quad mic setup. There are two biometric options, with an in-screen fingerprint sensor and face recognition. It supports Dual Sim cards. It features the brand new Snapdragon 888+ processor, a huge 16GB of RAM, and has an absolutely monstrous 6000mAh battery, that supports Quick Charge 5.0 and PD Charging.
Unboxing and setup:
Now that we’ve gotten through the technical aspects, let's dive into what kind of experience this phone offers, starting with the unboxing.
This was definitely a premium experience. When you unlatch the magnetically sealed lid, it unfurls to reveal a very stylised anime comic strip, back to that in a moment. The first thing to come out is the phone itself, along with a plastic protective case. There is also your very own ROG themed sim card ejector, which was a nice touch. Naturally, you get some fun stickers and manuals. There are some spare little rubber charger covers. And finally the seriously beefy 65-watt HyperCharge adapter, along with a braided USB-C to USB-C cable.
Once you turn the phone on, you run through the fairly standard phone setup, however, it's all themed with some suitably gamer-fied ROG flair. Once you’re up and running you get to create your ROG worldview ID. This starts off with you utilising your ROG Phone 5S and the aforementioned comic strip to enjoy a futuristic AR comic.
How well does it work as a phone?
The ROG Phone 5S allows you to choose your theme as soon as you’ve finished the setup. There’s a lot to choose from, and a few you can pay for, but I stuck with switching between their ROG theme and the less intense Zen theme. Be careful when picking your themes, as some of the moving ones can end up using a bit more battery.
The first thing I noticed was how smooth the scrolling felt, 144Hz is no joke, and because of this, the screen felt incredibly smooth and responsive. This responsiveness is thanks in no small part to the 360Hz touch-sampling rate and the 24ms touch latency. You also immediately notice how good the display itself looks thanks to the incredible colour accuracy and always-on HDR tech.
Using this phone throughout the day was a great experience. Thanks to such immense power, it handles anything you could feasibly ask of a phone with complete ease, no hitching or stuttering whatsoever, just a constant smooth and responsive experience. Calls, messaging, social media scrolling, all were a pretty flawless experience, especially on a display this size. The camera works well, it's not going to blow anyone’s mind, but you can definitely take great pictures and record some very high-quality video. In terms of ergonomics, without the case on, it can feel a bit slippery due to its length and aluminium body. The plastic case solves that problem nicely though. It’s also important to note that the case doesn’t block the fun RGB ROG logo on the back of the phone, or the Air Triggers.
When it comes to slightly more serious media consumption, this is where the phone starts to really shine. Those dual front-facing speakers offer impressive performance. It’s surprising that this quality of sound is coming from a phone! This makes listening to music and streaming viable without headphones. Though if you do have a pair, this is one of the last remaining smartphones to still offer a headphone jack. Thank you ASUS. You can tell they care about sound too, as it is hugely customisable with ASUS’ AudioWizard in their settings. I also really appreciated how much you could adjust the audio just from pressing the rockers. When the graphic pops up showing the volume, you can fine-tune some key audio settings right from there, no need to go into the settings app. The 144Hz display means you can really make the most of content that supports high refresh rates, while the huge screen prevents you from feeling the need to squint. On a screen this size, a FHD screen is definitely fine, QHD wouldn’t have been too much though, but likely would’ve driven the cost up.
All in all, this phone performs day-to-day fantastically and offers an awesome experience. This experience easily lasts all day and more too, that 6000mAh battery is absolutely no joke. Even with a decent chunk of the day spent consuming media and gaming, I still had 30% or 40% leftover. If you do manage to run it dry from a day of intense gaming, it only takes an hour to reach a full charge! Speaking of gaming…
This is the ultimate question isn’t it. You’re not buying this phone to scroll Facebook, you’re buying it to take your mobile gaming to the next level (and maybe scrolling Reddit). So how does it perform? To put it simply, exceptionally. There is no doubt that this is hands down the best gaming smartphone out there right now. Even brushing aside the features ASUS has added to this phone, the refresh rate, screen size and dimensions, plus the sheer power makes it pretty challenging for people to compete with you. Once you start introducing those extra features, it's basically game over for your enemies.
I started off with a few of the classic competitive mobile FPS’; PUBG and COD. I started COD off just using the normal touch controls and had some pretty great games. Once I mapped the air triggers though it was an entirely different experience. Naturally, I mapped the left air trigger to ADS and the right to shoot, and saying I popped off was an understatement. I’ve casually played a few FPS games on my other phone in the past, and been decent, but those extra buttons make a massive difference. PUBG actually gave me a warning that they suspected I was hacking after my first game. For context, I am by no means a talented FPS player, I don’t regularly win Battle Royale games, and in competitive shooters, I’d have to have a pretty good day to be at the top of the leaderboard.
I also tried out Asphalt 9, GTA: SA and some other GTA clones, Dead Trigger 2, and Beatstar. The driving games definitely benefited from the air triggers, though it sometimes required a bit of fiddling with the control layouts to make sure the air triggers made sense both driving and on foot. A few games don’t make much sense to use the air triggers with, but that amazing display still truly enhances the experience.
You can tell ASUS is not only passionate about mobile gaming, they’ve clearly spent some time doing it too. This phone sets out to ensure your performance isn’t being held back. A prime example of this is that the ROG Phone 5S has two charging ports. Two! “Why?”, you ask? So that if you want to charge your phone and game at the same time, you don’t have to adjust your grip, you just plug the charger into the side of the phone. Simple, but such a smart solution. Game Genie is a highly advanced gaming app that can be pulled out by sliding from the left side of the screen and allows you to make adjustments to further enhance your gaming. You also get ArmouryCrate. This is ASUS’ app that allows you to customise your experience on a per-app basis. You might want to maximise your framerate at 144HZ in COD at the expense of your battery life, but you might not mind as much if Dead Trigger 2 runs at 120 or even 60 FPS since it's a bit more of a casual game.
The phone can heat up a bit when you’re in some of the more intense games, and pushing it at its limit. It never gets uncomfortably hot, which is obviously critical for a handheld device. This is thanks to the really intelligent layout of the internal components, which ASUS calls their GameCool 5 cooling system. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to test out ASUS’ AeroActive Cooler 5, but I can only imagine the benefit you’d get from being able to push a bit more performance out of this device, and those two extra buttons would probably be enough to sell it to me if I was serious about my mobile gaming.
It’s clear that ASUS has utilised their wealth of PC gaming experience, and the prior generations of ROG Phones to create the ultimate gaming smartphone. I think it’s equally impressive that all of this focus on gaming hasn’t, in my opinion, detracted from the ROG Phone 5S’ ability to actually be a smartphone, if anything it's enhanced it. If you are looking for the definitive mobile gaming experience, it's in the ROG Phone 5S range. If you’re after a bit more power, storage, and a packaged AeroActive Cooler 5, the ASUS ROG Phone 5S Pro might be what you’re after. If you’re after something else, make sure to check out PB Tech’s massive smartphone range!