Asus has been on a roll with its Android devices lately. The Zenfone 6 made headlines earlier this year for bringing flagship specifications to a sub-$500 price point, giving OnePlus a run for its money. Last year’s ROG Phone, sold under the company’s ‘Republic of Gamers’ brand, was also a pretty great device. Nearly a year later, Asus has followed it up with a sequel.
The ROG Phone II is one of the most powerful Android devices ever, with more RAM, a bigger battery, and faster storage than nearly every other phone on the market right now. It has plenty of features that other flagship phones have neglected in the name of minimal bezels and thinness — like a headphone jack and a giant battery. While there are a few areas of the device that are lacking compared to the typical Android flagship, the ROG Phone II is an absolute beast.
Design, hardware, what’s in the box
The ROG Phone II is big. Like, really big. It’s nearly 10mm taller and 40 grams heavier than the Galaxy Note10+. There’s no question that larger screens are better for games, but the combination of the heavy design and extremely-tall 19.5:9 screen made the ROG Phone II much harder for me to use day-to-day than most other devices. The physical size won’t bother everyone, though.
The Galaxy S10e (left) and ROG Phone II (right)
If you weren’t a fan of the heavy-handed gamer aesthetic on the original ROG Phone, you’ll be happy to hear that Asus has tuned it down a bit on this model. While the backside is still glass (Gorilla Glass 6, that is), it now has a matte finish instead of glossy. The two completely aesthetic vents on the original model have been replaced with a single functional vent. Asus made a point of mentioning that the vent on the back is a real copper grill that dissipates heat from the phone’s internals.
The original ROG Phone, for reference.
The center of the phone still has a large Republic of Gamers logo that can be configured to change colors in various patterns. It’s a lot of fun to mess around with, and it makes the ROG Phone II all that more unique of a device.
The sides of the phones still have touch-sensitive ‘AirTriggers’ that can be mapped to touch points on the screen. It’s a nice feature, but since there is no physical feedback from pressing the triggers, I didn’t find them much more helpful than simply tapping on-screen buttons.
Moving onto the front, you’ll notice that the ROG Phone II is one of the few recent flagship phones that has opted for bezels and front-facing speakers instead of an all-screen design. Asus says it did this so it could fit in front-facing speakers, and because the company wanted to reduce accidental taps during gaming. The front-facing speakers are loud and clear, making any kind of media consumption — be it a round of Fortnite or a Netflix binge — a better experience than you’d get from most other phones.
Another feature that the ROG Phone has that most other flagships have dropped is a headphone jack. Bluetooth is nice and all, but I still appreciate that the option is there for wired audio. The model I received for review also had FM radio support if you plug in some headphones.
Going back to the display for a moment, the 2340×1080 AMOLED screen running at 120Hz is fantastic. In fact, this is the first phone with a 120Hz AMOLED screen, period. I don’t think the higher refresh rate has outright ruined other phones for me, but the smooth animations and more responsive apps/games it enables makes me think this is the next big step for phones.
As with the previous model, there’s an additional USB Type-C connector on the side of the ROG Phone II. This is mainly for the accessories (which I’ll get to later), but it functions perfectly for both charging and data transfer. For example, I was able to log into my Google accounts with my Type-C Yubikey while charging the phone through the main port.
While the ROG Phone has a lot going for it, there are some downsides to the design. There’s no wireless charging, for one, because Asus wanted to fit in a larger battery (more on that later). The cooling vents also mean water resistance is a no-go, an annoying omission on a 2019 flagship.
In the box, you get the phone, a USB wall adapter, a USB charging cable, the AeroActive Cooler II (more on that later), and a few replacement rubber covers for the phone’s side connector.
Software, performance, battery
The ROG Phone II is powered by Android 9 Pie, with no word yet on an Android 10 update. When you set up the device, you can choose between two skins: the gaming interface that launched with the original ROG phone, or the standard ZenUI that the ZenFone 6 uses. I chose the latter.
No matter what skin you choose, there aren’t any groundbreaking changes to Android, but there are plenty of smaller additions. There’s an ‘X Mode’ that raises the minimum CPU frequency for better game performance, a customizable DTS audio equalizer, scrolling screenshots, a built-in screen recorder (that can even capture audio!), and a lot more.
Many of the game-specific settings are part of ‘Game Genie,’ a sidebar that appears when you swipe from the left corner while playing games. You can quickly change the screen brightness, change notification settings, enable X-Mode, view the current FPS/temperature, record the screen, and even start a livestream. That’s right, you can begin your career on Twitch with nothing more than the ROG Phone.
While you can open games from your app launcher like normal, Asus has also included the ‘Armory Crate.’ It’s an app that lists all of your installed games, and might be an easier way to start games while you’re using some of the accessories (more on those later). Armory Crate also allows you to set custom options for each game — for example, you can set X-Mode to automatically start for your more demanding 3D games.
I appreciate how all of these features stay out of your way unless you specifically want them. There aren’t 20 custom apps already filling up your launcher out of the box (looking at you, Samsung), only a handful of quick settings toggles you can easily hide and one app.
As for performance, well, the ROG Phone II is very fast. It uses the Snapdragon 855+, which is a slightly overclocked version of the processor that most other 2019 flagships use, combined with a whopping 12GB of RAM. Apps open quickly, and multi-tasking is a breeze.
Battery life is definitely one aspect that sets the ROG Phone apart from most other flagship phones. Asus has jammed a 6,000mAh battery into the phone, so it’s near-impossible to kill the ROG Phone II in a single day. I was sick in bed one day during my review period, so even after ~4 hours of watching Hulu and YouTube, plus another hour of regular usage, half the battery was still remaining. I even had it in 90Hz mode the whole time.
The ROG Phone II uses the same camera setup as the ZenFone 6: a 48MP main camera, and a 125-degree 12MP camera for wide-angle photos. Photo quality was generally good, with plenty of sharpness, but colors tended to be fairly muted when HDR wasn’t enabled.
Low-light photos aren’t the ROG Phone’s strong suit, but the camera’s Night Mode can sometimes help. As with most other phones with a similar feature, these images will take a few additional seconds to capture.
Left: Normal Mode; Right: Night Mode
The wide-angle lens can produce some fun photos, but the quality is substantially lower than the main camera — 12MP vs. 48MP.
Left: Main camera; Right: Wide-angle camera
Asus has created a bunch of first-party accessories for the ROG Phone II, ranging from a clip-on fan to a full-blown second screen. I got all of them to test, so I’ll share some thoughts here.
AeroActive Cooler II
This is the only accessory (besides a simple bumper case) that you get with the phone. Once you plug it into the ROG Phone’s side port and slide down the top clip, it begins cooling the phone with its built-in fan — preventing the Snapdragon processor from thermally-throttling. There are glowing logos on the front and back, and it gives you a USB port and headphone jack on the bottom. That way, you can plug in a charger or headphones without them poking your hands.
In the original ROG Phone review, Stephen pointed out how the cooler that came with that model didn’t actually help much. Asus says improvements to the phone’s internal cooling (mostly the now-functional heat vent) means the AeroActive Cooler II can lower the surface temperature by up to 5 C. Also, the fan is 4x quieter than on the previous model.
Overall, this is probably the most practical accessory out of the pile, since it can be easily carried in your pocket and only takes a second to attach.
Kunai Gamepad: $149.99
If you’re wondering where the physical game controls are on the ROG Phone, that’s where the ‘Kunai’ Gamepad comes in. Asus has developed something akin to the Nintendo Switch’s Joycons — the controller is split into two halves that can be attached to the phone, or slid into a holder grip for couch gaming. Unlike the Switch’s Joycons, the controllers can’t function outside of the holder/phone, as they don’t have internal batteries.
To attach them to the ROG Phone, you first have to put the phone in the Kunai Bumper case, then slide the controllers onto each side. The bumper makes the phone even more ginormous (and blocks the bottom USB port and headphone jack), so it’s not designed to stay always attached to the phone.
The holder grip for the controllers
The holder adds two extra triggers, two grip buttons, and five function buttons (on top of everything on the controllers), and should last for 8 hours on a single charge. You can connect it to the phone using Bluetooth or wired Type-C, and Asus is working on PC compatibility as well.
The handheld mode generally felt nice to use; playing Minecraft with this felt more or less the same as playing Minecraft on my Switch. It’s a bit tedious to squeeze the phone into the case, and bringing all the pieces with you when you travel might require a bag, but those are my only real complaints.
That being said, the $149.99 asking price does seem a bit much. While you’re obviously paying for the ability to turn the ROG Phone into a full handheld console with minimal bulk, you can buy an Xbox One controller (which works natively with Android) and a phone mount for less than half that price.
TwinView Dock II: $329.99
This is definitely the most interesting accessory for the ROG Phone, but definitely the most cumbersome and the most expensive (tied with the WiGig Display Dock). The TwinView Dock turns the ROG Phone into an overpowered Nintendo DS, with the phone serving as the bottom screen. The top screen is identical to the display panel in the phone, complete with 240Hz support. The dock also has its own battery that can replenish the phone over time.
Most of the time, you run one app on each screen — for example, you can play a game while watching a YouTube tutorial. However, there are games that can use both screens at the same time, but the only one I’m aware of is Asphalt 9. Fingers crossed a Nintendo DS emulator adds support for this soon.
Now, if you shell out $150 for the Kunai Gamepad in addition to $350 for the TwinView, you can put the phone in the gamepad before putting it in the TwinView to get a mega dual-screen handheld experience. It takes like 45 seconds to actually put everything together, but it’s possible!
This is what attaching all these accessories feels like.
While I love that this crazy dual-screen add-on exists, I’m not really sure why anyone would pay $330 for it.
Desktop Dock: $229.99
If you have a strong desire to play mobile games on a larger monitor or TV, Asus has an overpriced Desktop Dock to sell you. It’s more than just a display output — it has four USB 3.0 ports, gigabit Ethernet, an SD card slot, and its own microphone. There are pass-through HDMI and DisplayPort connectors, so you can switch between your PC and your phone with one button press.
As far as I can tell (I don’t have a high refresh rate monitor to test), the dock can only output at 60Hz, so you’ll lose the buttery-smooth action you get on the phone’s own display.
WiGig Display Dock: $329.99
This streams your phone’s screen to a TV or monitor. There is absolutely no reason to pay $330 for this.
Should you buy it?
Yes, if you value performance/gaming above all else. The lack of water resistance/wireless charging on the ROG Phone, combined with its massive physical size, means that the Galaxy S10+, Note 10, Pixel 3, or even Asus’ own ZenFone 6 would probably be a better buy for the average person. If you want the best smartphone gaming experience possible, or if you really want the liquid-smooth 120Hz screen, the ROG Phone II might be a great option for you.
The ROG Phone II is also a compelling option if you’ve become frustrated with recent trends in smartphone design. There’s no notch/camera cutout, Asus has kept the headphone jack, the battery is huge, and the dual front-facing speakers are great when compared to the bottom-firing speakers found on most other modern flagships.
The 512GB ‘Elite’ model of the ROG Phone II (the one I received) will become available in the United States on September 23rd for $899.99, with a 1TB ‘Ultimate Edition’ that is coming later (price TBA). There’s also a lower-end 256GB base model, but that variant isn’t planned for release here in ‘Murica.
Buy it if…
- You really want a gaming phone.
- You’re annoyed because every other phone has a smaller battery, no headphone jack, and a screen cut-out.
Don’t buy it if…
- You don’t like big/heavy phones.
- You’re on a CDMA network, like Verizon or Sprint, or if you’re on T-Mobile (this is missing some T-Mobile bands).
The ROG Phone II is supposed to become available in the US today, but B&H Photo and Mobile Advance appear to be the only ones selling it right now, and B&H has it as a pre-order. For reference, the US version has a model number of ZS660KL-S855P-12G512G-BK.
The North American version of the ROG Phone II is still missing some US LTE bands, including T-Mobile’s Band 12 and Band 71, and Verizon and Sprint don’t work at all. Unless you’re on AT&T (or an AT&T NVMO, like Cricket Wireless), you’re probably not going to get a steady LTE connection in the US.