ROG Phone 3 review

GSMArena team, 22 July 2020.

Design

While the ROG Phone II brought about some major visual and ergonomic changes from the original ROG Phone design, the new ROG 3 is a lot closer, physically, to its predecessor. It was very much a deliberate decision on Asus' part to try and keep the footprint of the new phone as close as possible to the old one so that users can reap the benefits of compatibility with a big chunk of the existing expansive (and expensive!) accessory ecosystem.

ROG Phone 3 review Left: ROG Phone II, Right: ROG Phone 3

On top of that, through iterating on the design and a constant feedback loop with its fans and customers, Asus feels like it has really zoned-in on a good overall formula for proportions, ergonomics, general placement of controls and spacings. All crucially important aspects when crafting a device meant to be as comfortable as possible for prolonged gaming sessions and convenient in terms of handling.

ROG Phone 3 review

The two phones aren't exactly identical in terms of dimensions, though. Measuring 171 x 78 x 9.58 mm, the ROG 3 is exactly as tall as its predecessor, 0.4mm wider and 0.4mm thicker. Surprisingly enough, it still tips the scale at exactly the same 240 grams. That means it's still on the heavy side, even in a market of constantly-growing devices.

ROG Phone 3 review Left: ROG Phone II, Right: ROG Phone 3

This kind of weight definitely takes some getting used to. Though, thanks to a combination of excellent weight distribution and a great ergonomic body shape, the ROG Phone 3 actually feels really comfortable in the hand.

One thing worth noting when talking about cross-generational weight and dimensions is that the ROG Phone 3 was faced with the task of fitting in certain things like a 5G setup, including antennas and an external 5G modem and bigger, upgraded speakers, among other things, inside the same footprint of the ROG Phone II. An admirable achievement, especially without cutting-down the capacity of the 6,000 mAh battery, but one that required some unfortunate sacrifices, like the 3.5 mm audio jack.

The 60GHz Wi-Gig chip and antennas from last year's model are gone too. But, that tech was plagued with practicality concerns to begin with and probably won't be missed too much.

Our main point, being, that Asus has its priorities straight and didn't simply go for the easy route of shaving battery capacity. This ties-in well with a strong company belief in big battery packs.

ROG Phone 3 review Left to right: ROG Phone, ROG Phone II, ROG Phone 3

Asus has been toning-down the "gamer" aesthetic on the ROG Phone line incrementally. The ROG Phone 3 still has the recognizable "aerodynamic look" of the family, complete with etched lines and diamond-cut bevel. Many of the accents and little details are now removed, though, like the orange in the front speakers and the grill on the back. The new look is, in a sense, slicker, more mature and could easily blend-in better with a more formal crowd. Especially if you leave the RGB logo off when you enter a boardroom meeting.

ROG Phone 3 review Left: ROG Phone II, Right: ROG Phone 3

However, we can't help but feel that some of the gamer aesthetic is missing. The transparent, geometric window on the back, offering a look into the re-designed, beefy internal heatsink is still a looker. Unique enough to, at least, be a conversation starter. But, other than that, Asus might have gone a bit too far in de-gaming the design. Of course, that's just subjective, but we still like the look of the ROG II just a bit better.

ROG Phone 3 review Left to right: ROG Phone, ROG Phone II, ROG Phone 3

Same goes for the finish on the glass back of the ROG Phone 3. On the ROG Phone II, we got an almost seamless blend between what was slightly silky to the touch Gorilla Glass pane and a huge chunk of exposed metal on the side, masterfully matched in color and finish. The transparent window on the ROG 3 and the tiny, almost unnoticeable air duct hole look cool but understated in comparison. And the Gorilla Glass 3 sheet on the back lacks that subtle silky feel, making it a lot more similar to your average Gorilla Glass smartphone back.

Beyond these subjectively personal observations, we can't fault the bill of materials and craftsmanship on an objective level. The ROG 3 is built like a rock. The aluminum middle frame has absolutely no flex to it. On the front - Gorilla Glass 6 offers peace of mind. The only real omission is the ingress protection.

Internal design

Asus has extremely clear priorities when it comes to the ROG Phone line - these devices are designed in a way to maximize performance, usability and general versatility as gaming rigs first, with any other consideration coming in later on the list. On the subject of heat and its management, there has always been one single mantra - heat is bad for performance ,and it must be removed as far away, as quickly and efficiently as possible from the internals so that they can perform their best. That's how the AeroActive Cooler solution was originally born - out of necessity since there is only so much you can do with a closed thermal system with no active cooling.

ROG Phone 3 review

Truth be told, though, having a cooler on the outside of a phone, with layers upon layers of material between it and the actual chips, is never going to be an optimal solution. It is a whole lot better than having no fan, but the reality Asus is not afraid to honestly admit is that the fan is there for hand comfort, as much as it is for cooling the internals.

The ROG Phone 3 features yet another massively improved and re-designed internal cooling solution. It is passive but it's taksed with the heavy lifting when it comes to taking heat away from the processor.

ROG Phone 3 review

Dissecting this cooling solution, starting from the display and working out way inward, we first have a massive graphite film layer. Due to its large surface area, the panel on a modern smartphone actually plays a vital role in heat dissipation. The graphite layer is there to make sure it is being used in an optimal and uniform manner so as to get rid of as much heat as possible, while also avoiding uncomfortable and potentially harmful to the OLED hot spots.

The graphite layer then makes contact with the Snapdragon 865 chipset and the 5G modem - the two main heat sources in the system, via a re-designed, beefy 3D vapor chamber.

On the other side of the same silicon board, Asus has fitted a heatsink six times larger than that on the ROG Phone II. It's actually the thing that is showing through the transparent window on the back of the phone and the bit that gets to benefit from the airflow provided by the AeroActive Cooler 3.

ROG Phone 3 review

Clearly, the ROG Phone 3 relies largely on convection for the heat transfer. Hence, it is no accident and that the device gets hot under load and especially with prolonged use. This is yet another case of Asus setting its priorities in a consistent manner.

There is nothing stopping them for dialing-back CPU and GPU frequencies via thermal-throttling to keep the surface of the phone cooler. If that is something you prefer in certain situations, you can actually underclock the CPU and GPU yourself on a per-app basis and keep the phone cool. In a proper gaming rig, however, performance is the first priority, which means running the components as hard as possible and removing heat from them, even if that means dumping it on the user. That's what X Mode and its three performance presets are for and especially the Hardcore overclocking options.

Controls

There is a lot to cover here, so we'll get straight to the point. Like everything else thus far, the wider top and bottom chins on the front of the ROG Phone 3 are a deliberate and a functional choice. For one, it allows space for the pair of big front-firing speakers. These are upgraded from the ROG Phone II with a 7-magnet design, up from 5. Each has a dedicated Smart NXP amplifier. This all takes up a lot of space. Space well-used, we might add. The level of audio fidelity and advanced effects Asus was able to pull-off with these speakers is nothing short of industry-leading. More on that in the speaker section of the review.

ROG Phone 3 review

Other reasons backing-up the choice of wider bezels include leaving room for both your fingers to rest on the surface of the phone - preventing accidental touches during use and especially gaming and also freeing-up some extra space on the inside of the phone, since the display controller does not have to use a complicated wrap-around board design. Asus says that an edge-to-edge panel would have likely necessitated a smaller battery too.

ROG Phone 3 review

Space on top of the display also means no selfie camera cut-out, notch, punch hole, or anything else disturbing the gorgeous 6.6-inch AMOLED panel. The selfie camera position itself was considered further to not be easily covered by a thumb for gaming and streaming. Also, there was enough space left for an RGB notification LED. It's a rare sight on a modern flagship and something Asus went the extra mile for, since they could have easily claimed it is superfluous due to AOD on the OLED display or their RGB logo on the back, which can also pull notification duty.

System lighting options - ROG Phone 3 review System lighting options - ROG Phone 3 review
System lighting options - ROG Phone 3 review System lighting options - ROG Phone 3 review
System lighting options

Speaking of the RGB ROG logo, it carries over all of the customization options from the ROG Phone 3. There are plenty of strobing, breathing, and color-shifting effects to choose from and tweak. You can also sync-up the pattern with other ROG Phones.

ROG Phone 3 review

The ROG 3 naturally employs and in-display fingerprint reader solution. It is a straight-forward optical module and one that works really well. It is both snappy and reliable. If it's not your cup of tea, you can also use face recognition as a biometric alternative.

Rounding-off the list of controls on the front of the ROG Phone 3, we have one of a total of four microphones, near the top left corner of the device. The other three are positioned on the bottom bezel, on the right-hand side one, underneath the power button and on the back, next to the camera array. Asus calls this system a "Quad-Mic Noise-Cancelling Array", which deceptively only suggests a single use for it. In fact, beyond noise-canceling, it also makes sure that however you hold the ROG Phone 3 or whatever accessories you have on it, there will always be at least one microphone not covered-up and functional, which the phone will automatically detect and select for you. There are uses for the four mics in video capture in the camera, as well, for spatial audio.

ROG Phone 3 review

The power button is deliberately positioned relatively low on the frame of the ROG Phone 3. That's meant to minimize accidental presses during gaming, especially in portrait orientation, which is the use-case the ROG Phone 3 has been most optimized for. It's easy to get used to the position of these controls. The buttons themselves are excellent - clicky with a lot of travel and nice tactile feedback. Scooching these together in the middle of the frame was also necessary to make room for the Air Trigger 3 controls.

ROG Phone 3 review

The ROG Phone 3 is expected to spend most of its active hours in a horizontal orientation. Just like its predecessors, certain aspects of its design, like the power and volume key placement, we just mentioned, are optimized for better ergonomics in this state. That's why the main Type-C port on the bottom is shifted left, or rather down, from landscape orientation perspective. That way, a cable potentially plugged into it won't be quite as bothersome.

However, that's really what the second Side-port on the ROG Phone 3 is for. A staple on the ROG Phone line ever since the original, the 48-pin, customized interface, effectively consists of two Type-C ports - one deliberately constructed to be narrower than a standard plug, since it uses a non-canonical pic designation. That way, users are only left with the singular temptation of trying to plug the ROG Phone 3 into itself via a single set of ports. By the way, we can save you the trouble, it does not result in "infinite energy," but rather a gentle reminder from the Asus software that they knew you were going to do that and that it is pointless.

ROG Phone 3 review

Anyway, this is the Type-C port you should be using to charge or simply power the ROG Phone 3 while you are gaming. It is simply more convenient. And, in case you were wondering, we did not just repeat ourselves in the previous sentence. The ROG Phone 3 supports pass-through power mode, just like a laptop. In this mode it won't be constantly topping-off your battery to 100% while you are gaming, potentially shortening its lifespan, but will rather skip it entirely and just power the internals of the phone directly off the socket. And that's hardly the only steps Asus are taking to protect the wellbeing of your battery.

The side-port is also technically more advanced than the one on the bottom of the phone. Behind it, there is a USB 3.1 Gen.2 USB controller, as well as Display Port 1.4, which is good at outputting video up to 4K resolution. In comparison, the bottom port is just USB 2.0. Both, are capable of the full range of charging with the factory Asus 30W charger and support its HYPERCHARGE direct charging, as well as PD3.0 and QC3.0. However, only the Side-port officially supports QC4.0, which might be a consideration in some weird use case or in conjunction with some accessory.

ROG Phone 3 review

Most of the Asus accessories that plug into the Side-port are then nice enough to also offer a pass-through Type-C port, as well as a 3.5mm audio jack, so you don't have to think about that too much. Still, if you somehow find yourself in a setup that leaves you without a 3.5 jack from the Side-port, the main Type-C can always handle the included Type-C to 3.5 dongle. That's just the unfortunate reality of not having an on-board 3.5 jack.

Finally, there is the AirTrigger additional control system - another staple of the ROG Phone line since the very first device. It has seen incremental improvements since and is now on its third version - AirTrigger 3.

AirTrigger 3 - ROG Phone 3 review AirTrigger 3 - ROG Phone 3 review
AirTrigger 3

If you are not in the know, this involves a pair of advanced ultrasonic sensors in the right-hand frame of the phone, used to register touch in a variety of ways. In AirTrigger 3, the system has also gained motion-sensing abilities for the entire phone itself. That means that it now provides a total of five inputs that can be freely mapped on on-screen controls in-game.

Types of inputs from AirTrigger 3 - ROG Phone 3 review Types of inputs from AirTrigger 3 - ROG Phone 3 review Types of inputs from AirTrigger 3 - ROG Phone 3 review
Types of inputs from AirTrigger 3

On top of tap and slide, which were available on the ROG Phone II, the ROG Phone 3 can also recognize swipes left and right on each area. Long-pressing can now be mapped as a separate action, as well. That's an impressive level of fine detection involved to differentiate these gestures. More impressive still is the fact that with correct sensitivity adjustment on the sensors, you can even rest your fingers on the sensors without them registering at all. And then you'd have to apply some pressure for them to register - just like a real button.

ROG Phone 3 review

Speaking of which, haptic feedback on AirTrigger 3 is really advanced and feels localized as you slide your finger up and down a trigger area. And important addition, since AirTrigger 3 can actually partition each of the two triggers into two distinct sub-triggers. This works surprisingly well.

AirTrigger 3 settings - ROG Phone 3 review AirTrigger 3 settings - ROG Phone 3 review
AirTrigger 3 settings - ROG Phone 3 review AirTrigger 3 settings - ROG Phone 3 review
AirTrigger 3 settings

Between all of these different gestures, you can map an incredible number of on-screen controls to more convenient and surprisingly tactile ones for a tangible in-game benefit. Even as a total noob at Call of Duty, by just mapping my aim and trigger, I managed to get three times the kills of every other player in my first match. It's an incredible competitive advantage and one you can make use of without even resorting to any of the even more-powerful Asus additional accessories for the ROG Phone 3.

On top of it all, you can even map a shake of the phone itself to a certain action. It all works surprisingly well and is fluid and intuitive to use. You can set it all up through the Game Genie interface, while in game. Better still, if you find some of the options overwhelming, you can grab pre-made mapping profiles for most popular games from an online repository automatically. Frankly, it's all so well-made it almost feels like cheating.

Squeeze gestures - ROG Phone 3 review Squeeze gestures - ROG Phone 3 review Squeeze gestures - ROG Phone 3 review Squeeze gestures - ROG Phone 3 review
Squeeze gestures

Beyond in-game use, the AirTrigger sensors also provide squeeze detection during the general use of the ROG Phone 3. This aspect of the system is fairly versatile, as well. The phone can differentiate between a short and long press. They can also be assigned differewnt actions depending on whether the phone is locked or unlocked. The list of actions for locked squeezing is understandably shorter and does not include just freely launching any app you want. From an unlocked phone, there are very few limitations to worry about. You can also choose to only have the gesture active when the screen is unlocked, if you are worried about accidental activation. A surprisingly precise force level slider offers another layer of accidental trigger protection. Playing around with this menu is also a great way to appreciate just how precise the Asus ultrasonic sensors are on a hardware level.

Connectivity

Just a few quick notes on connectivity on the ROG Phone 3 for the sake of thoroughness. In terms of network, the ROG Phone 3 has Dual-SIM support, including 5G on either slot, though not concurrently. Expectedly, there is only 5G Sub-6 support and no mmWave.

Beyond that, the official Asus specs also describe two different network connectivity versions of the ROG Phone 3, with slightly different speeds and network aggregation support, as well as bands. One of the se versions supports 5G on bands N1, N2, N3, N5, N28, N41, N66, N71, N77, N78 and N79). A slightly downgraded version of the ROG Phone 3, titles ROG Phone 3 Strix, which uses the regular Snapdragon 865 chipset and different memory configurations also has different 5G band support - N41, N77, N78 and N79. You should look into this carefully, with your retailer of choice.

ROG Phone 3 review

Beyond that, all ROG Phone 3 variants support Dual-Band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n/ac/ax and Wi-Fi 6. Also, Wi-Fi direct. One of the less-discussed improvements that the new Snapdragon 865+ chipset brings to the table is to Qualcomm's new FastConnect 6900 chips and with that - support for Wi-Fi 6E, which works in the 6GHz range and can deliver speeds of up to 3.2 Gbps and latency under 3ms.

The ROG Phone 4 has a total of four Wi-Fi antennas and a system called HyperFusion, which allows the software to switch between these automatically, as well as a cellular data connection, for the lowest possible latency and best speed.

Wi-Gig (60GHz) is a notable omission from the ROG Phone II.

The GPS module can handle GPS L1 and L5, Glonass L1, Galileo E1 and E5a, BeiDou (B1/B2a), QZSS L1 and L5 and NavIC L5. Though some market limitations might apply.

The on-board Bluetooth 5.1 support is versatile and includes all major high-quality audio transmission standards - aptX HD, aptX adaptive, LDAC and AAC. Plus, added optimization, courtesy of DIRAC, specifically for Asus' own-brand headsets. That optimization is available for both wireless and wired connection, as described in this table.

ROG Phone 3 review

In general, audio output Through the Type-C port on the ROG Phone 3 is Hi-Res Audio (HRA) certified and can handle audio files at 24-bit/96kHz or 24-bit/192kHz. You do need to pair it with a Hi-Res audio output device though.

Reader comments

Rog phone 2 never beat iPhone 11, it was the only phone that came close to iPhone XS, please be honest with your opinions, if you need to boast about specs, android flagships are what you need, if you need the best sustained and reliable mobile exper...

  • Goose

Dude, get a walkman. It's 2020

  • ed

No more headphone jack? No more wish it..