Asus ROG Phone 3 review

GSMArena team, 22 July 2020.

ROG UI

ROG UI has always been very "out there", even as far as gaming-styled launchers go. The brand has a certain aesthetic already established and its buyers seem to appreciate and expect it. Straight out of the box, the UI screams "gamer". Aggressive lines, every conceivable shade of red, lots of mechanical, geometric and alien visuals. Many of them complete with massive-looking motion animations, glowing effects, flames, reactors. You get the gist.

ROG Phone 3 review

Not that much has changed visually since the ROG Phone II. The ROG Phone 3 still has plenty of upgrades behind the scenes and is rocking Google's current Android 10 release, so it's not a case of Asus just being lazy and rehashing old software. On the contrary, it's another example of clear priorities and deliberate actions.

In case it wasn't obvious already, the ROG Phone 3 and the ROG UI are chock-full of all sorts of advanced options, toggles, and menus. One swipe down for the quick toggles and you might just feel like you are operating a nuclear reactor. The amount of options you are expected to want to "quick access" is a bit staggering.

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ROG UI

The first thing you absolutely need to try out is pressing the X Mode toggle. That kick-starts an impressive sequence that would fit right in a Transformers movie. An animation on the default wallpapers gets initiated, symbols start shifting, glowing borders start shining around icons. If set up accordingly, the RGB logo on the back fires up, as well as any compatible Aura Sync logo on attached ROG accessories.

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ROG UI with X Mode On

Just in case this all gets a bit too much for you or simply isn't your cup of tea, Asus still includes a very clean, almost AOSP-like theme as an option. Getting the ROG Phone 3 and going the vanilla route sounds a lot more justifiable now that Asus has toned-down the actual, physical gamer aesthetic so drastically.

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Classic ZenUI

What you get is an Android AOSP experience. It's frankly a bit eerie. It almost feels like what a kid would alt and tab to if you catch them playing instead of studying on the computer. It's almost too clean, is what we're getting at.

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Theme store

In fact, the phone even complained when we initially enabled the basic ZenUI theme, adamantly warning us that we would be missing out on animated wallpapers that respond to X Mode. Joking aside, the theme engine in ROG UI is very potent and includes a vibrant online repository with plenty of full theme and wallpaper options to explore. Both with and without a gamer spin to their look.

ROG Phone 3 review

Speaking of options, the ROG Phone 3 has quite a few. To be fair, though, none that we would actually consider bloat. Every advanced feature included makes sense and is typically slotted and well-organized within a sub-menu or an app. Options are abundant, but not chaotic.

The battery menu, for instance, has a few interesting gems hidden away. First off is the PowerMaster, which offers a centralized place for managing app consumption, scanning for issues, as well as toggling battery savings options and managing autostart. Since the ROG Phone II is tuned for gaming above all else, it makes sense that most apps are barred from autostarting by default. This is the menu you should hit up if you have issues with something like a messenger service not running fine in the background.

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Battery options

We already discussed just how far Asus has come in terms of battery savings, controlled charging, and longevity options. The Battery modes menu is where you can set-up your custom power-savings profiles. You can set a combination of six different connectivity options, five display ones, audio volume, and an elective background app cleaner for each of the two.

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Battery modes

Asus has seriously managed to improve upon its solid Battery care feature foundation from last year. Now, it's easily on par with what Qnovo offers. Slow charging, max charging limits, and scheduled charging, now complete with intelligent auto-scheduling, make for a powerful set of tools. The platform even tracks your past charging cycles and warns you of sub-optimal behavior. Such care for battery longevity is a rare sight on the current smartphone scene and nothing short of a commendable effort.

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Battery care

Even though the ROG Phone 3 has plenty of subtleties in its display behavior, the corresponding settings menu remains clean and well-organized. Even without fully grasping what each option does, most users will likely find their way around it just fine.

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Display settings

In case you missed our deep-dive into how the ROG Phone 3 handles high refresh rate and the color reproduction options it offers, you can jump back to the display section for the detailed info.

The Advanced settings menu houses pretty much all the other system-wide additional goodies ROG, and Asus added on top of the Android Pie core.

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Advanced settings menu

Mobile Manager is actually a sister tab to PowerMaster. It handles all the rest of the phone maintenance besides the battery. Things like memory and storage cleanup, permission and security as well as data caps and usage.

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Mobile Manager • Twin Apps • Safeguard • OptiFlex

Thin Apps is fairly self-explanatory. It does require support from the app itself to work though. For convenience, there is a nifty list of apps you can download in alphabetical order. Neat! Safeguard offers SOS emergency contact options. And OptiFlex is a proprietary app launch optimizer that works in the usual way - caching certain resources, often times in RAM, so that they can remain easily accessible to the most used apps.

Gestures are aplenty on the ROG Phone 3. Quite in-depth, as well, including options for writing out virtual letters on the display and, actions based on double-taps and motion.

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Gestures • Gestures • Screen recorder • Screenshot

There are in-depth controls dealing with both Screen recording and Screen capture in the advanced menu as well. Things like resolution, orientation, whether or not to record sound and touch inputs are all configurable. A small touch, but one that shows Asus is really keen on catering to their streamer and content-creator audience.

ROG Phone 3 review

System-wide optimizations and tools are good and all, but Asus has made sure to invest the bulk of its software effort into software laser-focused on improving the gaming experience in particular. Most of it was present on the ROG Phone II and is inherited from it, but also incrementally enhanced.

We'll start with Game Genie first, before going in-depth with Armoury Crate, since the two are technically separate entities. Even though they are very tightly-knit.

Game genie is essentially an in-game overlay that gets automatically enabled for games but is supported for any other app, as per your desired settings. A swipe from the left side of the screen brings it up, and its main goal is to offer convenient access to gaming-relevant features.

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Game Genie settings

Most of the options are easily self-explanatory, like the toggles to disable calls and notifications, lock the brightness or cycle between the current display refresh rate. In order to work properly, or at all, certain bits of Game Genie do need some extra setup. Most notably, the live streaming functions. Once set up you can use a single key to go live on YouTube and Twitch. Pretty great.

There are a few less-obvious or alternatively, more-involved features here as well. Floating window is a nifty one. Once you set up your preferred apps in the settings menu, they appear as little icons on the right side of the Game Genie interface. Beyond that, the feature is pretty straight-forward.

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Floating apps

The ability to get a real-time performance overlay is a nifty, albeit not entirely new ROG trick. CPU and GPU load, temperature, battery level and fps count are all available in the Game toolbar, which can be freely dragged and positioned over the game. There is even an experimental feature that tries its best to estimate how much game time you have based on your current load with the battery charge remaining in the phone.

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Game toolbar

Some of the more-powerful goodies are those arranged vertically on the right end of the Game Genie interface. Speed up simply triggers a background app cleaner task. Nothing too special, but still convenient to have in reach.

The Air Triggers menu holds a lot of potential. This is where you go to set-up basic mapping for on-screen controls to the AirTrigger 3 ultrasonic buttons, as well as the newly-added motion control gesture on the ROG Phone 3. There are more-extensive menus to dig-through for these features within Armoury Crate, but this menu has the benefit of being very simple and intuitive to use.

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Air Triggers quick setup

Macros are equally easy to record via the Game Genie option. You just play out the actions once and then review and correct as needed. You can have multiple macros for a single game and those can even be mapped to controls, like AirTrigger 3 or other third-party accessories.

If that sounds a bit like cheating to you, wait until you hear about Key Mapping. In our books, it is probably the single greatest gaming-geared software tool Asus has brought to the table with the ROG Phone family. It's an incredibly in-depth interface for mapping on-screen controls to physical ones. Directional pads, buttons, sliders all work and do so really well.

ROG Phone 3 review

So, the real fun begins when you connect the ROG Phone 3 to a compatible accessory, like the new ROG Kunai Gamepad. Every button on that controller can then be mapped to an on-screen control, effectively giving you console-grade physical controls inside a game meant to be played on touch screens.

In fact, it gets even better once you connect the ROG Phone 3 to a mouse and keyboard via the Mobile Desktop Dock or the Asus professional dock. Then you can map all the controls to an actual mouse and keyboard. Imagine using a mouse to aim and look around and aid in a shooter game!

We are aware that other similar mapping solutions do exist on Android (most notably Octopus). Still, they seem to operate with a lot more restrictions and naturally all sorts of warnings for drawing over other apps and the like. What Asus has crafted for the ROG is done right and on a much lower software level, making it a truly added-value offer for any hardcore mobile gaming enthusiasts. Or are they even mobile once a keyboard and mouse come into play?

ROG Phone 3 review

That slightly weird crosshair icon, inside a square denotes Marked clip. It is a configurable quick-capture feature, that is meant to instantly save a short gameplay moment, while in action.

Marked clip - ROG Phone 3 review Macro recording and management - ROG Phone 3 review Macro recording and management - ROG Phone 3 review
Marked clip • Macro recording and management

Speaking of crosshairs, Game Genie offers a crosshair overlay, as well. These can be customized and freely dragged across the screen. Asus mentions in the description text that they are meant for use in "practice mode" in games, meaning that the general gamer stigma for such a practice being a cheat is well understood. Still, considering you can actually hook-up a mouse and keyboard to the ROG Phone 3 and map touch controls in most shooter games to that input, using Asus key mapping tech, virtual crosshairs are hardly the first thing to consider in a discussion of fairness.

Most of the features within the Game Genie interface and their order can be adjusted in some manner. The same goes for the Game toolbar. This can be done from a few menus, including one inside Armoury Crate. But since the latter is inconveniently locked in a portrait orientation, we suggest using the sub-menu under Advanced settings in the general Settings menu of the ROG Phone 3.

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Game Genie settings

ASUS Armoury Crate - Gaming portal

Armoury Crate has become a staple of the ROG Phone experience. Not changed in any major way, but with plenty of visual tweaks and small, yet often crucial improvements and tweaks in behavior - it's now available on the ROG Phone 3 as well.

ROG Phone 3 review

For instance, you are no longer limited to just exiting Armoury Crate via a single small button in the top-left corner, as was the case on the ROG Phone II. In fact, it is gone now, and the back gesture works, but simply issues a warning toast notification one step before you leave the app. That's expected behavior on Android, and it shows that Asus is taking feedback.

Armoury Crate main UI - ROG Phone 3 review
Armoury Crate main UI

Your phone still gets locked in landscape mode once in Armoury Crate, which can make navigating certain longer menus a bit difficult, but also contributes nicely to the ultimate goal of augmenting the entire ROG Phone 3 experience an bringing it as close as possible to a console one.

From the main ASUS Armoury Crate interface, you get a few options. The most obvious one being your game card interface (or benchmark and any app you would like to run with a custom performance profile). Each entry gets its own "crate", as the Asus terminology goes. And each crate has its own Game Profile.

Profiles are a set of settings for different aspects of the ROG Phone II that get automatically applied when the game/app is launched. On the ROG Phone II, apps and games only got their individual Scenario Profile applied if launched through Armoury Crate. With the ROG Phone 3 this is no longer a necessary condition. You can launch things from anywhere and they will still get their custom settings, if some have been set up.

Per-app Scenario Profiles - ROG Phone 3 review
Per-app Scenario Profiles

Quickly going through the various tabs available within Scenario Profiles, you get a lot of control on Performance Here you can choose to have X Mode enabled for the app alone, as opposed the default where it follows the system-wide toggle, as seen in the quick toggle bar above the notification shade.

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Armoury Crate Performance settings

Manually enabling X Mode from this menu allows you to choose between thee levels of X Mode. Each consecutive step pushes the hardware a bit further, including clocks and tolerance to heat. There is also a toggle for the optional memory cleaner, at launch.

If you choose Hardcore Tuning from the dropdown menu, Armoury Crate offer-up three nifty, ambiguous sliders, marked CPU, GPU, and Temperature control. These allow you to subjectively select how hard you want the software to push limits for the given game.

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Armoury Crate Hardcore Tuning

Beyond that still, there is an Advanced Hardcore Tuning menu underneath. This is what really separated the ROG Phone line and Asus from the rest. What you get is a very, very lengthy menu of actual system-level values and offsets for various modules and parts of the phone's internals. Values lifted straight from the /sys/ folder, which you normally can't even get to without rooting your device.

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Advanced Hardcore Tuning

Messing with these can, naturally, be detrimental to your experience. You are unlikely to damage phone's hardware in the process and there is a button to restore the default values, but you should still only tamper here if you know what you are doing. If that is the case, some amazing things can actually be pulled-off. For instance, if you are familiar with the performance characteristics of a given game you play and just happen to know that it does not rely heavily on the clock rate of the biggest and most powerful core, but rather tends to spread-out its load among smaller cores, you can tune-down the primary core on the Snapdragon 865+ and save on battery, produce less heat and get a smoother experience, delaying thermal-throttling for longer.

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Advanced Hardcore Tuning

There is even multiple profile support on a per-game basis as a cherry on top of the icing.

Moving past raw internal performance, game profiles also let users choose a custom Refresh rate on a per-app basis. There is also the option to turn on addition anti-aliasing if you think the edges of any particular game are just a bit too "jaggy" for your taste.

Armoury Crate Display options - ROG Phone 3 review
Armoury Crate Display options

Then there is Touch tweaking. You can use this menu to fine-tune the sensitivity of the display, as well as Air Trigger touch and swipe. Again, on a per-app basis. The built-in false touch rejection algorithm can also be fine-tuned.

Armoury Crate Touch options - ROG Phone 3 review
Armoury Crate Touch options

The Network tab has only a couple of toggles, but both potentially vital. One limits all background sync activity while playing a given game, which can be the difference between a smooth experience and a sudden ping-spike. The same goes for automatically switching between Wi-Fi and a network data connection. While in most cases, the ROG Phone 3 is smart enough only to do this when it would be beneficial, there are special cases. Some particular games might even drop your connection if you just suddenly change your IP address.

Armoury Crate Network options - ROG Phone 3 review
Armoury Crate Network options

Air Triggers, Key Mapping and Macros all get their own separate tabs in the Scenario Profiles interface. These actually show a list of all your various mapping profiles and macros, as set-up for the given game, complete with convenient screenshots for the mapping overlay. These menus are mostly meant to be a convenient central location for managing your collection. Also, Armoury Crate includes a nifty feature to fetch mappings, triggers, and macros for popular games from an online repository. You can also neatly package all of your Scenario Profiles settings, or a subset via the share interface and upload them online. That can also include any Advanced Hardcore performance tuning tweaks you might have painstakingly discovered and now want to contribute. The makings of a great community.

Downloading and sharing settings, mappings and macros - ROG Phone 3 review Downloading and sharing settings, mappings and macros - ROG Phone 3 review
Downloading and sharing settings, mappings and macros - ROG Phone 3 review Downloading and sharing settings, mappings and macros - ROG Phone 3 review
Downloading and sharing settings, mappings and macros

And rounding things off in the profiles, we also have a few network and audio options. Honestly, we kind of feel like we've seen too many options already. Yet, we still have to check out the second Console tab from the main ASUS Armoury Crate interface.

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Armoury Crate Console tab

Unlike profiles, the options here apply on a system-wide level. Aside from the cool meters on the left handside, this is where you find general settings like a list of games that automatically trigger the Game Genie matter where they are launched from as well as another list that says which apps can have access to data at all while a game is running in the foreground. Also, yet another shortcut to Game Genie settings.

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Game toolbar and Game Genie settings - ROG Phone 3 review Game toolbar and Game Genie settings - ROG Phone 3 review
Game toolbar and Game Genie settings

Above these, the big X Mode button is kind of hard to miss. It toggles X Mode on and off in much the same way as the quick toggle on the main UI does. However, there are also options to potentially tinker with even further. Just like you can tweak certain aspects of X Mode behavior, as well as intensity levels on a per-app basis, you can similarly adjust it on a system-wide level via the Custom settings button.

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L1, L2 and L3 X Mode settings

There are three basic levels of X Mode. L1 does its best to optimize snappiness and responsiveness, generally boosting up during loading or interaction with the game. L2 starts squeezing-out performance from both the CPU and GPU with little regard for an increase in power consumption and heat. And L3 is basically "gloves-off" and the best you can automatically get out of the ROG Phone 3, without resorting on per-app Hardcore Advanced performance tuning and the skillset necessary to be better than the auto mode on your own. For most users, this is the mode that will likely represent "full throttle".

By default, strapping-on the AeroActive Cooler 3 fan and then enabling X mode via a toggle will go straight to L3 mode. This can be set otherwise from the toggle on this menu. If you don't want to use L3 mode, you need to have the AeroActive Cooler 3 attached and running, though. L1 and L2 can be used without it.

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X Mode settings

Further down the list of X Mode options, we also find familiar selectors for screen refresh rate, sensitivity sliders, and network controls. Everything you need to make the X Mode toggle trigger exactly what you want.

Going back to the main Console interface, there are a few other options available. There is the Air Trigger setup screen. This is where you can adjust sensitivity, trigger speed and distance, multi-button separation, and other behavioral aspects. Actual mapping is elsewhere within the Game Genie interface.

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AirTriggers settings - ROG Phone 3 review AirTriggers settings - ROG Phone 3 review AirTriggers settings - ROG Phone 3 review
AirTriggers settings

Fan controls for the attachable AeroActive Cooler 3 are also available. You can either leave it on auto and have the system decide when and how much to ramp it up. Alternatively, you can set it to full blast and have maximum cooling for both the phone and your hands. Now, this does come at the cost of noticeably more noise and increased battery consumption.

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AeroActive Cooler 3 speed controls

And we finally come to System Lighting and RGB controls. Asus has a pretty clean system set up to control the RGB effects on the phone's built-in logo, as well as those on optional accessories. All of it is done through this interface. Of course, there are synchronization groups for other Aura Sync compatible devices. Different color patterns, intensity, speed - the works.

System Lighting settings - ROG Phone 3 review System Lighting settings - ROG Phone 3 review
System Lighting settings - ROG Phone 3 review System Lighting settings - ROG Phone 3 review
System Lighting settings

You can also choose what gets to trigger the RGB lights and which effect should be triggered, with a fair bit of conditions available to choose from. The RGB logo can easily pull double-duty as a notification LED. Though, the ROG Phone 3 does still have a dedicated one above the display.

System Lighting settings - ROG Phone 3 review System Lighting settings - ROG Phone 3 review
System Lighting settings - ROG Phone 3 review System Lighting settings - ROG Phone 3 review
System Lighting settings

Finding verified, properly-supported games to use with the various features of the ROG Phone 3, like the high refresh rate, TwinView dock and the GamePad is no easy task. There is actually a growing number of titles that meet the bill out there and, in no small part, thanks to ongoing Asus efforts and work with developers. Things like making the TwinView dock API for second-screen gaming easily accessible for free in the popular Unity engine.

Featured games lists - ROG Phone 3 review Featured games lists - ROG Phone 3 review
Featured games lists - ROG Phone 3 review Featured games lists - ROG Phone 3 review
Featured games lists

To keep track of all of this, as best it can, while also offering titles to the user, Armoury Crate has a Featured menu in the top right corner. It has a few categories of games, organized by supported features with direct links to the Google Play store. We hope these lists grow, especially the 144Hz one, which only had one game at the time of writing this review.

144Hz support list is in need of attention - ROG Phone 3 review
144Hz support list is in need of attention

Finally, there is the News menu, which houses a list of informational clips on the ROG Phone and its features, courtesy of Asus. Not a bad idea, considering the literal sea of options given to the user.

Beyond the extensive ASUS Armoury Crate interface, there really aren't all that many proprietary Asus apps pre-loaded on the ROG Phone 3 - just a couple of basics like a Clock, Calculator, Gallery, and File manager - and they don't get in the way while also offering theming support for a consistent look. Nice job, Asus!

Reader comments

  • Wews

Why cheating camera?

  • MNO

Asus rog phone 3 is one of the most problematic and worst phones in the world. For gamers, it is like a dream phone. Although I was one of them and I bought this phone a year ago, there are some benefits to playing games on this phone which is now a ...

  • KKdesu

Unfortunately no, ROG 5 has different port for accessories, so they're not cross compatible.