[Review] An Exercise in Refinement: The ROG Phone 5
ROG Phone 5 (Standard edition)
It feels like it's been forever since I last reviewed the ROG Phone 3, but I guess living in the midst of a pandemic can warp your sense of time. In any case, the ROG Phone 5 is the now the newest kid on the block, and boy, it's everything a mobile gamer could need and more.
And no, you didn't slip into a coma and miss an entire generation of ROG Phones - the company, in true pantang Asian fashion, has skipped the number '4' as it sounds like 'death' in Mandarin.
This time, we've been blessed with 3 variants of the ROG Phone 5 - the standard ROG Phone 5, the Pro edition, and the crazy overkill Ultimate edition that comes with a whopping 18GB of RAM and a free ROG giftpack.
Today, I'll be taking a look at the standard ROG Phone 5 - probably the most attainable variant for most of us - so keep reading!
A simplified unboxing experience
The first thing I noticed was that the packaging has been greatly simplified from last year's clusterfuck of triangular slidey bits that occasionally get caught on each other if a component got dislodged from its slot (I'm looking at you, AeroActive Cooler).
No more counter-intuitive paper pull tabs that rip instantly cause you pulled it the wrong way - this time, you'll get a simple rectangular box with a magnetic closure. On the fold-out panels, you'll find a comic strip that animates in AR during the initial unboxing.
The phone and accessories are stored in the main compartment; while the phone is securely fitted inside, the charger is sitting loosely in its own compartment, knocking around alarmingly when you pick the box up.
Overall, the unboxing experience has improved by leaps and bounds - no more torn bits, frustrating sliding motions, and even accidental dropping to contend with. My only complaint is that the AeroActive Cooler is no longer included in the standard edition (though you'll still get one if you get the higher-end Pro or Ultimate variants).
You do get a spiffy cover, though.
Same design language, but sleeker
Now, I'm not exactly a huge fan of the edgy gamer aesthetic - even on the previous generations of the ROG Phone, I felt that they were too ostentatious for my liking. This time, they've gone for a new pixelised styling of the ROG logo on the back. It's reminiscent of the ever-popular AniMe Matrix popularised by the bestselling G14 laptop - and this time, it even supports 2-tone lighting.
Overall, the design language is still unmistakably ROG. It still has angular design elements and a bunch of words written all over, including 'GLHF' etched on the SIM card slot.
The model I'm reviewing today comes in red and black, but this year, ROG has introduced a new white-and-blue colourway that looks especially good in the matte Ultimate variant (it's glossy on the standard variant, which I'm not such a fan of). The Pro and Ultimate variants also feature a customisable secondary display on the back, which is absolutely sick, but we won't be going into that today.
All in all, it's still extremely gamer-like, but more cohesive and interesting overall.
An important thing to note is that the ROG Phone 5 is slightly taller and narrower than its predecessors. While I find the adjusted dimensions nicer to hold, this means that accessories from the previous generation are no longer compatible.
The headphone jack has returned
In what is probably one of the most welcome u-turns in recent years, ROG has decided to give us back the headphone jack. :') It's probably a good idea, since the headphone jack used to be only accessible via the AeroActive cooler, which is no longer included with the standard ROG Phone 5.
To further enhance the audio experience, there's also a built-in Sabre DAC as well as Amp for a higher quality output.
Apart from that, the side port - which allows unobtrusive charging while in landscape mode - has also been updated, and now features a USB-C charging port paired with a pogo pin connector, rendering it incompatible with previous gen accessories. Also, the rubber dust plug isn't as snugly fitted as it used to be - mine has already vanished, so quickly that I have no recollection of even seeing it in the first place.
AirTrigger is back with small updates
In case you're not familiar with AirTrigger technology, it effectively opens up more control options via 2 touch Ultrasonic buttons placed within easy reach of your index fingers in landscape mode.
This time, they've moved it closer to the edge of the phone, which supposedly makes it easier to reach for people with shorter fingers. Unfortunately, it also had the adverse effect of making them HARDER to reach for long-fingered humans (like myself), resulting in a pretty awkward grip just to accurately press the outer halves of the Air-Triggers.
Apart from increasing the sensor count from 7 to 9 for higher accuracy, the functionality has largely remained the same. You can tap, swipe, and even divide the Ultrasonic buttons into halves, effectively doubling the amount of buttons you get; coupled with the AeroActive Cooler 5 which includes 2 extra physical buttons, you have a whole slew of options when it customising controls, which is excellent for hardcore gamers.
These can be mapped to non-gaming actions as well - personally, I like to bind the bottom / right trigger as a screenshot shortcut, which certainly beats the default method of volume down + lock button.
On a side note, I dislike the new attachment mechanism of the AeroActive Cooler 5. Instead of an extendable clamp mechanism, it's now perfectly form-fitting so you'll have to snap it on with some force. While no scratches have shown up yet, I can imagine that they will with prolonged use. In any case, you can still use it together with the included phone cover.
Of course, it's as powerful as ever
As expected with ROG, they've kitted out this generation of ROG Phones with top-of-the-line specs, including Snapdragon 888 processors and Qualcomm Adreno 660 graphics across the board, along with a 144Hz AMOLED display and a 300Hz touch sampling rate.
Our unit comes with 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 256GB of UFS 3.1 storage, but the Ultimate variant can go up to a whopping 18GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. It's crazy to think how these phones are more powerful than some PCs out there, but eh, that's just how things are now.
In the past, I used Honkai Impact to test run gaming phones, but now, we've got its older sibling Genshin Impact instead, so that's what I'll be using to test this phone's gaming performance. After all, if this phone can't play Genshin, which phone can?
I played on medium settings at 60FPS with the phone set to 90% brightness with X Mode turned off. The temperature started out at 28°C and quickly heated up to 40°C within minutes.
After 20 minutes, the temperature rose and plateaued around 50-53°C, while the battery dropped by 11%. After 50 minutes, the battery dropped a further 12% while temperatures remained around the same as the 20-minute mark. Overall, the sides were warm yet tolerable, but when I tapped close to the center of the screen, my fingertips felt pretty uncomfortable.
I then attached the AeroActive Cooler 5, and temperatures dropped quickly to around 42°C, which is 10°C less than without the cooler. I was quite surprised at how much and how quickly temperatures dropped, so I'd say while the accessory definitely isn't a must, it's really good to have if you want to maintain more comfortable temperatures for longer gaming sessions.
As for benchmarks, I've attached the results from Geekbench 5 and 3DMark below:
Faster charging, and better battery care
Powering this beefy beast is a 6,000mAh battery, and this generation comes with a super-fast 65W charger instead of the 30W ones featured in the last 3 generations.
Furthermore, the way they've constructed this phone has improved as well, with the processor located in the middle of the chassis, allowing the vapour chamber to spread heat more evenly while keeping the hottest parts away from your hands while gaming in landscape mode.
Of course, this poses a question - where can the chonky battery reside then? The answer is that they've split it into two, placing one 3,000mAh battery on each side of the main PCB. This not only helps distributes weight more evenly, but MMT battery technology also allows for faster charging and lower heat output.
Now, you can charge it up to 70% in just 30 minutes, and 100% in 52 minutes, as opposed to the 90 minutes taken by the ROG Phone 3.
In addition, there are new battery care features that help prolong the battery life of your phone. There's steady charging, which charges at a slower and steadier pace to reduce heat generation. You can also set a custom charging limit that prevents charging above 80% or 90%, which can prolong the battery's lifespan up to 2 times.
Next, my favourite feature which I think I'll find very useful - scheduled charging. This allows you to set the time of charging completion, and the phone will adjust its charging rate accordingly so you can leave it overnight without letting it afk at 100% for hours.
Finally, a feature that isn't exactly new but still deserves a mention - bypass charging. This can be activated via Game Genie while you are playing, and it will redirect the charge straight to output, bypassing the battery completely. This not only keeps your battery healthy but reduces heat output while you're playing as well. Genius.
A decent snapper
Gaming phones aren't necessarily known (or purchased) for their cameras, so I was happy to find that the camera on this one didn't completely suck.
It's not going to beat a flagship photography-oriented device any time soon, but it works decently enough for casual snaps.
L - Standard (1.0x); R - Wide (0.6x)
L - 2.0x zoom; R - 8.0x zoom (maximum)
Form and function - ROG has managed to nail both yet again. For RM3,799. what you'll be getting is powerful performance with a beautiful exterior and solid construction. While there are no revolutionary innovations this generation, ROG has focused on refining many of the existing features that make the ROG Phone so well-loved in the mobile gaming market.
Sure, there are a couple of things to nitpick about, such as the lack of an included AeroActive Cooler (as well as the aforementioned accessory's new attachment mechanism), and the updated form factor which renders it incompatible with previous-gen accessories.
However, in exchange, the headphone jack has returned, and you'll get a much more refined iteration of the ROG Phone which boasts a sleeker exterior that feels more well-balanced in your hands.
A superb display, outstanding audio, as well as gaming-related features truly make this phone a top-notch choice for mobile gamers. While you could argue that similar specs can be found in other flagship mobile devices, the ROG Phone is uniquely catered towards the gaming demographic, from its careful placement of antennas, mics and ports to avoid obstruction while gaming, right down to its smart battery charging methods which allow charging on-the-go without deteriorating your battery health.
If you're an avid mobile gamer with enough dough to splash out on a new phone, the ROG Phone 5 will certainly not disappoint in terms of gaming experience.
As it so happens, pre-orders begin midnight tonight on Shopee, with a free ROG Kunai 3 GamePad while stocks last. So what are you waiting for? Pre-order here now.
For the prices of all variants, check out the table below:
Meanwhile, you can check out the official product page for more specs and details.