Gaming phones have come a very long way from its origins in the likes of the Nokia N-Gage, the very first gaming-focused phone. These days, perhaps the most well known gaming smartphone line is of course the Asus ROG Phone series of smartphones. It certainly helped that Asus has a history of making performance parts for the PC gaming scene, making the switch to mobile for their ROG brand easy enough.
We’re now six generations into the ROG Phone series—they skipped the ROG Phone 4, but refreshed the ROG Phone 5 series with the ROG Phone 5s—but they remain mostly a smartphone for a niche demographic. Mobile gamers know and love the ROG Phone brand sure, but for the average user, the ROG Phone isn’t normally on their shortlist of devices. Folks seeking a flagship smartphone would prefer your typical options like the iPhone 13 or the Galaxy S22 before a gaming smartphone.
But I beg to differ: I do think the ROG Phone 6 and ROG Phone 6 Pro are gaming smartphones that normal users should at least put on their shortlist.
You can tell it’s a ‘gaming’ smartphone
Look, I love games as much as the next gamer, and yes, my own gaming PC has RGB lights in it too. But I was never really a fan of RGB lights on my smartphone, like it is on the ROG Phone 6. Except because we have the ROG Phone 6 Pro rather than the non-Pro model, it doesn’t have RGB lights on the back. Instead, like most gaming setups, the ROG Phone 6 Pro has a *cough* “dual-screen” setup, with the RGB ROG logo replaced with a tiny ROG Vision PMOLED display.
I’m going to be honest here and just say that I’m not a huge fan of the gaudy design here. I like my phone designs simple and sleek. The ROG Phone 6 Pro series though comes with a cyberpunk-meets-gamer aesthetic, which fits the ROG persona like a glove but is just too edgy for even me to like it. Its second display on the back will light up when you turn on the display, and you can customise it to show off other things too like time or notifications, but it comes off as a gimmick to me more than anything else.
On top of that, this is a huge smartphone, but you probably already knew that. Weighing in at 239g, and measuring 173 x 77 x 10.4mm, it dwarves even the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra and Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max, both of which I’ve previously nitpicked about being a little too chunky in the past. You’re also going to have to deal with a much larger and more pronounced camera bump on the rear compared to its predecessor. At the very least, build quality feels good, and while it doesn’t feel premium it does feel robust and sturdy. Corning Gorilla Glass Victus on the front and Gorilla Glass 3 on the rear are nice additions for scratch resistance too, though I must say the IPX4 rating really isn’t much, even if Asus tried to market it as the ‘world’s first splash resistant gaming phone’.
But of course, there’s a good reason behind the size of the ROG Phone 6 Pro; it’s not meant to be the sleek, minimalist compact smartphone no. Instead, it’s all about performance, and when talking performance bigger is always better…. right?
This baby goes up to eleven
When I first took the Galaxy S22 Ultra for a spin a while back, there was a bit of a slight disappointment with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, due to underwhelming performance and some thermal issues too. Well, I’m happy to see that with the ROG Phone 6 Pro packing the improved, TSMC-made Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 together with an absurd 18GB of LPDDR5 RAM, performance seems to be a little better but thermals are much, much better.
First up, some quick benchmark numbers. In Geekbench 5, the ROG Phone 6 Pro scores a very impressive single core score of 1277 and a multi core score of 4,070. That beats the Snapdragon 8 Gen 1-powered Lenovo Legion Y90 on the Geekbench charts by quite a mile, which got a single core score of 1,186 and a multi core score of 3,471. The ROG Phone 6 Pro wasn’t done yet though, as it has a secret trick called X-Mode. Essentially, you can turn on the X-Mode profile in the phone’s settings for more power, compared to the balanced Dynamic setting. Using X-Mode pushes its benchmark scores even higher, to 1,312 and 4,120 in single core and multi core respectively.
Of course, it’s not all about synthetic benchmarks. In real world situations, the ROG Phone 6 Pro hardly breaks a sweat in everyday usage, keeping things running smoothly all the time when texting, working, browsing the web and streaming videos, sometimes all at the same time. There’s little to no worry about any performance throttling if you’re just using it as a regular ol’ smartphone.
In games meanwhile, the knob goes up to eleven with the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 able to handle the games I threw at it, be it simpler titles like Hearthstone and Magic the Gathering: Arena, to fast paced shooters like Apex Legends Mobile as well as racing games like GRID: Autosport. I could crank the graphics settings to the maximum in most cases and it’ll handle it just fine, though Apex Legends did see occasional FPS drops to 40 at times. But again, for the most part it’ll run just fine, with a certain caveat.
See, Asus also provided us with their new AeroActive Cooler 6 together with the ROG Phone 6 Pro, and I have to say, with it attached it works like a charm. Temperatures never really break past the 40°C mark and kept performance nice and spiffy. The AeroActive Cooler 6 also doesn’t need any external power to work, instead plugging into the secondary USB-C port on the side of the phone and sapping juice from there. There’s three settings with the AeroActive Cooler 6, Cooling, Frosty and Frozen. The first just has a fan spinning, while Frosty uses a thermoelectric Peltier module to cool the ROG Phone 6 Pro. Frozen meanwhile is only available when the phone is plugged in, and ramps up the cooling even more.
Generally speaking, I didn’t really see a need to actually use the AeroActive Cooler 6 for a quick round of MTGA or two; temps never rose to any worrying degree. However, it becomes much more useful when playing resource intensive games like Apex Legends for a long session. Without it, temperatures occasionally would spike much higher, and sometimes leads to small drops in FPS numbers. The AeroActive Cooler 6 also has a pretty cool party trick of adding four physical triggers that can be assigned to certain actions in games.
However, I seldom used it, instead preferring to use the Air Triggers on the side of the device, which are basically touch sensitive areas where shoulder buttons would be on a gamepad. They work just fine, and I’m not too bothered by a lack of a built-in physical button as other mobile gamers in the office are. I did find having to set up the AirTriggers a little troublesome though. There’s gyroscopic control too, but I didn’t like it as I find fine controls when aiming not easy with it. When I do want to use physical buttons, I can just use the ROG Kunai 3 Gamepad which can also be configured with the ROG Phone 6 to become a Nintendo Switch-like handheld console.
I don’t really like the Kunai 3 Gamepad in that configuration though, as the rails holding the joysticks aren’t very secure and feels like it could break if I accidentally put too much force on it. The buttons themselves are decent enough, but the triggers were pretty mushy and felt cheap compared to a real Xbox controller. If you were planning to get either the AeroActive Cooler 6 or the Kunai 3 Gamepad, you’re much better off with the cooler as it not only keeps the ROG Phone 6 Pro running cooler for longer, but provides the aforementioned four physical buttons too.
As for battery life, the Asus ROG Phone 6 Pro has a 6,000mAh battery, which combined with the more efficient Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 leads to some very impressive battery life. In my regular usage with about 60% brightness and six to seven hours of screen time, I managed to get a day and a half of use, and I probably could have eeked out up to two days of battery life if I tweaked the settings and used the phone less. However, using the higher performance modes will drain your battery life, especially with the AeroActive Cooler 6 attached. I lost about 20% of battery after about 45 minutes of GRID: Autosport, using both the cooler and the gamepad in a Switch-style setup and with the performance mode set to the highest.
Poor long term software support
As for software, the ROG Phone 6 Pro comes with Android 12 out of the box, and you can choose to either have the more conventional Zen UI or the more gamer-focused ROG UI. Being an ROG smartphone, I felt it was more appropriate to run with ROG UI so that’s what I went with. Regardless of which one you end up using, you’ll still be greeted with a mostly stock Android experience here, though you do get some pre-installed apps as well as Asus’ suite of gaming tools such as Armoury Crate and Game Genie, the former of which lets you configure your games, settings, setups, profiles and more while the latter acts as an overlay for settings while you’re in-game.
They’re actually a pretty solid suite of tools to have around, allowing me to switch between modes and set up macros in game for Air Triggers and the like, as well as monitor temps, CPU and GPU usage as well as the current FPS. If there’s one thing to complain about them though is that it took a while to actually figure out how to use it, with a UI that can get a little overwhelming the first time you boot it up.
However, the biggest complaint I have about the software on the ROG Phone 6 Pro though is the almost pathetic support Asus are guaranteeing here. In a time where rivals such as Samsung are able to offer up to four major Android OS upgrades and up to five years of security patches as well for their flagship smartphones, it’s quite a shame to see Asus only guaranteeing at least two major Android OS upgrades and two years of security updates on the ROG Phone 6 Pro. Heck, even the midrange Phone (1) is getting at least three major Android OS upgrades from Nothing, and they’re tiny compared to the tech giant that is Asus.
Notch haters, here’s something to love
Do you hate notches? Dislike front camera cutouts? The ROG Phone 6 Pro should probably be on your shortlist for your next smartphone then, as it comes with a notch-free 6.78-inch, FHD+ AMOLED display, with a ridiculous 165Hz refresh rate, a 720Hz touch sampling rate and a 23ms touch latency, ensuring that the screen can detect any inputs every 1.4ms. It gets reasonably bright too, reaching a peak brightness of 1200nits, with a typical brightness of 800nits.
Because of the sheer size of the display coupled with the 1080p resolution, it actually isn’t as sharp as the other big phones such as the Galaxy S22 Ultra or iPhone 13 Pro Max, coming in with a pixel density of just 395ppi. I can kinda see the pixels if I really try to, but realistically when you’re just scrolling about or playing games, it’s hardly noticeable. The large size and the lack of a notch or cutout does mean though that it’s a great way to watch content on the go as there won’t be something in the way.
What the display lacks in sharpness, it makes up for in speed. The 165Hz refresh rate means that it’s just super smooth even when you’re using it as a regular smartphone. It’s worth pointing out though that I only got to try out the full 165Hz in the few number of games that can actually support that, such as Hill Climb Racing, Brawl Stars and Stick Fight, the full list of which you can see on the Armoury Crate tool. The same page on Armoury Crate will also tell you which games can do a maximum of 144Hz and 120Hz refresh rates too.
One odd thing I noticed though was that without the AeroActive Cooler 6 attached, the maximum refresh rate you can get in game is just 144Hz, even when you’re on X Mode. To truly push that 165Hz refresh rate, you’ll need to get the AeroActive Cooler 6 attached and turned on with the ROG Phone 6 Pro; it seems almost disingenuous that the full refresh rate of the display can be achieved only by purchasing the additional accessory that costs an extra RM349.
As for the audio on the ROG Phone 6 Pro, Asus has done a bang up job here. There’s a pair of front-facing stereo speakers with Dirac HD Sound and they’re very good indeed, with a wide and rich sound stage to it. They get loud enough to fill up a room, and have a solid amount of oomph to them too when the bass kicks in. It’s also the fact that they’re front-facing that perhaps helps them stand out from other flagship smartphones. The sound is hitting you right where it counts in a balanced manner, rather than having one speaker shoot audio from the bottom of the smartphone and another from the earpiece. Also, there’s a 3.5mm audio jack which I was super happy to see still.
Another aspect where I think Asus have knocked it out of the park with the ROG Phone 6 Pro is the haptics. According to Asus, the ROG Phone 6 series features a new ‘high-end X-axis vibration motor’, with stronger and deeper rumbles all while using less power too. It’s not something that typically gets advertised by manufacturers as haptics isn’t something that consumers typically look for on a spec sheet. As such, plenty of the bang-for-buck smartphones I have previously used tend to have pretty bad haptics, and so I’d normally immediately turn off vibrations across the system barring phone calls.
The ROG Phone 6 Pro though has such phenomenal feeling haptics and vibrations that I basically left it as it is, which is perhaps the best compliment I can give when it comes to haptics. You can really feel every little bump and shake as you move and shoot in-game, or even just the subtle yet comfortable little vibrations when you type using the keyboard.
The cameras are… actually not bad?
Moving on to the camera department, and I’ll admit, almost immediately I thought that they weren’t going to be any good. I mean, it’s a gaming smartphone right? Surely Asus didn’t bother with making the cameras that good right? Even during the press briefing for the launch of the device, they only gave the cameras like, a second of attention, compared to the hours it felt like they took to talk about the performance of ROG Phone 6 series.
The ROG Phone 6 Pro (along with its non-Pro siblings) comes with a triple rear camera setup, packing a main 50MP shooter together with a 13MP ultrawide angle lens and a 5MP macro camera, as well as a 12MP selfie camera up front. That main camera by the way is using the same Sony IMX766 sensor found in many other top-end smartphones, such as the Realme GT 2 Pro, Xiaomi 12 and the Oppo Find X5 Pro.
The result? Some pretty decent photography capabilities for a gaming smartphone, with the ROG Phone 6 Pro able to deliver in most scenarios. I’m happy to say that the photos taken are actually not that bad, to me anyways. I mean sure, it’s no Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra or Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max, but for a feature that’s perhaps not designed to be its strong point, the ROG Phone 6 Pro still managed to hold it’s own, and is likely better than the other gaming smartphones around.
Shots are crisp enough, with little noise and don’t have overblown highlights on them. It doesn’t always work out brilliantly though—low light shots struggle a little, the ultrawide camera is weaker than the main camera and the portrait mode sometimes gets the bokeh wrong too. Nevertheless, it’s still a surprisingly capable little shooter, and with most people perhaps not really considering the cameras’ performance when looking at the ROG Phone 6 series, you might just be taken aback by how well they turn out.
The ROG Phone 6 Pro is more than just a gaming smartphone
Coming into this review, I had no doubts about the ROG Phone 6 Pro when it comes to performance and gaming. However, what I was unsure about was whether it would be a good smartphone in general, and in that regard I’m actually quite pleased with how it turned out.
It can sometimes feel like a bit of a shame that it’s been labelled as a ‘gaming smartphone’, because it’s more than that. If you’re someone who may not necessarily play a lot of games on the go, but still want features like a great battery, the best performance and decent speakers, the ROG Phone 6 should at least still be on your shortlist.
I mean, you can always turn off the lighting on the back and tack on a case, plus you can also swap the theme from ROG UI to the sleeker, simpler and near-stock Zen UI (though unfortunately limited to two Android OS upgrades). The cameras on it are much better than gaming phones of the past too, and the screen while not the sharpest is still big and bright. The haptics on them are also among the best I’ve ever used on a smartphone. And there’s even a 3.5mm headphone jack!
And yet, with all that being said, I don’t think you should buy it. The ROG Phone 6 Pro’s greatest problem? The ROG Phone 6.
Let me explain myself a bit more here. Basically, when you compare the ROG Phone 6 and the ROG Phone 6 Pro, there’s honestly nothing significant enough to justify getting the ‘Pro’ model. Unlike the ‘Pro’ models in the iPhone 13 or Pixel 6 series for example, the ROG Phone 6 Pro doesn’t offer more cameras, a higher refresh rate or a bigger display. Instead, the only real difference between the two siblings in the ROG Phone 6 series is literally just the ROG Vision PMOLED display on the back of the phone, rather than an illuminated ROG logo as well as 18GB of RAM rather than a limit of 16GB of RAM.
That honestly doesn’t make the ROG Phone 6 Pro more appealing than the ROG Phone 6, especially when you take a look at how much they’re going for:
Is an additional “display” and two more gigabytes of RAM really worth an extra RM600? I don’t think so. In fact, the best option among those three is actually the base model, which for RM3,599 even undercuts the Black Shark 5 Pro, arguably its closest rival in the gaming smartphone scene.
You’re still getting 12GB of RAM on the base model ROG Phone 6 which is more than enough for perhaps even the most hardcore of gamers, and 256GB will likely be enough if you aren’t planning to install north of 50 games here. Of course, the accessories are sold separately with the AeroActive Cooler 6 priced at RM349 and the ROG Kunai 3 Gamepad costing RM499.
And as for the Black Shark 5 Pro, the only arguable strength it has over the ROG Phone 6 is that it features a pair of retractable physical buttons on the right side of the device, which you can pop up via a pair of switches alongside it. Our colleague Najib even swears by it, preferring it over the Air Triggers on the ROG Phone 6 series. However, it doesn’t have the Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1 under the hood, instead only coming with the vanilla Snapdragon 8 Gen 1, and will cost you a bit more too starting at RM3,699. We’ve compared these two devices in further detail before already, so if you’re interested you can click here to read more.
My point is that, for what it’s worth the ROG Phone 6 seems to be hitting all of the key points that many out there want in a smartphone. To me, it’s not just a good gaming smartphone, but a good smartphone in general, and one that I think both mobile gamers and power users may enjoy using quite a bit.