By Akriti Rana and Nimish Dubey
In a phone world that is getting increasingly stereotyped, gaming phones are generally a breath of fresh and different air. They come with all sorts of design as well as feature bells and whistles and just show us a different dimension of your regular phone — a kind of a new avatar. After all, there are plenty of phones with similar specifications, but gaming phones almost always add something fresh to the mix.
We said "almost always" because the definition of a gaming phone is slowly changing. A brand like OnePlus now claims that its OnePlus 9R and recently launched OnePlus 9RT are actually made for gaming. On the other hand, there are phones like the Asus ROG Phone series and the Poco F3 GT, which many people consider as being "real" gaming phones. Whichever pitch you believe, the hardware you will encounter is going to be broadly similar — flagship chip, high refresh rate and high resolution display, big sound, good thermals, lots of RAM and so on. It is what is built around it that makes these two breeds of gaming phones different.
OnePlus and some other brands tend to focus on performance and innards, while keeping the phone's appearance more or less routine. Do not get us wrong — the OnePlus 9R and 9RT are very smart looking phones, but they do not look like traditional gaming phones, no matter how well they handle gaming. Gaming phones to most people scream "gaming" the moment you clap eyes on them with blinking lights, special accessories and buttons, and design that often defies whatever's trending.
The Asus ROG Phone 5s fits right into the latter category. It does not look very different from its predecessor, the Asus ROG Phone 5, but it does not look at all like a regular flagship.
Like the ROG Phone 5 which it resembles, it totally turns mainstream design on its head. Slim bezels? This one has wide ones on the top and below the display. Notch? Nope, none. Slim and light? At 9.9 mm and 238 grammes, not a chance. Compact aspirations? It is 172.8 mm tall and kind of makes clear that it expects you to use both hands. Minimalistic, understated design? The phone sports red accents on the power button and SIM card tray, logo with stripes on the back, a camera array shaped like an arrow, and has air triggers and two USB. Type C ports as well as an accessory connector. Ditching the 3.5 mm jack? Not a chance, It is there loud and proud. Even the stereo speakers are arranged in front, above and below the display, giving us such HTC One vibes from almost a decade ago!
The innards are largely standard Android flagship fare — Snapdragon 888+ chip, a 6.78 inch full HD AMOLED display with 144 Hz refresh rate, 8 GB/ 128 GB and 12 GB/ 256 GB RAM and storage variants, a triple camera on the rear with a 64 megapixel main sensor, a big 6000 mAh battery with 65W fast charging, stereo speakers, 5G support and so on — but there is as much chance of someone thinking the ROG Phone 5s is a regular Android flagship as there is of someone mistaking a Humvee for a BMW. Or The Hulk for The Batman. Some will find it ridiculous, some will sigh happily at the sight of it.
It might be specced like a premium Android flagship, but the Asus ROG Phone 5s is really designed for gaming. It certainly delivers on that front. Every single game we played on it, from Call of Duty to Genshin Impact, ran without a hitch and at maxed out settings. The front facing speakers and the display just make the whole experience amazingly immersive. Keep playing for about an hour and you might sense a slight rise in temperature, but it is very slight and nothing compared to what we see on other flagships. The relatively big bezels above and below the display might be eyesores for some, but gave us precious holding space when playing games in landscape mode.
But just how far ahead does it get of "regular" Android flagships, many of which come at lower prices? The recently launched gaming-oriented OnePlus 9 RT starts at Rs 42,999, the quite powerful Xiaomi 11T Pro starts at Rs 39,999,and iQoo has just launched a Snapdragon 888 device for under Rs 35,000. How does the Asus ROG Phone 5s compare with them?
In terms of gaming, that processor, display and speakers do make the ROG Phone 5s a very special device. The difference in gaming quality as compared to say a OnePlus 9RT, will not jump out at you immediately. Keep playing for a while, and you will start noticing small things - slightly smoother action, higher quality sound, and much better vibrations for different events. That display and speaker combination also make this a great multimedia device - videos and shows look and sound stunning. Sound from the 3.5 mm audio jack is brilliant as well. The phone can actually even handle high impedance headphones like the AKG K712.
Move the ROG Phone 5s into normal phone usage and things are not quite as rosy. The phone's size and weight make it difficult to hold and use for prolonged periods. The cameras are competent but not really flagship level, and if you keep everything maxed out, that 6000 mAh battery will get you slightly more than a day. The phone's gaing oriented UI might also not quite appeal to everyone. Some geeks might even go "Ewww, Android 11. Something this powerful should come with Android 12!"
The gaming phone wave that had hit the market in 2019-2020 seems to be receding a little, but Asus seems determined to continue to surf it. As others drop out of the "gaming phone" zone, the Taiwanese brand has pretty much made it its own. It does however, have quite a task on its hands sustaining these devices in the face of other devices which might not offer as much gaming nuance, but will more than compensate on other fronts such as cameras, software and good old ease of use. Somemight even come with newer and more powerful processors. The Motorola Edge 30 Pro and the iQoo 9 Pro with the Snapdragon 8 Generation 1 chips, are already in the market and lower priced options are expected to arrive soon.
At its starting price of Rs 49,999, we have no hesitation in calling the Asus ROG Phone 5s perhaps the best gaming phone you can get on the Android platform under Rs 50,000. We are not including iOS in the mix, because as we stated in an earlier article (https://news.abplive.com/gaming/looking-for-a-high-end-gaming-device-7-reasons-why-you-should-pick-new-ipad-mini-14965640), we feel that the iPad mini with its big screen and great sound is a contender for being one of the best devices for mobile gaming. But in the Android zone, the ROG Phone 5s is at the time of writing, easily the boss. We can see pro and hardcore gamers totally loving the extra features and controls it brings to the gaming experience, especially in situations where every micro second counts. However, the more regular gaming crowd might just be tempted by lower priced, broadly similar specced devices.
That is the challenge that not only the Asus ROG Phone series, but "traditional" gaming phones face in general. They are like the dinosaurs - huge and powerful. But as the global republic of gamers actually starts getting more mainstream citizens, these phones need to figure out a way to dodge extinction. We hope they do, because as we said in the very beginning "In a phone world that is getting increasingly stereotyped, gaming phones are generally a breath of fresh and different air."
The Asus ROG Phone 5s certainly is that.