Not just for taking calls
I’m showing my age here, but my first mobile phone did two things – it took calls and allowed me to send text messages. I soon upgraded to a Nokia 5110 and was able to enjoy the pleasure of playing Snake – I spent hours on that game, slowly filling up the screen as the snake increased in length. These days, smartphones are much more powerful and are probably used more for tasks other than calling people. Gaming on a phone is definitely a big thing.
I use my phone to game in a more casual manner, preferring to use my PC for the more hardcore gaming. I normally use my phone to play games whilst having a bite to eat, or when waiting for my wife and kids to get ready for an outing. As such, the games I generally play on my phone are those that have a short play time. Yes, amongst other games, I play Candy Crush…please don’t judge me! When the ASUS gave us the option to test out their new ROG Phone II with the associated Kunai Gamepad, I jumped at the chance. After all, I am in the market for a new phone.
The ROG Phone II has a slim bezel of the front face, a front facing camera for all the selfie-takers and a couple of built-in speakers which reduce the display size a fraction. The rear features dual cameras, an RGB glowing ASUS ROG logo matching that of recent ROG laptops, and some stylish angled designs that mirror the ROG logo. I must admit, it does look cool. Most importantly, the phone comes with both a USB type-C charging port (actually two of them) and a 3.5mm audio jack located at the bottom. Surrounding the sides are the usual volume control buttons, the power button, and a connector port for the AeroActive cooler (more on this later). In all, apart from the cool glowing signature ROG logo on the back, it is a fairly standard – albeit somewhat oversized – smartphone.
The ASUS ROG Phone II is an android based phone with a 6.59” 120Hz AMOLED display with a 1ms refresh rate. It is powered by a 2.96GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 processor with 12GB RAM. Added to that is 512GB of storage, and it becomes a phone that has some beefy specifications. If you just want a smartphone for taking calls, sending texts and surfing the net, the ROG Phone II is probably overkill. First off, for a phone, it is huge – the display is almost a full inch larger than my Samsung Galaxy S8 and weighs in at 240 grams. And that is without any of the Kunai gaming components added.
From a gaming perspective the main features aren’t actually part of the phone itself but comes from the Kunai Gamepad components. Perhaps the most important of these is the AeroActive cooler. It is a small device that hooks over the back of the phone, and acts as a fan to cool the phone when it is heating up when performing at its utmost. In a way, it is like the fans of a laptop, dispersing the heat to ensure that the device does not overheat. Then there are the Kunai components, that came as a set of four parts in the set I tested. There are two Switch-like controllers, a case for the phone known as the Kunai Bumper which allows the controllers to be directly connected to the phone, and the Kunai Holder which when combined with controllers, resembles an Xbox-style gamepad.
Despite the powerful specs of the ROG Phone II, the battery life is amazing. On receiving the device, I charged it up to full power before letting it run down. On standby, it was still running after a week. Unfortunately, I had limited time to complete a review, and so decided to charge it up again to test it properly in a gaming sense. The 6000mAh battery works amazing well. Even with the peripherals (Controllers and cooling device) attached and running off the Bluetooth, the phone kept going for hours without requiring a charge. But should the device need charging, the durable braided charging cable uses a quick-charge ability that charges the phone in less than an hour from zero to one hundred percent.
The high-quality specifications enable the phone to seamlessly run any application. Switching between apps is instantaneous, whilst the amazing display allows for clear visuals for playing games and watching videos. The dual front speakers provide some wonderfully crisp audio. They are probably the loudest speakers I’ve heard on a smartphone.
Without the airflow cooling device attached, the phone does get quite hot when playing those games that require some decent running power though. Playing Asphalt 9 Racing made the device heat up quicker than I was expecting, but as soon as I attached the AeroActive cooler, the temperature of the phone became a lot more manageable, with a nice breeze emanating from the fan.
The gamepad device (in its various configurations) makes the phone play like a portable console. This is particularly evident when the phone sits in the Kunai Bumper and the controllers are fitted. Doing so gives the phone the feeling of an elongated Nintendo Switch. This was my favoured setup, When the controllers are combined with the Kunai holder it plays similarly to an Xbox controller, but is separate to the phone. It feels a little awkward using the controller in that way on such a small screen, one that can move if it is sitting on your lap. You could always mirror the phone to your TV, but if you’re doing that, you may as well turn on your console.
Although the inbuilt software can configure just about any game to use the controls, many games do not work with the controllers straight after installation. Asphalt 9 Racing came installed on the ROG Phone II, and so I gave that a test drive before anything else. Particularly with the bumper and controller setup, the controls were smooth and just like using a gamepad controller on a PC or console. Other games such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Call of Duty Mobile, PUBG Mobile and Fortnite required little or no setting up. I found that they made the games somewhat easier to play than the regular touchscreen controls as it meant that I was able to see more of the screen without my thumbs getting in the way.
When not using the Kunai components, the Air Triggers on the ROG Phone II are another enjoyable feature. The phone, when in landscape mode has two touch-sensitive areas near the power and volume buttons that act like triggers on a console-style controller. Using the ASUS in-built Armoury Crate app, the Air Triggers can be activated and allocated to any normal on-screen button. Like the Kunai Bumper, it allows less annoying on-screen button presses.
As a smartphone, the ROG Phone II is fairly standard. It has a camera that takes decent photos, can make calls, send text messages, surf the net and keep you updated with all your social media apps or be used to stream Netflix and any other Streaming services. But as a gaming phone, it is unparalleled. The huge, long-lasting battery (the longest lasting I’ve seen), the amazing refresh rate of the display and the wonderful controls of the Air Triggers and the Kunai components (particularly the Kunai Bumper) make the ROG Phone II, the phone of choice if you’re into gaming on the go. The price tag with all the Kunai components may be on the high side (AUD 1699) but is still less than the latest iPhone – and that doesn’t come with any gaming components or the full mobile gaming experience that the ROG Phone II offers.