The ROG Phone 3 is big, it’s heavy, and it’s got more vents and RGB lighting than most people are probably comfortable seeing on a mobile device. But if you’re a gamer or you just want the absolute best performance you can get from an Android phone, like it or not, Asus’ unapologetically aggressive handset is your champion.
From the moment you pick it up, the biggest difference between the ROG Phone 3 and more traditional smartphones is just how in your face it is—it’s like the Mountain Dew of phones. Its 6.59-inch 2340 x 1080 OLED screen is already quite large, and when you factor in a fair amount of bezel and dual front-facing speakers, the whole handset feels even bigger. In fact, weighing in at just under 8.5 ounces, the ROG Phone 3 is heavier than pretty much every phone on the market aside from funky folding or swiveling handsets like the Galaxy Z Fold 2 or LG Wing.
But with that heft comes some pretty beastly components, including some of the loudest speakers I’ve tested on any phone in recent memory, and a screen that supports an industry-best 144Hz refresh rate. Now if we’re being honest, I can’t really tell the difference between the ROG Phone 3’s 144Hz screen and the 120Hz displays Samsung has put on a number of its 2020 Galaxy phones (and there aren’t a ton of games that support 144Hz either), but for anyone coming from a phone stuck at 60Hz or even 90Hz, the difference is immediately noticeable. Everyday stuff like scrolling through websites looks much smoother, and in games, it helps eliminate some of the ghosting and blurry animations you see, especially during more intense combat.
Meanwhile, along the top edge of the phone, Asus has included two touch sensors, which are actually split up into two Air Triggers on either side, providing a total of four customizable shoulder buttons for use while gaming. This is a feature I really appreciate, because I try to avoid lugging around add-ons like a separate controller or gamepad mount. As soon as you get those accessories, you begin compromising a phone’s portability. But with the ROG Phone, everything you need to game has already been built in, unless you really can’t do without things like physical joysticks (which I totally get).
Despite all the brutishness, it’s clear Asus is still paying attention to gamers’ needs thanks to a design that augments the phone’s bottom USB-C port with two more on the side. These bonus ports are used for accessories like the included GameCool 3, which adds a passthrough USB-C port, a headphone jack, a kickstand, and even a fan to help the phone and your hands stay a little cooler. And by putting those USB-C ports on the side of the phone, it means you have access to those extra ports messing up your grip when holding the phone sideways. Pretty smart for a phone designed to play games where you cut down trees with a pickaxe. And in back, there’s Asus’s mean glowing eye logo, which I admit is a little much, but honestly, I kinda wish more phones have support for external RGB lights.
But clearly the best thing about the ROG Phone 3 is its performance. In both traditional performance benchmarks like Web XPRT 2015 and Geekbench 5 and more gaming-focused tests like 3DMark’s Sling Shot Extreme, Asus’ phone churned out aces across the board, and often finished 5 to 10% ahead of similarly-priced flagship phones sporting the same Snapdragon 865 chip. On top of that, Asus also includes a whopping 512GB of base storage, which is more than enough to make me forget that the ROG Phone 3 doesn’t have a microSD card slot.
The end result is a phone that always, and I do mean always, feels snappy, even before you squeeze the phone’s sides and enable Asus’ X-Mode, which frees up RAM and boosts processor performance to help ensure you aren’t hit with any lag. X-Mode also works with Asus’s Armoury Crate, which allows you to create custom profiles for specific games, so you can have different settings depending on the title. Honestly, it’s more customization than anyone really needs, but for those times when you want the ability to tweak things just how you like it, it’s a nice combo you don’t really get on other phones.
And for a gaming phone, even the ROG Phone 3’s cameras are pretty good—not quite as proficient as a Pixel 4 mind you, but respectable nonetheless. In well-lit daytime shots, the ROG Phone 3 produced sharp photos with bright colors that only missed slightly on finer details and color saturation. And in a nighttime shot of a spooky skeleton, the ROG Phone 3’s auto low-light mode captured a surprisingly well-exposed shot that is actually a bit too bright. That said, in very dark situations, Google’s Night Sight still has a major advantage in low-light environments.
Finally, with its massive 6,000 mAh battery, the ROG Phone 3’s time of 16 hours and 56 minutes is the second best time ever on our video rundown test, only falling short of the original Galaxy Z Fold’s mark of 17:18.
Look, I don’t blame anyone who wants to write the ROG Phone 3 off as a stunt device meant to attract gamers by dangling RGB lighting and see-through venting in their faces, because that’s definitely part of its schtick. But the ROG Phone 3 also backs up its aesthetic with the best performance I’ve seen on an Android phone this year, and with handy features like Asus’ AirTriggers and its side-mounted USB ports, the ROG Phone 3 also sports a thoughtful design that really does help people enjoy mobile gaming better. The ROG Phone 3 definitely ain’t for everyone, and even though some folks might just be buying one to flex on their friends, there’s no doubt this phone’s got game.
- The ROG Phone 3 is very extra in the most gamer way possible.
- It supports 5G, but only on sub-6Ghz bands, which means it doesn’t really work on Verizon.
- Technically, there are two USB-C ports on the side of the phone, but the copper-colored one isn’t really designed to function on its own, so don’t plug anything into it directly.
- I’m still not sure if that air vent is really necessary, but it does look cool.
- The ROG Phone 3 comes in an optional config with 16GB of RAM instead of just 12GB in case you really want to flex, just don’t expect to feel much of a difference in actual performance.