Asus ROG Phone 5s review: Still one of its kind

The ROG Phone 5s is in a league of its own. At a time when downsizing is increasingly becoming the norm, especially among premium phones, the ROG Phone 5s ships with one of the beefiest boxes around, stocked with a high-quality case and braided USB C to USB C cable, SIM ejector tool, commemorative sticker pack, and a fast-charging brick. There’s also some graphic art featuring the dual sword wielding fictional character, Akira. You can interact with him, too, thanks to a cool mini augmented reality game that Asus has cleverly put inside. We don’t remember the last time unboxing a phone was this exciting.

This experience is not just cosmetic. It is also a technical showcase of the ROG Phone 5s’s marquee hardware features—dual speakers, haptics, and ultrasonic sensors, or AirTriggers as Asus likes to call them. Clearly, a lot of thought was put into it and for good reason. We’ll go out on a limb and say, no other phone in the market can give you speakers this loud and clear and haptics this powerful, at the time of writing. As for the AirTriggers, they are unique to the ROG Phone anyway. It would be a shame to not highlight them. If anything, props to Asus for doing it so subtly yet effectively.

Truly one of its kind design

Things were not always this subtle. The first few generations of the ROG Phone went all out to please hardcore gamers (and existing ROG laptop/PC users, obviously), which is to say, these phones had a certain vibe that would appeal to a very specific type of user. Everybody else, well let’s just say, wasn’t cut out for it.

| Asus ROG Phone 5s first look: Design, specs, features, and all you need to know

Over the last few years, much of the theatrics have made way for greater refinement on the inside, and more sober and sophisticated styling on the outside. This is crucial from a business point of view as well. Unlike others, Asus does not launch phones on the fly. It has one of the leanest product portfolios and in some markets—like India—things are even tighter. But that’s a story for another day and we digress.

(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

What’s commendable is, despite all the changes, the ROG Phone remains truly one of its kind, to this day. Those who know, would know. Others would ask, what phone is that. The ROG Phone 5s is no exception.

The back is made of Corning Gorilla Glass 3. You can get it in black or white, both with glossy finish. It’s not resistant to fingerprints but it’s not a smudge haven either. It is ridiculously slippery, though. The bundled case helps in getting a better grip. There is an ROG logo in the bottom half that has RGB lighting. It is highly customisable with Asus giving you as many as eight different profiles to choose from including one where you can display two colours leading to a gradient effect. You can choose to not light it up at all, too.

The frame is made of metal. There’s more tech in it than most phones have in their entirety. There are two separate USB C ports, one at the bottom and another on the left—this is paired with a pogo pin connector (and concealed by a rather flimsy flap, which is easy to lose) to hook the phone to first-party accessories like the AeroActive Cooler. The logic being you can charge the phone any way you like, without having to give up on using it as per your convenience.

(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

On the right side, closer to the top and bottom edge, you’ll find AirTriggers—nine ultrasonic sensors combined let you map up to fourteen specific touch points on the screen. Think shoulder buttons on a game controller, but virtual. Moreover, you can define their pressure sensitivity manually, to save yourself from accidental triggers.

We’re not done yet. There is a headphone jack in this phone. We all know how rare that is, these days. The power button stands out with its bright red accent. The dual-SIM card slot has the same paintjob. If you’re wondering, there is no IP rating which seems fair considering the sheer number of ports and the somewhat modular nature of this phone.

Screen like no other

Samsung makes the best smartphone displays. You can bet your money on it. It is a supplier, too, which means, any brand is free to purchase a panel from it and put it on its phone. Apple does it, so does Asus (and many others). But simply using a screen sourced from Samsung does not guarantee that it would turn out great. You need to tune it right, something that would also factor in the price segment and the kind of buyers you’re targeting.

It’s safe to assume, a phone like the ROG Phone 5s is directed at spec-nerds, primarily, with a laundry list of features to match. Let’s get those out of the way first.

Asus ROG Phone 5s
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

This phone has a 6.78-inch Samsung E4 AMOLED display with a 2448 x 1080-pixel resolution and tall 20.4:9 aspect ratio. It can refresh up to 144 times per second, something that not a lot of phones can do, at the time of writing, at least in India. The panel can get very bright, too, up to 1200nits, and supports HDR10 and HDR10+ playback (this works in apps like Netflix). There is Corning Gorilla Glass Victus for protection.

That’s all flagship-grade stuff and it all works as advertised, but we’re more impressed with three things in particular—the ROG Phone 5s’s display can theoretically cover 111.23% of the DCI-P3 colour gamut and boasts of a mighty impressive Delta-E < 1, has a touch sampling rate of 360Hz and 24ms touch latency. This entails an exceptional amount of colour accuracy, great contrast with deep, inky blacks, and razor-sharp touch response. It won’t be wrong to say, it’s a screen like no other. Not only is Asus using one of the best panels around, but it has also gone the extra mile to make it even better. That’s rare.

You might criticise it for shipping a flagship phone in 2022 with such wide chunky bezels but they are there for a reason. They let you rest your palms comfortably without triggering any accidental touches, something that gamers spending countless many hours hoping to win chicken dinners, would really appreciate. They house the brilliant forward-firing dual speakers, as well.

For power users

The ROG Phone 5s comes rocking a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888+, but more than the chip itself, it’s the phone’s underlying tech, that’s the standout feature. Everything inside it has been meticulously designed to squeeze the most out of the hardware. The system is super intelligent, too, something that translates into better efficiency and eventually, rock solid battery life.

Asus has split the battery into two and placed the PCB in the middle. This is complemented with a large copper 3D vapour chamber. The idea, obviously, is to offer sustained performance for a longer period of time with little to no throttling. But it’s not just gunning for raw power. The ROG Phone 5s is the only phone to give you a PC-like control setup with custom profiles for varying use case scenarios. There’s one for preserving power as much as possible. Another for more balanced and optimised performance for daily use. All this is done within an app called the Armoury Crate.

Asus ROG Phone 5s
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

Basically, you don’t need to run the hardware at full potential (which could have its downsides in the longer run). But when you do want to do that, Asus gives you two options—X mode and X mode plus. To no one’s surprise, they’re meant for heavy-duty gaming. And because you’re stretching the SD88+ to its limits, and even beyond, there’s only so much that passive cooling can help. The same reason why, X mode plus won’t even start without an AeroActive Cooler which is nothing but an external fan.

While general day-to-day performance is nice and smooth, the ROG Phone 5s tends to heat up when pushed. You’re not going to notice any frame rate drops—choppy performance—unless you’re playing a very graphically demanding game like say Genshin Impact at a stretch which is where the cooler accessory becomes very important for a product like this. Asus still doesn’t bundle one with the regular ROG Phone, which is a bummer. You’ll need to either purchase one separately or crank up your budget and get the ROG Phone 5s Pro, to get it for free. We feel, this is a missed opportunity.

Asus ROG Phone 5s
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

There’s one more area where Asus could have done better. This phone supports up to 65W fast charging, but you only get a 30W adapter in the box. Even the pro ROG Phone 5s fails to get a 65W fast charger in the box for some curious reason. There is no wireless charging, either, in both models.

Luckily, the 6,000mAh battery inside the ROG Phone 5s marches on and on, sometimes up to two days without fail, even if you choose to run it at 144Hz straight up all the time (the screen automatically defaults to 120Hz in X mode).

The ROG Phone 5s is available with 8GB/128GB and 12GB/256GB. There is no expandable storage. Software is Android 11 with ROG UI with Asus giving you a choice of both stock and gamery interfaces. Our review unit is running the January 2022 security patch at the time of writing, which is nice, although Android 12 would have been nicer. There is not a hint of bloatware in this phone (except maybe for a couple of first-party apps). The experience is nice and clean.  

Serviceable cameras

The ROG Phone 5s has three cameras on the back. There’s a 64MP main, 13MP ultra-wide angle, and another 5MP macro camera. Asus has been using the same combination for what seems like eternity now, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, we can’t see any major improvements gen over gen. The output is familiar which is to say, it’s still barely serviceable—probably the only thing coming in the way of us recommending the ROG Phone 5s as a great all-rounder.

Asus ROG Phone 5s
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

The main camera that shoots at 16MP by default can capture some good-looking photos with good detail and generally warm, pleasing colours, in good lighting. Portraits turn out nice and detailed, too, with mostly good subject separation. The ultrawide angle camera does not capture as much detail but gets the job done in good light. Macro photos are a hit or miss. Low-light photos need work though night-mode does help bring more detail in some cases. You can shoot up to 8K videos with the main camera and when paired with electric image stabilisation, it can record pretty decent videos, but there is room for improvement.

The 24MP camera on the front is also a very familiar affair, capturing photos with warm colour tones and decent detail under good lighting.

Asus ROG Phone 5s | Should you buy it?

The ROG Phone 5s is a phone worthy of its name. It is, for all intents and purposes, an “S” update to the ROG Phone 5 which in this case stands for “slightly” better. There is a newer, faster chip inside and the screen is wee bit more responsive, all while keeping the price same as the ROG Phone 5 at launch. The ROG Phone 5s Pro price in India starts at Rs 49,999 for a version with 8GB RAM and 128GB storage. A version with 12GB RAM and 256GB storage will set you back by Rs 57,999.

Asus ROG Phone 5s
(Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/TheSpuzz)

Asus redid much of the hardware and design last year, so it’s not entirely surprising to see the ROG Phone 5s being less of a radical and more an evolutionary update to a formula that stands out on its own, despite burgeoning competition, even today. That said, we can’t help but point out that it has played it a little too safe when it could have done a little more. From something as simple as bundling a 65W charger in the box, to something as complex as shipping the phone with Android 12. While at it, it could have tweaked the cameras, too. The landscape was ripe with possibilities.

| Asus ROG Phone 5 review: On top of its game

Regardless, the ROG Phone 5s is a phone that hits home run especially for its intended purpose—gaming. There is no other phone quite like it. If you’re in the market for such a package, look no further.

PS. If there’s the slightest chance that you can get an ROG Phone 5, cheaper, you should get that.  

Pros Cons
Fast, colour accurate display Big and bulky
Fast performance Heats up when stressed
Ad-free software Average cameras
Gaming chops work well No Android 12 out of box
Great battery life No 65W charger in box

Originally appeared on: TheSpuzz