Asus ROG Phone II (ZS660KL) review
The second iteration of the Asus gaming smartphone in the Republic of Gamers line continues the work of its predecessor, this time taking into account some points that did not fit into the first ROG Phone, well, and upgraded the device in accordance with the latest trends in the mobile gaming industry. One glance at the characteristics is enough to understand the potential of the device, which will easily give odds to all competitors in the field of mobile games, a kind of muscle flexing and demonstration of capabilities.
The device is positioned as a kind of ultimate gaming center, much of it is aimed primarily at getting the best user experience from mobile games. Looking ahead a little, I’ll say that after getting acquainted with several full-fledged RTX solutions and evaluating AAA games on PCs and laptops, I noticed an increase in my own skepticism in relation to the gameplay from smartphones. However, after getting to know Asus ROG Phone II, my opinion changed, albeit not radically, but for the better.
Design, dimensions, controls
The design language of the first generation has been preserved in the device: the back of the smartphone has not changed visually, the evaporation chamber of the cooling system is still highlighted, in the center there is a logo with a fully customizable full-fledged Video Lighting in Nigeria backlight operating in X-mode hardware acceleration mode. Of the changes on the back, it is worth noting the fingerprint scanner that moved under the screen and nice accents under the glass, playing in the light with colorful gradients, which, coupled with the mentioned logo, slightly dilutes the strict exterior.
Asus ROG Phone II, Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus, Vivo Nex 3, Xiaomi Black Shark 2 Pro, ZTE Nubia Red Magic 3S. Source: versus.com
The diagonal of the display, which has grown by 0.6 inches, “forced” the already rather big smartphone to grow in length. After using the OnePlus 5 for a long time, it took me a few days to get used to the new usage paradigm and the sheer weight of the ROG Phone II. In parallel, I had Vivo Nex 3 on hand, which has similar dimensions, so this could simplify the process. Of course, this in no way makes the gaming smartphone from Asus smaller, this form factor is by no means suitable for everyone. But here's what's interesting: you expect a more grotesque and bulky design from a device with a 6000 mAh battery, Chinese protected prodigies up to 2 cm thick immediately come to mind. 240 grams against the background of such a battery and all the hardware chips soon begin to be perceived quite adequately, and devices with a smaller diagonal already seem tiny.
The average user will be able to use the smartphone with one hand only with the help of a dedicated option in the software, in other cases you will have to hold the smartphone with both hands, especially in games, this is exactly what the proposed user experience is aimed at. In addition, this will give confidence to the grip: the back of the device is very slippery, the smartphone is ready to slide to the floor with a very slight slope of the surface on which it lies. Yes, the situation is corrected by a stylish complete Aero cover-pad, but the fact is obvious.
Control elements are concentrated on the right edge: the power key, the volume rocker and two ultrasonic, non-touch AirTriggers keys for use in games, we will return to them later. On the left edge in the center is an additional USB Type-C port, combined with a proprietary port for connecting accessories. At the bottom there is a main charging jack and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. A few words about the fingerprint scanner: it is optical, the finger is illuminated from below when unlocked. From the point of view of the accuracy of operation, most of the time everything is fine, but with the backlight you need to work. When the sensor is illuminated, flickering of the rest of the display is noticeable, this is especially pronounced on a light background, for example, when WhatsApp is unlocked. A trifle, but there is something to complain about and something to change for the better.
In the second generation of ROG Phone, the manufacturer decided to abandon water and dust protection, which upset some users for whom the phrase "sweaty rink" is not just words. There was also no wireless charging, but I don’t even want to think how long it would take to recharge the battery of such an impressive capacity over the wireless protocol.
Despite all its gaming orientation, the smartphone with the logo illumination turned off looks calm, standing out from the crowd a bit due to the same logo and visually accentuated copper strip of the cooling system. It is not a shame to go with ROG Phone II as the main phone, there are no vyryglazny details, the design can be called verified. And if, like me, you focus purely on the practical component, value for money and are used to not taking opinions from outside to heart, then you have an almost ideal device for everyday use in terms of most scenarios.
Let's get back to the display. Above and below it are symmetrical trapezoidal speaker grilles, inscribed in the average thickness of the frame. The upper “eyebrow” does not have any cutouts, which in my system of values adds an extra point to the smartphone, the front camera is also located here. There are no inscriptions and logos on the front panel, nothing distracts the eye. According to subjective impressions, the display calibration by color temperature slightly goes into cold shades, the parameter is adjusted according to personal preferences in a separate menu item. The oleophobic coating is of high quality, there are no problems with sliding your finger on the glass surface, Gorilla Glass 6 is used on the front, and the third generation is on the back.
Of course, the display is one of the cornerstones of a gaming smartphone, including the ROG Phone II. Let's go through the main characteristics of the display:
- Refresh rate. The smartphone has an AMOLED display with a refresh rate of 120 Hz and a response time of 1 ms, which gives a very smooth, but at the same time fast display. By the way, there is also an intermediate setting of 90 Hz, as well as the usual 60 Hz. Judging by the leaks, such a hertz display will be actively introduced into the flagship segment of this model year, there is information that the 120 Hz mode will be available in the Samsung Galaxy S20, POCO X2 (aka Redmi K30), and the next Nubia gaming smartphone is promised with a frequency at 144 Hz, Sharp even swung at 240 Hz. The race is on, Razer started it.
- The previous paragraph results in a touch layer refresh rate of 240 Hz with a latency of just 49 milliseconds. Thanks to these parameters, commands are processed as quickly and accurately as possible, without delays and jerks, which are critical in dynamic games. So the phrase "mortgaged and lost" is not quoted here as an argument.
- Color rendition. In addition to speed, the display, according to the manufacturer, reproduces colors very accurately, while covering up to 118% of the DCI-P3 space. Color distortions are minimal and indistinguishable by the human eye (parameter ∆E>1), colors are encoded in ten bits (HDR).
- Brightness is claimed to run up to 600 nits. For a gaming smartphone, this is an excellent indicator, however, it is worth remembering that there are brighter displays on the market (iPhone 11 Pro, Samsung S10+). In combination with high contrast, a clear picture is obtained, in the sun you have to add brightness.
At first, the eye simply could not keep up with lightning-fast scrolling through lists and transitions between screens, and after getting used to it, it is expectedly difficult to return to the more familiar 60 Hz. It is smoothness and speed that captivate, but what if we talk about game scenarios? Undoubtedly, the fast responsiveness of the display will be a big plus for the user experience, often this advantage can be translated into a win-win situation. Someone may say that, they say, not many really large and popular games support 120 Hz, but, for example, here is a fairly wide list, I was happy to ride in Real Racing 3, which I successfully forgot and appreciated the game from a new perspective thanks to the increased screen refresh rate.
Infrequently, smartphones with such an impressive battery capacity get tested. I remember how I read the first look at ROG Phone II from Eldar Murtazin and was surprised at the figure of 8000 mAh, it was this battery that they originally wanted to install in a smartphone. But even 6000 mAh is enough for the average user. The loop video test showed a result of 30-odd hours. With X-mode and 120Hz turned on, the smartphone will be completely discharged in 7 hours of playing PUBG / Call of Duty Mobile.
In mixed use, the results are very good. In the 120 Hz mode, the phone worked from a full charge of the screen for 31 hours, of which 9 with a little screen hours. In fairness, it’s worth saying that I turned off Wi-Fi and mobile Internet at night. Switching to 90 Hz adds another three hours of runtime with a similar screen time. Switching to 60 Hz will provide almost 40 hours of operation without any power-saving add-ons.
It will be possible to fully recharge the battery in 95 minutes using the supplied charger and the supplied cable.
Memory, chipset, performance
At the time of writing, not a single official smartphone with Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 has yet appeared, the flow of which will soon break into international markets. So we can safely call Asus ROG Phone 2 a leader in performance, but with a small caveat: it is such only when hardware acceleration (X-mode) is activated, in which RAM is released and the system allocates resources in such a way as to increase performance. On the other hand, and why not, it is not for nothing that this option is included in the software. A bundle of 12 GB of UFS 3.0 RAM and a QC 855+ processor is not common, and even more so with such software, sharpened to speed up games and improve performance. There is no question of any "throttling", the maximum heating was 52 degrees, it was not felt on the main body, but was felt on the left edge of the device. Frame rates 89% of the game session were kept at 59fps in the case of PUBG and 93% at 120fps when playing Real Racing 3, measured through PerfDog and Gamebench.
Approximately 490 GB of memory is available to the user out of the available 512 GB. There is no support for memory cards, and is it needed? In our market there will be only this modification in terms of memory capacity, so far there is no information about the 1 TB version. The memory is very fast, the speed can be estimated in the screenshots.
The smartphone is equipped with a multi-antenna Wi-Fi module, this is done so that during the game the player, blocking the antenna with his palm, does not lose the connection. Instead of the usual two, ROG Phone II has four antennas, this configuration contributes to signal amplification and Wi-Fi throughput. The same logic explains the use of four noise-canceling microphones, so there are no problems with communicating with teammates, as in the course of ordinary calls. Audibility is good for both the interlocutor and the caller.
It is worth noting the voluminous and loud sound from the built-in stereo speakers; for listening through headphones, the DTS:X Ultra mode is provided with virtual spatial sound and its own equalizer presets. Full volume, for my taste, is redundant, 70% is enough for orientation in the gameplay, due to the stereo speakers it is very easy to understand where the clatter of feet, a shot, an explosion, the rumble of an opponent’s car comes from, and so on. But I would prefer a more accentuated vibration, but this is a matter of taste.
NFC works flawlessly, both during contactless payment and when recording trips on a transport card.
Gaming smartphones, as a rule, do not infringe on the title of photo flagships, in ROG Phone II, from the point of view of the photo part, everything is generally not bad. Here we see the Sony IMX586 module familiar from Zenfone 6 with an additional 13 MP wide-angle camera. With due skill and patience, very good pictures are obtained. From my impressions, the built-in HDR ++ mode sometimes makes mistakes and unnecessarily squeezes individual textures, shadows and overexposes the pictures, I often shot with HDR + enabled by default.
Shooting speed is low, slow and focusing. In conditions of sufficient lighting, as a rule, there are no complaints about the pictures, I liked the results of portrait shooting, the outlines of objects are well worked out. Night shooting does not reach the level of generally recognized flagships, however, no one promised this. The front camera works well, and the software has a set of filters and face enhancement tools that you can play with to achieve the desired result.
Software, game features
The smartphone runs on Android 9, a skin of ROG UI, which in turn is a redrawn version of ZenUI. During the initial installation, the system “asks” if the user wants to stay on the usual “clean” version or still use the ROG UI. I'm more impressed with the latter, the orange accent of the text in combination with the system black theme looks good. After OnePlus, some personalization settings are missing, but there is a double-tap screen on / off and the option to call the notification curtain and switches by swiping down from anywhere on the screen. There are separate settings for battery optimization, app cloning, emergency call.
The system has a minimum of presets: these are Google services and Asus system applications - Data Transfer, ROG Armory Crate and Game Genie. The last two applications, you guessed it, are responsible for the game mode. Armory Crate acts as a system configuration center in terms of game profiles and its behavior when running a particular application, as well as a fan. In the latter, by the way, in addition to full-color backlighting, there is a Type-C port and a headphone jack, which will provide additional convenience in the game.
In turn, Game Genie allows you to fine-tune individual smartphone settings when starting games. You can turn off incoming notifications, clear the RAM, set the screen brightness to constant, and customize the AirTriggers keys for each game. By the way, they help a lot in the gameplay precisely from the point of view of user experience, the user can quickly assign certain commands to pressing the left or right key, thereby he will see more of the screen and will quickly navigate the game situation. Using PUBG as an example, I set the aim activation on the left trigger, and shooting on the right trigger, it turns out to aim pretty quickly at the target. An additional bonus is the vibration feedback of the keys and the option to activate X-mode by holding the right trigger.
AirTriggers have become almost the most striking smartphone experience, gamers will appreciate it, because you no longer need to buy dubious accessories. Speaking of accessories, when you connect ROG Phone II to a proprietary dock, you can play with a keyboard and mouse connected, which is quite obviously a sin for many gamers whose devices support this feature. But in our market, the docking station is not officially sold, which is a pity.
The smartphone is qualitatively different from all the devices that I tested in 2019. And the point is not so much in impressive characteristics, but in a holistic approach. It seems that the engineers have tried their best to work out all aspects and parts of the user experience to achieve the goal of creating a truly versatile device, suitable for both top mobile gaming and excellent work in everyday scenarios. The ecosystem of additional accessories created around the smartphone in our market is limited only by the Kunai GamePad joystick (it costs about 11 thousand) and the complete cooler, which is a pity, I would try a docking station for connecting to a monitor / TV.
From the point of view of hardware capabilities, we can say that often the available characteristics are even redundant, but at the same time, there is not much power, especially when we are talking about games. Perhaps this was one of the ideas of the creators of the smartphone to show the backlog, potential, space for development. If so, then they succeeded, they will be able to explore the phone 100% in at least a month.
What might potential users not like? Unusual design, heavy weight, lack of protection from external influences and wireless charging, slippery back, in some cases - the cost. From my point of view, the price of 70 thousand rubles for such characteristics, performance and autonomy is justified, especially when compared with modern flagships. Of course, you don't have to wait for the level of photos of top devices, but with due diligence, you can get decent shots.
Speaking of competitors, the Nubia Red Magic 3S came closest, differing from the ROG Phone II in lack of 120Hz, 256GB of memory, and judging by the reviews, there are some questionable points in the software dedicated to the game mode. Otherwise, the characteristics are similar, and the price of a smartphone from ZTE, for example, in Svyaznoy, is about 50 thousand rubles. I can not objectively judge him without personal testing, but, again, on paper, he takes a solid second place. Razer Phone 2, which is exotic for our market, follows. Its characteristics have lagged behind since it went on sale: the amount and speed of RAM and internal memory is less, Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, but the screen resolution is higher (QHD vs. Full HD) and there is protection according to the IP67 standard. The rest of the gaming smartphones are even lower. There are several smartphones with the same amount of RAM (OnePlus 7 Pro / 7T Pro MacLaren Edition, Samsung S10 Plus / Note 10+, Xiaomi Mi9 Transparent Edition), compared to ROG Phone II, they lose in one way or another, while, of course same, having a number of its own advantages.
Of course, the reviewed device is niche in terms of design and positioning, but this is a niche that can still show growth. The absorption of smartphones by consoles is not yet foreseen, and yet such a symbiosis takes place, at least on the example of ROG Phone II. It turned out to be a kind of uberphone with pumped gaming capabilities, which can safely fit into the role of the main everyday smartphone.