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ASUS’ ultra-powerful ROG 3 made me fall in love with mobile gaming again

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Gadgets for humans

If only more phones came with AirTriggers

My nearly-a-year-old OnePlus 7 Pro can run pretty much any app you throw at it, and games with high frame rates look fantastic on its 90Hz display. But it’s been months since I’ve played more than the round of Sudoku to kill time waiting in line for groceries.

That all changed when I received the new ASUS ROG 3 gaming phone to review. To be honest, it’s mainly about two things: the AirTriggers and the speakers. If you’re buying a new phone sometime this year and enjoy games, I strongly recommend you consider this.

Yes, there are other options out there, and you can get similar performance from a range of phones these days. But ASUS has tricked out the ROG 3 with a bunch of clever features to tangibly improve your gaming experience, and I’m going to miss this phone when I return it.

I chose not to go the usual review route with the ROG 3 for one main reason: it’s simply too big and heavy for me to use as a daily driver. It’s larger than the OnePlus 7 Pro, with bezels above and below the screen, and it’s also thicker and heavier than most phones out there right now at 240g.

But maybe you’re big into gaming, and are fine with a larger device for a better entertainment experience. I understand that — and I appreciate ASUS’ line of thinking more now that I’ve had a chance to try a bunch of games on it that are optimized for high frame rates.

As anyone following the gaming phone scene would expect, the ROG 3 is an absolute beast of a phone, with a top-of-the-line octa-core Snapdragon 865+ 5G-enabled processor paired with an Adreno 650 GPU, 8GB RAM, and 128GB UFS 3.1 storage. There’s also a 6.59-inch Full HD+ AMOLED display that supports a 144Hz refresh rate and HDR 10, and a humongous 30W fast-charging 6,000mAh battery to keep the frag-fest going all day long.

There’s a lot to like here. The screen gets plenty bright, so you can happily play games outside in daylight. It’s also great for titles that support high frame rates, which make for buttery smooth animations and action.

To put the ROG 3 through its paces, I played several games from this handy list of high refresh-rate games curated by Android Police, including Gear.Club True Racing, ARK: Survival Evolved, Alto’s Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed Rebellion, Bendy in Nightmare Run, Badland Brawl, Oddmar, and Into the Dead 2.

Racing and action games feel faster, and visual elements in strategy and puzzle games display more fluid animations. The difference is certainly noticeable when you upgrade from a regular 60Hz display, and you’ll miss the high frame rate when you switch from the ROG 3.

ASUS’ X Mode software automatically engages when you launch games, and handily disables notifications, records gameplay, activates a custom crosshair for FPS games, and boosts performance for demanding titles.

My favorite feature, though, is ASUS’ AirTriggers, which are essentially ultrasonic pressure-sensitive points on the side of the phone that you can tap instead of touching on-screen buttons. They’ve appeared on previous ROG iterations too, but this time around, they support a range of gestures, including shakes, taps, and swipes. You can also divvy up the length of each AirTrigger into two, making for a total of four ‘physical’ buttons.

These buttons certainly made it more fun to dive back into games I previously loved: I mapped one to trigger a nitro boost in Asphalt 9: Legends, another to look down the sights of my rifle in Call of Duty: Mobile, and both triggers to the virtual gamepad buttons in the retro beat-em up Streets of Rage 2 Classic. Between the haptic feedback and the ease of tapping the AirTriggers as opposed to the right spots on the screen, this is a fantastic way to play.

The ROG 3 sounds great too, thanks to front-facing stereo speakers that get real loud and aren’t blocked by your fingers like most down-firing ones. I wouldn’t listen to music on these, but I’ll happily play games for hours without wishing I had headphones handy.

Another thoughtful touch is the second USB-C port on the left side of the device, so you can power it with a charger without having a cable in the way while gaming. This one supports fast charging as well as pass-through power mode, which means it will simply power the phone’s hardware without using up the battery’s charge cycles.

At Rs. 49,999 ($668), the ROG 3 certainly isn’t cheap; it’s also far from being light, compact, or beautifully designed in the traditional sense, and there are many phones with better cameras at this price and lower. So it’s not for everyone.

But If you’re into games and find yourself whiling several hours away on a mobile screen, this is a great way to go. Between the 144Hz display, ingenious AirTriggers, and powerful sound and performance, the ROG 3 offers a noticeably better gaming experience than most standard phones — including those with comparable specs.

ASUS is also set to launch an even more powerful version for some reason, with 12GB RAM and 256GB of onboard storage, priced at Rs. 57,999 ($775). It also makes a bunch of neat accessories, including a cooler that unlocks an additional high-performance mode.

Overall, it’s a commendable effort in going beyond mere gimmicks and actually making for a compelling choice for gamers on the go.

Find the ASUS ROG 3 on Flipkart in India and on the company’s site. There’s no word on pricing and availability in other markets yet, but we’ll update this piece when we hear more.

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Published August 13, 2020 — 17:06 UTC

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