ROG Phone 6 Pro review: Get-cha head in the game

Gaming phones might be seen as something rather niche. While mainstream flagship phones tout the latest specs in all areas, gaming phones optimise the offering to specifically cater to gamers – while often undercutting those flagship phones on price.

The ROG Phone 6 Pro is an experience. From opening the box, to the range of gaming-specific accessories that you can get for this phone, there’s a feeling that there’s a lot going on. The best part is that the experience isn’t just limited to gaming – it’s a great smartphone too. At the same time, it now feels like you’re paying for that experience, with the ROG Phone 6 available in cheaper forms with little real compromise.

Design and build

  • 173 x 77 x 10.4mm, 239g
  • Storm White, IPX4
  • Stereo speakers

Big, bold, design. That’s what the ROG Phone 6 Pro is all about. It comes in Storm White, setting it apart from the slightly lower-spec ROG Phone 6, which comes in Phantom Black.

The body of the phone is littered with details enhancing that sense of technical geekery that some will love and some will hate. It’s a far cry from the subtle hues of something like the iPhone 14 Pro, boosted here with the rear ROG Vision display.

This takes the form of a rear display that can show graphics when gaming, charging, or in other conditions. Each can be toggled off. So, for example, if you want ROG Vision graphics when in X Mode (that’s the high-performance gaming mode) you can have them, but you can toggle off ROG Vision in other modes.

There are actually two rear elements, with a small “Dare To Play” screen that will also illuminate under various conditions – when playing games, for notifications, or when you connect the AeroActive Cooler 6, for example.

That leads to another important point. As is common on gaming phones, there are two USB-C connections on this device, one offset on the base of the phone and one on the side. That gives you two locations for changing, but also provides a side connection point for accessories – and the AeroActive Cooler 6 also has passthrough for charging, so you don’t then lose the port.

Then we come to the speakers. These are integrated into the edges of the display, so there’s no gaping grille in the frame. The performance, however, is segment-defining. There are few phones that will produce the rich wide soundscape that the ROG Phone 6 will offer – with fidelity up at high volumes too. That’s great when gaming without headphones, because you can really get into that immersive audio – it really is top notch.

There’s also a 3.5mm headphone socket and support for Hi-Res audio.

One thing that isn’t quite flagship grade is the environmental protection. With an IPX4 rating, this phone will see off splashes, but it isn’t rated for protection against dust and it won’t survive submersion in water.

The overall build is great, a flat display meeting the soft curves of the back, and while there’s no avoiding that this is a big phone, there’s plenty of quality to it. The rear is Gorilla Glass 3 and the display is Victus, while the frame carried the pressure-sensitive AirTriggers, supporting gaming functions as well as shortcuts for general phone usage – like being able to trigger Google Assistant with a squeeze.

It’s got a great display

  • 6.78in, 2448 x 1080, 394ppi
  • AMOLED, 165Hz
  • HDR10+

There’s a big, flat display on the ROG Phone 6 Pro and it’s designed for gamers. Using a flat display means more of the surface area is responsive and showing the visuals without the distortion that can come from curved edges.

That’s important for gaming, but plays equally well in all sorts of content consumption, as movies look great too. That’s reinforced by this being an AMOLED display – from Samsung – and supporting HDR, so on this 6.78-inch display, things look great.

There’s that vibrant colour and inky deep black, setting the tone for wonderful visuals, with refresh rates between 60 and 165Hz.

While this isn’t the same as some of the latest displays which will give you adaptive rates of 1-120Hz to suit the content you’re viewing, it will allow it to switch from a normal speed – 60Hz – up to those higher refresh rates when needed. You can also manually fix the refresh rate if you have a preference, but we found the auto setting worked well enough.

There’s another important number to be aware of and that’s the 720Hz touch sampling rate. That makes this phone super-responsive to your touches when playing games and makes everything feel even more fliud.

One of the design decisions made to support gamers is keeping the front camera off the display. That means you get the full experience, accepting that you’ll have a little more bezel top and bottom to support that.

For us, that decision is fine, because it means you have enough space to grip the phone in landscape when gaming. It does make the phone bigger, but you’ll have to decide what’s more important to you.

There’s no shortage of performance

  • Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, 18GB RAM, 512GB storage
  • 6000mAh, 65W charging
  • Gaming accessories

When it comes to the hardware loadout of this phone, it’s pretty much an ultra loadout, as pro as any other pro phone out there. Using the latest Snapdragon 8+ Gen 1, the ROG Phone 6 Pro is then supported by 18GB RAM – while also having a pretty massive 512GB storage.

Hand on heart, we can’t really say what all that 18GB of RAM is doing – that’s more than many PCs have – but what we can say is that this phone flies. It’s fast and smooth and that benefits your daily usage as well as your gaming. It’s as powerful as any flagship phone and it’s a flagship experience that you get.

As this is a gaming phone, however, things are a little different when it comes to the internal design. Asus has spilt the battery, placing the Qualcomm SoC at the centre of the phone. That means it’s not packed into one end like it is on many other phones. This is designed to allow better cooling and also so that if it does warm up, you don’t feel it under your fingers down at one end when gaming. This is something that’s common to other devices – and if you’ve put in a long session on a Samsung phone, for example, you’ll know the top gets warm, as that’s where the core hardware sits.

It’s worth mentioning that the battery is massive at 6000mAh, split in half and supporting 65W charging (with a charger in the box), while also supporting charging through either of the USB-C ports. This phone also supports direct power from the charger, so it won’t charge the battery, again a measure to reduce heat build-up.

All of these measures – as well as the GameCool 6 thermal management system are designed to reduce the impact of heat on the phone. Ultimately, if the phone gets hot, performance drops and that’s what the ROG Phone aims to avoid. Add on to that the AeroActive Cooler 6 accessory and you can run your phone at full power in X Mode, without having to be concerned about heat. The cooler accessory not only brings some nice RGB bling to the back of the phone but supplies four more buttons which are nice and clicky – which you can map to on-screen buttons to support your gaming.

That all sounds fun, but if you’ve played a game designed for mobile for any period of time, it becomes muscle memory – and shifting to a different controller mechanism might not work for many people. It also shifts the balance of the device, making it heavier, which again, changes the feel. So although the cooling from AeroActive Cooler 6 is great at cooling we can’t say we really want to game with it.

But the ROG Phone 6 Pro doesn’t go to the lengths that some gaming phones do to cool the device without accessories and it will warm up – that’s something that’s common to this Snapdragon hardware, but we’ve never found it to be uncomfortable or to result in any throttling.

There’s a software dimension here too, with the excellent Game Genie software allowing access to pertinent sessions when gaming – of which navigation blocking is our most essential – while Armoury Crate provides a whole world of controls for other elements of the phone. If you’ve used Asus laptops or even have an Asus motherboard in your PC, you’ll be familiar with it.

It all makes for a geeky experience and we love the ROG Phone for that. While some phones will claim to just offer a great experience, the ROG Phone 6 Pro in many cases will give you the controls to customise and get exactly the experience you want.

Needless to say, having put our favoured Call of Duty Mobile through many hours of testing on this device, it’s just a joy to when it comes to gaming – and with that big battery, there’s no fear that after an hour you’ll have a dead phone. And having also put the iPhone 14 Pro through its paces on Call of Duty Mobile, yes, we’d pick the ROG Phone every time.

Indeed, while it doesn’t offer the fastest charging you’ll find on an Android phone, it outpaces the likes of Samsung. There’s no wireless charging, but that’s a minor gripe.

Camera performance

  • Triple camera system:
    • Main: 50MP IMX766, 1/1.56, f/1.9
    • Ultrawide: 13MP, f/2.2
    • Macro: 5MP, /2.0
  • Front: 12MP, f/2.45

Cameras are often a lower priority on gaming phones and it’s here where you might look at the price, look at the specs and decide that the ROG Phone 6 Pro doesn’t compare favourably to rival devices. There’s some truth in that, as this camera load-out isn’t as competitive as flagship phones. For starters, there’s no telephoto lens, so you only get digital zoom out to 8x. Any further would return low-quality images, so you’re not missing out on much, and while the zoom works well enough, it quickly loses detail.

But the main camera is similar to that in the Asus Zenfone 9 – it uses the same sensor – and the overall experience is similar. It’s a great neutral shooter, perfect competent in normal lighting and pretty reasonable indoors. It copes less well in low light, as images get softer fairly quickly and can be noisy in darker shadows. There’s a night mode that will swing in to give you a 3-second exposure to try to drag things up a little, but it’s not quite up there with the best examples out there.

The main camera is backed by an ultrawide which is pretty capable and then there’s a macro lens. It’s not the worst, but we’re also not sure there’s a huge demand for these types of lenses and we’d be perfectly happy if Asus had just left it off.

The front camera takes a decent selfie and the experience is much like the other cameras, again suffering as the light drops. There’s no shortage of options, with things like the portrait mode working well enough, with decent edge detection.

But aside from the minutiae of the detail, the overall performance is pretty good and for any casual user, you’ll be happy with the results.

Software to support your gaming

  • Game Genie
  • Armoury Crate
  • Android 12 – 2 OS updates, 2 years security

The ROG Phone 6 Pro launched on Android 12 and will only get two OS version updates, so it will finish on Android 14 in 2024. That’s not a great starting point, but only offering 2-years of security updates puts this at the bottom of the ladder in terms of software support. For the Pro, particularly, with the elevated asking price, that’s not a lot of support.

Elsewhere this phone is nicely customised to fit the gaming experience. There are custom introductory experiences, great wallpapers, and like your favourite electric cars, when you change mode on the phone, the theme changes to match it.

There’s huge amounts of customisation on offer, but it’s all achieved without dragging the ROG Phone 6 too far away from Android. There’s a couple of preinstalled apps but not many, but it’s when you dive into the settings you might find a whole lot more to play with.

We mentioned this in the performance section above, that you really can geek out with this phone and wrestle control of it. From adapting the DIRAC sound output to adapting the speed of UI animation – not to mention those displays on the rear of the phone.

Game Genie gives you instant access to in-game controls that matter with a diagonal swipe on the display. Armoury Crate gives you controls while also suggesting games. It’s here you can find titles that support 165Hz, for example, or you can find games that have been designed to support AirTriggers or the Kunai 3 GamePad accessory.

There’s no avoiding that key mapping (offered by Game Genie to support the AirTriggers, Aero Active Cooler and Kunai 3) can take some time to setup, but the point is that there’s no shortage of options and the ROG Phone 6 really does encourage you to play. We’re also not totally sold on the AirTriggers, they’re less intuitive to adapt to than physical shoulder buttons.

Original Article