Gaming phones continue to be rare as Asus makes a curious pitch

Feb 17, 2022 05:22 PM IST

As a gaming phone, and a rare one at that, it does offer that toggle to dial up the gaming experience (the Armory Crate app will be your go-to destination), which most other phones will not be able to match

You might often wonder – what sets a gaming phone apart from a powerful equivalent that doesn’t have the ‘gaming’ tag attached? The answer isn’t straightforward. Perhaps gaming laptops and their correlation with standard laptops have some hints.

 (Supplied photo)
(Supplied photo)

This is something we are contemplating again, as the Asus ROG Phone 5s gaming phone arrives on our shores. Gaming phones are still a unique commodity, and there’s very few of them.

You must choose from two variants. The 8GB RAM and 128GB storage option will cost you 49,999 while the 12GB/ 256GB configuration is priced at 57,999. It is a wide gap between the two price tags, and this isn’t necessarily one of those straightforward cases where we can recommend paying that little bit extra for more powerful specs. No doubt, 12GB RAM adds that extra headroom for apps that really need it. But how many of those do you actively use? Think about it.

Asus ROG Phone 5s isn’t holding back: Gaming laptops, revisited?

Gaming phones have abundant visual enthusiasm. That’s the simplest way of putting it. The foundations are generic, including the black and white colour options. But that’s what it builds on. At the back, the rather busy logo is backlit – that’s the RGB implementation, and something you can control and customize in the settings.

From afar, your Asus ROG Phone 5s will stand out, and that’ll appeal to gamers. On the side spine are ultrasonic buttons and the Airtrigger 5 touch controls. Fully customisable, and you can tune these for different games – keep the sensor pressed for multiple clicks or swipe on them to trigger different touch points.

Very useful for gaming, since you have quicker controls to play with, comparative to screen taps or relying on accelerometer motion detection. The utility stretches beyond that — when you aren’t gaming, these triggers can be customised for apps and certain commands, which also saves you the time of having to unlock the phone and navigate menus.

There is one design element that constantly got our attention, and that’s the rubber flap for the accessory connectors (this is on the left side spine, as you hold the phone). This doesn’t fit well and often pops open with the slightest touch. Not exactly the neatest of implementations. Secondly, rubber feels quite thin, and may eventually chip off completely. Which to be fair, may not do much damage to the visual allure.

Curious case of Asus ROG Phone 5s’s specs

Does the power package stand out? Now, no. There’s a simple reason for that. The Asus ROG Phone 5s was first spoken about in August of last year. It took a while to get to India. Then, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888+ chip was the definitive silicon for high performance phones. Now it’s sitting a rung lower.

That little detail aside, performance delivered by the Asus ROG Phone 5s scores higher than most Android flagship-esque phones too, if you are looking at a long gaming session. Most other phones drop to their knees because the heating forces performance clock down, but the Asus ROG Phone 5s doesn’t stutter even much later. A long session of F1 Racing Mobile, Rebel racing and NFS No Limits is proof enough that the focus on an elaborate cooling system inside, has paid off.

As is often the case these days, your choice is between 8GB RAM and 12GB RAM. Think of it this way – you’ll be more than okay with 8GB RAM for gaming and is quite a robust foundation for longevity, too.

There are reworked internals, including a new vapour chamber, a larger graphite sheet and dual batteries have been separated to either flank of the main board, to spread out the heat generating components. It all seems to have worked, because the back panel doesn’t exhibit signs of tepidness even after 45 minutes of wheel-to-wheel racing.

The overall battery capacity of this gaming phone is 6,000mAh. That’s mammoth. Inside it isn’t one big slab cell. Instead, there are two 3,000mAh batteries at work. The fast charger will therefore deliver separate streams of current. They’ll charge faster, with less heat generated – that’s good to maintain charging speeds, in the short term, and overall battery health in the long run.

It is perplexing though that Asus is bundling only the 30-watt wired fast charger with the Asus ROG Phone 5s (and indeed the Asus ROG Phone 5s Pro), though the phone can make use of up to 65-watt fast charging. Cost balancing is understandable, but a charger is a crucial (and yet underrated) component defining the overall experience.

There is no wireless charging in the ROG Phone 5s. Multiple reasons for that – real estate for components was already at a premium, considering additional hardware such as wireless triggers also take space. Secondly, when accessories such as the AeroActive Cooler 5 are attached, wireless charging becomes physically inaccessible.

Gaming phones and displays: A step forward

Displays on gaming phones are usually a notch above regular Android smartphones, including the flagship ones. Touch sampling rate - a marker for how many times per second a screen can report a touch - has been boosted compared with the predecessor. It is now 360Hz instead of 300Hz. The result is more accurate representation of quick taps in a fast-paced game.

The 6.78-inch display on the Asus ROG Phone 5s does well for the most part. It is, however, limited to 2448 x 1080 resolution, something to ponder over. We expected more. The vivid colours stand out. That’s the default setting, you can tone this down – you must look for an option called Splendid. Our preference, also because of the slightly warmish tint, is the Cinematic setting.

While most Android phones top out at 120Hz refresh rates, something that makes a difference (more is better) when you scroll web pages or watch videos, the ROG Phone 5s goes a step further to 144Hz. Pure play of the gaming credentials, but utility beyond that. As a result, when you do want to watch HDR10+ content on Amazon Prime Video, visuals are smoother than any other phone you may have used. The native brightness doesn’t leave anything on the table.

Asus software tweaks mostly add value

This is an Android phone, but it is anything but a neglected Android experience. Everywhere, you end up in the interface, there are mild touches of tweaks waiting to be noticed. Some add value, some don’t. That’s just the nature of smartphone customisations.

You don’t need to be a gamer to notice the settings menu is more elaborate – there are options that let you choose whether you want the power menu buttons to be colourful, calm, elegant or classical, an Auto-start manager (good thing this, can control the erratic behaviour of Facebook and some other apps), Assistive Tools such as Twin Apps and Safeguard, and OptiFlex that speeds up performance (a lot of this is based on pre-empting your app usage).

You must try an app called Armory Crate – extensive controls as well as game specific options, including for phone’s performance, disable the fan (if the accessory is connected) when the mic is active, trigger preferences and system stats. This is where other Android phones cannot match up to the customisations, specifically for gaming.

Just for gamers? When is Android 12 coming? You’ll ask these questions

For a phone that’s primarily meant for gamers, there’s still enough restraint in the Asus ROG Phone 5s that adds appeal for a much wider demographic of users. The large display, a lot of power, cameras (these are 64-megapixel + 13-megapixel + 5-megapixel) that are consistent though nothing out of the ordinary and tweaks to Android which add functionality.

As a gaming phone, and a rare one at that, it does offer that toggle to dial up the gaming experience (the Armory Crate app will be your go-to destination), which most other phones will not be able to match.

Yet, there is still that bit about Asus and software updates that doesn’t sit comfortably in the larger scheme of things – this phone still runs Android 11, and the Android 12 update is still some distance away.

Would you pay a lot of money for something that’s still a step behind on the software side?


    Vishal Mathur is Technology Editor for Hindustan Times. When not making sense of technology, he often searches for an elusive analog space in a digital world.

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