Former Identity of the ROG Phone
Asus took a surprising turn and released a ROG Phone 8 that is a substantial departure from their previous gaming handsets. Since the original ROG Phone, these devices have been bulky, excessive, completely absurd, and specifically designed to provide a gaming console-like experience on a smartphone. What I mean is that they used to be large and extravagant — a huge top and bottom bezel to accommodate front-firing stereo speakers, RGB lights on the back (later upgraded to small screens whose only purpose was to display flashy logos), dual USB C ports on the device, gaming triggers embedded in the frame, and very little concern for the phone’s cameras (and we certainly did not need them to add more weight).
The overkill that is ROG Phone 7 Ultimate (Image credit – PhoneArena)
Sounds great, but add to that the fact that ROG Phones are premium, expensive devices, and it was clear that they will be phones for a dedicated niche that values exactly that type of aesthetic and intended use.
A New Direction for the ROG Phone 8
It appears that said niche is too small to realistically try and grow in, so Asus significantly altered the course of the ROG Phone 8 — it’s now smaller, with a slim uniform bezel all around, software adjustments to make it feel a bit more like an iPhone, and an emphasis on camera performance.
iPhone-like Control Center (off by default) (Image credit – PhoneArena)
The phone is all black, with very subtle accents to suggest that the aggressive gaming aesthetic is still there somewhere. The Pro model does away with colorful LEDs or back-sided screens and simply has a white LED matrix on the back to display the flashy logos. If you turn it off, it disappears entirely under the matte glass back.
Much more subtle (Image credit – PhoneArena)
So far, so good. But this change in course requires a sacrifice. This is how the ROG Phone 8 is worse than its predecessor — the excellent ROG Phone 7:
- Speakers are not front-firing and sound noticeably worse / boxier
- The screen now has a hole-punch for the selfie camera
- The smaller bezels make it more awkward when trying to game with the side triggers, since your index fingers will naturally rest deeper towards the center of the frame
- The battery has taken a 500 mAh hit
- The AeroActive Cooler X fan is now smaller, has 2 buttons instead of 4
Most of these seem like… minor complaints, right? I agree, but the thing is, when you’ve had 6 generations of phones that cater to a super-niche, super-focused group of people, these are the exact things they wouldn’t want changed.
As soon as our preview hands-on with the ROG Phone 8 Pro hit YouTube, the comments of disappointed folk started coming in.
And, if we look at it objectively, I think it’s fair to say that the ROG Phone 8 is a worse ROG phone — just by the standards that the series has set for itself. Just with the ROG Phone 7 — they reached a peak of how their speakers can sound (I am still in awe how good they are), and they even added a subwoofer in the AeroActive Cooler 7, which was a daring move, they had an actual flap on the phone that automatically opens to achieve better cooling.
A year after, the subwoofer is gone, the speakers are downgraded, the Portal flap is forgotten about (to be fair, we got IP68 rating for water-resistance instead).
But… Asus may be onto something. You know why? Because…
The ROG Phone 8 Pro is the first ROG Phone that I actually use
Let me be clear. I love ROG Phones. I’ve reviewed most of the models since the ROG Phone 3, and since then, every year I think to myself “I want to pick this up and use it as a daily driver”.
No joke, on multiple times, I have taken the most recent ROG Phone from the office, to have at home, to set it up as a personal device and… I never end up using them for long. In fact, looking back, there’s a PhoneArena editorial article where we list Our favorite phones for 2019, where I went with the iPhone XS Max and had the ROG Phone II as an honorable mention (Yeah, I had a hard time letting go of 2018’s iPhone XS because of 3D Touch. I guess I am a sucker for extra buttons on a phone).
You can still use the LED logo to make people smile for the camera (Image credit – PhoneArena)
Now, ever since I wrote the ROG Phone 8 Pro review — I haven’t let go of the phone. It’s the right shape, it’s the right size, it’s understated, so I don’t appear like a geek at the bar (while playing Mighty Doom on my phone).
The speakers are not as good as before, but are still better than the competition, in my opinion. The camera is not spectacular, but hey… good enough. The performance is outstanding, the display is beautiful, the battery lasts so long that I forget to charge it. And even when I forget, it’s no biggie, because it charges in no time. And the headphone jack still saves me from time to time — imagine that, people still use cables in 2024, Apple.
In theory, I do lament what was lost here. In practice, Asus claimed that they want the ROG Phone 8 to be an “everyday” premium phone, and I think they hit close to the mark — as a living example of someone who now does use it as an “everyday” phone.
For next year — I’d love to see improvements in the camera, the return of clearer-sounding speakers, and the gaming triggers to be moved slightly more inwards on the frame (if possible, design-wise?). Keep that headphone jack, and give us back the subwoofer in the AeroActive Cooler. Pretty please?