The Republic of Gamers (RoG) is the Asus gaming arm, focusing on no holds barred, cost is no object peak performance hardware. We’ve seen RoG hardware in the past deal with anything and everything we throw at it, so it was with great excitement I raised my hand to spend a couple of weeks with the ROG phone 5s.

When we looked at the previous model, the only real fault was that it was a bit “too much” phone for some users being somewhat chunky, perhaps a little too pricey but that’s somewhat subjective. The bold “gamer” look had been dialled back and the capabilities maintained: As a starting point the ROG Phone 5S continues that trend with more on offer.

What’s in the box?

The immediate presentation of the retail packaging is similar to the previous generation, with a really interesting package that sets the tone for the gaming focus of the phone. Obviously, in the package, you’ve got the phone but you’ve also go the charging brick for fast charging, a charging cable, decent cover (although I’m not convinced it would survive, or protect your phone from a decent drop) and the clip-on cooler for gaming.

The box itself plays a part in the setup process to unlock the armory crate, which later plays a part in your gaming experience.

Perhaps, if you’re a gamer, the AeroActive Cooler plays the most important part in the extra hardware provided. It clips to the sides of the phone and then works to keep the phone cool where the processing hardware is. It’s also designed to accommodate charging while you play games to ensure your game session isn’t cut short.

The Hardware: Design and Specs

Like its predecessors, the ROG Phone 5S specs are very much at the sharp end of the pack. The short list of specs that affect performance includes:

  • Android 11 out of the box with the Android 12 update ready to roll once you install
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 888+ 5G chipset
  • Qualcomm Adreno 660 GPU
  • 16GB of DDR5 memory
  • 512GB of UFS3.1 storage

As with any device though, the performance specs really only tell a portion of the story. In this case, one feature I was particularly excited by was the outstanding screen. It’s a 6.78-inch Samsung AMOLED display that runs 2448 x 1080 resolution at a 144Hz refresh rate, matching the previous version of the device. Some users may not be massive fans of the slightly larger bezels, but this is a conscious decision to prevent false triggers while gaming.

All of that processing power needs something to drive it and the 6,000 mAh battery does a great job of it. Somewhat regularly during testing, I was able to get 2 days from a single charge.

The look of the device has, again, been toned down slightly to a point where at a glance, you wouldn’t know it’s a gaming beast. It is a bit bigger than most devices, but given the specs of the device and the gaming focus; I’m honestly ok with that. As a comparison, the ROG Phone 5S measures 172.8 x 77.3 x 9.9 mm (similar front dimensions, but thinner than the ROG Phone 5) whereas the Pixel 6 Pro is 163.9 x 75.9 x 8.9 mm.

Sticking with what was a winning formula already, the engineers have the speakers front firing to maximise the audio volume and quality during gameplay. Whether it was during gameplay or media playback, for a phone at least, the audio quality was really impressive. Plenty of range, unsurprising though it lacks bass, and enough volume to fill a reasonably well-sized room with music that is distortion-free.

It’s got the goods for gaming

In a surprise to no one, a gaming phone can really deliver when gaming. We’ve already covered the specs of the screen which makes anything you’re watching (or playing) an absolute pleasure, particularly with the high refresh rate. That also comes into play with the exceptionally good touch response on the screen which made playing games — Including Diablo Immortal — not just visually, but in a tactile sense wonderful.

Even without turning on the gaming mode (more on that in a moment), there weren’t really any troubles for the ROG phone 5S. Given the high-end specs, massive battery and software optimisation available for gaming, that’s hardly a surprise. After a while, I did notice the centre of the phone got pretty warm, but not so warm that it would be uncomfortable to immediately put it in your pocket.

This however, is where the AeroCooler comes into play. It gives you the opportunity to both cool your phone while playing games, and to charge the device during gameplay as the charging port is on the left side of the device (the longer edge) when held in portrait mode. This avoids the issue of a charging cable forcing you to change your grip during gameplay and ensures, despite gameplay being a battery hog, that you can then re-engage in your day with a well-charged mobile device.

X Mode give it everything she’s got!

X Mode does a bit in the background when you turn it on, starting with winding up the performance hardware and killing any background apps. This releases all available memory to aid performance. This is configurable, but I found that the automatic settings gave a great experience and meant that I wasn’t interrupted by calls or messages as notifications are largely disabled by X Mode.

Software: OS and performance

This is very much a case of evolution versus revolution when it comes to the ROG OS interface. It’s running the latest version of Android, for day-to-day use is optimised well enough to get a full day of battery easily and has plenty of customisation available to it. Pleasingly, there still isn’t any hugely intrusive bloatware on the OS, the Asus ROG launcher won’t be to everyone’s taste but as mentioned, it is customisable.

Again with the evolution, there appears to be delivery on some lessons learned from the previous generation of phones. Battery optimization is clearly still happening with some apps in the background, but apps that are used regularly and receive push notifications a lot, don’t get shut down anywhere near as aggressively. You’ll still get the occasional shut down you don’t want, but that’s easily fixed by adding an exception allowing the app to run in the background and using the battery.

The Camera is very capable

The last couple of ROG phones has improved each time with regard to the camera capabilities. This time around, I’m very happy to say that the camera has again improved to a point where I’d say it’s very capable. The usual array of photo modes is included for video, night capture, portrait and normal photos. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to keep up with the likes of the top-end Samsungs and iPhones of the world. Keep in mind though, that it’s $300 – $700 cheaper than those devices.

The software is typically easy to navigate and use, with the shutter and autofocus really up to speed too. You can just point and shoot and fairly confidently — providing you have decent light — know you’ll get a decent photo with good colour reproduction and crisp imagery.

Conclusion

The ROG Phone 5s is an excellent phone, that can easily handle anything you throw at it in daily life. It’s got really high specs, plenty of RAM and has a distinct look to it that may be a little “flashy” for some, but isn’t out of place even in professional settings. Probably the biggest problem with it is that it is quite big.

If I had to sum this up in a single sentence it would be that the ROG Phone 5s is a stunning device that excels at almost everything with software that doesn’t invade heavily on the experience of the phone. Provided you don’t mind the camera not keeping up with $2,000.00 flagships this may well be one of the best buys of 2022 so far.

At the time of publishing this review, the ROG phone 5s is down to $1,199.00 from $1,499.00 at JB Hi-Fi. Even at full price, I’d be happy to recommend this to a lot of users.

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