The ROG Phone 6 Should Be a Steam Deck Competitor, but It’s Being Held Back

The ROG Phone 6 Should Be a Steam Deck Competitor, but It’s Being Held Back
Image: Gizmodo Australia

Every time I review a ROG Phone, it gives me an opportunity to think about the mobile gaming space that exists beyond Android and iOS, devices like the Nintendo Switch OLED Model and the Steam Deck. The ROG Phone 6 has made me go one step further, and I can’t help but think this is a wasted opportunity from ASUS.

ASUS’ latest phone, the ROG Phone 6, a massively powerful smartphone with a 165hz AMOLED screen, a Snapdragon 8+ 1 processor and an Adreno 730 GPU (some of the best tech you can cram into a phone, cameras aside), is an overkill device. This phone exists to wipe the floor with games available on Android platforms, though it’s difficult to say if the performance on offer is much better than its contemporaries, such as the Google Pixel 6, the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra or the OPPO Find X5 Pro.

This is a thematic device: one that you’d buy for the aesthetics and the gaming gimmicks it provides. It’s “gamer” with a capital G.

Here’s what I think.

The ROG Phone 6

WHAT IS IT?

The latest gaming phone from ASUS.

PRICE

Likely above $1,699 (TBA)

LIKE

Unbeatable gaming performance, very little bloatware, nice battery life and charging, sci-fi prop aesthetic with backlighting

NO LIKE

Super expensive, average cameras, more of a gimmick than anything else.

Slipping into gamer mode

There’s no doubt that phone gaming is a massive market internationally. Heck, if it wasn’t so, then companies wouldn’t focus so hard on developing mobile versions of their PC and console-focused games.

But that mindset doesn’t necessarily mean avid phone gamers will be willing to buy a gamer-oriented device. After using so many of ASUS’ gamer-oriented ROG series phones, I don’t think the company really understands who it’s appealing to, as opposed to ROG’s PC gaming series with its run of laptops, components and peripherals, which seem very well understood. Phone gaming is lightweight, lower commitment and relies on easy-to-access games. At its price, the ROG Phone 6 misses the point.

But, for the moment, we’ll entertain what the phone does best.

holding phone over train tracks for some reason
The back-mounted ‘thermoelectric AI cooling system’ attaches through a USB-C port on the side. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Playing Apex Legends MobileCall of Duty: Mobile and League of Legends: Wild Rift on the device, I can declare again that the ROG Phone 6 provides one of the best and most consistent Android gaming experiences. FPS rarely drops from the maximum available framerate (it varies per game), graphics are constantly pumped up to the max and there’s genuinely nothing bad to write about when it comes to games performance.

But to a large extent, ROG has reached the summit of Android gaming. There’s nowhere else to go. At this point, it feels like app developers need to spec their games up to the performance of the ROG Phone 6, which is, of course, ridiculous when that drive doesn’t translate to market share.

In saying this, the ROG Phone 6 is ahead of the curve as far as performance is concerned, so there’s something to be said about ongoing reliability for years and games to come.

Gaming all day

The 6,000mAh battery of the ROG Phone 6 certainly doesn’t disappoint. With my battery test, seeing how the phone stacks up against Avengers Endgame on max brightness and volume, the phone dropped to 95 per cent in the first hour, 88 per cent in the second and 82 per cent in the third, beating its predecessor out on the same test by about 7 per cent. Playing a mix between Call of Duty: Mobile and League of Legends: Wild Rift over an hour, the phone dropped only 10 per cent.

Notifications on the gamer panel
Notifications on the gamer panel is a cool feature, but I’m rarely looking at the back of my phone. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

The panel on the phone above comes with the “Pro” model, while the standard model comes with programmable LEDs (as you can see in the first image at the top of the page). The ROG Phone 6 Pro comes with 18GB RAM and is only available in white, whereas the standard version comes with 16GB RAM and is available in both black and white.

Is this a game to you?

The ROG Phone 6 wants to pull you in with its aesthetic. With a customisable display on the back of the “Pro” model and LED dots on the back of the standard model, along with an operating system made to look as aggressively gamer-esque as possible, a detachable back fan that cools the device (sold separately, though I’m not sure if it’s necessary at all) and a…. *Sigh*.

If you squeeze the phone in a standard portrait grip, you’ll activate “X Mode”. The standard background will switch from blue to red and an X Mode symbol will appear in the top left, consuming more power with extra processor and GPU performance.

It’s not enough to even be called overkill at this point: the ROG Phone 6 grunts to get your attention, with pretty lights and overdeveloped components.

rog phone 6 review
The ‘thermoelectric AI cooling system’ fan on the back. Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Gamer photos

The cameras in the ROG Phone 6 lag behind the soaring heights of the less expensive Google Pixel 6 Pro and the iPhone 13 Pro Max, however as we’ve said in previous ROG phone reviews, the pics are never the most important feature.

As you’ll see below, photo depth, particularly in colours, isn’t terribly strong.

rog phone 6 review
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

The cameras do struggle with colour bleed quite a lot, actually, and sharpness just doesn’t hold up.

rog phone 6 review
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

But they’re passable. ASUS isn’t known for its cameras across any of its phones, but at least they’re not the worst. Not for a photography lover, but perhaps fine for a gamer.

rog phone 6 review
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia
rog phone 6 review
Image: Zachariah Kelly/Gizmodo Australia

Mobile gaming in the age of the Steam Deck

When I was reviewing both the ROG Phone 3 and the ROG Phone 5, I warmed to the idea of getting a standard premium phone and a separate gaming system, such as the Nintendo Switch.

Today, we have better and more powerful devices to compare the ROG Phone series to, specifically the Steam Deck and the AYA Neo. Though Valve’s handheld isn’t available in Australia, our concept of “mobile gaming” is becoming broader by the minute. The ROG Phone 6 is part of a dying breed, that clings to Android as the only bastion of mobile gaming.

I think ASUS is well positioned to take on the Steam Deck. ASUS doesn’t like to shy away from a gimmick, and although the Steam Deck is far from a gimmick at this point, ASUS only stands to gain from pivoting its “mobile gaming” concept from Android to Windows. The ROG Flow Z13 was a good attempt at this, but I’m excited to see if the laptop giant can stick to it.

The bottom line is: phone gaming on a dedicated “gaming” phone is overkill. There’s very little you can add to your gaming experience with a dedicated gaming phone, and you’re likely to get similar performance on just about any flagship device in 2022.

But ASUS, buddy, I’m begging you, aim higher. Mobile gaming goes beyond phones in 2022. Take another swing at the ROG Phone and the mobile gaming market – who knows where you could take it.

Where to buy the ROG Phone 6

Australian pricing and availability for the ROG Phone 6 hasn’t been announced beyond an August launch, however, we can expect it to cost upwards of $1,699, in line with the last model.