The ROG Phone 8 Pro is worse than before. I can’t stop using it

What the ROG Phone used to be

In an unexpected turn of events, Asus released a ROG Phone 8 that’s a massive departure from what they had going with their gaming handsets. Ever since the original ROG Phone, these things have been chunky, excessive, all-out ridiculous, and focused to deliver a gaming console-like feel on a smartphone.What I mean is that they used to be big and extravagant — a huge top and bottom bezel to house front-firing stereo speakers, RGB lights on the back (later upgraded to mini screens whose only purpose was to show flashy logos), dual USB C ports on the device, gaming triggers embedded in the frame, and very little care about the cameras of the phone (and we definitely did not need them to add more weight).

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.

The ROG Phone 8 changes course

It seems that said niche is too small to realistically try and grow in, so Asus drastically changed course with the ROG Phone 8 — it’s now smaller, with a thin uniform bezel all around, software accommodations to make it feel a bit more like an iPhone, and an emphasis on camera performance.

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 show the flashy logos. If you turn it off, it disappears entirely under the matte glass back.

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).

However… 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).

What was stopping me? Well, for gaming, they are excellent. To use one-handed in portrait mode, they are huge, slippery, heavy, and cumbersome. They look a bit tacky, and you might not want to carry them around in public if you don’t jibe with the “I AM A GAMER” aesthetic. And their cameras weren’t very good (the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate cameras were quite OK, though, as I noted in my review a year ago).

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?