As far as gaming-styled launches go, the ROG UI is very, very out there. Straight out of the box, the UI screams "gamer". Seriously, it's like browsing your alien friend's phone who just happens to be very much into fighter jets and the all the known shades of red. Sharp lines flying all over the place. One swipe down for the quick toggles and you might just feel like you are operating a nuclear reactor. The amount of options you are expected to want to "quick access" is a bit staggering.
The there is the X Mode toggle, which is definitely the first one you absolutely need to press. Doing so triggers an animation on the wallpaper, symbols start shifting, glowing borders start shining around icons. If set up accordingly, the RGB logo on the back fires up, as well as any compatible Aura Sync logo on attached ROG accessories. Yes, it's full on battle mode engaged!
All of this is ROG UI hard at work. Interestingly enough, however, it sits on top of the new ZenUI 6, which is borrowed from the Zenfone 6 and couldn't be more on the polar opposite in terms of its styling. Popping into the Theme menu in Settings illustrates this perfectly, since Asus decided to still leave the default ZenUI 6 there as an option on the ROG Phone II.
What you get is basically an AOSP experience. With just a few click, no less. It's frankly a bit eerie. Almost feels like what a kid would alt and tab to if you catch them playing instead of studying on the computer. It's almost too clean, is what we're getting at. Still, it's a great alternative to have for when you get a bit tired from the overly aggressive gamer's looks.
And since we already touched upon themes, it is worth mentioning that ZenUI 6 has a fairly versatile theming engine in place and a rather rich online library with plenty of free and paid options.
Actually, speaking of options, that seems to be a good place to start the OS tour. To be perfectly honest, there really isn't all that bloat added to the ROG Phone II. Certain extra features ace scattered here and there, but most of these are useful and really non-obtrusive. Also, they are often hidden out of sight. In fact, the most advanced pieces of additional software aren't really apparent since they have to do with gaming optimization and things like control mapping frameworks. But more on that in a bit.
The battery menu, for instance, has a few interesting gems hidden away. First off is the PowerMaster which offers a centralized place for managing app consumption, scanning for issues, as well as toggling battery savings options and managing autostart. Since the ROG Phone II is tuned for gaming above all else, it kind of makes sense that most apps are barred from autostarting by default. This is the menu you should hit up if you have issues with something like a messenger service not running fine in the background.
Battery Care is particularly nifty. It offers you the option to set off hours and have the phone charge in the most efficient and battery-friendly way possible during said period. It's not as sophisticated as Qnovo, but still good enough to keep your battery healthy for a longer time without altering your overnight charging habits.
The display settings menu has a few interesting entries of its own. Most notable among which is the screen refresh rate selector. It has three options - 60Hz, 90Hz and 120Hz. 90 offers a pretty decent middle--ground between fluidity and extra power consumption. It might just be a good idea to run the UI at 90Hz then set up any 120fps capable game to toggle 120Hz through the X Mode game launcher we will talk about in a bit. In case you were wondering, there is an always-on mode for the AMOLED on the ROG Phone II, as well as an option to only pop-up notifications, if that is your thing.
And if you are not into the under-display fingerprint reader, or are having some issues with it, like us. Face unlock is present and works great.
The Advanced settings menu houses pretty much all the other system-wide additional goodies ROG and Asus added on top of the Android Pie core. Mobile Manager is actually a sister tab to PowerMaster. It handles all the rest of the phone maintenance aside from the battery. Things like memory and storage cleanup, permission and security as well as data caps and usage.
Thin Apps is fairly self-explanatory. It does require support from the app itself to work though. For convenience, there is a nifty list of apps you can download in alphabetical order. Neat! Safeguard offers SOS emergency contact options. And OptiFlex is a proprietary app launch optimizer that works in the usual way - caching certain resources, often times in RAM, so that they can remain easily accessible.
None of these are really new since we've seen them on the original ROG Phone, as well as some other Asus handsets. Still, compared to the original ROG Phone, every bit of software seems a bit more refined this time around. Even if it's little touches like having the apps comply to the system-wide dark color scheme option. Which, by the way, you should definitely use with the ROG Phone's OLED panel.
Then we get to the good stuff, the things meant to improve gaming experience. Game Genie is the name Asus chose for its in-game optimizer/tools interface, which slides out from the left side of the display while in game.
There are plenty of options on it, most of which absolutely self-explanatory. In order to work properly, or at all, certain bits of Game Genie do need some extra setup. Most notably, the live streaming functions. Once set up you can use a single key to go live on YouTube and Twitch. Pretty great.
Another great bit about Game Genie is that it offers real-time readouts for things like CPU and GPU, temperature, battery level and and fps count within the Game toolbar. There is even an experimental feature that tries its best to estimate how much game time you have based on your current load with the battery charge remaining in the phone.
Game Genie is also where you can map your two AirTriggers to certain on-screen controls. If it is a button, you can map it. There is even a macro interface, which is really powerful and can be used to map whole sequences of inputs.
If that sounds a bit like cheating to you, wait until you hear about Key Mapping. In our books, it is probably the single greatest gaming-geared software tool Asus has brought to the table with the ROG Phone family. It's an incredibly in-depth interface for mapping on-screen controls to physical ones. Directional pads, buttons, sliders all work and do so really well.
So the real fun begins when you connect the ROG Phone II to a compatible accessory, like the new ROG Kunai Gamepad. Every button on that controller can then be mapped to an on-screen control, effectively giving you console-grade physical controls inside a game meant to be played on touch screens.
In fact, it gets even better once you connect the ROG Phone II to a mouse and keyboard via the Mobile Desktop Dock or the Asus professional dock. Then you can map all the controls to an actual mouse and keyboard. Imagine using a mouse to aim and look around in PUBG!
Well, that bit you can actually keep imagining since PUBG is one of the few titles that has become aware of the ROG Phone's "secret sauce" and can detect the use of control mapping. At least currently, that is. And even so, the majority of games we tested, even competitive online ones are perfectly fine with you totally owning the scene due to the huge advantage in controls precision.
We are aware that other similar mapping solutions do exist on Android (most notable Octopus), but they seem to operate with a lot more restrictions and naturally all sorts of warnings for drawing over other apps and the like. What Asus have crafted for the ROG is clearly done right and on a much lower software level, making it a really added-value offer for any hardcore mobile gaming enthusiasts. Or are they even mobile once a keyboard and mouse come into play?
Anyway, if you're not really the streaming type but still want to capture your game sessions or other content in some manner, the ROG Phone II does offer a quite in-depth screen recorder. Beyond things like resolution and audio capture, you can also set delays on capture, block notifications from showing up and show touch inputs. As for screenshots, you could opt for JPG or PNG, depending on your needs.
But even if you couldn't care less about streaming or game capture of any kind, if you bought the ROG Phone II, it's fair to assume that you will be using it for some serious gaming sessions. For those you definitely want to pop into the ASUS Armoury Crate - Gaming portal. It basically augments your entire smartphone experience, bringing it as close to a portable gaming console as possible.
Once here, your phone is locked in landscape mode and your recent apps button or gesture is disabled. The only way to quit out of the launcher is a rather small dedicated "X" button near the top left corner. This is very much intentional design to prevent any manner of accidental minimizing of the active game.
From the main ASUS Armoury Crate interface you get a few options. The most obvious one being your game card interface (or benchmark and any app you would like to run with a custom performance profile). Each entry gets its own "crate", as the Asus terminology goes. And each crate has its own Game Profile. Profiles are a set of settings for different aspects of the ROG Phone II that get automatically applied when the game/app is launched via ASUS Armoury Crate.
Quickly going through the various tabs available, you get a lot of control on Performance Here you can choose to have X Mode enabled for the app alone, as opposed the default where it follows the system-wide toggle, as seen in the quick toggle bar above the notification shade.
Manually enabling X Mode from this menu actually allows you choose between thee levels of X Mode. Each consecutive step pushes the hardware a bit further, including clocks and tolerance to heat. If you are really feeling adventurous and know what you are doing Hardcore Tuning actually gives you access to sliders for internal Android System value pertaining to performance. That's the level of tuning Asus is commited to giving its users. Pretty much unparalleled in our experience.
If you are not really feeling quite so adventurous, there is also a simpler CPU frequency slider in the main profile menu. That and a Temperature control slider. The latter allows you to choose between optimal heat dissipation through the body of the ROG Phone II and hand comfort. If you value performance and are ready to sacrifice pretty much anything else you can let the ROG Phone II raise its external temperature quite a bit. And that's while even in its default setting, the ROG Phone II is not exactly a cool phone under load.
Moving past raw internal performance, game profiles also let users choose a custom Refresh rate on a per-app basis. There is also the option to turn on addition anti-aliasing if you think the edges of any particular game are just a bit too "jaggy" for your taste.
Then there is Touch tweaking. You can use this menu to fine-tune the sensitivity of the display, as well as Air Trigger touch and swipe. Again, on a per-app basis. The built-in false touch rejection algorithm can also be fine tuned.
And rounding things off in the profiles we also have a few network and audio options. Honestly, we kind of feel like we've seen too many options already. Yet, we still have to check out the second Console tab from the main ASUS Armoury Crate interface.
Unlike profiles, the options here apply on a system-wide or at least ASUS Armoury Crate-wide level. Aside from the cool meters on the left-hands side, this is where you find general settings like a list of games that automatically trigger the ASUS Armoury Crate no matter where they are launched from as well as another list that says which apps can have access to data at all while a game is running in the foreground.
Then there is the Air Trigger setup screen. This is where you can adjust sensitivity. Actual mapping is elsewhere within the Game Genie interface.
Fan controls for the attachable AeroActive Cooler II are also available. You can either leave it on auto and have the system decide when and how much to ramp it up. Or, alternatively, set it to full blast and have maximum cooling for both the phone and your hands. Now, this does come at the cost of noticeably more noise and increased battery consumption. Dealer's choice, really.
And we finally come to System Lighting and RGB controls. Asus has a pretty clean system set up to control the RGB effects on the phone's built-in logo, as well as those on optional accessories. All of it is done through this interface. Of course, there are synchronization groups for other Aura Sync compatible devices. Different color patterns, intensity, speed. The works.
You can also choose what gets to trigger the RGB lights and which effect should be triggered, with a fair bit of conditions available to choose from.
Last but not least there is the Game Genie in-game overlay interface we mentioned earlier. Aside from housing various button mapping options and settings screen when a compatible accessory is connected tot the ROG Phone II it also has quick toggles for streaming and other nifty things. Everything is pretty self-explanatory, but does require quite a bit of fiddling to set-up just right and gain real in-game advantages from. The macros feature, for instance, is particularly powerful for easy combos.
Search is also pretty nifty. It basically lets you access online search results like videos and articles in a single click even going as far as to fill in the current game title in the query box.
Beyond the extensive ASUS Armoury Crate interface there really aren't all that many proprietary Asus apps pre-loaded on the ROG Phone II. Just a couple of basics like a Clock, calculator, Gallery and File manager. Not really getting in the way while also offering theming support for a really consistent look. Nice job, Asus.
Just to finish the software overview off, we will mention a few words about AudioWizаrd. Seeing how the ROG Phone II doesn't skimp out on audio hardware, it only makes sense to include a powerful equalizer suite to match. Asus calls it AudioWizard and it comes packed with plenty of features to enhance both the stereo speaker output, as well as the headphones experience. Yet another really in-depth tool. That really is the underlying theme with every single aspect of this phone.