Gaming

ASUS ROG Phone review: A true gaming phone done right?

Undeniably a phone built for mobile gamers

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Finally, the ROG Phone from ASUS is out in the market! We first saw the gaming smartphone back in Computex 2018 last June, and we waited a long time (four months to be exact) to take one home.

We received a lot of questions about this phone. Is it the best gaming smartphone today? How is it different from other flagship phones with similar specs? And, how much value are you getting out of it?

To answer all those, here’s my review of the ROG Phone. You know the drill, let’s start with the phone’s physique.

Its AMOLED display measures 6 inches diagonally

With a Full HD+ resolution and 18:9 aspect ratio

It features stereo front-facing speakers

It’s not exactly borderless, but you get great loudspeakers

The physical buttons are on the right side

They are made of metal

The left has the card tray and side-mounted USB-C port

The phone doesn’t support expandable storage via microSD

Another USB-C at the bottom along with a 3.5mm jack

This phone doesn’t sacrifice wired connectivity

The back looks aggressive with the ROG logo

The logo lights up!

The phone is pretty angular with lots of unusual shapes

The ROG persona goes mobile

In case you’re wondering what ROG means…

It’s definitely for gamers

There are two rear cameras and a fingerprint reader

Almost forgot about those!

Obviously designed with gaming in mind

One look at the ROG Phone and it already screams that it’s a gaming smartphone. Unlike other game-centric phones from Honor and Razer which have subtle gaming looks, the ROG Phone belongs with the rest of the ROG laptops and peripherals that are made by ASUS.

When there are a number of phones on the table like in our office, it’s not difficult to differentiate the ROG Phone from the rest. The front of the phone has a distinct copper accent on its front stereo speakers, and the back is uniquely ROG. If you own an ROG laptop or desktop and use ROG-branded peripherals, the ROG Phone should be part of your collection.

Like with other 2018 phones, the ROG Phone has a glass back using Corning’s tough Gorilla Glass. Don’t expect things to be symmetrical here because the dual rear cameras and the LED flash are housed in an unusual shape. Even the fingerprint reader is slightly positioned to the right of the phone, but don’t worry, it’s still reachable using either index fingers.

The ROG Phone’s bold design doesn’t end there. The back also has a futuristic styling using lines and an ROG logo that lights up in virtually any color you want. To top things off, the phone even has an exterior for its cooling system.

Encased in a metal frame, the ROG Phone is premium all around. It certainly feels more well-built than its ZenFone cousins. But of course, the loud design is not everyone’s cup of tea. Some gamers might even find it too much, but ASUS is not following Razer’s design choices.

Apart from the phone’s body, there is also a lot to talk about the phone’s display. The 6-inch display is not just your ordinary AMOLED panel. Apart from producing deep blacks and vibrant colors, the display is capable of a 90Hz refresh rate with 1ms pixel response time. Basically, you can play with the phone in uber-smooth motion. On top of that, it supports HDR and has a wide color gamut that’ll please professionals.

The fastest Android gaming phone today

The ROG Phone is powered by a Snapdragon 845, which is practically found on all high-end Android phones that came out this year. To place this gaming smartphone ahead of them, ASUS threw in an overclocked variant of the already-powerful chip and paired it with lots of memory and speedy flash storage. The result is one of the fastest Android phones available today.

Android Oreo runs the show, but it’s customized by ASUS to make it one of their own. Being an ROG device, it comes with a combative theme. Turning on the “X Mode” will even make everything red, which means that the ROG Phone is performing at its peak.

Like with ROG notebooks and desktops, the phone has a command center where you can closely monitor the phone’s condition. The Game Center is as aggressive-looking as the phone’s body. Here you can check the CPU and GPU speeds, the battery’s temperature and remaining power, the setting for the RGB light customization, and the fan speed control for the external cooler.

The configuration I have for review has 8GB of memory and 128GB of storage. If you find 128GB not enough for all your games and personal files, there’s also a 512GB model. Without a doubt, the ROG Phone is insanely fast. Coupled with a 90Hz display, this will be your smoothest Android experience. The 120Hz display of the Razer Phone 2 is more fluid, but the eyes can already appreciate what the ROG Phone has.

Keep in mind that not all games take advantage of the high refresh rate, but popular titles already do. My all-time favorite, Asphalt 9: Legends, is more enjoyable when it’s rendered in 90fps. Other graphics-intensive titles like Free Fire (which comes pre-installed) is fully supported and PUBG: Mobile is playable in the highest settings without lag, as well.

Also, the AirTriggers, which are ROG’s virtual shoulder buttons, aid in mobile gaming. Basically, the sides of the phone are touch-sensitive. They are kind of gimmicky in a way because they are pretty difficult to reach during gameplay. When you get used to it, you’ll have an edge against other players using regular phones.

It even comes with fun cameras

The ROG Phone is not just fun in gaming, but it’s also a good picture taker. It won’t match the likes of the Pixel 3 and Mate 20 Pro, yet I am impressed with the phone’s cameras. Maybe because I wasn’t expecting it to be this good?

It’s got dual rear shooters. The main one is a 12-megapixel sensor with f/1.8 lens, optical image stabilization, and Dual Pixel autofocus. Of course, the phone’s camera is powered by AI that detects the scenes and adjusts the settings accordingly. Thankfully, there’s no over processing going on like with other AI-enabled shooters.

Here are some photos taken using the main sensor in Auto mode:

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They aren’t bad, right? Although, ASUS didn’t put much attention on the 8-megapixel secondary shooter with an ultra wide-angle lens. I’m a fan of wide-angle secondary cameras, so I enjoyed shooting GoPro-like shots. Too bad it’s got no autofocus and the quality isn’t at the level of the main sensor.

Here are some samples taken using the main sensor and the wide-angle camera for comparison:

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Moving to the front, we have another 8-megapixel shooter but it’s just wide enough to take spacious selfies. It comes with an f/2.0 aperture, so low-light shots shouldn’t be a problem — at least on paper. You can also apply bokeh effects to your selfies for added depth.

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No one is buying the ROG Phone for photography purposes, but those who are interested in it will be able to take great photos. The use of an ultra wide-angle secondary lens is also a good choice by ASUS. Why? Because it’s more fun to take wide shots.

Incredible power takes a toll on battery

With all the features the ROG Phone has, a trusty 4000mAh battery keeps the lights on. But, it is enough? Based on my usage, no. If you wish to enable the phone’s highlighted features such as the 90Hz refresh rate, you should make sure to have a power bank around.

The phone didn’t last a full day as my daily driver. I usually get fewer than three hours of screen-on time. My usage includes typical work duties with the phone constantly connected to either Wi-Fi or LTE, and lots of gaming in X Mode.

When I set the refresh rate back to default (60Hz), I was able to get better battery life. The ROG Phone was my secondary device during my four-day business trip to Singapore and I only had to charge it twice. I mainly used the phone for taking photos, checking out web pages, uploading IG stories, and, of course, for playing mobile games once in a while.

Speaking of charging, the ROG Phone comes with a super-fast charger in the box. In just 15 minutes, I was able to charge the phone from zero to 26 percent. The charging rate slows down when you’re nearing 100 percent, so a full charge takes about an hour and 40 minutes. That is still very impressive, though.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

The ROG Phone is a premium device from ASUS with all the bells and whistles of a gaming smartphone. Some might argue that regular flagship phones are already good at gaming. Yes, that’s true but they are not meant for it. That’s where gaming smartphones, such as the ROG Phone, come in.

It has the fastest available processor, super-smooth refresh rate, loud front speakers, optimized software, and extra hardware features such as shoulder triggers and both passive and active cooling systems.

But, everything comes at a price. When the ZenFone 5Z came out earlier this year, we were in awe at how ASUS is offering a flagship-specced phone at an affordable price. It’s even cheaper than OnePlus in some regions, but not as affordable as a Xiaomi flagship. Things are different with the ROG Phone and ASUS is asking quite a lot of money for it, but at least it’s not your usual Android phone.

The ROG Phone has an official starting price of US$ 899 for the 128GB model. In the Philippines, it goes for PhP 49,995, which is not far from the international pricing. If you want more storage, you can get the 512GB model for US$ 1,099. You can also get the top-tier model for PhP 61,995 in the Philippines, SG$ 1,598 in Singapore, and NT$ 31,990 in Taiwan where it’s the cheapest.

If you wish to complete the set, the ROG Phone is being sold along with all of its accessories but the asking price puts it in the league of gaming laptops, so you might want to think carefully before purchasing any of them.

SEE ALSO: ASUS ROG Phone tops AnTuTu benchmark for Android

Gaming

Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! review: Catching ’em all once again

Isn’t Eevee absolutely adorable?

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Countless times, my friends have jokingly asked, “Where’s Mario?” My name — Luigi — has unwittingly cursed me into a lifetime of jokes associated with Mario’s green-suited brother. Ironically, my favorite Nintendo franchise isn’t even remotely related to the Super Mario Brothers series. Since childhood, the prestige has always gone to the Pokémon franchise.

During my Game Boy days, I played through the classics of the Pokémon franchise. Sadly, that streak ended with Pokémon Emerald, immediately before the arrival of the first Nintendo DS. Since then, the franchise’s Generation 4 ushered in a period of silence.

Thankfully, Pokémon’s decline was halted by the arrival of the mobile game, Pokémon GO. The pioneering AR game brought back a wave of nostalgia. Despite the initial popularity, the game’s novelty was short-lived, failing to measure up with the classic games. Of course, the game wasn’t from Nintendo.

Now, Nintendo has finally taken over the franchise’s modern renaissance. Weeks ago, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee! launched for the Nintendo Switch, promising a new world for the new generation. Besides ushering a generation, the nostalgic series revitalizes the old and creates a new ecosystem.

Generation 1.2 

Right on the tin, both games advertise a return to Kanto, home of the first Pokémon. Pikachu and Eevee are remasters of the original Pokémon Yellow. In the original, Pikachu replaced the traditional trio of Bulbasaur, Charmander, and Squirtle. Likewise, Pikachu and Eevee replaces the starter Pokémon based on the version you purchase.

Likewise, both games share the same story elements with Pokémon Yellow: Team Rocket’s antics, Lavender Town’s eerie story, Mewtwo’s appearance. Of course, because of the times, Nintendo updated some minor elements for a modern audience. For example, in-game television sets come with Nintendo Switch units. Characters talk about Alolan Pokémon, smartphone technology, and most importantly, Pokémon GO.

Cuter, cuddlier, livelier

After Pokémon GO’s initial wave of novelty, the franchise’s fans chided the game for depersonalizing their favorite creatures. In GO, Pokémon became collectibles, valuing quantity over quality. Completely contrasted to this, Pikachu and Eevee added a thick layer of personality to all 151 original Pokémon.

Mostly, this dynamic personality applies to your chosen partner, Pikachu or Eevee. Like Yellow, your partner Pokémon follows you around. However, instead of just a few pixelated frames, both have their own new sets of animations and moves. For example, Pikachu hangs out on your shoulder as you walk. Eevee perches atop your head. In combat, both have exclusive move sets. Eevee, for example, uses Veevee Volley, an extremely strong Normal move that activates only occasionally. Cutely, you can interact with both partners outside of combat, petting them or playing patty-cake using the Switch’s touchscreen.

Additionally, you can take a Pokémon out of its Poké Ball, acting as a secondary companion. Also, their animation depends on their build. Mew floats ahead of you. Kangaskhan carries you in its pouch. Charizard flies and carries you on its back. It creates a much more dynamic world compared to the original games.

Speaking of, wild Pokémon encounters are no longer completely random. Instead, you can see the wild Pokémon wandering around, letting you choose which to catch. Catching them is also different. Instead of going into combat, the games adapt the same system as Pokémon GO, using catch rings and berries.

Creating a Pokémon ecosystem

Along with the games, Nintendo also launched a new controller, the Poké Ball Plus, specifically made for the new Pokémon games. Unfortunately, the optional controller, shaped like a Poké Ball, is pricey, costing US$ 49.99 on its own. The bundle — the game plus the ball — costs US$ 99.99, reducing the price by 10 bucks. That said, why should you buy a Poké Ball Plus?

Firstly, the ball comes with a free Mew. Traditionally, this mythical Pokémon was obtainable only through Nintendo-exclusive events or hacks. The Ball finally provides an easily accessible way to obtain one of the franchise’s most elusive Pokémon.

Secondly, it creates a new experience for the franchise. While it has only two buttons, you can use the ball in a throwing motion to catch Pokémon. Instead of just pressing A, the new mechanic simulates the feeling of actually throwing a Poké Ball. It’s unique and strangely gratifying. Additionally, you can take a Pokémon (housed inside the Poké Ball) with you on your daily commute. As you walk, it gets experience, similar to GO’s buddy system.

Thirdly, the ball acts as a Pokémon GO Plus, connecting the Switch games with GO’s world. To those who still play GO, the Poké Ball is a welcome arsenal, especially in crowded cityscapes. Similarly, you can transfer Pokémon from GO to Switch, making it easier to fill a Pokédex.

Finally, the Poké Ball Plus is a clear indication of the Pokémon franchise’s future. Next year, Nintendo will launch a fresher addition to the franchise, marking the console’s first full-fledged Pokémon game. By then, the future game will fully integrate the Ball into its mechanics, making the controller a worthy investment.

With Pikachu and Eevee, the Pokémon franchise heralds a new generation for both old and beginning players. For old players, they create a refreshed wave of nostalgia. For beginning players, both games are a good start to the new generation.

SEE ALSO: Pokémon: Let’s Go gets its own Nintendo Switch bundles

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GadgetMatch Awards: Best Video Games of 2018

The tough ten plus honorable mentions

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2018 wasn’t a good year for anyone’s wallets, and here are thirteen reasons why! Yes, thirteen because we felt having only ten games wouldn’t be enough to encapsulate what a year 2018 has been. 

Here they are in no particular order, starting with…

Honorable Mentions

Fortnite: Battle Royale

Fortnite: Battle Royale made huge waves in 2018, both as a game and cultural phenomenon. The game’s popularity skyrocketed through its use of familiar dance crazes, character skins, and creative challenges and features. Apart from intense build battles and storm-chasing fun, Epic Games has done an incredible job of bringing the game into mainstream media. Who else remembers that one time you could play as Thanos and score a Victory Royale?

Spyro: Reignited Trilogy

The latest PlayStation classic to receive a remaster took a while to arrive due to added fine tuning. Nonetheless, Spyro: Reignited Trilogy featured the lovable purple dragon and his adventures through the Dragon Worlds in HD perfection. From charging at enemies to completing speedway levels and collecting gems, it is a great introduction to the basics of video game platforming. You even have a chance to play Spyro’s friends in Spyro: Year of the Dragon for more head-bashing action. The game is slated for a Nintendo Switch release some time next year, so be sure to watch out for that.

Pokémon Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!

The Pokémon gaming franchise finally got a Switch game, and it’s taken the world by storm. Whichever game you pick gives you the same enhanced experience in the Kanto region, from catching your first Pokémon to beating Team Rocket. A lot of the game’s mechanics are totally different from the past games, like simpler catching and leveling up systems, plus two-versus-one Pokémon battles. Add its integration with Pokémon GO into the mix, and completing your Pokédex doesn’t get any easier.

The Tough Ten

Detroit: Become Human

Detroit: Become Human goes for the old-school third-person adventure aesthetic, but allows you to control the narrative. Quantum Dream’s most successful game features three robot characters, each with their own set of challenges and decisions that ultimately control the story. It puts you in the center of all the storytelling, heightening the level of emotional instability with each decision you make. While you can finish the whole game in about 10 hours, it will lengthen or shorten depending on how much you want to explore.

Although, the game doesn’t come without its own shortcomings. Some storylines get pretty boring or have less action than others, plus dialogues tend to break the whole “show, don’t tell” aspect. Despite some plot holes and bland dialogues, the game still achieves the heart-wrenching emotion it wants to evoke.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

To some degree, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey serves as a good historical look into ancient Greece. Set during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, it brings together the elements of warfare and fantastic Greek scenery that immediately descend into chaos. Gameplay is pegged as a decent mix of good and bad, although some things just made the game a little less enjoyable.

Combat is more of the same compared to previous titles, but the addition of naval battles is a welcomed change. Moreso, getting through the main story is an enjoyable task, even if there were times when things just felt painstakingly long. Overall, it’s a great open-world game hinging on rich graphical work.

Monster Hunter: World

Capcom made the interesting move of shifting its latest title, Monster Hunter: World to more powerful consoles, and it paid off well. The game feels so different visually, while retaining the structure of familiar gameplay that fans enjoyed over the years. Through these changes, it made itself more accessible to a wider audience — particularly, newcomers to the franchise.

The storyline in itself feels a bit lacking, but the game more than makes up for it through the series of endless challenges and upgrades along the way. Because mechanics are simplified, getting through it all doesn’t feel like a total drag. And with more side quests to finish, it simply keeps you coming back and playing them all.

Dragon Ball FighterZ

If you have a list of the top fighting games ever, this game would be there, if not the top one. An easy to learn control system matched with some intense graphics highlight key upsides for Dragon Ball FighterZ. Add 24 of the Dragon Ball series’ unique fighters, each with their own easy-to-learn move sets, and you have a recipe for success.

Of course, the game also received some fair criticism towards several game features — particularly online gameplay. Even queuing up for online gameplay seems to be a literal slug-fest at times. Not to mention, there are moments when players are mismatched with higher-level, more skilled players instead of their equal. For what it’s worth, it’s a great fighting experience from start to finish, and a good fighting game for beginners.

Marvel’s Spider-Man

Marvel’s Spider-Man wasn’t intended to reflect any of the plots you knew as a kid, and that’s a good thing. A superhero game that provides new insights into the character of Peter Parker is always a delight to have. Yet, what most people rave about is the fact that you get to be Spider-Man; one that allows you to swing from building to building effortlessly. It’s that element of kiddie-nostalgia that makes the game great.

Despite the fluid gameplay the game possesses, it serves up a decent plot for both Parker and his Spider-Man persona. The stories in between shape up at the right pace, giving much more attention to how Parker relates with the different villains. Although, it really doesn’t help much that side quests stemming from them get repetitive. Nonetheless, it brings forth an original experience of Spider-Man, especially for the young-at-heart.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

2018 became the year battle royale games took things over the top. But outside PUBG and Fortnite, your options for consoles are very limited. Enter Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, or at least their version of battle royale in Blackout. It retains the core of the battle royale mechanic, using the franchise’s set of weaponry and Specialists at your disposal.

Don’t let a battle royale mode stop you from exploring every other multiplayer mode in the game, however. Multiplayer and Zombies offer the same hard-hitting, gunslinging action the series has been known for. The removal of key features such as automatic health regeneration made the game a little more challenging than before. Some people rip the game for the lack of a solo campaign, but it still incorporated its essence through tutorials. With limited selections for maps yet a wide range of characters and weapons, Black Ops 4 shows its versatility at the core.

God of War

I’m sorry, but the old Kratos can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Because the people over at the Santa Monica Studios resurrected him anew in a reimagined God of War. It’s set in a whole new world even with Kratos as the main guy driving the plot. Of course, shades of red will always appear when he is around, but the focus of the game isn’t so much on Kratos as an almighty being.

This game brings forth a new dimension in Kratos’ character arc: that of a father figure. Not only that, throughout the journey he has to deal with a son that feels estranged to him. We all know just how bloodthirsty he can get, but this game reveals a deeper side to an otherwise violent figure. It’s the kind of tension that breeds emotion, along with incredible music and a camera that sticks to Kratos 24/7. It’s a whole new flavor for a legacy title in video games!

Celeste

Independent game developer Matt Makes Games struck gold with Celeste. The quick-action platformer provides an inspiring plot, while orchestrating great audio and visual presentations. Playing as Madeline, a young woman battling depression and anxiety by climbing the Celeste Mountain, you are taken to worlds filled with challenges, secrets, obstacles, and supernatural events.

Beneath all of these elements lies the real challenge of timely jumps and insane platforming through each level. Every stage adds a fair spike of difficulty, and also comes with more elements to aid the player in accomplishing them. With enough patience and practice, these levels are doable at best.

Through simple controls and a rich yet emotional storyline, Celeste makes 8-bit-themed games feel like a sight to behold. Rightfully so, for the Best Independent Game by The Game Awards 2018.

Far Cry 5

The real secret to a great video game franchise is to keep things in an open world. Far Cry 5 was able to achieve that, while keeping itself entertaining and full of details to explore. There’s even several game features that make you carve out your own adventure, separate from the storyline. Add onto that an intense first-person shooter angle and cooperative play to complement the open world, and chaos ensues.

The strongest aspect of Far Cry 5 goes for the more political and religious route. Players often come across cultist leaders and personalities of a backwash Montana. Although the game doesn’t necessarily push any strong political ideologies, it still manages to show how backwash a society can get under a blind following. But, it doesn’t fully put the game over the top.

It deserves recognition for its use of the open-world setup, and a decent story with a powerful ending. But, it leaves you wondering if there’s a tad bit more that could have been done.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 simply takes us back into a fictional America with a real-life Westernized movement. Picture the time of policemen as outlaws, seeking criminal gangs in the Old West despite devastating losses on their end. A 60-hour narrative of on-the-run bandits turn the open world into a chaotic scene of Cops and Robbers. This time, however, you’re the cop in a world filled with desperate robbers.

Rockstar Games presented a beautiful visual masterpiece, all down to the very last detail. From the high mountains to the lowly swamps, the game allows you to explore the entire open world even while a story is going on — and with good reason, too (mostly for side quests here and there). The game doesn’t even require you to finish it in a quick manner, which is all you need to take in the gorgeous visuals.

For what it’s truly worth, RDR2 gives back the fun in going through a slow adventure within the storyline. Take the time to relax and enjoy the view, before heading back to the stressful realities ahead!

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Crash Team Racing remaster announced for multiple consoles

Move over, Mario Kart. There’s a new racing game in town!

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Yes, you read that right! PlayStation’s lovable bandicoot returns to the race track for another hard-hitting, kart-smashing racing game! Announced earlier during The Game Awards 2018, Sony Interactive and Activision will release a remaster of Crash Team Racing (CTR) for major consoles next year.

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled will feature the same elements and gameplay from the 1999 original, worked from the ground up. Beenox, the studio behind Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 spearheaded the HD remaster, retaining the core game modes the original CTR provided. The game will feature the main cast of Crash and Coco Bandicoot, Dr. Neo Cortex, Tiny Tiger, N. Gin, Dingodile, Polar, and Pura. Not only that, but the remastered CTR will also feature both offline and online play, something that deviates from the original.

The announcement came from a segment during The Game Awards 2018 in Los Angeles. A Crash Bandicoot mascot unveiled the trailer by presenting a crate that contained a trophy inside that you can find in the original CTR. This confirmed rumors from earlier this week.

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled will come out on June 21, 2019 for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. Next year marks Crash Team Racing‘s 20th anniversary, and what a way to celebrate it through the remaster.

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