December 4, 2020

The Asus ROG Phone 3 is a nearly perfect phone for retro game emulation

If you're an emulation fan, the Asus ROG Phone 3 should be at the top of your list, but nothing is ever perfect.

Asus ROG Phone 3 Back with Gaming Controllers

Credit: C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

Android Authority has already published its review for the Asus ROG Phone 3 — spoiler alert: we love it. However, our review focuses on lots of different things that the average smartphone user cares about. Today, we’re going to focus on just one thing: how the Asus ROG Phone 3 stacks up as a retro game emulation machine.

The ROG Phone 3 is a gaming phone, so it’s specifically designed for big gamers. For some, this might mean mobile games like Fortnite or Dead Cells, but for me, this means Zelda, Mario, God of War, and other console-only franchises. As a big retro gamer, my primary concern with a phone like this is whether or not it can handle the resource-heavy console emulators I use to play GameCube, Nintendo 3DS, and PS2 games.

Our verdict: Asus ROG Phone 3 review: A gaming powerhouse for everyone

I’ve already done some Asus ROG Phone 3 emulation tests and was pretty blown away. Today, I want to talk about why I think it’s the ultimate emulation machine as far as smartphones go.

I’m also going to touch on a few of the criticisms I have related to the ROG Phone 3. If you’re primarily interested in grabbing the phone to play all your favorite old games, you’re going to want to check out this Asus ROG Phone 3 emulator review!

Obviously, the specs are unreal

Asus ROG Phone 3 display on table upright

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

I don’t want to spend too much time on specs because they’re pretty well-known at this point. However, if you’re unfamiliar with the Asus ROG Phone 3, let me assure you: this thing is a specs beast. It’s packing the Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Plus, which has a clock speed of 3.1GHz. It maxes out at 16GB of RAM and 512GB of UFS 3.1 storage.

There are probably people reading this who have laptops that aren’t as powerful as the ROG Phone 3. It’s a monster.

However, raw processing power isn’t all that matters when it comes to the Asus ROG Phone 3’s emulation abilities. It also has an enormous 6,000mAh battery, which ensures your phone will last through heavy sessions. Running low on juice? Don’t worry, it’s got 30W fast wired charging to get you back up in running in no time. Check out more on the Asus ROG Phone 3’s battery life in the article linked below.

Read more: Asus ROG Phone 3 battery tested: Is it the new battery life champion?

It also has a 144Hz display refresh rate that you can leave on for everything you do, giving you an incredibly smooth experience. You can even knock that down to 120, 90, or even 60Hz if you want to save battery.

Finally, it has 802.11ax Wi-Fi with four antennas, ensuring you always have the best connection to your network. This makes a big difference if you’re doing any online multiplayer games.

The specs are great for sure, but they only tell part of the story.

Hardware designed for gaming makes a difference

Asus ROG Phone 3 AeroActive cooler attached

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

Even if you just glanced at it, you would immediately be able to tell that the Asus ROG Phone 3 is a gaming phone. The Republic of Gamers logo is very prominent on the back and the design aesthetic of the whole phone just screams out “hardcore gamer.�

That may or may not be to your taste, but the other elements of the hardware are what really matter. Probably the best thing about the ROG Phone 3 is that it has dual front-facing speakers — one at the top, and one at the bottom. This creates a sound experience that pretty much every other flagship phone this year can’t match. It makes a huge difference with Asus ROG Phone 3 emulation gaming as the sound is crisp and full.

Related: The very best Android phones for gaming

If you’re planning on playing with a physical controller, you might want to connect to the phone using a cable rather than use Bluetooth. Asus included two different USB-C ports on this phone — one offset on the bottom and one centered on the left side — enabling you to connect a controller in either spot. This also enables you to play with a wired controller and charge the phone at the same time — another godsend for emulation gamers.

Asus is also going to offer a bunch of neat accessories for the ROG Phone 3 that will be useful for emulation fiends. That includes a tiny cooling attachment (pictured above) that comes in the box with certain models. That attachment also has a kickstand, USB-C port, and headphone jack. Asus also has first-party controllers and desktop solutions on the way.

Asus ROG Phone 3 emulator software enhancements

Asus ROG Phone 3 dead cells with game genie

Credit: David Imel / Android Authority

If you want the Asus ROG Phone 3 to be an emulation machine for Nintendo 3DS and PS2 games, you’ll need to be able to milk as much power as possible out of it. You can do just that by using a set of software tools included with the ROG Phone 3. For example, you can also tweak phone settings to your liking, so you’re not interrupted by calls while you’re gaming.

Basically, Armoury Crate — the custom software system with the ROG Phone 3 — acts just like the multitudes of different PC gaming optimization systems. You can set up everything how you like it and then have it all switch on automatically when you start up a game. You can also map keys, alter the display, write macros, and even adjust screen sensitivity if you’re playing something that involves the touch screen.

The Asus ROG Phone 3 has tons of available software tweaks that allow you to squeeze every drop of power possible from the phone.

You can even change all those settings for each specific system, so the profile you create for Citra doesn’t need to be the same as the one you use for Dolphin. You have control over everything.

Also, Armoury Crate is where you go to tweak the Air Triggers, which are touch-sensitive buttons on the sides of the device. These can be mapped to whatever you like, such as the L and R triggers in Dolphin. You can use touch controls combined with the Air Triggers to give you a better feeling experience if you decide to not use a physical controller.

There are honestly so many options within Armoury Crate that could drastically alter how you use emulation on the ROG Phone 3.

There is still room for improvement, though

Asus ROG Phone 3 with Xbox Controller Citra Nintendo 3DS Power Button Errors

Credit: C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

Unfortunately, there are a few things that hold the ROG Phone 3 back from a completely perfect emulator machine.

  • Button placement: The power button is right smack in the middle of the right side of the phone. If you have a basic smartphone clip for your controller, it will inevitably press down on this button, causing what you see in the image above. This was a really bad design move.
  • No expandable storage: Asus was nice enough to provide us with the highest-end model of the ROG Phone 3, which has 512GB of internal storage. That’s great, but if you opt for a lower-tier model you won’t have that much space, and there’s no way to add more. My ROM collection is over 600GB in size, so this lack of space is a problem.
  • No built-in headphone jack: Although the previously mentioned cooling system attachment has a 3.5mm port, the phone itself doesn’t have one. If you want to use latency-free wired headphones while enjoying some Asus ROG Phone 3 emulation, you’ll need a USB-C dongle. Thankfully, the dual USB-C ports help out here, but a standard jack would have been better.
  • This phone is hot, literally: I’m not sure if it’s the Snapdragon 865 Plus on its own or all the components working together, but this phone gets warm. I played for about an hour and noticed that the phone was churning out heat.
  • Software updates: Android security patches and yearly upgrades probably don’t matter much if you’re planning on using the ROG Phone 3 just for emulation. However, if you’re also planning on using this as your daily driver, you should know that Asus has a pretty poor track record when it comes to software updates.

Asus ROG Phone 3 emulator verdict: Is it worth the price?

Asus ROG Phone 3 Nest to Xbox Controller

Credit: C. Scott Brown / Android Authority

The entry-level version of the Asus ROG Phone 3 — known as the Strix Edition — costs €799 (~$944). That gets you 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The highest-end model with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage — which we used here — costs €1,099 (~$1,299). That’s not cheap, no matter how you slice it.

However, after using this phone solely as an emulation machine, I can tell you that the price is worth it. There’s simply no other phone on the market right now that can handle the games and emulators that I was able to play for this Asus ROG Phone 3 emulator review. If you want a portable system that can play pretty much anything that is available on Android, this is the device you want.

Asus ROG Phone 3
The best phone for gaming in 2020.
The ROG Phone 3 is the ultimate gaming phone with an overclocked processor, killer battery life, shoulder buttons, and a super-fast 144Hz display.

Granted, there are other phones out there that pack similar specs. The recently released Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra has a similar specs pedigree, and also has expandable storage. However, with that phone you’ll be giving up the software optimization suite, the dual USB-C ports, the Air Triggers, and the other aspects that make the ROG Phone 3 unique. You’ll also spend a bit more, as the Note 20 Ultra with 512GB of storage starts at $1,449.

The bottom line is that if you want the best of the best, the Asus ROG Phone 3 is it. It’s not cheap, but the best-in-class devices rarely are.