With the recent release of the ROG Phone 5 series of gaming phones, there’s been a lot to look back on. ROG’s now in the fourth iteration of their flagship phone, and have continued to push the envelope in terms of what you can do with the gaming phones.
We caught up with Chih Hao Kung, the Global Technical Head of PR for ROG’s Smartphones, He shared with us a lot of the ideology behind the ROG Phone 5, as well as some of the things ROG has learned over the years .
One of the most glaring things with the ROG Phone 5 is the clear admission of a fourth ROG Phone. According to Chih Hao, this wasn’t some arithmetic oversight, and definitely wasn’t because loyal ROG Phone fans had somehow missed an entire phone release.
“Well, our ROG Phone 4 is ROG Phone 5, you can say. I think you probably are quite aware in the Chinese culture, the number 4 sounds a lot like the word ‘death’, so the very simple answer is that it’s superstition you can say, we just skipped the 4. So, the ROG Phone 5 is the fourth phone, there is no model in between that we didn’t launch. We just changed the name”, he says.
He reassured fans that it was purely a cultural decision, and understands not every type of audience would see the significance of such a thing.
“Of course some people can have opinions on this, especially I would say in…lets say in European or North American culture, they are not used to this”, he ruminates. “But if you look at the Chinese culture, or you know around Asia no matter if it’s China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, this is more common. I think that’s just a very simple answer, because of the words or numbers sounding very close to ‘death’. We simply skipped it, and you know, that’s it”.
Like A Laptop In Your Pocket
By and large, the most standout feature of the ROG Phone 5 Series is their massive capacity for RAM. With each phone The top of the line is the ROG Phone 5 Ultimate, which sits atop an 18GB RAM throne. As many have noted, that puts it squarely in the lead of most gaming laptops, despite a stigma that mobile games are much less memory intensive.
Chih-Hao had a pretty satisfyingly coy answer as to why the phones shoot so high:
“I think the answer is very simple, it’s because we can, right?”, he laughs. He explained that in ROG’s 15 years in making games hardware, making a phone that can set a new standard is simply par for the course. After all, the brand’s always been providing for gamers.
“And the ROG Phone is no different, it has these ROG brand spirit in the sense that, we’re pushing the boundaries, pushing the limit”, he says. He explained that while the very luxurious 5 Ultimate has the 18GB of RAM, it’s not like there aren’t 8 or 12GB models for the more pragmatic gamer, either.
“But generally, ROG is not just about the practical, the 8GB the 12GB, the ‘most value for money’ options, I think those…we need to have those but we need to keep moving the boundaries, right?”, he says.
Pushing boundaries is an integral to the ROG brand, as Chih-Hao recalls some of the criticisms ROG faced back when they decided to enter “Gaming phone” into the public lexicon.
“So if you I don’t know if you remember but, whenever, every year, gaming smartphones in particular have been around for…for us it’s our fourth phones. So, every year we’ve been asked, not by everyone but, the industry in general has been asking ‘Do you really need a gaming smartphone?’, ‘Do you really need high refresh rate?’”, he reminisces. “I remember when we launched ROG Phone 1, that was quite many years ago, we got a lot of questions from our media friends and users or partners, you know, ‘Do you need 90Hz?’ And we said yes, you do”.
He says this position has worked out for ROG, since the ROG Phones have literally set a standard among gaming phones.
“And then 120Hz came, ‘Do you need 120Hz? Nobody is doing 120Hz’, when we went to 120Hz with, you know the ROG Phone 2. But if you look at today, everyone is doing 120Hz, right? Because there’s a…position are moving forward so I think 18GB is towards that line”, he says.
Rather than creating a phone to solve a problem, Chih-Hao says its about creating features someone can use. While they’re not needs, he stresses that high-end features will always make a difference, and that’s all the reason they need to include them.
“You could make an argument, depending on who you are as a user, do you need 18GB? No, you don’t need it. It’s the same way, I’m not sure if you are familiar with the gaming ecosystem in PC, but you know, do you need a 300Hz monitor? Do you need a gaming keyboard? Do you need a gaming mouse? I think the answer is always no, you don’t need them. But will they make a difference, for someone? Yes, the answer is still yes on that”, he said.
“And 18GB, can you allocate all the 18GB in our phone? Answer is for sure, yes. Can you keep 40 apps or more in memory? Yes you can. Do you need that? Maybe not. Can you benefit from it? For sure”, he says. “And I think one of the roles for ROG, especially within ASUS is to push those boundaries forward. So you can see a lot of the things that we are doing with the ROG Phone is just moving the tempos ever forward. And that is part of the ROG vision in that sense”.
Under The Hood With The ROG Phone 5
That being said, Chih-Hao says he understands that the changes might not be as apparent, given how similar the Phone 5 looks to its predecessor. While the phones haven’t changed in size, he says they’re wildly different under the hood.
“So with the ROG Phone 5, what we did, if you open it up one day or if you see inside, you will find out that we did a lot of replacement, we approach the internal layout totally differently. Kind of breaking our tradition in one way, which I think is the correct thing to do every now and then, you can’t just keep doing the same thing”, he explains.
He went on to describe how the ROG Phone 5’s battery is made of two cells, which comes at the tradeoff of needing more space. He also says the motherboard had to be layered, and they had to use the smaller pogo pins, leading to a phone that’s wildly different on the inside to its predecessors.
Of course, one of the biggest internal changes on the ROG Phone 5 is its implementation of the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 5G Chipset. pegged as a top-of-the-line chipset for all things including gaming, Chih-Hao says it was a no-brainer to include it with the ROG Phone 5. We even tried asking him why, and this was his response:
“Maybe I can answer it with another question, a question of my own. What is the alternative? I think right now, there is no alternative, in the sense that the Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 is the best mobile SoC that we can use. That is the advantage, in the sense that it is the best one.”
He went on to explain that he wasn’t trying to talk down the rest of the market, but explained that the Snapdragon 888 was simply that much better at what the ROG Phone 5 plans to do. According to Chih-Hao, it wasn’t even up for debate:
“What’s the advantage of using that chip? It’s because it is the best, and it is the fastest one, and it is built on the 5nm processor, it has a lot of new things as well so, yeah. GPU is faster. There are simply no options at this point that are better than it”, he says. With the Snapdragon 888, Chih-Hao says the ROG phone 55 isn’t just capable of playing what’s available now, but also any potential dark horses in the near future.
” I would say the future proofing inherently, in the Snapdragon 888, is because it is the latest and greatest GPU, of everything like, everything combined. The speeds, the whole pipeline enhancement that they are doing, VRS (Variable rate shading) is of course part of that, all of those things. Because if you look at smartphone…smartphone (project) technology or smartphone SoC or mobile gaming, you could say that we are in the first golden age of mobile gaming, in the sense that you are seeing a huge growth of mobile gaming in the past five years”, he explains.
He added on that mobile technology was growing at a much faster rate than PC, though he wouldn’t say that the platform itself was stagnating. Rather instead, that PC couldn’t afford to keep up its rapid growth.
“But for phones, they are still growing so quickly. So inherently to this, technology moves fast, I think it’s quite easy to predict that next year we’ll have even faster mobile CPUs. So future proofing is more down to, depending on what the needs are, to find the most, the best and the most powerful devices for those needs”, he says.
Backwards Compatibility And Pushing Yourself Forwards
Speaking of moving fast, one thing that comes with every new generation of ROG Phones is a wave of new accessories. Many of them tend to be tailor-made for the generation’s phone, so fans usually have to end up buying new ones when they upgrade. Chih Hao had something to say about this, since a lot of accessories tend to have more cross-generational properties.
“I think one of the challenges in the mobile ecosystems is everything is bespoke more less. bespoke as in, it’s not like what we use on the pc spaces”, Chih Hao says. He explained that with things like PCs, they’re built in a way that allows for more customization on internal components. “We have a motherboard, doesn’t matter who it’s come from, we have the intel CPU, ok so you just take one of hundreds of motherboards that support the specs, you put it in, you log Windows, Windows support thousand of combination, and it will generally begin work because they are the command specs. Phones do not work like this, none of the components work like this”.
Aside from the software side of being able to read different components. Chih Hao says there’s also much to say about the actual hardware, such as with the ROG Phone 5’s new connector port. ” It’s not like ROG has always been against backwards compatibility for their phones. Chih-Hua mentions that up until the ROG Phone 3, the phones were backwards compatible. But just like how the 5 is pushing boundaries with its RAM, that gets a little harder to do if you have to constantly think about previous models.
” When we do [backwards compatibile accessories], you may notice that we need to keep a consumable size, the size of device must stay the same, otherwise it won’t fit the accessories, cannot be thicker, maybe can be thin but that’s not gonna be happen, the dimension need to be the same, or the bumpers they wont fit. So by ensuring backward compatibility fully, it’s also kind of ensured that the phone never changes, and at any given time, I think we also really need to think about what’s the direction we want to take the series”.
“So if you look at all the thing that we did on ROG Phone 5, how much is that exactly possible to do if you kept the old design. So in the end, it’s paid off, you need to find a way to improve, and also, end of the day, I think we need to follow to the point of view, we need to turn the page, and say, ‘now we’re going in this direction”, he says.
The Games We Play
Speaking of the users, Chih-Hua says ROG had quite a lot of information about gamers to share with us. According to him, users were getting the ROG phone to do far more than Words With Friends and other more social games.
“We’re seeing of course on the top level, we seeing certain things that stand out. Number one, ROG Phone users are playing a lot more games, like 10 minutes average per day on ROG Phone. We’re not talking 50% more or 100% more, we’re talking more than that. So we see that our users were buying and using the ROG Phone versus the same that are using our laptop, the behaviors are very different.
“ROG Phone users are playing more games, and i think that’s great to see that. Not only our ROG Phone users are playing more games, there is also a specifics type of game which is the more hardcore games”, he said. He explained that technically, a lot of people play games on their phones- just look at the popularity of more casual games like Candy Crush. However, he noticed the ROG Phone users trended more to specific types of games.
“On ROG Phone, we can see user playing far ahead more games such as PUBG, COD, Genshin, Black Desert Mobile, Garena Free Fire, this type of game. More AAA titles, more heavy, and they not casual in the sense like you play in one hand and you don’t have to look at the screens- you’re playing the games to play the games.
“I think the major thing to see, and of course you can say that the most popular games in the world you will find on ROG Phone users playing as well and goes on all devices as well”, he said.
He also had choice words for people who looked down on mobile gaming, saying that he firmly believes that mobile games count as ‘real’ games. This wasn’t even ROG trying to gatekeep, rather what Chih-Hua says is a more descriptive approach:
“We’re seeing huge players in mobile gaming, because people are playing games on mobile, it becomes relevant. Its not that its up to us to say that this is the real game, no, that just a different games”.
Before he left, Chih Hao also had poignant words to say about his relationship with media, and consuming it.
“I think there’s lot of the things that i think about is human behavior, of course there is specifics in my role, just to me as a PR person you can say. But I think a lot of things is human behavior but also how we experience thing and these type of consumption mentality, it also help us share about products”.
One of the biggest insights he learned from this, he says, is a way to work better with ROG’s international team:
“Its more like the understanding on how culture impacts understanding, and how cultures shakes the way we work, because one of the thing for me is I’m from Taiwan, but I grew up here in Sweden, so a lot of that culture is switched. But in work related i’m working with teams around the world which are all kind of nationalities, we are working on the same thing, we are working on same direction, everybody has got slight differences. I think that is quite healthy”.
He also recommended checking out The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, as a great book about pursuing success.
Thanks again to Chih Hao for sharing with us all about the ROG Phone 5. It’s great to see ROG is taking a look forward instead of just working with the standards as they are now, and only time will tell how they’ll use what they know for future iterations of the phone.