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I found the ultimate 'for enthusiasts' phone in the most unexpected way

The Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate is as feature-packed as the name suggests. But a few hidden gems make it worth considering even if you're not a gamer at heart.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor
Reviewed by Min Shin
Using the Asus ROG Phone 7 with the active cooler accessory.
June Wan/ZDNET

Yes, what you're seeing above is a phone -- the same thing you take calls with, text family and friends with, capture images with, and hunt for Bluesky invites with.

Also: Google teases the Pixel Fold ahead of I/O. Here's what it looks like

It's called the Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate, and unless you're vested in the mobile gaming space, this is probably your first time seeing the device and its electro-fan concoction. It'll all make sense in just a moment.

What's important here is that while I was expecting this to be just another gaming phone (and it most certainly is,) this device is secretly the most "for enthusiast" handset you can buy right now. And I'm talking for fans of smartphones in general, not just gamers. Here's why.

View at Asus

I'll cut right into the specs: You're getting a 6.78-inch Samsung AMOLED display with a 165Hz refresh rate, the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 2 chipset, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, a triple camera setup that can shoot 8K video, Wi-Fi 6E and 7, and a dual-cell 6,000mAh battery.

All of these values are as good as it gets for a phone in 2023. So, instead of boring you with how competent the ROG Phone 7 Ultimate is for day-to-day experiences, I'll shed more light on the special features that make this worth your attention, starting with that air cooler pictured earlier.

Also: Valve's Steam Deck turned this 40-year-old dad into a gamer again

Asus sells two variants of its ROG Phone 7: The standard and the Ultimate. The latter, featured in this article, comes with what the company calls the AeroActive Cooler 7, a USB-C powered fan that helps with heat dissipation.

The back cover of the Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate

A mini display on the back animates based on what you're doing on the phone, and it's fully customizable.

June Wan/ZDNET

Such an accessory is rather common in the gaming phone space, but Asus takes things to the next level here, implementing a lift gate on the back side of the phone that flips open when the fan is attached. That way, all the heat is released near-instantly, and the device remains comfortable to use.

Beyond gaming, I've been using the fan for three things: Cooling the phone while it's charging to reduce battery degradation, cooling the phone when I'm video editing to maintain performance, and providing enhanced bass when I'm listening to music or watching videos. That's right, the AeroActive Cooler has a built-in subwoofer that gives the phone's speaker some extra oomph, and it makes a noticeable difference.

Also: Phone feeling slower than usual? Don't forget to do this regularly

I'll admit, holding the Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate -- with or without the cooler -- can be a chore. It's not the heaviest phone on the market, but it can feel top-heavy because of the dual-cell batteries (two 3,000mAh capacities) positioned above and below the motherboard. By comparison, a standard handset houses its battery on the bottom side only, allowing your palm to sustain most of the weight. It only took me three to four days before I got used to the form factor, though.

Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate Notification LED

Notice anything special about this front design?

June Wan/ZDNET

Lastly, the taller design of the Asus allowed the company to integrate two phone features I dearly missed: A 3.5mm headphone jack and a notification LED. If you're like me and miss the days of knowing exactly what incoming alerts were without needing to wake the phone screen, or being able to listen to music with zero latency or Bluetooth pairing problems, then you'll have a nostalgic field trip with this device.

Also: 6 things you can do to give your devices a spring cleaning

Ultimately, the Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate is a gaming phone, and I'm not going to make it out to be anything else. For what you're getting, don't expect this to cost any less than the top-end iPhone or Samsung Galaxy phone. (Asus hints at a $1,300 price tag when the phone releases in the coming weeks.) But if you look at the specs, the features, and how they can all help you with everyday tasks better than mainstream competitors, the phone is not as alienating as it seems. 

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