Two new gaming phones are targeting Chinese gamers, and they offer some great bang for the buck. I got to spend a little time trying out each of them. I’m not a serious gamer, but I’m seriously considering switching to one of these new phones.

ROG Phone II on the left, Black Shark 2 Pro on the right. (Picture: Chris Chang/Abacus)

The new phones from Asus and Black Shark are the first two Android flagships to run on the latest Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 Plus processor, which has a 2.96GHz CPU and 675MHz GPU, slightly faster than the original Snapdragon 855.

Whereas past gaming phones never seemed to be aiming for mass appeal, the ROG Phone II is the first gaming phone I’d enjoy using as a daily driver. It has good build quality with a design aesthetic that can appeal to both mobile gamers and normal users.

ROG Phone II Tencent Games Edition. (Picture: Chris Chang/Abacus)
Tencent Games logo on the ROG Phone II for the China market. (Picture: Chris Chang/Abacus)

Interestingly, the ROG Phone II has a Tencent Games Edition that’s exclusive to China. It’s cheaper than the global version at just 3,499 yuan (US$496), but it only packs 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The model with 12GB of RAM and 512GB of storage jumps to 5,999 yuan (US$850).

The Tencent Edition also doesn’t come with Google Play, but it does have Google Play Services pre-installed. This makes it very easy to install Google Play by just downloading and installing the APK file.

The TwinView Dock II adds a second screen on the top. (Picture: Chris Chang/Abacus)

The ROG Phone II supports a ton of accessories to improve the overall gaming experience. One of the cooler ones that shows up in much of the promotional material is the TwinView Dock II. 

The dock offers dual-screen gaming with a display up top and a dock for the phone on the bottom. The second screen is also a 120Hz AMOLED touchscreen. Those who are especially good at multitasking can even play two separate games on the top and bottom screens at the same time. And to compensate for a second power-hungry 120Hz display, the dock includes a 5,000mAh battery.

The Black Shark 2 Pro has a two-toned design with a blend of metal and glass. (Picture: Chris Chang/Abacus)

The Black Shark 2 Pro is a Xiaomi-made gaming phone that has a more striking design with a silver back. Some gamers might like Black Shark’s approach to the design, but I’m not a fan. The ROG Phone’s black design with more subdued highlights makes it a better fit for many people who might be put off by a flashier design meant to appeal directly to gamers. 

The phone certainly feels rock solid, but next to the ROG Phone, the display is at a noticeable disadvantage. Even though both phones have a resolution of 1080 x 2340 pixels, the Black Shark’s 6.39-inch OLED screen doesn’t look as vivid and sharp as the 6.59-inch AMOLED display on the ROG Phone II. 

The fact that the Black Shark phone doesn’t support HDR10 could be one reason for this. The display also doesn’t have the 120Hz refresh rate that helps make animations on the ROG Phone look smoother.

The Black Shark 2 Pro packs 12GB of RAM. (Picture: Chris Chang/Abacus)

One advantage it has over the ROG Phone, though, is that the Black Shark 2 Pro has 12GB of RAM in its base model, which costs just 2,999 yuan ($425). This model also includes 128GB of storage. This could make it a better option for users who do heavy gaming and multitasking.

Black Shark also offers a mode called Shark Space that’s meant to act as a gaming hub where players can launch games and look at gaming statistics.

Shark Space provides gamers a staging area for previously played games. (Picture: Chris Chang/Abacus)

Given that the ROG Phone II and Black Shark 2 Pro are targeted at gamers, they’re not meant to have impressive designs. They both have illuminated logos on the back and bezels on the top and bottom. That means no notches or other gimmicks that help push displays to the edges, but it might make them look out-of-step with current design aesthetics on other phones.

Both companies say the top and bottom bezels help provide a better landscape grip for gaming.

The ROG Phone II is capable of taking great pictures with manual controls. (Picture: Chris Chang/Abacus)

Personally, I prefer the ROG Phone II. The phone feels nicer in hand, and the screen looks sharper and more vivid. With a 120Hz AMOLED display, the gaming experience is definitely smoother. It even has a headphone jack. And with a 6,000mAh battery, the ROG Phone should last longer than the Black Shark with its 4,000mAh battery.

Another nice perk on the ROG phone is the camera’s Pro mode. Both phones offer dual cameras on the back, but the ROG Phone II has a wider selection of shooting modes in the stock camera app.

Unfortunately, if you want to get your hands on one of these phones, you’ll have to buy it from China for now. The ROG Phone II Tencent Games Edition is exclusive to China, but the model with more RAM and storage is much more expensive. 

The Black Shark 2 Pro offers more bang for the buck, but once it goes overseas, that price is bound to go up. And while it’s set to launch in other parts of Asia, there’s no news on Western markets.