X Mode

When we talk about most smartphones, and look at performance, we have to be wary that some smartphone manufacturers like to game the system. They will have in their software stack a detection algorithm such that if it notices specific benchmarks, and usually only benchmarks, then it will artificially boost the CPU and GPU frequencies higher than normal, as well as increase any thermal limits. We call this cheating – it represents an unrealistic level of performance that the user is not likely to see. We call out any smartphone that does this, and it has being going on a while.

Some smartphones, and gaming phones, actually now offer this ‘high performance’ mode as an option to the end user. For normal smartphone use, we test these modes depending on their behaviour. Some vendor's high performance mode is quite blatantly disregarding normal DVFS operations when in such modes, which we consider just a public-facing cheating mode, while other vendors just more aggressively scale performance whilst still having a resonable DVFS configuration.

ASUS's X Mode looks to be one of the more honestly implemented performance modes as it still allows the device to idle its frequencies correctly. On top of that, because it's a gaming phone it's definitely something we want to test. And even more importantly than that, with ASUS at least, additional accessories are included or can be purchased to remove the issue of thermals altogether, either with more cooling, or by putting the device into a dock.

For the ASUS ROG Phone II, this extra performance mode is called ‘X Mode’, and is very extensive.

X Mode is enabled in several ways. The user can squeeze the phone on the bottom half in order to activate the triggers, and the default smartphone background will adjust to showcase that X Mode is enabled. The rear of the phone will also turn on its flashing LED ROG logo.

X Mode can also be enabled through a drop down icon from the notifications, or by entering the X Mode ‘Armory Crate’, which is ASUS’ main interface for the high performance modes.

Whenever a user downloads an application from the Play Store that looks like a game, a profile is made inside the Armory Crate for that application. (Any applications that are sideloaded via APK can be added manually to the Armory Crate.) For that application, users can either let X Mode do its thing, or can manually go in and adjust performance, thermal headroom, networking, and refresh rate.

One aspect to this set of options I wasn’t expecting was unfettered access to the scheduler settings. Inside Armory Crate, without requiring root access, users can adjust minimum/maximum frequencies for all the cores on the system, for the GPU, can adjust thresholds for when threads are upgraded to more powerful cores, can adjust memory settings, the works. Very much like ASUS’ PC motherboards, this is an insane number of options to give any user. Most won’t ever touch them, but for the select enthusiasts that know what they are doing, no other smartphone (or console) offers this level of adjustability in its stock firmware.

One thing to note is the screen refresh rate. The display supports up to 120 Hz, however by default ASUS has the display at 60 Hz in normal mode. In standard X Mode as well, the display is set to 60 Hz: in order to get the full 120 Hz experience, users will need to either manually set it in the standard Android options, or set it inside the Armory Crate. There is an icon for the notifications bar that can be added, but it is not in the normal button list by default. Personally I feel this Is a slight oversight – users that are not tech savvy may not realize they are not using their device to the full potential.

In games that are enabled through the Armory Crate, a special game menu is available from swiping the left edge inside the game. This gives a number of options for the user to disable calls, disable notifications, enable X Mode, adjust the Air Triggers, optimize the performance (remove excess apps from memory), and one of the best tools is the on-screen display showing CPU use, GPU use, and SoC temperature.

In games that are enabled through the Armory Crate, a special game menu is available from swiping the left edge inside the game called the Game Genie. This gives a number of options for the user to disable calls, disable notifications, enable X Mode, adjust the Air Triggers, optimize the performance (remove excess apps from memory), and one of the best tools is the on-screen display showing CPU use, GPU use, and SoC temperature.

Now obviously with all these potential options being available on a per-game basis, it could open up our testing to too many degrees of freedom if we wanted to test every little variation. Thus in order to keep it regular, we have done most of our usual tests in non-X Mode and standard X-Mode to see the performance difference. We did notice that normally X-Mode increases the fan cooling, and makes the scheduler more aggressive in moving to big cores, but ultimately the GPU felt unchanged. This has some obvious effects in our benchmarking.

The ASUS ROG Phone II: Pricing and Accessories System Performance


View All Comments

  • PeachNCream - Tuesday, October 1, 2019 - link

    Ian doesn't mention a weakness to kryptonite and I didn't see it wearing a cape so at this point the answer is unclear. Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Sunday, October 6, 2019 - link

    Ha! Reply
  • Chad - Tuesday, October 1, 2019 - link

    Pretty amazing device. Glad to see someone pushing boundaries in some ways. Reply
  • sonicmerlin - Tuesday, October 1, 2019 - link

    If they want to make a "gaming phone" why not add some physical controls like the Nintendo Switch? Reply
  • hemedans - Thursday, October 3, 2019 - link

    This Asus phone has physical control like switch, but you have to buy them separate. Reply
  • sonicmerlin - Tuesday, October 1, 2019 - link

    I just realized I can't edit my comment so... at least include a controller accessory that attaches to it directly and acts as a cover as well Reply
  • DianaDSmith - Wednesday, October 2, 2019 - link

    sheraz Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Wednesday, October 2, 2019 - link

    As a ROG2 owner, happy to see you reviewed this 'phone'.

    I didn't buy this for gaming.

    For me, the purchasing decision lay with the battery size, the front facing speakers (great for GPS in the rental car to be heard), the dual sim & dual 4G (it was 4G+3G on S8+), headphone jack, and finally, lack-of curved screen - which I shall never part money for again.

    Mine is the 128GB/8G version, it was too cheap to ignore.

    Oddly, my Slingshot Extreme Physics score is 4,837 vs your 4,541 (ran Sep 27, 2019 22:08, check it online), which would easily top your chart. Glitch in the matrix? Dunno.

    I have a Chinese ROM, (and it was updated this morning). Whilst its rare to see the fact that it is a Chinese ROM, you do see it from time to time, in some screens, despite being set to English.

    I had it on launch-day. There was no 'sim card manager' in the s/w!?! I was unable to change data sim, choose a sim with which to respond with sms etc without popping a sim out to force a pop-up. This has now been corrected.

    Additionally, I initally never saw my dual sims report 4G & 4G. This has also been somewhat corrected, but as I sit in the UAE now, I am 3G & 4G. There is no way to force 4G & 4G from the menus. It will either do it (not often) or not, you have no choice. You can however set 3G & 3G, or 2G & 3G etc (but why). On the plus side, whichever sim is chosen for data, with take over the 4G role. So something here still very much requires attention.

    I miss the wireless charging, but the battery-size somewhat negates that. It was nice with the Samsung to drop it on the pad, everytime I sat down at the desk, and know it would be further topped-up when I picked it up to walk away again. And it was nice having the water protection as well, (considering we have a pool), as I have drowned a new handset before...Hmm, maybe I should back this thing up.
  • s.yu - Wednesday, October 2, 2019 - link

    What did you get to cover the back? Reply
  • Notmyusualid - Wednesday, October 2, 2019 - link

    It shipped with a clear plastic hard case. But I changed it for a clear rubberised one. Reply

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