Last year saw PC gaming specialists Razer launch their first smartphone. The imaginatively titled Razer Phone brought a gaming focus to the Android platform with a high performance screen, top-line specifications, and a drive to improve the mobile gaming experience.
Twelve months later, what has Razer learned about the smartphone space and can these lessons be applied to its second handset? Thanks to Razer UK and its UK network partner Three, I’ve been able to put the Razer Phone 2 through its paces. Is a gaming smartphone for everyone? No. Is there a need for a gaming smartphone? Yes.
Given those questions, is the Razer Phone 2 the answer?
Style wise Razer has retained the look of the first Razer Phone, which itself echoed the look of the Nextbit Robin (for those of you not keeping up Razer acquired NextBit in early 2017, after the Kickstarter funded Robin smartphone was released in 2016).
The Razer Phone 2 stands out in a sea of wavy artistic designs. There’s no mistaking which handset you’ve got in your hand. It is an angular and brutish look, all square edges and right angles. It’s a far cry flow the flowing curves and liquid lines of other flagship smartphones… I like it.
I like it because it stamps Razer’s identity all over the handset. And that’s of critical importance in today’s smartphone market. It’s relatively easy to pick up a phone to a factory in China, ask what the off the shelf specs are for a low- mid- or high-end smartphone, and have ten thousand units ready for delivery a few weeks later. The hard part is selling, shipping, and supporting them. That’s where marketing comes in and that’s where Razer has an advantage, right there on the back of the machine.
Razer has a few defining characteristics. The first is branding, with the iconic black and green scheme visible on all its products. Part of that scheme includes the iconic three-headed snake. Just like the first Razer Phone, this sits proudly over the rear of the Razer Phone 2.
Unlike last year’s model, the Razer Phone 2’s snake introduces a second defining characteristic… Chroma. This allows Razer hardware and peripherals to present status cues, background lighting effects, notifications, and guidance through different coloured lights. This could be the internal lighting of an external graphics card, running lights on the base of a mouse, or individual keys being lit on a keyboard to highlight different groups of actions.
Chroma was not present on the first Razer Phone, but is present in Razer Phone 2. The aforementioned snake can be set to a solid color, a breathing color, or to shift through the spectrum. It’s a noticeable call to action and for demonstrating the phone or being ‘different’ that builds on the company’s branding. It can also be used as your regular Android notification light, with different alerts set up to be different colors.
Of course it’s on the back of the machine so when the handset is being held, or if it is face up on your desk, you’re not going to see the light, but the inclusion of a Chroma enabled Razer logo was one of the biggest user requests from the first phone – and this is a phone primarily targeted at that user base.
Hardware wise the Razer Phone 2 is clearly in the high-end specifications. It’s equipped with Qualcomm’s SnapDragon 845 system on chip, backed up by 8 GB of RAM. The 64 GB of internal storage is solid at best, but no more. While I would have preferred the option of a larger configuration, 64 GB is a good balance point given Razer looks to only want SKU – in any case microSD support up to 1 TB is provided if you need more storage.
On top of the basic hardware choices you need to be seen as a flagship, Razer has thrown in a number of features to tilt the handset towards being gamer-friendly.
The first is the practical size of the battery. 4000 mAh is a big battery, and if this was a phone looking at regular office use it would do incredibly well. But it’s a gaming phone, and while gaming on Android isn;t as complicated as a Windows 10 deskbound computer, moving into the world of 3D graphics is going to place a powerful demand on the GPU (and that’s before we talk about the screen). The Razer Phone 2 has a 4000 mAh battery because, frankly, a decent mobile gaming session needs a lot of battery.
The second is the choice of screen. The technology that helped Razer’s first phone stand out is still present, so you have a 5.72 inch screen using IGZO LCD technology with a resolution of 2560×1440 pixels. It has a wide color gamut, and for an LCD screen is especially vibrant and colourful.
The unique win for a smartphone is still the 120Hz refresh rate. Ridiculously faster than the human eye, it still supports HDR content, syncs to the graphics chip, and provides a lag free experience. One change that Razer has made is to turn up the brightness of the screen from the first generation handset, a decision that I agree with. This is much nicer when working outdoors.
It also has stereo speakers either side of the screen that face forwards, rather than to the sides, so your gaming grip won’t block the Dolby Atmos enabled sound scape.
Bring together a monster battery, a system on chip that is going to be working heavily with modern mobile games and the delights of the 120Hz screen, and you won’t be surprised to realise that the Razer Phone 2 is doing a lot of work… and work means heat. Razer has put a lot of thought into dissipating the heat away from the electronics while maintaining performance. Its answer is vapour chamber cooling.
VCC is employed in Razer’s laptop computers to aid in heat dissipation, so its inclusion in this smartphone is expected. It helps distribute the heat across a wider area to increase the dissipation rate from the hardware to the surrounding environment. That means there are no focused hotspots that occur providing an even warmth rather than a scalding spot.
What VCC won’t do is keep the handset ice-cold. You are going to feel some heat during a long session, especially if you’ve turned up the processor speed and screen refresh rate. It’s not uncomfortable, but it is there. Of course if you’re just looking at tile based puzzle games, you don’t need all the extra bit-shifting… but if you’re a gamer with a gaming phone, you’re going to have the more complicated games. So turn everything up, lean on the cooling, draw in the power, and don’t forget you’ve got Qualcomm’s QuickCharge and Qi wireless charging to refill your phone.
Razer really is all about the hardware. What software the company works on is primarily to support their hardware. That’s clearly the case with their mobile division. The Razer Phone 2 rocks vanilla Android, with Razer’s choice of spot color and theming to identify the device. But Razer also know their audience, so a full version of the Nova Launcher app is bundled into the handset, allowing a huge amount of customisation.
That’s not to say there is no additional software, but it stands apart from the operating system. I’ve already mentioned the Chroma system to manage the color of the trailhead snake, and there are a number of other utilities (such as the camera app and files manager) given a lick of free Razer paint, and some with added functionality such as the Razer Theme Store that helps increase the sense of customisation and ownership.
But the real strength of the Razer Phone 2 to be a gaming phone comes within the Cortex application. From here you have three areas of note; a curated store of games optimised by the developers for the Razer Phone 2’s extra capabilities, a place to manage and launch just your games, and the ability to tailor how each game uses the extra hardware of the Razer Phone 2.
For example you might want to ramp up everything for the driving game Gear.Club – so maximum CPU usage of 2.80 GHz, 1440p resolution, and 120 frames per second. You might want a mid-range setting for the zen-like Alto’s Odyssey with a slower CPU setting of 2.33 GHz, maximum resolution, but only 90 frames per second.
Cortex does need a well-programmed application to gain all the benefits, but it’s clear that over the last year Razer has been reaching out to developers to make sure the options are in place for the hardware to be used, and of course the cortex app can help guide gamers to those apps.
Naturally this isn’t strictly limited to games. You might also want to crank up resolution on Reddit usage while dropping it on the Player FM podcast app. Just mark these up as games in Cortex’s settings and you can customise hardware usage as required.
It’s easy to set up, it unlocks the power of mobile gaming, and none of it is hidden away from the user. Razer has, in my mind, justified why there is a need for a gaming phone and has shown how it can be easily implemented for gamers.
Is this a phone that the average consumer is going to look at? Perhaps… after all the screen display is unique, the styling is different to the standard glass slabs on retail shelves, and the speakers are loud while retaining a clear and crisp sound. These are great bullet points, but as a smartphone for the mass market they are not instantly attractive. The screen is only sporting a 16:9 ratio compared to the modern push for 19.5:9, the camera’s output is solid but unremarkable, and the addition of features such as wireless charging and an IP rating are the table stakes of a modern consumer smartphone.
But the Razer Phone 2 has another angle than ’sell to the average user’. The Razer Phone 2 is not a standalone smartphone, it is part of the Razer ecosystem. It is part of a brand that has huge personal engagement around the world with a community that has specific demands. The Razer Phone 2 is looking to bring new customers to the Razer brand, but it’s also there to create a better experience for existing Razer fans and build on existing loyalty.
That’s why elements such as the glowing logo on the rear of the device, the brutish styling that stands out, and the focus on cooling and performance are all evident. The Razer Phone 2 echoes the wants and needs of Razer’s own consumers. The Razer Phone 2 is an affirmation of the Razer brand, and owning a Razer phone 2 is an affirmation of someone’s love of the Razer brand.
This is an Android handset that is designed for a family… a family that loves gaming, that loves the lifestyle around gaming, and wants to take it everywhere. The Razer Phone 2 delivers on that with software that makes it as simple as possible to use on the go, hardware that is the equal of many flagships, and it’s not afraid to stand out and be different because that is what Razer fans wants.