(Pocket-lint) - Razer was first to the pass with its 'gaming phone', the unoriginally titled Razer Phone, which launched in 2017. Just shy of one year later and the brilliant brickphone is back for round two. Its name? The even-more-unoriginally titled Razer Phone 2.
Yep, the sequel is here with even more power, a brighter screen (it's still 120Hz fast-refresh, of course), a glass rear and wireless charging, plus Razer Chroma LED logo for a look unlike any other phone on the market.
But questions linger: does anyone really need a gaming phone and is the follow-up device enough of a change to entice a wider market beyond the mobile gaming niche?
Design & light-up logo
- Glass back with aluminium frame
- LED-backlit Razer logo, 16.8 million colours (Razer Chroma)
- 158.5 x 78.99 x 8.5mm
- IP67 water resistant
- Wireless charging
We used the original Razer Phone for a number of weeks in 2017 and rather liked it. Well, kind of. We belovingly called it a 'brilliant brickphone', because, frankly, it is a hefty slab in hand and pocket.
The Razer Phone 2 doesn't get around that design decision: it's more-or-less the same footprint as the original model (it's half a millimetre thicker and just over one millimetre taller, but you won't notice that in hand whatsoever – even side-by-siding the phones their footprints look much the same by eye).
In 2018 it's very common for a flagship phone to offer an 18:9 aspect ratio screen (or even taller in many cases). Not so the Razer Phone 2: it sticks with the 16:9 aspect ratio which, having used the device for a while, now feels unusual; almost dated. Part of this is because we've been using the Huawei Mate 20 Pro for some weeks, which feels like an altogether more future-facing phone than Razer's offering.
Compared to the original, there is a significant change for Razer's follow-up phone: its rear is glass, thus it's Qi wireless charging compatible (although no charger is included in the box, so you'll need to buy the light-up Razer one separately). This shiny exterior is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but it does look altogether more 2018 and in-line with the competition. It's not totally rigid, however, as a press down with a thumb has some flex, likely due to a gap behind.
That's not the biggest take-away though. See that Razer logo on the rear? It lights up and acts as the notification light. It's LED-backlit and, thanks to the pre-installed Razer Chroma app, you can select from 16.8 million colours to your preference. Or even make it cycle seamlessly between every colour option, 'breathe' by fading in or out, or always remain on with a colour of your choice. As cosmetic features go, this one is very much keeping within Razer's design language and wider product range. Our inner geek finds it's rather great.
But that Chroma logo brings some big problems One, it makes the phone get really, really hot. At a weekend event, with the light set to always on, the phone began to feel like molten lava against the leg. We had to take it out, dim the display, switch the rear logo off, restart and wait for it to physically cool down. Not good. Plus the battery draining implications limit the already-not-great longevity per charge.
Also new for the 2018 Razer Phone is IP67 water and dust resistance. So come rain or shine, it's always gaming time. No pool/bathroom disasters either, which is always a reassurance.
Screen: 120Hz as before, but brighter
- 5.7-inch, 2560 x 1440 resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio LCD panel
- 120Hz panel for super-fast refresh and 8ms response time
- 645 nits (50% brighter than original), 10-bit colour
The biggest sell for the original Razer Phone was its 120Hz panel. This refresh rate is double that of most phones, which delivers silky smooth motion. Plus a handful of games are designed to run at up to 120fps natively, meaning they appear much more fluid when paired with such a device.
The Razer Phone 2 continues with the 120Hz panel key specification. It's the same size, at 5.7-inches, and the same 16:9 aspect ratio, as we've said. For playing games this slightly wider aspect typically makes best sense, given that's the format in which many titles are rendered.
The big difference with the sequel is the screen is 50 per cent brighter than before and can handle 10-bit colour too. That makes for a more illuminated and colour accurate viewing experience, plus there's HDR (high dynamic range) and Dolby Digital 5.1 remains supported for Netflix.
All that said, however, the screen doesn't really shine. It's LCD, so the colours don't pop in the same way as a Samsung OLED panel. At its brightest there's a subtlety to colours, not greater saturation as we see in other flagships. It's not really possible to see in pictures, but side-by-side with the Mate 20 Pro and the latter is the clear winner.
Furthermore the auto-brightness lacks intelligence. Look at the phone in the middle of the night and it'll try to sear your retinas. In brighter conditions it doesn't react especially quickly to adapt. We've frequently been making manual adjustment, which we rarely need to do with other Android devices.
Performance: Sizzling specs (literally)
- Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 platform, 8GB RAM
- Vapor Chamber Cooling system
- 64GB storage, microSD
- 4000mAh battery, USB-C quick charge
- Razer UltraMotion frame-rate sync
The Razer Phone 2's innards also get a bump, by updating to the latest and greatest Qualcomm chipset, along with a standard 8GB RAM. Cooling is handled with a new vapour chamber cooling system (the same kind of tech that Nvidia uses in the GTX 1080 graphics card) for supposed greater efficiency and so the device won't get too hot in the hands. Well, that's the theory: as mentioned above, we've found the device does get very hot even when idle, while full-on gaming experiences certainly emit notable heat.
Cleverly, Razer has a Game Booster application which allows for games to be setup on an individual basis (including Do Not Disturb, DND). By offering control over frame-rate, anti-aliasing, resolution and graphics render levels, it's possible to tailor experiences as you want them delivered. You might want those extra frames per second for better response, rather than marvelling at every blade of grass while your in-game character gets shot in the face repeatedly.
Add Razer's UltraMotion technology and the phone can sync an app's ongoing frames-per-second with the graphics processing unit (GPU) to avoid tearing, ghosting or any other such visual nastiness. Even when just swiping around the operating system it'll dip to an ultra-low frame-rate to save battery – unless you've instructed it not to do so. And at full frame-rate it makes a genuine difference: even scrolling through Twitter, Insta or a browser looks silken compared to a typical screen.
We've dabbled in a few games and everything runs lovely and smoothly. However, not everything directly benefits from the 120Hz panel: some top titles are only 60fps maximum, PUBG Mobile included. That undoes one of the gaming phone's big sells.
The battery on board the Razer Phone 2 is the same 4,000mAh capacity as the original model. However, with a more powerful processor and that rear LED Razer logo it won't last as long as, again, the Huawei Mate 20 Pro (which admittedly has a 4,200mAh cell).
That said, the Razer Phone 2, with all its turbo specs, will last around 13 hours and still return to the charger with 20 per cent or under remaining. That can be extended by dialling down on the frame-rate and throttling some CPU. Qualcomm Quick Charge means speedy top-ups at the plug, too, which is helpful. We have been topping up mid-day, though, when seeing the battery level reaching too near to half for our lunchtime liking.
Cameras: Much the same
- Dual 12MP rear cameras (wide-angle f/1.75, standard f/2.6)
- Optical image stabilisation (OIS) for wide-angle camera
- 2160p60 (or 1080p120) / 8MP front-facing camera at 1080p60
The last major part of the Razer Phone 2 puzzle is its camera setup. If you're familiar with the original phone then it's clear the see these are positioned differently, to the centre of the body, but the core camera units remain much the same: dual 12MP sensors.
However, the wide-angle camera now offers optical image stabilisation (OIS), while a bump in video capture frame-rate means 4K capture at 60fps is possible. Even the front-facing camera offers Full HD at 60fps for those streamers and vloggers out there.
Additional modes, such as 'Face Beauty' are on board, although with limited appeal. What we really want to see from the Razer Phone 2 is a more fluid and responsive camera setup than its predecessor. It's a bit better, but it doesn't sit high in the flagship rankings, with frustrations like lack of focus confirmation (the AF area is always white) and slow exposure compensation adjustment.
The results, however, are fairly strong. We've shot wide-angle dark shots at gigs, close-ups and casual snaps over a long weekend, and the level of detail is commendable throughout. It's not going to see off the strongest camera contenders going, sure, but based on the results it's hard to talk the Razer 2 down too.
Having used the Razer Phone 2 for some time, it's clearly a niche proposition. Despite the eye-catching light-up logo on the rear – which can add to problematic overheating – its chunky design language is otherwise a step behind the current crop of flagships.
That said, the Razer Phone 2 fits the bill for what it's trying to do. There are some great features, such as that 120Hz screen's super smooth refresh rate, which we suspect will become more the norm in other 'non-gaming' flagship phones.
Just as we did with the original device, we keep returning to the big question: does the world really need a 'phone for gamers'? Not really. There's just not enough content out there at the moment to make it worthwhile. One year on from the original phone's launch that's felt more than ever. And with the compromises apparent here – auto-brightness issues, lack of screen vibrancy, physical bulk, overheating and limited battery – it's hard to sand-out beyond current flagship devices.
If you want something that's stand-out, eye-catchingly different, and are an avid Razer fan, however, then the Razer Phone 2's mix of power and sheer points of difference makes it a sometimes brilliant device.
Asus ROG Phone
It's Asus' Republic Of Gamers phone, taking the baton and running with its own hyper-designed form. It's not yet available, however, but adds fuel to the gaming phone fire.