The gaming phone is back. Razer today showed off the Razer Phone 2, a gorgeous, giant hunk of phone that’s designed to provide the absolute maximum performance possible. And at $799, it’s considerably cheaper than the thousand-dollar flagships from Apple and Samsung.
The first Razer Phone was so focused on gaming that it fell behind on smartphone basics like call quality and camera. The new phone is about the same size and shape, a big rectangular slab, but it has all-new insides that Razer says address the complaints people had last year.
The Razer Phone 2 measures 6.26 by 3.11 by 0.33 (inches), super wide because it’s 16:9. Razer didn’t give the weight, but it’s pretty heavy. It’s meant to be held equally in portrait and landscape mode, because of gaming and media. It has a huge battery, a microSD card slot, and it’s waterproof. If you’re sick of companies focusing on thinness over performance, you’ll be very happy with this approach.
On the other hand, it still has no headphone jack, like the first Razer Phone. This is so Razer could pack more battery in, which seems like a witty way to pit the “big battery” people against the “I want a headphone jack” people.
Regarding the camera, Razer is pledging to have learned from the last time, saying that the dual 12-megapixel main camera (one regular, one 2x) is completely different. The company switched to Sony sensors, got all-new optics, reduced shot-to-shot latency, and changed its algorithms for autofocus and HDR, according to Vivek Gowry, Razer’s senior manager for hardware engineering. I couldn’t test that during my brief hands on, but those changes are going to come out under stress, especially with low light.
When it comes to anything involving gaming or media, this thing wows. The dual front-facing speakers are genuinely room-filling; I saw a demo where they delivered 103dB at six inches, which is 9dB better than other leading phones I’ve seen.
That’s a 120Hz screen, too, the only one on any phone. (Apple has a 120Hz touch sensor, but the screen only updates 60 times a second.) The screen is a 5.72-inch, 2,560-by-1,440 LCD, like on the previous Razer Phone, but it’s HDR certified and has rich colors. Razer says it’s 50 percent brighter than the previous model’s screen, and showed me some footage from Black Panther where the shadows definitely have more detail on the newer phone.
The 120Hz screen has two advantages: It allows for higher frame rates in mobile games, and smoother scrolling in apps like the web browser. It’s hard to nail down when games are using the maximum performance, because the state of Android benchmarking is pretty bad. But you can tune games using a built-in settings app, for instance assigning one game to run at 120Hz and another at only 60.
So media is gorgeous. Music, video, what have you…it’s all big and bold, just like the device itself. I’d like to take a closer look at how the LCD screen compares with OLEDs, but it’s definitely a highly enhanced LCD with a wide color gamut and very high pixel density.
Under the hood, Razer juiced up the standard 2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 by adding a big vapor chamber—essentially, a gigantic heat pipe—letting it pump out 2.8GHz speeds for longer than other phones allow. Samsung did something similar with the Note 9, encouraging us to slam the processor and watch it throttle less than other phones do. Razer says its phone throttles even less, keeping up maximum speeds well beyond 15 minutes at a time without overheating or choking down.
The phone’s new glass back allows for a bunch of new tricks. The Razer Phone 2 has gigabit LTE with Qualcomm’s X20 modem. It’s properly banded for AT&T, T-Mobile (including its new band 71), and Verizon LTE, but it doesn’t include CDMA, so it won’t work on Sprint and it’s not clear if Verizon will permit it to connect to the network or not.
There’s also wireless charging: 15W fast charging of the huge 4,000mAh battery, to go along with the QuickCharge 4+ USB-C charging.
(Left to right: The Razer Phone 2, with its glowing back, versus the Razer Phone 1)
The craziest, silliest, most Razer thing that the glass back allows is the color-shifting LED logo. You can set the colors to shift in different patterns, but it’ll also light up with notifications in the signature color of the app notifying you: Hangouts is green, for instance. Razer’s also selling a wireless charging dock with the same color-shifting LED. It’s ridiculous, and totally Razer.
There will be two models of the phone. The standard 64GB model will cost $799. There will also be a 128GB model with a “satin finish” (which we didn’t see) that will cost $899. Both go on pre-order Oct. 11 and hit shelves the week of Oct. 22.
Will It Sell?
Razer wouldn’t give me sales figures for its first phone, except to say that “sales beat expectations.” And it may have been successful in much of the world: Razer sold its phones in North America, Europe, and Southeast Asia, with carrier partners shouldering the load in some of Europe.
Here, though, the original Razer Phone was a high-end phone sold unlocked through Best Buy and Microsoft Stores, and that simply doesn’t seem to work for anyone. According to Counterpoint Research, 87 percent of phones sold in the US are from Apple, Samsung, LG, or Motorola. Looking back at the Q1 results, the next biggest players are Alcatel, at 2 percent, and Google, at 1 percent. Google’s Pixels have the weight of both Google and Verizon behind them, and can only manage 1 percent market share.
Gaming phones are an actual market in other countries. In China, for instance, Xiaomi has the Black Shark and ZTE has the Red Magic. But in the US, gaming phone generally just means iPhone.
Like Nextbit and HTC, which it took talent from, Razer is truly innovating and offering something different from other phones on the market. I hope somebody notices. We’ll review the new phone as soon as we can, so check back soon.