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Razer Phone hands-on: a phone for gamers, and everyone
What happens when a gaming computer company buys a smartphone company? They make a gaming phone, right? Not quite! Razer bought Nextbit earlier this year, and today the company has released its first smartphone. It’s not a gaming phone, but it is a phone made for gamers. We went hands-on with the Razer Phone and here’s what it was like.
What’s the difference between a gaming phone and a phone made for gamers? According to Razer, it’s designed for anyone who wants a pure Android experience with the latest hardware, but it’s also got several tweaks that make it the best smartphone for hardcore gamers.
We’ll kick things off with the design, where the Razer Phone takes cues from the Nextbit Robin, but adds its own flair. The Robin’s signature circular motif is present in the buttons on the side, and the front of the phone is reminiscent of the Robin as well. To add their own flair, Razer opted for a black finish on the rear, as well as green icons, giving the phone a look in keeping with other Razer products. There’s also an exclusive launch colorway comprising a black finish with a green Razer logo, that’s available for a limited time only.
The rest of the design is rather straightforward. The phone’s 16:9 display is flanked by dual front-facing stereo speakers, each with their own dedicated amplifier. These speakers use the same grille design found in Razer laptops and are designed to provide consistency and coherency between the company’s product ranges.
Like Razer’s laptops, the Razer Phone uses the best technology to offer high performance. The Razer Phone specs include a 5.7-inch QHD IPS Sharp IGZO display which is the same type of IPS LED found in the company’s laptop range.
The display is where the magic of the Razer Phone starts to happen. It incorporates two key pieces of technology from Razer’s computer range. The first is the key reason behind using the IGZO display: the Razer Phone is the first smartphone to offer a variable refresh rate of up to 120 Hz.
The second is Ultra Motion, which is the mobile version of NVIDIA’s Gsync feature for desktop computers. This allows the GPU to synchronize with the refresh rate and instruct the display when to render a new frame. This should make the phone great for gaming and it also means the Razer Phone offers the silkiest scrolling we’ve seen on an Android phone.
The phone also comes with a handy counter on the screen to display the current refresh rate. Its position is a little weird, but it can be disabled if needed (it might have been better in the status bar). During our brief time with it, we saw the refresh rate range from 10 Hz on the home screen all the way to 121 Hz while gaming and the result was always a fantastic experience.
120 Hz is a new feature for smartphone displays, and as a result, not all games will support the higher refresh rate. Game developers have the option to cap the refresh rate to support all displays, and for these games, the Razer Phone will only run them at their max refresh rate. The company is working with select developers to optimize popular games such as Shadowgun, Arena of Valor and Final Fantasy XV Mobile Edition to use the full 120 Hz refresh rate available on the display.
A great display experience is often let down by a sub-par audio experience, but the Razer Phone takes a different approach. The phone comes equipped with Dolby Atmos for Mobile and I think the speakers are incredible. At higher volumes, there is no distortion and the overall audio experience is simply fantastic. Granted this is just a first impression, but I left wanting this on all smartphones.
Like other 2017 flagships, the Razer Phone doesn’t come with a headphone jack, but a USB-C audio adapter that includes a THX-certified 24-bit DAC is included in the box. For those who would rather not use an adapter, Razer isn’t including headphones in the box, but will offer standalone Hammerhead USB-C headphones with a 24-bit DAC that are available for purchase separately at a cost of $79.99.
The Razer Phone is powered by a flagship specs list that includes a Snapdragon 835 processor, Adreno 540 GPU, 64 GB of expandable storage (with adoptive storage for the microSD card) and 8 GB of RAM. The Razer Phone makes all 8 GB usable by the user, unlike other devices, which tend to reserve a percentage of RAM for system processes. The processor can also be overclocked above the out-of-the-box speed, for those who want to really push this phone to its limits.
The whole package is powered by a monster 4,000 mAh battery, coupled with software optimization, which promises to keep you powered for days. The optimizations include clocking down the frame rate on the home screen depending on your usage. While we weren’t able to test the battery life, the capacity is certainly on the higher side of flagship devices and we’d expect this to last for much longer than others, especially when gaming.
There’s also an internal heat pipe that helps to keep the thermal temperature lower when gaming and Razer claims this phone has the best thermals at high performance of any Snapdragon 835-powered smartphone. It’s a bold claim and while we haven’t been able to test it, it’s definitely one we’ll be addressing in our full review. The phone comes with a large 24-watt charger, it the first smartphone to support Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0+.
Like most modern flagships, the Razer Phone comes with dual 12 MP rear cameras; one wide and one telephoto. The wide-angle lens comes with f/1.75 aperture while the telephoto lens offers f/2.6 aperture. Both lenses come with Phase Detection Autofocus and there’s also a dual-tone LED flash. We weren’t really able to test the camera but we’ll bring you a full look in our upcoming review.
On the software front, the Razer Phone runs on Android 7.1.1 Nougat with a planned upgrade to Oreo set to land in spring 2018. Considering the past history of updates from Nextbit, it’s not surprising that the Razer Phone isn’t running the latest Android OS, but we’re hoping the update won’t be too far behind.
That said, the phone runs as close to stock Android as possible with a few customizations to make the most of the unique hardware. These include the ability to set a frame rate cap of 60, 90 or 120 Hz as well as change the display resolution to 720p, 1080p or the full QHD. There’s also a Game Booster app that lets you customize the frame rate, resolution and processor clock speed on a per-app basis so you can fully tweak the experience for each of your favorite apps without making global changes that affect the overall experience.
The biggest software change is a partnership with popular launcher Nova. The Razer Phone comes with the premium version of Nova Launcher preloaded free of charge, and Razer has tweaked the experience for its phone. This version of Nova Launcher comes with Google Assistant and the Google Now home page built in.
Razer also plans to launch a new theme store that brings more customization than traditional themes. Once launched, the new themes will allow designers to customize the dialer, icons, quick settings, wallpaper, ringtones, notification settings, calculator, clock, icon packs and all the default preloaded non-Google apps. The theme store can also apply themes to Nova launcher.
I’m not much of a gamer, but the Razer Phone has definitely caught my attention. From my limited experience, I’ve seen how mobile gaming can often stutter and provide a somewhat jarring experience.The Razer Phone seems to make this a thing of the past. Indeed, gaming with the Razer Phone reminds me of the smooth experience offered by my console of choice (the Xbox One S).
The variable refresh rate ensures a super smooth experience and this is a feature I'd love to see on every Android smartphone.
Razer says this is a phone made for gamers— not a gaming phone— and it shows. The company also says this could be the ultimate phone for landscape use, which often involves media, and given the spec list and overall experience, I’d have to agree. The display is sharp. The audio is incredible. That 4,000 mAh battery with USB-C Power Delivery will likely go a long way to ensuring you’ve always got a charge. More than anything, the variable refresh rate ensures a super smooth experience with no dropped frames. This is a feature I’d love to see on every Android smartphone.
Of course, an hour with a smartphone isn’t enough to truly understand its unique quirks but this brief time with the Razer Phone has left me wanting more— a lot more, in fact. In a year when a lot of smartphones have become homogenous, the Razer Phone stands out for sticking to its guns and absolutely nailing the areas that Razer set out to conquer. The result is arguably one of the best newcomers to the Android smartphone space in a long time.
In a year when a lot of smartphones have become homogenous, the Razer Phone stands out for sticking to its guns. The result is arguably one of the best newcomers to the Android smartphone space in a long time!
Stay tuned for a full review of the Razer Phone in the coming weeks but in the meantime, what did you think of the Razer Phone? Do you plan to buy one? Is a variable refresh rate, excellent audio, flagship internals and large battery enough to convince you to buy this phone? Are you a Razer laptop user? If so, would you buy this phone for gaming? Let us know your views in the comments below!