Senior Staff Writer, Tech AdvisorJAN 6, 2018 12:13 am GMT
At a Glance
The Razer Phone is the perfect smartphone… if you’re a gamer. While it doesn’t feature the sleek, bezel-less design of other flagship smartphones, no other deviceon the market can come close to matching the stunning 120Hz refresh rate. It makes a huge difference to gaming on mobile, especially when combined with stereo front-facing Dolby ATMOS-certified speakers and an app that lets you tweak the performance of games on a per-app basis.
But while the display is perfect, we can’t really say the same about the camera setup. Admittedly the rear-facing dual-camera setup isn’t bad, but the quality of images captured isn’t enough to compete with the likes of the iPhone X or Google Pixel 2 XL.
But hey, if you’re a dedicated gamer on the market for a new smartphone that can provide the best Android gaming experience possible, the Razer Phone is the ideal candidate – and it’s much cheaper than other flagships too!
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Following the acquisition of Nextbit, gaming brand Razer has entered the smartphone market with a handset aimed at gamers. It’s simply called the
Razer Phone and offers incredible tech not found on any other smartphones on the market including a 120Hz Quad HD display capable of offering double the framerate of the likes of the
Pixel 2 and more.
It’s a great concept, but has Razer done enough to cement its place in the smartphone market? We’ve spent some time gaming on the Razer Phone so here’s our full review.
Those interested in picking up the Razer Phone can do so right now – the smartphone is available to buy from both Razer and Three UK, although at slightly different prices.
head to Razer and pick up the smartphone on PAYG for £699.99, or you can make a smart decision and
grab one from Three UK for over £100 less at £595 – go figure. There’s also a range of Razer Phone contracts available from the network if you don’t fancy (or more likely can’t afford) going SIM-free.
The smartphone is available exclusively on the network in the UK so regardless of where you buy it, chances are that it’ll be locked to Three UK.
Design and build
Let’s be honest, the Razer Phone won’t be winning any smartphone design awards when compared to the likes of the iPhone X,
Samsung Galaxy S8 or
OnePlus 5T. The rather angular, blocky design that the Razer Phone employs is oddly reminiscent of the Xperia range (which is also considered rather unattractive) but with a distinctly Razer feel.
In terms of specifics, the Razer measures in at a rather thick and broad 778x8mm and weighs in at a hefty 197g, making it one of the heavier flagship smartphones currently available.
These figures are immediately noticeable when you pick the smartphone up but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It makes the phone feel sturdy and more secure in the hand. It is a fingerprint magnet though, especially on the aluminium rear!
It looks like a solid block of aluminium with nearly invisible antenna lines at the top and bottom, with the Razer logo on the back. It’s the only noticeable design feature of the smartphone, as it has been engraved and coloured, and this can be felt by running your finger over the logo.
The issue is that the logo is right where your finger rests on the rear of the smartphone, and the slightly jagged edges of the engraving constantly catch your fingers. It’s not painful, but it’s a little annoying (a thought shared by several of the Tech Advisor team).
Apart from the Razer logo and display, the only physical feature of the phone you might notice are the front-facing speakers above and below the display, which is half the reason the phone feels so tall in the hand. We’ll investigate the audio prowess later.
There are also circular volume buttons on the left of the smartphone, though these are placed further down than on other smartphones. The placement, while it looks odd initially, makes sense for gamers – they always in the way when gaming in landscape. Not with the Razer Phone!
It’s a similar story with the power button, but it’s flush on the right-side of the display so placement doesn’t matter as much. It’s still easy enough to reach to lock and unlock the smartphone without adjusting your grip though, don’t worry!
The real deal-breaker? It features a 16:9, 5.7in display. While that may sound okay, many manufacturers already employ bezel-less 18:9 displays in their smartphones. This allows for a larger display in a smaller body and for some is easier to use. The decision means that compared to bezel-less smartphones, the Razer Phone looks a little dated – on the surface, anyway.
Oh, and Razer decided to follow Apple’s example and ditched the 3.5mm headphone jack on the Razer Phone, featuring a solo USB-C port instead. Admittedly, like Apple, the Razer Phone does come with a USB-C-to-3.5mm adapter for use with existing headphones, but most users will likely need to make the switch to wireless headphones sooner or later.
So, it’s not the best-looking smartphone on the market by any means, but there’s a reason for some of the slightly odd design choices. Let’s take a look at why.
Specs and features
As should be obvious by the manufacturer, the Razer Phone was designed with one focus in mind – mobile gaming. It’s why the phone is slightly chunkier and taller than competitors – it features unique tech to make it the ultimate gaming smartphone.
The most impressive feature of the Razer Phone is undoubtedly the 5.7in IPS LCD display. It offers a Quad HD (1440×2560) resolution and an eye-watering pixel density of 515ppi.
Far more important here, though, is that the display offers the highest refresh rate of any smartphone on the market – 120Hz. For comparison, most high-end smartphones available at the moment are capped at 60Hz, meaning the Razer Phone can display double the number of frames in a single second – 120fps, up from 60fps.
In the real world, this means the smartphone provides a better mobile gaming experience than anything else available at the moment. The graphics are buttery smooth – so smooth, in fact, that you’ll struggle to play games on any other smartphone once you adjust to the improved refresh rate.
Even in relatively basic games like Pokémon GO, the experience is instantly improved – the difference in performance even when compared to flagships like the Google Pixel 2 is day-and-night.
It’s not only games that get the buttery-smooth treatment either – you can head to the Settings menu and enable the 120Hz refresh rate throughout the operating system, making swiping between screens, browsing through your library of apps and surfing the web as smooth as can be.
Backing up the 120Hz refresh rate is a Wide Colour Gamut. This provides the display with a wider breadth of colours than what’s provided on standard displays. It doesn’t only improve the general look of your favourite Android games, but makes everything – from YouTube videos to the Google Play UI – look bright, accurately represented and vibrant.
This, of course, is the main focus of the smartphone. The combination of impressive internals, an incredible display, front-facing stereo speakers and software enhancements provide something close to the PC gaming experience on a mobile. Believe us – that’s not something we thought we’d ever say!
The 120Hz display provides up to 120fps on supported games – and although it’s an impressive feat, it’s also where the biggest issue currently is.
While there is admittedly a fast-growing list of Android games that offer support for the Razer Phone’s impressive UltraMotion display, the vast majority of popular games don’t offer support at the time of writing. You can see a full list of supported games on the Razer website here to give you an idea.
The difference between supported and unsupported games is immediately noticeable, especially in terms of how smooth supported games look on-screen. Even when accessing in-game menus or watching the same battle animations you’ve seen thousands of times before, it looks smoother and frankly better on the Razer Phone than most smartphones on the market.
It definitely makes a difference to the overall gaming experience too; rather than being something that you play for 5-10 minutes at a time, the Razer Phone’s impressive display and speaker setup keep you coming back for more – if for nothing more than to marvel at how amazing games look on the smartphone.
The experience is improved with the introduction of Game Booster, an app found exclusively on the Razer Phone. The app provides both granular control over the performance of individual games and the ability to generally favour game performance or battery life on the phone.
It’s the granular control over individual games where Game Booster really shines. Unlike with any other smartphone, you can customise not only the resolution but frame rate, anti-aliasing and even how much CPU power is dedicated to the game.
The higher you crank it, the more your battery will drain – but it’s also true of the opposite. If you regularly play a mobile game that doesn’t need flashy graphics, you can turn the performance down and use less battery life than usual. That way, you can enjoy the best games at 120fps and text-based games at 720p/30fps and help you game for longer.
It’s essentially as close to configuring a PC game’s Graphics settings on Android as you’ll get for a while, and it’s incredibly impressive.
Alongside the stunning display, you’ll find two front-facing stereo speakers. While most smartphones offer a single mono speaker or combine it with the phone earpiece to provide still poor stereo audio playback, the Razer Phone provides amazingly clear stereo audio with two dedicated directional speakers.
They aren’t random speakers either – they’ve been Dolby ATMOS tuned and you’re provided with several audio profiles (Movies, Games, etc) to enhance your audio experience depending on what you’re doing. They’re easy to select too, as the toggle is accessible from the Notification Shade on the smartphone.
The audio is powered by a THX-certified DAC, which provides impressive audio quality when listening to music via headphones. The overall audio quality is impressive for a smartphone, but the lack of a 3.5mm headphone jack may put some users off. As mentioned, there’s an adapter in the box but Bluetooth headphones may just be the way forward in 2018!
Processor, memory and storage
Of course, just because a display offers the ability to display 120fps when gaming, it doesn’t mean it always will – any PC gamer will tell you that! So, how did Razer make sure its inaugural smartphone had enough oomph to power a Quad HD display at 120fps?
The Razer Phone features an octa-core Snapdragon 835 processor, the most powerful chip available right now from Qualcomm, alongside an Adreno 540 GPU and a whopping 8GB of LPDDR4 RAM – the most (and fastest) RAM in any smartphone on the market right now.
There’s also 64GB of built-in storage with the option to expand it by up to 2TB via a Class 10 microSD card slot.
This means the Razer Phone provides a decent bang for its buck, especially when you consider that lower-specc’d flagship smartphones cost £100-200 more than Razer’s option. The smartphone is incredibly responsive when opening apps, swiping between menus and scrolling through Twitter, and it’s equally as impressive in the gaming department. Even when rendering games at 120fps at 1440p, the Razer Phone barely breaks a sweat.
We’ve got some numbers to back up the impressive performance of the smartphone, which can be seen in the below chart. Though the numbers aren’t chart-topping, the real-world difference isn’t noticeable when compared to other smartphones – and thanks to the 120Hz display, apps, games and menus often look nicer just because they’re a lot smoother.
That 120Hz display and high-end internals must have an effect on overall battery life, right? Essentially, yes, but it’s not as simple as that.
The Razer Phone features an impressive non-removable 4,000mAh battery, one of the largest of any smartphone on the market at the moment. But despite the high capacity, the display and internals draw more power than the average smartphone.
In real-world use, we’ve found the Razer Phone to last comfortably all day when using social media, replying to texts and reading emails, but when you add gaming to the mix (which, let’s be honest, is the whole point), the battery drain is more noticeable and chances are you’ll need to top it up before the end of the day.
The good news is that if it does require a top-up, the Razer Phone features Qualcomm QuickCharge 4.0+, which can charge the battery in next to no time. It’s one of the first phones we’ve seen to move beyond version 3.0.
It features Dual Charge technology and Intelligent Thermal Balancing to eliminate hot spots, provide lower thermal dissipation and an overall reduced charge time.
The down side is that this is only provided by the official Razer plug and the USB-C to USB-C cable included in the box. That means that if you use a non-branded USB-C charger to top up the smartphone, chances are you’ll be waiting for quite a while, especially with such a high-capacity battery inside.
There’s also a Game Booster app that allows granular control over the performance of the smartphone generally and when playing specific games. It allows users to change the priority from performance to battery life with a tap – we’ll go into more detail about in the Gaming section below.
The Razer Phone offers fairly standard connectivity options including Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2 and NFC. It also boasts 4G LTE activity for all UK-based networks. We’ve already mentioned the lack of a headphone port and the lone USB-C port.
Cameras and photography
In terms of cameras, the Razer Phone has an impressive – but not perfect – camera setup. On the rear of the device you’ll find a dual camera setup comprised of two 12Mp cameras – one standard lens with f/1.8, while the other is a telephoto lens with f/2.6. This is coupled with phase detection autofocus and a dual-LED flash that should in theory provide well-lit, perfectly focused images.
In testing we had mixed results. Take a look at the below photo of St. Pancras Hotel – while it captures decent detail and light on the whole, when you zoom in you start to notice ‘soft’ patches, especially on the hotel brickwork. Whole patches of brickwork are featureless blurs, thanks to slightly over-aggressive noise cancellation, an issue suffered by many flagship smartphones. It’s not completely lacking in detail though as you can still easily make out things like street signs and road markings pretty well.
Like other dual-camera smartphones, the Razer Phone opts for a telephoto lens to offer 2x optical zoom on-the-fly. The toggle in the camera app looks and works much like what’s offered by the iPhone 8 Plus, but the degradation in quality is more noticeable than with Apple’s offering. We found images to be more washed out and noisy than those taken with the standard lens, as can be seen with a zoomed image of St. Pancras hotel below taken directly after the above image was taken.
There’s also the option to record at up to 4K@30fps on the rear-facing camera, although the recording options are limited to 4K, 1080p and 720p, with no option to change the frame rate. We’ve recorded some 4K sample footage, which can be seen below, but we’re not too impressed – especially at how dramatically the colour changes towards the end of the video.
On the front of the smartphone, you’ll find a rather standard 8Mp front-facing camera that provides decent quality for the likes of Skype, Snapchat and taking selfies for social media. It’s also capable of shooting up to 1080p video if required.
It’s worth noting that Razer is constantly updating the camera app to improve the quality of images and add new features, so it’s possible that our complaints could be somewhat alleviated by a future update.
The Razer Phone comes with Android 7.1.1 Nougat installed, with no upgrade to Android 8.0 in sight – for now. Though it hasn’t been confirmed by Razer, we imagine that the Razer Phone (which will likely be the flagship for most of 2018) will get some Android 8.0 love at some point in order to keep it competitive, especially as other 2018 flagships are announced and released.
It’s very much stock Android, but with a few design tweaks. In addition to the plethora of Google apps, you’ll find the Razer Store. While you may think this is the place to find games, you’d be wrong (although it’d totally make sense!). Instead, it’s where you can browse from a variety of game- and Razer-related themes for your smartphone.
While the designs vary, the themes change more than your background – they’ll change the icon style and the colour scheme used throughout the operating system. Some could argue that it’s a little gimmicky, but we think it’s a nice way for users to personalise the phone without spending too much time in the Settings menu.
Lewis Painter is a Senior Staff Writer at Tech Advisor. Our resident Apple expert, Lewis covers everything from iPhone to AirPods, plus a range of smartphones, tablets, laptops and gaming hardware. You'll also find him on the Tech Advisor YouTube channel.