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Razer Phone hands-on review

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Razer, a company known for making gaming laptops and peripherals, made heads turn earlier this year when it bought smartphone startup Nextbit. Is a gaming-focused company going to make a phone made for gamers? Yep, that’s pretty much what we found the new Razer Phone to be in our hands-on review — a high-performance Android smartphone geared at providing the best multimedia experience.

If you’re thinking of a phone with a powerful graphics processor that lets you play PlayStation- or Xbox-level games, think again. The Razer Phone has a spotlight feature that makes it unique, but it’s far from groundbreaking for the mobile gaming industry.

UTILITARIAN DESIGN, BOLD SPEAKERS

The Razer Phone is as utilitarian and straightforward as you can get with smartphone design — it’s a no-frills rectangular slab of metal. The rear features Razer’s logo and nothing else other than a low-profile dual camera setup on the top left.

Razer’s known for its use of green in its products, and the company is offering 1,337 Razer Phones with a limited edition green logo on the back. Yes, really.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

On the right edge sits a flat power button that doubles as a fingerprint center, and on the left edge are two circular volume up and down buttons. They’re clicky, and responsive. We’ll have to see how easy the fingerprint sensor is to access, because it’s in an uncommon location. The bottom edge houses a USB Type-C port.

Razer doesn’t care about the “bezel-less” smartphone trend that most flagship smartphones have adopted this year, where the edges around the screen are skimpy. Instead, there are two thick bars on the top and bottom of the screen, but they’re not just wasted space — they’re stereo speakers.

The Razer Phone is a no-frills rectangular slab of metal.

The speakers are driven by dual amplifiers and utilize Dolby Atmos, which makes it feel like you’re in a theater. The audio can get incredibly loud, with clear highs and solid bass, and it’s easy to distinguish sound coming from the left and the right in games and music.

It definitely enhances the multimedia experience, but you’ll be disappointed to hear there’s no headphone jack. Instead, the Razer Phone comes with a USB Type-C to 3.5mm headphone jack THX-certified digital-to-analog converter (DAC). We didn’t get a chance to test it out, but we will in our final review. What’s even more disheartening is the decision to use Bluetooth 4.2 over the latest Bluetooth 5 for connecting wireless headphones. Bluetooth 5 offers faster data transfer speeds and much-improved range.

A DISPLAY WITH A 120HZ REFRESH RATE

Loud and rich stereo speakers aren’t the only feature that makes the Razer Phone a multimedia machine. It has an 5.72-inch IPS LCD with Quad HD (2,560 x 1,440 pixel) resolution, and support for a wide color gamut and HDR. The screen looks colorful and sharp, though the blacks aren’t as deep as an OLED panel (like the iPhone X).

But that’s not what’s unique. The Razer Phone is the first smartphone to support a screen with a 120Hz refresh rate. Most smartphone screens refresh 60 frames per second, but the Razer Phone supporting up to 120 frames per second means the interface, apps, and games feels far more responsive, fluid, and fast. We’ve seen this in Apple’s iPad Pro, and the technology is similar here.

Razer Phone review home screen

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

An FPS counter at the top of the screen showed us that it isn’t displaying a constant 120 frames per second. When on a static screen, the frame rate ranged between 0 to 25. When we opened Chrome and Twitter and scrolled through, the frame rate went as high as 120. Scrolling felt incredibly smooth and everything loaded up quickly. It’s especially noticeable when playing games. Everything in Riptide GP2 felt far more responsive, though we’ll have to test the experience with another smartphone to gauge the difference.

It’s the first smartphone to support a screen with a 120Hz refresh rate.

To make sure the graphics card can keep up with the high refresh rate of the screen and prevent screen tearing, Razer built UltraMotion, which is its own version of Nvidia’s G-Sync but for mobile phones. Again, it makes sure the graphics card and screen are working together to prevent visually misaligned objects.

What’s neat is Razer lets you set the frame rate to 60, 90, or 120, and you can even set it by game. Here, you can also customize how your game looks by changing the display resolution, CPU clock speed, and frame rate, in case you want to optimize for performance or battery life.

RAW PERFORMANCE, MASSIVE BATTERY, AND DUAL CAMERAS

Speaking of performance, the Razer Phone can go toe-to-toe with any Android flagship phone in terms of raw specifications. It’s powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor with a whopping 8GB of RAM. You’ll find 64GB of internal storage, and there’s a MicroSD card that lets you expand it if you need more space.

We only spent a brief time with the phone, but we saw zero issues with performance switching between apps and moving through the Android OS. We played Riptide GP2, and it ran without a hitch. We’re not quite sure if 8GB is necessary, but it’s always a topic of debate.

Razer Phone review back logo

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Razer claims its phone will perform better than others, and that’s largely because of how the Razer Phone handles heat. The hotter a phone gets, the slower it runs. On the Razer Phone, a heat pipe and a few layers of thermal shielding transfer heat to the phone’s frame, using it as a heat sink. With this design, the Razer Phone runs cooler, making it able to sustain better performance for longer periods of time when you’re playing intensive games.

The 120Hz refresh rate of the screen can be detrimental to battery life, which is why Razer packed in a massive 4,000mAh battery. We’ll have to do more testing to see how long it’ll last, but you’ll be happy to learn you can charge it up super fast. The phone utilizes Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4.0 technology, and Razer said you can go from 0 to 50 percent within 35 minutes. That’s impressive for a phone with such a large battery capacity.

Despite having a dual-camera setup, there’s not much interesting about the Razer Phone’s camera.

Despite having a dual-camera setup, there’s not much interesting about the Razer Phone’s camera. It has a 12-megapixel wide-angle lens with a f/1.75 aperture, and a 12-megapixel telephoto lens with a f/2.6 aperture. We didn’t have much of a chance to test the camera, but photos snapped quickly, and there was plenty of good detail and color accuracy. You won’t find many features like slow motion or Portrait Mode in the camera app, though — those will come in a later update.

At the moment, you can only zoom in with 2x optical zoom, like the iPhone. This also isn’t intuitively designed, as to use the zoom feature you have to pinch and zoom on the screen, but there’s no indicator that says when you’re switching from optical to digital zoom. Razer said it’s looking into making this more clear, like Apple and Samsung do with their respective camera apps.

The front camera is a standard 8-megapixel lens with a f/2 aperture. It’s nothing to write home about.

PURE ANDROID, AND NOVA LAUNCHER PRIME

The Razer Phone runs pure, stock Android 7.1.1. There’s no bloatware at all. Some of the stock apps like the dialer and messaging app are themed to Razer’s green color, but you can customize them to your liking.

Customization is a huge part of the software experience on the Razer Phone, and it’s largely thanks to the launcher — Nova Launcher Prime. Nova Launcher is a third-party launcher that lets you tweak everything on the home screen to your liking, and it has been around on the Google Play Store for quite some time. It’s also our pick for the best Android launcher, as you can install it over any traditional launcher on any Android phone.

With Nova Launcher Prime, you can make your Razer Phone look like a Google Pixel, enable dark mode, customize how your icons and folders look, and more. It’s a great launcher, but it can be overwhelming for people not used to tuning every option of the home screen. Still, you don’t have to use all its features. The Razer Phone’s interface is simple to use and barebones.

You still get access to Google Assistant by pressing and holding the home button, or by saying “OK Google,” or “Hey Google.” If you want the latest version of Android — 8.0 Oreo — you’ll have to wait until the first quarter of 2018.

AVAILABILITY AND PRICE

Razer is targeting gamers, Android enthusiasts, and a young demographic with the Razer Phone. The company said it’s focusing on people who use “landscape mode” the most, and that’s evident in the high-quality stereo speakers, and the 120Hz refresh rate. It still feels as though it fits a niche audience, but it’s a powerful, raw slate that puts you in control of your smartphone.

You’ll get a selection of recommended games during the setup process of the phone that Razer says works best with the phone, such as Final Fantasy XV Pocket EditionTekken, RuneScape, and World of Tanks Blitz.

It will set you back $700, which is comparable with other smartphones with these specifications. In the U.S., you’ll be able to purchase it unlocked from Razer’s website on November 17, but you can pre-order it now. Come November 17, you’ll also be able to pick it up at select Microsoft Stores around the country, as well as Amazon.


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