Razer is best known for its gaming PCs, but everyone knew what its acquisition of smartphone startup Nextbit meant: the company wanted to get into handsets too. The big question was, how does Razer, which prides itself as a gamer-first company, actually build a gamer-first phone? Few phone makers have bothered trying, and those that did — like Sony and Motorola — didn’t find the success they were looking for. Razer’s approach is a little different.
The Razer Phone is a legit powerhouse, and you’d expect that from a phone that is made for gamers, and a phone from Razer. As you would expect from Razer, the specifications on the new smartphone are some of the highest in the current market. Powered by Qualcomm’s SnapDragon 835 partnered by 8 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal storage extendable by microSD. Tan took great delight in pointing out his gaming phone has the same amount of RAM as the current MacBook Pro specifications.
This device has a 5.7-inch 1440p screen — with variable refresh rate, rather like Apple’s most recent iPad Pro. Razer states that the 8GB of RAM may seem like overkill for most Android smartphones at this point, but the company feels that it is the right amount of RAM for its userbase. Razer also says that its phone dispenses heat better than other smartphones like the Galaxy S8 Plus, which means that it won’t throttle as often if at all, another important aspect for gamers.
It ships with a relatively huge battery that offers 4000 mAh. According to Tan this will allow users to watch 12.5 hours of video, 63.5 hours of music, or play Hearthstone non-stop for seven hours. Charging is through the USB-C port and the latest version of Qualcomm’s quick charge will see the handset go from empty to 85 percent in one hour. It’s one of the largest batteries in a smartphone today.
There is a dual-camera setup on the rear of the Razer Phone. The company is using dual 12-megapixel cameras. The standard 12-megapixel camera has a f/1.7 aperture while the zoom lens has a f/2.6 aperture and both lenses do sport phase detection auto focus. Rounding out the camera module on the back, there is also dual tone LED flash for getting some great low-light photos. Razer says that the camera on this phone is one of the best in the business right now. The front-facing camera is a 8-megapixel shooter that has an aperture of f/2.0, and there’s no front-facing flash.
I’d say the Razer Phone was designed to appeal to spec lovers, but having handled the device extensively ahead of today’s launch, I struggle to believe that it was designed at all. I mean, just look at its characterless black-slab aluminum exterior. It’s like someone revived Brutalist architects from the 1960s and tasked them with devising the world’s blockiest phone.
Razer prides itself on selling products made “for gamers, by gamers,” and it believes the above combination of desirable internal components will offset the blandness of the Razer Phone’s looks, the bigness of its speaker-housing bezels, and the absence of its headphone jack.
It’s that last element that strikes me as a major contradiction: Razer’s supposedly gamer-friendly device is lacking easy connectivity to a gamer’s most essential peripheral after the controller. Inside the Razer Phone box you’ll find a THX-certified audio dongle that lets you hook up headphones and promises 24-bit “audiophile-quality” sound, but that’s a weird compromise on a device that’s supposed to be about no-compromise gaming performance.
I simply can’t agree with Razer that this is a phone made “for gamers,” whether it was designed by such people or not. Even the gamers that like LED lights on their mouse pads, Lambo-inspired gear designs, and hexagonal PC cases don’t really want all those elements in their phones.
Most people are after the same thing from a phone: the sort of slick, glamorous, and ergonomic design of a Galaxy S8 or an iPhone X. We shouldn’t excuse ugly design by saying it’s “for gamers,” even if ugly gamer designs are so numerous.
More importantly, Razer hasn’t done anything to truly elevate the Android gaming experience over its more seasoned competitors. Every current Android flagship is powered by the same Snapdragon 835 that Razer uses, OnePlus and others have already been selling 8GB phones for a while, and Razer’s software augmentations boil down to a Game Booster app that functions like a secondary settings menu.
In Game Booster, you’ll be able to prioritize system resources for games, specify your desired resolution, and do a few other tweaks that mostly feel like superfluous effort. I game a lot on Android phones and I rarely feel compelled to tinker with settings; most games just work, so I’m not sure how big of a problem Razer thinks it’s solving with its phone.
The Razer Phone ships with stock Android. At launch this will be version 7.1 , but Oreo will be delivered in Q1 2018. Although it is stock Android, a special edition of Nova Launcher Prime will be bundled inside each handset as an optional app launcher that brings the Razer brand to the Android screen.
Razer will tell you that it has the best “thermals” (i.e., heat dissipation) in the business, using the metal frame of the phone as a heatsink and allowing you to play games at the highest quality for the longest time. And I’ll tell you that that’s a cool thing to have, but not a big enough reason to buy this phone over any other Android spec beast.
Razer is still so very green to this phone business that it didn’t even have a dedicated gaming mode with all visual notifications disabled until I asked for one. I kid you not, it was only after I pointed out how useful that feature is on Samsung’s Galaxy S devices that Razer built it into its own Android software. This goes to show both the company’s inexperience and its willingness to learn quickly.
But the standout feature may be in the screen technology. The Razer Phone has a 5.7 inch Sharp Igzo LCD display running at Quad HD levels. It comes with a 120Hz Ultramotion display. The increased refresh rate means no shuttering, no lag, and no motion blur. Meanwhile the marketing tag of ultra motion syncs the GPU signals to the refresh rates of the display, which creates a smoother image with no lag. It also adapts to circumstances in terms of refresh rates to extend battery life.
Sound is also a key part of Razer’s offering. The handset’s audio comes with Dolby Atmos, and in a first for a smartphone is certified by THX. The speakers are front facing stereo speakers. The speakers are mounted so you can hold the handset in the gaming orientation without blocking the speakers. To boost the sound each speaker also has a dedicated amplifier. Unfortunately headphones are going to have to be plugged in to the USB-C port via a dongle adaptor, which is included in the retail packaging.
It’s going up against brilliantly designed pieces of hardware like the Galaxy Note 8, LG V30, HTC U11, OnePlus 5, and Huawei Mate 10 Pro. All of them have specs to match Razer’s, aside from that new screen; many of them have eliminated the bezels; and the majority also have headphone jacks.
The device is priced at $700 in the US (or €750 in Europe, £700 in the UK) and sold directly from Razer’s online store or Amazon.com, with a ship date of November 17th with online reservations opening today. That price tag means the Razer Phone is entering the most premium and competitive segment of the smartphone market.