Razer Phone 2 hands-on review

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Razer Phone 2

What makes a “gaming” phone? It needs the power to play the latest mobile games with ease, with enough battery capacity and cooling to keep the fun going. Throw in a great screen, spectacular sound, simple-to-use software, and you have a winner, right? Almost. That was the Razer Phone. It fell short of being great because of its mediocre camera performance, especially when compared to the competition in its $700 price range.

A good camera and features like IP67 water resistance aren’t optional anymore. After all, this is still a phone – it needs to play games in addition to everyday tasks like snapping photos at a birthday party, not instead of them. Razer now understands all of this, and the company is trying to get the message out that its new Razer Phone 2 is not just a gaming phone, but a flagship as well. From the brief time we’ve spent with it, that claim holds up.

Glass, glass, glass

What do most flagship phones in 2018 have in common? Glass backs. It’s why even budget phones have glass on the back; it feels premium, even if it doesn’t offer any utility. But glass on most high-end phones does have purpose: The convenience of wireless charging, which doesn’t work with a metal back.

That’s precisely what Razer has done with the Razer Phone 2. You can place the phone on a Qi wireless charging pad to juice it up, which certainly is convenient, and Razer is selling a 15-watt wireless charging stand as a separate accessory (for $100). Glass does take points away for durability, though.

The original Razer Phone felt like a tank; you could drop it and there’d hardly be a dent on the back. Now, you’ll want to slap on a case to protect the beautiful Gorilla Glass 5 exterior. Without a doubt, the glass back  immediately delivers a more sophisticated look for the Razer Phone 2, and the darker black color helps make the Razer logo pop.

The Razer logo is no green or grey, but a RGB LED. With the pre-installed Chroma app, you can alter the color to whatever you want, and choose a pattern like “breathing” for a pulsating effect.

Razer has managed to make the screen 50 percent brighter, and the difference is stunning.

It can even change color based on incoming notifications: an incoming Gmail will turn the logo red, for instance. The Razer Wireless Charger has built-in LEDs that pull the same trick, which is a handy way to silently alert you to a notification when you’re across the room. You can’t customize the notification colors on either the phone or the wireless charger, sadly.

The dual-camera module on the back is now centered above the Razer logo, with a flash in between both cameras. That’s about it in terms of flourishes, except for all the fingerprints you’ll leave behind thanks to the glass.

Better display and sound, water resistant

From the front, the Razer Phone 2 looks exactly the same as its predecessor. The speaker grills flanking the display are just as massive, and the screen has the same 5.7-inch size. The power button on the right doubles as a fingerprint sensor — it’s still hidden in the aluminum frame — and the volume rocker is comprised of two circular buttons on the left edge.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The 5.7-inch LCD IGZO screen supports HDR10 content, and the stereo speakers have Dolby Atmos certification — this is a phone meant to entertain. The screen looks sharp with its 2,560 x 1,440 resolution, but we’re more excited to see the 120Hz refresh rate making a return. More frames per second means fast-paced games will look smoother, but even Instagram, Twitter, and the Android operating system feel more fluid and responsive.

The screen is colorful, but blacks don’t look as deep as an OLED screen would offer. That being said, Razer has managed to make the screen 50 percent brighter, and the difference is stunning. When watching a scene from Black Panther on Netflix side-by-side next to the original Razer Phone, we found sharper details and punchier colors on the Razer Phone 2, but most of all it was so much easier to see darker scenes because the screen is brighter overall. It’s excellent.

You can juice the 4,000 mAh battery up to 50 percent in just 30 minutes.

The speakers may look the same, but Razer said there’s now a much larger speaker box for improved sound output and bass response. It was easy to pick out stereo sound traveling from one end of the screen to the other, especially in a car chase scene in Black Panther. It helps you feel more immersed in the film, and it’s easily room-filling sound.

One of the biggest hurdles with the Razer Phone 2 was finding a way to make the phone IP67 water resistant without sacrificing the speaker grills on the front, but the company succeeded. You can take this phone underwater up to a meter for 30 minutes, and it’ll perform without a problem afterwards.

There’s no headphone jack, but Razer includes a THX-certified 24-bit Digital-to-Analog Converter (DAC) in the box, which you can use with wired 3.5mm headphones. The company is also releasing a pair of USB Type-C earbuds with active noise canceling, but they’re sold separately.

Powerful gaming performance, big battery

The Razer Phone 2, like many other Android flagships, is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 845 processor, but it packs a massive 8GB of RAM. Whether that much RAM is necessary is debatable, but we played a few games on the phone and didn’t run into any performance problems in our brief testing.

You should be able to play games on the Razer Phone 2 for an even longer period of time thanks to a new Vapor Chamber cooling system, which is a paper-thin sheet that sits in the middle of the phone, with vapor inside, that helps spread heat across the entire surface of the phone. Razer claims you should hardly expect to see any kind of performance throttling when gaming or doing graphics-intensive tasks, and while we did feel heat spreading, the performance never suffered.

If you’re able to game for longer periods of time, you’ll need a battery that can keep up. Razer has opted for a 4,000mAh battery again, which should easily last a full day with high usage. What’s more, Razer is one of the few manufacturers supporting Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 4+, and by using the included charger, you can juice it up to 50 percent in just 30 minutes. It supports Qi fast wireless charging as well, but a wired USB Type-C charging cable will still get the job done faster.

Razer Phone 2 Compared To

Sony Xperia XZ2

Samsung Galaxy S9

Moto G6 Play

Motorola Moto G6

Huawei Honor 8 Pro

Meizu Pro 6 Plus

ASUS Zenfone 3 Deluxe Special…

Samsung Galaxy Note 7

LG V20

Samsung Galaxy Note 5

Huawei Nexus 6P

LG V10

Motorola Moto X Style Pure Edition

Samsung Galaxy Note 4

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

No Android Pie — yet

Razer is continuing its partnership once again with the developer of popular third-party launcher, Nova Launcher. That means you’re getting a close to stock Android experience, with a simple-to-use Android launcher that’s deeply customizable.

The only other pre-installed apps are from Razer, like Chroma, which lets you change the colors of the logo on the back of the phone. There’s also Razer Cortex, which is a game launcher akin to Nvidia’s GeForce Experience Windows app.

The Razer Phone 2 is an improvement in almost every way.

A feature called Game Booster lets you tweak exactly how you want your games to look and perform. You can turn down the resolution for smoother framerates, or crank all settings to max for the best-looking image, framerates be damned. It won’t work with all games, but it’s a handy tool that gives players a lot of control over games.

The biggest downside with software on the Razer Phone 2 is that it’s not launching with Android 9 Pie, but Android 8.1 Oreo instead. The latest version of Google is definitely on the way, but Razer would not share a timeline for when we can expect it.

Promising camera

We haven’t had much of a chance to play around with the camera yet, but it’s the one area of the phone we’re most excited to test. Razer said it carried over “nothing” from last year’s Razer Phone in an attempt to start completely from scratch. The first improvement is the use of cameras from Sony. Both cameras on the rear have 12-megapixel sensors — the main one has a f/1.75 aperture with optical image stabilization, and the secondary lens is a telephoto with 2x zoom and a f/2.6 aperture.

The user interface is easier to follow this time — there’s finally a dedicated button to quickly swap to the 2x optical lens — and the camera app doesn’t feel so barebones. It snaps pictures quickly, and the image quality looks solid, but we’ll have to do more testing to see how it compares to the rest of the flagship market.

There’s an 8-megapixel front-facing camera with a f/2.0 aperture, but we haven’t had a chance to test it yet.

Price and availability

The Razer Phone 2 costs $800 for the mirror gloss finish you see here, which only comes with 64GB of internal storage (a MicroSD card slot is available in case you need more space). There will be a satin finish model for sale, but it costs $900 as it includes 128GB of internal storage.

Sure, it’s $100 more than the original, but the Razer Phone 2 improves upon its predecessor in almost every way. Razer has taken the time to listen to feedback and implement changes to create a phone that can compete with the rest of the flagship market in many categories other than gaming performance. Much of this hinges on the quality of the cameras, and we’ll be doing further testing to make sure they’re comparable to the competition.