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Razer Phone 2 Review: Hands-on

Razer is back with its second gaming phone. The Razer Phone 2 is a classic videogame sequel: refining without reinventing while throwing in some pretty lights for good measure

SHOULD I BUY THE RAZER PHONE 2?
The Razer Phone 2 looks an awful lot like its predecessor, but an LED logo, wireless charging, and revamped camera setup show off a company willing to both learn from its mistakes and chase after proper flagship features.
All that comes at a high price - quite literally, this thing is expensive - and there might not be enough here to justify the upgrade, but it’s encouraging to see Razer sticking to its guns.


PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
  • $799
When Razer unveiled the first Razer Phone it pretty much invented the concept of the gaming phone. People had played games on phones for years of course, but the idea of designing a phone specifically with gamers in mind was a novelty not seen since the days of the Nokia N-Gage.

Since then, imitators have come along from the likes of Xiaomi, Asus, and Honor, but Razer is ready to meet the challenge with the newly announced Razer Phone 2.

We’ve spent a bit of time going hands-on with the second-gen Razer Phone, and here’s what we think so far. 

PRICE & AVAILABILITY
The Razer Phone 2 has only just been announced, and is expected to release in the UK, US, and Europe on 26 October. You can pre-order it now from Razer, and in the UK Three has confirmed that it will once again be stocking the handset.

When it launches it will cost £779/$799/€849 - a bit of a jump from the already expensive original model, which cost £699/$699/€749 when it launched in late 2017. However, even at launch it was possible to find that phone for less than full price by buying from someone other than Razer, so we’re hoping the same will be true this time around.

It’s also worth noting that Razer is simultaneously releasing a wireless charging dock designed specifically for the new Razer Phone, but the company hasn’t yet confirmed pricing for it.

DESIGN & BUILD
The first thing you’re likely to notice about the Razer Phone 2 is that it looks very similar to the original model.

From front-on, the phones are almost identical, and you’ll have to really squint to spot the differences: the front-facing camera placement is slightly different, the corners are (ever so) slightly rounder, the body is fractionally thicker. What you can’t see is that it’s also now IP67 water-resistant - even with those big front-facing speakers.

Other than that, this is much the same as last year: a 5.7in 16:9 display flanked by thick top and bottom bezels sporting large stereo speakers, all in an angular rectangular design. Once again the fingerprint sensor is built into the flat power button midway down one side, with the volume buttons midway down the other - both optimised for holding the phone landscape while gaming.

It’s when you flip the phone over that you see what’s really changed. Most obviously, the matt back has been replaced by glossy black glass (which in turn enables wireless charging). Made out of Gorilla Glass 5, this should be sturdy enough (at least by glass standards), though as with all glass phones it attracts plenty of fingerprints.

The rear camera lenses have also moved - they now protrude slightly more and sit in the centre, above the large Razer logo. More excitingly, the logo itself has changed: it now features Razer’s Chroma lighting tech in case you worried that last year’s model wasn’t glowy enough.
You use the included Chroma app to control the lighting, which can sit on a static colour or cycle through 16.8 million different shades, or flash in various different patterns. You also get a few battery-conserving options - you can keep the light on at all times, only when the screen is on, or just have it flash when you get a notification.

At the end of the day, this is a Razer Phone 1 with a glass back and a flashy logo, so you’ll probably know already if that appeals to you or not. Razer’s blocky design is definitely less sleek than most flagship rivals, but it has its fans, and it’s all in the name of improving the handheld gaming experience.

SPECS & FEATURES
So the outside of the new device is basically Razer Phone 1.5 - what about the innards? Well, it’s a similar story: small changes and refinements to make the new handset just a little bit better than what came before.

Screen
That’s arguably most obvious in the screen. This was arguably the headline feature of the first phone, thanks largely to the industry-leading 120Hz refresh rate.

Razer has chosen not to change much this time around: it’s the same size (5.7in), the same resolution (2560 x 1440, a.k.a. Quad HD), and the same refresh rate (120Hz). It's also stuck with the 16:9 aspect ratio, which might seem an odd choice in a market increasingly dominated by 18:9 bezel-less displays, but the company argues the extra screen space is a boon for games, which are still for the most part optimised for 16:9 screens.

What’s changed is the brightness. Razer claims the new screen is 50 percent brighter, maxing out at a whopping 645cd/m2 - which if true would make this brighter than any phone we’ve ever tested.

In person, it was honestly hard to spot the difference immediately, and we’ll be curious to test the brightness ourselves when we do a full review. This is clearly a small tweak to a screen that’s mostly unchanged - but since the original boasts arguably the best smartphone display out there that’s no bad thing.

Processor, memory & storage
Internal specs haven’t had a major shift either. The processor has had the expected upgrade from the Snapdragon 835 to this year’s flagship 845 chip, so it should keep pace with other top phones. It also now features Vapor Chamber Cooling - a lot of fancy words to say that it should stay cooler even at peak performance.

As with the previous model, you get 8GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, together with a microSD card slot - though this will accept cards up to 2TB, giving you plenty of room to expand.

Connectivity & audio
Just like before, the only port here is USB-C, used for charging, audio, and data transfer - though Razer says it will include a 3.5mm headphone adapter in the box. As mentioned before, you'll also once again find a fingerprint scanner built into the power button on the side of the phone.

In terms of wireless, there’s the usual Wi-Fi and Gigabit LTE (now up to 1.2Gbps), along with Bluetooth 5.0 and NFC.

Finally, those giant speakers flanking the screen have been tweaked too: Razer says they’re now louder and clearer. After playing a round of PUBG we can confirm: they are loud and clear. We’ll test them more thoroughly when we have the phone in the office.

Cameras
There is at least one area of the phone that’s had a major revamp: the cameras. Arguably the weakest element of the original phone, Razer has taken the criticism to heart and worked to bring itself into line with its rivals.

First up, the front-facing camera has had a video upgrade to 1080@60fps, with an 8MP f/2.0 lens, which will be welcome news to streamers and vloggers looking to share footage of themselves on the go without compromising on quality.

Meanwhile the rear cameras - now packing new Sony IMX sensors - can capture 4K@60fps, or shoot 1080p in 120fps slow motion. Both rear lenses are 12MP, one f/1.75 wide-angle with optical image stabilisation, and the other f/2.6 telephoto.

There are software improvements too, not least support for alternate photos modes like Panorama, Beauty Mode, and Portrait Mode (with the blurred background effect). This is all pretty standard stuff elsewhere, but it’s welcome to see Razer trying to catch up. We’d be surprised if this ends up being a best-in-class camera, but hopefully it’ll be less of a glaring weak point this time around.

Battery life
Apologies if this is starting to sound familiar, but the battery on the Razer Phone 2 is similar to before, but a bit better.

There’s the same generous 4,000mAh battery, though software and processor optimisations mean this should last slightly longer than before. The introduction of wireless charging won’t hurt either.

The big question mark here is the Chroma logo: it’s hard to estimate right now just what sort of impact this will have on battery, especially given the range of available settings for colour, brightness, and how often it activates. We’d guess that if you want that logo lit up permanently, you’ll pay for it in battery, but there are too many factors to say for sure just yet.

Razer is also selling its own wireless charging dock for the new phone, which can prop it up in landscape, portrait, or flat. This even boasts its own Chroma lighting effects: cycling colours when the phone is charging, static green when the battery is full, and a sort of angry flashing red when it detects that the phone isn’t positioned correctly for charging.

That’s all well and good, but remember two big caveats here: we don’t know much the dock will retail for (probably a lot), and the lighting will only ever be a nuisance if you tend to charge your phone overnight by your bed.

SOFTWARE AND APPS
The Razer Phone 2 will ship with Android 8.1, though the more recent Android 9 will apparently roll out to owners before too long.

Once again Razer is running a version of the OS that’s pretty much stuck, the main tweak being the use of the Nova Launcher - a version of the home screen and app drawer that’s highly customisable, so you can tweak things to suit your tastes.

The Razer Theme Store also makes a return for more decorative options, and is joined by a mobile version of Razer Cortex, the company’s combined performance optimiser and app storefront. The big sell here is that it will include game recommendations generated by the Razer team, which should make it a much easier way to find great new Android games than Google’s own Play Store.

VERDICT
The Razer Phone 2 is far from a reinvention, and if you weren’t a fan of the original this is unlikely to convince you otherwise. Instead Razer has doubled down on its idiosyncratic design choices and backed it up with flagship features like waterproofing and wireless charging - along with a few novelty LEDs.

If you want a gaming phone that feels like a flagship and don’t mind paying for it, there’s still really no alternative. But if you’re looking for pure performance, you can get that for less by skipping a few of the bells and whistles packed in here.

SPECS
  • 5.7in (2560x1440, 515ppi) display
  • Android 8.1
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor with Vapor Chamber Cooling
  • 8GB RAM
  • 64GB storage, up to 2TB with microSD
  • 12MP f/1.75 wide-angle + 12MP f/2.6 telephoto dual camera
  • 8MP f/2.0 front-facing camera
  • Stereo front-facing speakers
  • RGB-illuminated Razer Chroma logo
  • Fingerprint scanner
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • GPS
  • NFC
  • USB 3.1, Type-C
  • IP67 waterproofing
  • Non-removable lithium-ion 4,000mAh battery



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