Razer Phone 2 hands-on: The ultimate gaming phone updated?
The original Razer Phone was one of 2017’s most interesting smartphones for a couple of reasons. First, because it was the first ever phone from PC gaming heavyweight Razer. Second, and more importantly, because it featured a wealth of never-before-seen smartphone features. Chief of these was its super-swish variable refresh rate screen, bespoke-made for gamers and entertainment fanatics.
The template was so good, numerous smartphone vendors, including Asus with the ROG Phone and Honor with the Honor Play, have rushed to release similar ‘gaming phones’. Razer’s not felt the need to make any significant changes for the second generation Razer Phone 2 as a result.
Thankfully, the few changes it has made appear to be positive and could well be enough to re-cement the Razer Phone’s place as the best handset for and PUBG and Netflix addicts.
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Razer Phone 2 – Design
From the front you’ll struggle to tell the Razer Phone and Razer Phone 2 apart. Both have the same boxy, hardline design, that pair’s a 16:9, 5.75-inch screen with chunky top and bottom Dolby Atmos certified speakers. Nova launcher and Android 8.1 also make a return – an update to the next version of Android has been confirmed.
But turn it around and you’ll spot one key difference: it has a Gorilla Glass back. Personally, networking difficulties aside, I preferred the robust feel of the all-metal original, but the change does at least bring with it new support for Qi wireless charging.
Razer’s also set to ship an optional folding wireless charging dock, which will sync with the Razer Phone 2’s other big new feature: Chroma RGB lighting.
The phone’s rear logo and charge stand’s RGB lighting strip both work with Razer’s Chroma app. This works exactly the same way as it does on the company’s PC peripherals. Jump into the app and you’ll be able to pick what colour you’d like and adjust it to play various patterns for things like incoming notifications.
Personally I think RGB lighting is pointless and generally makes any device it adorns look like a child’s toy. But Razer’s made it easy enough to turn the lighting off or set it to only activate in very specific conditions, so it’s not a deal-breaker.
I’m also please to see that Razer’s managed to build the Razer Phone 2 to IP67 water and dust resistance standards, which should let it survive the odd accidental submersion hassle-free.
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Razer Phone 2 – Specs and features
The Razer Phone 2’s internals have had a similarly light spruce. These include basic things like an upgrade to the newer Snapdragon 845 CPU, which paired with 8GB of RAM should blitz through most tasks. During my hands-on, PUBG ran smoothly and was blissfully tear-free thanks to the the return of Razer’s ‘ultramotion’ tech.
For those that missed it, Ultramotion is a similar technology to G-Sync; Razer debuted on its original phone. It syncs the GPU with the Razer Phone 2’s variable refresh rate screen to reduce the number of screen tears.
The variable refresh rate screen also feels as awesome as ever. Unlike most phones, the Razer Phone 2 can run at different refresh rates depending on what it’s doing. If it’s doing something static it can lower how many images per second it displays to preserve battery. If it’s doing something intense, like gaming, it can bump up to a maximum of 120Hz, offering players a smoother, more reactive experience.
This may all sound a little samey, but a few of the changes Razer has made for its second phone are significant. On paper, the 5.7-inch display sounds all but identical to its predecessor. The IGZO, LCD panel has the same QHD resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio and 120Hz refresh rate. But Razer claims it has an improved 645-nit maximum brightness and upgraded 10-bit colour accuracy.
I didn’t have a colourometer with me so can’t sensibly comment if either claim is accurate. But holding it next to the original Razer Phone, my naked eye impressions of the Razer Phone 2 were positive. The screen was significantly brighter and whites were noticeably cleaner. I’ll also be interested to see how the improved brightness impacts the growing library of mobile HDR content appearing on Netflix when I do my full Razer Phone 2 review.
I’m also curious about the changes Razer’s made to the Razer Phone 2’s camera. It’s no secret that the original Razer Phone had a dire rear camera, despite having decent specs on paper. The new phone has a similar Sony IMX setup that pairs 12-megapixel AF f1.75 Wide and 12-megapixel AF f2.6 telephoto sensors. But it now comes with OIS and ‘significant optimisation and app improvements’.
Sadly the software on the Razer Phone I tested wasn’t final so I can’t comment on image quality. But the addition of OIS should help improve low-light performance, an area the original Razer Phone was very weak in. The app also already has a more diverse set of shot options. Scrolling through, I found all the usual suspects expected of a flagship, including portrait, panorama and manual options.
The phone’s video capabilities also appear to have been improved, with the updated app having an option to capture FHD footage at 120fps. I don’t expect the upgrades to bring the Razer Phone 2 up to the iPhone XS Max and Pixel 2’s level, but if they at least make it usable-ish in low light, then the Razer Phone 2 camera will be a big step up on its predecessor.
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The Razer Phone 2 is a 0.5 refresh rather than a complete reimagining of the original ‘gaming phone’. It doesn’t have the immediate wow factor of the original as a result.
But the changes it has made are generally positive. I personally don’t give a monkeys about RGB lighting, but I know plenty of gamers that do. The design’s also still a far cry from, say, the comparatively ostentatious ROG Phone.
The improved max screen brightness and clarity also look set to re-cement the Razer Phone 2’s lead in the display department. The new CPU will also ensure it continues to offer blisteringly fast performance and be able to handle pretty much any Android game you throw at it.
Hopefully Razer’s camera claims will also ring true, though until I get my mitts on one with final software I can’t confirm any of them. If they do, the Razer Phone could be one of the best handsets available for entertainment fanatics and gamers that regularly consume media or play on their phone.
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