Receive up-to-the-minute news updates on the hottest topics with NewsHub. Install now.

Hands on: Razer Phone review

November 1, 2017 9:00 PM
3240 0
Hands on: Razer Phone review

A gaming smartphone with superb speakers

The Razer Phone is built for gamers thanks to its high-end specs, a silky smooth screen and powerful stereo speakers. But do gamers want a smartphone dedicated to gaming?

The jury is still out for now, but the Razer Phone has the makings of a handset that could well tempt those with a passion for gaming on the go.

This Android phone is focused on two core elements: the screen and the sound. Its 5.7-inch screen boasts the world’s first 120Hz refresh rate on a smartphone, and it’s flanked by stereo speakers. The result is a handset that boasts some seriously strong credentials when it comes to visuals and audio, plus there’s plenty of power under the hood too.

There are also dual-cameras on the back, a side-mounted fingerprint scanner on the frame and a meaty 4,000mAh battery inside the boxy, black handset.

You’ll be able to pick it up from Razer’s online store in the UK and US, while those in the UK also have the option it grab it on contract exclusively at Three.

Three is asking for £49 upfront on all of its 24 month contracts for the Razer Phone with 12GB data and AYCE (all you can eat) minutes and texts setting you back £41 per month.

If you fancy 30GB data with AYCE minutes and texts you're looking at £45 per month, and the power gamers out there can nab a huge 100GB data tariff with AYCE minutes and texts for £49 per month.

In the US, you’ll have to buy it at full SIM-free price, with no carrier deals currently announced.

Razer Phone pre-orders open on November 1, and the handset will hit stores from November 17.

Razer told us it’s currently looking at bringing the phone to Australia, while India has been ruled out and the Middle East is a possibility down the line.

Razer started with the screen when it came to build the Razer Phone, as it’s essential to the gaming experience. It ends up providing an experience you can’t get on any other phone in 2017.

On paper, the 5.7-inch LCD QHD (1440 x 2560) display, protected by Gorilla Glass 3, may not seem like anything special – it's on par in with many rivals in terms of size and resolution. However, there’s more to this screen than meets the eye.

Razer opted for LCD technology over the brighter, more colorful AMOLED tech you find in the likes of the Galaxy S8 and Google Pixel 2 XL because it has the ability to provide higher refresh rates and frame rates. That’s ideal, of course, for 3D gaming.

The result is a display which boasts a 120Hz variable refresh rate, and is capable of up to 120fps. It means movement on screen is silky smooth – even simply scrolling through your Twitter timeline you can appreciate the higher frame rate as it glides effortlessly, and more quickly, beneath your fingers.

Dive into the settings and you can opt to downscale the display resolution to full HD (1080p), which improves battery life.

The screen is crisp, clear and bright, but as we’ve already mentioned it doesn’t quite pack the color punch of the Samsung or Pixel.

Next up in the important features are the speakers, and we’ll get right to it. Even based on our brief time with the phone, the dual front-facing speakers on the Razer Phone are, hands-down, the best speakers we’ve heard on any smartphone, ever.

Each speaker has its own amp and has been tuned to Dolby Atmos standards, and together they provide a '3D visualization' of sound – this means they sound just as good when you’re behind the phone as when you’re in front of it.

The impressive stereo and immersive qualities make it sound like Razer has packed in more than just the two speakers.

We quickly put it up against the iPhone 8 Plus during our hands-on time with the device, and the Razer Phone comfortably won the head-to-head with richer sound, more immersive bass and clearer audio, even at full volume.

It gives you proper, room-filling sound without distortion, and the iPhone sounded tinny in comparison.

Razer is working with a number of developers to adapt their games to run at screen refresh rates that take advantage of the full power of the Razer Phone's GPU, although there are already a number of games available on the Play Store that are frame rate unlocked.

This allows games on the Razer Phone to exceed the 60fps limit of every other Android phone, resulting in smoother and quicker in-game experiences.

We played Riptide GP: Renegade and Titanfall Assault during our time with the Razer Phone, and the gameplay was slick and the graphics impressively smooth. Importantly, the frame rate count doesn’t tick up unless it needs to during intense action, saving battery life.

At launch some of the big names that have worked alongside Razer to bring an enhanced gaming experience to the phone are Shadow Gun Legends, Final Fantasy 15 and Shadow of Valor, with a number of smaller games also available from day one.

Razer’s working with more partners constantly, and also working with them to create themes for the phone.

Something else you’ll get on the Razer Phone, but which wasn’t ready for us to see during our hands-on time, is the firm’s Game Booster app. Game Booster will allow you to control frame rate, refresh rate, resolution and background processes.

Load it up and it’ll find all the games on your phone and enable you to tinker with individual settings for each game, allowing you to customize your gaming experience just how you like it. You’ll have to wait for our full, in-depth Razer Phone review to find out what it’s like.

If the design of the Razer Phone looks familiar, you’re onto something. The gaming giant purchased startup smartphone maker Nextbit back in January 2017 – igniting rumors that it was indeed planning on launching its own smartphone – and it’s used the design of Nextbit’s only handset for its phone.

That phone was the Nextbit Robin, and the two key visual differences between it and the Razer Phone are the new black paint job and the increased size of the speaker grilles on the front. It’s also a lot heavier at 197g, versus the 150g Robin.

All of this means the Razer Phone is square, blocky and, if we’re honest, a little uninspired in the looks department, especially when you consider that 2017 has given us the Galaxy S8 and iPhone X.

It’s not a bad design, and it’s more comfortable to hold that perhaps you’d expect given the flat edges and angular corners, but it may struggle a little to stand out.

The phone boasts the same finish as other Razer products, in an attempt to win fans of the brand over, and it was designed based on the phone being primarily used in landscape orientaion for gaming, which partly explains the larger bezels above and below the display.

As well as housing those excellent speakers, the bezels provide the perfect place to rest your hands when you’re gaming, meaning you cover less of the screen with your mitts, giving you a better view of the action.

Again, it’s comfortable to hold, but at 8mm thick and with no rounded edges the Razer Phone does feel a little chunky. Plus, at 197g it’s also one of the heavier handsets on the market.

There’s a centralized power/lock key on the right of the handset which also houses the fingerprint scanner, while on the left two dot buttons provide volume control. A USB-C port resides on the bottom.

There's no headphone jack, but Razor includes an audio adapter with a built-in 24-bit DAC with Dolby Atmos support in the box, allowing you to plug in your corded headphones.

Round the back a large black and white Razer logo dominates, but there also will be a limited number of handsets with a green logo for those who pre-order, or purchase the phone on launch day.

Razer has also used the fanless cooling technology found in its laptops in the phone, which stops the handset heating up too much and prevents hot spots, allowing for a more comfortable gaming experience for longer.

We didn’t notice any excessive heat during our gaming sessions, but we’ll put the phone through extended play time in our full review.

Under the hood the Razer Phone packs in the latest power with a Snapdragon 835 chipset and a whopping 8GB of RAM.

We still believe 8GB of RAM is excessive for a smartphone, but Razor claims the additional RAM will let you run high-power apps (such as Twitch, YouTube and games) with no lag or slow-down.

We didn’t experience any drops in performance, but again this is something that requires further testing in our full review.

You also get 64GB of internal storage, which to us doesn’t scream high-end like every other feature on the spec sheet – not when Apple is pushing 256GB on an iPhone. However, this phone does have a microSD card slot, allowing you to build on that storage with memory cards up to 2TB in size.

The Razer Phone runs Android 7.1,1, which isn’t the latest version of Google’s operating system, but we were told that the Android 8 Oreo update will arrive during Q1 of 2018.

It’s not stock Android on the phone though, with Razor instead opting to pre-install Nova Launcher on the handset. This Android launcher costs money if you were to download it on another Android device, and it allows for greater customization and more themes from the Theme Store.

There will be a Theme Store with licensed content, starting with game partners and moving on from there, at launch, but it wasn’t available at the time of our briefing.

Razer has squeezed a sizable 4,000mAh battery into its smartphone – it's one of the largest power packs in any phone, which we hope will result in a decent battery performance.

We’re told that this enables ‘play all day’ battery life, which we’re not used to when it comes to gaming on a handset – you’ll have to wait for our full review to see if it can live up to that billing.

The Razer Phone comes with dual 12MP rear cameras, with one a telephoto, f/2.4 lens and the other a wide-angle f/1.7 offering, while on the front there’s an 8MP snapper.

Razor has opted for a super-simple camera UI, with no manual or pro mode available. It’s very much a point-and-shoot deal, although you can download more advanced camera apps from Play Store if you want more options.

The dual cameras are used to offer a smooth zoom, and a simple screen pinch will see you zoom in and out, swapping between the two lenses – you’re unlikely to really notice that you’re moving between two different cameras, as Razer has worked hard to make the transition as smooth as possible.

We weren’t able to properly assess the camera on the Razer Phone as we were using a pre-production sample, with the camera about 89% finished. The telephoto lens is actually an updated version of the camera found on the Galaxy S7, so eventual performance could be promising.

The Razer Phone is packed full of power and potential, but the stumbling block could well be its niche appeal. The gaming laptop has its legion of fans, but there’s no guarantee they’ll cross over to a Razer smartphone.

That said, it’s easy to appreciate such excellent audio and smooth gaming experience on a mobile device. The 120Hz refresh-rate screen and dual-amplified stereo speakers are features we’d like to see on every phone in the future. No smartphone does it better than Razer.

We can’t wait to put the handset through our in-depth review process, to see if it really can cut it when up against the big names day-to-day, but the early showing is certainly positive.


Share in social networks:

Comments - 0