The gaming specialists break new ground today with the introduction of an Android smartphone specially designed for gamers. Simply named the Razer Phone, the new device is meant to appeal to users who want to enjoy games, videos and music of the highest quality.
Release date and price
The Razer Phone will be available for pre-order in selected countries from November 3rd in the Razer Online Store. During the hands-on session, Tom Moss and Eric Lin from Razer informed me that the start of sales and the first day of delivery would be November 14th. The Razer Phone will only be available in the online shop of Razer and, in certain countries, from the network operator “3”.
For the time being, Razer’s first smartphone is aimed at 10 selected countries in the North American and European markets.
Although nowadays it’s not unusual to see a premium smartphone debut with a price around $1,000, Razer’s first offering is slated to be somewhat less expensive. We expect a US price tag in the range of just over $700, which would be quite acceptable considering the hardware we examine further down and in line with the price in Europe (€749.99) and the UK (£699.99). The Razer Phone bucks the trend by not coming in various confusing combinations of memory, color, and available sizes, including different display resolutions. If you want a Razer phone, you get THE Razer Phone with Qualcomm’s latest and fastest processor, 8 GB RAM and the 5.7-inch Sharp IGOZ display, which offers a maximum refresh rate of 120 Hz. Razer squeezes all this into a casing that reminds me of a pumped up Nextbit Robin.
Design and build quality
Some may call it old-fashioned, others would say that the Razer Phone’s design takes a backseat to other priorities, catering to the needs of its target group. The Razer Phone’s specifications are focused on maximum performance, a display with the highest refresh rate, a large battery for long running times and loud and good audio reproduction, rather than a front-filling display with rounded display corners.
From a distance, you might even think that the Razer phone is a Sony Mobile 2017 version 2.0, because the smartphone adopts and even expands the Sony Xperia smartphone’s angular design, which is an unsung feature of the Sony Xperia range. Like the Sony Xperia XZ Premium, which I recently described in an in-depth review, the Razer Phone can stand upright. Even better than the Xperia XZ Premium, the Razer Phone can also be set up in landscape mode without an additional case and stand. It’s clear that a light push or even an air blast is enough to break the balance of the Razer Phone, but I personally liked the solid and angular design of the Xperia XZ Premium. If you don’t like the angular design, you will most likely not like the look of the Razer Phone. But you can’t please everybody, and inevitably some commentators will argue over the Razer Phone’s “old school” design.
The quality of the Razer phone’s workmanship is undisputed. The aluminium housing is very robust and our test device was not creaking or groaning in any way during the hands-on operation when pressed at critical points.
Gamers have very sensitive eyes. If the display does not react within a fraction of a millisecond, or if it does not show frame rates above 100 Hertz, the gamer will complain about jerky images. Razer knows their fanbase and takes no risks with their first smartphone. The Razer Phone integrates a display from the Sharp IGOZ series, the same screen technology is already used in Razer’s notebooks, which features a maximum refresh rate of 120 Hertz.
Razer showed me what the display and the rest of the equipment is capable of delivering during the hands-on session with the Twitter app and a frame counter integrated on the demo device. Fast scrolling was quickly and smoothly displayed. However, we still have to wait for our review sample and see if the performance can be reproduced in long term use.
At the PC, high frame rates are quite understandable, because in combination with input devices such as a mouse, gamepad or keyboard, a fast display with a high frame rate is important for accurate and responsive playing. Most of the time, however, only hardcore gamers from a professional eSport clan notice this. The normal user will hardly notice any difference in a match of Hearthstone, Pokemon Go, etc. In theory, at least. We need to find out more once we have received our final test device and test the Razer Phone with different kinds of game.
When it comes to software, the Razer Phone relies on Google’s Android operating system, which is not surprising, since the heads behind the cloud phone have also switched to Razer with the acquisition of Nextbit by the gaming specialist. Tom Moss and Mike Chan are former Google employees and so are naturally very familiar with the Android mobile operating system.
The Razer Phone will welcome you with Android 18.104.22.168 when delivered. In my conversation with Tom Moss and Eric Lin, I was promised an update to Android 8. x Oreo for the first quarter of 2018.
The Razer Phone used during our hands-on doesn’t have the final version of the software, because Game Boost was implemented but not finished. Also the framecounter activated for demo purposes will most likely not make it into the final version of the Razer Phone. But Tom assured me during the hands-on session that the Razer Phone will be offered with a special version of the Nova Launcher. “Super Nova” as he likes to call it, is integrated with Google Assistant and can be adapted later with special themes. Of course, most themes will most likely be created with games publishers. From what I know of Razer’s history, I feel it’s safe to say that the possibility to customize the UI to your own preferences will certainly be a feature on the smartphone.
In order to get an added value from the high refresh rate, Razer works together with games publishers. Numerous partners, who will be eager to free their apps and games from the framelock, have already been announced at the launch event today. More will follow.
The Razer phone’s hardware features mentioned above are indeed impressive on paper, but in comparison to the competition they are mostly identical. As with PC gaming, Razer can only use the hardware offered by chip manufacturers such as Qualcomm and co. Inside the Razer Phones is the fastest Qualcomm processor currently available on the market. The Snapdragon 835 still has 8 GB of RAM and 64 GB of internal memory in the form of UFS chips. The memory can be extended by up to 2 TB via MicroSD cards.
The features alone, which are comparable to those of the maximum configuration of the OnePlus 5, should be enough to be able to play along with the current smartphones in terms of performance. But Razer doesn’t want to just play along. The ambitions are higher for the gaming specialist and its fans. You want to get the maximum possible performance out of the hardware, so that the demanding gamer gets a maximum of frames at maximum detail level. Razer uses software tweaks that are already known from Samsung’s Galaxy S and Note series and the LG V30. This refers to additional software functions that adjust the clock rate of the processor and the resolution of the display, depending on the app requirements. Razer dubs this set of functions “game booster” and here the user can define whether the four performance cores of the Snapdragon 835 SoC should perform their service at full or lower clock rate.
According to Tom Moss, Razer was able to use the technical know-how accumulated over many years in heat dissipation for the Razer Phone. A heat pipe and two-layer heatspreader ensure that the smartphone does not overheat in continuous use and under full load. Whether the Razer solution really pays off in continuous operation as one would expect is something we have to find out in our upcoming review.
The Razer Phone doesn’t just want to be understood as a pure gaming smartphone. It is intended to provide the player or even normal smartphone users with good media playback capabilities. The two forward-facing speakers blast music, game audio and video soundtracks directly towards the user. The output directly on the smartphone is Dolby Atmos certified. The certificates are good, but I was still pleasantly surprised by the volume of both speakers during the hands-on.
Bad news for fans of the good old headphone jack, because the Razer phone doesn’t have a 3.5mm jack on the phone itself. To connect analog headphones, there is a USB type C dongle, which has a THX-certified DAC inside.
If you don’t want to listen directly to the speakers and you don’t want to use cable headphones, then there might be a third option with the Razer Phone—Bluetooth 4.2 with aptx support. The Razer Phone we tried did not come with aptxHD and Bluetooth 5.0. However, since other smartphones with similar hardware configurations can offer Bluetooth 5.0 and aptxHD, it is quite likely that the manufacturer will still be able to provide these features via software update. Unfortunately, Razer couldn’t tell us whether this is feasible during the hands-on.
Of course, you also have to be able to create photos or videos with the Razer Phone. In the main camera, Razer is following the trend towards a dual camera solution a la Apple, Samsung and co. In plain language, that means a wide-angle and a telephoto lens are available. Both image sensors offer a maximum resolution of 12 megapixels and are supposed to match that of the Galaxy S7. The wide angle lens is the full beam lens with an aperture of f/1.75 and the telephoto lens with an aperture of f/2.6.
For selfies, the Razer Phone has a camera with a maximum resolution of 8 megapixels and an aperture of f/2.0 above the display, unfortunately without autofocus. In our final test, the quality of the cameras from the Razer Phone will be examined in depth.
Another critical element of smartphone hardware is the battery. Razer has installed a 4,000 mAh battery in the smartphone. Purely from the battery capacity, the Razer Phone ranks at the level of a Huawei Mate 10 Pro. Whether it can beat Huawei’s famously long runtime could not be verified in the short hands-on time. But as soon as we have received the Razer Phone in its final version, we will of course start comparing battery life.
Even though Razer apparently did not want to pay the license fees for Bluetooth 5.0 in the audio sector, they were more generous when it came to the fastest QuickCharge standard. Instead of “only” using QuickCharge 3.0 like 99 percent of the smartphone competition, the battery of the Razer Phone can be charged with QuickCharge 4+. Qualcomm created the new charging technology just a few months ago as an update to QuickCharge 4.0, and until now only ZTE wanted to use Qualcomm’s latest high-speed charging technology for the Nubia Z17.
As an advantage over QC4, Qualcomm states that the devices become less warm during charging, the loading speed is up to 15 percent faster and the overall efficiency is 30 percent better than with Quick Charge 4. It’s also worth noting that Razer has included a corresponding power supply unit with the delivery.
The gaming specialist has recognized that the brand’s demanding fanbase don’t just need headsets, keyboards, mice and other peripherals, but that they are also playing more and more mobile games. Hence the need for a smartphone with the snake logo. The Razer Phone is well tuned to the needs of the gamer community: a large display with high resolution and 120 Hertz refresh rate, stereo speakers with plenty of power and virtual 3D sound with Dolby Atmos certification. Under the hood you get top-of-the-range hardware, which can’t be pushed to the limit by gaming apps.
One possible weak spot might be the camera, because the IMX260 sensor that we are familiar with from the Galaxy S7 might not be able to meet the highest demands. When it comes to snapping selfies and photos of the clan at LAN parties, the Razer gaming fan might be disappointed.
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