Razer Phone 2 Hands-On: A Better Gaming Phone, But Should You Buy?

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last six months, you've probably heard about Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. These games are extremely popular, particularly on mobile, which has led to the rise of the gaming phone. Razer leaped into the fray lat year with its self-titled device, the Razer Phone, which was the first to offer a display with a 120-Hertz refresh rate for smoother and more responsive gameplay.  

Now the company is back with the next iteration of its gamer-centric smartphone, and it's chock-full of improvements, including a brighter display, even more powerful speakers, faster performance and water resistance. Starting at $799, I had an opportunity to go hands-on with the Razer Phone 2, and I am pleased to report that it is more powerful than ever with a flashy new backside. Here are my first impressions.

Razer Phone 2 Cheat Sheet: What's New?

  • The Razer Phone 2 sports a 120-Hz display that's optimized for gaming, and now it's even brighter at 645 nits.
  • Front dual speakers are the loudest we've ever heard on a phone, and the design is now water resistant.
  • It packs a huge 4,000 mAh battery with quick charging.
  • The illuminated logo on the back can glow millions of colors.
  • Razer says the dual rear cameras are improved, and there's a front 8-MP camera for streaming in full HD.

Razer Phone 2 Specs and Pricing

Price
$799, $899
Screen (Resolution)
5.7 inches (2560 x 1440)
CPU
Snapdragon 845
RAM
8GB
Storage
64GB
Rear Camera
12-MP wide-angle (f/1.75), 12-MP telephoto (f/2.6)
Front Camera
8-MP (f/2.0)
Battery
4,000 mAh
OS
Android 8.1
Size
6.2 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches
Weight
7.76 ounces

When it ships, the Razer Phone 2 will be offered in two flavors: the glossy high Mirror Finish at $799 and an $899 for a Satin Glass treatment. Whatever your style preference, the phone's inner specs remain the same. It uses a 2.8-GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor with an Adreno 630 GPU, 8GB of RAM and 64GB of onboard storage. And thanks to its microSD slot (a rarity in a lot of smartphones these days), you can expand the storage to 1TB. One bummer: the phone will ship with Android 8.1 (Oreo) and not the more up-to-date Android 9 Pie, though Razer tells us it hopes to upgrade the phone soon.

Design

For all intents and purposes, the second coming of the Razer Phone looks pretty similar to the first. It's still got that boxy retro shape that I find oddly appealing. At 7.76 ounces, 6.2 x 3.1 x 0.3 inches, they're even the same size although the original weighed in at a lighter 6.95 ounces. The new handheld also has a pair of 12-megapixel rear cameras and an 8MP front-facing shooter.

The biggest difference is the rear panel on the Razer Phone 2, which is made of high-gloss glass instead of the aluminum back of the original. And leaning into that Razer aesthetic, the second-generation features the company logo, flashing and glowing in its customizable RGB-backlit glory (more on that later). The sides and top and bottom display borders are still made of black aluminum.

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Another major design change focuses on functionality more than aesthetics. The Razer Phone 2 is now somewhat rugged, boasting an IP67 rating. That means that despite the speaker grilles with their bevy of holes, the device can be submerged for up to 30 minutes. 

Display and Audio

Measuring 5.72 inches, the Razer Phone 2's IGZO LCD QHD (2560 x 1440) panel is just a little wider than its predecessor (5.7 inches). The successor retains Ultramotion technology, which enables the phone to take advantage of that 120Hz refresh rate. Just like Nvidia's G-Sync tech, Ultramotion syncs up the refresh rate with the GPU's render rate for silky-smooth graphics, which really comes in handy for shooters like Fortnite and racing titles like Real Racing 3.

When we reviewed the original Razer Phone, we found the display was colorful yet dim compared to other flagship devices. But it looks like Razer might have learned its lesson with the new handset. The company claims that the new panel as a brightness of a whopping 645 nits. I watched a clip from Black Panther on both devices and the newer version was both more vibrant and luminous by a wide margin. I definitely want to get it in the lab and see how it stacks up against the Samsung Galaxy S9 and iPhone XR.

One place the Razer Phone never had problems was audio. Augmented by Dolby Atmos software, I said that the Razer Phone "sounded better than most laptops." And yes, that still feels weird to type, but even weirder is the fact that the Razer Phone 2's audio is even better.

In addition to the Dolby Atmos technology, Razer has its own algorithms working to amplify the audio even further. The phone had no problem filling our rather large conference room during a demo. It's part of the reason this handset earned certification from both THX and Netflix.

Crazy Chroma Lighting

Razer knows what I like, and it's Chroma. And since you don't have a keyboard to trick out, the company did the next best thing and added customizable backlighting to the logo on the rear.

Thanks to the mobile Chroma app, you can program the emblem to glow 1 of the 16.8 million color options available. The customization also extends itself to notifications, glowing blue for Microsoft Outlook messages, red for Google Chrome and purple for Microsoft Teams. And yes, it's a potential battery drain, but it's flashy as hell and I want it.

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Cameras

The megapixels might be the same, but everything else about the Razer Phone 2's cameras is new and improved. That's good, because its predecessor had a problem serving up accurate color. It also struggled in low-light situations.The Razer Phone 2 sports Sony lens with IMX sensors. One of the lenses is wide angle and offers optical image stabilization while the other has a telephoto lens with a 2x zoom. The lenses are spaced further apart, which should produce better portrait shots. Improved software algorithms should result in better white balance and HDR. And in case you want to do a bit of mobile livestreaming, the front-facing 8MP camera can stream in full HD (1920 x 1080).

But none of this will matter if Razer doesn't give us a better camera interface, as its first attempt was a seriously bland affair. This time around the company is promising a new UI that will make it easier to use with one hand.

Battery Life and Cooling

If you're going to be gaming, running apps and flashing Chroma, you're going to need a fairly big battery. To ensure everything runs for as long as possible, Razer installed a massive 4,000-mAH battery. The Chroma app also has a power management system so you can control how often and for how long the RBG activates.

As it stands, Razer is giving its new kid on the block an estimated 10 hours of battery life when the screen refresh rate is set to 120Hz.

But the phone will eventually need to recharge, but thanks to Qualcomm's QuickCharge 4+ technology, you should get a 50 percent charge in 30 minutes. And if you're a fan of wireless charging, Razer is working on a charging stand (complete with Chroma lighting because Razer) that it will announce at a later date.

Similar to the original, the Razer Phone 2 has a unique way of offsetting some of the heat build-up that comes with using demanding apps. Instead of the original's heat pipe, the 2 utilizes a thin sheet of metal as a vapor chamber, turning any resulting condensation into vapor to help keep things comfortably cool.

Availability

Razer starts taking pre-orders on Oct. 11, with the phone shipping closer to the holidays. The company hinted at carrier partners during the Razer Phone 2's unveiling tonight (Oct. 10), with a slide that included Verizon. However, Razer said it would announce wireless carriers for its new phone at a later date.

Outlook

If you asked me a year ago if Razer would ever make a phone, I'd have given you a hard no. But here we are discussing the company's second crack at an already saturated market. So far, the Razer Phone 2's improvements all look promising, as the company has addressed the original handset's weaknesses while building on its biggest strengths.

The result is a gaming phone that can stand against other flagship phones and potentially carve out a legitimate niche as a gaming/multimedia device. However, until we get it in for review and compare it to its most direct rival, the Asus ROG Phone, I'll be withholding my judgment.

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