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Smartphones

Razer Phone review – handset for gamers sets new standards for smartphone industry

Its battery life may be a little short and its camera not the best, but the Razer Phone has twice the screen refresh rate of any other smartphone, plenty of RAM and the best speakers out there

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 December, 2017, 10:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 11 December, 2017, 9:25am

First-generation products from companies venturing outside their comfort zone are usually a mixed bag. The original iPhone, for example, may be credited for starting the mobile revolution, but it lacked plenty of crucial elements that have been paramount to the growth of smartphones, including 3G connectivity, an app store and a selfie camera. Those features didn’t appear the iPhone until its second year or later.

Considering that, the Razer Phone, despite a couple of glaring flaws, is an unusually polished first outing for the Singaporean-American video gaming hardware company of the same name.

Design and hardware

The Razer Phone is marketed as “made for gamers, by gamers”, and three hardware elements fulfil this promise.

The first is a display with a 120Hz refresh rate. Almost all smartphones on the market operate at 60Hz, which is more than sufficient for normal smartphone usage. But serious gamers require a display with less input lag – even a millisecond delay between button press and on-screen action can be life or death in the gaming world.

This effectively makes animations on the Razer Phone twice as smooth as on any other device on the market. This matters when gaming, of course, but I was surprised to find that the 120Hz refresh rate also tangibly improved mundane smartphone experiences such as scrolling through a website or opening an app.

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It’s one of those things that once you see it, you can’t un-see it. Before the Razer Phone, I would have never thought my Samsung Galaxy Note 8 display was lacking, but after using the Razer Phone for a week, I noticed dropped animations and minor stutters when, say, swiping through photos.

The second element that makes the Razer Phone an optimal gaming device is its speakers, which fill the device’s fairly large top and bottom bezels. While the bar hasn’t been set particularly high – modern smartphones have all but sacrificed speakers in their effort to be as slim and bezel-less as possible – but the Razer Phone’s speakers are easily the best in the industry, with deep bass and full sound.

Finally, Razer has packed 8GB of RAM into the phone to ensure there’s enough memory so users can jump in and out of games and other apps without issue.

The rest of the phone is pretty standard 2017 flagship fare: a Snapdragon 835 processor with a 5.7-inch Quad HD display (though it’s an LCD panel and it’s still in the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio). And the overall boxy rectangular metal design is well-built, if a bit bland.

Software and features

Software is another area Razer got right: although the phone ships with an older Android 7.1.1, it comes with Nova Launcher Prime pre-installed. Serious Android users will no need introduction, but for others: Nova Launcher is a third-party software UI that’s highly popular with power users, due to its clean, almost stock Android-like feel and myriad of customisation options.

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I use Nova Launcher on every Android phone because I like it so much more than whatever Samsung, LG, Huawei, and Xiaomi have put in their models. That the Razer Phone comes with it pre-installed saved me a few minutes of set-up.

In terms of additional features, the Razer Phone is pretty bare bones. Nova Launcher is designed to feel bloat-free like stock Android, so you’re not going to find redundant “battery optimisation” apps that you do in Samsung phones, or weird gestures like shaking or squeezing a phone to activate a feature like in ZTE’s or HTC’s devices.

Performance and battery life

The Razer Phone is the most fluid looking and feeling smartphone on the market, beating even iPhones. With those stupendous speakers and buttery smooth display, gaming performance is excellent as expected.

Battery life is average – the 4,000 mAh battery is larger than usual, but the Razer Phone works harder than other phones on visuals and audio. I needed to reach for my portable battery by the evening.

Moving on to the two flaws of the Razer Phone: the first is that despite a great display indoors, it struggles in sunlight because its maximum brightness is low.

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The second flaw is that the Razer Phone’s dual cameras are a bit of a letdown. They’re not bad per se, but compared with other devices in the US$700 price range (there is no official Hong Kong pricing yet, but a source told me it be around HK$5,900), the Razer Phone’s dynamic range and focus times are poor.

The camera app is also very bare bones, with no manual controls or any shooting modes such as panorama or slow-motion video. Razer’s staff did say these problems are all software related and the team is working on fixing things.

Conclusion

For a debut device, the Razer Phone is impressive. The camera problem is fixable, and the screen brightness issue isn’t a deal breaker unless you work outdoors all day.

Those speakers and the 120Hz refresh rate set new industry standards. The latter, in fact, is a game-changer. After seeing the Razer Phone’s fluidity, I don’t want to settle for half speed any more.

The next iPhone and Samsung Galaxy flagship – or any other company with the gall to price its phones north of US$900 – had better make the jump to 120Hz (Apple’s already done so with its new line of iPad Pros), or else this reviewer is going to dock major points.

Specs

Dimensions: 158.5mm x 77.7mm x 8mm

Weight: 197g

Display: 5.7-in Quad HD LCD, 120Hz

Battery: 4,000 mAh

OS version reviewed: Android 7.1.1 with Nova Launcher Prime

Processor: Snapdragon 835

Cameras: dual 12-megapixel lens with f/1.8 and f/2.6 aperture (back); 8-megapixel with f/2.0 aperture (front)

Memory: 64GB; 8GB RAM

Colour: black

Price: US$699