The Hardware Review: Razer Phone 2
Razer Phone 222nd October 2018
I like music. Trying to think of an appropriate way to describe the Razer Phone 2, Razer’s second attempt at the genre it kind of created (the gaming phone), I was trying to think of the song that would be most appropriate to associate with it. In the end, I settled on Steely Dan’s classic from 1972 – Do It Again. Now don’t get me wrong, Steely Dan had some… odd lyrical choices in their songs with references to second chances, infidelity and gambling in Do It Again, but what I’m talking about here is obviously the chorus line where the band break out into the bit everyone knows and can sing along with: “You go back, Jack, do it again”.
Mainly because that’s what we have in the Razer Phone 2. Razer went back, (Jack) and did it again, almost verbatim with the mark 1, so we’re definitely talking evolution rather than revolution. Nothing wrong with that of course, it’s the case with numerous handsets out there today, the Porsche 911 is evolving after 55 years and still going strong, Ferrari has moved to an evolution/revolution cycle with its cars in recent years with the likes of the F12 giving rise to the 812 and the 458 becoming the 488 as the firm attempts to amortise development costs over a longer period of time.
It’s to a certain extent a signal of the maturity of the mobile phone market that a company with little prior experience (technically Razer had no prior experience but let’s be fair, they bought Nextbit which had some) can come out with a relative hit on its first attempt. I say relative hit of course because although the Razer Phone garnered numerous awards (including from us where I gave the original an Editors’ Choice Award almost a year ago), the numbers told a slightly different story.
When I was at the press hands on a few weeks ago I asked about official sales numbers for the original and was told to “look at our earnings report”. I then explained to the chap from Razer Germany that I was the person who had originally reverse engineered the earnings numbers (here) to arrive at an educated guess of 20,000+ phones out there in the wild but was looking for something more along the lines of an official counting. Razer did mention in its earnings that the initial phone had been released in a limited run so whichever way you look at it, although numerous people liked the original, it’s no surprise that Razer didn’t gear up to try to outsell Apple or Samsung.
Let’s get to the phone itself then.
The Razer Phone 2 in the Box
As mentioned in my hands on, we’re not looking at any radical changes with the mark 2. A casual glance would allow someone to dismiss the phone as the mark 1 very easily as they look almost identical, however there has been a very slight increase in dimensions (likely to allow for IP67 water resistance) meaning the phone is now 158.5 x 78.99 x 8.5 mm (really?! 78.99? come on, just say 79!) ultimately gaining it 0.5mm in thickness and 1.29mm in width but realistically they’re basically the same in the hand when looking at dimensions.
What isn’t the same however is the overall fit and finish of the phone. Speakers are now completely flush to the screen rather than the mark 1 which had a noticeable bump as a finger transitioned from the speaker to the screen to pull down notifications, this is now gone and upon first trying to pull down notifications I instinctively reached for the top to swipe again as I thought I’d missed the top of the screen. It’s still uncanny, there is obviously a small difference in feel due to the different materials but the obvious “blip” is gone. Other small changes such as the sim/micro SD card slot moving from the right side of the phone to the left, the rear camera arrangement now moving to a more central location above the Razer logo and the switching of the order of the front camera and sensor (meaning those who rotate counter-clockwise to go landscape no longer cover the sensor and therefore dim the screen with their thumb) round out the physical changes until we come to the party pieces of the Razer Phone 2.
As is well publicised by now, the rear gets Gorilla Glass 5 so that the phone can be wirelessly charged and also so that the rear logo is now no longer a static logo but of course a Razer RGB Chroma enabled one! Allowing for the by now well-known 16.8 million colours with various effects (spectrum cycling, breathing, static etc).
On the inside, the by now standard spec bump accompanies the phone but is at a high level limited to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 clocked in at the maximum recommended 2.8GHz which is now of course cooled by a vapour chamber setup. The original was already generous with 64GB of storage and 8GB of memory so nothing changes there, nor does it particularly need to. Other changes include up to 20% faster Gigabit LTE, Qi wireless charging and optically stabilised Sony IMX camera sensors as well as 10 bit colour accuracy and a stronger/better vibration motor.
Razer Phone 2 – Screen
So the mark 1 had an excellent screen. Marred in the view of some by the maximum brightness it could put out but which for me at least was fine and in the end I usually had it at about 50% with auto-brightness adjustment. The mark 2 however does address this and brightness gets bumped up to 645 nits (a 50% increase on the mark 1), keeping its party pieces of 120 Hz “UltraMotion” (aka Gsync/Freesync for phones).
The base technology remains an IGZO 1440 x 2560 LCD measuring in at 5.72 inches and it is a marvellous screen. The mark 1 I had ended up with some slight permanent discolouration on the left edge and I know one other person with one that had it on the right edge so it may be that there were some issues with them although on mine it only appeared after months of use so it’s too early to say yet whether the mark 2 will be better in this regard. It’s not as annoying as the Samsung lines or Apple bright spots I’ve seen/experienced but it was annoying nonetheless.
The 120Hz does keep things incredibly buttery smooth and extremely fluid and I still think the screen is one of the best selling points of the Razer Phone 2 (along with the speakers).
Razer Phone 2 – Audio
The speakers are still as good as it gets in a device this size. Impressive and loud, with Dolby Atmos as standard and a THX certified DAC (yep, STILL no headphone jack, grrrr). The glass back carries a bit more vibration from the speakers than the original (with its metal back) did but overall the sound is excellent. The press samples didn’t ship with the DAC but in the meantime the THX certified one which shipped with the mark 1 works fine in the Razer Phone 2 and still sounds excellent with high bitrate mp3. We’ll see if the new one changes things at all but as of time of publication, the new DAC has yet to be seen.
It’s still something of a personal frustration that there is no 3.5mm jack. I know that people are turning to wireless but some people still have significant amounts of money invested in wired audio and frankly, even with THX certification, dongles are a pain and overall more trouble than they’re worth. Perhaps I’ll move to wireless earphones (I’ve been eyeing up the Sennheiser Momentum True Wireless ones which launch next month) but charging earphones is just a hassle I don’t want to have to deal with. So please, Razer and Min-Liang Tan, forget the Razer Toaster, I want a 3.5mm jack in the Razer Phone 3. If you only change two things on the Razer Phone 3, please make them whatever the next Snapdragon flagship is AND A 3.5MM HEADPHONE JACK!
Rant over, the audio is excellent and once again it’s impressive that Razer has managed to cram dual amplifiers and audio like this into a mobile device.
Razer Phone 2 – Battery
The battery in the first Razer Phone was excellent. The first time in years I hadn’t experienced what I now know is termed (the ridiculous) “FORO” or fear of running out. Coming in at 4,000 mAh the phone was good for all day usage, significant pounding during my couple of hours of commuting time in an average day, listening to music, checking emails etc and still having plenty of juice to spare. The Chroma logo and bumping the screen to be permanently 120Hz as well as those who want the brightness to be eye watering will obviously suffer somewhat but in my day to day usage thus far (4 days so far), the battery is getting depleted a little quicker than in the mark 1 but still has the stamina to last all day. Also, since my car now has a wireless charger in the armrest, the invariable never carry a cable in the car to charge a phone has become less of a problem for me if it ever does run out.
Software, Camera and Other Factors
Once again, Razer is shipping the Razer Phone 2 with what is basically stock Android (8.1, Pie is promised in an update which Razer came good on with the mark 1 so no reason to suspect they won’t again). Realistically, both the Android and iOS platforms are quite mature now so it’s not like there are key features missing which are a big deal for not shipping with. On top of stock Android, Razer bundles the excellent Nova Launcher as well as some of its own apps for controlling settings in game (CPU clock, refresh rate etc) and of course the Chroma app for controlling the colours on the rear logo.
The good news is the Chroma app is intuitive and easy to use. Razer has also put three different options for battery usage into it which entirely make sense, low means it will only highlight for notifications, medium means it will be on when the phone is on, as well as for notifications with high being in use all the time.
The camera on the mark 1 was a bit of a sore spot. Personally, I still think cameras in phones are all one big bundle of compromises which ultimately mean they’re good enough, not good. My dream of a decent camera built into a phone faded into nothingness when the RED Hydrogen One revealed its specs over time and it came to be that the built in camera was still just standard mobile phone sensors and RED was pinning more of its hopes on the holographic display and bolt on modules after the phone initially went on sale with a proper camera module to come (when is anyone’s guess). That resulted in a cancelled pre-order from me. Razer are updating the camera app before launch which is why the embargo doesn’t lift until today, the day the app is supposed to be updated. The camera seems reasonable enough (as did the last one to me, although slightly lacking in functionality). Image stabilisation is a nice touch and I’ll be sure to test taking some photos while wobbling it a bit when the update hits with the apparent camera optimisations.
UPDATE: Although Razer did release a software update which contained camera fixes, the promised panorama mode has yet to appear.
Razer has done a lot here. It may not look like it at first glance with many assuming from the initial pictures that it’s just a “do it again” phone with a spec bump but to me it’s fairly clear that a reasonable amount of changes have happened under the hood. The internals have likely been significantly rearranged to cater to IP67, vapour chamber and a rejigged sim/sd slot and the overall feel of the phone is better. Chroma on the rear logo was kind of a must have and a glass back with wireless charging is a major positive. Accessories will be launching this time in the shape of a wireless charging dock (also with Chroma) and a game controller for getting around the permanent issue of soft-touch on screen buttons for mobile gaming but overall this is a great second go round the block for Razer.
I’m still largely unconvinced by the state of mobile gaming given I’d like to not have to lug around a big controller to properly game on my phone. There are decent games in the mobile ecosystem (several Grand Theft Auto’s and other “real” games which have been ported) and in the early days of these devices I went a bit nuts and bought several of them, only to feel bitterly disappointed at the overall interface problem of touchscreens. This isn’t Razer’s fault of course, but if they want us to really think that the future of serious gaming is mobile, they’ll need to do something to address the control interface without just slinging a Razer controller our way and saying “here, bolt your phone onto that!”
A mate of mine recently commented to me that “It seems I can buy the full fat version of Civ VI on iOS for 50 quid. Oddly, while I’d be fine paying that on PC, it feels wrong doing so on mobile” and therein lies the problem. Mobile gaming is heavily reliant on the ecosystem, ongoing support from a developer as devices get upgraded (yeah, I’m looking at you EA with Mass Effect Infiltrator), lacking both graphical fidelity and control excellence which comes with other non-mobile forms of gaming (or even mobile in dedicated devices like the Nintendo Switch). I love my Switch, but I can’t be bothered to carry a bag just so that I can use it on the train and the same will apply to the Razer Phone 2 controller. I want something that can fit in a pocket and which I can game well on for the long term.
So for gaming? Sure, if mobile gaming is your thing, I’m sure the Razer Phone 2 is a great phone with its gamer oriented features like variable refresh rate and 120 Hz for games which support it, but for me the Razer Phone (1) was my daily driver mostly because it excelled at being a high end, all day phone with a great screen and speakers and the Razer Phone 2 will be my daily driver for the foreseeable future for the same reasons. It doesn't quite do enough to earn itself an Editors' Choice award but does bag itself a Recommended. The lacking panorama mode and DAC for testing would probably have persuaded things towards the former but alas, I can only test what I have. For me the phone is excellent and the best Android flagship I could hope for.
Just remember Min, no toaster, 3.5mm jack please!
An excellent high end Android device with flagship features and an outstanding screen/speaker combination that is unmatched in the phone space.
- Flagship specs
- Razer vapour chamber cooling
- 8GB RAM
- 64GB storage
- Excellent 120Hz screen
- Amplified speakers
- Dolby Atmos
- THX certified DAC (allegedly, press samples didn't have one)
- Chroma logo
- Wireless charging
- IP67 water resistance
- STILL no 3.5mm jack!
- No opportunity to test the new DAC
- Panorama mode for camera not present (yet)
- Price has crept up since V1
- Mobile gaming is still... mobile gaming