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Razer Phone 2 Review: Refined but Flawed Gaming Phone

The Razer Phone 2 is in just about every way a much better Razer phone, but it still doesn’t quite match up with the products of the titans of the smartphone industry: Apple and Samsung.

As with last year’s Razer Phone, this follow-up device delivers over-the-top hardware hampered in some places by sub-part software. Specifically, while the camera app is better, it still delivers dull, relatively lackluster images.

The big draw for the Razer Phone 2, though, is its capabilities as a gaming device and in this regard, Razer’s second smartphone improves on some levels, while managing to play it surprisingly safe.

Hardware

The $800 Razer Phone 2 packs a 2.8 GHz Snapdragon 845 processor, a 5.72-inch IGZO LCD 120Hz display (2560 x 1440 with wide color gamut), 8GB of system memory, and a 4,000 mAh battery. The system runs on the slightly outdated Android 8.1, though it will be getting an update early next year.

Those new specs outline a series of big improvements that come to the Razer Phone 2, thanks to an internal redesign and listening to what users had to say about the original phone.

The original phone featured a cooling system that used twin copper pipes to help prevent the CPU from overheating and throttling performance. The new system features a vapor chamber to keep the CPU cool. Inside the phone is a sheet of hollow metal filled with condensation. The outside of that sheet is made of copper, as it heats, the vapor inside dissipates the heat evenly throughout the metal, which is about the size of the phone. That, in turn, means that games that require a lot of processing power can run longer at maximum performance.

The display remains the most impressive feature of the Razer Phone 2. It is still the only gaming phone on the market with a 120Hz refresh rate that delivers surprisingly smooth graphics and video with full HDR support. The display, already a top-of-class feature for gaming, was improved by making it about 50 percent brighter than the previous phone. At 645 nits, the Razer Phone 2’s display is brighter than both the Galaxy Note 9 and the iPhone Xs Max.

Both the battery and system memory are unchanged from the previous phone, but they remain some of the highest specs in the category. The competition, this year, simply had a chance to catch up.

Changes

The basic shape of the Razer Phone 2 is still a love-it-or-hate-it rectangle that, at first glance, is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor. What changes do exist are meaningful, however.

The Razer Phone 2 now features a glass back, which brings with it wireless charging and a chroma-infused RGB light-up logo that can be used as a simple adornment or as a color-coded notification system.

The cameras on the back of the phone have been shifted to the center and down a bit and the two lenses are not separated by the built-in flash. Razer also swapped out its camera sensors from Samsung to Sony (two 12MP on back, and a 8MP on the front) and added image stabilization in hopes of fixing the biggest stumbling block of the first phone.

The front of the phone looks identical, though if you were to dive into those display-framing speaker grills you’d find improved front firing speakers redesigned to both increase sound and clarity, while also being waterproof. To pull off that trick, Razer enlarged the speaker box behind the grill, giving it a larger chamber in which to resonate.

Thanks to that redesign and some other work, the phone is now rated IP67 for water resistance, which means it can be under as much as a meter of water for 30 minutes without being damaged.

Hands-On

After spending over a week with the phone, it’s clear that it is a better gaming phone than the original Razer.

After spending hours playing “PUBG” on the Razer Phone 2, its edges starting to get warm, but performance didn’t seem to be impacted. The high-end specs pairs nicely with Razer’s Cortex app.

The Cortex app allows users to go into each game and individually pre-set the configuration of the phone. For instance, I have “PUBG” set to run at 2.8 GHz (though I could have dropped it down to as low as 1.36 GHz). You can also set the frame rate from 40 fps up to 120 fps. And there’s the option to turn on anti-aliasing. There’s also an option to automatically turn on a do not disturb mode while playing a game, which turns off all phone notifications.

CREDIT: Razer

You can also launch your games directly from Cortex, or use the app to browse and download featured games.

The only other gaming-centric app created by Razer for its phone is the theme store, which comes packed with a slew of game-centric themes for your phone. You can grab themes for everything from “PUBG Mobile” to “The Bard’s Tale IV” and have your phone instantly outfitted in your favorite title’s colors, images, and sounds.

As with the original Razer Phone, the Razer Phone 2 avoided loading up the device with bloatware. Beyond those two gaming-centric programs and some basic apps, the phone is fairly empty of pre-installed software.

Razer’s camera app, while much, much improved over the original Razer Phone’s app, still leaves a lot to be desired.

The images, compared to those taken on on smartphones released this year, seem dull and very occasionally, slightly out of focus. While there are some added features, like a portrait mode for a depth of field effect and a selfie beauty mode, those features feel like entry-level attempts compared to the much more robust and refined modes found in competitive phones.

Razer rolled out a software update over the weekend that did a lot to tweak some of the low-light issues I was seeing with the phone, and the company has said they will continue to update their phone post-launch, so there is hope.

Conclusion

The Razer Phone 2 is a vast improvement over the original Razer Phone, but Razer continues to play catch-up in some important ways. For instance, when I asked if the phone would feature face recognition as a security feature, a rep told me that would be a great feature for the next phone.

As a gaming device, the Razer Phone 2 continues to shine, but its competitors, having woken to the growing and important niche, are starting to crowd in. Where just last year Razer was the clear market leader in this market, it’s new device, with much-needed improvements on a slew of oversights, offers very little when it comes to pushing the notion of a smartphone designed just for games forward.

The Razer Phone 2 is fighting to maintain its competitive edge with an unmatched display and an ornate, but under-utilized Chroma logo. The Razer Phone 2 is certainly a better device than what Razer delivered last year, but it does little to innovate for gaming this time around. Hopefully, next year will see a Razer Phone that both exceeds the general competition on basic features and once more evolves the notion of a gaming phone.

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Razer Phone 2 Review: Refined but Flawed Gaming Phone

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