The Razer Phone 2 is poised to be the gaming phone to beat

Razer is introducing a new flagship smartphone, the Razer Phone 2, that’s meant to establish a foothold in the new gaming phone market. I had the chance to spend some time with Razer’s new flagship and found the new phone looks nearly identical to the first, but it has a new aluminum frame that has gone through a complete structural revamp. The Razer Phone 2 is meant to be a gaming phone, so there have also been relevant improvements made to the screen and audio, but also helpful additions that weren’t in the phone last year, like waterproofing.

Gaming phones are increasing in number, but not in maturity. Manufacturers that produce gaming computers — Razer and ASUS, for starters — are turning to phones because they’re now able to provide features like HDR and high refresh rate screens (for smoother on-screen visuals) that are buzzwords for gamers on both sides of the spectrum. Fortnite and PUBG for mobile are blips on the radar compared to some of China’s biggest mobile games, like Honor of Kings with 200 million monthly players.

While plenty of highly capable flagship smartphones exist, these companies hope that they’ll be able to do enough to improve the gaming experience. This year, Razer isn’t reinventing the gaming phone, but instead is adding signature features like Chroma and partnering with mobile game studios to optimize games for the Razer Phone 2, in order to stay ahead.

Internally, here’s what’s changed with the Razer Phone 2. The new brain of this gaming phone is a Snapdragon 845 chipset — what most other Android flagships are using — clocked at 2.8GHz with an Adreno 630 visual chip. To cope with heat dissipation, Razer even has a scaled-down version of the vapor chamber cooling technology used on its Blade 15 laptop, designed to keep the phone from getting too hot.

A substantial upgrade to 8GB of RAM, LTE gigabit antennas for faster data, 64GB of storage, and a massive 4,000mAh battery powers the device. The Razer Phone 2 runs Android 8.1 with Nova Launcher by default, but Android Pie is currently in testing and planned as an over-the-air upgrade. A new flagship Android phone shouldn’t launch with an outdated OS, but that’s unfortunately the situation here.

Gaming phones need content, and it’s a been a fact that the best mobile games have been on iOS, not Android. Even as Android has matured and game release dates have been closer to each other, it still hasn’t come out as the leading mobile game platform. Razer tells me it’s aware of this problem and is teaming up with game studios to not only optimize their games for the Razer Phone — PUBG Mobile, Rival: Crimson x Chaos, Marvel Future Fight, and RuneScape to name a few — but also exclusive content for the future.

But maybe one of the best upgrades is something you might not notice from photos: how much easier it is to hold this time around. The original Razer Phone had an all-edged design — it was a literal candy bar — paired with a huge size that ensured it wasn’t the most comfortable phone to hold. Although the updated design is almost identical, the edges have been rounded slightly, to give a slightly better feel thanks to the edges not pressing into your hand.

There’s also a glass back now, so the Razer Phone 2 can charge wirelessly. The Phone 2 will work on your own charging mat or Razer’s new Chroma $99 charging stand powered by USB-C that can prop the phone up or lay it flat. Razer is aware that some of its current and potential customers might not be fans of the glass back, so I’ve been told a matte finish with more storage, but otherwise identical specs, is in the works.

Also, I couldn’t believe it, but it’s happening: Chroma on a phone. Razer replaced the triple-snake logo on the back with a larger Chroma backlit version that serves as the notification blinker, while removing the notification LED from the front. It supports 16.8 million colors (just like other Razer Chroma-supported products) and can use static, breathe, or spectrum cycling lighting modes. Do you need it? Not really. Is it cool? Kind of.

The 5.7-inch screen this year has also seen improvements to HDR coverage and brightness, while keeping the 2560 x 1440 qHD resolution and 120Hz refresh rate for consistent and smooth visuals. It’s a pretty display with lots of pixels for sure, but I wouldn’t pass further judgement on it until I see it outside of the lights of a conference room.

Like last year, large speakers flank both the top and bottom of the screen. While Razer believes that the size and position is great because they give the user an area to grip the phone, I think they take away from the display. However, Razer is boasting Dolby Atmos support from the two front-facing speakers and a 24-bit DAC over USB-C. The Razer Phone 2’s audio prowess is something that could be useful for situational awareness in games, or just watching Netflix.

The gaming hardware company also switched to Sony camera sensors with optical image stabilization — both 12 megapixels, one wide-angle and another regular — for the Razer Phone 2, repositioning them on the back and adding a new, better-looking camera app. With the few photos I took, it seems like there has been an improvement in clarity and color reproduction. Razer also says it made considerable improvements to the subject photo mode, but I haven’t had the chance to test it thoroughly.

Ultimately, it seems like Razer really thinks that the people who take mobile gaming seriously — especially in Asia — will be looking for the competitive advantage that a gaming-oriented smartphone could give them. Looking at the competition, the Razer Phone 2 isn’t as garish looking as the Asus ROG Phone, despite not having any modular functionality. It’s mimicking the same strategy that Razer took with the Blade 15 — subtlety over attention — while its competitors continue to release laptops with “gamer styling”; they’re making the same mistake with gaming phones.

The Razer Phone 2 will be sold unlocked for $799 in the United States from Razer and its online partners; overseas the phone will see a few carrier partners in China. Preorders start today, with shipping dates to be announced.

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