Although the smartphone market has long been dominated by two big players – Apple and Samsung – this year has seen a succession of startups attempt to edge their way into the business.
This summer, Essential, which is headed up by Android creator Andy Rubin, entered the market with its Phone. Now, Razer, a company best known for its gaming computers and accessories, has jumped in with its own Phone.
Much like the company’s other products, Razer’s Phone is marketed towards gamers. Indeed, it has a feature PC and console gamers clamor for – smooth gameplay.
As it turns out, there are reasons why even non-gamers can appreciate that feature. And it’s one the big smartphone makers may want to take a good look at for their own future models.
Check out the Razer Phone:
The Razer Phone’s design might seem dated.
For some, the huge top and bottom borders around the Phone’s screen will stand out in a bad way. Many of the phones released this year, including the OnePlus 5T, Google’s Pixel 2 XL, Apple’s iPhone X, and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8, offer much narrower borders around their displays.
But its all-metal case and squared off design give it an incredibly solid feel.
The Phone’s sharply squared-off edges and metal case give it a unique design that’s a welcome change in this age of rounded, ultrasleek looking phones.
The Phone’s stereo speakers are the loudest smartphone speakers I’ve heard
The large areas above and below the Phone’s screen house its speakers. The sound they produce isn’t much better in quality than that of other smartphones, and the Phone’s built-in speakers aren’t a good replacement for an external speaker. But they can get astonishingly loud without distorting the sound.
Its screen has a feature I’ve never seen on a phone.
The Phone’s screen has a refresh rate of up to 120 hertz (Hz), giving it the ability to to display games and other moving images with frame rates as high as 120 a second. That yields incredibly smooth visual images that surpass anything you’ll see on other smartphones, whose refresh rates are usually capped at 60Hz. The experience is comparable to the so-called soap-opera effect, which makes those shows appear smoother than primetime TV shows or movies.
That smooth video effect makes the Android operating system and even general apps look awesome. Hopefully the Phone’s display sets a new standard for future devices from all manufacturers.
That said, the high refresh rate does have one theoretical downside – it can potentially drain the Phone’s battery faster than normal. I say “theoretical,” because I haven’t noticed a big difference even though I’ve kept the Phone’s screen refreshing at a 120 Hz rate the entire time I’ve tested it.
By default, Razer sets the Phone’s refresh rate at 90 90Hz, which should lessen any potential battery-drain problems.
Some games look great on the Phone — but so do other apps.
Not all games support the Phone’s fast refresh rate. Many will look the same on the Phone as they would on other smartphones.
But those that do support the Phone’s 120Hz refresh rate look great. While the graphics look the same as they would on other top smartphones, the movements within the games are much smoother. If you like playing mobile games, you’ll love playing them on the Razer.
Over time, you’ll likely see a growing number of mobile game developers tweak their games to support fast refresh rates, especially if other manufacturers copy Razer.
But even if you’re not a mobile gamer, you’ll be able to appreciate the Phone’s 120Hz refresh rate because of how smooth it makes the Android operating system and non-game apps.
It has a surprisingly good 12-megapixel camera.
I was expecting the Phone’s camera to be just OK. But it was much better than I anticipated.
The colours it produces are slightly on the warmer side, which means they have a somewhat yellowish tint to them, but they’re not bad. The images it produces are fairly sharp, and it does a good job handling both bright and shady areas.
The Phone’s camera doesn’t offer a Portrait mode like that on Apple’s iPhone X, but the it’s able to do a decent job of blurring out the background on some pictures. Like the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 Plus, the Phone has a secondary lens that offers a 2x optical zoom, which offers higher quality zoomed images than those made using the digital zoom feature found in other phone cameras.
Similar to many other smartphone cameras, the Phone has an HDR (high dynamic range) feature, which is supposed to bring out details in dark and light areas of images. But I’d advise leaving the Phone’s version turned off. It can add odd-looking artifacts to your photos.
The Phone’s specs compare favourably with those of many top Android phones.
The Phone has the same fast Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 processor you’ll find in other top Android smartphones released this year. But it bests many of its rivals in a couple of other specs.
For one thing, the Phone includes 8GB of RAM. The only other phone we’ve seen that offers that much memory is the OnePlus 5T. Most other top Android phones have just 4GB of RAM.
Typically, the more RAM a device has, the faster it can switch between apps. The additional RAM in the Phone could also help it play games smoothly at its fast refresh rate.
For another, the Phone has 4,000mAh battery, which is large for a smartphone. To be sure, if you’re taking advantage of the device’s 120Hz refresh rate, you may not see any advantage from that jumbo-sized battery. But you could see extra-long life if you reduce the refresh rate to 90Hz or even 60Hz.
But it doesn’t offer some of the features you’ll find on rival devices.
The Phone isn’t water resistant, and it doesn’t support wireless charging, features that have increasingly become standard on other top Android devices.
It also doesn’t have an OLED screen, another feature that’s become increasingly common on rival phones. That’s unfortunate, because OLED displays can produce better blacks and colours and offer better contrast than the LCD display used in the Phone.
Another thing the device is lacking is a headphone jack, which is odd considering the Phone’s size.
Still, it’s hard to knock the Phone for these shortcomings. Many smartphone manufacturers have been removing the headphone jack from their devices, so the Phone isn’t alone in not having one.
On the display front, Razer decided to accept a trade-off. OLED displays can’t handle refresh rates as high as the Phone’s 120Hz. The company decided ultra-smooth video was more important than better colour reproduction.
And the Phone isn’t the only top device that doesn’t offer water resistance and wireless charging. The OnePlus 5T, one of my favourite smartphones this year, doesn’t include those features either.
Meanwhile, the Phone does offer a bunch of meaningful feature that I appreciate. It has a good camera, a sharp design, offers good battery life and impressive performance, and supports fast charging.
It has two significant shortcomings.
There were two things about the Phone I didn’t particularly like.
Its screen just isn’t very bright. If you’re outside on a sunny day, it can be hard to see what it’s displaying. It’s almost impossible to play games in such conditions and difficult to use many apps. It can even be hard to just take a photo.
I’m also not a fan of one aspect of the Phone’s design. Razer placed both its power button, which doubles as a fingerprint sensor, on its right edge. Because the button is flush with the Phone’s edge and is similar in feel to the Phone’s metal case, it can be hard to find.
Should you buy the Phone?
The $US700 Phone has a lot going for it, including a unique design, a huge battery, and a screen that offers ultra-smooth video and games. For hardcore mobile gaming enthusiasts, the Phone is ideal. But even regular smartphone users will be able to appreciate it for its ultra-fast refresh rate.
Still, most people would be better off with other phones. The OnePlus 5T and the Essential Phone don’t have screens that refresh as rapidly as that on the Razer Phone. But they are truly excellent devices – and they cost $US200 less.
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