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Razer Phone Review: Gamer’s delight?

3.5

The Good

  • Strong visuals and audio
  • Premium performance
  • Customisable OS

The Bad

  • Blocky design
  • 'Quick Charge'
  • Flawed cameras

The Razer Phone is a premium mobile designed with gamers in mind, delivering top-end performance as well as a massive battery and innovative display. So is this smartphone for gamers only, and how do features like the dual lens camera and general usability fare?

Gaming phones in the past haven’t enjoyed the greatest reception from critics or consumers. Remember Sony’s Xperia Play? Or the Nokia N-Gage? If you do, chances are that’s because they were a bit poo. Some neat ideas for sure, but as an overall package they fell flat on their posteriors.

Which brings us to the new Razer Phone, a fresh new handset aimed primarily at game lovers who want something to keep their thumbs busy wherever they roam. Razer is best known for its gaming hardware, and the Phone is its first stab at a mobile handset. The manufacturer isn’t messing about, either. This device is a premium blower through and through, offering rival-beating specs, innovative IGZO screen tech and powerful audio, not to mention a dual lens camera and sizeable battery.

All of this for £699 SIM-free in the UK, where you can also bag the Razer Phone on contract from the Three Network. Contracts begin at £41 per month, for 12GB of data.

So is the Razer Phone a fantastic first flagship effort, and a no-brainer for gamers? Or should you maybe wait for the Razer Phone 2, for those creases to be ironed out? Here’s our full review after using the device as our full-time handset.

Read next: Nintendo Switch review

Razer Phone review: Design

When we first clapped eyes on Razer’s mobile, we thought of old-school Sony Xperia smartphones. You get a similar brick-like design, complete with sharp angles and flat edges all over. One thing you certainly won’t find is a curve of any kind.

We’re a little torn when it comes to this phone’s look and feel. Part of us likes the distinctive finish, which proudly sports nothing in the way of frills or fancy bits. Beyond the funky Razer logo that adorns the rear edge, this is a very straightforward, no-nonsense chassis. However, we also can’t shake the feeling that the Razer Phone looks a bit like a prototype device. For £699, we’d certainly hope for some kind of premium finish, which isn’t on display here.

Neither is the device water resistant, unlike most of the competition these days. Although the matte surfacing does seem reasonably rugged so far, shrugging off attacks from pointed objects.

The lack of curves, thick bezels above and below the screen and bulky design would usually make the Razer Phone quite tricky to use one-handed. Thankfully some software features help out in that respect. Check out our features section for more on that.

You’ll find a fingerprint sensor built into the Razer Phone’s elongated power button, housed on the right edge; another Sony Mobile staple. Unlike Sony’s scanners however, this one lies perfectly flush with the surface. That makes it quite tricky to find at times, with a little bit of fumbling required; a slight indentation would have really helped matters. Still, the sensor is reasonably responsive and always accurately reads your print, as long as your digits aren’t mucky. Just push the button and the sensor kicks in, unlocking to your desktops.

What works?

The Razer Phone certainly offers a distinctive, old school design, which some will enjoy.

What doesn’t?

We can’t shake the feeling that this is a prototype handset with its basic finish, while there’s no water resistance to protect from accidental slips during toilet trips.

Razer Phone review: Screen and media

One of the finest features of the Razer Phone is that 5.72-inch IGZO LCD display.

This is certainly spacious enough for those lengthy gaming sessions, offering a good view of your battlefield of choice, while also packing in plenty of detail. The Quad HD resolution matches most of the phone’s premium-level competition, producing razor-sharp visuals at all times. Pun entirely intended.

Colours are quite punchy without appearing garish or over-processed. Contrast levels aren’t bad either (although OLED screens do offer deeper blacks), while visibility is also strong, with perfectly respectable brightness levels and wide viewing angles.

Best of all is the 120Hz refresh rate. Partnered with Qualcomm’s Q-Sync and Ultramotion display tech, you can expect next-level smoothness from your visuals; we’re talking a slab of butter sliding off an oiled-up iceberg here.

For some reason, pulling up the apps drawer is the only slightly stuttery action that we saw in several days of use. Everything else, from skimming through your desktops and menus to blowing up foes in the latest games, happens with crystal clarity and zero lag.

Audio is definitely another highlight of the Razer Phone. You get full support built in for Dolby Atmos, via the stereo speakers or your own pair of compatible headphones. Those speakers stretch across the full width of the handset’s bezels and they really do rock, as far as smartphone blasters go. You get impressive clarity even on the top-reaching volumes, as well as a fair bit of bass when needed. They certainly do the job when watching movies in a noisy environment, although we’d still recommend ‘phones for music.

What works?

As far as visuals and audio are concerned, the Razer Phone has it nailed.

What doesn’t?

Not much, to be honest, although we’re not convinced that IGZO screen tech - certainly in this case, at least - has any real advantage over OLED panels.

Razer Phone review: Features

At the time of launch, the Razer Phone sports a mostly vanilla version of Android Nougat 7.1.1 with the Nova launcher sat on top. It’s a shame that Oreo isn’t packed on as standard, although Razer did at least promise an upgrade to the latest Android in ‘Q1 2018’. Here’s hoping we’re talking more January time, rather than March.

The Nova launcher offers plenty of bonus customisation, which is certainly welcome. You can add all manner of shortcuts and gestures, tweak the look and feel of almost every part of the OS and even manage your hardware resources if you really feel the need. Some of those gestures are certainly helpful given the size of this handset, for easier one-handed operation.

Read next: Best Android launchers to add bonus features and customisation

When gaming, you can block notifications using the Game Booster feature. This also allows you to set hardware specs such as how much processing power is set aside for the app, as well as the screen refresh rate and resolution used. However there’s no built-in support for recording or streaming your gaming session, like Samsung’s own Game Launcher feature offers.

Check out our in-depth Razer Phone tips and tricks guide to see more on the software features of this device.

Storage-wise, you get 64GB of space for your media, apps and other bits, with the option to expand by a further 2TB via microSD. Nice.

What works?

The Nova launcher offers impressive customisation support, while you have plenty of storage for everything you need.

What doesn’t?

No game streaming support via the Game Booster app, and we’re gonna be waiting a while for Android Oreo.

Razer Phone review: Performance and battery life

We’re still waiting on Qualcomm to announce its new Snapdragon 845 chipset, so the Razer Phone uses the current top-end platform, the Snapdragon 835. This is the same chipset found in pretty much every premium smartphone of 2017, although here it’s backed by 8GB of RAM - only the OnePlus 5 offers such a massive amount of memory right now.

You can of course expect supreme performance, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish. The latest games play at a breakneck pace, while even skipping through your desktops is a mesmerising, silky smooth experience - as we touched on with the display review.

Frankly, we’d be surprised if gaming showed any kind of slowdown in the next year or two. This thing, like most other flagship phones from 2017, is reassuringly future-proof. That includes the connectivity, with up to 1Gbps download speeds supported.

Battery life is pretty good too, thanks to that mighty 4000mAh cell. With standard use (plenty of messaging, occasional camera play, some media streaming and the odd bit of gaming), you’ll easily make it through a full day and at least partway into a second. Not quite as strong as the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, which also has a 4000mAh battery, yet certainly not as bad as some other big phones ut there.

Even if you’re gaming non-stop with settings boosted to their max levels, you’ll get over three hours of play time before the screen goes black. Meanwhile discharge when the phone isn't in active use is quite low, so you don't need to worry about switching the Razer off at night.

However, we’re not too thrilled by the recharge rate of the battery. With promises of QuickCharge 4+ dancing in our ears, we hoped to get an almost full charge in around an hour at the plug. Sadly the Razer Phone takes closer to two hours to fill up, even when using the bundled QC4+ charger and cable, shunning things like multiplugs and turning the airplane mode on. That's significantly worse performance than we saw on the Mate 10 Pro, which sports the same size of battery.

Disappointing, for sure.

What works?

Premium performance and long battery life make for a solid gaming experience on the move.

What doesn’t?

That QuickCharge tech doesn’t live up to its name.

Razer Phone review: Cameras

As this is a handset aimed at gamers, you might be wondering if the camera tech was a bit of an afterthought. The front and rear snappers are usually one of the most important features of any new smartphone, thanks to the sheer number of shareable shots we take these days, yet during the Razer Phone’s launch the cameras were barely touched on at all.

All the same, they sound perfectly good on paper. You get a dual lens 12MP camera on the back end, which offers a wide-angle and zoom lens working side-by-side. It’s a similar setup to the Galaxy Note 8 and iPhone 8 Plus shooters, both of which certainly impressed us.

Meanwhile up front you have an 8-megapixel selfie camera for snapping your gorgeous mug, wherever you wander.

In decent lighting conditions, you can certainly capture crisp and colourful photos. However, more challenging conditions do pose a problem, while video recording is weaker than most rivals at this price point. We're talking Michael Bay levels of lens flare.

Here’s hoping some software updates can sort some of the issues. We’d like Razer to actually add some bonus camera modes too, as the likes of slow motion shooting and even a panorama feature are MIA at launch.

Check out our full Razer Phone camera review for our in-depth thoughts, along with photo and video samples taken with the handset.

Razer Phone review: Verdict

Although the Razer Phone certainly boasts some strong highlights, is it really the ultimate gaming handset? To be honest, the likes of the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, Samsung's Galaxy S8 and Sony's Xperia XZ1 offer just as strong gaming chops - in fact, Sony's handset can stream your PS4 gaming session, while Samsung's Game Launcher app is more feature-packed.

The Razer Phone disappoints when it comes to the camera tech and the blocky design, which at a lower price point would be more forgivable. However, at £699 we really do expect a full package, which this handset doesn't deliver.

That said, the gorgeous screen, awesome audio and enjoyable OS experience make the Razer enjoyable enough to use as a full-time handset. We just think that other smartphones offer more for your money.

Key Specs

  • 5.72-inches
  • 2560x1440
  • 190g
  • Android 7.1.1 + Nova
  • 12MP + 12MP telephoto
  • 8MP
  • Snapdragon 835
  • 8GB
  • 64GB + 2TB microSD
  • Yes
  • Fingerprint sensor, Game Booster

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