Less than a year after Razer brought their inaugural phone to Australia, a second one is on the way. The company officially unveiled it in a keynote livestream earlier this afternoon. But having spent some time with the phone under embargo earlier this week, the new Razer Phone might be the most improved device of 2018.
First off, the best bits of the 2017 model — which technically arrived in Australia this year, but you get the picture — remain. The screen is still a 5.72" IGZO LCD running at 1440x2560, sporting a 120Hz panel and HDR compatibility. Razer talked up the fact the phone was the only phone officially certified by Netflix for HDR and Dolby Digital 5.1, but that's less exciting: the Razer Phone was certified as well, and so was Huawei's P20 series, the Mate 10 Pro, the LG V30, the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus, Galaxy Note 9, the LG G7 ThinQ and the list goes on.
A little more exciting — and something that makes the Razer Phone 2 genuinely relevant in the current market — is the hardware refresh under the hood. The Razer Phone 2 will ship with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip out of the box with a vapor chamber cooling (similar to what's in the new Razer Blade) to help performance and thermals.
The 4000 mAh battery is back, along with a default 8GB RAM and 64GB storage for all devices. You can get 2TB expandable storage, but the real upgrades are to the weakest part of the phone: the camera.
A shot of a Red Dead 2 mug, taken on a Razer Phone 2 (left) and iPhone XS Max (right). Neither image was edited for taste or quality, but the Razer app automatically boosted the colours. The XS Max, mind you, took a much more natural looking photo, and preserved more detail.
Brightness has improved with a peak of 645 nits, and the device has now got IP67 water resistance to boot. That mean it's dust resistant, but you should also be able to drop the phone — theoretically — into up to 1m of water for around half an hour and it should still survive.
(Hey Razer: if you'd like to let us stress-test that water resistance, get in touch.)
The tankiness of the original design returns as well. There's not a great deal of difference in the size of the chassis or the bezels, and the front facing speakers with dual amplifiers are back as well.
It makes a difference when you're watching something. It's not uncommon for modern phones to keep the speakers in the rear of the device. The LG G7, my current daily driver, does this a lot. Unfortunately, it means you end up muffling the quality of the speakers with your hands.
The biggest feature for gamers is the advanced tweaking tools, which is split across a few different apps. Game Booster, pictured above, lets you control the CPU settings, resolution and frame rate for each game.
Android already has options like this, but it's not as granular as what the Razer software offers. In Android, the most you can do is move a slider for the frame rate and resolution. Most games won't use the full power of your phone, but you can set it on an app-by-app basis in Game Booster.
PUBG, for instance, would only run the Snapdragon 845 at 2.30GHz by default. Game Booster will let you pop that up to 2.8GHz, and if you're worried about battery life but still want a smooth frame rate, you can tweak the resolution down to 1080p to suit.
Other things you can do with Razer's suite include tweaking the RGB lighting — it's a Razer product, so obviously RGB is involved — of the logo on the back. There's a battery management app that lets you pick one of three profiles, although there's not much to choose from here.
It would have been nice if all of these functions were rolled into a single app rather than multiple apps on the phone. But beyond the few Razer apps included, Razer claims that the phone is pretty much a stock Android install. Android 8.1, mind you: an update will be released later this year upgrading the phone to Android Pie.
The biggest upgrade — and still the biggest question mark — is the camera, though. The rear cameras include a f/1.7 wide angle lens with image stabilisation, and a f/2.6 telephoto lens. Both rear cameras are 12MP each, which is fine, but behind most of the flagships announced this year.
That's true for the 8MP f/2.0 front-facing camera as well. It's a major improvement from the previous model: more sharpness, better autofocus and image stabilisation are all plus points. On the video front, Razer told us that the rear camera could capture 4K/60fps video, or 1080p/120fps.
Battery life is still pretty good — the 4000 mAh capacity helps — and the device ships with a USB-C adapter and headphone dongle.
The kicker is still the camera app itself. Last year's model didn't have a manual/pro modes, and HDR photos were slow to use. A software update helped things a tad, but there was still lag in taking shots when HDR was enabled. That's a bit better now, and there's more options to play with.
It's still not quite enough though. Upon opening the camera app, there was no option for separate aspect ratios. The camera was setup for 4:3 shots, with no option for your traditional 16:9 landscape shots or 1:1 (a common format for Instagram). The app also lacked basic manual functions, like the ability to manually toggle ISO settings, shutter speed, customised white balance, extra filters, or the ability to shoot in RAW.
You'd be better off taking photos within Adobe Lightroom, Snapseed or another dedicated camera app. The hardware inside has improved, but the software still leaves a bit to be desired.
Outside of the camera app, however, the follow-up to the Razer Phone feels nice to use. The 120Hz screen makes general navigation a real pleasure, and the design of the chassis has a good, solid weight to it. It's like holding an oldschool phone, but with more modern hardware. It's not a phone that's going to slip out of your hands. You're also not going to have trouble hearing the speakers. Those with small hands might find the chassis a fraction too thick, but if you want a larger phone that doesn't venture into phablet territory, the size is just about right.
What the phone is like to live with? Well, we'll find out soon. Prices haven't been announced, but Kotaku and Gizmodo Australia were told that review units would go out before the end of the month. It'll be available from retail exclusively through Optus in November, as well as through the Razer site directly. We'll let you know what prices are like when they're announced, which should be in the next week or so.