Razer makes fantastic gaming PCs and accessories, but it isn’t quite there yet with gaming phones. The $799 Razer Phone 2 makes many of the same mistakes we saw in the original model, putting power ahead of basic smartphone functionality. There are improvements, for sure, including higher-end specs, better cooling, a customizable RGB logo on the back, wireless charging, and a waterproof build. If you’re primarily interested in mobile gaming, you’ll find a lot to like here. But poor camera performance and battery life mean we continue to recommend the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 as the best phablet for most people.
The Razer Phone 2 has a distinctive design that calls to mind last year’s model as well as the Nextbit Robin. It’s a thick, heavy rectangular slab with a pair of huge front-firing speakers above and below the display, and a fully customizable RGB Razer logo on the glass back. It helps the phone stand out a bit with a more “gamer” aesthetic than last year’s model, though it won’t draw as many eyes as Asus’ upcoming ROG Phone.
Measuring in at 6.24 by 3.11 by 0.33 inches (HWD) and a hefty 7.84 ounces, the Razer Phone 2 is a big, heavy handset. It’s significantly larger than the LG V40 (6.25 by 2.98 by 0.30 inches, 5.96 ounces), and comparable in size, but heavier than, the Galaxy Note 9 (6.38 by 3.01 by 0.35 inches, 7.09 ounces). With its thick bezel and wide body, the phone is nearly impossible to use with one hand, and strained the seams of my pockets. No matter how long your fingers are, this is a two-hand device.
The smooth metal sides of the phone are fairly devoid of ports. You’ll find a single USB-C port on the bottom for both charging and headphones (the included headphone dongle has a 24-bit DAC). Two small, dot-like volume buttons are on the left, along with a SIM/microSD card slot that worked fine with a 256GB card. Adoptable Storage is enabled, allowing you to configure the SD card to run as internal storage. A recessed power button/fingerprint sensor is on the right.
The real physical attraction is the Razer Chroma RGB-lit logo on the back. Using the included Chroma app, it can be configured with a variety of fade and color shift effects. You can configure the LED intensity and even set it up to flash certain colors for particular apps, effectively turning it into a notification LED.
The phone is rated IP67 waterproof, meaning it can handle full immersion in several feet of water for up to 30 minutes. That’s an improvement over the original model, though it isn’t as good as the IP68 Note 9.
The Razer Phone 2’s 5.7-inch 2,560-by-1,440 LCD features a 16:9 aspect ratio, which looks a bit dated compared with OLED flagships like the Note 9 (2,960 by 1,440, 18.5:9) and the LG V40 (3,120 by 1,440, 19.5:9). While it does try to achieve an OLED-like look by ramping up color saturation, it just can’t produce the same dense, inky blacks. Viewing angles are good and the screen gets bright enough to see outdoors, but it fades under direct sunlight. The screen is HDR-compatible, but it doesn’t do upscaling like the Sony Xperia XZ3.
The more notable element about the display is its 120Hz refresh rate. That’s twice the speed of standard phone panels, for a smoother, more responsive experience. The original Razer Phone also sported a 120Hz screen, but the number of games that support it has since improved, including popular titles like Injustice 2, Pokemon Go, Lineage 2: Revolution, and Fire Emblem Heroes. I found the higher refresh rate to be most noticeable in racing games and first-person shooters, though it can certainly make a difference in any title that requires responsive action.
The Featured section in Razer’s Cortex app points you to games that support the high refresh rate. The Game Booster panel in the app gives you granular controls to customize the exact settings of each game. For a shooter like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, you may want to drop the resolution from 1440p to 1080p or 720p, for instance, to get a higher frame rate. Other games might not be perfectly compatible with the higher refresh rate. GTA: San Andreas, for example, is glitchy unless you turn it down to 60Hz (90Hz is another option that most games default to).
Perhaps most interestingly, the Cortex app also gives you control of processor clock speed. You can individually clock games from 1.36Ghz to 2.80GHz, though 2.32GHz is the default. If you don’t want to deal with all the details, you can just max out all settings by hitting Performance mode or tamp everything down with Power Save mode.
Network Performance and Audio
The Razer Phone 2 is available unlocked, with support for LTE bands 1/2/3/4/5/7/8/12/13/14/17/18/19/20/26/28/29/30/32/38/39/40/41/48/66/71. Like its predecessor, it will work on AT&T and T-Mobile, but not Sprint and T-Mobile. Network performance in midtown Manhattan on T-Mobile was solid, with 22.8Mbps down and 14.5Mbps up despite heavy network congestion.
Other connectivity protocols include Wi-Fi on the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless listening, and NFC for mobile payment.
Call quality is solid. Transmissions come across a little muddy, but noise cancellation is excellent, blotting out the vast majority of traffic and other background noise. Earpiece volume is loud enough to carry on a conversation in a loud environment.
With its massive front-firing stereo speakers and Dolby Atmos software, the phone has thunderous audio. Calls, games, and music sound full and rich, without the tininess that plagues most phones. The speakers were powerful enough to easily fill a small conference room in our test lab with audio.
Processor and Cooling
In terms of specs, the Razer Phone 2 is a powerhouse. It has a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor clocked at 2.8GHz and 8GB of RAM. You can overclock it with the built-in Game Booster to pump out the highest frame rates while gaming. Heat becomes a concern, of course, but the phone has a “vapor chamber cooling” system that lets it disperse warmth better.
In benchmark testing, the phone scored 9,125 on PCMark, which measures several tasks like web browsing and video editing. That’s one of the highest scores we’ve seen, second only to the highly optimized Google Pixel 3 (9,191). In terms of multitasking and general responsiveness, it feels just as fast, despite a heavy UI layer. Altering the settings between standard and gaming modes did little to change benchmarks, nor did shifting the screen refresh rate from 120Hz to 90Hz (the default).
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The cooling system is key. We played over an hour of intensive games ranging from Asphalt 8 to Life Is Strange, and despite the phone becoming somewhat warm, it never became as hot as other devices we’ve tested. Performance was steady throughout, with no dropped frames or choppy gameplay, and controls were responsive. If you like to play games on your phone for hours at a time, the Razer Phone 2 should handle better than just about any other flagship out there.
Battery, Camera, and Software
All that gaming power has consequences for battery life. The phone clocked just 3 hours, 51 mins when streaming video over Wi-Fi at maximum brightness with the screen is set to 120Hz. That’s far short of phones like the Note 9, which outlasted our 12-hour test video with power to spare.
This result was disconcerting, so we set the screen refresh rate to 60Hz and ran the test again. This time it lasted 4 hours, 17 minutes, another poor result. If you’re not playing games, you’ll want to save juice by reducing the screen refresh rate, processor clock speed, and resolution. Thankfully the phone supports fast charging with the included Qualcomm Quick Charge 4.0+ adapter, as well as wireless charging. But with battery results like these, you might want to consider carrying a power bank.
The rear camera setup consists of one 12MP standard sensor with optical image stabilization and another 12MP telephoto lens with 2x zoom. Unfortunately, the camera app was slow in testing, the sensor was unresponsive even in good lighting (locking up entirely in one instance), and performance was downright poor in low light.
Images we snapped in the dim setting of PC Labs were either noisy, blurry, or a combination of the two. Autoexposure was strange, blasting out the background of shots in the viewfinder, but oddly not in the processed photo. Pictures we took outdoors on a beautiful fall day looked dark and muddy, with color reproduction better suited to a midrange phone than an $800 flagship.
The phone is capable of recording 4K video at 30fps and now supports optical image stabilization resulting in relatively stable video. The 8MP front-facing camera delivers acceptable performance for selfies, but has the same autoexposure issue in the viewfinder. If camera performance matters to you, just about any other high-end phone (and even many midrange models) will do a better job.
We asked Razer if it plans to roll out any big changes to the camera software, but there doesn’t appear to be anything in the cards aside from bug fixes.
While we’re on the subject of software, the phone ships running Android 8.1 Oreo, a generation behind Pie, which is available on Google’s Pixels. The software is loaded with Razer’s heavy UI changes to app icons, widgets, and menus. Thankfully there isn’t much in bloatware. Out of 64GB of storage you have 50GB available for use, and as mentioned earlier, you can use a microSD card and enable Adoptable Storage.
The Razer Phone 2 is another impressive gaming machine, but it neglects the basics. Yes, the 120Hz screen and advanced cooling system are sure to please mobile gamers looking for top-notch performance. But it doesn’t deliver an extraordinary performance leap beyond phablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, the LG V40, and the Google Pixel 3 XL, all of which offer similarly powerful hardware with much better battery life and camera performance. Unless you’re a highly competitive mobile gamer, you’ll be better served by any of those options. We still like the idea of a killer gaming phone, and there’s no company better equipped for the job than Razer. But in order to win that game, it needs to deliver on more than just gaming.