Razer Phone 2 Review: It’s a Gaming Phone for Streaming & Live TV
The Razer Phone 2 is a really fun gaming phone, but it’s also the first flagship smartphone that’s optimized for streaming live TV, Hulu and Netflix.
With a 5.7” screen that has HDR support and Dolby Atmos, the Razer Phone 2 is basically a mini entertainment center that you can make phone calls on.
I watch a lot more TV now on my smartphone, a change that began a little over two years ago as I got into cord cutting and hooked up my first HDHomeRun tuner to an antenna. My gaming habits have evolved too.
The Razer Phone 2 has unique specs for both things, and it has more horsepower than most people need in a phone. But that’s where the fun kicks in.
In this review, I’ll highlight the best features of the Razer Phone 2, and what I think needs to be improved.
How I tested the Razer Phone 2
I bought the Razer Phone 2 (for $799.99 at Razer) after kicking around a lot of ideas about replacing my old Samsung Galaxy S5 that’s been with me since 2014. Before publishing this review, I spent three weeks using my new gaming phone.
I stuck with Cricket as my cell provider. The Razer Phone 2 works mainly with GSM Networks. That means AT&T, T-Mobile and its subsidiaries. 9to5Google reported that Razer Phone users can now manually activate the phone on Verizon, a CDMA network.
During my first week, I loaded up the phone with streaming apps, including Netflix, Hulu, Plex, Amazon Prime Video, Movies Anywhere, YouTube TV, HDHomeRun, Starz and a new live TV service called SkyStreamTV.
I also played a number of games, including ones recommended by the Razer Cortex app. Hunting down some old favorites from the Google Play Store like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City was well worth it. I played GTA just using the touch screen, and liked using a Bluetooth gamepad even more.
This gaming phone is a follow-up to the original Razer Phone that was released roughly a year ago. It was the first gaming phone in the industry and set off a new trend.
A crop of new gaming phones have hit the market this fall: Xiaomi Black Shark, Samsung Galaxy Note 9, Honor Play and ASUS ROG Phone.
Best Overall Features on Razer Phone 2
The first thing anyone should be talking about with the Razer Phone 2 is how well it’s optimized for streaming Netflix, Hulu and watching live TV.
Yeah, yeah…it’s a gaming phone. I get it.
I’ll get back to that.
Ignoring the streaming chops on this phone is downright felonious. Look no further than the first few items listed below that are among its best overall features like the picture-in-picture option for Netflix and YouTube TV.
This idea that the Razer Phone 2 was actually the best smartphone on the market for streaming became pretty obvious during Game 4 of the World Series. The roar of the crowd through the speakers was dazzling. And every pitch or camera jerk to the outfield was incredibly smooth. It hardly seemed like it was coming from a phone.
1) Faster, Brighter Display for Streaming
The screen and speakers are the two most noticeable features when you start using the phone. The Razer Phone 2 is going to be a dramatic improvement for anyone upgrading from a smartphone that’s a couple of years old.
To be clear, this isn’t an OLED screen. (There are a small number of OLED phones being sold in the U.S.) The Razer Phone 2 does have an excellent HDR support, especially when measuring nits. To put all this context: Nits is a measurement of how much light the screen sends to your eyes.
Razer Phone 2 has a brightness of 615 nits. That matches (or sometimes exceeds) the brightness of a Galaxy Note 9 and iPhone XS, according to Gizmodo.
The 120Hz display is lightning fast. Pretty soon, every other phone you’ve used will feel mind numbingly slow, especially when scrolling through a page, or search results from Google. I do dial it down to 90Hz or 60Hz once in a while when I’m not gaming. It’s safe to say that 120Hz will eventually become a standard for any smartphone manufacturers that wants to claim it has the most responsive user interface.
2) PIP Support for Netflix, YouTube & YouTube TV
When you’re streaming on Netflix, YouTube or YouTube TV, you can minimize your screen and perform another task. So if you’re watching some live football game and your friend starts trash talking your fantasy picks, you can text him right back and keep the game going on a little screen in the corner.
You can browse the web, send an email and do whatever business you see fit while you watch YouTube TV or stream from Netflix or YouTube. Feel free to move around that little screen wherever you like with your finger. It might be in the way of you sending off a response to that text.
I tried to see if the PIP option worked on all the other streaming apps that I downloaded. It didn’t work for Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, or Plex.
3) Dolby Atmos Settings: Customize your audio
The Razer Phone 2 is among 13 smart phones that are Dolby certified. Once you start using a smart phone with quality speakers and Dolby Atmos, it’s pretty unlikely that you will buy another phone without similar or better specs. The front facing speakers on the Razer Phone 2 is what really makes this smartphone more like a fully fledged entertainment center for TV watching and playing a wide spectrum of games.
When streaming music off Spotify, the Razer Phone 2 can be loud enough that you can certainly get by without a Bluetooth speaker, but it won’t be on par with a larger wireless speaker that booms like a stereo system.
I consider myself more of a enthusiast than a true audiophile when it comes to sound. Having an equalizer system on your smartphone is probably the most unique (and useful) thing I’ve ever seen. Most smart phones don’t even have speakers that are good enough to warrant a control panel.
From the Dolby Atmos panel, you can switch between four modes: Dynamic, Movie, Music and Custom. You can return your settings to 0 db by hitting one button, and you can turn off a Bass enhancer.
4) Fingerprint and PIN code security
I’ve never been a huge fan of using a fingerprint to unlock the phone. Razer changed all that for me by putting the scanner on a button along the right side edge of the phone. It’s in the exact spot where you would naturally hold a phone of this size. And it doesn’t matter if you happen to pick up the Razer Phone 2 in your right or left hand. You can scan in a number of fingerprints to cover any way you handle your phone.
As a backup, the Razer 2 prompts you for a four-digit pass code, so you’re not stuck with a locked phone if for some reason your fingerprints aren’t getting the job done.
5) Night Light mode: Razer Phone 2 is easy on the eyes
Another really cool feature is Night Light: You can set up a schedule of when your screen turns to amber. The Night Light mode makes your screen easier to look at or read in dim light. Razer says the color change may help you fall asleep more easily. I do try to stay away from a phone when it starts getting late, but I’m pretty terrible at it. So I definitely noticed my eyes felt better, not having the typical aftermath of phone glare when I finally shut my eyes for the night.
The Android operating system comes with Nova Launcher Prime. It’s a program that’s available to all Android phones for only a few dollars. On the Razer Phone 2, it makes fine tuning the phone’s appearance and how you want it to respond to incoming texts, emails and video calls very easy.
Razer Phone 2 Specs
The Razer Phone 2 is the only phone officially certified by Netflix for HDR video and Dolby Surround 5.1 audio.
It has Qualcomm Snapdragon 845, the same processor found in the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9+. The screen is LCD with 1440 x 2560 resolution. The display has wide color gamut with a 120Hz refresh rate, which is double the number seen on many TVs.
The Razer Phone 2 has 8GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage.
There is a micro SD slot for extra storage. (I bought a SanDisk 128GB MicroSD card. It can take up to 1TB.) The back of the phone is made with Corning Gorilla Glass 5, which is designed to protect against drops.
The glass also makes wireless charging possible. Razer makes a wireless charger that’s sold separately, but I decided not to spend the extra $100 for it. So I won’t be testing that in this review. The Razer Phone 2 supports Wireless Fast Charging with Qualcomm QuickCharge 4.0+. The phone has a 4,000 mAh Li-Po battery.
The speakers have dual amplifiers and Dolby Atmos technology alongside a USB-C to 3.5 mm audio adapter with 24-bit DAC. For WiFi, the Razer Phone 2 supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac; it has dual-band (MIMO) and a 2×2 antenna.
One big thing for me when it came time to buy: the Razer Phone 2 is IP67 rated for water resistance. My old Samsung Galaxy S5 was waterproof to an extent too; and that came in handy along the way. The Razer Phone 2 is currently running on Android 8.1, but I expect that will be updated soon.
The Design: Long, Black and Square
The Razer Phone 2 is long, black and square, drawing a somewhat humorous comparison in a CNET video to the Monolith in the movie “2001.”
It’s a slick look, and Razer deserves a lot of credit for its willingness to buck against the curvy sports-car design of just about every other flagship phone out there.
There is no notch on the display, so you have nothing but screen, which is a real compliment to any gaming phone.
The Razer Phone 2 has no headphone jack. Instead, the phone has a short USB-C audio adapter. This same USB-C port is used for a charging cable.
Gaming on Razer Phone 2
You can play quick, satisfying arcade style games like Tekken or longer sandbox games, including Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
The attraction for many will be to try games that are optimized for the 120Hz. The Cortex app has a few already picked out. These are games that are aggregated from the Google Play Store.
I played the Zombie-themed Unkilled at 120Hz, and it had some pretty decent action. But I was more impressed with graphics-heavy games like Darkness Rises, which feels more like a console game. The only downside is that this game didn’t have any gamepad support. It’s still very fun and not a deal breaker by any means.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City had the same feel, graphics and action as the PlayStation 2 version of the game. It was just on a smaller screen. You can play using touchpad controls. GTA was more fun to play with a gamepad. I used a Matricom Bluetooth controller with the Razer Phone 2 that costs me about $17.
Razer has published a list of optimized games for Razer Phone 2. You aren’t restricted to just Android games or ones suggested by the company. Fortnite is a lot of fun and super smooth on the Razer Phone 2, but the touch screen controls are a real learning curve if you’re used to a gamepad like me.
Playing games will run down your battery faster, so keep your charger handy.
SteamLink app on Razer Phone 2
I downloaded the Steam Link app so I could stream games from my laptop to play on the Razer Phone 2. Razer does not promote Steam Link as an option, and the app is still in beta. But it’s worth trying if you already own a library of Steam games and want some flexibility with how you can play them.
The performance of Steam Link on this was mixed. With arcade style games, the Steam Link performed well. With more graphics heavy games like Mortal Kombat X, the game would freeze on the Razer Phone 2, but continue playing on my laptop that it was streaming from.
Based on my testing, this appears to be an issue with Steam Link, so I’m hoping it will only be improved upon as it emerges from beta. Steam Link really adds a lot of value to a gaming phone like the Razer Phone 2. Even with the performance issues, it’s still really exciting to play the games you own on your own phone.
Areas of Improvement: The Camera
It’s too bad the camera on this Razer Phone 2 isn’t just a little bit better.
After shooting in a variety of settings, the camera can take excellent pictures. With the Razer Phone 2, you may need more of a trained eye, especially if you’re in a tricky lighting situation.
The camera, at times, struggles in low light settings or balancing overall light when harsh sunbeams come into the frame.
Most cameras on flagship smart phones like the latest iPhones and Google Pixel make taking great photos a mindless exercise. The Razer Phone 2 is almost there, but not quite.
Razer says that there are software updates underway to improve the camera and other features on the phone. There are a number of features on the phone that I really like.
There are two rear cameras: a 12MP AF f1.75 with OIS, and 12MP AF f2.6 Telephoto. The dual LED flash works well and doesn’t drown out your subject.
The video is 4K with stereo audio. The picture clarity is bright and crisp. In a couple recordings, the audio sounded dimmer than it should be as if the microphones weren’t in the right place.
There are options for HDR and to turn it off. There are three hue settings (the one with the thermometer logo seems best), and a panorama option. HDR, a timer, and a panoramic option is pretty neat for a camera phone.
The zoom feature on Razer Phone 2 is simply great. While shooting a video of my daughter from a distance, I was able to quickly snap to a 2X setting instead of a scrolling zoom. This is probably one of the best features of the camera. The beauty feature is kind of useless. I have no interest in a feature like this. And it’s kind of a waste when a more practical feature could have been added. The camera features should be useful like a Swiss Army Knife, not something geared for an Instagram account.
Razer Phone 2 Final Takeaway: Is it worth it?
I’ve been really happy with this gaming phone, and one thing has been really striking to me.
The 64GB may seem like not enough internal space for a gaming phone, but I think it was the right call by Razer. If you increase the memory size, you’re only going to drive up the price. And $799.99 is a real sweet spot for this gaming phone.
A lot of the best features like the HDR and Dolby support or the 120Hz display may make the Razer Phone 2 a niche product. But it’s also a glimpse of what’s going to be standard features that the average customer will expect in flagship smart phones.
Many people still don’t own a 4K television, but once they become more common, the expectations for the quality of streaming on smart phones is only going to increase. So it comes down to a matter of whether you want these features right now, or would rather wait like everyone else.
You can buy the Razer Phone 2 directly from Razer for $799, or from Amazon.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble
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