Historically, gaming-focused smartphones and tablets that run Android haven’t sold well. Nvidia took a serious shot at creating a gaming market for Tegra-powered devices, and even went so far as to help with game-specific optimizations on multiple titles. But it’s historically been the case gamers care less about whether SSAO is implemented in a tiny smartphone screen, and more about whether they can play Angry Birds, Flappy Bird, or Minecraft. It’s been years since we’ve seen a company try to launch a smartphone specifically aimed at gaming, but that’s what Razer has done.
The Razer Phone has a number of interesting features, including a 120Hz refresh rate, 8GB of RAM, a 5.7-inch IGZO display (2560×1440), Qualcomm Snapdragon 835, dual 12-megapixel cameras on the back with one acting as a telephoto lens, and support for Dolby Atmos and THX Audio. It also has no headphone jack and enormous bezels, though the speaker quality is reportedly excellent.
Power is via a 4,000 mAh battery, though we really need to know what kind of power consumption drives the device before evaluating battery capacity. Tests of PC monitors have shown that higher refrsh rates can draw more power (PCPerspective found an Asus ROG Swift PG279Q drew 22.9W at 60Hz and 25.6W at 120Hz, a gain of 1.12x). 8GB of RAM will also draw slightly more power than a smaller RAM loadout. This is not to say that the Razer Phone will automatically have poor battery life, but to illustrate that there are some factors in play that could pull a 4,000 mAh battery down to Earth.
All of this said, the phone is essentially a NextBit Robin with updated internals, a mandatory audio dongle, and a focus on an uncertain market. Gamers haven’t bought high-end peripherals in tablets or smartphones for these capabilities. You aren’t going to notice the difference between a 60Hz and a 120Hz refresh rate when staring at the Android lock screen, and 8GB of RAM isn’t going to make Google Hangouts run more quickly.
Razer is arguing its “Ultramotion” technology is similar to G-Sync and allows the phone’s frame rate to link to the GPU. But that highlights another oddity–technologies like G-Sync and FreeSync don’t typically engage above a certain refresh rate because the advantages of both shrink the higher the native frame rate. You can still see G-Sync above 60fps, but the technology shines at low frame rates, when the gap between frames is longer and the stutter from erratic frame delivery is most pronounced.
All of this hints at the essential problem with the Razer Phone–it’s built by a company with no previous experience in smartphone design in a market inundated with choice. Samsung and Apple dominate, but the Essential Phone, LG V30, HTC U11, and onePlus 5 are all valid alternatives with their own customer bases. Razer has built some genuinely good gaming laptops, but the smartphone market is harder to break into, particularly given how competitive the space is already. The Razer Phone costs $700 and ships November 17th.
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