TECH Razer Phone 2 goes af­ter mo­bile gamers

Brighter dis­play, im­proved speak­ers among new fea­tures

USA TODAY US Edition - - MONEY - Eli Blu­men­thal

Game on, Ap­ple, Sam­sung and Google.

They may cur­rently be dom­i­nat­ing phone buy­ers’ at­ten­tion with their lat­est up­dated smart­phones, but re­mem­ber, they are far from the only op­tions. While all three com­pete on top-of-the­line specs, lat­est en­trant Razer has its sights set on a spe­cific tar­get: en­ter­tain­ment.

The gam­ing com­pany, which dou­bled its size since last year to 1,500 em­ploy­ees, has built a rabid on­line fol­low­ing in the gam­ing com­mu­nity for its pe­riph­er­als and PCs. Now its back to try­ing to es­tab­lish it­self in the smart­phone space with its lat­est phone, the Razer Phone 2.

Avail­able for pre­order Thurs­day for $799 un­locked (com­pat­i­ble with AT&T, T-Mo­bile and Ver­i­zon), Razer’s new de­vice is priced in a sim­i­lar range as Sam­sung’s Galaxy S9+, Google’s Pixel 3 and the soon-to-be-re­leased iPhone XR. On a specs front, it ri­vals those de­vices as one would ex­pect in a de­vice at this price point.

Un­der the hood is a Qual­comm Snap­dragon 845 pro­ces­sor with 8GB of RAM, 64GB of stor­age, wire­less charg­ing and sup­port for the lat­est LTE net­works. The rear cam­eras, a weak­ness on the first phone, have been re­vamped and are now two 12-megapixel Sony sen­sors cen­tered in the mid­dle of the phone with ad­di­tional im­prove­ments made to the phone’s imag­ing soft­ware. The 8-megapixel front cam­era can stream video at full HD res­o­lu­tion.

But as with last year’s phone, Razer is bet­ting on its phone’s dis­play and de­sign to dis­tin­guish it from oth­ers on the mar­ket. There’s no notch or edge-to-edge dis­play, a trend seen across many of the 2018 phone of­fer­ings. And al­though the phone fea­tures a sim­i­lar de­sign to its pre­de­ces­sor, there are some seem­ingly small – but still wel­come – ad­just­ments.

The 5.72-inch dis­play is now 50 per­cent brighter and con­tin­ues to run at 120Hz, a higher re­fresh rate to make games, videos and day-to-day tasks such as scrolling smoother than tra­di­tional 60Hz dis­plays found on other de­vices. The front stereo speak­ers, found along the top and bot­tom of the phone, have been boosted as well.

It is here that Razer hopes to find suc­cess among gamers and video watch­ers. “When ev­ery­one zigs, we have kind of zagged,” Razer CEO Min Liang-Tan says.

“It’s not bezel-less and stuff like that. Why? Be­cause if you hold a bezel-less phone you re­al­ize that it is re­ally hard to play with the joy­sticks at the edges,” Tan con­tin­ues, not­ing that the com­pany kept the bezel for that gam­ing com­fort and to add stronger speak­ers to ap­peal to Net­flix and YouTube watch­ers.

Stay­ing in the wheel­house

While it is con­tin­u­ing to try and broaden its ap­peal to nongamers, Razer is still hop­ing the Phone 2 is em­braced by its core gam­ing au­di­ence, par­tic­u­larly as the mar­ket of mo­bile gam­ing con­tin­ues to grow.

To call the com­pany’s fan base, cur­rently at more than 8.5 mil­lion fol­low­ers on Face­book and more than 3.17 mil­lion on Twit­ter, pas­sion­ate is a bit of an un­der­state­ment. While it was only re­leased in Novem­ber, last year’s first phone had such an­tic­i­pa­tion that it was the fifth most­pop­u­lar con­sumer tech de­vice searched for on Google in the U.S. in 2017, be­hind the iPhone 8, iPhone X, Nin­tendo Switch and Galaxy S8.

One fan last year got a pic­ture of Tan tat­tooed on his body in a bid to get a free Razer Phone.

“He was that pas­sion­ate about it … it was pretty cool,” says Tan, who did give the fan a free de­vice.

The new phone will be op­ti­mized for a num­ber of cur­rent pop­u­lar games in­clud­ing “PUBG Mo­bile,” “Marvel Fu­ture Fight” and “Guns of Boom” and will fea­ture the com­pany’s Cor­tex app to op­ti­mize per­for­mance and al­low pre­sets for games. As with the com­pany’s lap­tops, a va­por cham­ber cool­ing sys­tem is in­side to keep the phone cool while play­ing – a fea­ture gam­ing fans ap­pre­ci­ate.

A new con­troller, called the Raiju Mo­bile, will al­low users to mount the phone atop a more tra­di­tional con­troller. The Raju Mo­bile, how­ever, won’t be cheap at $149.99.

One thing sure to please long­time fans: a new light-up Razer logo on the back. Us­ing the com­pany’s Chroma plat­form that lights up its ac­ces­sories for gam­ing pe­riph­er­als, users can have the logo change col­ors to re­flect new no­ti­fi­ca­tions. A new What­sApp mes­sage will turn the logo green, or a new Face­book no­ti­fi­ca­tion could turn it blue. Users can also cus­tom­ize the light­ing to cy­cle through col­ors or re­main a color of their choos­ing.

In a brief hands-on, the phone did seem smoother with games such as “Drive Club” look­ing crisp, though the big­gest im­prove­ment could be the brighter screen, which was no­tice­able watch­ing “Black Pan­ther” on Net­flix. The cam­era seemed bet­ter, but that will re­quire more test­ing, par­tic­u­larly in en­vi­ron­ments be­yond the con­fer­ence room I was in.

As for how it will fair, Tan re­mains op­ti­mistic. “The (phone) mar­ket is just wide open, I think, at this point of time. Our big dif­fer­ence … our fo­cus is on the 2 bil­lion gamers out there. We know our de­mo­graphic.”

The Razer Phone 2 is avail­able for pre­order for $799 un­locked (AT&T, T-Mo­bile and Ver­i­zon com­pat­i­ble).

The Raiju Mo­bile con­troller for the Razer Phone 2.

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