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Razer Phone is here, with smooth screen and powerful speakers

It's the gaming lifestyle company's first phone.

Josh Miller/CNET

"You use this for a week and then go to any other phone, you're going to be upset," says Tom Moss, Razer's head of mobile.

He's talking about the Razer Phone. (From Razer, the company you might know from mice, headsets or laptops.)

It's real. It's sitting in my hand. It's unlike any phone I've held all year. 

Update: Here's our Razer Phone review.

The Razer Phone's specs are a challenge to its competition. And if the design looks familiar, maybe you've heard of the Nextbit Robin?

Josh Miller/CNET

Because where most new flagship phones are shiny rounded rectangles with curved screens, Razer's first phone is unabashedly a black brick. It flaunts sharp 90-degree corners instead of curved edges. You can even stand the phone on end. The 5.7-inch, 2,560x1,440-resolution screen is flat as a pancake, and you'll find giant bezels above and below that screen, too -- just when we thought bezels were going out of style

The Razer Phone is not exactly what you'd call stunning, and the phrase "breath of fresh air" doesn't really feel right either, even if the phone is pretty different from anything else on the market. 

But there's another trite phrase that might accurately convey the Razer Phone: "It's what's on the inside that counts." 

Under the hood

When the Razer Phone ships Nov. 17 for $699 or £699 -- no plans for Australia at launch -- the company says it'll be the first phone with a display that refreshes 120 times per second, like a high-end PC gaming monitor or Apple's iPad Pro. And combined with a dynamic refresh technique Razer's calling Ultramotion (think Nvidia G-Sync), it can mean beautiful, butter-smooth scrolling down websites and apps, and glossy mobile gameplay.

That's what Tom Moss is talking about when he says I'm "going to be upset." He believes that after using this phone with its 120Hz screen, other phones will feel terrible. And while I haven't used the Razer Phone for a week yet -- only 15 minutes or so -- it definitely feels incredibly smooth. I'm already a fan of the side-mounted power button, with the fingerprint sensor built right in, too.

The bottom speaker grill.

Josh Miller/CNET

Then there are the speakers. Remember those giant bezels that flank the screen? There's a reason they exist: they house a pair of front-facing speakers that get louder than you'd imagine a phone has any right to be. When Moss fires up the Dolby Atmos app in a big ol' conference room in Razer's San Francisco offices, I can't believe how well they fill the room. (Do they actually sound good? We'll need to do some testing.)

As we run down the spec sheet, it's clear that Razer focused on meeting or exceeding the competition in other ways as well. It's got 8GB of RAM. There's a 4,000mAh battery. A 12-megapixel dual camera with both a wide-angle lens and 2x optical zoom. Two years of guaranteed software updates -- though it ships with last year's Android 7.1.1 Nougat, with Oreo coming next spring -- and 64GB of storage by default, with a microSD slot to add up to 2TB more.

And though the phone has the same Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chip you'll find in most of today's flagship phones, Razer claims theirs will perform better than the competition -- by borrowing some of the thermal engineering know-how the company uses for its high-end laptops, including an actual heatpipe (admittedly not a first for phones) to draw heat away from the chips.

Again, we'll have to do some testing to see how true that is.

Not for everyone

Mind you, there's no waterproofing to be had here, no wireless charging, and no 3.5mm headphone jack. (Razer says the giant speakers weren't compatible with the idea of waterproofing, the all-aluminum chassis doesn't have a spot to pass the wireless charging signal, and there's a USB-C to 3.5mm headphone adapter dongle in the box.) Perhaps more importantly, prospective US buyers should know it won't support CDMA carriers like Verizon or Sprint. Like the OnePlus 5, our favorite budget powerhouse, the Razer Phone is strictly a GSM-only affair. 

And honestly, it's not yet clear what, beyond the Razer brand, makes this a gaming phone. When we ask, Moss downplays that idea a bit. "It shouldn't just be a gaming phone, it should be a phone for gamers," he tells us.

The Razer Phone aims to present the best gaming experience on a mobile device.

Josh Miller/CNET

"It's the best landscape mode phone, it's the best audio quality, it's the best for movies," he adds, noting that the big, speaker-filled bezels aren't just there for audio -- they're a way to hold the phone comfortably in landscape without blocking the screen.

When Razer purchased tiny phone maker Nextbit in January, I had my doubts. I wrote how Razer has a long track record of revealing crazy products that never make it to market, or only see extremely limited release, in order to draw attention to its brand.

Even now, I still wonder if Razer might be building this phone primarily for attention's sake: It hasn't been lost on me that Razer will launch an initial public offering (IPO) on the Hong Kong stock exchange on Nov. 13 -- which could make co-founder Min-Liang Tan a billionaire.

Moss, who used to be CEO of Nextbit, doesn't have a great answer when pressed further about why Razer wants to build a phone -- beyond the simple fact that for younger generations, and in some countries, the phone is the primary way people play games, and Razer needs to follow its audience. (He also says the company's getting a few game developers on board: as one example, Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition will support the 120Hz screen.)

On the left is the Razer Phone. On the right, the iPhone 7 Plus.

Josh Miller/CNET

But when I really think about it, the Razer Phone isn't anywhere near as wacky as the company's typical stunt products, like a triple-screen laptop or a totally modular PC. It feels real. I wonder if it has a chance against the Samsungs of the world.

We'll find out soon. The phone will ship Nov. 17 from Razer's website, Amazon and some Microsoft Stores. In Europe, it'll exclusively be available at retail from Three, where pre-orders begin today.

Razer Phone specs compared to iPhone X, Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus, Google Pixel 2 XL and OnePlus 5

Razer Phone iPhone X Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus Google Pixel 2 XL OnePlus 5
Display size, resolution 5.72-inch; 2,560x1,440 pixels 5.8-inch; 2,436x1,125 pixels 6.2-inch; 2,960x1,440 pixels 6-inch; 2,880x1,440 pixels 5.5-inch; 1,920x1,080 pixels
Pixel density 514ppi 458ppi 529ppi 538ppi 401ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.2x3.1x0.31 in 5.7x2.79x0.30 in 6.3x2.9x0.32 in 6.2x3.0x0.3 in 6.1x2.92x0.29 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 158.5x77.7x8 mm 143.6x70.9x7.7 mm 159.5x73.4x8.1 mm 157.9x76.7x7.9 mm 154.2x74.1x7.3 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 6.95 oz; 197g 6.14 oz; 174g 6.1 oz; 173g 6.17 oz; 175g 5.4 oz; 153g
Mobile software Android 7.1.1 Nougat iOS 11 Android 7.0 Nougat Android 8 Oreo Android 7.1.1 Nougat
Camera Dual 12-megapixel (wide/zoom) Dual 12-megapixel 12-megapixel 12-megapixel 16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 7-megapixel 8-megapixel 8-megapixel 16-megapixel
Video capture TBD 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 Apple A11 Bionic Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 or Octa-core Samsung Exynos 8895 Octa-core Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 2.45GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Storage 64GB 64GB, 256GB 64GB 64GB, 128GB 64GB, 128GB
Expandable storage Up to 2TB None Up to 2TB None None
Battery 4,000mAh TBD 3,500mAh 3,520mAh 3,300mAh
Fingerprint sensor Power button None (Face ID via TrueDepth camera) Back Back cover Home button
Connector USB-C Lightning USB-C USB-C USB-C
Headphone jack No No Yes No Yes
Special features 120Hz screen, dual front-facing stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos Water resistant (IP67), wireless Qi charge compatible, TrueDepth front-facing camera adds Face ID for payments and enables front-facing AR effects Water-resistant (IP68), wireless charging, Gigabit LTE-ready Google Assistant; unlimited cloud storage; Daydream VR-ready Portrait mode, notifications toggle, dual-SIM, Dash Charging
Price off-contract (USD) $699 $999 (64GB), $1,149 (256GB) AT&T: $850; Verizon: $840; T-Mobile: $850; Sprint: $850; U.S. Cellular: $785 $849 (64GB), $949 (128GB) $479 (64GB), $539 (128GB)
Price (GBP) £699 £999 (64GB), £1,149 (256GB) £779 £799 (64GB), £899 (128GB) £449 (64GB), £499 (128GB)
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$910 AU$1,579 (64GB), AU$1,829 (256GB) AU$1,349 AU$1,399 (64GB), AU$1,549 (128GB) AU$599(64GB), AU$699 (128GB)