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Razer Phone 2 review: A powerful gaming phone with a dash of flagship panache

The camera is better than the original, but...

The dual-rear cameras contain new sensors and the main camera now has optical image stabilization. The second camera is telephoto and is used for 2x optical zoom and portrait mode photos. In good light, photos and videos are better than the ones from the original Razer Phone.

There are four camera modes: photos, videos, portrait and beauty. I like the simplicity of the camera app's layout, but it's missing one of my favorite things on most Android phones: Pro Mode.

Here are some shots we took before Razer applied its software update.

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Here's a picture of an ornamental lock on a piece of fabric. The image quality is good, albeit a tad soft.

Patrick Holland/CNET
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This photo of a vintage Chevy Camaro SS was taken in direct sunlight. The Razer Phone 2 did a good job at keeping the highlights on the shiny silver body of the car in check.

Patrick Holland/CNET
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I took this photo through an open window in the front of a restaurant. The phone handled the mix of outdoor and indoor light well.

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This picture of a Harley Davidson engine was taken in direct sunlight. The Razer protected the highlights from clipping in the reflections in the chrome.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Portrait mode photos look decent and have a natural-looking separation of the foreground and background. People's skin looks natural without appearing overly soft, as it can appear on other phones. 

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A portrait mode photo taken with the Razer Phone 2.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Notice the color banding in the sky and the moire pattern on the brick building on the right.

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This was taken with the Razer Phone 2's second camera that allows for 2x optical zoom. I really like this photo, but there is some obvious color banding in the sky.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Now, with Razer's new software, the image quality has improved. I don't find color banding or moire in photos post-update, and HDR photos look good. The default camera app, which was buggy when I first tested the phone, seems much faster and didn't freeze up when taking portrait photos.

Here are some photos shot with the Razer Phone 2 post-update:

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This was taken with HDR enabled. Notice all the details in the bright parts of the clouds and the dark parts of the bagel.

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I took this photo in medium light indoors. The new software improved the white balance accuracy.

Patrick Holland/CNET

Razer Phone 2 is branded for gaming

Throughout testing this phone I pondered what made this a gaming phone. Perhaps the screen? It's twice as bright as the original and refreshes 120 times a second, which is twice as fast as nearly any other phone. The screen works great for many games to reduce motion blur and give you that hundredth of a second edge in gameplay. It makes scrolling through websites and apps look spectacular. Android animations and effects look extra smooth.

I played a few 120Hz games like Gear: Club and Mini Dayz and everything looked smoother, and was more responsive. Razer's Cortex app has a feature called Game Booster, which lets you optimize the phone for performance or battery life. I liked having the option to switch the setup for different games. The app also features a section for 120Hz with titles such as Evolved 2, Mini Metro, Unkilled and Mini Dayz.

The processor, RAM and "vapor-chamber cooling system" make it as fast, if not slightly faster than the Galaxy Note 9 and OnePlus 6. But it comes nowhere near the performance of the iPhone XS, at least in the benchmarks we ran. Check out the results of our performance tests below.

3DMark Slingshot Unlimited

Razer Phone 2
6,526
Galaxy Note 9
6,344
OnePlus 6
6,275
iPhone XS
8,309

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

Razer Phone 2
63,253
Galaxy Note 9
58,832
OnePlus 6
62,952
iPhone XS
76,823

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 single-core

Razer Phone 2
2,417
Galaxy Note 9
2,406
OnePlus 6
2,454
iPhone XS
4,816

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Geekbench v.4.0 multicore

Razer Phone 2
8,905
Galaxy Note 9
8,827
OnePlus 6
9,068
iPhone XS
11,585

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

When it comes to game controls, the Razer Phone 2 doesn't bring anything new to the table. You're left with onscreen joysticks and buttons. The upcoming Asus ROG Phone uses squeezable corners to add left and right trigger buttons for games played in landscape. That solution appears to be a more explicit attempt to address the needs of gamers looking for more of a gamepad style of control.

Razer does have one trick up its sleeve: the Raiju Mobile game controller, sold separately. It works with any Android phone, not just the Razer, and will be available to purchase later this year. No word on pricing yet.

Razer Phone 2 battery is the least impressive part

The Razer Phone 2 has a 4,000-mAh battery that lasted only 9 hours, 16 minutes in CNET's battery test. This figure didn't change with the software update. The original Razer lasted 11 hours, 32 minutes, which wasn't that great either, considering other phones with a battery this large last 15 hours or more.

In daily use, however, it had no problem getting through a long day.

Currently it runs a near-stock version of Android 8.1 and I'm curious if the battery life will improve after the phone is upgraded to Android Pie.

Specs comparison of Razer Phone 2, Asus ROG phone, Samsung Galaxy Note 9, OnePlus 6 and iPhone XS


Razer Phone 2 Asus ROG Phone Samsung Galaxy Note 9 OnePlus 6 iPhone XS
Display size, resolution 5.7-inch LCD; 2,560x1,440 pixels; 120Hz screen refresh rate 6-inch AMOLED; 2,160x1,080 pixels; 90Hz screen refresh rate 6.4-inch Super AMOLED; 2,960x1,440 pixels 6.28-inch OLED; 2,280x1,080 pixels 5.8-inch Super Retina OLED; 2,436x1,125 pixels
Pixel density 514ppi 402ppi 516ppi 402ppi 458ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.2x3.1x0.33 in 6.3x3x0.34 in 6.37x3.01x0.35 in 6.13x2.97x0.31 in 5.7x2.8x0.3 in
Dimensions (Millimeters) 158.5x79x8.5 mm 158.8x76.2x8.7 mm 161.9x76.4x8.8 mm 155.7x75.4x7.75 mm 143.6x70.9x7.7 mm
Weight (Ounces, Grams) 7.8oz; 220g 7oz; 200g 7.09 oz.; 201g 6.2 oz; 177g 6.2 oz; 177g
Mobile software Android 8.1 Oreo Android 8.1 Oreo Android 8.1 Oreo Android 8.1 Oreo iOS 12
Camera Dual 12-megapixel (standard with OIS and telephoto) 12-megapixel standard with OIS, 8-megapixel ultra wide angle Dual 12-megapixel (wide and telephoto) 16-megapixel standard, 20-megapixel telephoto Dual 12-megapixel (wide and telephoto)
Front-facing camera 8-megapixel 8-megapixel 8-megapixel 16-megapixel 7-megapixel
Video capture 4K 4K 4K 4K 4K
Processor Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (2.8GHz) Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 (2.96GHz) Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz + 1.7GHz octa-core), or Samsung Exynos 9810 (2.7 GHz + 1.7 GHz octa-core) 2.8GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 Apple A12 Bionic
Storage 64GB 128GB or 512GB 128GB, 512GB 64GB, 128GB, 256GB 64GB, 256GB, 512GB
RAM 8GB 8GB RAM 6GB, 8GB 6GB, 8GB Not disclosed
Expandable storage Up to 2TB None 512GB None None
Battery 4,000 mAh 4,000 mAh 4,000 mAh 3,300 mAh Apple claims it lasts 30 min. longer than iPhone X
Fingerprint sensor Right spine Back Back of phone Back of phone None (Face ID)
Connector USB-C 2x USB-C USB-C USB-C Lightning
Headphone jack No Yes Yes Yes No
Special features 120GHz screen refresh rate; water resistant (IP68); wireless charging 90GHz screen; sides of phone can be customized as buttons for games; ZenMoji Water resistant (IP68); wireless charging; S-Pen; Iris and facial scanning; AR Emoji Dual-SIM; Dash Charging Water-resistant (IP68); dual-SIM capabilities (nano-SIM and e-SIM); wireless charging; Memoji
Price off-contract (USD) $799 $899 (128GB), $1,099 (512GB) $1,000 (128GB), $1,250 (512GB) $529 (64GB), $579 (128GB), $629 (256GB) $999 (64GB), $1,149 (256GB), $1,349 (512GB)
Price (GBP) £780 Converts to £690 (128GB), £840 (512GB) £899 (128GB), £1,099 (512GB) £469 (64GB), £519 (128GB), £569 (256GB) £999 (64GB), £1,149 (256GB), £1,349 (512GB)
Price (AUD) Converts to AU$1,430 Converts to AU$1,265 (128GB), AU$1,545 (512GB) AU$1,499 (128GB), AU$1,799 (512GB) AU$702 (64GB), AU$769 (128GB), AU$835 (256GB) AU$1,629 (64GB), AU$1,879 (256GB), AU$2,199 (512GB)

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