The Razer Phone is clearly a new and different breed of device, no doubt about it. Spearheading what could ultimately become an entire gaming hardware niche within an already saturated smartphone market is no easy task. Naturally, some growing pains and a fair bit of pioneer backlash are to be expected. And for those reasons alone, we appreciate Razer's efforts.
That being said, we have to be objective and really judge the Razer Phone for what it is, beyond the loud and frankly at times obnoxious "gamer-y" PR efforts. No matter how hard Razer wants you to believe in the "by gamers, for gamers" mantra and all the "best in the world", "insane" and "1337", at its core, there is no real "secret sauce" to the Razer Phone.
The 120Hz, IGZO panel has important potential future implications for mobile gaming as a whole, but, in its current form, it comes with many limitations and at a high cost to battery life, max brightness and outdoor legibility. Razer's overall design and appearance, while undoubtedly well thought out to cater to gamer needs, has a certain antiquated feel and a deeply polarizing nature in a world of ultrawide, bezel-less and curved aesthetics.
Beyond this carefully crafted image lies yet another 2017 flagship device. Not dramatically different or quantifiably better than its competitors and flawed in its own way.
On a more positive note, Razer does seem to have the right marketing idea, especially for a first-time competitor on the smartphone scene. Not only is PR targeted at the right audience, but a $699 (EUR 750) launch price is surprisingly competitive as well. Quite an unexpected turn of events, when you consider most of company's other premium asking rates.
Like we said earlier, the Razer Phone is a device quite unlike any other, with its own clear marketing angle. Keeping that in mind, nothing short of a decked-out current flagship will do, as far as raw gaming performance goes. An EUR 750 budget or so actually gives us a lot of wiggle room on a pure pricing basis.
If a solid specs sheet and a spacious display is what you are after, the Huawei Mate 10 can deliver. A 5.9-inch, QHD display, backed up by the company's Kirin 970 top-end chip, means excellent gaming performance. The 16:9 aspect ratio is still the preferred choice as well.
Going by the same general logic, both the HTC U11 and the Sony Xperia XZ Premium will chew through modern heavy Android titles with ease thanks to the powerful Snapdragon 835 and the Ardeno 450. And while other high refresh rate mobile panels are hard to come by, opting for the latter Xperia will still net you a specs advantage and potential bragging rights among friends, thanks to the whopping 3840 x 2160 pixel resolution. Just like Razer's ULTRAMOTION panel, however, taking full advantage of that 4K display is not straightforward.
If these options are a bit too boring for your taste, you could also opt to go down the new trendy ultrawide aspect ratio path. Assuming continued proper app optimization by developers, there might just be some future gaming advantages in doing so. The Xiaomi Mi Mix 2 instantly springs to mind. Another Snapdragon 835 beast, but one with an 18:9 aspect ratio. Not to mention a stunning appearance.
Speaking of which, we can't overlook Samsung's excellent 2017 lineup. Sadly, the Galaxy Note8 is still way too pricey to compare with the Razer Phone. However, the 6.2-inch, 18.5:9 Galaxy S8+ has come down in price quite nicely since its launch. Its Super AMOLED panel is one of the best the industry currently has to offer and it is backed by either a Snapdragon 835 or the equally capable, if not better Exynos 8895, depending on the market.
Since we are in search of an ultimate gaming device, it is definitely worth mentioning that the latter has support for Samsung's Gear VR platform. The price to entry is quite low and experiences have been constantly growing in number and getting better. The Oculus backing is a nice futureproof reassurance as well.
Then again, if you are seriously into mobile VR, you can probably do one better in terms of pure visual experience than the S8+. Since a curved panel is not exactly the best idea for convincing VR, looking into the older Galaxy Note5 or the significantly smaller, but more powerful Galaxy S7 might not be a bad idea. Both have flat Super AMOLED panels - a better bet for VR. Plus, you could save a fair bit of money, in exchange for sacrificing some performance and future-proofing.
Google's Daydream VR platform might be a good alternative to Gear VR as well. It is definitely too early to say which one has better future prospects. While support for Daydream is a lot more widespread and varied across manufacturers, opting for company backed hardware could net some benefits, The Pixel 2 phones are way out of budget, but the original Pixel XL isn't.
And since we are already looking into creative solutions to the gaming dilemma, we might as well throw a few more your way. The Sony Xperia XZ1 Compact, for instance, is a distinctly unique offer in its own right. If you can live with a display diagonal of just 4.6 inches, you can benefit from a Snapdragon 835 pushing pixels on to a panel with 720p native resolution. As we discovered in our respective review, the performance benefits are tangible.
The Motorola Moto Z2 Force also has a unique trick up its sleeve and a potentially game-changing one (no pun intended). Thanks to its flexible Moto Mod platform, Motorola is offering a Moto gamepad accessory. Dual analog sticks, shoulder buttons, the works. Razer, start taking notes.
Last, but not least, why not look into an iOS device? Apple's platform is renowned for its gaming potential. Sadly, the Razer Phone budget can only stretch as much as a 4.7-inch iPhone 7.
So, is the Razer Phone the revolutionary device that will finally shake the smartphone industry, rearrange priorities and change the rules? No. Realistically, it can probably hope to match or best the sales of its Nextbit Robin ancestor and gain some traction with loyal brand fans.
That being said, unless you belong to that group, the shortcomings of the Razer Phone seem to currently vastly outweigh its dubious benefits, making it unfit for a daily driver recommendation for most. In many ways, buying the Razer Phone is similar to picking up a high-end Razer Blade Pro laptop, a first generation one at that: It's a luxury, niche item you want to own, not necessarily one you need, nor the most optimal and functional choice.
Still, we have high hopes that the Razer Phone will be extremely important in its own right as a catalyst for future mobile gaming tech. None of its growing pains are really insurmountable. So, who knows, we just might be lucky enough to be standing on the brink of the next big smartphone trend.