The Razer Phone is built for your mobile gaming habit

Razer is getting into the smartphone business with its Razer Phone, and handset designed specifically for mobile gamers.

Razer is best known for making some incredibly slick gaming accessories and, more recently, impressive laptops like the Razer Blade Stealth and Blade Pro. But now the company is getting into the smartphone market. Yes, Razer is building a gaming phone.

It might sound odd to build a gaming smartphone, but to Razer it makes perfect sense. The global smartphone gaming market is already enormous. Take China’s insanely popular “Honor of Kings.” The game is played by so many people so often that the country’s communist party mouthpiece the “People’s Daily” called it poison. Tencent, the game’s publisher ended up putting play time restrictions on it to keep the government happy. And now it’s coming to the U.S. and Europe. In other words, the market isn’t slowing down.

The $699 Razer Phone has the makings of a truly over-the-top handset befitting the gaming brand, but it’s got a big flaw in the U.S. market: It might not work with your carrier.

The Nextbit Robin reborn

The Android-powered Razer Phone is certainly a new device for the company, but we’ve actually seen it before sporting a different nameplate: The Nextbit Robin. Razer purchased Nextbit in January 2017, and has been working to merge its vision for smartphones with the existing Robin design.

The Razer Phone’s fingerprint reader is positioned on its right edge.

The result is a Robin that looks like it’s been souped up by, well, gamers. The handset features the Robin’s uniquely angular profile, but trades in rounded speakers for full Dolby Atmos-certified stereo speakers. I listened to a Dolby demo on the Razer Phone and it sounded far better than any other smartphone speaker I’ve heard. Whether that applies to things like Spotify and not tech demos, though, remains to be seen.

Razer said it put the speakers on the front of the phone rather than along its bottom edge to ensure the sound comes toward you when holding the handset.

The Razer Phone’s body doesn’t carry the Robin’s blue paint job. Instead, it’s been built using the same kind of material Razer uses on its laptops. It also sports the same paint job as the company’s notebooks and Razer’s familiar three-headed snake logo.

The Razer Phone sports the company’s familiar three-headed snake logo.

Bigger and better

Razer might have taken the general look of the Robin to build its handset, but it also threw in a larger, sharper 5.7-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 resolution IGZO display. That’s the same screen technology the company uses on its laptops, and boy does it look good.

It doesn’t hurt that Razer added what its calls its Ultra Motion technology, which smooths out scrolling in apps and transitions compared to other Android handsets. Animations on Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Android have never been as crisp as they are on Apple’s iPhone, which makes the improvement immediately noticeable.

Razer has also outfitted its phone with dual 12-megapixel rear cameras. And like Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X and Samsung’s Galaxy S8, those cameras have both wide-angle and telephoto lenses.

Razer says it has whipped up its own solution for the dual-lens setup that allows both lenses to see an image and then merges them to give you a greater number of distance options. I didn’t get to try this feature out, though, so I’ll have to wait to get my hands on the phone before I can say how well it works.

Inside, Razer has equipped the phone with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 octa-core processor, a ridiculous 8GB of RAM (most phones top out at 4GB) and 64GB of storage with the option to expand that via a microSD card.

The Razer Phone is so powerful that the company said it had to build a custom thermal management solution to keep the handset from getting too hot.

What’s the point?

So what’s the point of building a high-powered gaming smartphone? Great question. As it stands there aren’t any games available today that premium handsets can’t run. If you’ve got a Samsung Galaxy S8, you’ll be able to play the same games as someone with a Razer Phone.

Razer, however, says that it can run games at higher frame rates than other smartphones, which makes for smoother gameplay.

Games look great on the Razer Phone.

Razer is also a kind of status product. Don’t get me wrong, its devices are fantastic, but gamers love gaming devices. And they’ll certainly pony up for a handset designed specifically with them in mind.

There’s just one problem. The Razer Phone will only work on GSM networks. That means you’ll only be able to use it on AT&T and T-Mobile here in the U.S. Sprint and Verizon use CDMA networks, so the Razer Phone won’t work with them.

The reason for the exclusion? Mobile gaming, while big in the U.S., is even larger in places like China, the Middle East and Russia, where GSM networks reign supreme. So it stands to reason that the Razer’s handset will sell better in those areas.

The Razer Phone is still an interesting proposition from a company that’s known for producing great gaming products. Will it be worth picking up? We’ll have to wait and see.

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