Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Razer Phone 2

I suppose the question current owners will be asking themselves is whether or not this super-brick of a phone is worth the upgrade over the one they have. That's what I'm here to find out with a particular emphasis, now they're both in hand, on the allegedly 'improved' built-in speakers.

There are a few other changes, which I'll come to, but for me, this is the big one - oh, and shaking off, at last, the disproportionately annoying 3UK splash-screen on boot (and lag of updates over the SIM Free variation). The Razer Phone 2 started out a few weeks ago at £779 here in the UK but has currently dropped, direct from them to £699 and from AmazonUK at £695. This places it certainly at the foot of the leading pack of 'flagship' phones, many of which can't boast some of the unique stuff that Razer can, but have other benefits instead for which they can charge even more.

This review should be read in conjunction with my other posts, as much of the details have been previously covered and are similar. Ted's Razer Phone Review - Razer Phone: Six Months On - Sound Test - and in actual fact, pretty much any device that I've reviewed over the last year, as I've compared the sound always against my Razer Phone.

In the Box
The box is significantly smaller than the first one, which I still have here, but on opening, presents the new owner with the same level of Razer black'n'green style and class. There's a similar 'RAZER' etched SIM Card Tray Eject Tool, as we had with the first, braided USB-C to USB-C cable, 24-bit DAC 3.5mm to USB-C audio dongle, a couple of pamphlets, letter from Razer(!) and a Razer branded QuickCharge 4+ charging brick. All very Razer.

Twin Blade Razers
The two phones look almost identical from the front (Project Linda still a thing?!) with one clue as to which it is - the camera has switched position with the Ambient Light Sensor. There's another clue on the side in that the SIM Card Tray has been shifted from the right-side to the left. Wonder why. Other than that, the two sides look near identical. The volume up/down buttons look just as well finished and fingerprint scanner just the same, flush with the right-side - which I know didn't please some, but actually, with a case on and cut-out, it doesn't really matter - your finger finds it straight away. The newer model, on close inspection, is very slightly fatter than the old. There's an extra antenna band on the top and bottom and a microphone location shift at both ends.

Razer Casing
When we turn the phones over, we see the biggest change. The old one's aluminium casing continued round the back so that apart from the screen, the metal enveloped the device, whereas with the new, the aluminium breaks and we have a completely glass back. This one's glossy black but apparently there's a matt one coming too. There's also a shift in the camera's location, instead of being tucked away in the top-left corner, it's now central, more pronounced and bigger - with the LED flash sitting between the two lenses rather than to the left of them. There's a RAZER logo in the same location on both, which I'll come to.

Round the Razer
The glass back makes the device look more classy, in a sense - but less industrial in design. It's a fingerprint magnet in this glossy black. It does, however, allow for Qi Charging, which the old one didn't have - and if you buy the official Razer Wireless Charger or equivalent, it's also fast-wireless. However, bottom line is that this is an even more slippery phone now and you will need a case. (Incidentally, near-identical as it might be, of course there's no way my half-dozen cases for the first one'll fit!) The glass front and back are Gorilla Glass 5 now instead of 3, so more shatter-proof, but less scratch-proof, apparently. We'll see how we do with that. There's not a scratch in sight on my old one, with regular use for 9 months. The body also now has an IP6/7 rating, which means that for those more adventurous than me, it will survive a dunk in clean water up to 3ft for half an hour - and is dust-sealed.

Brighter, but no AMOLED
The front screen is the same 5.72" IGZO 16:9 1440p LCD panel with switchable (but auto-adjusting) 60, 90 or 120Hz UltraMotion (so smooth!) - but they've done something to the lighting to make it much brighter. On paper, it's apparently now capable of 580 nits instead of 380 on the old one - it is allegedly making it 50% brighter. In my real-world tests here, I can tell you that it's certainly significantly brighter and whiter - less blue - but this is no AMOLED brightness. Up against the Nokia 8, which seems to be something of a benchmark still, it's nowhere near as bright - and actually, a little orange/warm. All my tests are on Manual, not Auto-brightness. The colours generally do look a little more punchy, though remaining subtle over Samsung Saturation. Realistic. At each end of the display is, of course, the giant speakers! I'll come to that later, but just to say that the grilles seem to be exactly the same to me, with the same problem that the holes are clearly going to fill with pocket debris and dust.

Razer Blazer
Razer Phone was equipped with a Snapdragon 835 (2.35GHz, Adreno 540) chipset and they've brought Razer Phone 2 up to date with the 845 (2.8GHz, Adreno 630). There's really not much to say about that though as both devices fly, there's no lag anywhere - which is just as well with a Gaming Phone - but certainly not isolated reasons to upgrade from the old. Test conditions might note the upgrade and difference - and serious hardcore gamers, but not me! Likewise, the 8GB RAM is more than most people have on their laptop computer, so great on both generations. I really thought that this time Razer would up the storage, particularly with heavy-gamers in mind and had learnt the lesson first time round that people were not satisfied. But no, 64GB it is again. To be fair, you can use a microSD Card up to 1TB, but however you cut it, that's not going to read/write as fast as in-built storage, nor is it so secure. There is talk of the matt version coming soon having 128GB, but it all seems to be rumour - and to be honest, with a phone like this, it might as well have 64GB as 128GB. If they were going to do a Samsung Galaxy Note 9 and offer a 512GB version, then it would be worth the hike. Oh well. Memory cards it is for a bit longer!

Thumb-Twiddling Time
On firing up the Razer Phone 2, I was presented with a 1 hour wait before I could do anything, due to a System Update. 569.1MB of it. And then another one at 104.8MB! I can't tell you what version of anything it was on before all this, as it wouldn't let me look before insisting I update during setup. The outcome, as expected, was Android Oreo 8.1.0. with October 2018 Google Security. The first generation phone, which, as I said, in all fairness was a 3UK model, did lag behind on updates, eventually updating to Android Oreo 8.1 with July 2018 Google Security, which is where is remains now. There are promises of Pie, but it looks like it will certainly not be in 2018! If you're an update-paranoid/fanatic, you may get frustrated with the update cycles from Razer, we'll see what happens with the new one, especially as nothing has to go through 3UK.

Seriously Cool
Both phones claim to have Vapor Chamber Cooling, which those of us coming for the sound attributes, don't really need to know about, but for gamers, this apparently makes a real world difference to overheating. There's a JerryRig breakdown video on how it works and what it looks like inside at Razer Phone 2 Cooling for those interested. Bottom line is that whatever you do using the phone, it shouldn't get hot - or if it does, the heat will be swilled around to avoid hotspots.

Nova Prime Deal
One of the great things about having Nova Prime as a part of the Razer deal, is that as soon as you have all your apps installed, a Restore of your Nova Settings, layout, preferences and so on can just be grabbed from wherever you backed up to and Fanny's your aunt! Back to where you left off. Armed with Google's SmartLock and Auto-fill, within half an hour or so, Bob's your uncle too! All fired up as if you had never left the old Razer! It's also so clean. And configurable. There's no bloat (not even 3UK's this time for me!) and all you get is a few bolt-ons to enhance the Razer experience for graphics, control and gaming. Smart stuff that enhances, not dross that fills the ROM for a manufacturer's back-hander. This is, of course, part of the cost - and how often we say that we'd so much rather pay an App developer for an ad-free version of their work than have no option, if we want to use it, but to be bugged by promotions. Well, maybe it's the same here. Pay up for clean. Certainly true of Pixel phones.

Sitting Pretty
Qi Charging, the desire of many these days, after lots of us passed through and out the other side a few years ago with the arrival of USB-C, is present and works very nicely. Some reviewers have said that it's very fussy and will only work in a very small field, but in my testing here it seems to work logically - when the phone is placed on the pad with the large area underneath the Razer logo aligned. So I'm not sure what the fuss is about really. I think people are expecting it to work across the whole back, even though there's an active logo and camera lump in the way! I guess it's handy. I'll have to try and retrain my brain! The battery is the same 4000mAh unit that was in the 1st generation phone and I'm assuming that given the passive use of the logo for Notifications, it won't be much different - that is anything short of excellent - 30+ hrs between charges with 40% brightness and 8+ hrs SoT. Early days. Will report back if there's an issue as I trot along.

OTT LED Notifications
Talking of which, we come to the Razer fan's delight - the multi-coloured, multi-functional RGB Illuminated Chroma Logo! It's not really very exciting and belongs in the same category as camera AR modes to a large degree. The only benefit I can see is for Notifications, which when incoming light up the logo in a colour appropriate for the app in question, so for GMail red, Hangouts green, MeWe blue etc. But if you're to make use of this you need to keep your phone face-down on a desk - so not making use of Qi charging! It's adjustable and colours can be manually selected. You can have it pulse or stay on the whole time and there are other effects to play with. My concern is battery of course, so I have mine now set to Off, except for Notifications. I guess in a dark room or outside, the glow will be a good indicator that something's come in - and it appears to keep flashing until attended to. We should be grateful that there is indeed at least a Notification LED - OTT as it may be!

Dancing Lights
You can, for £99, buy a Chroma Razer Phone 2 Wireless Charger cum nightstand, where you plonk the phone on the unit, at variable angles, and it not only charges but also reflects the settings of the logo in the phone. When set up, you get dancing lights at will, keeping everyone in the room awake! (Though to be fair, there is a Sleep button!) The stand is also Fast Charging, which I guess means that it's not really a bedroom thing - imagine the battery hit charing it Fast every night instead of using the Qi benefit of slow charging when sleeping. I rather think it to be another Razer toy which gamers will have by their huge Razer monitor, dancing lights coming from every device on the desk!

Watch the Birdie
The main cameras on the new phone are much like the old. The main 12MP f1.75 camera does get OIS but the telephoto sister stays as it was, a 12MP f2.6 unit. Again, the front one is the same at 8MP f2 as many of the other changes were implemented earlier in the year to the Razer Phone's camera software and capability - including having added that 2x zoom, 4K video recording and Portrait mode. The front-end does look different as they've tweaked the layout. It's easier to find stuff with bigger buttons and words, but essentially it's much the same as it was. There's a new beauty mode (handy for me!) and Panorama, which work as expected - and the Portrait mode works as well as most, doing a half-decent job of blurring background emulating shallow depth of field. This is not a photographer's phone!

Sounding Better
So, now we come to it! Speakers. I've tested the two devices against each other, armed with what various reviewers have said about their perception - and what Razer have said too. I have tested with the exact same .mp3 320kbps file, same YouTube video, same Music .mp4 file, same .mp4 ripped DVD video, same Netflix 5.1 video, with Dolby Atmos, without, various settings, various genres - same everything. My conclusion is that even though they have clearly had to do something in the device to waterproof the speakers, they have indeed made the output louder and more qualitative. If I had to put figures on it, I'd say that the volume is hiked by between 10-15% and similarly (very subjectively, varying much between files, genres and rips) the 'quality' of the audio, once tweaked by, in this case, me! The deep tones are deeper and mid-tones clearer. Solo piano from a quality recording sounds amazing at full volume, no distortion. Without Dolby Atmos switched on, it's raised above the ordinary - more than the Razer Phone - but boosted with that, there's no competition. Once again, I declare Razer to have the best sounding phone on the planet for now, though to be fair, I've not had the opportunity to test a number of challengers, including the Asus ROG Phone, Black Shark and others now coming out of China. For me though, and within the scope of my experience, Razer Phone 2 (paired with Dolby Atmos) is King and Razer Phone 1, Prince! The question is, whether or not that 10-15% is worth the £695 (less what I can claw back selling the Razer Phone).

For Reference
The rest of the soundscape is pretty much the same, in that you get 24-bit DAC output via the supplied dongle - and with my AKG701 reference headphones it sounds fantastic. To be honest, so does the sound from the first generation model though. This is not what it's about for me! Bluetooth 5 is a hardware update and it all seems to work perfectly whilst testing via various speakers, music machines and headphones. And sounds great!

Wet Dream
I head back to the question at the outset. Is it worth the upgrade for current owners of the first generation Razer Phone. It's a lot of money for a phone amongst hot competition from other manufacturers in this £700 and-up territory, even for the non-upgrader. You've really got to want a great sounding phone or really be into mobile gaming to cough for this at all. There are all sorts of other combinations of bluetooth speakers, headphones, earphones, buds and easy-hook-up to hifi equipment these days. It's also a BIG phone. This is no Pixel 3 or compact Sony. It's big, and makes the most of that with a great sounding output and loads of screen for viewing media - in perfect 16:9. You've got to really want this, to bulge it out of your trousers (ooer!). The camera is decidedly average as well, which will swing many away. You've just got to love the sound on the move! As for the upgrader, who's already sold on mobile sound and/or mobile gaming, if they can afford it, they will. They will still love the smooth 120Hz scrolling screen and the even-better booming sound but will now be turned on, for sure, by the light-show on the back, the Qi charging, the waterproofing and the faster chipset. It's a nerd's wet dream.

Irrational Man
As for me, I knew, as soon as I ordered this that it wasn't going back. £779 felt like a urine-extraction, but £695 felt an awful lot better, and I had half of it already in the pot from other sales. The icing on the cake was the 10-15% for me. It's too much to turn down. If it had been a 'very close' 5% maybe I'd have thought again, but it's not. The other thing selling it to me is that during the last year, every time I turned the Razer Phone on, I was really annoyed by seeing that whacking great '3' staring at me. Just annoying. And always made me feel further away from stock/Vanilla than I wanted to be. Irrational Man!

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