According to Razer, the familiar design is part of the brand's aesthetic, which makes sense if you've seen the company's laptops and peripherals. Either way, I'm not a fan. Not only is the phone a boring black slab, the straight sides and sharp edges mean it's uncomfortable to hold, especially for long periods of time.
When I play a game, I hold the phone horizontally, letting the corners sit in my palm. This is fine for a few minutes, but after awhile, the phone's heft -- 7.7 ounces -- means the edges start to dig into my hands, creating quite a bit of hand fatigue. I have relatively small hands so that could be a factor, but that's definitely a big sticking point in my mind. I would probably prefer the option of a gamepad accessory to make it more comfortable to hold.
That said, the Razer Phone 2 doesn't feel like a cheap phone. Measuring 6.24 by 3.1 by 0.33 inches, it's constructed out of a solid aluminum frame just like the original, along with a new mirror-finish glass back that's in line with current smartphone trends. It all adds up to a device that looks and feels premium.
Another differentiator from last year's model is that the Razer logo on the back actually lights up in Chroma RGB lighting -- a hallmark feature in several Razer products. You can choose one of 16.7 million color options, a "breathing" or pulsing mode where it fades in and out, or a spectrum mode where it cycles through a variety of different colors. It's a silly thing, perhaps, but it adds a dash of personality to an otherwise cold, chunky device.
Interestingly, the Chroma logo also functions as a notification light, by pulling in the base color from an app's theme. When I received Facebook messages, for example, the logo would glow blue, and when I received new Gmail, it turned red (it glows red a lot). Of course, red can apply to other apps like Yelp, for example, but it's still more information than a typical indicator light. If you get multiple notifications, it'll cycle through the colors as they arrive.
As for other hardware details, there's a fingerprint sensor on the right side, a lone USB-C port at the bottom (sorry, 3.5-mm headset fans) and two volume buttons along with the SIM tray on the left. Another welcome addition to the Razer Phone 2 is that it has a water- and dust-resistance rating of IP67.
The Phone 2 also sees a bump in CPU hardware, with a Snapdragon 845 processor (2.8GHz) with an Adreno 630 GPU and 8GB of system memory. It comes with 64GB of internal storage, with support for up to 1TB microSD cards.
Display and sound
On paper, the Razer Phone 2's display hasn't changed much from the original. It still has a 5.72-inch IGZO LCD screen with QHD (1440 x 2560) resolution and that glorious 120Hz refresh rate. That refresh rate results in beautifully fluid interactions, immediately noticeable when scrolling through menus, flipping through long web pages and, of course, playing games.
Razer tweaked the display this time around to have a broader color gamut plus increased brightness -- (580 nits over the 380 on the original). I could really tell the difference when playing movies on them side-by-side -- the display on the Razer Phone 2 just looks so much richer, with deeper blacks and saturated colors. I also like that the screen is more legible in bright daylight, which was a problem on last year's model.
That said, the LCD screen on the Razer is a little dimmer and isn't as vibrant as phones with OLED and AMOLED displays. I personally don't find this to be a dealbreaker, but it's something to be mindful of if you're thinking of making the switch from an OLED device.
As mentioned, the main benefit of that 120Hz refresh rate comes in when playing games. I primarily played Vainglory and Fortnite during my testing, both of which are pretty graphically intensive. The visual detail and smooth performance that the refresh rate provides is a treat for the eyes, especially for twitchy games like Fortnite where the environment is constantly changing.
Like the original Razer, the Phone 2 has Dolby Atmos-enabled speakers. As you might expect, the sound is stellar, with loud volume and crisp, well-balanced audio. It's still a tiny bit tinny and the bass isn't as deep as I would want, but the result is that the Razer Phone 2 is one of the best-sounding smartphones I've ever heard. The spatial surround sound effect really comes into play in games like Fortnite, where I could hear people creeping up behind me. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at the game, so that still caught me off guard a few times.
The Razer Phone 2 ships with Android 8.1 Oreo and will be updated to Pie early next year. That's a little disappointing if you're hoping for the latest and greatest software out of the box, but the upside is that you won't have long to wait for the upgrade. As with the original, the Phone 2 comes with the Nova launcher, which replaces the default home screen with a customizable desktop and gestures. Otherwise, the UI is fairly vanilla Android.
Still, Razer did add a bit of flair here and there by slapping some green paint on a few core app icons like the Clock, Camera and Settings. It also included a few apps of its own, like the Razer Theme Store, one for the aforementioned Chroma logo, as well as Cortex -- a brand new app that functions as Razer's one-stop-shop for mobile games.
The idea behind Cortex is that instead of digging through the Google Play Store to find games that'll take advantage of the Phone 2's prowess, you can just head to Cortex, where you'll see a list of Razer Recommended titles or games that are optimized for 120Hz screens. Tap on one and you'll be kicked to the Google Play Store, where you can download it from there. According to Razer, the recommended titles in Cortex will change over time depending on the kinds of games you play, but I haven't played with the phone long enough to tell the difference.
There are two more sections in Cortex. One leads to your existing game library while the other is a link to Game Booster, an app that Razer Phone users might already be familiar with. It essentially lets you customize the frame rate, resolution and CPU of each individual game. For example, if you want Vainglory and Fortnite to always be set at optimal or max performance, but would prefer Pokemon Go use a less-demanding battery saving mode, you can do that here. For simplicity's sake, Game Booster has automated presets for Power Save mode, which just downscales everything to save battery or Performance mode, which maxes out all of the settings.