Gaming on smartphones is big business. So big that hardcore gaming firm Razer reckons there’s a better way to make a smartphone that’s good for games, but that you won’t be embarrassed to use in public.
Having started making precision mice and colourful keyboards for gaming, then successfully moving into performance laptops over the last five years, Razer believes that mobile is the next step in gaming.
Tom Moss, head of Razer’s mobile business, said: “We didn’t start out trying to make a gaming phone, but rather a phone for gamers. Something you wouldn’t be embarrassed about pulling out in public. And it had to have the highest performance both on paper and in real life benchmarks.”
Where iPhone 8s, Pixel 2s and Galaxy S8s are pretty good for gaming, Razer styles itself as the “lifestyle brand for the people that grew up as gamers” and believes there’s still scope for making the ultimate phone for gamers predicated on playing games and watching videos.
The Razer Phone, which is made by some of the former Nextbit people who were bought by the gaming firm, has the usual 2017 top-end components: Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 processor, 8GB of RAM, 64GB of storage with a microSD card slot for more, a large, high resolution display and dual 12-megapixel cameras on the back.
But Razer also put in a large, 4,000 mAh battery, very loud front-facing stereo speakers and shoehorned performance laptop technology into a smartphone.
Moss said: “We leveraged our engineering experience from laptops creating a heat pipe and two layers of thermal shielding, turning the structure of the phone into a heat sync, so you can use your phone in high performance mode for a lot longer and avoid throttling.”
The squared-off black metal body stands in stark contrast to most devices in 2017. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
The result is an imposing 8mm-thick monolithic slab of a smartphone that looks unusual in a world where every other smartphone has adopted a curved, svelte design.
Razer is targeting the 15 to 25-year-old gaming enthusiast, with smartphones being part of its holistic approach to this potentially lucrative market.
It uses a near-stock version of Android 7 Nougat, with an update to the latest version of Android 8 Oreo promised early next year, and introduces gaming technologies not before seen in a smartphone.
The first is a dynamic, adaptable 120Hz display refresh rate, at least double that of competitors, and what the firm calls Ultramotion – a technology similar to the PC gaming technologies of Nvidia’s G-Sync or AMD’s FreeSync – tying screen refresh rate to the frame rate being outputted by the graphics processor to avoid screen tearing.
The result is smooth gaming and day-to-day performance, while the display is capable of turning down its refresh rate to save battery when needed. Apple’s iPad Pro does a similar thing with its 120Hz display.
Moss said: “We’re really trying to push the technologies that we’ve developed for our laptops into mobile. It’s not necessarily for everyone, but I think it’s for more people than you might think at first glance because the size of the gaming and entertainment business.”
While most Android games will run fine on the Razer Phone, around 20% of them have uncapped frame rates, which will take full advantage of Razer’s technologies. The firm is also working with big-name game developers to optimise some high profile games for the phone, including the upcoming Final Fantasy 15 Pocket Edition and Shadow Gun Legends.
The power button on the side doubles as a fingerprint scanner. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian
With the backing of the rest of the Razer business, which has 35 million registered users of its software alone, success for its new smartphone business will be measured quite differently.
“We’re not targeting to be number three biggest smartphone manufacturer, maybe in five years,” said Moss. “We don’t need to reach 10m sales, instead we want to be taken seriously, by component vendors, by carriers and the public while staying true to the core brand of being made by gamers for gamers.”
In the ultra-competitive smartphone market dominated by Apple, Samsung and China’s Huawei, Razer will have an uphill battle for relevance. But if it can leverage its fairly large enthusiast fanbase, Razer could become a solid niche player in the smartphone game offering something others do not.
The Razer Phone will be available for pre-order on 3 November costing £699 ($699) and in-store on 14 November available from Razer’s online store and exclusively through mobile phone operator Three in six countries including the UK.