Commentary

Razer Phone targets mobile gamers, but is it enough to compete with Apple and Samsung?

The Razer Phone has to be one of the worst-kept secrets in the tech industry. We all saw it coming after Razer bought smartphone start-up Nextbit in February.

Razer CEO Tan Min-Liang had also dropped plenty of hints about the device leading up to the official reveal on Wednesday night (Nov 1) in London.

Now that the Razer Phone is here, can it compete with the top flagship phones in the market? Here are my initial observations:

Built for gamers and enthusiasts

If you had polled tech enthusiasts and gamers on the top features they wanted from their smartphones, you'd probably end up with something like the Razer Phone.

I won't go into details about its hardware, but suffice to say, it ranks among the best in the industry in terms of the processor and memory. It even sports dual rear cameras like many new phones this year.

Its software, too, will probably earn high marks from enthusiasts. In addition to running a stock version of Android 7.1.1 Nougat (with Android 8.0 Oreo to come in Q1 2018), the Razer Phone comes preloaded with popular third-party launcher Nova Prime for easy and extensive customisation.

Razer has also put some serious thought into designing this gaming smartphone, and not just check off a list of features.

For instance, the chunky bezel at the top and the bottom of the device lets users grip the phone properly while gaming in landscape mode. The thick bezel is not wasted space either, as Razer has embedded front-firing Dolby Atmos speakers here. And to ensure that the phone can last a decent game session, it is equipped with a 4,000mAh battery, which is about 33 per cent larger than the average smartphone.

 
 

Its standout feature, the one thing that makes the Razer Phone ideal for gaming, is the 120Hz display that refreshes 120 times a second, up from the 60 times a second on typical smartphone displays. The only other mobile device with a comparable screen is the latest 10.5-inch Apple iPad Pro.

Games that support this 120Hz refresh rate will run even smoother, without stuttering or tearing. Razer has announced a list of mobile games that will be optimised for this display, including Square Enix's Final Fantasy XV Pocket Edition and Tencent's Arena of Valour.

But as anyone who has used the iPad Pro will tell you, the benefits of having a 120Hz screen are not limited to games. Even in normal usage, the screen will feel more responsive to swipes and gestures. This greater responsiveness may even address the janky or sluggiish scrolling issues that often afflict Android smartphones.

In short, the Razer Phone looks like an excellent device for mobile games.

Tapping a booming mobile gaming market

And there are plenty of mobile gamers out there that may be interested in the Razer Phone. According to an April report by market research firm Newzoo, mobile gaming is the "most lucrative segment with smartphone and tablet gaming growing 19 per cent year over year to US$46.1 billion (S$62.7 billion), claiming 42 per cent of the global games market."

It also helps that Razer owners are very loyal to the brand. Newzoo's Richard Hordijk said that its research showed that 92 per cent of Razer peripheral owners are willing to buy a Razer product again.

Pricing too steep for mainstream users

However, Ms Tay Xiaohan, senior research manager for client devices at IDC Asia-Pacific feels that the Razer Phone will hold little appeal to mainstream users because of its US$699.99 (S$952) price tag.

"The average consumer or non-gamer would not be willing to spend that amount of money on a Razer phone. Other than Apple and Samsung that dominate at the over US$700 segment, most of the other top vendors are also struggling to increase their share at these prices," she said. An unlocked Samsung Galaxy S8 costs around US$720 from Amazon.com.

Razer should take heed of the Essential Phone from Android founder Andy Rubin's start-up. Priced originally at US$699, the Essential Phone received a US$200 price cut, less than two months after it started shipping to customers.

To be fair, Razer has a much larger following than a new start-up. But one of the Essential Phone's biggest flaw was its lacklustre camera. While I have yet to try out the Razer Phone's camera, I suspect it may not quite match up to the ones found on high-end flagships like the Apple iPhone X, Note8 or the Google Pixel 2 XL.