If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re someone who keeps up with the smartphone industry. When was the last time a smartphone got you interested? Probably when Razer released the first gaming smartphone, Razer Phone. We discuss this phenomenon, and what separates them from a flagship smartphone.
The last few years of smartphone development has mostly been focused on pushing VR and AR, improving user experience and providing innovative features aiming to integrate into daily usage. This desperately begs the question, what do we want from a flagship in 2018?
I mean, look at Xiaomi fulfilling almost all needs of consumer through their affordable Redmi lineup. For anyone looking for an extra oomph with a top of the line SoC, they have the Mi lineup of flagship smartphones featuring stellar build quality and top-tier performance. And as usual, we also have flagships from other android smartphone giants such as LG, HTC, Samsung and Huawei. And all of the other mid-tier smartphones either needed extensive modding after rooting a smartphone [which is quite the tricky process, needing enough attention from both the manufacturer and developers].
All we ever wanted was a phone that just worked with no frills.
Hardcore gaming on smartphones was unheard of in any market; at least before Asians started making massively multiplayer online role-playing games… for Android. And like the madmen hardcore gamers are, smartphone sales started spiking in Asian regions. Affordable flagships like Xiaomi Mi series and OnePlus started gaining traction, just because of that sweet Snapdragon flagship chip, and a battery to last several gaming sessions.
This newly sprung market’s demand at this point was only this; a smartphone with top of the line specs and cooling system that helps with the throttling smartphones usually face. That’s something we haven’t seen since the gaming focused Xperia Play, and going way back, the Nokia N-Gage.
The Messiah: Razer Phone
Razer was already a well known gaming brand thanks to its brilliant Deathadder gaming mice and Blackwidow gaming keyboards. Led by an eccentric CEO, Min-Liang Tan, Razer also gained popularity for its skits based on seemingly impossible April Fools jokes featuring hilariously impossible technologies. But last year, Razer broke through from its conventional lineup of gaming gears and released a phone.
Enter, the Razer Phone. Featuring a massive 4,000 mAh battery, dual front firing speakers and Dolby Atmos audio, it seemed an easy entrance into the realm of flagships for this gaming company. Add a 120Hz IPS screen to the mix, and it becomes a compelling buy over any smartphone in the industry, at least for the gamers who know the difference between refresh rates of a display. The smartphone was instantly praised by enthusiasts and reviewers, and grabbed a market that none else dared to touch before; android gamers. From there, it was a slippery slope, and like a wrecking ball we saw gaming focused smartphones coming out in torrents. Huawei Honor Play, Nubia Red Magic and Xiaomi’s Blackshark are to name a few.
Return of the Flagships
Gaming smartphones surely brought a brand new dimension to the smartphone market, but that meant that the manufacturers had to sell their flagships too. Except Razer, who were, and still are enjoying a steady stream of income from their only smartphone, the Razer phone; thanks to its amazing display and front firing speakers.Smartphone giants instead focused their efforts towards improving camera modules, smoother user interface, removing ports and adding weird new features; all depending on who you’re asking about.But still, the question stands. Would you pick a flagship smartphone over a gaming phone?
The bitter truth
Earlier this year, Xiaomi, one of the biggest smartphone manufacturers of the decade, released the gaming-oriented Blackshark. Sporting a bold (and to some, downright weird) design, Blackshark generated quite the hype for the performance and the specs it promised to delivered. Xiaomi seemed to underestimate its market, with the Blackshark facing supply shortages within China. Nubia took the chance and released the Red Magic with a lesser processor (Snapdragon 835 against Blackshark’s 845). But the question still stands; what value does a flagship smartphone offer over a gaming smartphone?
The answer is heat dissipation and in result, lesser thermal throttling. Some reviewers dared to run Xiaomi’s Blackshark in a stress test against Xiaomi’s flagship Mi Mix 2S, both featuring the same SoC. The Mi Mix 2S ran cooler and had more consistent performance across the board in almost all applications including gaming. But for the price one would pay for a flagship, the gaming phones surely proved to be an amazing example of bang-for-buck.
The equalizer: ASUS ROG Phone
From the previous results, flagships would still be the weapon of choice for ultimate android gaming device. But still, the biggest trade-offs would be the peripherals and the battery life that gaming smartphones offer. Maybe that’s a deal-breaker to some. The answer to this came from ASUS’s gaming brand, ROG.
ROG revealed its first effort towards a gaming smartphone, called the ROG Phone, around June 2018. The flagship SoC from Qualcomm, Snapdragon 845, has been overclocked to 2.96GHz, compared to the standard 2.8GHz from flagships of well known company such as the Galaxy S9. It also comes packed with 8 gigs of RAM compared to the standard 4GB that most flagships feature.
Up front, the phone features a 6 inch AMOLED Panel with a 90Hz refresh rate, competing against Razer Phone’s 120Hz LCD Display. The corners of the phone are touch sensitive to provide a functionality called the air trigger, mappable buttons in video games for quick access to keys. Flip it over and the phone looks stylish, with an unconventionally designed fingerprint scanner and a cooling system called the “3D vapor chamber cooling”, providing upto 16 times more heat dissipation area and extending CPU endurance upto five folds. Oh, and also an RGB Republic of Gamers logo, something the Blackshark promised… Kinda.
If the vents aren’t enough, ROG released something called the AeroActive cooler, providing a 3.5mm jack and an active cooling fan. This cooler is just the one of many bizarre accessories made for the ROG phone. The most intriguing one is the TwinView Dock, a hand-held grip that comes with extra battery juice and a second screen. Want to play on a massive screen like a king? ASUS is also bringing a mobile desktop dock which you can hook up to a monitor or a TV. ASUS recommends it’s ROG Big Format Gaming Display; massive monitors featuring Nvidia tech and astonishing refresh rates.
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We come back to our original demand, a phone that doesn’t screw up every two seconds. And as enthusiasts, we want innovation and cool gadgets in this field of tiny computers in our pockets. We finally seem to have gotten it, but at what cost?
For the ultimate multi-tasker and power user, the smartphone industry finally has a market. These smartphones might look tacky and unprofessional; but they’re sure to get your work done efficiently than most smartphones out there.
All we can say is, gaming phones have certainly made smartphones exciting again.