Just stop me when this sounds ridiculous: A tablet. Built for gaming. Like, really built for gaming. With twin analogue joysticks. That are permanently built into it. That’s Razer’s Project Fiona. And it’s more amazing than you think. Video!
Project Fiona is a proof-of-concept and a prototype in the most serious way. What you’re looking at is version 0.2. (Razer’s already finished work on five more iterations of Fiona — they’re up to version 0.8 at their labs, and expecting to hit 1.0 by the end of the year.) I can tell when I feel the heat coming out of the vents, as the fan spins up to cool the Intel Core i7 breathing fire inside. Or when the right analogue stick feels a little sticky.
But when I run my finger along the edges of the brushed aluminium frame that provides Fiona’s remarkably rigid structural integrity, or try to make its skeleton flex and creak, it feels more done, more solid than some other very finished tablets I’ve used. “And frankly, the final product will look much different,” says Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan of Fiona. Which is also why I can’t tell you battery life, or how much it’ll cost, though Tan is aiming for under $US1000 for the Windows 8-powered tablet (meaning it’ll have full PC powers, though Razer is adding some software of their own on the gaming side, like the interface for browsing games).
It’s lighter than you’d think, for a tablet that’s at least as thick as three iPad 2s — it’ll be thinner, promises Tan — and has a pair of sticks bolted onto it. But I rest my elbows on my knees to play Warhammer 40K: Space Marine. And it feels totally natural. If you’ve ever used an Xbox 360 or PS3 controller, you know how to use Fiona’s controls; Razer software takes care of the mapping PC controls to the buttons.
Do you know what the minimum spec requirements are for Space Marine? A 2GHz dual-core CPU, 2GB RAM, 256MB video card. And it ran beautifully on Fiona’s glossy 10.1-inch, 1280×800 display. I held PC gaming in my hands, and I killed a bunch of Orcs and it felt fantastic. It sounds stupid that a 10.1-inch screen could be as immersive as a 24-inch display, but when you’re able to bring your game up to your face, and it moves with you and your body, it’s a different kind of connection. Speaking of moving! It’s got an accelerometer and and force feedback, so Razer’s already thinking ways PC games could take advantage of gamers having access to traditional controls, touch and movement simultaneously.
The deepest PC gamers might balk at an analogue stick and a handful of buttons truly replicating the PC gaming experience on the go — and I agree an RTS seems pretty hard to squeeze into those controls — but the potential of ubiquitous, for-real PC gaming anywhere, as defined by the games, is pretty incredible to consider even for the most hardened of PC gamers. And even if Fiona is not for them, they should still be thrilled to salty, Cheeto-infused tears that this thing (and the Blade) exists. It pushes the boundaries of what PC gaming is. And Razer might just be the only company willing to save PC gaming by radically re-inventing it at a hardware level.
So while Project Fiona itself might not literally be the future of PC gaming, I still feel like that’s exactly what I just held in my hands.