A gaming laptop in a tablet. It's a thought experiment that raises a whole host of questions: Is that even possible? Can it possibly be good? Would anyone even want it if it were? How much does it cost? The Razer Edge's answers translate roughly to "Yes!", "Sort of", "Maybe?" and "Erm, you better sit down."
What Is It
A Windows 8 tablet computer with gaming PC guts. That means a discrete graphics card and insides that ramp all the way up to a Core i7, 256GB SSD and 8GB of RAM. It also has an optional mobile console case that turns the Edge into a 10.1-inch "handheld" gaming console.
The Edge itself is a thick black 10.1-inch tablet constructed with aluminium and plastic. It's more comfortable to hold than you'd expect, given its girth compared to mainstream tablets, thanks to its matte finish and a curved indent around the back rim. But it's still damn heavy. The gamepad case alone weighs about 900g (with the tablet, you hit roughly 1.8kg combined) and is made of anodised black aluminium. Two large bars with the Xbox controls frame the tablet in landscape mode.
The first thing you'll notice when you open up the Edge is that it comes with no keyboard or mouse or controlling device. In fact, the keyboard/laptop accessory doesn't even come out until later this year. That should tell you something: The keyboard mode is important, and it will be there, but it's not how Razer sees you using the Edge. The gamepad case is the star here; everything else feels like well-oiled afterthoughts.
That's a shame, actually, because the best use for the Edge should be as the most capable Swiss Army Knife of a computer on the planet. The single-minded, single-purposed, all-out gaming machine is actually the hybrid best suited for a lot of professional users. It's a Surface Pro.
But the Edge isn't the Surface, in basically every way but the most basic. Yes, it's a slate that doubles as a Windows 8 PC. That's more or less where the comparison ends. The Surface tries to be everything, to be equally awesome as a tablet and a laptop. The Edge is simply a highly specialised piece of mobile gaming overkill, with some other modes thrown in.
Your first impression: Oh god it's heavy and huge. And then: But... man this is so damn cool. Then it gets heavy again, and you rest it on your knee or find something to lean on.
The gamepad controller works with the XInput tech, meaning any PC game optimised to work with an Xbox controller will work seamlessly with the Edge's gamepad case. And they do! But as an Xbox controller, it's not the best. The sticks feel a little loose, especially for how hard you'll likely be gripping the heavy encased tablet, and the start and select keys are under your palms, so you've got to shift around to press them.
Also, an enormous 1.8kg+ tablet behaves a little differently than an Xbox controller or a handheld device or even the Wii U's controller. Mainly because it's heavy. When holding it in front of your face, the gravity of the device pulling it to a comfortable state of rest in your hands generally makes the angle of the screen hard to see. It gives you the sense that the most comfortable way to hold it is at forehead level, six inches from your face. You simply won't want to be using this without a knee or stomach or tabletop to rest the tablet or your elbows on, which, in a lot of ways, defeats the purpose of a tablet.
Battery life isn't great, but you knew it wouldn't be. We got between two and three hours at full brightness running current games like BioShock Infinite, Skyrim and Dishonored, sometimes dipping even lower. That's not tooooo dreadful, all things considered -- and there's a $70 extended battery we didn't get a chance to test -- but it's disappointing for a device that claims to be mobile.
But look at what you're holding in your hands. A real, coherent, portable way to play games as they were meant to be played (no, using your trackpad to play Diablo on a 5kg laptop on an aeroplane does not count). Ten years ago, this was just a mad-scientist pipe dream from Sony. There have been more practical handheld gaming solutions, like the PSP and PSP Vita's PSN Store, but none with as much overkill for current games as the Edge. It plays BioShock Infinite on Ultra on its native screen; Skyrim runs flawlessly; The Witcher 2 stuttered a bit, but even it ran more or less fine with some slowdown on High configuration, and it was perfectly acceptable on Medium.
That said, the guts can't keep up once you bump up resolutions past what the Edge's tablet screen pumps out. For example, BioShock Infinite played passably on Ultra settings on the native screen (under 60fps, but holding steady above 30), but took a nosedive down to 10 or so running on a 1080p TV. Dropping settings down to High brought it back up to speed, which is more or less fine. This limitation, even more than cost, is probably why the screen's resolution is relatively low.
About that: The screen isn't great. No way around it. It's a 1366x768 panel that's fine, more or less, but the colour is washed out and too yellow in its default configuration. At the same time, it's huge for a handheld with real Xbox controls. It's like the extreme version of how the 3DS XL's larger, less pixel-dense screen feels like a better experience than the 3DS's. Held like you would a typical handheld console, the 10.1-inch screen takes up about as much of your field of vision as a 46-inch TV from three metres.
Connected to TV
Well, it's the highest class console you'll ever own. It's also probably the most exorbitantly expensive. "Steam box" functionality means what you'd expect. You'll be able to play all the same games that you can use with the gamepad case, because of the XInput standard for Xbox controller use. That means, more or less, that you've got a gigantic, mega-expensive version of the PS3/PS Vita pairing Sony does. Which is actually pretty cool.
To use the Edge as a console, you'll need the $100 Console Dock, which charges the tablet, has an HDMI-out port and adds three USB ports for controllers. The pairing is basically a second display in Windows 8, and you can choose to either mirror the tablet's screen on the TV or only engage the TV. The design of the dock, however, is a little off for its purpose. Its job is to turn your Edge into a highbrow Xbox, basically. But its four USB ports are in the back, making them hard to get to when plugging in controllers. And being a tablet standing up on a dock makes it hard to place in any media centre -- even harder than the pain in the arse original Wii. I just set it on the floor in front of the TV stand. But that's not really a permanent solution.
It all works really well, but like the rest of the non-gamepad case modes, it's something that you can do with other, more cost-effective products. There's nothing stopping you from plugging any gaming-worthy computer into your TV, or using your current laptop as a gaming tower. The benefit here -- and it's a real one -- is that it's all one device. That is nice, but with Steam cloud syncing, and cloud syncing in general, you don't feel the benefit as much with a dedicated gaming device as you would have a few years back.
The Edge doesn't really shine as a standalone tablet. When it's isolated, its deficiencies float to the surface. The so-so 1366x768 screen is fine, but an embarrassment next to the Surface Pro, iPad or Nexus. Yes, the graphics it renders are going to be much, much better, but the fact is most demanding games for PCs aren't optimised for touch, so trying to use it is a failure.
Even optimised games like Civilization V aren't categorical successes. Unlike the Surface Pro, the Razer Edge doesn't have a fold-over cover to insulate your hand from the heat of the device. And the matte plastic back panel gets hot. Of course it does. It's a gaming machine. But it's the first that you're, you know, holding in your hands.
Still other games that do have touch-enabled versions, like The Walking Dead on iOS, don't have them enabled on their Steam counterparts. That can leave you feeling like you've got a strangely underpowered version of the game on your tablet, which could literally devour a family of iPads whole.
Well, the laptop case isn't out yet, so cross that one out for now. From experience using a day-to-day 11.6-inch laptop, and also having spent a few weeks using the Surface Pro and its 10.6-inch screen as an everyday computer, 10.1 inches is not enough real estate for a comfortable laptop experience.
But with a second display, a mouse/trackpad and a full sized keyboard? Wonderful! Using the console dock, which doubles as an external monitor dock, you've got a secondary display for Metro, and a beefy configuration to tackle pro jobs. The Razer did underperform inexplicably in testing with our standard Premiere Pro render test (about equal to the integrated graphics of the retina display MacBook Pro 13, and nearly twice as slow as the quad-core retina display 15-inch MacBook Pro), but, in general, it was a delight to use as a desktop computer during everyday use. You know, provided you've already got the mouse and keyboard ready for it.
The Edge is the ultimate gaming PC-console hybrid. I played BioShock Infinite on the train to work yesterday morning. I had checked my email on the desktop stand, plugged its stand into the TV and snuck in an early morning level, then popped the tablet off, stuck it and its case in my bag, and played, standing up, on the ride downtown. That's a next-level way to use a device.
The list is considerable: Battery life is as bad as you fear it will be (about three hours of gaming on max brightness), and the screen leaves a lot to be desired. The tablet itself feels solid, but doesn't touch the Surface Pro, let alone the iPad and Nexus 10, in comfort and screen quality. The weight with the gamepad case isn't exactly a deal breaker, but it's way, way heavier than anything you're used to holding in your hands, and often deeply uncomfortable depending on which position you're trying to hold it in.
But like the Blade, this really comes down to price and practicality. Starting at $US1000 and running up over $US1500, plus accessories, the Edge is a major investment. Like, nice-ultrabook-and-a-PS4-combined major. Consider: A maxed-out Edge Pro ($US1450) with a gamepad case ($US250) and a console dock ($US100) is $US1800, and that's without an optional keyboard case and an extended battery. The cheapest model with those accessories is still $US1350. Crazy pants.
There's also no confirmation on when we'll see this in Australia. Razer's Aussie reps say it's definitely coming, but there are no hard dates available just yet.
- The speakers are LOUD. Like, bothering my roommate a few doors down with the doors closed loud. The gamepad case actually makes them even louder, by reflecting the sound back at your head, but you'll never really have to turn it up past about 75 per cent.
- The touch sensitivity showed a few hiccups. Actions were generally fine, but accessing charms, and other gestures activated from the sides or top of the display were much more unreliable than on other high end Windows 8 laptops.
- Switching from your TV to just the native display in the middle of a game requires that you switch to the new resolution before you remove the tablet from the dock, unless you want to be stuck with a 1080p image displayed on a 1366x768 display, often without a way to access the control to switch back.
Should You Buy This
Of course not! The price is an albatross before most folks look any further. Yes, unifying all your devices is absolutely the future, and the Edge tackles that in a lot of remarkably elegant ways. But it's still far from perfect, and this is a steep premium to pay for less than perfection.
That said, if you've got cash to burn, there is a very good argument for the Edge as a deeply capable literally-all-in-one. You can use it as basically any type of device you want, in a way that nothing else out there really does. It's just a question of how much that flexibility worth to you.
Razer Edge Pro (specs as reviewed) Display: 10.1-inch 1366x768 IPS Processor: Core i7 1.9GHz Dual Core Memory: 8GB RAM Storage: 256GB SSD Dimensions: 278.5mm x 178.85mm x 19.5mm Weight: 950g Weight (with gamepad case): 1.8kg+ Price: $US1450 Availability: Australian release planned, but dates are yet to be confirmed.