Laptops haven't really been exciting for a while now. They keep getting thinner and lighter, trying to fill that narrowing gap between your phone and a desktop computer. Each strikes its own balance between portability, capability and affordability, and generally you have to pick which two of those things you want to go for.
At least that's how I felt about the laptop space before I spent three weeks with Razer's Blade Stealth ultrabook, a matte black aluminum slab of disruption that is somehow just as well-engineered and light -- not to mention way more powerful -- than the super-portable computers from Dell and Apple, all while having a significantly smaller price tag.
You may recognise Razer as a maker of high-end gaming gear — laptops, keyboards, mice, headsets and the like — but the Stealth is not a machine designed for gaming. For the first time, Razer has taken everything it's learnt streamlining bulky high-performance components and applied it to a general consumer laptop built for comfort, convenience and adaptability.
Looking like a Batman-designed MacBook at first glance, but hiding some marked improvements to Apple's design and probably the most fun keyboard a mainstream laptop has ever seen, the most unexpected thing about the Stealth is that it actually made me excited about a laptop. Yes, in 2016!
What Is It?
For the general consumer, the Stealth offers a beautiful, comfortable laptop that's cheaper than a MacBook, not quite as impressive for battery life but at least as powerful and compact. Its aluminum body is light but incredibly solid, with no flexing, wobbling or creaking to be found.
Many of Razer's familiar touches are still present, but have been smartly adapted for non-gaming use. The keyboard is the best example of this, not only ergonomic and well-spaced but fitted out with the company's trademark Chroma backlighting.
Having the keys lit up any colour you like adds a nice personal touch to a machine you may be using for work, without making it look like a big heavy gaming rig. The keys are individually RGB lit — a first for a laptop — so you can colour code to your heart's desire using the included "configurator" app, or even have the light pulse, ripple out from each typed key or flow in a constant rainbow of colour. Or, if you like, you could leave them white or turn them off.
Enthusiasts will also be impressed with the machine. It's one of the very few laptops of this size to feature an Intel Core i7 processor. A more expensive version of the Stealth (from $2149) comes with a 4K screen that can display 100 per cent of Adobe's colour standard (the regular screen is Quad-HD and displays 70 per cent, still pretty great).
It also manages to pack two full-sized USB 3 ports, a full HDMI port and a bleeding edge Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port into its slight frame, the latter enabling fast charging as well as compatibility with USB, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt and PCI-e devices. Elsewhere there's 8GB of RAM and integrated Intel graphics, a downgrade from Razer's gaming-focused offerings but certainly on par with others in the ultrabook class.
The Thunderbolt port is also designed to pair the Stealth with an amazing device called the Razer Core, which can be fitted with a full-sized desktop-class graphics card to turn your ultra-portable laptop into a gaming and graphics beast. The Core is not yet on the market, but I've seen it in action and can confirm it works just as advertised. You connect the Core to the Stealth with one cable, and the laptop instantly gets battery power and graphics processing from the external brick, as well as expanded USB, HDMI and ethernet capabilities, with no reboots needed.
Of course it isn't a good idea to invest in a device based on a future accessory — thankfully there's plenty to like about the Stealth just as it is — but if you want one device for work, travel and heavy home gaming this could very well be it once the Core arrives.
Starting at $1549, the Stealth is a whole lot of machine for its price, which isn't something I often get to say about a premium laptop.
As an ultrabook — which aims to maximise portability by shedding heavy components like dedicated graphics and big batteries — the Blade Stealth is best compared to Apple's MacBook and Dell's XPS 13. However I've included Apple's bigger, brawnier 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display in the below comparison as well, just to show what else is available at the pricepoint. Note that these are base model specs, and in all four cases you can throw more money in to get nicer components.
The biggest story here is how strong the Stealth appears against the MacBook. The i7 processor is a huge leap over the battery-saving Core M mobile chipset, while a touchscreen is — most would agree — preferable to the MacBook's Force Touch trackpad. The killer blow though is the addition of several extra ports, which removes the need to have a dock dangling from your singular USB C port. The MacBook's thinner at its thinnest point, but I much prefer the firmness of the Razer, and — although it's a matter of taste — think the latter's a better looking and feeling machine overall.
The one obvious thing the base MacBook has over the base Razer is more storage. However if storage is a concern for you, an extra $300 will get you 256GB in the Razer, making for an all-around superior machine that still comes in more than $100 cheaper.
If you've got cash to spare and want to look at the best possible version of the ultrabooks from both Razer and Apple, the $2449 MacBook will get you all of the above but with an upgrade to 512GB of storage and a 1.2GHz Core m5. Meanwhile the top-of-the-line Razer, also $2449, gets you 512GB of storage plus the 4K (3840 x 2160) display .
The Dell is a much closer match for the Razer (and for $1999 you can get an XPS 13 with 8GB of RAM), but it's bulkier, more expensive, lacks a full-size HDMI and still doesn't match the Stealth for processing power. Meanwhile the much heavier work-focused MacBook Pro is the closest match yet, besting the Razer for processor clockspeed (although with an older chipset) and sheer battery size.
Should You Buy It?
If the Blade Stealth has an Achilles' heel, it's probably battery life. I've been getting around 8 hours out of my QHD review unit, which isn't terrible but certainly isn't best in class. Reports indicate (and Razer has confirmed to me), that you can expect significantly less longevity if you go for the 4K screen, somewhere in the ballpark of 6 hours. This makes total sense given the number of extra pixels that brilliant screen has to push, but it makes things a bit difficult if you need your machine to go a whole workday. My advice would be — unless you absolutely need the extra resolution or colour accuracy — to go for the cheaper QHD models.
Still, battery life is one of those things — like dedicated graphics and heaps of storage — that needs to be balanced in the pursuit of a truly portable laptop, and the Blade Stealth packs just about the best combination of aesthetics, comfort, portability, durability and premium specs you could hope for, and manages to come in at a good price.
The as-yet-undetermined future of the Razer Core makes it difficult to say whether the Stealth could eventually be the one machine that you take on the road and also use to run your home gaming and entertainment needs, but as a pure ultrabook it is a rare and amazing beast.
The Razer Blade Stealth is now shipping, with all models sold exclusively through Razer's web store.