Nobody would argue that on a superficial level, in aesthetics alone, Razer is top of the class among Windows laptops. In a world where the Macbook and Macbook Pro line up has been offered nary a single realistic competitor, the fact that the Blade effectively prioritises appearance puts it head and shoulders above the rest. However, as much as it pains me to say it, despite thrashing the vast majority of other Windows machines firmly out of the water, a closer look at the Blade reveals a myriad of weakneses you simply wouldn’t see on a device emblazoned with a glowing Apple.
First let me summarise the good. I’ll be brief, not because I want to gloss over Razer’s achievements, but because they don’t merit wordy analysis.
At a distance, almost any distance, it looks great. Not since black Macbooks cerca 2006 has there been a matt black body of this sophistication. Texturally it’s switched on too – it feels premium and sturdy. The glowing Razer symbol is perhaps a little too ostentatious, but its green luminescence is appealing to most.
The keyboard is almost perfect in design. The keys are extremely responsive and not too shallow. Their surface is very lightly textured, which is genius, as they even feel superior quality. Not everyone will like Razer’s trademark font, presumably designed with teenage gamers in mind, and the key for the letter R infuriates because it’s irrationally and incongruously lowercase. (If you hadn’t noticed, you will now! Sorry.) The enter key is noticeably smaller than normal, but it takes no time to subtly adjust your typing habit. I’m inclined to go on a diatribe here about complicated keyboard shortcuts for basic symbols and commands, but as that’s a Windows criticism, I’ll refrain. It’s worth noting though, key bindings in Windows are agonisingly illogical and needlessly complex if they exist at all.
It’s not for everyone, but for me personally, the anti-glare screen works – I’ve never been fond of seeing my reflection as I browse. The brightness goes very high to suitably low and whilst I would prefer slightly more control over the incrementation, I can live with that.
The trackpad also looks and feels nice, as well as being appropriately sized and well positioned. And importantly, it runs games even better than it claims. I whack everything from Dying Light to Metal Gear Solid V up to full spec and the Blade takes it like a champ. It really is a very well specced little machine, and to some extent, that is its saving grace. Yes, it’s considerably more expensive than an Xbox or PS4, but if you put this bad boy through an HDMI to a big screen, you’ve got yourself a pretty ironclad gaming set-up. It’s a lot of fun.
All good so far, you’re thinking… isn’t that pretty much it for the hardware? But let’s take a closer look…
Back to the body: yes it’s sleek, but it’s sleek in a kind of, almost retro, 2008 style. It’s not especially thin, it weighs a ton for the size, and it has a distinct lack of ports for a machine of this high spec, as well as peculiar placement for almost all of those that it has implemented. The charger is cheap. It looks and feels cheap, and makes no effort to be more portable. I hate to repeatedly draw comparisons to Macbooks, but the power cord here is shorter and fatter, the connection a clumsy old school slot (nothing so innovative as a magnet connector), and the light on the adapter a vivid bright green that is impossible to ignore at night. Albeit not an issue limited to Razer laptops, I nonetheless feel it’s worthwhile to mention the Intel sticker that mars the palm surface too. In an age where every company is focused on imprroving aesthetics, it genuinely baffles me that any organisation believes it’s a good idea to spam marketing stickers on multi-thousand pound pieces of equipment. What year is this?
Continuing the close up, let’s scrutinise the screen. It’s 14″. That’s ok. It’s not as useful as 15″ and not as portable as 13″, but it’s ok. The thick bezel around the edge, however, makes me wonder if they could actually squeeze another inch of screen real estate in. Sadly, bezels are still a thing, but these are chunkier than most. In terms of screen resolution, I thought FHD would be a good idea, I admit it. I thought the PPI wars were cynical marketing spin. I thought the battery would be a powerhouse because it’s powering so many fewer pixels. Yeah. That’s all bollocks. If you’ve ever used a high resolution screen, 1920×1080 will no longer be sufficient for you. Every pixel stubbornly screams from the glass. As Windows is still unfathomably incapable of delivering a clean, good looking and correctly scaled UI on screens of any resolution, ultra high, FHD or otherwise, this isn’t a massive problem, but again, I wonder if in the modern age of computing, any computers should be shipping with low-res screens. That’s what 1920×1080 is these days. Low-res. It’s like looking at an in-flight monitor.
And for all the pixels sacrificed, the battery is dire. It’s basically not portable. I’m talking 2-3 hours battery on normal use – not computer gaming, just browsing, streaming, typing and the rest. Arguably, it’s a gaming laptop, and gamers are going to plug it in to use it for any length of time. This is true. But when it’s not being used for gaming, when it’s resources are hardly being tapped at all, it ought to have more stamina than a fucking double A duracell bunny. As if the poor battery wasn’t enough of a gripe to rile you up, the Razer Blade is seemingly also permanently practicing to audition as a member of a prog rock band, its instrument: the fan. That damn fan is incessant. Even when I have no apps open, I’m just looking at a black, featureless, uneventful desktop, the fan whirs away quietly. As soon as the apps start opening – Chrome is handling a stack of tabs, or Steam is booting up, or any number of banal daily occurences – the trusty fan kicks it up a gear, and starts roaring its presence to everyone within a twenty five metre radius. Seriously, I wouldn’t sit with this thing in a meeting, it would piss off the boss.
One wonders how many of these issues are compounded by Windows, an operating so woefully inadequate and backwards that it would warrant an entirely separate article to even begin to list my criticisms. Coming from OSX, I was desperate to believe that things had changed, that Windows 10 could be a serious rival and slick alternative to Apple’s walled garden. Suffice to say, I was, and am, sorely disappointed. While Razer Blade laptops, and indeed all laptops, are running Windows, perhaps they will always be at a disadvantage.
Finally then, the price. In the UK, one of these devices sets you back a cool £2000+ and for that, you get no UK repair centre, no high street shops where you can face to face with customer services, no 14 day trial period. These things needn’t be totally problematic, except Razer is notorious for its terrible Quality Assurance. A quick google delivers thousands of threads filled with disgruntled customers complaining of glitchy, and straight-up faulty, hardware. Most are equally unhappy with Razer’s customer support – myself included.
My Razer Blade FHD arrived with a typing glitch: keyboard chattering. This is when I tap a key once, but it types twice (or even thrice). It isn’t isolated to any particular key, and it it’s not limited to the letters. Enter, space, delete.. they are all subject to a mystery double tap. This was a problem with the laptop since it was first delivered pre Christmas 2015. Initially I thought maybe it was just a software issue, I could reinstall drivers etc. But that proved not to be the case. I contacted customer support – (a nuisance, because the time difference from the UK to America meant it was at least a 24 hour turnaround on each message) – who told me to reinstall Synapse (Razer’s custom keyboard platform) and see if that worked. It didn’t. They had me repeat that step just in case I had somehow messed it up the first time, before eventually agreeing to organise a repair – in a US repair centre. I was told it would be at least a two week turnaround. Those two weeks turned into five then six after the service centre returned it without paying import duties and FedEx startled hassling me for tax. Eventually, after weeks of back and forth via email, my laptop was returned to me.
The glitch was still there. It was as if nothing had changed. After all the expense, the time, the effort, the short lived customisation, I’m left with an expensive, faulty, good looking but tragically underwhelming piece of hardware. I’m seriously considering requesting a refund, but in my heart of hearts, I don’t believe they’d ever accede to it.
And that more or less sums up my experience with the Razer Blade: disappointment. It looks the part until you have to use it. Here’s to hoping rival companies can up their game and learn from Razer’s mistakes.