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Razer Blade Stealth review: A fully equipped, great-looking laptop for less than you'd think

The new Stealth offers a Core i7 CPU, high-res touchscreen and colorful backlit keyboard at a fantastic value.

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Dan Ackerman
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Dan Ackerman

Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming

Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a semi-regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times

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6 min read

One of the unexpected surprises from earlier this year was the Razer Blade Stealth, a high-end 12.5-inch ultrabook from Razer that represented a major shift for that PC and accessory maker. Rather than another highly designed gaming laptop, the Stealth was a pure ultrabook. It lacked the gaming graphics of other Razer PCs, but included the company's signature Chroma backlit keyboard, an under-the-fingers lightshow unmatched by anyone else. It was a well-made, slick-looking laptop, and some configurations represented a really notable value, starting at $999 in the US and £1,000 in the UK.

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8.5

Razer Blade Stealth

The Good

The Razer Blade Stealth includes a Core i7 processor and high-res touchscreen even in its lowest-end configuration; it has more ports than other 12-inch laptops and a fun Chroma backlit keyboard.

The Bad

It's bigger and heavier than 12-inch laptops from Apple, Asus and others. The thick bezel around the screen feels dated and configuration options are limited.

The Bottom Line

The Razer Blade Stealth offers better specs for less money than the competition, and includes features others lack, such as a high-res touch screen and full-size USB ports. The design is slick, the price is right, but it's not as slim and portable as other 12-inch laptops.

Less than one year later, we have a modest update to the Stealth, with a new low-voltage Core i7 processor (part of Intel's seventh-generation of Core i-series chips, and optimized for high-res and 4K video playback) and claims of better battery life. But, we also have increased competition, from the excellent second generation of Apple's 12-inch MacBook, as well as similarly equipped Windows laptops such as the new Asus ZenBook 3.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Despite the more competitive landscape, the Razer is still the price king when it comes to premium ultrabooks. The $999 base model costs the same as the frankly outdated 13-inch MacBook Air, but offers specs far beyond that system, including a new Intel Core i7 CPU and a 2,560x1,440-pixel touch display. Other $999 laptops drop the screen resolution and touch support, and knock the processor down to a Core i5.

The Razer Blade Stealth is now available in the UK direct from Razer, with several models going up to £1,950. In Australia, the Stealth starts at AU$1,480, but that's for the previous model, with an older CPU.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

The version we tested isn't the $999 entry point. This is the $1,249 step-up model, with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, double that of the base model, but the same display and processor. It's still a good value, but only if you know you'll need the extra storage space, which is not always a certainty in this era of cloud-based services.

$1,599 bumps it up to a 512GB SSD and a 4K display, but in our testing of the original Razer Blade Stealth, we found the 4K screen had a big impact on battery life (also true of other 4K laptops). While I was very happy with the performance and value of this specific configuration, that $999 base model is still the best representation of the great value Razer is offering.

Razer Blade Stealth

Price as reviewed $1,249
Display size/resolution 12.5-inch 2,560x,1,440-pixel touchscreen
PC CPU 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U
PC Memory 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1866MHz
Graphics 128MB Intel HD Graphics 620
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)

From the outside, this looks and feels like the same Razer Blade Stealth we tested early in 2016. It has the same matte black finish over an aluminum body. Only the neon green intertwined snakes logo gives away that this laptop comes from a company with a gamer-centric pedigree. The minimalist interior feels like that of a MacBook Pro, but again in all matte black. Besides the keyboard and large touchpad, there's only a small power button, centered above the Function key row.

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The 12.5-inch Asus ZenBook 3 next to the Razer Blade Stealth.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While the Stealth has a great overall look, the body is also one of the compromises. At 2.9 pounds (1.32 kg), it weighs as much as a 13-inch MacBook Air, and nearly a full pound more than the 12.5-inch Asus ZenBook 3. The 2,560x1,440 display is bright and clear, if overly glossy, but it's surrounded by a thick black bezel that's three-quarters of an inch wide in some places. Some PC makers brag that they can squeeze a larger laptop's screen into a smaller laptop's body, but this is a 12.5-inch screen in what looks and feels like a 13.3-inch laptop body.

A keyboard that demands your attention

One of the unique extra features is Razer's Chroma keyboard. It's a backlit keyboard that can display millions of color combinations in a wide variety of patterns. It's highly customizable, thanks to the included control software, which can also control power, trackpad and other system settings.

There's a great deal more detail about the Chroma keyboard and how it operates in our previous Razer Blade Stealth review. But in general, it's a fun little show-off feature that other slim laptops lack (although you can find similar features in some gaming laptops or standalone desktop PC keyboards). The preset patterns are fun to play with, and I especially liked "spectrum cycling," where the keys fade new colors in and out in unison, just slowly enough to not be overly distracting. "Reactive" leaves a trail of lit keys in your wake as you type, like a fading echo. "Ripple" sends a burst of a single color expanding outward, away from each individual key press.

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The colorful Chroma keyboard in action.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The "hey, look at this!" setting is "Wave," where a wide rainbow of colors moves quickly across the keyboard from left to right. It's the kind of thing you'll turn on to show your friends, but the more in-your-face presets are way too distracting if you're actually trying to get any work done. Thankfully, you can opt for a single static color or just turn the backlight off. The effects can also be set to turn off when using battery power or when the battery level falls below a certain percentage.

Enough connections to make your MacBook jealous

Other 12-inch laptops have embraced the enforced minimalism of a single USB-C port. The Apple MacBook, Asus ZenBook 3 and others all rely on that still-new port to provide access to USB accessories, wired mice, video output, power and anything else that requires a physical wire, usually with the help of a USB-C adaptor. Asus at least includes a mini-dock in the box with its new ZenBook 3 -- Apple charges $80 for essentially the same thing.

This is a case where the Razer's larger body works to your benefit, as it can accommodate two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI output and even a USB-C port, which is used for power and as a Thunderbolt connection.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

This system shares a common CPU with the Asus ZenBook 3 (which is why we keep comparing the two), which is an updated version of the low-voltage Core i7 chips found in other slim laptops, such as the Dell XPS 13 or the HP Spectre. In our benchmark tests, these laptops performed similarly, as expected. All are very well-suited for office tasks, multi-tab web browsing, HD video streaming or even basic photo and video editing. The only real slowpoke in the group was the 12-inch MacBook from Apple, which uses a slower (but more power-efficient) Core m3 processor, but even that feels fine for everyday use.

The previous Razer Blade Stealth was held back in the battery department by its ambitious 4K-resolution display. This time we tested a version with a 2,560x1,440 resolution (sometimes called QHD), which gave us a much better 6 hours 54 minutes of battery life in our streaming video test. The 4K version from earlier this year ran for about 3 hours. This QHD Razer, the Asus ZenBook 3 and the HP Spectre all ran for about the same amount of time, but keep in mind the Razer has a higher-resolution touchscreen, while those other two laptops have 1,920x1,080 non-touch displays. Even so, the 12-inch MacBook dusts them all, at just over 10 hours.

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion

The Razer Blade Stealth remains one of the best deals around if you're looking for 12 or 13-inch laptop and want to spend around $1,000 or £1,000 (probably around AU$1,800). Adding a bit more for double the RAM and hard drive space makes sense, but skip the optional 4K display, which is both expensive and a major drag on battery life. The fun Chroma keyboard is amusing, but not a huge factor in my strong recommendation for this system.

Other 12-inch laptops are slimmer and lighter, but many lack a touchscreen and are limited to a single USB-C port. On the other hand, the Stealth looks and feels like a 13.3-inch laptop, despite having only a 12.5-inch display.

One extra note, if you're interested in doing some gaming on this laptop, Razer sells an external box called the Razer Core, which holds a (sold-separately) desktop graphics card and connects via Thunderbolt. The Core is $500 and a good graphics card will run you another $500. We haven't had a chance to test the Core out yet, but it sounds interesting, especially if you want to use a virtual reality headset with your laptop.

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

Dell XPS 13 (Gold Edition) 466Razer Blade Stealth 482Asus ZenBook 3 UX390U 522HP Spectre 563Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016) 702
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Asus ZenBook 3 UX390U 8018Razer Blade Stealth 7704Dell XPS 13 (Gold Edition) 7236HP Spectre 7003Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016) 5879
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback battery drain test

Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016) 608HP Spectre 430Asus ZenBook 3 UX390U 420Razer Blade Stealth 416Dell XPS 13 (Gold Edition) 311
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System Configurations

Asus ZenBook 3 UX390U Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 512GB SSD
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016) Apple El Capitan OSX 10.11.4; 1.2GHz Intel Core m5-6Y54; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1536MB Intel HD Graphics 515; 512GB SSD
Razer Blade Stealth (2016) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Dell XPS 13 (Gold Edition) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2HGz Intel Core i7-6560U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel Iris Graphics 540; 256GB SSD
HP Spectre Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5HGz Intel Core i7-6500U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD

Update, November 8: Added official UK pricing.

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8.5

Razer Blade Stealth

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8Battery 8