After turning heads and garnering accolades at the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, the Razer Blade Stealth is here. And having spent some quality hands-on time with the final product, it's not hard to see why this slim Windows 10 laptop with a 12.5-inch screen caught so many eyes when it was unveiled in January. Razer, best known for its keyboards and other gaming peripherals, saw a hole in the 13-inch laptop market (which we interpret loosely to include 12.5-inch screens), and drove a very unique matte black truck through it.
This is not exactly a slim-at-all-costs high-fashion ultrabook. Nor is it a gaming laptop, despite Razer's years of experience in the PC gaming biz. It's an amalgam of many different ideas about what a high-end ultrabook-style laptop should be, including some wish-list items we've wanted for years -- and a few we never thought to even ask for.
The company's previous laptops have been well-received gaming systems with 17-inch or 14-inch displays, all notable for being reasonably thin and light despite packing in mid- to high-end gaming components. The Razer Blade Stealth keeps much of the look and feel of the previous models, such as the matte-black shell, rigid construction, minimalist design and green snake-like logo. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that this is not actually a gaming laptop.
A Razer laptop without a dedicated graphics card sounds like an Apple product without an app store -- unexpected, and potentially not playing to its maker's strengths. But this is still Razer after all. So while the Blade Stealth is not a gaming laptop by itself, Razer plans for it to eventually become one component of a larger gaming ecosystem. Announced in January at CES 2016 -- but not yet available to even preorder -- is the Razer Core, an external box built to house a single desktop graphics card (for example, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 980), and route its graphics rendering power to the laptop via Thunderbolt-enabled USB-C connection. (That single wire will also handle power duties, too.)
Others have gone down this road before, attempting to create an external graphics solution for laptops, but no one has yet cracked the code of balancing price, performance, flexibility, and design. Asus has offered similar products off and on for years, including a new version coming later this year, while Dell attempted to add an external GPU box to its Alienware 13 in 2014, but that product was too expensive and too proprietary to catch on.
At some point later this year, we'll hopefully hook up a Razer Core unit to a Razer Blade Stealth laptop and be able to judge it as a gaming machine. But for now, we're looking at it strictly as a flare-filled ultrabook with an optional 4K screen. If anything, that restriction makes the Blade Stealth even more impressive. It offers a great design and high-end components, plus extras such as the highly programmable and fun to play with backlit Chroma keyboard, all starting at $999 or AU$1,549. There's no separate UK pricing right now, but the US base price works out to around £705.
The base model includes a 2,560x1,440 (QHD) touchscreen display (not 4K, but still pretty good), a current-gen Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Adding more storage and the optional 4K display jumps the price up, and the model reviewed here combines a 4K screen and 256GB of storage for $1,399/AU$2,149.
Razer Blade Stealth
|Price as reviewed||$1,399/AU$2,149|
|Display size/resolution||13-inch 3,840 x 2,160 touchscreen|
|PC CPU||2.5Ghz Intel Core i7-6500U|
|PC Memory||8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|Graphics||1024MB Intel HD Graphics 520|
|Networking||802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 10 Home (64-bit)|
The upgraded configuration is impressive, but the entry-level model represents an especially good overall value compared to other slim laptops. The Dell XPS 13, one of our current favorites, drops the specs to a 1,920x1,080 nontouch display and a Core i5 CPU for the same $999. The 13-inch MacBook Air also has a lower-res 1,440x900 nontouch screen, Core i5 CPU and only 4GB of RAM for $999. The Lenovo Yoga 900 adds a hybrid hinge, but doesn't even show up to the party until you shell out at least $1,200. Also, the Blade Stealth, at 2.75 pounds and 13.2mm, is a little thinner and lighter than the XPS 13, MacBook Air or Yoga 900.
The most notable upgrade in our more-expensive configuration is the 3,840x,2160 resolution UHD/4K screen. This 4K display is one of the brightest I've seen on a laptop in this class, and it presents 4K video content, games and apps with great detail. But this is no Dell XPS 13, with a razor-thin (pardon the pun) screen bezel. In one of the only concessions to the reality of price and performance vs. design, there's a thick black border around the touchscreen display. It doesn't kill the experience, but it's one of the few things about the overall design that feels less than ideal. The 4K screen can show a full 100 percent of the Adobe RGB spectrum (as does the Dell XPS 15), while the QHD screen (which we have yet to test in-person) hits a still-respectable 70 percent.
A colorful keyboard
The Chroma-branded keyboard is another standout feature, and makes for a fun little show-off demo of the Stealth. It's actually the complete opposite of stealthy, with bright colors, strobing lights and more programmable options than all but the most hardcore of standalone gaming keyboards.
Using the Chroma app, different sections of the keyboard can be programmed to show different colors -- such as highlighting the all-important WASD keys in a different color than the rest of the keyboard. Rather than meticulously programming a unique keyboard light layout, I had a lot more fun just running through the different presets, many of which seem to take advantage of the entire spectrum of 16.8 million possible colors.
Set the entire keyboard to "spectrum cycling," and 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. Hitting keys slowly, one at a time, has a Matrix-like effect of lit up letters and numbers; using it while typing causes random explosions of color all across the keyboard. For a demo that will amuse friends and family, set the keyboard to "Wave," and a rainbow of colors will move rapidly left to right (this movement is also adjustable) across the entire keyboard. It's all a bit silly but offers a degree of personalization that other ultrabooks don't come close to matching.