It's a seriously impressive thing, winning the same award twice – for the same product. That's what Razer managed over the last two years, hoarding accolades at CES for the Project Fiona in 2012 and again for the Edge in 2013.
Razer's been so lauded because it set out to do something that doesn't seem possible: cram the power of a gaming PC into the body of a tablet. These two have forever been diametrically opposed, and we've taught ourselves that we had to choose between power and portability.
Even as a concept, the Project Fiona looked like a leap in the right direction. Now it's a product — you can buy the Edge starting at $999.99. It is indeed a tablet, and it does indeed have a spec sheet typically reserved for back-breakingly large laptops. It also supports a cool controller accessory, and Razer promises the Edge can be a portable console, home console, and powerful PC all in a single two-pound package. If Razer can pull it off, it may have plenty of awards left to win.
I've been gaming like a maniac for a week now, trying to use the Edge to replace my iPad, my Xbox, and my MacBook. How did it fare? Read on.
A heavyweight in every sense
It's either laughably large or impossibly small — maybe both
The Razer Edge is a remarkably average-looking device, and I mean that as a compliment. Gaming devices are typically ostentatious and ugly, but Razer's Blade laptop is by comparison sleek and minimalist, as is the Edge. It's almost boring, even, a boxy black rectangle with slightly tapered edges and a matte metal back. It has a round button below the display with a Windows logo on it, plus keys on top for locking rotation or popping up the keyboard — seemingly odd choices for dedicated buttons, but I actually needed both fairly often. Those keys are joined by a full USB port, a headphone jack, a volume rocker, and a power button, and there's otherwise very little decoration anywhere on the Edge. There's not even a camera — just a front-facing webcam.
From the get-go, though, there are clues that this isn't like any other Windows tablet. Razer's ominous, glowing green logo hints at it, but the two vents at the top of the tablet's back make it abundantly clear that this device has work to do. The grilles look incredibly out of place on a tablet – they're typically much better hidden on these devices, and are relegated to a little gap on the sides of the Surface Pro, but I quickly discovered that Razer needs all the fans it can get.
A high-end gaming machine deserves a better screen
If I handed you an Edge, though, the first thing you'd say wouldn't be "look at the fans!" It would be something like "by the hammer of Thor, this thing is huge!" At least, every single person I showed the Edge to reacted that way. They're not wrong: the Edge is the biggest tablet I've ever seen, almost more like a prototype than a finished product. 11 inches wide and 7 inches tall, it's fairly standard 10-inch tablet fare, but at 0.8 inches thick it's like a laptop and a tablet fused together. Or three iPads, or something. It's really thick. It also weighs 2.1 pounds, again in the category of "preposterously large for a tablet," but that's the weird thing about the Edge. It's huge for a tablet, but 0.8 inches thick and 2.1 pounds is enough to make any gamer drool — gaming laptops are typically scoliosis-inducing monsters that require rolling luggage, not slates 50 percent larger than the iPad.
No one's drooling over the Edge's display, however. The 10.1-inch, 1366 x 768 display isn't bad — it has great colors and excellent viewing angles – but it's far from impressive, and far from what I'd expect from such a high-end device. A 1080p screen like the Surface Pro's could have obviated the need for a second screen, unless you really wanted more physical space. The touch experience leaves a lot to be desired as well: the screen frequently seemed to lag behind my finger or scroll awkwardly as I swiped through the Start screen, and edge gestures were annoyingly unreliable. None of those actions befit such a powerful device.
And make no mistake: the Edge is powerful. More so than any tablet I've ever seen, and even more than most ultrabooks and laptops. The base, $999.99 model includes a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 64GB of solid-state storage; for $1,299 and up, you get the Edge Pro, which comes with a 1.7GHz Core i5 or 1.9GHz Core i7 processor, plus 8GB of RAM and 128 or 256GB of storage — the storage may be the most compelling reason to upgrade, since PC games will fill 64GB of space in a hurry. (I tested the high-end Edge Pro model.) The spec that really sets the Edge apart is the GPU, though. Hopefully by now I've taught you that "Intel Integrated HD 4000 graphics" is a dirty word for any kind of gaming — integrated graphics are never very powerful. The Edge offers discrete graphics, a separate chip for graphics processing — in this case the Nvidia GT 640M LE — that is orders of magnitude more powerful. Mind you, it's not as powerful as some discrete chips — the 640M LE is designed for relative portability and lighter power consumption, not optimized for sheer horsepower — but it's still more than enough to power a gaming machine.
And power a gaming machine it does.
Getting in the game
Over the last year or so, I haven't had as much time as I'd like to play games — I get to toodle around in Assassin's Creed 3 every now and then, and I keep my stuff sharp playing FIFA 2013, but I haven't been able to sink my teeth into the handful of games I've been wanting to play. The Razer provided my chance — I downloaded a half-dozen different games, from the basic (NBA 2K13) to the insane (Crysis 3). I got into Borderlands 2, and finally got through more of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. (I played everything through Steam except for Crysis, which came from Origin.) The Edge offers a number of different ways to play games, and I tried them all. In short, I found a device that occasionally comes up short from a performance perspective, but that is also unrelenteningly fun to play with.
There's just one pervasive downside, and it's only partly Razer's fault: you really need peripherals to play games on this device. That's mostly because games like Crysis 3 and Just Cause 2 aren't at all optimized for touch, so trying to touch the screen to do anything other than look around is virtually impossible. But even with the few touch-optimized games in the Windows Store, like Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds, the unresponsive touchscreen became so annoying that I wound up using my mouse to slice fruit. Not nearly as fun, but at least the fruit got sliced. The Edge itself also gets uncomfortably hot when you're playing intense games, and you're just not going to want to hold it directly — the GamePad shields your fingers from the heat, and the dock prevents you from needing to hold it at all.
You'll want to plug in a set of headphones or speakers, too, because the Edge's two built-in speakers are mediocre. They get relatively loud, but sound tinny and compressed — they're more or less average laptop speakers. Big, booming sound is really crucial to gaming, and a good set of speakers could have gone a long way for the Edge's gaming experience, but you'll want something external.
It's not as powerful as it could be, but it's still a lot of fun
Back to Fiona
The picture Project Fiona left in fans' minds was so indelible not because of the tablet in the middle, but the nunchuk-like handles on the sides. They've since been removed from the device itself, now coming as a $249.99 accessory to the Edge, but you should consider it part of the price of the device because it's an incredibly fun way to play games. The Edge slots into the GamePad a little awkwardly — there's a release on the bottom that leaves enough room for the tablet to get in, but the latch is finicky and doesn't always come out without some prying. Once it's docked, though, the two parts feel like one. One heavy part — the whole kit weighs more than four pounds, and is really only comfortable to use on your lap. But that's where I wanted to use it anyway, kicked back on my couch resting the device on my knee.
The two black handles, each about the diameter of a golf ball, contain just about every control you could need. On the left: analog stick, directional pad, trigger, and two bumpers. On the right: another analog stick, the requisite A / B / X / Y buttons, another trigger, and two more bumpers. All the controls are comfortable to use, though they might be slightly too spread out for the smaller-handed among us. Pressing A and holding the right trigger simultaneously took some stretching, which made jumping and taking down Threshers at the same time a little harder, but I soldiered on through Borderlands 2 anyway.
Almost any game works well on the Edge's 10-inch screen. I started to suspect Razer included a lower-res screen on purpose, so games would look better even at the highest possible settings, but either way it's probably for the best. At 1366 x 768 even Crysis 3, one of mankind's more taxing games, is playable at medium settings, stuttering only in particularly detailed outdoors shots or in the middle of densely populated firefights. Most other games, I could crank settings as high as I wanted — lots of crowd detail in NBA 2K13, as much antialiasing as possible in Borderlands 2 — without the game struggling. The fans whirr loudly and the vents expel hot air like it's going out of style, but almost every game I tried worked great. There were a couple of oddities, though — Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 didn't even recognize the existence of the controller, though it worked fine with a mouse and keyboard, and I never even got Street Fighter IV to launch. (I'm fairly certain I can blame Steam for the latter.) Still, in almost every case things should work exactly as advertised.
the Razer 360, sort of
When you're buying the $1,000 Razer Edge, and the $250 GamePad, don't forget to tack on another $99.99 for the Docking Station. The dock adds three more USB ports to the Edge, plus a headphone and microphone jack and a charging port, but most importantly it adds HDMI. That meant I could set it up next to my TV, then drop the Edge into the dock and use it like a home theater PC. Or, I could fire up Big Picture mode and start playing games on my very own Steam Box. I did both, often.
Performance here is hit and miss, though. Zero games – zero — looked really good at 1920 x 1080, and only NBA 2K13 was playable even with other settings dialed way down. I got a headache after five seconds of jittery spinning around in Crysis 3, and died over and over because it turns out aiming a gun at ten frames per second is pretty hard. At 720p, Borderlands 2 and Call of Duty became usable again, and they looked good enough in most cases, but there's a huge difference when you make the jump to 1080p — games looked so good, it was a shame I couldn't play.
It led me back to the same dilemma I had over and over with the Edge — it's incredible that a tablet can do this at all, but if I had $1,500 and wanted to play games, I'd expect to end up with a machine that fares far better. I was constantly impressed and underwhelmed all at once, and I never quite resolved the feeling.
It's also a PC
When I met with Razer to talk about the Edge, reps said one of the most common questions they're asked about the device was something like "does it run all my computer apps?" Yes, it does. Well. Very well. This is a high-end laptop, and it acts like one. It'll even be able to look like one, once Razer finally ships the Edge's keyboard dock — it's been delayed while the company refines the look, but I'm told it's coming in the third quarter of this year.
The Edge could easily be your only PC
It runs full-blown Windows 8, which means it can handle all your legacy apps — Photoshop, Quicken, strange old SIMs games — and it handles them all with ease. Whether I was streaming HD movies, running my usual two dozen browser tabs, or editing photos, the Edge never skipped a beat. It still got hot, and it still got loud, but performance never suffered. Frankly, though, the Edge might be overkill in normal use — the Surface Pro's integrated graphics are sufficient unless you're gaming, and it's both cheaper and thinner as well. If you just want a more-portable PC to carry back and forth to work, you're probably better off with a Surface Pro, but be warned: when your co-worker leaves Excel and fires up SimCity on her Edge during a boring meeting, you're going to be jealous.
Performance is generally stellar, but there are a few kinks left to be ironed out. Like the power button, which often takes several seconds of pressing before it rumbles to let you know the device is about to turn on. Or, once again, the touchscreen, which forces you to long-press on almost anything in order to make sure you're hitting the right thing. Sometimes the computer doesn't know when to pop up the on-screen keyboard, even when there's no other input device attached. These details make me feel a bit like Razer's quality assurance team knocked off a little early to play some Dishonored, which I can't really blame them for, but I hope they eventually get around to polishing the rough bits.
Those aside, though, this is a seriously impressive PC, one that in normal use doesn't feel at all compromised by its size. It boots in about ten seconds and wakes from sleep in about three, revealing a nearly clean version of Windows 8 — Razer preloaded its launcher, Steam (through a brand-new partnership with Valve), and a weirdly intrusive way to switch audio inputs, but otherwise left Microsoft's OS well enough alone.
One more thing for your Razer shopping cart: an extra battery, which you can embed in the GamePad, for $69.99. You'll need it, because without it the Edge only lasts for about an hour and ten minutes of gaming, less on a game as intense as Crysis 3. With the extra juice, you'll get two hours and change of maniacally intense gaming. My visions of playing Assassin's Creed all the way from New York to LA are sadly unfounded, but I was at least able to play a full NBA 2K13 game while on the New York City subway (and break my record for receiving quizzical, "what in the hell is that thing?" looks in the process).
I got between three and four hours of life from the Edge in more normal use — browsing the web, watching videos, and the like. When I was doing lighter things, and thus not engaging that power-hungry GPU, it lasted longer, but as soon as the fans kick on the battery starts to falter. For the most part, I just kept the Edge plugged in, either to the dock or the GamePad — the power cable is pretty long, and it snaps securely into the bottom of the device. This device is too big, too heavy, and too cumbersome to be really portable anyway, so I don't mind the battery issues — it'll shut your kid up on the car ride home or last you an hour spent gaming in bed before you go to sleep, and that's at least something.
I'll admit it: I didn't think the Edge had any chance. I didn't think you could build a gaming laptop that didn't look like a gaming laptop, but I was wrong. This isn't a power user's device, but it's a fun way to play PC games, and offers some real advantages over any other gaming platform out there. It's also powerful enough to be your one and only PC — but then again, so is the Surface Pro, and unless you want to game that may be a better bet. An ultrabook might, too, like the Lenovo Yoga 13 or the Dell XPS 12. If a tablet is your endgame, run far away from the Edge, which is too big and too short-lived to merit a mention next to the iPad or the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet. But if you're a gamer, and want something even remotely portable, the Edge isn't only the best option — it's really the only option.
I'd love to tell you to buy the Edge, just in case you decide you want to become a gamer and want the extra power – I know this happened to every one of my ultrabook-toting friends the day SimCity came out. It's just that the math gets ugly, fast. Even if you start with the $999 Edge instead of the $1,299 or $1,499 Edge Pro, you're going to need the $99.99 dock and the $249.99 GamePad — you're not getting the most out of the device without them. You should really get that $69.99 battery, too, at which point you're already at $1,419.96 before you even buy things like keyboards and mice. Fully loaded, the Edge Pro is nearly $2,000 — and for $2,000 you can buy one hell of a gaming PC. Yes, it'll be bigger and heavier, but it'll handle every game and resolution you can think of, and for $2,000 it's hard to expect anything less.
I really like the Razer Edge — I've had a blast using it, using subway rides and free moments to catch up on all the games I missed. But unless you have money to burn, or fit into a very particular niche in the market, there's a good chance this isn't the device for you.
Now if you'll excuse me, Bioshock Infinite just finished downloading on my Edge. Goodbye forever.