You don't buy a gaming laptop for its looks. That's why it's so refreshing to see the Razer Blade, a 14-inch gaming laptop that's not only powerful, but also a real looker.
The Blade is the 17-inch Blade Pro's (formerly known as the Blade) new little brother. The only real difference, aside from the smaller 14-inch display, is the Blade doesn't have the 10 adaptive keys and LCD trackpad. The smaller Blade also starts at $500 less than the Blade Pro.
If there's a single Windows computer that compares to Apple's MacBook Pro, it's the Blade. If not for the anodized black aluminum and Razer’s glowing tri-snake emblem on the lid, it’d be hard to tell the difference from afar.
With a thickness of 0.66-inches and a weight of 4.1 pounds, the Blade is one of the thinnest and lightest no-compromise laptops out there. On the base are two rubber strips that elevate the laptop ever so slightly so that that downward facing fans have some breathing room.
And the Blade has a plethora of ports including three USB 3.0 ports (all with appropriate lime green to match the Razer brand), an HDMI port, 3.5mm headphone jack and a Kensington lock.
The Blade is a premium laptop and it shows. It's absolutely stunning in a sea of Apple computers. We took our review unit out to our local Starbucks, and we managed to get more than a few interested stares.
Solid All-Around Performance
As a company that prides itself as being "for gamers, by gamers," it goes without question that Razer would make sure the Blade was powerful enough for work and play. Thanks to a 2.2GHz (3.2GHz Turbo boosted) Intel Core i7-4702HQ quad-core processor, 8GB of RAM and a speedy NVIDIA GeForce GTX 765M GPU with 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM, we had no trouble playing newer games like Bioshock Infinite on High settings without any serious frame and older games like Battlefield 3 on Ultra settings with decent frame rates well above 30 for both games, respectively. Even Borderlands 2, Crysis 2 and Skyrim ran perfectly, or near perfectly.
The stereo speakers are also pretty decent. They lack clear bass, but they're nice and full when it comes to listening to Skyrim.
One thing that really bothered us was how hot the Blade would get it. With Battlefield 3 settings on Ultra, sometimes the Blade would get so hot it would just turn off on its own. We’re not sure if it’s the way the Blade is designed for heat dissipation of the positioning of the fans on the bottom, but the heat’s a serious issue, especially if you actually use place it on your lap. (Warning: don’t do this if you’re using the Blade for gaming. It could possibly burn your leg a little.)
Great Keyboard, Average Trackpad
Beyond performance, the Blade has a fantastic keyboard. The chiclet-style keys are “anti-ghosting” keys, which means you can press multiple keys simultaneously without them failing to register. For gaming and general typing, the keyboard excels. It has great travel depth (even better than on my 13-inch MacBook Air and a friend’s 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display) and the green backlit keys are wicked cool. Lime/neon green may seem tacky, but trust us, Razer’s lime green is not at all obnoxious.
While the keyboard’s full-size keys and satisfying presses won us over, the trackpad leaves a lot to be desired. The trackpad surface area is plenty large at almost five-inches diagonal (not counting the left and right click buttons), but it also appears to lack any intelligent palm-rejection detection. The slightest palm rubs would often trigger accidental pinch-to-zoom gestures. Tracking could be more precise, too. I tried fiddling with the scrolling and mousing settings, but I could never get it quite right.
However, I must applaud Razer for including two dedicated mouse buttons as opposed to an all-glass trackpad. I’ve always liked having a dedicated left and right click button and it’s nice to see it hasn’t been completely retired yet.
If there’s one real flaw to the Blade, it’s the 14-inch (1600 x 900 resolution) display. At first, we were really happy to hear that Razer chose to go with a matte display, especially with the trend towards glass and glossy screens. Matte screens are great for glare-free long-term gaming sessions and color reproduction is usually more accurate.
To our disappointment, the Blade’s matte display has really poor viewing angles. Unless you’re looking at the Blade front-on, everything appears washed out. You might be thinking that gamers won’t be looking at the Blade from anywhere other than front-on anyway, so what does it matter? Well, if your friends want to spectate League of Legends over your shoulder, that won’t be happening. In fact, if a group of buddies want to huddle over the Blade and watch a silly Youtube video, the only person who’ll have a decent view will be the person sitting directly in front of it.
Decent Battery Life
Battery life is something of an iffy benchmark. The amount of hours you can squeeze out of the Blade depends on how you’ve got it set up. For us, we had the brightness set to around 60 percent, Wi-Fi on and backlit keyboard set to two levels of illumination and managed to get around six hours on average for regular computing. That includes browsing the Web, checking email, watching YouTube videos, playing HD 1080p videos and writing this review.
With the same settings, but gaming with most of the aforementioned games set to High and Ultra, we were only able to get 2.5-3 hours. at most. Obviously, the higher the settings, the faster the battery drain. We wish the battery life was a little higher, since the Blade is marketed as a gaming laptop, but it’s still fairly respectable for the amount of power it packs.
If you can look beyond the sub-par display, the only thing left to consider before laying down the cash for the Blade is pricing. It starts at $1,800 for the base model with 128GB of SSD and balloons up to $2,000 for 250GB SSD and $2,300 for a 512GB SSD. All other specs are the same. None of those prices are cheap, but for the excellent build-quality of the laptop, powerful gaming performance and fantastic keyboard, $1,800 might be worth it.
I’ve yet to see a gaming laptop that balances performance and design. The 14-inch Razer Blade isn’t perfect, but it comes damn close.
(All photos by Raymond Wong for DVICE.)