Portable gaming isn't what it once was. Sure, you can still snag a handheld device from Sony or Nintendo, but today's video game industry is far more diverse. Gamers on the go have no shortage of hardware to pick from: tablets, smartphones, gaming laptops and purpose-built handhelds are redefining what a mobile gaming platform is. Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan must have felt the winds of change blowing his way when he cooked up Project Fiona, now known as the Razer Edge. The company's marketing material frames the curious device as an all-in-one gaming arsenal; it's a tablet, says the product page, as well as a PC and console. Above all, it's modular, a souped-up tablet with a small collection of docks and cradles designed to scratch your gaming itch from all angles. All told, Razer calls it the most powerful tablet in the world. Kitted out with the specs of a mid-range gaming laptop, it may very well be that -- but we couldn't let the proclamation pass without giving it the once-over ourselves.
At first glance, the Edge looks strikingly familiar, with its 10.1-inch screen and thick, generic bezel. With the exception of two indentations centered on the device's north and south edges, Razer took almost no liberties with the dull standard of tablet design. The result is boring, but functional. Thankfully, the Edge's aluminum backside shows a little more personality, borrowing a subtly ridged design profile from the Razer Blade laptop. A pair of tiny humps line the port and starboard sides of the backplate's horizontal expanse, endowing the system with a tactile anchor point and some much-needed visual flare. Decorated with a backlit Razer logo, the plate gently curves into the device's outer frame, smoothly fitting the user's palm without digging in.
The Edge chassis' forgiving shape may leave your hands unmarred, but fatigue is a real issue -- there are limits to how long one can hold a 2.1-pound tablet aloft. Shoppers pitting Razer's slate against the Surface Pro should note that it's larger all around, at 10.9 x 7 x 0.8 inches. Heavy, to be sure, but at least its specs match or best the Surface at every turn: 4GB to 8GB of DDR3 RAM, up to 256GB of solid-stage storage, an Intel Core i5 or i7 CPU and discrete NVIDIA graphics. The only area where Microsoft still reigns supreme is in display quality: the Edge maxes out at 1,366 x 768, while the Pro comes stocked with a 1,920 x 1,080 panel. More on that shortly, but for now, let's finish our hardware tour.
The tablet's bottom edge features a 40-pin connector flanked by stereo speakers and two peg holes, used to lock the Edge into its dock and controller accessories. These pegs are mirrored by a pair of divots on the device's top edge, accompanied by a Razer-green USB 3.0 port, a 3.5mm audio jack, volume controls and an LED-equipped power button. There's also a pair of keys to lock automatic screen rotation and activate Windows 8's software keyboard. The latter came in extremely handy, as we found that some games routinely activate the Windows 8 virtual keyboard by mistake. The Edge's backplate features two large vents north of the company logo, while the front is decorated with only a Windows button, a pair of array microphones and a 2MP camera. All in all, a very well-built piece of hardware, if a bit on the heavy side.
Unfortunately, this review is missing a major component to the Edge's family of products: the keyboard dock. It's odd to think that the Edge is launching without the kind of accessory sold with every other Windows 8 tablet, but here we are. Razer says the keyboard is due out sometime in Q3, for an undetermined price. We can't say how it will fare when it arrives, or guess at how much it might cost, but we can say we sorely miss it now. All other things considered, the Razer Edge is very much a PC, and installing games, managing data and working from the device without a proper keyboard was a troublesome, uncomfortable affair. Without this missing accessory, the Edge felt incomplete. We look forward to revisiting the device once it's fully equipped.
Display, sound and camera
Earlier, we pinned the Edge's 1,366 x 768 IPS display as one of its technical shortcomings, particularly compared to the Surface Pro. As dazzling as the Surface Pro's 1,920 x 1,080 display may have looked, though, its resolution outpaced its panel size, forcing us to bounce between two different text-scaling configurations depending on how we were using the tablet. The Edge's smaller panel offers no such frustrations, retaining a 1:1 pixel ratio in its default configuration. No scaling, no tweaking, no trouble. It's also possible that the lower-fidelity display was selected to limit the demand on the GPU and improve game performance. Either way, the smaller panel seems to be working in the device's favor, and it looks quite good, with strong colors, pure whites and deep blacks. Not amazing, but good. We'd go as far as to say that it's Razer's best display, though, outperforming the Razer Blade's higher-resolution panel in both contrast and color quality. At worst, the screen's viewing angles are spoiled a little by the screen's glossy finish -- it doesn't matter how crisp an image is if it's surrounded by unwanted reflections.
We don't expect a lot out of tablet speakers -- just loud, clear and undistorted noise of our choosing. Luckily, the Edge sounds just about right. The tablet's stereo speakers may reside on its bottom ridge, but the sound they produce resonates throughout the entire device, pouring out of its air vents as if by design. It may not be the highest-fidelity sound, but it's balanced with very little distortion. The Edge's speakers are well-suited to a single user, or even a small group crowding around the screen. Gamers craving a more robust audio experience will have to find a suitable headset, or else pipe audio out through the tablet's docking station, which supports Dolby Home Theater 7.1.
The pinhole, 2MP webcam is good enough for Skype, but little else. It produces grainy, muddled images, and video captured using Windows 8's camera app stutters and lags, regardless of resolution (from 320 x 240 to 1,920 x 1,200). Third-party programs fared better, but still failed to capture smooth video at higher resolutions. Anything above 640 x 480 was a jittery mess.
We typically judge gaming machines by their performance -- framerates, benchmarks and the like. Razer's Edge sidesteps our usual approach, as it eschews traditional input methods. No keyboard, no trackpad and no easy way to save the proverbial princess -- at least not with the Edge alone. Most PC games demand more input than mere touch, although there are exceptions. Civilization V, for instance, offers a control scheme built specifically for touchscreens, and point-and-click adventure titles like Back to the Future: The Game flawlessly bend to the will of a well-placed finger. Unfortunately, not all cursor-controlled games are equal: The Sims 3 and XCOM: Enemy Unknown can both be managed with the Edge's touchscreen, but the experience is awkward, frustrating and generally not worth the effort. As a standalone tablet, the Edge is powerful -- but it's not a capable gaming device.
To be fair, the Edge was never meant to stand on its own -- the product's first public prototype, Project Fiona, featured two handlebar controllers grafted directly onto its frame. Cost concerns and customer demand eventually pried the gnarly gamepad from the tablet's chassis, creating a modular powerhouse with the option of becoming a gaming rig. Gamers who take that road will find it tough on the wallet: Razer's gamepad attachment costs a staggering $250, a full one-fourth of the base tablet's purchase price. Shocked? You shouldn't be. Razer's made a habit of offering expensive toys. It promises its customers an excellent experience, not fantastic savings. If your bank balance can take the hit, you'll find the Edge's controller accessory does at least live up to such claims.
The Edge fits snugly into the gamepad's milled-aluminum frame, secured by a spring-loaded mechanism on the accessory's bottom ridge. A pass-through data port sits below the spring and the two flanking release tabs. On the top, two plastic portals grant access to the device's USB and audio ports. The tablet's native power, volume, keyboard and lock toggles are replicated here too, ensuring that no manner of control is lost by switching the slate into "game mode." Behind the tablet, two rubberized springs push off of the cradle's backplate, providing a cushion for the Edge's aluminum back and presumably preventing installation scuffs, too. So it's expensive, yes, but clearly well-thought-out.
The attention to detail carries over to the game controls, too. Shooting off the tablet's sides like a pair of PlayStation Move wands, the gamepad's handlebars tout the standard array of console toggles: a d-pad on the left and X, Y, A and B buttons on the right. Each button channels Razer's experience building Xbox 360 controllers; firm, but with enough spring to respond with a satisfying pop. The directional buttons are top-notch as well, aping the design aesthetics of Razer's Sabertooth gamepad while giving the PS3's island-style d-pad a run for its money. Each grip also has a thumbstick, two shoulder buttons, a start / select toggle and a trigger, which bests the standard gamepad layout by two buttons overall. Finally, the controller is home to the Edge's extended battery pack, which promises users an extra eight hours of casual use and up to two hours of gameplay.
The oversized cradle aims to lend the Edge the countenance of a mobile game console, and once the setup is finally put together and a game is running, it does a passable job. The tablet feels like it belongs in the accessory, which in turn feels right in the user's hand. The quality of the hardware sells the experience, and it's a good experience. Like everything though, the gamepad has its faults. Weighing in at almost two pounds, it nearly doubles the heft of the device, adding to our earlier fatigue concerns. It's fairly large, too, making it unwieldy when not in use. We pity the fool who elects to take all this on a cross-country flight -- carry-on space is limited as is.
Despite PC gamers' tendency to lord their rigs' graphical superiority over console users, it's hard to deny the simple joy of slouching lazily in front of a massive HDTV. Sadly, dragging PC rigs out to the living room is no easy proposition -- even if you manage to rustle up the right cables and find an unobtrusive place in your entertainment center for a PC tower, the couch is no place for a keyboard and mouse. The solution? The Edge -- or at least that's what Razer would have you believe. The tablet's docking station is the cornerstone of what the company refers to as "home console mode," which boils down to the combined efforts of an HDMI-equipped cradle and the Edge's Razer Launcher software. Physically, the $100 dock is pretty simple: a groove for the tablet on the front, and a line of connectivity options in the back. Three USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI-out plug, audio out, audio in and a power connector race across the cradle's rear, running left to right. Simply add power, TV out and your favorite Xinput compatible gamepad, and you're ready to go.
Dropping the tablet into the dock is one of the easiest PC-to-TV setups we've ever used. The cradle automatically configures the new display as the Edge's primary, avoiding the fuss of manually tweaking the display settings in Windows. Activating the Razer Launcher software completes the experience, replacing the tablet's regular desktop with a gamepad-friendly user interface.
It's from here that Razer hopes you'll launch your PC games, potentially sidestepping the typical headache of playing computer games on the TV. It puts forth a valiant effort, offering to automatically launch when Windows boots, and giving the users the option to immediately return to the launcher after closing a game. Give it the ideal conditions, and you're in pseudo-console heaven: DRM-free games with excellent gamepad support launch with nary a complaint, and immediately drop the user right back into Razer's fake ecosystem after termination. Unfortunately, pop-up dialogs, game-specific launchers, Steam notifications and Origin's browser-based matchmaking system (Battlefield 3) left us reaching for our mouse far more often than we would have liked. Worse still, the launcher would occasionally butt heads with other programs, kicking us back into the Razer Launcher before our game of choice finished booting. Sometimes, the launcher dropped us on the Windows desktop, waiting endlessly for a game that would never start.
Frustrated, we turned our attention to Steam's Big Picture mode, which we had configured to be launchable via Razer's setup. Here, we fared a little better -- Valve's 10-foot UI faced less adversity launching games from its own well-policed ecosystem. The experience benefits from Valve's history as a content provider and a game developer, enjoying an attention to detail that goes deeper than the Big Picture front-end. Team Fortress 2, for instance, took notice of the situation, prompting us for preferences. "I noticed you are running under Big Picture," it says. "Would you like to enable game controller support?" Yes, absolutely. Sadly, not even the polished potential of Valve's Steambox interface could overcome the invasive nature of Windows errors, DRM and game-specific launchers. "GSGameExe.exe has stopped working," protested one gamepad-arresting dialog. Sigh. Where's that mouse again?
The limited input you'll get on a traditional console gamepad simply fails to meet the needs of a PC, no matter how hard it tries to emulate a console. In the Edge's pseudo-portable mode, the odd game launcher or errant virtual keyboard could be dismissed with a quick tap of the touchscreen, but managing these missteps in "console mode," is a less trivial matter. The ease with which the Edge connects to the home theater is a huge step in the right direction, but it won't free you from the necessity of a mouse and keyboard. That said, there's plenty of room on the dock's backside for the essentials. A wireless keyboard, a couch mouse and our gamepad left us well prepared to handle the occasional stutter.
Performance and battery life
So you've picked your accessories, tussled with Razer's launcher and convinced yourself you're too tough to suffer from tablet-arm fatigue. That leaves just one question: what can you actually play? Quite a lot, as it turns out. Razer's top-of-the line Edge Pro (the model we tested) features a 1.9GHz (3GHz with Turbo boost) Intel Core i7-3517U processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM and an NVIDIA GT640M LE GPU. In game, that translated to playable framerates at medium to high settings, at least for most titles. The two exceptions weren't at all surprising: both Crysis 3 and the The Witcher 2 have reputations for pushing hardware to its limits, and neither ran particularly well on the Edge.
At the tablet's native 1,366 x 768 resolution, these games eked out a middling 25 fps, failing to maintain an average above 30 until they were scaled down to 1,280 x 600. Crysis 3 bore the resolution hit well enough, but the loss of fidelity turned The Witcher 2 into a muddled mess. The rest of our library fared better: Skyrim and Black Ops II each bounced between 30 and 60 fps on high settings, depending on how much action was on screen, and both Battlefield 3 and Far Cry 3 managed respectable framerates on medium settings. Some games didn't require tweaking at all. Dishonored scored a firm 60 fps on high, and Team Fortress 2 averaged 65, regularly pushing 100 fps in enclosed spaces, Then again, TF2 runs well on everything. The Edge struggled with a few high-end games, but there wasn't a single title we threw at it that wouldn't play smoothly with reasonable adjustment.
ATTO (top disk speeds)
Razer Edge Pro (1.9GHz Core i7-3517U, NVIDIA GT640M LE 2GB)
E2507 / P1576
409 MB/s (reads); 496 MB/s (writes)
Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5 (1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U, NVIDIA GeForce GT640M LE 1GB)
Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 (1.7GHz Intel Core i7 2637M, NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M 1GB)
Dell XPS 12 (1.7GHz Core i5-3317U, Intel HD 4000)
516 MB/s (reads); 263 MB/s (writes)
Acer Iconia W700 (1.7GHz Core i5-3317U, Intel HD 4000)
E518 / P506
542 MB/s (reads); 524 MB/s (writes)
Microsoft Surface Pro (1.7GHz Core i5-3317U, Intel HD 4000)
E1,019 / P552
526 MB/s (reads); 201 MB/s (writes)
The Edge doesn't slouch as a standard Windows 8 tablet, either. We flicked our way through Microsoft's collection of Modern UI apps at breakneck speeds, enjoying every bit of processing power that Intel's Ivy Bridge chipset affords. The Windows desktop shrugged off our attempts to make it stutter as well, though managing the traditional computing environment was a bit off-putting without the benefit of a companion keyboard dock.
A slew of synthetic tests confirmed our first impressions: the Edge handily beat its contemporaries by several hundred points in PCMark 7, and crushed the competition in various 3D benchmarks, thanks in no small part to that dedicated GPU. Its 3DMark 06 and 11 scores fall more in line with a gaming laptop than a typical Windows tablet, but it won't outgun a proper gaming rig. The original Razer Blade still has it beat by about 1,200 points. The only component outclassed by other Windows 8 tablets appears to be the Edge's 256GB SSD, which fell short of the Acer Iconia W700's ATTO benchmarks. In practice, it seemed more than speedy enough to us, booting up in five to seven seconds, and waking from sleep in less than four. The Edge was never too hot to hold when using regular applications, but did heat up when playing high-end games. Still, we didn't get burned, and the gamepad accessory kept this heat an an arm's length.
Razer Edge Pro
3:40 / 6:30 (extended battery)
Acer Iconia W700
Samsung Series 9 (13-inch, 2012)
MacBook Air (13-inch, 2012)
6:34 (OS X) / 4:28 (Windows)
Dell XPS 14
Sony VAIO T13
Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13
Dell XPS 12
Samsung Series 5 UltraTouch
ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch
ASUS Zenbook Prime UX51Vz
Toshiba Satellite U845W
Toshiba Satellite U845
Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3
Toshiba Satellite U925t
Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M5
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch
Sony VAIO Duo 11
Acer Aspire S5
ASUS Zenbook Prime UX21A
Acer Aspire S7 (13-inch)
Acer Aspire S3
Lenovo ThinkPad Twist
HP Spectre XT TouchSmart
Vizio Thin + Light (14-inch, 2012)
ASUS TAICHI 21
Microsoft Surface Pro
Ever since Razer announced the Fiona project, battery life has been a subject of avoidance. We can see why. Engadget's standard battery test ran the Edge to exhaustion in three hours and 40 minutes. This roughly matches the Surface Pro, but it still ranks far behind the Iconia W700, which houses a similar processor and a smaller battery. Worse still, the self-proclaimed gaming tablet only survived one hour and seven minutes of untethered gameplay before calling it quits. We gave the device another chance at our benchmarks after installing an extended battery pack (sold separately for $69), and indeed, it lasted through six and a half hours of video playback. Still, we found only limited improvement on the gaming front: it managed just one hour and 46 minutes of high-performance gameplay.
Although Razer's still new to the PC business, it knows better than to install any bloatware. Razer PCs come with no pre-installed software, no anti-virus trials and no unnecessary garbage to slow the system down. Really, it's a thing of beauty, and we couldn't be more pleased to see the Edge continue the trend. That said, there is one new piece of code lurking on the tablet's solid-state drive: the aforementioned Razer Launcher. Although the program's primary purpose is to uphold the Edge's console facade, it also offers a small selection of capture tools, allowing users to record video, snap screenshots and view in-game framerates with the tap of a hotkey. It also features a "game boost" processes manager, which promises to disable select (and unnecessary) Windows processes to bolster game performance. As we mentioned above, it has its hiccups and quirks, but with a few updates, it could prove to be a very useful launcher indeed.
Configuration options and the competition
If you're truly looking for a Windows 8 tablet that also happens to be a capable gaming machine, your journey starts and ends with the Edge.
The Razer Edge is offered with two base configurations, the 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U Razer Edge and the 1.9GHz Intel Core i7-3517U Razer Edge Pro. Buyers interested in the lower-end model are looking at a single build: 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 64GB SSD priced at a cool $999. No fuss, no muss, no options. The Razer Pro, on the other hand, comes with either 128 or 256GB of storage, which ring up at $1,300 and $1,450, respectively. The rest of the tablet's specifications are nearly identical: the same screen, the same 5,600mAh battery and the same terrible webcam. Look carefully, however, and you might find a small, but notable difference: while both units boast NVIDIA's GT 640M LE as their graphical powerhouse, the Pro model's GPU packs twice as much video RAM. Performance-minded gamers should consider their investments carefully.
Sizing up the competition is a little more challenging. If you're truly looking for a Windows 8 tablet that also happens to be a capable gaming machine, your journey starts and ends with the Edge, at least for now. If you're in the market for a top-of-the-line slab with a powerful processor, however, you've got options. Power junkies dead set on that Core i7 CPU can find the same chip in the Dell XPS 12 and Sony VAIO Duo 11, though we wouldn't recommend the latter. You'd likely be better off targeting the Samsung ATIV Smart PC Pro or Microsoft's own Surface, both handily matching the i5 Edge in specification (save GPU) while offering a leg up for the productivity-minded. We're also intrigued by Lenovo's ThinkPad Helix, which promises i7 internals and quite a bit more longevity than Razer's kit -- up to 10 hours. Of course, if you've already taken Razer's gaming bait, these hooks simply won't hold.
All told, Razer can get away with calling the Edge the world's most powerful tablet, at least for now. The company's claim to a mobile and home gaming console, however, falls flat. With only two hours of usable battery life in a best-case scenario, the Edge fails to meet the needs of a mobile gaming device, and the inherent problems of using Windows 8 on a television screen keep it from stealing the console crown. Gamers looking for the perfect Steambox will likely want to wait for something a bit smoother, but PC enthusiasts looking for a well-built and intriguing toy will find the Edge an enjoyable, if expensive, distraction. As for us? We're hoping Razer takes the tablet down the same road as its Blade line of laptops: regular updates with significant price and spec improvements. Here's to the next generation of Windows 8 gaming tablets.