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Razer Blade Stealth review: Thin-and-light laptop with supersize power, style

·Technology Editor

Gaming-PC maker Razer wants you to ditch your stuffy work laptop for something a little edgier: its new Razer Blade Stealth. The company’s first mainstream laptop, the 12.5-inch Stealth packs the same kind of power you’d expect of a high-end Apple MacBook Air or Dell XPS 13 in a body that absolutely oozes style.

Starting at $1,000, the Stealth isn’t as cheap as some other Windows portables, but what you get for that price (compared to the competition) is really impressive. Sure, the Razer Blade Stealth has its shortcomings, but it earns a place on the short list of best laptops you can buy right now.

Thin and light

To say that the Blade Stealth is thin and light is an understatement: Weighing just 2.8 pounds, the Stealth is a drop lighter than Apple’s MacBook Air 13-inch and Dell’s XPS 13 Touch (which weigh 2.9 pounds each); it weighs the same as Lenovo’s 13-inch Yoga 900 (which has the added benefit of hinged screen that lets you use it as a tablet). You wouldn’t notice any difference between any of these laptops if you threw one in your bag.

Measuring 12.6 x 8.1 x 0.51 inches, the Stealth is just as thin as it is light. That makes it smaller than the MacBook Air (12.8 x 8.9 x 0.68 inches) and the Yoga 900 (12.8 x 8.9 x 0.60 inches), and just a smidge bigger than the Dell XPS 13 (12.0 x 7.9 x 0.60). That said, the Razer has a 12.5-inch display, while those competitors come with more spacious 13.3-inch screens.

Stealthy looks

Gaming laptops are known for their ostentatious, sometimes outrageous looks. And while the Stealth inherits some of that from Razer’s other portables (check out that bright green, backlit three-headed snake logo on its lid), the notebook’s overall aesthetic is refreshingly adult. Think of it as a business suit matched with some pink-and-white polka-dot socks.

Save for the two symmetrical peaks on its lid and the aforementioned snake logo, the Stealth’s matte black aluminum chassis is as buttoned up as anything Apple has ever produced. Its keyboard is well spaced and bracketed by stereo speakers on either side and a power button at the top.

In terms of design, the Stealth’s only demerit is the size of its screen relative to the bezel that surrounds it. Compared to the Dell XPS’s edge-to-edge display and the relatively small bezels on the MacBook and the Yoga, the Stealth looks almost garish. But overall it’s a beautiful laptop.

A beauty of a screen

Though (as noted) the Stealth’s display is smaller than some of its competitors’, it’s no less beautiful. The $1,000 base model Stealth comes with a 2560 x 1440 QHD touchscreen display, which can be upgraded to an even higher resolution 4K touchscreen panel.

Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Air, by comparison, has a 1440 x 900 resolution screen, which at this point seems really antiquated. Dell’s XPS 13 comes with a 1920 x 1080 non-touch display but can be upgraded to a 4K touchscreen panel, while every version of Lenovo’s Yoga 900 comes with a 4K screen.

In truth, though, a 4K screen isn’t really going to do much for the average person. In fact, 4K displays eat up your battery’s charge faster than lower resolution displays (simply because they have more pixels that need to be lit). That said, videos, photos, and games look fantastic on the Stealth: Colors are dynamic, and the blacks are so deep the Windows toolbar at the bottom of the screen blends into the notebook’s bezel.

Quirky keyboard

Like most high-end laptops, the Razer Blade Stealth comes with a backlit keyboard. But the Stealth’s is unique in that its multicolor backlights are fully customizable and capable of producing a stunning 16.8 million colors per key. Sure, your average office worker doesn’t need keys that light up like the Las Vegas Strip, but there’s nothing wrong with a little fun.

Using the Stealth’s built-in Chroma Configurator app, you can set the keyboard’s backlights to nearly any color imaginable. Or you can make them cycle colors over time. Want to breathe some life into your laptop? Then set the Chroma Configurator to the Breathing option and the keyboard backlight will pulsate as if the notebook is breathing. The Ripple setting causes a ripple effect across the keyboard every time you press a key, like a stone skipping across a psychedelic pond.

Does any of this serve a functional purpose? Not really, but it is one hell of a fun party trick. I couldn’t stop playing with the feature when I switched on the Ripple setting. But after about 10 minutes of turning my keyboard into a desktop rave, the novelty wore off, and I switched back to the regular backlighting.

It’s also a letdown that the actual functions assigned to the function keys at the top of the keyboard don’t light up. Sure, the F1 through F12 icons glow, but the mute and brightness buttons don’t, which can make them hard to see when working at night.

When it comes to actually typing on those light-up keys, the Stealth offers a mixed bag. Because the laptop is so thin, its keys don’t travel very much; they don’t have the kind of tactile feel you get with the MacBook Air. The keys are, however, extremely responsive, which means you can type fast — as if you just mainlined a gallon of espresso. Seriously, your fingers will fly on these keys.

The Stealth’s touchpad, meanwhile, is comfortable to use but takes some getting used to. Fresh out of the box, its scrolling and movement are incredibly slow — it’s like you substituted NyQuil for that espresso. Turning up the touchpad’s responsiveness in the Settings menu, though, perks it right up.

Powerful performance (for normals)

What makes the Razer Blade Stealth truly impressive is that, for $1,000, you get a high-powered Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB solid-state drive. Those are some beastly performance specs. You shouldn’t see any slowdowns when doing things like browsing the Web, streaming movies, and processing photos and video.

A similarly equipped MacBook Air will cost you $1,150 and doesn’t offer as crisp a screen as the Stealth. The closest the Dell XPS 13 gets to the Razer is a system with a sharper screen but slower processor for $1,300. The base model of Lenovo’s Yoga 900 is actually faster and has more storage space than the Razer, but it costs $50 more.

Naturally, the Stealth can be upgraded to include a higher resolution 4K display and larger 512GB SSD, but that’ll cost you a cool $1,600.

The Razer Blade Stealth does fall short in one key area: battery life. I unplugged my laptop at about 4 p.m. while at work. Streaming music and browsing the Web, with the display brightness set to 100 percent, I was down to 20 percent battery life by 7:00 p.m. That’s not exactly marathon-level performance. Granted, keeping the screen’s brightness pumped up to 100 percent eats through battery life, but still, that’s a relatively quick drain.

For hardcore gamers

While the Stealth is ostensibly targeted at average consumers, Razer’s traditional gaming customers will certainly be interested in it. Unfortunately, the Stealth’s gaming-specific horsepower is basically nil.

That’s because the notebook eschews a discrete graphics chip from the likes of Nvidia or AMD in favor of Intel’s onboard chip. You’ll still be able to play some games with the system, but you’ll have to throttle the graphics down to their lowest settings.

Why the down-powering? Well, the Stealth was designed to be used with Razer’s special Core external graphics enclosure in mind. The Core serves as a special case for a desktop graphics card (which you’ll have to buy separately).

Using the Stealth’s USB-C port, you can connect the Core and its graphics card to the laptop to get desktop-level gaming performance. Desktop graphics cards are on a whole other level compared to built-in notebook graphics chips — it’s like He-Man and his Power Sword.

Available later this month for $400, the Core also adds four USB 3.0 ports and a gigabit Ethernet connection to your laptop.

The idea behind the Stealth-Core combo is to make it so gamers don’t need two separate computers: You can have your hardcore beast of a gaming desktop and a work laptop in one system; just unplug the Core and you’re good to go. You don’t even have to turn off your Stealth when you plug in the Core, because it’s plug-and-play.

Naturally, if you’re going to get the Core and a graphics card for it, you’re talking about adding $800 to the Stealth’s base price, which makes it just a bit less affordable. Still, $1,800 isn’t bad for a desktop-style computer that can run all of today’s most demanding games and a laptop that’s as thin and light as a MacBook Air.

The bottom line

The Razer Blade Stealth is one heck of a laptop. It’s attractive and edgy, more than powerful enough for your daily tasks, and can be used as a desktop-level gaming rig. I wish its bezel wasn’t so large and that its keyboard offered more give, but those are small complaints. More seriously, I wish it had better battery life; seeing its charge fall to 20 percent after using it for just three hours with the brightness is disconcerting to say the least.

If you’re a gamer who wants to consolidate your desktop and laptop into one computer, you really need to take a look at the Stealth. And even if you’re not into gaming, the value proposition the Stealth offers is too great to ignore, and I think everyone should check it out.

Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.