Razer has checked many of the right boxes with its newest Blade laptop. It comes with many of the features that you’d expect from a machine released in 2018, and it’s perfectly in sync with the latest trends in laptop design.
I’m of course talking about slim, light machines with thin bezels, and sometimes, butter-smooth 144Hz panels. The latter is really one of the best features of the laptop, and it’s impossible to overstate how much of a difference it makes in your gaming experience.
These high refresh rate panels are only now becoming more common among gaming laptops, and they play a singular role in closing the gap between a laptop and desktop experience. Compared to a regular 60Hz screen, even the smallest things like mouse movements or dragging a window across the screen feel markedly smoother.
In game, the difference is even more palpable, and it’s noticeably easier to aim, flick, and react in every firefight. If you’re going to make a gaming laptop your main gaming machine in 2018, a 144Hz display should be one of the key features you look out for.
But the refresh rate aside, image quality on the Blade’s 1,920 x 1,080-pixel IPS display is also top-notch. Colors really popped for me, and the slim bezels created a more expansive and immersive experience that has been sorely lacking on Razer laptops before this one. Viewing angles were also excellent, as expected of an IPS panel, while the matte finish helps to dull reflections.
However, I found myself running it at 100 per cent brightness most of the time, so it feels like it could do with a brightness boost.
The screen's top bezel is also markedly thicker than those at the left and right, but it does mean that there’s still room for a webcam there. In the quest for ever slimmer bezels, many manufacturers have had to compromise and relocate the webcam to the bottom bezel, which gives rise to some seriously unflattering camera angles.
If you ask me, a marginally thicker top bezel is a small price to play for a more functional design.
The RGB backlit keyboard is powered by Razer’s Chroma software, and the lighting is bright and even and very pretty to look at. The Chroma configurator provides extensive per-key customization options, and you’ll have a field day tweaking it to suit your preferences.
Another thing I really like is the larger than average Windows Precision Touchpad. At 130 x 80mm, the bigger touchpad complements the notebook’s design quite well (it might’ve looked a little bare otherwise), and the larger area obviously provides more usable space and improves the overall experience. The glass-topped touchpad is super smooth, precise, and responsive, with good feedback for the integrated left- and right-click buttons.
However, while the keyboard itself serves up a decent typing experience, but I’d still characterize the key travel distance as still feeling a little shallow. Furthermore, the layout has one oddity where the right Shift is located next to the top arrow key instead of the question mark, which takes some getting used to.
Two speaker grilles flank the keyboard, and they pump out loud audio that’s plenty serviceable. The speaker placement is also the reason why the Blade doesn’t include a number pad, unlike something like the Gigabyte Aero 15X that squeezes a full-sized keyboard onto its relatively svelte body.
Personally, I prefer Razer’s approach as it means that I’m able to type with both hands centered above the keyboard. If Razer had tried to squeeze a full-sized keyboard with a number pad here, the default typing position would then shift to the left, and I find this off-center positioning uncomfortable.
The power button is nestled on the right speaker grille, so the area above the keyboard remains undisturbed. This is a small detail, but I find that it only adds to the laptop’s minimalist appeal. However, while the power button looks like it's also in the perfect position to act as a fingerprint sensor for Windows Hello, that feature is unfortunately still not present.
The laptop comes with three USB 3.1 (Gen 1) Type-A, one Thunderbolt 3, one HDMI 2.0b, and one Mini DisplayPort 1.4 output. This should have most folks covered, but it'd have been nice to see an SD card slot for creative types. However, Razer isn't using the Thunderbolt 3 port for power, and it has its own proprietary charging connector that supplies the requisite 230W to a notebook built-in with the GeForce GTX 1070 Max-Q graphics engine (USB-C PD only supports up to 100W).
As with all slim designs, cooling is a concern, and Razer says the Blade utilizes vapor chamber technology to keep the laptop cool instead of more conventional heat pipes. It uses this for both the CPU and GPU, and the vacuum-sealed vaporized liquid helps dissipate heat from the other components as well.
Dual 44-blade fans then push air through their respective heat sinks to expel heat. To further help with heat transfer, Razer has packed in a 68-fin heat exchanger with fins that measure just 0.1mm thick, the better to maximize the surface area available.
The vapor chamber design also covers more area and components than the previous heat pipe-based design, and Razer credits this with helping it achieve even thinner dimensions than before.
The company worked hard to optimize the design as well, citing the use of new materials to block heat in strategic places and transfer heat more efficiently with better graphite-based thermal interfaces. For instance, the Blade uses a special nanoparticle layer between the keyboard and the internal components to block heat transfer to areas that the user touches most often, such as the palm rests.
That sounds nice in theory, but this is sweltering Singapore, and if you end up gaming without any air conditioning both palm rests can get piping hot, to the point that it's uncomfortable to rest your palms on the laptop.
This can be mitigated somewhat using the Synapse app, which lets you increase fan speeds up to 6,000RPM, but this obviously results in a lot more noise. In addition, there's a dedicated Gaming mode you can select for a slight boost in performance.
That aside, one of the best things about the Blade is probably how good it feels in hand. This is one solid and impeccably put together laptop, and it really feels like you’re picking up a block of metal (well, because you are). There’s barely any perceptible flex to it, and the build quality here is really top-notch.
At 17.3mm thick, this is one of the thinnest 15.6-inch gaming laptops out there, and it’s even slimmer than the MSI GS65 Stealth Thin. However, I’d stop short of calling it an ultra-portable, as it’s not that light at 2.1kg (for which, the MSI counterpart is much lighter). It’s good for short trips out, but you won’t want to be lugging this around in your backpack the entire day.
Don't get us wrong. The notebook is certainly a great a workhorse and gaming companion - something which might have been a lot larger and heavier just a couple of years back. Technology has progressed plenty and the new Razer Blade is approaching what used to be termed as ultra-portable class (typically laptops that are 2kg or less). Today however, most real ultraportables are laptops that weigh 1.3kg or less. As such, our comment above is merely in the context of what defines an ultraportable these days.