Gaming hardware usually takes a backseat at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but this year seems to be an exception.
The Razer Edge: Windows 8 gaming tablet.
(Credit: Rich Brown/CNET)
Already at CES this year, we've seen Nvidia's blockbuster Project Shield handheld Android/PC game streaming device. Today, Razer announced the Edge PC gaming tablet, and with with Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan, we got the chance to take a good long look at it.
Razer teased the tablet at last year's CES under the code name Project Fiona. The company then conducted a crowd-sourcing campaign in which gamers provided Razer with feedback about the specs they'd like to see in a mobile PC gaming device.
It's an innovative approach, but the result is what you could probably guess anyway: the Edge splits the difference between hard-core gaming PCs and tablets with a full-fledged Windows 8 tablet running an Intel Core i5 or i7 processor and Nvidia GeForce GT640M LE graphics. It looks — well, it looks like a tablet. But under the hood, it has the guts of a high-powered gaming ultrabook.
If the specs are perhaps predictable, it's the accessories that help it stand out.
They help the Edge transform into a few different modes, including a handheld dual-controller case, which looks nearly identical to the Project Fiona images shown last year. It adds gaming console-like buttons and sticks, making the Edge a large handheld gaming device, of a sort.
There's also a dock that offers external HDMI and USB connectors to plug into a TV, and adds additional Xbox 360-like controllers for two-player simultaneous gaming. You can use the dock with a larger-screen monitor or TV, or as a standalone device.
A keyboard accessory turns the Edge into a hybrid device, and both the keyboard and the game pad accessories support a removable battery that doubles the life of the Edge. You will likely want an extra battery, too. Without it, Razer estimates the Edge to have 2 hours of power during general tablet use and around 1 hour when you're playing games, but an extended 40-watt battery will take gaming use to between 2 and 4 hours, or around 8 hours for less graphics-intensive tablet use.
The Edge costs US$999 in its base configuration with a Core i5 chip, 4GB of RAM and a 64GB solid-state hard drive. That's in the same ballpark as other Windows 8 tablets, like Microsoft's forthcoming Surface Pro.
The US$1299 Edge Pro model will get a bump to Core i7, 8GB of memory and either a 128GB or 256GB SSD. A US$1499 bundle includes the game pad case. Both models are available for order today from online retailers and Razer's own website, and will be made available in the US during Q1 of 2013.
Australian pricing and launch dates have not yet been announced.
(Credit: Scott Stein/CBS Interactive)
We had a chance to play with the Razer Edge in all its various modes, and in person, it surprises and impresses more than we even expected. In particular, the Edge shines as a desktop or TV-connected device: it's easy keyboard, mouse or controller hook-up turns the 10-inch tablet into a pretty capable gaming mini-console, and games ranging from Dirt Showdown to Dishonored looked and played better than we thought they would. Granted, the Edge only has a 1366x768-pixel display, but the smaller IPS screen's pixel density shows off the games to very good effect. Held in your hands, it obviously blows away any gaming handheld.
The Edge, however, is a tiny bit awkward. The game pad looks cool and controls well, but the dual-stick yoke and feel, and the size of the entire package makes for an odd in-hand feel: bigger and heavier than any handheld, your hands end up further apart than when using a standard game controller.
Split-screen simultaneous gameplay on a large-screen TV using the HDMI-output on the dock works as well as advertised. The Edge supports 720p output, and a heated race in Dirt Showdown was highly playable using the Razer controllers.
The laptop-like keyboard dock, coming later this year, gives the Edge a feel that's reminiscent of the original Switchblade "gaming Netbook" concept from several CESes ago except, in this case, the Edge is a far more powerful, smaller-screened PC. Using the keyboard and either touchscreen or mouse controls to play games like Rift worked pretty well, too.
The Razer Edge, along with Nvidia's Project Shield, signals a strategy shift from companies with strong ties to PC gaming, due to an increasingly portable consumer computer landscape. Whether gamers of any variety want these devices is an open question, but we expect that they won't be the last to tempt PC gamers away from the desktop. The best news about the Razer Edge is that it's ready to go: all its modes feel weirdly practical, avoiding the challenges that the touchscreen Switchblade UI continues to pose for Razer's Blade gaming laptop. And, especially compared with the Blade, its price isn't too high. As a demonstration of the evolution of the PC and PC gaming, the Edge succeeds.