While the Razer Edge Pro and Razer Edge have been priced in the US, at the moment, no firm plans have been revealed for Australia. Locally, however, Razer has assured us that the Edge will be launched sometime in the near future.
Take a Windows 8 tablet, add Nvidia graphics, mix in a snap-on controller, toss in a TV-friendly dock, and suddenly, what was a gaming PC in theory becomes a console; step back, and a tablet becomes a gaming handheld.
This is the promise that the Razer Edge Pro provides: a Surface for the gaming set, if you will. It's a novel idea that no one else has made tangible yet, and the Razer Edge stands alone in that regard.
At its heart, the Razer Edge Pro is a 10-inch Windows 8 tablet with either a Core i5 or i7 processor, like many high-end Windows 8 tablets (the Surface Pro, in particular). What it brings to the table is gaming-calibre Nvidia GeForce graphics and a variety of optional, versatile, gamer-targeted accessories: a snap-on GamePad controller, a dock with HDMI-out and extra USB ports for TV connectivity, and even a future laptop/keyboard accessory.
But those extras will cost you: the GamePad, arguably its sexiest feature, costs US$249, the price range of an Xbox 360 or a Vita. The tablet itself costs anywhere from US$999 to US$1,449, depending on the configuration.
The Edge's best quality is its versatility: it can be a keyboard-and-mouse mini-PC, a TV-connected game console or a big-boned handheld. But paying nearly $1,700 for a first-generation Windows 8 gaming PC-handheld-hybrid is a lot to swallow, even for the hard core, because you're giving up top-end PC performance in exchange for that versatility. The Edge works as advertised, but it's more a gaming experiment than a must-have killer product.
From the outside, especially right out of the box, the Edge doesn't feel much different from any other high-end Windows 8 tablet, except for the fact that it's chunkier (19.5mm thick) and heavier (954g). If no other Windows 8 tablets existed, it wouldn't seem so bad — but it's bulky next to a Surface Pro.
On the other hand, the hardware feels solidly constructed and is comfortable enough to hold. It's not the super-sexy type of profile that the Razer Blade cut, but it has a similar high-quality feel. The glowing Razer logo on the back and the black matte metal finish give it a "gamer gear" touch, but not too much.
The GamePad and dock
Add on the GamePad, and suddenly this tablet feels like a piece of gaming hardware that escaped the dungeons of Kentia Hall at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. It's an odd sensation, holding an already-large tablet in an even larger controller chassis. An inner removable panel houses an extra optional battery (US$69). Two spring latches attach the Edge neatly inside the GamePad, and when it's in, the buttons have their own green LED glow, plus, there's rumble feedback.
The thick, long handles on either side offer good grip, but the trigger buttons and angle of the controller feel odd. We wanted to tilt the controls down a bit and angle the screen, and you can't do that. The quad of right-side buttons are also very flat and a little hard to press. These are small complaints, though, because overall, this GamePad's feel is far closer to a console or PC controller than any existing gaming handheld device.
But the whole package weighs a whopping 4.2 pounds, and just barely fits in a regular-size backpack. It's a lap-gaming experience; you'd never want to hold the Edge-with-GamePad upright for more than a minute at a time. Also, services like Steam generally require an online connection (Steam has an "offline mode", but it's not all that easy to set-up and use.). On a train or some in-flight situation, that could put the Edge in a difficult spot.
The nondescript dock (US$99) might be the best bet of all. It comes with three rear USB 2.0 ports, HDMI with 7.1 audio and headset jacks, and a gummy, grippy underside that keeps it in place. Pop in the Edge and hunt down a few Xbox USB controllers and suddenly, the system's a TV-connected console. With Steam's Big Box mode activated, the whole affair feels a lot like the "Steam Box" brought to life. There's no Ethernet jack, though; you'll need to get a separate USB-to-Ethernet dongle, which is an annoyance, especially with Steam's frequent online use and large-file game downloads.
Compared with the average Windows 8 tablet (the Surface Pro), the top-end Razer Edge boasts more RAM, a faster CPU and more onboard storage, plus Nvidia graphics, but it's thicker, heavier and has a lower-resolution screen and fewer ports.
Compared with a gaming laptop such as the Lenovo IdeaPad Y500, the laptop soundly beats it with a better CPU, 1080p screen, and more RAM (but no touchscreen). That's not surprising, as the Edge is a tablet, but it goes to show that you can buy a lot more laptop for the same amount of money — or less.
The Edge's 10.1-inch, 1366x768-pixel IPS display is a step down from the screen on the Surface Pro, which has a 1920x1080-pixel resolution, but the Edge can output 1080p video and gaming via the dock. Games looked sharp, however, even at a lower resolution. BioShock Infinite seemed as crisp or crisper than the Xbox 360 console version, and Civilization V's landscapes felt vivid.
Stereo speakers under the bottom edge pump out decent sound, but for real gaming, you'll want a headset.
The Edge Pro, on its own, has a sparse selection of ports compared with other Windows 8 tablets. A single USB 3.0 port sits on the top and there's a standard headset/mic jack, but no expandable storage slots (SD of any kind is lacking). There's a front-facing 2-megapixel camera, but no rear camera.
The US$1,449 Razer Edge Pro review unit has a 1.9GHz/3.0GHz Core i7-3517U CPU, 8GB of RAM, an Nvidia GeForce 640M LE (2GB) graphics card and 256GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage. The cheapest Razer Edge you can get costs US$999, with a 1.7GHz/2.6GHz Core i5-3317U processor, only 4GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce 640M LE (1GB) graphics and a 64GB SSD. Odds are that any gamer would find the $999 way too limiting, and the system is not easily upgraded.
The Razer Edge Pro performs about as well as any other Core i5/i7-equipped Windows 8 tablet in terms of everyday nongaming, which isn't much of a surprise. Its specs match up in its base US$999 configuration to the US$899 Surface Pro (still unpriced and unreleased in Australia). The US$1449 Edge Pro has a number of beefed-up elements (8GB of RAM, 256GB SSD and that faster Core i7 processor), but you're paying a lot for it.
Focusing purely on raw gaming performance misses the point of the Edge Pro. Of course it matters, and the frame rates we saw (such as 41fps for Bioshock Infinite at 1366x768 medium quality resolution) demonstrate that you will need to make sacrifices to resolution and image quality in exchange for the Razer's unique design. Anyone who follows PC hardware would draw the same conclusion from the lower-end GeForce 640M LE graphics card on the Edge Pro spec sheet.
We also tried playing Far Cry 3 and Crysis 3, two of the more-demanding shooters out for the PC right now. The Edge Pro played both games flawlessly at its native 1366x768 setting, and capably enough at 1600x900, both at medium image quality settings. The frame rate dropped past the point of playability at 1920x1,080.
If full HD gaming on the most graphically challenging titles is out of reach for the Edge Pro, what's impressive is how much flexibility it offers you in the way you might choose to play a game.
Not every game works in every mode, of course. While Starcraft II or Diablo III might seem like good matches for the touchscreen, neither game has been updated with a touch-specific interface. Civilization V has a touch gaming mode, though, and playing it on the Edge Pro in tablet mode is just as addictive as on a traditional laptop or desktop.
Playing AAA games via touchscreen is still an experiment for the truly dedicated, of course. Slower, turn-based strategy titles are probably the best choice for this input method, but that genre doesn't always get a lot of attention. We have yet to try these, but games like the Dragon Age series and XCom: Enemy Unknown could work, along with older strategy and role-playing games. Minecraft has a touchscreen mode, although reports of its effectiveness are mixed.
The GamePad also lets you tuck into PC games in a much more engaging way than any gaming laptop. In this mode, you don't need to find a place to perch the system like you do with a laptop. Instead, you can more or less sit anywhere and play any GamePad-friendly title.
It's the touch and GamePad usage modes that set the Edge Pro apart from its laptop-based competition the most. Its docking station will let you play via a TV or a deskbound display, but any gaming notebook with an HDMI out and a few USB ports can do the same.
Traditional gaming laptops in the same price range will also outpace products in terms of raw performance like this one for at least another generation of CPU and GPU silicon, if not another two or three. That fact alone may hurt Edge Pro adoption among dedicated PC gamers. You will be rewarded most by this device if you find its touch and GamePad modes appealing.
The Razer Edge's internal battery lasted 4 hours and 25 minutes using our video-playback battery drain test. That's close to the Microsoft Surface Pro, which lasted 4 hours, 31 minutes. In gaming mode, it's another story. With the GamePad and extra battery attached, roughly 45 minutes of BioShock Infinite on a New Jersey Transit train car sapped about half the battery life.
There's something to the Razer Edge that makes sense if you spend a bit of time with it. Ever since Windows 8 rolled in, the concept of the old-school gaming laptop feels like it's come up against the redesigned interface and hardware flow of the computers that have emerged since. Touchscreen input has become a somewhat useful if not necessary part of Windows 8, even if games don't require it.
The Razer Edge signals a strategy shift away from traditional PC gaming to an increasingly portable consumer computer landscape. This won't be the last handheld device to tempt PC gamers away from the desktop. All its modes feel weirdly practical too, avoiding the challenges that the touchscreen Switchblade UI continues to pose for Razer's Blade gaming laptop. And especially compared with the Blade, the Edge's price isn't too high.
Still, this is a niche product. Those who want a compact game system at all costs, like the Alienware M11x a long time ago, could find the Edge to be a thrill. There's undeniable appeal to playing games like BioShock Infinite on the go. It's a Swiss Army Knife of mobile PC gaming. But with its higher price and limited specs, you might want to consider how practical the Edge truly is for you, and whether you'd just be better off with an old-fashioned gaming laptop instead.
We couldn't help but be impressed with some of the stuff Razer managed to squeeze into the Edge, as far as gaming goes, but you're making compromises compared with the average US$1,500 gaming laptop.