RAZER BLADE STEALTH (2019) REVIEW: THE COST OF COMPROMISE

Razer’s latest Blade Stealth has a new design, more power, and some much-needed improvements. Those changes have the potential to turn the company’s least interesting laptop into its most versatile.

The Blade Stealth is Razer’s smallest, lightest, and least expensive laptop, starting at $1,399. It occupies the same space as thin and light computers like Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro and Dell’s XPS 13. Like other Razer laptops, it leads the way with specs: it has a fast processor, a new option for a discrete graphics card, and up to 16GB of RAM.

In addition to the spec updates, the Blade Stealth is also available in a new limited edition “quartz pink” finish. It’s perhaps the pinkest laptop I’ve ever seen, and it’s quite a departure from the typical black-and-green Razer laptop.

As configured, the midtier unit I’ve been testing costs $1,599 and includes the dedicated 4GB Nvidia MX150 (25W) graphics options and the limited edition pink colorway. It’s the least expensive model you can get with a discrete graphics card.

The biggest question here is do these upgrades finally make the Blade Stealth an actual gaming laptop that you can take anywhere and game confidently on? At the same time, can the Blade Stealth hang with other thin and light computers when it comes to productivity? I’ve spent the last couple of weeks with a quartz pink Blade Stealth to find out.

7VERGE SCORE

RAZER BLADE STEALTH

GOOD STUFF

  • Lightweight, stellar build quality
  • Sharp, vibrant display
  • Excellent touchpad

BAD STUFF

  • A 25-watt MX150 is still not a high-end GPU
  • Battery life is still subpar
  • Expensive for only 256GB storage
Buy for $1,599.00 from Razer Store USA

Part of the Razer Blade Stealth’s redesign has been updating it to look more in line with the Blade 15 Advanced. It is a much blockier design with hard edges and sharper corners. As a result, the black variant of the new Stealth is an otherwise spitting image of its bigger sibling, while the quartz pink edition Blade Stealth has the same design as the black version, except, well, it’s pink.

The Stealth’s pink anodized exterior goes through the same manufacturing processes as the black Blades do, so the color won’t just rub off. The pink colorway even applies to details as small as the laptop’s screws.

The Stealth is available with either a 1080p non-touch display or a 4K touchscreen. The 1080p screen I’ve been testing has vibrant colors, sharp text that doesn’t look overly processed, and a moderately bright panel that tops out at around 346 nits. Its 60Hz refresh rate isn’t as fast as what you can get on larger gaming laptops, but it’s fairly standard for 13-inch laptops. Razer also included an anti-glare coating (on a matte display) that does a decent job of avoiding indoor light, but direct sunlight can still make it tricky to view perfectly.

Overall, it’s not designer monitor quality, but Razer does individually calibrate each display at its factory. This screen supports 100 percent of the sRGB gamut but just around 61 percent of Adobe RGB. I’m also glad Razer didn’t use black bezels around the 13.3-inch screen. Instead, it went with matching pink, making the Stealth’s design look cohesive.

The Stealth’s chassis is a solid unibody design that doesn’t flex in the display, palm rest, or keyboard. Razer’s improvements in build quality over past generations are evident just by handling the Stealth between meetings. Everything is just more buttoned-up than it used to be.

A big part of the Stealth’s appeal is its weight: it’s just 2.89 pounds, compared to the four-plus pounds of Razer’s other laptops. That’s considered extremely light in the world of gaming laptops. But compared to other thin and lights, it’s merely average. The Stealth clocks in a little heavier than Dell’s new XPS 13 but just a bit less than a 13-inch MacBook Pro. Of course, neither of those computers have a discrete graphics card. Still, at under three pounds, the Blade Stealth is great for commuting, and I had no issues fitting into a backpack or laptop sleeve.

In addition, the Stealth has a better port selection than other ultrabooks. On the left, you’ll find an audio jack, USB 3.0, and a Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port (with four PCI Express lanes). On the right-hand side, there’s one USB-C 3.1 and a second USB 3.0 port. Only one of the two USB-C ports supports Thunderbolt 3, but both are capable of charging the Stealth’s battery.

The best hardware upgrade here is the new webcam that comes with Windows Hello facial recognition as a standard feature. You’ll no longer need to type out a long password or PIN to get into the Blade. It had no issues recognizing me in different lighting situations, like with my glasses on / off or at different angles. I used it almost exclusively as a reliable login authentication method.

On the flip side, the 720p webcam isn’t so great. The picture is grainy, washed out, and looks even worse in rooms that don’t have bright light. You’d be better off using your smartphone for video conferencing.

If it looks like a gaming laptop, sounds like a gaming laptop, and is priced like a gaming laptop, does that make it a gaming laptop? Unfortunately, no. The Stealth’s 25-watt MX150 discrete GPU is up to four times more powerful than the integrated graphics you might find in other ultrabooks, but it’s still not powerful enough for high-level gaming. Its performance in the real world is really limited to powering external monitors, using it for creative tools like Lightroom and Photoshop as well as the occasional casual or older game that isn’t too graphics-intensive.

Playing Black Ops IIII at native resolution (1080p), the Stealth could keep the game’s Blackout mode locked to 60 frames per second, at the lowest possible settings. However, playing Battlefield V on the MX150 felt hopeless, barely reaching 40 fps at its lowest settings.

Older games, such as League of Legends, are easy for the MX150, with it hitting a steady 60 fps at maxed graphical settings. Similarly, Overwatch (another game that runs well on lower-end hardware) has frame rates in the mid-60s while running on medium settings at native resolution.

Those results may not be that impressive compared to larger gaming laptops, but for a thin computer that weighs less than three pounds, it’s about the best you’re going to get.

Thanks to the Stealth’s Thunderbolt 3 port, it is possible to get better performance with an external GPU. I hooked it up to a Razer Core V2 with an RTX 2080Ti and was able to run Battlefield V with all of its settings maxed out on a 35-inch ultrawide display at over 70 frames per second. This is obviously an expensive solution, but if you want a truly portable laptop with the option to run high-end AAA games, this is an option.

Besides not having enough GPU power to play games, the Stealth’s 256GB of storage is too limited to easily store them. Black Ops IIII alone takes 100GB, which is nearly half of the available space. Afterward, I planned on importing some RAW photos from a recent photo shoot, then realized I didn’t have the storage space. You can get 512GB of storage, but that requires stepping up to the top-tier $1,899 model with the 4K touchscreen (and forgoing the pink color option). Razer says it is possible to upgrade the internal SSD yourself, which is something you probably want to do if you plan on using this model for gaming.

The Stealth might be marketed as a “gaming ultrabook,” but it’s also very competent for productivity, at least until the battery dies. The large Windows Precision trackpad provides a comfortable and smooth experience that’s considerably better than the prior model’s, and it includes support for Windows 10 gestures.

The Blade’s keyboard has good travel and feedback, but it has a frustrating layout quirk: the right Shift key is sized like a normal letter keycap, and it’s positioned immediately above the right directional key. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally pressed this Shift key when I meant to hit the directional key.

Thankfully, Razer got the rest of the Stealth’s keyboard right by including full backlighting across every key, anti-ghosting, and switches that aren’t too loud for cafes or conference rooms, even when I’m typing at full speed. Other than the terrible Shift key placement, this is a solid keyboard.

Flanking the keyboard are four speakers with Dolby Atmos tuning and a companion app. It’s a pleasant surprise to come across small laptop speakers that pack punchy bass, clear mids, and non-distorted highs. Compared to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, these speakers are on par but lack the warmth of the Mac’s sound (even with the “warmth” Dolby mode enabled).

The Stealth’s bass really starts kicking in at the higher volumes (around 70 percent), but there’s no distortion or audible strain to speak of. These are really good speakers that I don’t mind using to listen to a few songs, for games, or a Netflix marathon with others in the room.

Despite the Stealth’s sleek new design, improved gaming performance, and better security, two features that haven’t been improved are battery life and heat management. I couldn’t get more than five hours of web usage out of the Stealth, and it took less than an hour of use before I could feel the underside gently toasting my lap.

That’s with the Stealth in its default “Better Performance” mode, with 50 percent brightness, keyboard backlighting set to solid white, and Bluetooth off. Even when using a more power-conscious battery plan and keeping fewer Chrome tabs open, I only managed to get an extra 30 minutes before the battery gave up. The Stealth’s battery life while gaming is half that; it throws in the towel at around two and a half hours.

If you plan on using the Stealth on your lap — it is a laptop, after all — then I’d advise you to only do it for short periods of time. Everything from typing this in Google Docs with multiple tabs open in the background to watching videos will elicit a response from the system’s fans. You can take manual control of fan speed in Razer’s Synapse app, but it doesn’t help much with mitigating heat from the bottom panel.

Compared to prior versions, the new Razer Blade Stealth is a much more capable gaming laptop, at least for casual gaming. But if you’re serious about gaming performance and don’t mind a thicker and heavier laptop, Razer’s own base Blade 15 also costs $1,599, and it can actually play modern games at medium to high settings.

The Stealth can pull double duty as a productivity laptop that can play the occasional game better than Razer’s other options, but its battery life makes it tough to rely on for a full day’s worth of work. The low-end discrete GPU isn’t really powerful enough to rely on for video encoding in apps like Adobe Premiere either, which makes the Stealth a less than ideal portable editing machine for creators. The ideal setup for either gaming or video editing involves using an external GPU, but that adds a considerable cost to the Stealth’s already high price. Perhaps Razer should consider selling the Stealth bundled with its external GPU option.

Even with its new design, improved graphics power, and better quality-of-life features, the Blade Stealth still occupies an awkward middle ground. It’s a portable laptop that doesn’t have the battery life of many other thin and light computers, but it also isn’t really powerful enough for serious gaming or video editing.

It’s a classic jack of all trades, master of none situation, which makes it hard to recommend it over another thin and light or full-fledged gaming laptop.

[“source=theverge”]

 

 

Related posts