PC gaming company Razer is a relative newcomer to the laptop space, having released its first notebook computer in 2011. But Razer has been making gaming accessories for years, and the company has leveraged its expertise to crank out a series of well-received portable computers with premium features (and price tags).
While most of the company’s laptops are aimed squarely at gamers, the company’s thinnest and lightest model is a little different. The Razer Blade Stealth measures about half an inch thick, weighs less than 3 pounds, and lacks the discrete graphics you’d normally expect from a gaming PC.
But this little laptop does have a backlit keyboard with customizable RGB lighting, a high-resolution touchscreen display, an all-metal chassis, and top-tier specs. And if you want to use it for games that the integrated Intel UHD graphics can’t handle, there’s a Thunderbolt 3/USB Type-C port that you can use to connect a Razer Core graphics dock (sold separately), which lets you use a desktop-class graphics card.
Razer launched its first Blade Stealth laptop in 2016, and the company has updated the laptop a few times since then.
The latest iteration features a 13.3 inch, 3200 x 1800 pixel IGZO touchscreen display, an Intel Core i7-8550U quad-core processors, 16GB of RAM, and at least 256GB of storage. It’s available from the Razer Store for $1500 and up.
While I’m not much of a gamer, this isn’t really a gaming laptop. It’s a portable notebook that has some gaming-friendly features… and it becomes a gaming PC when you connect an optional graphics dock. So when Razer reached out and asked if I wanted to review the latest Blade Stealth laptop, I was excited at the opportunity to test a notebook from a relative newcomer to the space.
After spending the last two weeks using the Razer Blade Stealth for work and play, I’m pretty impressed… for the most part. The laptop has an excellent display, pretty good performance, and a sleek design. And there are so many options for customizing the keyboard lighting that I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface.
But the Razer Blade Stealth has disappointing battery life and the touchpad placement is less than ideal, sometimes causing problems when I’m typing. Those issues aren’t necessarily deal breaks, but they are a bit disappointing for a laptop that has a starting price of $1500.
The model Razer loaned me for this review has a list price of $1700 and features a 512GB SSD. Otherwise it’s pretty much identical to the entry-level 256GB model.
Razer also offers a version with a 7th-gen Intel Core i7-7550U dual-core processors for $1399 and up (that’s the list price, but as I’m writing this review, that model is on sale for $1050).
Razer offers the Blade Stealth in a choice of matte black or gunmetal grey finishes. Aside from the color differences, both models are identical, measuring 0.52 inches thick, weighing 2.93 pounds, and featuring a CNC aluminum chassis with a recessed portion in the lid where the rare logo appears.
That logo is a green drawing of three snakes, and it glows when the laptop is powered up (although you can stop it from glowing using the laptop’s Razer Synapse utility… more on that below).
There’s a full-sized HDMI 2.0a port and a USB 3.0 port on the right side of the laptop.
On the left there’s another USB 3.0 port, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a Thunderbolt 3/USB 3.1 Type-C port.
Razer’s power adapter plugs into that Thunderbolt 3 port, so you can’t charge the laptop and use the port at the same time, unless you’re using a dock like the Razer Core. That’s not a huge problem, thanks to the presence of the other ports on the laptop. But it is something I wanted to point out.
Speaking of the power adapter, it’s not the smallest laptop power brick I’ve ever seen, but it does have a braided USB cable, which feels a bit more durable (and looks a bit nicer) than most USB or charging cables. It should also be tougher to tangle.
On the bottom of the laptop there are two vents that help keep the system cool. Thanks to the metal chassis, the palm rest feels cool to the touch when you first power up the laptop after it’s been off for a while. It gets a little warmer when you’re actually using it, but the active cooling system helps prevent the computer from overheating, and for the most part it does it without generating a lot of noise: I rarely noticed the fans kicking in unless I was going out of my way to listen for it. That’s a nice change of pace from the Acer Aspire S13 laptop I used as my primary computer. One of the defining characteristics of that laptop is its noisy fan.
Oh, and if you do find the fan noisy… or if you think it should be noisier (because the laptop gets too hot during use), you can toggle between low and high fan speeds in the Razer Synapse utility that comes pre-loaded on the computer.
Also on the bottom you’ll find 8 hex screws, which means you’ll need a special screwdriver to open the case: a standard Phillips head screwdriver won’t do it. Razer clearly doesn’t actually expect you to open this laptop, but the fact that it ships standard with 16GB of RAM and a speedy PCIe solid state drive means that you probably won’t need to (unless you decide you need to upgrade that SSD to a higher-capacity module in the future).
Interestingly I noticed that the bottom panel and the lid flex a bit when you push down on them. That’s something I’m used to seeing on laptop keyboards, but not typically on laptop cases. (There is a bit of flex to the keyboard, but you have to press the keys pretty hard to notice it).
But things really start to get interesting when you open the laptop and look at the keyboard and display.
The Razer Blade Stealth’s 3200 x 1800 pixel IGZO display features 100 percent sRGB color gamut and has wide viewing angles. Pictures, videos, games, websites, and just about everything else you’re likely to look at on a computer screen look great.
But the laptop’s 282 pixel-per-inch display is a bit of a mixed blessing. Out of the box my review unit had Windows’ display scaling set to 200 percent, which means that the effective screen resolution is pretty much the same as on a typical laptop with a 1600 x 900 pixel display, while most other laptops in this price range have 1920 x 1080 pixel displays, giving you more effective screen space for showing two apps side-by-side, among other things.
You can set custom scaling. Something closer to 175 percent makes it a bit easier to view two full-sized web pages in side-by-side windows, but I found myself poking my head awfully close to the screen to read, because text and graphics were a bit small for my liking.
Meanwhile, some Windows applications still don’t do a good job of responding to the dpi settings in Windows. I’m looking at you GIMP… with your tiny, tiny menu items (although there are third-party themes with larger icons that make the app a lot more usable.)
It feels a bit silly to blame software for not working on an excellent screen though: it’s not Razer’s fault. But that doesn’t take the sting out of realizing that some of your favorite apps might look a little funny on notebooks with higher-than-1080p displays.
A bigger problem with the high-resolution display may be its impact on power consumption. Some other companies, like Dell, offer users a choice of 1080p or 4K displays on their laptops… and note that you’ll usually get longer battery life if you opt for the 1080p option. It’s nice to have the choice between a higher quality display and longer battery life. Razer doesn’t provide that kind of choice here: the Razer Blade Stealth with an 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor only has one display option, and it’s a high-resolution, pixel-dense display, battery life be-damned.
Likewise, the Razer Blade Stealth ships with a glossy touchscreen display. There’s no matte option, and no non-touch option.
It’s nice to be able to reach up and use your fingers to interact with apps, websites, and other content, and it’s something I found myself doing from time to time while testing this laptop. Touch input works pretty well, but the screen does wobble a tiny bit when you touch it, something that doesn’t happen when you’re just typing or using the laptop’s touchpad.
Razer does not offer a matte display option for folks who aren’t fans of glare. And there’s no non-touch option for folks that don’t want or need a touchscreen.
Above the display is a 720p webcam, dual microphones, and a proximity sensor. The camera’s nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done. And unlike the Dell XPS 13 featured in my last review, it’s nice to have a webcam that’s above the display instead of below it… even if that means the Razer Blade Stealth has larger top and side bezels than Dell’s laptop.
And below the display is the keyboard, which is honestly one of the most interesting things about this laptop, so let’s dedicated a whole section to the keyboard and touchpad.
Keyboard and touchpad
So the thing about Razer’s laptops is that they come from a company that’s best known for making gaming accessories… like keyboards.
The Razer Blade Stealth doesn’t just have a backlit keyboard. Each of those lights can shine in 16.8 million different colors, and each key can be programmed to shine in a different color, thanks to Razer’s Chroma system.
Fire up the Razer Synapse utility and navigate to the Lighting tab and you can choose a static color for all the keys or choose from effects including Fire, Breathing, Wave, and Reactive, and Ripple, which cause the keys to glow in shades of red and yellow (like a fire), slowly change color in breath-like pulses, shift colors in a left-to-right or right-to-left motion, light up briefly only when you touch a key, or cause all the keys around the one you press to glow as if you had tossed a pebble into a pond, respectively.
The effects look pretty cool, but they can also be kind of distracting. So after spending some time playing around with the different options, for the most part I found myself sticking with a static color scheme when using the laptop for work. It was nice to be able to choose the colors though, something I wish I could have done with the 2018 Dell XPS 13 laptop, which uses blueish-white illumination for the keys on the white model, making the keys harder to view unless you’re in a pretty dark spot.
The Synapse utility also lets you decide what the default behavior of the Fn keys should be: does just pressing F1 toggle the mute key? Or do you need to hit Fn+F1?
One nice touch is that if you press the Fn key, all the keys except for special function keys will dim, effectively highlighting the top row of keys and the arrow keys in the lower-right corner, (which also serve as home, end, page up, and page down keys when you hold down the Fn key… even though they aren’t labeled as such).
Things get more interesting if you delve into the Chroma Configurator, which lets you create custom layouts for apps and games. Want the W, A, S, and D keys to be a different color than everything else on the keyboard, making them stand out so you can find them easily with a quick glance? No problem. Same goes for the arrow keys, numbers row, and Fn keys.
Or you can just click on picture of a keyboard to select the specific keys you want to change, and assign a color or pattern (you can just make two or three keys ripple in a “fire” pattern, for example.
If that all seems a little overwhelming, there are a couple of presets that you can use to choose common key patterns. Presets include FPS (first person shooter), MMO (massively multiplayer online), MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), and RTS (real-time strategy) games.
Some developers have also used Razer’s SDK to build support for Chroma keyboards into their games, allowing you to use custom keyboard color schemes for specific titles.
The Synapse app also lets you create custom macros for triggering specific actions using the Chrome keyboard.
Overall, the keyboard offers a pleasant typing experience with decent key travel and an intuitive layout. There are special function keys for common options including volume, display brightness, and keyboard illumination brightness, as well as a few slightly less common options including media play/pause, next track, and previous track.
My only complaint is that while the touchpad is dead center in the middle of of the laptop, its right edge extends a little more than a key space to the right of the space bar. That means when I’m wresting my hands on the palm rest and typing, my left palm hovers a bit over the right side of the touchpad… and occasionally swipes it, causing the cursor to jump.
That means that in the middle of typing, I sometimes find that I’m writing in the wrong place, or overwriting text I’ve already entered. Reducing the touchpad sensitivity in the Windows touchpad settings doesn’t seem to help, but over the past few weeks I’ve gotten in the habit of lifting my right thumb a little higher and I haven’t had as many problems.
You may or may not have the same keyboard issue, and you may or may not find that once you get used to typing on the Razer Blade Stealth it starts to feel like a non-issue. But it was something that bugged me for the first week or so that I used the laptop.
Otherwise the touchpad is pretty nice. It’s large, responsive, and supports taps, clicks, and multitouch gestures.
In front of the keyboard is a small cutaway that creates a little space that you can grip when the laptop lid is closed, making it easy to lift the Blade Stealth’s lid with one hand.
Above the keyboard is a power button that doesn’t glow or do anything special to let you know when it’s been pressed. You have to wait for the screen to come on to figure out if the computer noticed you pressing the power button. And since it can take a few seconds for the screen to come on, it’s not always clear if what you’re waiting for will happen… so I typically just press and hold the power button for a second or two instead of quickly tapping it.
And to the left and right of the keyboard are stereo speakers which face up toward the user. While I have yet to find a 13.3 inch or smaller notebook with speakers that offer much bass, the placement of these speakers gives you louder, clearer sound than you’ll find from most notebooks this size.
In terms of raw horsepower, the Razer Blade Stealth has one of Intel’s most powerful 15 watt processors to date. The Core i7-8550U is a quad-core processor with a base clock speed of 1.8 GHz, boost speeds up to 4 GHz, and Intel UHD 620 graphics with hardware-accelerated 4K video decoding support.
But this is still an ultra-low-voltage processors, so it won’t offer the same kind of performance you’d get from one of Intel’s new hexa-core Coffee Lake-H processors. And the processor isn’t the only thing that affects performance. The display, memory, and storage also play a role.
Maybe that’s why the Dell XPS 13 with a Core i5-8250U processor came out ahead in some of the benchmarks I ran recently. It has a lower-resolution display, and according to CrystalDiskMark, it also has a slightly faster SSD.
For example, the Dell laptop eked out slightly higher scores in the PCMark and Street Fighter IV benchmarks, which measure general purpose performance, and gaming performance, respectively. The Dell laptop also came out ahead in four different 3DMark graphics/gaming tests, including Time Spy, Fire Strike, Cloud Gate, and Sky Diver.
The scores aren’t much different. But the fact that the XPS 13 consistently got higher scores despite having what Intel positions as an inferior processor is telling.
That said, the Razer Blade Stealth did come out on top in my Liliputing benchmarks: it was slightly faster at transcoding an audio file using WinLame, creating a ZIP archive from 2,186 files, and transcoding a video using the outdated app VirtualDub with the Xvid codec (a test I only continue to run because it gives me a basis for comparing modern hardware with machines I tested nearly a decade ago).
Dell regained the edge though when I fired up a more modern video transcoding tool: I was able to compress a video file in 35 seconds on the Dell XPS 13 that took 42 seconds to transcode using the Razer Blade Stealth.
Oddly my 2016-era Acer Aspire S13 with a 6th-gen Intel Core i7-6500U beat both of those laptops, taking just 30 seconds to do the job.
In terms of day-to-day performance, you probably won’t notice much difference between any of these laptops when it comes to common tasks.
They’re all more than fast enough for basic activities including editing documents, web browsing, or light gaming. The extra RAM in the Razer Blade Stealth could come in handy if you’re doing some heavy-duty multitasking or editing large videos or other files.
I did try spend some time playing a few games, including StarCraft II and Mr Shifty. Both ran well on the laptop, but that’s not surprising since neither of those titles is really a resource hog that requires discrete graphics. I’ve been able to run them on other computers with Intel HD integrated graphics as well.
But based on my experience, the Razer Blade Stealth has better speakers, has a less noisy fan, and has a nicer display than the other notebook models mentioned above (with the caveat that the high-res screen can cause problems with some apps that aren’t optimized for displays with high pixel densities).
Wireless performance is also pretty good, and the Razer Blade Stealth comes with the Killer Control Center pre-installed, giving you tools to analyze WiFi performance or decide which apps should take priority over others. That’s something you don’t often see on non-gaming computers.
If the Razer Blade Stealth has one weakness though, it’s battery life. I rarely managed to get more than 5 hours of run time out of the laptop’s 53.6 Whr battery.
That’s a far cry from the 9 hours Razer’s promotional materials say you can expect. No wonder the company sells an optional 12,800 mAh Razer Power bank accessory that you can use to recharge the laptop (or other gadgets) on the go. That external battery will set you back $150, and the last time I checked it was out of stock.
Razer also notes that you’ll probably get better battery life if you use a static color for the backlit keyboard rather than the animated effects. That’s what I’ve been doing most of the time I’ve used the laptop, and I’m still only getting around 5 hours of battery life.
Or if you want to be even more extreme about it, there’s an option in the Synapse utility that lets you automatically disable keyboard lighting altogether whenever the laptop is running on battery power or just when the battery level drops below a certain percentage.
Synapse also has a power control option that lets you choose between a “balanced” performance mode and a “battery saver” mode that disables the keyboard and adjusts other power settings for longer battery life.
That’s all rather disappointing for a laptop that sells for between $1500 and $2100. Lithium Ion batteries have a nasty habit of degrading over time, so after using the notebook for a few years you’ll probably see the battery life decline by at least an hour or two.
It’s not unusual to see gaming laptops that get less than stellar battery life. But this particular Razer laptop is really a general purpose PC first, and a gaming machine second. So it’s a little disappointing that it doesn’t provide all-day battery life. If you’re not going to buy an external battery pack, you might want to pack the power adapter before taking the notebook out for a day on the town.
The Razer Synapse software that lets you control keyboard lighting, macros, and other settings requires you to sign up for an account and stay logged in. While I suppose it’s nice to be able to backup your settings to the cloud and keep them synchronized across devices, it’s a bit annoying that the only way to access those settings is to create a Razer user account.
Or at least that’s true if you’re using Windows 10. But you don’t need to use Windows 10.
Loading Ubuntu or another operating system on the computer is as simple as plugging in a USB stick with the operating system of your choice loaded on it and hitting F12 when the computer first boots to get a menu that lets you choose to boot from the flash drive.
You can also hit Del at the boot screen to enter the BIOS menu (which lets you disable secure boot or adjust other settings), or press F9 to enter recovery mode.
While I didn’t install Ubuntu to the internal storage, I did take a liveUSB image for a spin. When running Ubuntu from a flash drive, I had no difficulty connecting to my WiFi network, streaming videos from YouTube, installing apps, or using keyboard shortcuts to control screen brightness, volume, and the backlit key brightness, among other things.
Razer doesn’t offer a version of its Synapse utility for Linux, but there is an open source application called OpenRazer that gives you some of the same features including support for keyboard lighting effects, macros, and more.
The Razer Blade Stealth is an attractive laptop with decent performance, an excellent display, a decent selection of ports (if you can live without an Ethernet jack), and above-average speakers.
It’s also the only laptop I’m aware of that weighs less than 3 pounds and has a keyboard with customizable RGB lighting.
That alone might make this laptop worth considering if you’re in the exact niche I believe Razer is targeting: people who want the portability of an ultrabook on the go, but a keyboard designed for gaming (or coding, video editing, or other tasks where custom colors could help make the keyboard more useful).
This is a laptop you can take to class, work, or a coffee shop without much
though: at 2.9 pounds, you’ll barely even notice it’s in your bag. But if you buy an external graphics dock you can use it with a high-performance AMD or NVIDIA GPU to do some serious gaming when you’re at home.
Unfortunately the disappointing 5 hours of battery life makes this a less-than-ideal system for digital nomads. And honestly, the 16GB of RAM might be overkill for folks who don’t plan to use this laptop for gaming. For the first time ever, I find myself kind of wishing a PC maker would offer users the option to buy a model with less RAM.
The Razer Blade Stealth with a Core i7-8550U processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 3200 x 1800 pixel display sells for $1500 and up. But I can’t help wondering
what Razer would charge for a model with a Core i5-8250U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 1920 x 1080 pixel display.
A model with those specs might offer better battery life and several hundred dollars in savings. And that would probably be enough for me to seriously consider buying a Razer Blade Stealth if I were in the market for a new laptop.
But this isn’t a notebook aimed at value-oriented shoppers. It’s a notebook for folks who want sturdy build quality, distinctive design, and premium features like 16GB of RAM, PCIe NVMe storage, a QHD+ display, and Razer’s Chroma keyboard. And it’s for folks who are willing to pay a premium price for those features.
I just wish that premium price tag also bought you longer battery life.
Thanks again to Razer for loading Liliputing a Blade Stealth laptop to review.
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