Razer Blade Stealth review: ultrabook gets cheaper, more powerful

 

The original Razer Blade Stealth made an impact as a 12.5-inch Windows laptop that seemed determined to match or beat Apple's 12-inch MacBook at every turn — from specs to design to portability to price — and in my opinion it succeeded.

The recently-released refreshed version of the machine pushes the boundaries of the small form factor even further.

The new Stealth looks identical to the old one. Combining a sleek, super-sturdy black metal frame with individually lit RGB keys, it's up to you if you want to keep things stealthy with plain white, green or any other colour keys, or you can go nuts with bright neons, rainbow waves or reactive animations as you type.

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It's a gimmick you usually only see on keyboards and laptops meant specifically for gaming, but it does wonders for productivity too (not to mention aesthetics). For example you can easily set the keys to change their lighting pattern so that every time you open Photoshop your favourite shortcut keys are colour-coded. 

Once again keys are spaced nicely and are comfortable to type on, but only as far as you can expect on such a light and thin ultrabook.

The stealth weighs in at 1.29kg and is a mere 13mm thick, and consequently key travel is shallow enough that long sessions of typing had me feeling some fatigue. The touchpad is a similar story, it feels great and works perfectly but bigger would be nicer. Thankfully the screen is multi-touch so even if you're not packing a mouse you can get around OK. 

Elsewhere you still have the two standard USB 3.0 ports plus a full sized HDMI, and a Thunderbolt 3 port for fast charging, DisplayPort or USB-C devices.

Inside, the machine follows the exact philosophy of its 2016 forbear but with a few slight upgrades in just the right places.

The matte black Stealth is as beautiful (and fingerprint-hungry) as ever.

The matte black Stealth is as beautiful (and fingerprint-hungry) as ever.

It still runs an Intel i7 processor, but this time it's a 7th Gen Kaby Lake chip. It's clocked slightly higher than last year's CPU at 2.7Ghz (turbo to 3.5GHz). Subsequently it also packs integrated Intel graphics (like pretty much all ultrabooks), but it's had a bit of a bump from the HD 520 to the HD 620. All models of the Stealth now come with a healthy 16GB of RAM.

So what does the machine's extra grunt mean in real world terms? Well for starters the Kaby Lake makes this thing a multi-tasking beast, with the ability to handle a number of browser tabs that would have buckled last year's model. All your standard productivity and entertainment tasks — like office software and streaming video — are buttery smooth.

Without a dedicated GPU, an ultrabook is probably not for you if you need to do graphics-intensive work or are looking for a portable gaming station, but within its category the Stealth does very well. If all you want to do is play a few rounds of Overwatch, and you're happy to crank the settings down, there's more than enough grunt here.

In other territories Razer offers a product known as the Core, which fits a standard desktop graphics card and can plug seamlessly into the stealth for serious graphics power when you're at home. Unfortunately there's still no word on when the Core might make it down under.

Overall, the reduction in price and increase in specs has pushed the Stealth to the head of the pack when it comes to small laptops, with the 256GB Stealth weighing up favourably with comparable Dell XPS 13 and MacBook models.

The cheapest XPS 13 model comes with a 7th Gen i7, and it packs half the RAM of the Stealth (8GB) and no touchscreen. Meanwhile the MacBook, also with 8GB of RAM, comes with a much slower Core M3 mobile chipset. 

As with last time, the only real achilles heel of the Stealth is its battery life, which Razer has clearly sacrificed at the altar of more powerful internals. You're looking at eight hours maximum which, to put it bluntly, is below average for this product category. You can kill it in two if you try.

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The company has recently announced a huge battery pack that can charge your laptop and phone, which might boost your Stealth's life to 15 hours, but that kind of defeats the purpose of a super-light laptop.

Being cheaper and more powerful than the competition, the beautiful Stealth represents a great value. But if getting a whole working day out of your lightweight travel computer without plugging in is important to you, this might be a stretch.

 - Sydney Morning Herald

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