Razer has been producing its Blade series of notebooks for several years now. The Stealth is their first notebook to not have a dedicated graphics card. However, that doesn’t mean the Stealth won’t eventually find its way into the hands of gamers. The Razer Core, which we previewed at CES this year and is not yet available at the time we wrote this review, accepts any full-size desktop graphics card, and can be used to turn the Stealth into a full-fledged gaming machine.
That said, we’ll be reviewing the Blade Stealth as just an Ultrabook. It’s well-equipped. with a 4K display, Intel Core i7 dual-core processor, 256GB SSD, and 8GB of RAM. Among the Stealth’s many highlights are its elegantly simple design, and individually RGB backlit keyboard. However, its below par battery life and loud cooling fan hurt its overall value proposition as an Ultrabook. At $1,399 as tested, it’s also far from inexpensive.
The Razer Blade Stealth is a portable Ultrabook with the promise that it can be more.
The Blade Stealth’s beautifully simple design is its main attraction. It’s actually quite spartan in appearance, with no radical curves or outlandish design elements. The corners are rounded off without being overly rounded. The palm rest and underside are devoid of any stickers, emblems, or logos. The back of the lid has two slight ridges going down its middle, with the green backlit Razer logo between. Before you notice any of that, however, you’ll probably be double-taking at the Stealth’s 0.52 inch thin chassis. It weighs just 2.75 pounds, as well. The rest of the Stealth measures 12.6 by 8.1 inches. This makes for a slightly larger footprint than the Dell XPS 13 or the new Dell Latitude 13 7000 series even though both of those Dells include a slightly larger 13-inch display. When equipped with a touch display, however, the Razer manages to be 0.15 pound lighter. There’s no doubt that this machine is meant to be carried. Without exception, everyone we showed this notebook to felt the need to pick it up and tote it around the room. For this reason, we’re genuinely disappointed that the Stealth lacks a lock slot.
We normally save keyboard remarks for the keyboard section, but the Stealth’s keyboard is so integral to its design that we’re obligated to share a few words about it here. The Chroma keyboard, as Razer calls it, has the most brilliant backlighting we’ve seen, with laser-sharp text that looks fantastic. Each individual key is capable of being set to any one of 16.8 million colors – or set to cycle through all of them. In the dark, the black keys look invisible, and all you’ll see are the letter outlines.
The design is simple black with only the Razer logo drawing attention.
The Stealth is available only in black. The chassis exterior is all aluminum. It’s one of the most solid-feeling notebooks we’ve tested. The chassis exhibits no flex, and is especially resistant to twisting. The lid is also highly resistant to flexing. The display hinge has sufficient torque to keep it from wobbling when you touch the screen, or walk around with the display open. It still allows the display to be opened one-handed, provided you don’t yank it. The front of the chassis has a cutout in front of the touchpad where you can easily open the lid with your fingers. The hinge design prevents the lid from folding back more than 45 degrees past vertical.
Our only design critique is the relatively thick display bezel. It detracts from the overall modern look, especially next to the Dell XPS 13. It’s otherwise difficult to find fault with the Blade Stealth’s appearance.
One of the Stealth’s downsides is its lack of DIY internal upgrade options. The chassis is sealed. We didn’t open it up, but the specs say it uses an M.2 format SSD, which is theoretically upgradeable. The memory (RAM) is of the LPDDR3 variety, and soldered to the motherboard, as is the processor. Later in the performance section, we’ll discuss the Razer Core, and how it can be used to expand and dramatically upgrade the Blade Stealth’s graphics capabilities.
Input and Output Ports
The Blade Stealth has a limited but useful port selection. It’s too thin to fit larger ports, like Ethernet and VGA. On the left, you’ll find the combo USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port, a standard USB 3.0 port, and the headphone and microphone combination jack. The remainder of the ports is on the right side, where you’ll find the second and final USB 3.0 port and the HDMI 1.4b out. The USB-C port doubles as the power jack. As we noted, we would have liked to see Razer include a cable lock slot for those people concerned about the physical security of their notebook. In addition, the lack of a media card reader in any 13-inch laptop is a disappointment.
Screen and Speakers
The Blade Stealth is available with two 12.5-inch display choices. The model we’re reviewing has the top-tier 4K display. Razer specs it with 100% Adobe RGB coverage, making it a viable choice for color sensitive work, like photo editing. The base QHD+ display has 70% Adobe RGB coverage by comparison. That’s still well above average.
The “4” in 4K is there to indicate the display has four times the pixels of a standard 1080p (a.k.a. full HD) display. The resolution is 3,840 by 2,160 pixels. Four 1,920 by 1,080 pixel images could be tiled without resizing inside this 4K display. The pixels are so small that it’s about impossible to see them with the naked eye. It’s wonderful for high-resolution multimedia, but be wary of older software that doesn’t support the scaling technology in Windows. Without it, the program’s menus and text will be one-quarter of the size they’d be in a normal 1080p display – unreadable, in other words. This isn’t a fault with the Blade Stealth, but rather something to keep in mind when opting for such a high resolution. The Stealth’s standard QHD+ display has a 2,560 by 1,440 resolution, which still requires scaling, but would be friendlier to older apps that don’t support scaling.
The 4K display’s image quality is outstanding. It’s bright to the point where we found ourselves setting it to one-third in darker environments. The panel itself is an indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) panel. On paper, IGZO is thinner, lighter, and requires less power than in-plane switching (IPS) panels, while providing comparable image quality. Like IPS displays, IGZO allows for 170-degree wide viewing angles. The image on the screen will look the same regardless whether you look at it from head-on or an angle. All of the Stealth’s display choices support touch. The glossy surface makes for smooth finger tracking, although that comes at the expense of reflections in well-lit areas. The display looks like a mirror when it’s off.
The Stealth’s speakers are located on either side of the keyboard, behind dedicated speaker grilles. It’s refreshing to see them not buried inside the chassis, as is the case with most Ultrabooks. The speaker location works well, since your hands won’t block the sound while typing. Furthermore, the Stealth’s ability to project sound isn’t dependent on the surface it’s sitting on, as it would be with internally-located, downward-firing speakers. The quality of these speakers is quite impressive, with relatively full sound and measurable bass. They’re distortion-free all the way up to maximum volume, no doubt due to very clever tuning. There’s enough sound to entertain a few people sitting around a table. This is an excellent setup for a notebook this size.
The Chroma keyboard lighting looks great … but we can’t say the same about how the keyboard feels.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The Blade Stealth has a Chiclet-style keyboard. Calling this keyboard merely backlit would be doing a grave injustice. The Chroma keyboard, as Razer terms it, has a brilliant appearance. The text is exceptionally sharp and bright. The keys are individually RGB backlit. Each can be set to display your choice of 16.8 million colors. The Chroma Configurator, available in the pre-installed Synapse software, allows you to design your own backlighting. The keys can be individually set, or set in groups, such as the arrow keys, WASD cluster, number keys, and function row. Lighting patterns can be set, including wave, ripple, and breathing. Our favorite was spectrum cycling, which imperceptibly cycles through all of the available colors. Multiple effects can be set in layers. Remember, you can do all of the just-mentioned effects on a per key basis if desired. You can then save the profile in the software.
The key layout is satisfactory. The keys are all full size, except for the up and down arrows, and the function row. The Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down keys are embedded as secondary functions in the arrow key cluster, requiring the Function (Fn) key in conjunction to activate. We prefer to see these as dedicated keys. Using the Syanpse software, however, you could map any key to be any key you want.
Tactile feedback is where the Stealth’s keyboard literally falls short. The key throw distance is so minimal that it robs the keys of the opportunity to provide meaningful feedback. The typing experience is rather lifeless as a result, as if you’re merely tapping plastic squares. Over a few hours, we were able to get accustomed to the nearly non-existent feeling, though our yearning for more didn’t diminish. There’s no keyboard flex; we’re not sure how there could be any in a notebook this thin. The keys are also very quiet to press, a definite plus. Moreover, the keys have a pleasant anti-slip surface coating.
The large trackpad is set dead center in the palm rest. It takes up the entire vertical distance between the front of the chassis and the keyboard. There are no dedicated buttons; simply press down to produce a click. The clicks make more noise than we like to hear, but have a reasonable amount of feedback. The smooth surface is easy to track across. The trackpad’s border is also well defined. All of the Windows 10 multi-touch gestures are supported.