The Razer Edge Pro is gaming PC as Transformer, but may have priced itself out of competition
It’s important to ask ourselves what hole a new device will fill while we’re testing it. Razer has a tendency to gleefully ignore that question when releasing new hardware, and the $1,449.99 Edge Pro fails to make a strong usage case for itself. I’m enamored with the hardware, and there are many aspects of it that are frightfully clever, but someone in the comments of our first look asked why they should buy this product instead of a less expensive gaming PC, and I had a hard time coming up with a good response.
I’ve been testing the hardware since my return from the Game Developers Conference, and this is what I’ve found: the Edge succeeds at many of its goals, but I remain unsure that it is selling an experience that many PC gamers want.
The tablet that is a portable gaming console
You can read our last story for things like the base stats, size, and weight of the unit, so I’ll just jump right into things. There is nothing about this system that is portable. The base tablet is heavy enough, but once you add the optional controller, with or without the optional extended battery, you’re looking at a large, heavy gaming system that has a frightfully short battery life. I’ve been playing everything from Black Ops 2 to Skyrim, and I have yet to see the system survive for over two hours while playing a graphically intensive game.
From titles like BioShock Infinite to Dishonored, Skyrim to Crysis 2, I was able to get framerates from 30 to 60 frames per second on Medium to High graphical settings. The Edge Pro did a great job of playing every modern game I threw at it, all the while using graphical settings that put my consoles to shame. Razer is not fucking around with the Edge Pro; this is a powerful, able, and enjoyable gaming PC. Razer also has to be respected for shipping the tablet with no bullshit programs that you'll have to remove. You get Windows 8, Steam, the Razer Launcher, and that's about it. It's hard to find laptops and PCs that aren't weighed down with crap you don't need, and Razer is shipping hardware that is clean and ready to rock.
The design of the tablet is clean but basic, with heat vents, a headphone jack, volume and power controls on the top of the unit and the speakers at the bottom. The Razer logo on the rear of the tablet glows, and the sound coming from the stereo speakers is servicable. I was able to play games with the sound good and loud with minimal distortion, although a decent headset improves things immensely.
There are not enough Windows 8 games that take advantage of the touch screen, so the base tablet isn’t going to cut it for gaming. That means you’ll want to buy the add-on controller, which costs an astonishing $250 and adds a set of analog controllers on either side of the tablets. The buttons and analog sticks feel great, the triggers work well, and I have no major complaints about how everything is laid out other than the general weirdness of keeping your hands on either side of the screen.
The controller also adds both size and weight to an already hefty tablet; I’m not sure how one would fit this into a bag to bring on a plane, and your arms will get tired trying to play a game during lengthy sessions unless you have a good place to rest the weight. You can add a secondary battery to the controller as well, although that will cost you an additional $69.99 and provide “up to” an additional two hours of game time. So with two batteries you could get around four hours of play between charges.
Still, there is something very cool about being able to play fully functional PC games in bed while your spouse reads a book, and I spent more than a few hours whiling away the time in Skyrim with a set of headphones while my kids did their homework in the same room. I couldn’t find a single game in my Steam account that taxed the hardware to its limits, although you’ll need to spend some time tweaking the graphical settings to find a good balance between beauty and frame rate.
That being said, I was able to get all my favorite games to look great and run smoothly, although this was helped by the system’s 1366 x 768 native resolution. That may not hold a candle to the Surface Pro's more impressive 1920 x 1080 display, but it’s plenty sharp for a 10.1 inch screen held a foot and a half or so from your eyes.
The other issue is that Windows 8 simply isn’t designed to be used with a touch screen and a gaming style controller. I was often presented with Steam prompts that I couldn’t deal with using touch or the controller, and was stuck connecting a keyboard.
The built-in Razer Launcher is supposed to help with this issue, but the program didn’t find all the Steam games I had installed, nor did the software keyboard overlay allow me to hit two buttons at once, so I couldn’t navigate some of the menus that popped up on the screen. Razer wants to turn a Windows 8 gaming PC in a tablet form factor into a portable console, but the software just isn’t ready for such things. I’m sure with tweaking and a more robust Razer Launcher things will get better, but Windows does not want to be controlled in this manner quite yet.
The game controller is a neat accessory, but I just can’t get past the price. After paying from $1,000 to $1,450 for the base tablet, you then have to pay $250 for the controller and $70 for an additional battery to get close to an operational portable gaming device. That extra $320 is hard to stomach, especially when you could simply buy a gaming laptop and add a USB controller for a much lower price.
It wouldn’t be quite as self-contained or portable, but the Edge with the controller attached also doesn’t exactly fit in your pocket. Turning a Windows 8 tablet into a portable gaming system with analog controls is a neat trick, and it’s certainly a fun way to play, but I’m not sure there’s a market out there for people who want a strong gaming PC with a self-contained screen and console-style controllers in this form factor. I also don’t see any reason this controller should cost $250, outside of the fact that if you’re in the market for such a thing you could be crazy, and you’re likely less price conscious than other consumers.
The tablet that is your LAN box
The $99.99 docking station is where, as I’ve mentioned before, things get interesting. It’s great fun to set up the docking station with a USB mouse and keyboard and use the screen as a portable LAN box. Games look great on the screen, everything I wanted to run played smoothly, and suddenly I have a system that I can use on the road to play big-kid PC games. This is a system I can throw in a messenger bag, complete with a mouse and keyboard, bring to a hotel, and be playing BioShock Infinite in the evening
The Razer Edge makes your gaming PC portable, and this is an ideal product for travelers who are trying to lighten their load, attend LAN parties, or simply don’t want to give up PC gaming on the road. The entire system is much lighter than a gaming PC with the same amount of power, and you can even use a television or monitor with the HDMI output. The three USB ports could also be used for game pads, so you can bring the tablet and docking station, hook it into your television, and be playing fighting games with your friends wherever you go.
It’s badass, and this is the feature that made me really fall in love with the Edge Pro. The question is why I have to pay an extra $100 for the privilege.
The Edge Pro is an expensive product, and if you’re serious about your gaming you’re going to want the $1,449.99 Pro model for the extra power, RAM, and storage over the $999.99 Edge unit. That price only gets you the tablet, and the $100 docking station is what allows you to rest the screen in an upright position while giving you three extra USB ports and HDMI output.
That is $100 extra for something that could be done with a $5 piece of plastic, and ports that could have been included on the base hardware for very little extra price. Hell, Razer could have dramatically increased the tablet’s value by simply including one more USB port and the HDMI output and a kickstand that allowed the tablet to stand on its own. Selling these basic functions as a $100 add-on seems greedy.
Especially when, once again, one can buy a gaming laptop that can do the same thing for much less money, just with a little added bulk. Razer isn’t competing with other Windows 8 tablets that are designed for gaming, this is a form factor they’ve basically created, but other products that provide the same level of gaming for the same, or much less, price.
Razer will also be offering a $200 keyboard dock later in the year that can hold the $70 extended battery and allow the system to be used very much like a standard laptop… but again, why not just buy a laptop?
An interesting product looking for a market
I love the Razer Edge, and I’ve had a blast playing with it for the past week or so, but now it’s time to send my review unit back and think about what Razer has accomplished. They’ve made a powerful gaming tablet that can be transformed into a portable gaming device, LAN box or traditional game console, or even a laptop with the use of expensive, optional accessories. The system’s ability to chew through its own battery means you’re stuck being plugged in if you want to do any serious gaming.
So what hole in your life would this device fill? If you want a portable gaming PC, you likely already have a laptop. If you want a tablet to do tablet things, you’ll likely look at the less expensive and smaller Android or iOS tablets with their impressive battery lives. There things the Edge can do that a laptop can’t, especially at this weight and size, but you’re paying a large premium for those abilities.
The Razer Edge is a neat product, and I’d love to have a transforming tablet that can take on all these roles, but the price is simply too high. If Razer can find a way to lower the price, or to include more functionality in the base unit, they’re going to have a very attractive product. As it stands, the Edge’s features don’t justify the premium in pricing.
That being said, Razer continues to release weird, impressive, and fun products. I’m glad the Edge exists, and there are companies taking risks with the form factor of the PC. Oddly enough, the Edge Pro has made me research my options for sub-$1,000 gaming laptops now that I've been enjoying PC gaming on the go. Razer made me hungry for the product they are selling, and then priced themselves out of consideration.