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2014 Razer Blade Pro: Only slightly better than last-year's model

Hayden Dingman | July 21, 2014
The 2014 Razer Blade Pro is overshadowed by its smaller compatriot, the 14-inch Razer Blade; but its attractive price-to-performance ratio renders it worthy of consideration.

Like most laptops, the Blade Pro's keyboard uses modified scissor switches, although Razer designed these in-house. The keyboard is not too bad to type on, though the keys have very little travel. The Blade Pro also features N-key rollover, an essential, and now fairly standard feature for gaming keyboards that enables you to hold down as many keys as you want without overloading the computer with input data. The keyboard is also fully backlit, although your only color choice is Razer's eye-searing brand of green.

And then there's SwitchBlade.

The SwitchBlade
The SwitchBlade is the feature that sets the Blade Pro apart from the smaller, lighter Blade. It's essentially a low-resolution, touchscreen display embedded to the right of the keyboard, supplemented by 10 LCD buttons. The screen can display just about anything, and you use Razer's software to map context-sensitive commands to the 10 buttons above it. You can play a game on the primary display, for instance, and watch a YouTube video, browse Twitter, or chat with your Twitch viewers using the smaller display.

It's a very cool concept, but the compromises Razer had to make to build a device that's both a touchpad and a display culminate in an underwhelming experience. The resolution--800x480 pixels--is a far cry from the density we see in modern smartphones. Images look disappointingly fuzzy. And unlike a genuine touchscreen, you can't use the display as a trackpad while SwitchBlade is active (you can use it to control apps displayed on the trackpad, but not the apps displayed on the primary LCD). You must plug in a mouse if you want to take advantage of the SwitchBlade's dual-screen potential.

Actually, I'd recommend using mouse anyway. The secondary display exhibits considerably more friction than a normal trackpad. It's usable, but it's not exactly pleasant. Your fingers drag across the surface, making it difficult to navigate around the screen with any speed or precision. SwitchBlade isn't a bad concept, but it's not as revolutionary as it appears when someone sees it over your shoulder. I'm not convinced compromising trackpad usability for to gain a second display is a worthwhile tradeoff.

Is it for you?
The Blade Pro is a moderately powerful machine designed for the average user, versus the hardcore crowd. While I love a laptop that can run games on the highest settings without a stutter, "normal" gaming laptops are portable in name only. The Blade Pro isn't as fast as those machines, but it's a whole lot easier on my back when I need to hit the road. It's fast enough, and it's beautiful: Strangers will compliment your choice in hardware, as opposed to staring with pity at the horrific monstrosity you've somehow dragged into your lap. Here's hoping Razer gives the 2015 the full makeover it deserves.

 

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