For those who have always argued that tablets will never be legitimate gaming platforms (me), the Razer Edge seeks to quiet all the naysayers. And Razer might be able to do just that, because the Edge is a great idea in that it solves the biggest issue of gaming on a tablet: the lack of physical controls. But while we were definitely impressed after spending some time with it here at CES, we think that it needs just a little more work in terms of execution.
The Edge is actually just a regular Windows 8 tablet on its own, but it can be docked into and purchased with a set of controls (which Razer refers to as "mobile console mode") that gives players a familiar control scheme, at least for the most part. The controls are mounted on two grips that jut out from the side of the docking frame for the tablet, and they include dual thumbsticks, left and right triggers/bumpers, four face buttons on the right side, a d-pad on the left side, and start and back buttons.
The tablet itself was designed well enough, with basic controls like a volume rocker, headphone jack, rotation lock, and power switch on the top edge, along with less conventional features like a USB 3.0 port and a button that pulls up the on-screen virtual keyboard. There was also a Windows Start screen key in the middle of bezel below the display.
If you're looking more ports, the two other docks that will be available for the Edge -- the keyboard dock and the docking station -- will offer more options. The docking station, for instance, is designed to make the Edge into a home console, so it sports an HDMI port that allows users to hook it up to the TV, and three USB 2.0 ports for other players to plug in controllers for some multiplayer action, all done through the tablet.
But there are subtle differences from what users of regular gamepads (specifically, Xbox 360 controllers) have gotten comfortable with, so it's probably going to take most people a little while to get used to the Edge mobile console control scheme. For instance, I'm used to having the d-pad down and to the right of the left thumbstick, whereas the Edge puts it directly below; not only did I keep missing when I went to reach for it, I found that it was a generally awkward placement because I basically had to shift my hand down to be able to use it comfortably. Meanwhile, the start and back buttons are so low on the grips that they can only barely be reached with the thumbs.
There's also the fact that Razer decided to tack on a second pair of bumpers up on the shoulders of the grips. They can be programmed to perform whatever function you like, which is handy, but because they're placed in the row closest to the user (in other words, the first bumpers your fingers touch when reaching behind the sticks), I constantly found myself accidentally hitting them instead of the regular bumpers. In fact, I initially thought that the regular bumpers were broken, only to find out upon closer inspection that I had been tapping the programmable ones the whole time, which were obviously doing nothing since they weren't mapped.
When I asked a rep about the extra pair of bumpers, he said that it was done in an attempt to follow suit behind Razer's recently updated Xbox 360 controller, the Sabertooth, which sports a similar set up. He made it sound as if they were trying to create some sort of standard for their controllers/control schemes, which struck me as a little odd. I can understand having the extra buttons on the Sabertooth, since the target audience is competitive gamers who may want/need the macros, but I wasn't under the impression that the Edge was targeted at that same kind of audience.
But beyond those issues, I was impressed with how the controls on the Edge felt. The buttons were tight and responsive, the sticks didn't feel loose, the force feedback felt good, and the rounded grips felt comfortable in my hands. I also enjoyed the clever design choice of having two angled slots along bottom edge of the dock so the sound that comes out of the Edge's speakers (which are on the bottom of the tablet) is pointed toward the user.
While I could appreciate the quality of the dock's build, it was perhaps a little too solid, because the Edge paired with its controls is quite heavy. A lot of that is the tablet itself, which was hefty on its own, but when in mobile console mode, I could barely hold the thing up with one hand.
Also affecting the portability of the Edge is its battery life. While it can get up to 6 hours on a single charge when using standard apps, gaming on the Edge knocks its longevity down to a mere one to two hours, according to Razer (which probably means closer to one, given how these estimates are usually a bit generous).
That's the thing: the one edge (get it?) this device has over other products is portability. That's the number one selling point. But when the device is so heavy and has such a poor battery life that you will likely spend most of your time tethered to an outlet, why bother? At that point you might as well play on a real computer, be it a notebook or desktop.
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