Razer Blade (2019) review: Still the cutting edge
“The OLED and 240Hz screen options continue to make the Razer Blade the best gaming laptop you can buy.”
- Beautiful thin and light design
- Robust build quality
- Game performance is impressive
- Excellent keyboard and touchpad
- No Core i9 model
- OLED has poor color accuracy
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The Razer Blade was my favorite gaming laptop of 2018. It wasn’t the most powerful, and certainly not the most affordable, but it was a laptop that could replace both a gaming PC and a MacBook Pro in one device. That felt special.
Razer hasn’t changed up the formula for 2019, but with new display options ranging from 4K OLED to 1080p 240Hz, the Razer Blade is a more advanced gaming laptop than ever before. I tested both new display options. The Razer Blade with 1080p 240Hz display came packing Nvidia’s RTX 2070 Max-Q, while the Blade with 4K OLED display came with the more powerful Nvidia RTX 2080 Max-Q.
Both are expensive, but if you love gaming, and you’re going to pay the big bucks for a gaming laptop, it should be one you’ll love. Will you love the Razer Blade? I think so.
The Blade is still sharp
The design of the Razer Blade is where it shines. The matte black finish, squared corners, and light-up green Razer logo all remain, and make for the sleekest gaming laptop you’ve ever seen. You can find (slightly) thinner gaming laptops, but none look as clean as the Blade. This is exactly what I want in a gaming laptop. My one complaint is how easily it picks up fingerprints. You don’t have to be eating potato chips to leave grease behind.
At 0.7 inches thick and 4.5 pounds, it’s only a tad less portable than the Dell XPS 15. That’s impressive given the beefy graphics card inside. Razer has thickened the chassis ever so slightly from last year, but it’s unnoticeable unless you have the two side-by-side.
Open it up, and the slick design continues to impressive. A 4.9mm narrow-edge bezel surrounds the 15.6-inch display, leaving just enough room up top for the webcam and a subtle Razer logo in the chin. I’m glad Razer left the webcam up top, rather than removing it altogether for even thinner borders, like on the Asus ROG Zephyrus S. The layout of the keyboard deck is carefully considered so that everything feels like it’s in the right place.
Razer’s build quality is second only to Apple’s MacBook Pro.
The OLED model came in black, while the 240Hz model came in the newer “Mercury White” paint. It’s only available in the RTX 2070 model (and costs an additional $50), but the light silver colorway feels refreshing, especially for a gaming laptop. The extra cost is annoying, but if you really want your laptop to blend in with the MacBooks and XPS 13s of the world, the silver is the way to go.
Regardless of what color you choose, Razer’s build quality is second only to Apple’s MacBook Pro. The Blade’s single chunk of machined aluminum is rigid on the edges of the lid and along the keyboard deck. One weak point is the center of the lid, which noticeably gives under pressure.
A healthy array of ports line the perimeter of the laptop. You’ll find USB-A, USB-C Thunderbolt 3, an HDMI port, and mini-DisplayPort. If you want an ethernet port, it’s only available in the “Base Model,” which is a bit thicker and offers only GTX 1060 graphics. The options here provide plenty of room for gaming peripherals, plus a USB-C port for futureproofing purposes. The Thunderbolt 3 port can handle an external graphics card, and of course is compatible is Razer’s Core video card enclosures.
Keyboard and touchpad
The Razer Blade has an outstanding keyboard and touchpad. The touchpad is one of the largest you’ll find, nearly matching the size of the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The extra space looks great and offers plenty of room for things like two-finger pinches or four-finger swipes. The tracking is precise, the texture is smooth, and thanks to Windows Precision drivers, gestures work perfectly. All of that is a rare on a gaming laptop, even in this price range.
The typing experience is impressive, too. Though not as tactile as the mechanical keyboard featured on the Alienware Area-51m or older Razer Blade Pro, the Blade’s keyboard feels responsive and precise.
Razer’s ever-present Chroma RGB lighting has improved this year. It’s as bright and customizable as ever. It’s all easily edited through Razer Synapse, and even comes with an unprecedented fourteen levels of brightness. Now that is meticulous control. On the 2018 Blade, the small symbol under each Function key wouldn’t light up when the function key was held down. Now it does. It was a small annoyance if you were in the dark and didn’t have the exact location of the volume button memorized. Though a subtle change, I like that Razer responded to the feedback.
I do have a couple of hang-ups, though. The layout is an issue. I complain about this with every Razer laptop, but the full-sized arrow keys create a stumbling block for fast typing. The space between the Shift key and the question mark key creates a learning curve. It’s more forgivable here than on the Razer Blade Stealth, since the standard Blade can actually handle games. After a few days of use, I became familiar, but anytime I switched over to a different keyboard, it was another adjustment I had to make.
An infrared Windows Hello camera is a new addition in 2019, placed next to the 720p webcam above the display. It’s a small touch, but proves Razer is serious about making the Blade competitive.
The Blade is still sharp
The two Razer Blades I tested might look similar from the outside, but their displays couldn’t be more different. One is a matte 1080p panel that seems modest at first blush, but with its super-fast 240Hz refresh rate, it’s the option most gamers will want. Most people game at 1080p, and you can enjoy framerates up to 240 FPS without stuttering or skipped frames.
You might scoff at the idea of needing a refresh rate that high. There are few games that can push framerates above two hundred. However, they’re the games that matter most. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, for example, is an esports title where competitive players desire every possible edge they can get on their opponents. That’s where the 240Hz screen comes into play.
The other option is a glossy 4K touchscreen that uses OLED to power to its pixels. It looks incredible. The bright, super-reflective display gives the Blade a luxurious feel, and though the bezels aren’t any thinner, they seem to disappear into the black borders. With a refresh rate of 60Hz, the emphasis here is more on image quality than fast-paced gaming. The OLED panel’s excellent sharpness and contrast are obvious in games, movies, and high-resolution images.
I did notice, however, that the OLED panel had a warm tint to it. The same was true of the OLED screen I tested on the Alienware m15. This could spell trouble for the color accuracy of the OLED Blade, so I measured both models with a Spyder5 colorimeter.
As you can see, the OLED screen has its benefits. Wild contrast ratio. Unmatched black levels. Near perfect color gamut in both sRGB and Adobe RGB. At over 550 nits, it’s the brightest laptop screen we’ve ever tested. The colors are oversaturated, but it makes for one crisp, gorgeous gaming screen.
Wild contrast ratio. Unmatched black levels. Near perfect color gamut. This display looks incredible.
The problem is color accuracy. With an average color error of 5.93, this is not a screen you’d want to edit photos or video on. That’s not true of the standard LED model, which hit a much more acceptable 1.49 average color error. It’s not a problem if you want to use the OLED Razer Blade as a gaming machine, but because it’s locked at 60Hz, you have to put up with a trade-off. Gameplay doesn’t feel as smooth as on the 240Hz model — even at 1080p.
It’s not a great look for the OLED model. If it lacks a high refresh rate for gamers, and also lacks the color accuracy demanded by content creators, who is it for?
No Core i9, but powerful nonetheless
Razer keeps its Blade configuration options very simple. All come with a six-core processor, either the 8th-gen Core i7-8750H or 9th-gen Core i7-9750H. The difference between these processors is marginal, so don’t let it be a significant factor in which Razer Blade you buy. All configurations come with 16GB of dual-channel RAM. Does that add up to impressive game performance?
As I’ve noted in previous reviews, the Razer Blade isn’t the most powerful gaming laptop in the world. In fact, Razer has to hold back these components more than options such as the Predator Triton 500 or Asus Zephyrus M, both of which are thicker and have more vents for cooling. This isn’t noticeable in Geekbench, but in a real-world test video encoding in Handbrake, there’s a difference. The Razer Blade with 4K OLED screen encoded a 420MB 4K clip to H.265 in two minutes and 24 seconds, which was 20% faster than the 240Hz model. While the OLED model is in line with other gaming laptops with similar parts, the 240Hz model falls behind its competitors. The Legion Y740 15 has the same six-core processor and RTX 2070 graphics card yet beat the Razer Blade with 1080p 240Hz screen by 20% in the Handbrake test.
The Razer Blade has a thin, aluminum chassis without many vents, which means cooling will always be a concern.
Razer chose not to include an option for the new Core i9. It’s the most powerful mobile chip Intel has, notable primarily for its eight cores and sixteen threads. I’ve tested the chip in Apple’s MacBook Pro 15 (and it’s coming to the Dell XPS 15), which provided it with a significant boost in multithreaded applications like Premiere and Handbrake. Of course, the Razer Blade has more muscle in the graphics department, but for tasks like video encoding and editing, those two extra cores go a long way.
All configurations of the Razer Blade come with the same, fast storage option, a Samsung PM981 M.2 SSD. This ranks among the fastest SSDs we’ve tested in a gaming laptop. The Blade averaged well over 1500 MB/s in read and write speeds in CrystalDisk Mark. File transfers were quick and tasks like opening apps happen at a snap.
You won’t find a faster SSD in a gaming laptop, but even if you want to upgrade it to something with more capacity, storage is accessible via the single removable panel. I do, however, wish there were larger storage configurations available. 512GB is enough to install several games, but some gaming laptops now offer up to 2TB in top configurations.
Buttery smooth gaming
I’ve now tried out the two primary graphics solutions for the current Razer Blade: The 2070 Max-Q and 2080 Max-Q. These are the most powerful mobile GPUs right now. The “Max-Q” designation means they do come with a more restrained thermal profile, though that’s common among gaming laptops in 2019.
I started our tests with 3DMark’s Time Spy. The DirectX12 benchmark is good at offering a solid estimate of how a system will perform at modern 3D games. Here, the two Razer Blades show they’re not the most powerful gaming laptops in the world. The RTX 2080 model is 9% slower than the powerful Triton 500, which features the same graphics card. Against a gaming laptop like the performance-first Asus Zephyrus S GX701, it’s up to 20% behind. I’ve only tested one other gaming laptop with the RTX 2070, the Lenovo Legion Y740 15, and the equivalent Razer Blade was 5% slower.
Do those performance results hold true in actual games? I tested both Blades in four games: Fortnite, Civilization VI, Battlefield V, and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
The 9% lead the Triton 500 has over the OLED Razer Blade is maintained in most games at 1080p with Ultra settings. That Blade’s RTX 2080 ran both 1080p and 1440p at over 60 FPS, though the 60Hz screen is a limitation, wasting the higher framerates this system can output. It’s not that games look bad locked at 60Hz, but when compared to a higher refresh rate, the difference is significant. As for gaming in 4K, I wouldn’t recommend using the native 4K resolution in any of these games outside of Civilization VI. Even the RTX 2080 isn’t quite powerful enough to push that many pixels.
How about the 1080p model with its RTX 2070? Here you see the strength of the high-refresh rate display. Fast-paced games are buttery smooth in 1080p on this display. Even with settings maxed, the 240Hz Blade played Battlefield V at 87 FPS and Fortnite at 116 FPS. The same goes for Civilization VI, where the system admirably gave me over 100 FPS at Ultra. None of the games I tested got anywhere close to using the full capacity of the 240Hz refresh rate, though you might notice the difference in lighter games like Counter-Strike or Rocket League. The closest competitor we’ve tested is the Lenovo Legion Y740 15, which will get you around 8% better framerates using the same graphics card.
Like most laptops, both versions of the Blade struggled with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Even the OLED model with its RTX 2080 averaged under 60 FPS at 1080p at Ultra High. The game is unplayable in 4K, even with lowered settings.
All the hardware is cooled by the same vapor chamber thermal solution Razer has used for the past couple of years. While it does warm up (and spin up the fans) during gameplay, the Blade does a good job of keeping the heat away from the WASD position. As has always been an issue with the Razer Blade, surface temperatures in the palmrests get warmer than I’d prefer, even when it’s at near-idle. Internal temperatures never had me concerned even under heavy load. The Razer Blade continues to provide the balance of performance, thermals, and compact design I prefer.
Decent battery life, depending on the use case
I don’t expect a laptop with a six-core processor and powerful GPU to achieve great battery life. If it has a 15-inch, 4K OLED screen, I expect even less. That’s why I was surprised to see the Blade retain its better-than-average endurance in our tests – with a couple of hiccups along the way.
Let’s start with the 1080p 240Hz Blade. I didn’t anticipate a major difference in battery results with this model compared to the unit I reviewed earlier this year. The only changes are the faster refresh rate and the bump from 8th-gen to 9th-gen processors. However, battery performance suffered in our web browsing test. With the screen set to 100 lux, the Razer Blade only lasted a couple of hours. That’s a bad sign, as it’s the test that most closely resembles casual usage. I reached out to Razer about why this particular Blade might be lacking here but haven’t yet received a comment back.
It did, however, fare better in video playback, where it lasted over six and a half hours with a local 1080p video on loop. That’s an hour better than the ROG Zephyrus M, and many hours better than gaming laptops with G-Sync screens.
The real surprise was the battery performance of the OLED Blade. It ran the same web browsing test for over six hours. That’s not quite a full work day, but for a 4K gaming laptop, it’s quite impressive. I haven’t tested a 4K LED Blade as an apples-to-apples comparison, but in darker images, OLED screens can help with battery life thanks to their ability to switch off pixels completely.
The OLED Razer Blade is a beautiful laptop, but it’s not one that has a clear use case. That makes it hard to recommend. Fortunately, the 240Hz 1080p Razer Blade is an astounding gaming laptop with a beautiful design, a fast screen, and excellent game performance.
Is there a better alternative?
When it comes to gaming laptops, your options are nearly limitless. The MSI GS75 Stealth (or 15-inch MS65) is similar to the Razer Blade in its design, but its build quality, keyboard, and touchpad aren’t as good.
A solid alternative is the Acer Predator Triton 500. Performance is slightly better than the Razer Blade, and it accomplishes that without having a bulky or gaudy design. It’s not as refined as the Razer Blade, but the cheaper price provides a better framerate-per-dollar value.
If you’re looking for an alternative to the OLED Razer Blade more as a content creation device, the Dell XPS 15 is your best bet. With options for up to an eight-core processor and the same 4K OLED panel, it’ll have the power you need for photo and video editing.
How long will it last?
The Razer Blade should last you more than a few years thanks to its fast components, wide port selection, and excellent build quality. The warranty is nothing special, however. Just a standard one-year warranty. Beyond that, you’ll have to opt in for extra service through RazerCare, which can be added to three years
Should you buy it?
Yes. The 4K OLED model isn’t worth spending on the upgrade, but the 1080p 240Hz model is the best gaming laptop you can buy.
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