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Razer Blade Stealth (2019) Preview

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Since its debut in 2016, the Razer Blade Stealth has been one of the best ultraportable laptops on the market, a thin and well-designed machine without dedicated graphics hardware for gaming. That last aspect separates it from most of Razer’s laptops, which are made with gaming in mind, like the flagship Blade 15. The new 2019 Blade Stealth, available today starting at $1,399.99, pulls this family into the gaming fold with the option for Nvidia graphics. In addition to the Stealth’s brand-new design and several upgrades to its core features, you can opt for an Nvidia GeForce MX150 chip, turning the Stealth into a casual gaming machine as well as an excellent ultraportable. I was able to get hands-on time with the device prior to today’s announcement; a full review will follow once samples become available.


Some Stealthy Refinements…

While the Stealth was already a thin and sleek machine, Razer decided it was time to refine the design further. The last major change, in 2017, boosted the screen size from 12.5 to 13.3 inches, and for the first time since then, the Stealth is seeing changes big enough to distinguish it on sight from the last version.

The 2019 Stealth is almost imperceptibly thicker (0.58 inch versus 0.54 inch), but it has a smaller footprint (12 by 8.3 inches, versus last year’s 12.6 by 8.1 inches) thanks to some extremely thin bezels. It also weighs a little less, at 2.82 pounds versus 2.98 pounds. It’s made of the same high-quality black anodized aluminum as ever. That chassis feels just as good as, if not better than, the shell on any high-end laptop out there.

The side bezels measure a scant 5mm across. (The top is slightly thicker to allow for a webcam.) That’s just a bit more than 60 percent thinner than the old bezels. Not only do these trimmed bezels allow a screen of the same size to fit into a chassis that takes up less space, but they look a lot sleeker and, frankly, better than before. Like on almost any laptop, thin bezels make a huge aesthetic difference.

Something that you can’t see from the outside: The number of speakers has been doubled, from two to four, making for louder, more robust sound. In addition to the extra speakers, the 2019 Stealth incorporates Dolby Atmos for a superior audio experience that mimics surround sound. This is something I’ve heard in action before, but I got a chance to hear it on the Stealth and, in combination with the additional front-firing speakers, made for solid sound quality that gets pretty loud without being tinny, especially given the size of this laptop.


…and Some More Obvious Improvements

The design differences don’t end there. The shape is much squarer, matching the design language of the flagship Blade 15. At first, I missed the rounded edges of the past Stealth, but the more I handled the machine, the niftier and more modern I thought it looked. Additionally, Razer’s signature neon-green lid logo is no more, replaced by an etched, black-on-black version of the logo. It looks a lot more attractive and mature than the traditional version, which is especially fitting for a general-use laptop that you may want to take everywhere, including into professional settings.

As I discussed with Razer at our preview meeting, I liked the Stealth design of the past, finding it the epitome of a cutting-edge, sleek ultraportable. But seeing it next to the new design, it now looks borderline outdated, between the thin bezels, the new shape, and the altered logo. Pictured below are two samples of the new version, with the previous model on the far right.

A final visual change is a feature that’s been taken away—though Razer notes an upside to this elision. Gone is the per-key-customizable backlighting that the Blade Stealth introduced to Blade laptops, replaced by single-zone lighting. The key lighting is still easily customizable through Razer’s included Synapse software, but the lighting color and effects will change as a whole across the keyboard, as opposed to the past ability to change them for each key.

This is, technically, a downgrade. But, according to Razer, it will enable the Stealth’s battery to last a bit longer. Razer figures that on a system meant to be taken on the road and last long off the charger, the trade-off for what is, essentially, a novelty is worth it. Plus, it makes the lighting look uniform, and the icons on the function-key row can be backlit; the previous state of affairs was an annoyance I noted previously when trying to change the brightness or volume in the dark.

The keyboard still affords a comfortable typing experience, with tweaks having been made to its switches for slightly more tactile and responsive feedback. Also, the glass-topped touchpad is larger than before, and it has Microsoft Precision support for smooth scrolling and gesture capability.


The First Stealth for Gaming

While the Blade Stealth was described in its first years as Razer’s one laptop that isn’t for gaming, that’s no longer technically true. Prior to the 2019 model, the only exception was to connect the Stealth to one of Razer’s external graphics boxes (eGPUs), the Razer Core V2 or Core X. The aforementioned Nvidia GeForce MX150 graphics processor, while a relatively low-power graphics chip taken against Nvidia’s stable of enthusiast GPUs, is a big step up from Intel integrated graphics. We won’t be able to confirm the exact performance you’ll be getting until we can subject a review unit to our full suite of benchmark tests.

That said, based on other experiences with the GeForce MX150, expect gaming performance more on the casual end—around 30 frames per second, at best, on high or maximum settings in any visually demanding game, if likely lower on the toughest titles. Games that don’t feature intensive, realistic visuals will fare better, such as Fortnite and some MOBAs, and that may be exactly the type of game you hope to play on the Stealth. The idea: It’s a sleek ultraportable that can do some basic gaming when you’ve got the time, but it’s still no hardcore gaming laptop.


Configuration Options: Gaming or Non?

The MX150 discrete graphics chip doesn’t come in every 2019 Stealth—you can still purchase a version of the new design that includes integrated (read: not gaming-grade) graphics.

Also among the hardware options is a choice between two display types, starting with the base full HD (1,920 by 1,080 pixels, or 1080p) display with a matte finish. Gone is the previous shiny glass surface for this reflection-dampening alternative, which may be happy news to some. Alternatively, you can jump up to the higher-end 4K display, which has touch support and the glossy glass. This option is aimed at content creators, though I have to point out, this is a relatively small screen for a 4K native resolution.

These graphics and display options are available in your choice of three Stealth models, differentiated by their core components. All three share the Intel Core i7-8565U processor, a power-saving new “Whiskey Lake” 8th Generation CPU with a 1.8GHz base clock speed and a 4.6GHz boost clock. The base model is $1,399.99, getting you integrated graphics, the 1080p display, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD).

The middle configuration, at $1,599.99, nets you the GeForce MX150 graphics, the 1080p display, 16GB of memory, and the same 256GB SSD. Finally, the most expensive model, $1,899.99, combines all of the higher-end features with more storage: the GeForce MX150 graphics, the 4K display, 16GB of memory, and a 512GB SSD.

Outside of those core components are some useful extras, some of which you’d expect in any laptop. The Stealth sports a 720p IR camera with support for Windows Hello, as well as 802.11ac Wi-Fi plus Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless connectivity. For physical connectivity, the chassis has a USB Type-C port with Thunderbolt 3; a 3.5mm combo audio jack; a second USB Type-C port, which supports the system’s charging; and two USB 3 ports.

Razer estimates 13 hours of battery life from the base model, 11 hours from the midrange model, and 8 hours from the high-end model, based on the 53.1-watt-hour battery. The dedicated graphics and higher-resolution display drain the battery faster, accounting for the differences, but I can’t confirm these numbers until I can run our battery test on one of the machines.


The Stealth Gets Slicker

The 2019 Razer Blade Stealth looks to be a smart refinement one of my favorite ultraportables. The design changes are for the better, as it’s a edgier-looking and slightly smaller machine than its predecessor. Even addition by subtraction, in the case of the key-lighting programmability, is likely the right move for a laptop of its kind. Most of all, the option for GeForce discrete graphics can be a game changer for some shoppers looking for a system to take on the road that can do work and some casual gaming.

The new Stealth makes more sense as a product, and fits in with Razer’s gaming roots, for those interested in gaming on a laptop. For everyone else, the new Stealth is shaping up as an even better ultraportable for professional and general use. Check back for a full review, including performance testing, when we get our hands on a unit for review.

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