The Razer Blade 15 is my Moby Dick the mythical beast that I’ve been chasing all my life and for the strangest reason, it is the one laptop that has never crossed my review desk. But at long last, I’ve finally got one of these gorgeous, black, gaming MacBooks.
Razer was the first Windows laptop to effectively mimic Apple’s excellent unibody construction and top-notch build quality. So what you get is a skinny yet extremely powerful piece of kit.
But in the the last few years since this new Blade 15 design debuted, other manufacturers have caught up with some seriously good laptops to match. The Asus Zephyrus line, the MSI GS65 Stealth or the Alienware m15 with its beautiful Legend design are just a few that come to mind. So, I was so excited to see if the newly refreshed Blade 15 was truly as mythical as I’ve always imagined it to be. Breathe.
Ok, lets go.
Razer Blade 15 Base Edition Review
There are two things I immediately noticed about the Blade 15 Base when I took it out of the box. The first is its gorgeous unibody design. The Blade 15 is undoubtedly the MacBook of gaming. The black anodised finish looks and feels rich. I feel like you need to be wearing a black turtle neck and designer turtle shell rimmed glasses when you own this machine.
Yes, you do feel quite elite holding this machine. Well, at least until the familiar green snake-headed Razer logo starts glowing for all to see and the illusion of professionalism is somewhat broken and then everyone knows you’re really a gamer.
But the second thing that stood out for me(and not for good reasons) is the two enormous rubber feet on the base. These rubber strips are positioned on opposite ends of the undercarriage. They jut out like sore thumbs and in my unscientific observation are about 3mm tall which doesn’t seem like much but trust me, it is.
These feet give the Blade 15 enough clearance for airflow but they are absurdly odd and tacky when compared to the sleekness of the rest of the laptop. What’s worse is that they quickly become uncomfortable when you use the Blade 15 on your laps – digging into your legs.
There’s another minor problem with these legs. They force you to hold the laptop in a peculiar position especially when it’s open. If you hold it from the sides, you’ll often end up pressing against the rear exhaust fans which makes them grind from the friction. It freaked me out enough times to know not to hold the laptop one-handed. Didn’t want to send back a broken review unit, am I right?
Now when you open up the lid, the similarities to the MacBook continue; albeit in much sexier black finish. The interior is all black with the keyboard sitting nice and snug in the middle of the chassis with two speakers on either side. The power button is cleverly disguised at the top of the right-hand speaker and I almost missed it the first time around. I’m saddened that a machine as pricey as the Blade 15 doesn’t come with a fingerprint scanner or Windows Hello as standard.
Tap those keys
Anyways, the keyboard is a chiclet-style and has some travel but not too much. If you’ll forgive the MacBook comparison (because the Blade 15 is so similar in design) the keys here are just a bit better. They have greater travel and tactility but I do wish they had more. You will need some adjustment time to get used to the positioning – something about the size and spacing of the keys.
The keys also feel dainty – like you could easily dislodge or break a key with your button mashing. I was never too confident banging the keys as I do on other laptops. This was especially apparent in the heat of playing Destiny PVP matches where I felt hamstrung because of that odd sensation. This keyboard seems to be designed for those with a light touch but if I had more than a week with it, I’m sure I would get used to it.
Putting that aside, The Blade 15 has one of the best looking keyboards on a laptop. A big part of that is the font choice and excellent Chroma lighting(it wouldn’t be a Razer otherwise). Sadly it’s only single zone and not per key – that’s reserved for the Advanced model.
This means the entire keyboard is lit with the same colour and you only get five colour profiles. I think this is unacceptable for a laptop costing well above $3000. At least the key labels are all clearly lit unlike with the Gigabyte AERO where the secondary key functions don’t.
Best Windows trackpad, period.
The trackpad though is undoubtedly the best I’ve used on a Windows laptop yet. My gold standard for touchpads is, yes you guessed it, the MacBook’s and Razer has done an amazing job coming close. It starts with its generous size. Unlike many other laptops, Razer uses a large glass trackpad that’s almost a third the width of the entire keyboard deck.
It’s a Windows precision pad with great response and gestures. It’s also one giant clickable button but you can lightly tap it for your usual clicking actions. I feel Apple’s haptics give a much better tactile feel but I am very happy with what Razer has achieved with their touchpad.
The two speakers on either side of the keyboard look slick and sound pretty decent. You won’t get earth-shattering bass but the sound is relatively full-bodied without that tinny sound most laptop speakers are known for. These will work fine for a movie or Spotify but if you want better sound, use headphones. Thankfully, there’s a 3.5mm headphone/ microphone combo jack on hand for that very purpose.
4K OLED is dreamy
But the real star is the 15.6-inch display. Our unit has the absolutely, drop-dead gorgeous 4K OLED display. The display, being OLED, boasts perfect contrast with the inkiest blacks you can get on a display. But it doesn’t stop there. It’s also HDR400 certified with 100% DCI-P3 colour coverage which makes everything look just eye-popping gorgeous. I gushed about the display on the Gigabyte AERO 15 OLED and this one is similarly great.
Whether you are browsing the web, typing Word docs or playing Ori and the Will of Wisps, everything and I mean everything looks amazing. Once you’ve gone OLED, it’s really hard to go back to LCD. Sure, it’s only 60Hz but at 4K, you won’t find any GPU that can run games at 60FPS high settings anyway.
Nonetheless, with that infinite contrast, colours pop and are super vibrant. Feed it the right HDR content and your mind will be blown. You typically see these things on massive 65-inch TV’s but having it on your laptop never gets old. Its a beautiful display and if you are serious about design, photography or video, this is the one you need.
Intel can’t keep up
Good looks aside, how the laptop performs is what really matters. The unit I have is the Base model with the new Intel Core i7-10750H, 16GB of system memory and a 512GB SSD – which I still think is rather paltry for a machine this premium. Just install three AAA games and you’re basically done for space.
I ran the Blade 15 Base through our benchmark suite and I was underwhelmed at the performance. It’s not bad but when you live in a world where the Asus TUF A15 with its AMD Ryzen 4800H processor exists for almost a $2000 less, you begin to question the choice to go with Intel. The Blade 15 was almost 2000 points slower than the TUF in Geekbench and Cinebench.
It’s honestly terribly embarrassing.
For graphics, our unit is sporting the new NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 Super Max-Q. These new chips boast about 10-20% more performance over the regular variants. My 3DMark TimeSpy and Firestrike results were similarly somewhat underwhelming but I attribute that to the i7-10750H. Now, benchmarks are one thing but how about actual games? Well, look at the results for yourself.
1080p gaming is excellent with only Shadow of the Tomb Raider dropping below the sweet 60fps but that was with RTX on. Interestingly, Metro Exodus was still able to hit 65fps with RTX on so clearly SoTR still needs some driver optimisation. 4K was a whole other ball game. The best you can hope for is a consistent 30fps for a console-like experience and the Blade was able to achieve that.
You would do well to turn down the settings a little bit for a better 40-50fps which is in my book, acceptable. If you are a competitive gamer though, pick the FullHD screen with 300Hz refresh.
Now, this performance also comes with heat and noise and the Blade 15 does a great job at keeping heat in check. The Base model doesn’t have the fancy Vapor Chamber but still manages to keep the overall chassis pretty cool. Despite hitting CPU temperatures of 90C, the Blades keyboard deck remains shockingly cool.
The design of the cooling shoots the hot air out from underneath the laptop – which explains the tall feet I talked about earlier. I really like that there’s no heat gushing out the sides of the laptop so your hands won’t get burned while using an external mouse. However, this also means you can’t do serious gaming on your laps unless you want to cook your thighs and compromise the airflow.
Great connectivity, not so great battery
Speaking of creators, it’s not just the colour-accurate screen that will be of benefit. The Blade 15 Base has all the ports you can possibly need with one big exception – MicroSD card reader. I can’t understand why it’s not here besides just driving customers to the more expensive Blade 15 Advance models. The Base certainly isn’t lacking space – I mean it even has a second SSD bay which the Advance doesn’t have. But otherwise, you’ve got plenty of USB Type-A ports, Thunderbolt 3, USB Type-C and HDMI 2.0 for video output. You also have Gigabit Ethernet and WiFi 6 built-in.
All these wonderful components and beautiful screens demand a lot of power. Alas, I was really disappointed with the battery life on my review unit. Under normal circumstances involving light web browsing, emails and writing, the Blade 15 Base battery ran down in under 2 hours. This was really surprising and I may have had a lemon. I also did a video rundown test which involves running a 720p MP4 in a loop with the laptop at 50% battery, WiFi and Bluetooth off.
The Blade 15 base managed only 4 hours. The Blade 15 base has a 65Whr battery while the Advance model has an 80Whr despite being thinner. This is a huge weakness given that a machine this light and portable should be able to live on battery for at least 6 hours. As it is now, you’ll need to keep that 230W power brick nearby. Thank God it’s a nice power brick – it’s slim and unassuming with a gorgeous braided cable that ends in a proprietary lead. It’s frustrating that in mid-2020, Razor laptops aren’t using USB-C for charging but fingers crossed we’ll have that next year.
The Razer Blade 15 Base with 4K OLED display will set you back $4299 in Australia. That’s a lot of money and I’m not convinced that you are getting your money’s worth. Sure, you can get a cheaper configuration but even the cheapest will set you back at least $3400. That’s still $600 more than the top-spec Asus Zephyrus G14. The Blade 15’s unibody is extremely well built and that 4K OLED screen is a dream to work on but that’s not enough of a differentiator to warrant the huge premium.
This is especially more so when you factor in the performance of the Intel chipsets compared to the cheaper AMD’s Ryzen systems. I’ve been pining for the Blade 15 for years and I’m gutted that it didn’t live up to my expectations. Is it a bad laptop? Not by miles.
Is it a great laptop? Not quite – and therein lies the problem. At this price point, it needs to be as close to perfect as it can be and it’s sadly not. Furthermore, there are just too many fantastic laptops that cost half as much which makes this a very hard sell.
The Razer Blade 15 was loaned to PowerUp! for this review.