Razer's newly revealed gaming tablet gaming concept raised a lot of eyebrows yesterday. Concept images showed a tablet-like device with controller sticks mounted on handles. Some even wondered if those were removable. The unit's specifications had others scratching their heads as Razer claimed it would feature full PC game compatibility with its Intel Core i7 processor. This prototype is unlike any other tablet we've seen, so many didn't know what to think about it.
We got our hands on a running prototype in a meeting with Razer at CES, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since. My jaw fell open at first glance and stayed that way through the entire meeting. Seeing Fiona running popular PC games at high settings was really surprising. You've never seen anything even close to this quality on a tablet. In fact, I'm not even sure this could be called a tablet.
Whatever it is, I want one.
First off, forget those renders. The Fiona prototype is beautiful, and those renders we shared yesterday do it no justice. Razer told us that after a bit of a search they finally found a great company in Taiwan that was able to make high end prototypes that look like final hardware. Razer liked their work so much that they bought the company up. These guys did a fantastic job, as Fiona really is sleek and sexy, and has a great hand feel and balance. It's not heavy at all, and the analog sticks and buttons fall under the fingers naturally. While just about anyone would consider it thick for a tablet, and the side controllers looked a bit odd at first, seeing it in person really impressed.
Here's what really matters for gaming: Fiona is a beast in the hardware department. This isn't some mobile processor running a mobile OS, folks. Razer packed in a third-generation Intel Core i7 to have this machine running a Windows operating system. The rest of the specs are still under wraps, but what they had inside this prototype was enough to have it running Windows 7, and Razer says that the timing is right to have the final unit running Windows 8.
We first saw Space Marine running at high settings, and it ran so well that it took a long time for my brain to register that I was watching play on a tablet machine. Graphically, Fiona performed flawlessly, and with the game's combat controls mapped to the analog sticks and control buttons, play looked just as perfect. After that we saw The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim running on Fiona, started directly from Steam, just as you would on a PC. The game looked beautiful even on "Ultra High" settings, coming in at around 15 to 20 frames a second. On "High," Skyrim could do 50 or more frames a second at 1280 x 800. Seeing this flat, compact device running the game at such high quality was almost unbelievable.
The neat thing about Fiona is that input can come from the controllers, touchscreen or a combination of the two. The 10.1" touchscreen is perfect for simple games and mobile-type experiences, and the analog sticks and buttons are perfect for core games, but Razer is hoping that developers will create hybrid controls for titles for Fiona in the future. The included accelerometers and force feedback are also available for game creators. For now, any game with gamepad support will work on Fiona's controllers, and tablet games will work fine with its touchscreen.
I'm sure some will question the need for a gaming tablet, putting it up against a dedicated gaming laptop. Razer says that they are not looking to replace the gaming PC with Fiona, saying that portable form factor could actually supplement desktop gaming rigs. Keep in mind that with its touchscreen and dedicated controls, the experience is quite different from laptop gaming. I don't know that I'd call Fiona a tablet. While it's relatively thin and features a touchscreen, it's so much more capable. While they're not sharing all of what's under the hood, Fiona looks and plays more like a flat touchscreen PC with dedicated gaming controls, especially with it running Windows 7.
What's important is that the unique in design and function are aimed squarely at gamers, and that it seems to be a dream device for those craving portable PC gaming. It's really a dedicated, portable PC gaming console. I'm sure its ability to run top PC games, dedicated controls and sub $1,000 price tag would have many gamers choosing this over a PC gaming laptop if it were to come to market. I'm looking forward to seeing where Razer goes with this. But for now, as a prototype, Fiona is incredibly impressive. Again, whatever it is, I want one.