A View from David Zax
This Modular Tablet Could Be the Future of Gaming – and Computing
Lessons from the Razer Edge, the promising new gaming tablet.
The Razer Edge, a new gaming tablet running Windows 8, sure looks like the future of computing. The key is its modularity–its ability to switch-hit, and switch-hit again, reinventing itself as a handheld gaming device, a tablet, a console, a computer, right before your eyes. CNET calls it, aptly, the “Swiss Army gaming tablet.”
As I wrote back in November, a major frontier for consumer technology is the “nexus where Apple and Nintento meet” (see “Nintendo’s Wii U, Tablets, and Gaming”). As Apple began to branch into console territory–gaining a beachhead on the living room with the Apple TV, and becoming one of the major gaming platforms–and as Nintendo began to branch into handheld computing territory–with its markedly tablet-like Wii U Gamepad–I began to realize that the most forward-thinking company would be the one to marry these two realms in one device.
The Razer Edge does that–for the most part.
Fundamentally, the device is a souped-up 10-inch Windows 8 tablet. It has Nvidia GeForce graphics, a crucial ingredient for any serious gamer, and can come with a Core i5 or i7 processor. In a sense, there’s nothing new there.
What’s new, though, is the device’s supreme modularity. The Edge began its life as a concept design called Project Fiona, which earned laurels at CES 2012. What distinguished Project Fiona were side-mounted controllers, locked onto the device, something like the Wii U Gamepad. But as IGN explains in its report on designing the Edge, the folks at Razer came to feel that permanent side-mounted controllers weren’t the way of the future.
Users loved the idea of a tablet with side-mounted controllers. But they didn’t want them to be on there permanently. It felt weird. They wanted the tablet to be free to roam independently of those controllers, to have a life of its own. “So we started thinking about this idea about how we make it modular and being able to snap different accessories on the tablet,” the company’s senior industrial designer, Francois Laine, said to IGN.
This was a very smart decision. What distinguishes the Edge, the successor to Project Fiona, is the fact that it can wear many hats. The tablet can snap in and out of a GamePad, a casing featuring those two side-mounted controllers, bringing real gaming controls to bear. And the device can dock with a TV, making it double as a console of sorts. A laptop dock is forthcoming, “which will effectively enable you to turn the Edge into a little gaming laptop,” says CNET’s Scott Stein.
Earlier this week, I wrote about Amazon’s vision of a future where your home or college campus might have one solid computing base station, surrounded by countless lightweight portals (lightweight tablets, mostly) that tap into that computing power wirelessly (see “Amazon’s Remote Processing Vision”). But I think, on some level, what many of us want is quite the opposite. What many of us want is to carry around a little brain that can power computing, gaming, and entertainment in its many forms. We want that base station in our backpack, or better yet, in our pocket.
The only problem? We’re not there yet. As long as batteries remain heavy, as long as chips and processors continue to weigh non-negligible amounts, a device like the Edge–which aspires to top gaming performance, recall–is far from light. When you dock the device into that GamePad contraption, the whole thing weighs around four pounds, making it difficult to hold upright for long, according to early reviews. Furthermore, the Razer Edge is hardly cheap: $1,449 for the souped-up tablet, and $249 just for the GamePad. That means you’re paying console-like prices for the controller alone.
But if you press fast-forward on Razer’s vision here, I think you begin to see the future of gaming, if not of computing altogether. Consider a lower price (Razer’s would-be competitors are now standing at attention) and a lighter weight, and the Edge becomes extremely attractive not just to the hardcore gamer, but to the average consumer. A tablet that does everything–a single module that snaps into the array of portals through which we consume content, and into the array of forms through which we produce work–isn’t this, on some level, what all of us want?