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Slingbox 350 and 500 show up unannounced in Best Buy, flaunt 1080p and built-in WiFi

You might say Dave Zatz just had a happy accident. While he was hunting for the as yet unofficial Logitech Harmony Touch in Best Buy, he discovered the Slingbox 350 and 500 -- two more living room gadgets that have yet to receive an official introduction. The placeshifting hubs both look to be major improvements over the aging Slingbox Pro HD and Solo, making 1080p streaming available as long as the connection is up to snuff. Those who spring for the 500 should also get long overdue support for WiFi without having to use a wireless bridge, although they may miss the Pro HD's ATSC tuner. Outside of the networking, Sling Media is making expansion its upsell angle: the 500 supports USB media sharing and HDMI, while the 350 has to make do with whatever can pipe through its component and composite jacks. Zatz was unfortunately foiled in an attempt to buy one of the new Slingboxes and couldn't get final pricing, but Best Buy's suggestion to try again around mid-October hints that we won't have long to wait for a much-needed upgrade to our remote TV viewing.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/30/slingbox-350-and-500-show-up-unannounced-in-best-buy-flaunt-1080p/

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T-Mobile leases 7,200 mobile towers to Crown Castle in a 28-year, $2.4 billion deal


Houston, Texas and Bellevue, Wash. - Sep. 28, 2012 -
Reinforces Crown Castle's position as largest provider of wireless infrastructure in the US

Urban-centric portfolio with 83% of the towers in top 100 US markets and 72% in top 50 US markets

Strengthens T-Mobile's position within the US market by helping to support funding of previously announced growth initiatives

T-Mobile to continue focus on network modernization, LTE launch in 2013 and other previously announced initiatives

Crown Castle International Corp. (NYSE: CCI) and T-Mobile USA, Inc. ("T-Mobile"), a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, AG ("DT"), announced today that they have entered into definitive agreements pursuant to which Crown Castle will acquire rights to approximately 7,200 T-Mobile towers for $2.4 billion in cash at closing (subject to certain adjustments).

Under the definitive agreements, Crown Castle will have the exclusive right to lease and operate the T-Mobile towers for a weighted average term of approximately 28 years. In addition, Crown Castle will have the option to purchase such towers at the end of the respective lease terms for aggregate option payments of approximately $2.4 billion, which payments, if exercised would be primarily between 2025 and 2048. The transaction is expected to close in fourth quarter 2012.

"We are pleased to reach this mutually beneficial agreement with Crown Castle and take another step closer to realizing the bold vision outlined in our Challenger strategy to solidify our competitiveness in the industry by investing in areas where we anticipate the strongest return for our customers," said John Legere, Chief Executive Officer of T-Mobile USA. "T-Mobile USA is working aggressively to make our 4G network stronger, faster and more dependable for consumers, and this transaction will support our ongoing $4 billion network modernization initiative that is the cornerstone of this effort as we work tirelessly to continue to deliver our amazing 4G services nationwide."

"We are very pleased with our agreement with T-Mobile, which strengthens our position as the largest provider of shared wireless infrastructure in the US, which we believe is the largest, fastest growing and most profitable wireless market in the world," stated Ben Moreland, Crown Castle's President and Chief Executive Officer. "Consistent with our focus on the top 100 US markets, the T-Mobile towers are similarly well-located, with 83% of the towers in the top 100 markets and 72% located in the top 50 markets. The T-Mobile assets are expected to provide significant growth driven by the continued demand for wireless data services, particularly in the most densely populated areas in the US. While this transaction increases our tower count by approximately 33%, the transaction consideration represents only approximately 9% of our enterprise value. Further, we expect the impact from the contemplated transaction and related expected debt financing to be accretive to our 2013 adjusted funds from operations per share and approximately 5% accretive to our long-term adjusted funds from operations per share."

Crown Castle expects to fund the transaction with cash on hand and debt financing. DT will use the proceeds from the transaction to retire corporate debt and strengthen its financial position to provide for funding of growth investments, including T-Mobile's Challenger strategy.

Following the contemplated transaction, Crown Castle will continue to be the largest wireless infrastructure operator in the US with approximately 30,000 towers and extensive small cell operations in over 50 markets. T-Mobile's nationwide network remains unchanged today, consisting of approximately 51,000 cell sites, the vast majority of which are leased from third parties, as is common in the industry across the US.

Crown Castle estimates the T-Mobile towers will produce approximately $125 million to $130 million in adjusted funds from operations ("AFFO") before financing costs in 2013, and have sufficient capacity to accommodate at least one additional tenant per tower without significant incremental capital. T-Mobile has committed to maintain its communications facilities on the towers from Crown Castle for a minimum of 10 years with annual rent escalation provisions tied to the consumer price index. Further, T-Mobile's rent includes the rights, subject to certain limitations, to complete its current network modernization on these sites.

It is expected that the net effect of this transaction, as reported under US GAAP, will not have a material impact to adjusted OIBDA or annual operating income in 2012 for T-Mobile USA. DT reports results under IFRS. The transaction is expected to result in a material gain impacting Net Income and EBITDA under IFRS for 2012.

A fact sheet outlining Crown Castle's tower portfolio, is available on the Crown Castle website at http://investor.crowncastle.com.

Crown Castle has scheduled a conference call for Friday, September 28, 2012 at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time to discuss the transaction. The conference call may be accessed by dialing 480-629-9645 and asking for the Crown Castle call at least 30 minutes prior to the start time. The conference call may also be accessed live over the Internet at http://investor.crowncastle.com. Any supplemental materials for the call will be posted on the Crown Castle website at http://investor.crowncastle.com.

A telephonic replay of the conference call will be available from 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time on September 28, 2012 through 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on October 5, 2012, and may be accessed by dialing 303-590-3030 using access code 4567732. An audio archive will also be available on the company's website at http://investor.crowncastle.com shortly after the call and will be accessible for approximately 90 days.

T-Mobile is being advised by TAP Advisors and Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. as financial advisors, as well as Jones Day and Lape Mansfield Nakasian, LLC as legal advisors. Crown Castle is being advised by Cravath, Swaine Moore LLP as legal advisor.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/28/t-mobile-crown-castle-tower-deal/

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NPD: Android users chew an average 870MB of cellular data per month, youngest gobble the most

Ever wonder how much data you burn through every month on average? If you're an Android user within the US, odds are that it's quite a lot. The NPD Group estimates that Americans of the Google persuasion typically consume about 870MB of data on cellular networks every month. While it's not an extreme amount next to the 2.5GB of WiFi usage, it's enough to give anyone second thoughts about coasting on a basic data plan -- and a reflection of how both 4G and media apps have changed our behavior. Not surprisingly, it's a younger crowd more comfortable with smartphones that's the most aggressive: the 18-24 set races through 1.05GB a month where the 55-plus audience uses a more modest (if still healthy) 750MB. We don't yet know how iOS stacks up in current conditions, but the NPD is promising a comparable look soon. Something tells us the iPhone 5's LTE will lead to just as much voraciousness.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/28/npd-android-users-chew-average-870mb-of-cellular-data-per-month/

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Amazon breaks down its Kindle Paperwhite light technology (video)

Amazon's certainly not the first company to deliver an illuminated e-reader, but the mega-retailer's psyched about its new Kindle Paperwhite nonetheless, and after playing around with the device a bit, it's easy to see why. According to CEO Jeff Bezos, RD's been working on the technology for years now, attempting to get the perfect balance of brightness and battery life, all while ensuring an even distribution across the display. How does it achieve this? We've heard the technology described as an optical cable laid flat across the display. The company goes into a bit more detail on the technology that powers the reader, via a few Beautiful Mind-esque shots in the video after the break. It'll give you something to do while you wait for your reader to ship early next month.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/28/amazon-breaks-down-its-kindle-paperwhite-light-technology-video/

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Logitech Harmony Touch remote pops up unannounced at Best Buy (Update: Pictures)

It's been a long time since we've seen any new blood refreshing Logitech's line of universal remotes, but after indications of new devices on the way in an earnings call earlier this year tipster Andrew spotted this brand new Harmony Touch on store shelves. Arriving at Best Buy unheralded by any official announcement or specs so far, the box shots and list of features show the ability to control 15 different devices and (of course) that center mounted touchscreen. There's no mention of it on the Logitech site either, however one leaked blog post we spotted referred to this device and a Harmony Plus.

As our friends at Tech of the Hub note, the Touch clearly draws a lot of its heritage from the Harmony One and 1100 touchscreen remotes although to have ditched the dedicated Activity button for "one touch" control. The touchscreen itself supports both taps and swipes as well as up to 50 customizable channel icons, and the box lists both online setup and on-remote customization as features. According to Andrew it's rocking a price tag of $249 -- $50 above the current price of the Harmony One but $100 shy of the RF-equipped Harmony 900 -- hopefully we'll find out soon if what Logitech has added this time around makes it worth the wait.

Update: Another one of our readers, Zachary also saw it at Best Buy and bought one, check out a few out of the box pics in the gallery below, and drop any questions about its capabilities in the comments. He's digging it so far, saying that the touchscreen is responsive and it found icons for his area quickly, with options to change background, LCD brightness and screen timeout. There does not appear to be any RF support however, so it's IR control only.

[Thanks, Andrew]

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/29/logitech-harmony-touch-best-buy-leak/

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Mobile Miscellany: week of September 24th, 2012

If you didn't get enough in mobile news during the week, not to worry, because we've opened the firehose for the truly hardcore. This past week, Dan Hesse shared his turnaround vision for Sprint, Jim Allchin revealed where T-Mobile stumbled and ATT welcomed a new GoPhone. Not to stop there, we discovered two updated launchers that've piled on inspiration from Jelly Bean. So buy the ticket and take the ride as we explore the "best of the rest" for this week of September 24th, 2012.

Dan Hesse predicts Sprint's return to profitability in 2014

Every time Sprint reports its quarterly earnings, it seems that much of the story remains the same: the company is consistently hemorrhaging cash. Following seven years of losses -- nearly $50 billion in all -- Dan Hesse tells Bloomberg that it's now turning a corner. In fact, the Now Network CEO believes that Sprint will return to profitability in 2014. While the prediction should be taken with a rightful degree of skepticism, it's not a wholly outlandish claim, as the publication points out that Sprint's stock has outperformed all but one firm on the SP 500 for the year. According to Hesse, the company has exited its recovery period and will spend this year and next focused on investments in its network overhaul. Should everything go to plan, Sprint will then begin its growth phase in 2014, where it hopes to bring in new customers and serve them with a fully modern network infrastructure. [Bloomberg]

Meet the Huawei Fusion 2: ATT's latest Android-powered GoPhone

The Huawei Fusion 2 first reared its head in July of this year with its appearance at the FCC, but the entry-level smartphone gained a new level of distinction this week as a member of ATT's GoPhone lineup. For $100, consumers will find a device that combines Android 2.3 and an 800MHz CPU within a Snapdragon S1 SoC. Keeping with the starter smartphone theme, the Fusion 2 also offers a 3.5-inch HVGA touchscreen, a 3.2-megapixel camera, 2GB of built-in storage and a 4GB microSD card. [PhoneScoop]

Apex Launcher and Nova Launcher gain Jelly Bean features

Apex and Nova Launcher are each excellent choices for those wanting greater customization of their smartphone's interface, and as it just so happens, both products were updated this week to include features from the Android 4.1 launcher. Common between the two, users will find that desktop items automatically rearrange themselves to fit on the screen, the ability to flick apps and widgets off of the home screen and numerous performance improvements. If you've yet to find a favorite among the two launchers, we recommend giving both a whirl -- each app has fans around these parts, and you're bound to enjoy one of 'em. [Android Police 1, 2]

T-Mobile's Jim Alling: the company lost its way in wake of ATT merger

During his keynote address before the Competitive Carriers Association (formerly the Rural Cellular Association), T-Mobile's Chief Operating Officer, Jim Alling expressed his belief that the company lost its way in the wake of its proposed sale to ATT. According to Alling, T-Mobile placed the interests of its shareholders above the needs of its customers, and as such, many subscribers fled. Some of you may recall that Alling recently served as T-Mobile's interim CEO, and his comments certainly stand as a damning assessment of the Humm era. Alling is chalking it up to a hard lesson, however, as he states that the carrier is refocusing its efforts to put customers first. Perhaps its most recent foray into unlimited data plans was introduced with that in mind. [CNET]

[Mobile Miscellany photo credit: Thristian / Flickr]

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/29/mobile-miscellany-week-of-september-24th-2012/

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Target, Walmart list price drop for B&N’s Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight to $119

Check those calendars. It's September 29th, which means, for those who follow the world of e-readers, that we're two days from Kindle Paperwhite day. According to Target and Walmart, it also means that Barnes Noble's own illuminated e-reader, the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, is getting a $20 price cut, down to $119. That price puts the reader on par with the entry-level Paperwhite (no 3G, with ads). Let the battle of the front lit e-readers commence!

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/29/barnes-and-noble-slashes-nook-simple-touch-with-glowlight-to-119/

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Ask Engadget: should companies include a cable with a new product?

We know you've got questions, and if you're brave enough to ask the world for answers, here's the outlet to do so. This week's Ask Engadget inquiry is from David, who wants to know if you'd prefer a free cable or a cheaper device when you buy pro audio gear. If you're looking to send in an inquiry of your own, drop us a line at ask [at] engadget [dawt] com.

Many thanks!"

a) Include a cheap cable and let people who care buy a high quality one?
b) Include a reasonable quality cable but increase the price?
c) Include no cable and make it clear they need to buy one?

"I work for a small audio-tech company and we're currently getting close to releasing our first retail product, which does surround sound from stereo inputs -- kinda like Dolby Pro Logic, except good. Internally, we're agonizing over if we should include a stereo RCA cable. Of course, users will need to integrate an additional cable into their setup, but plenty of people will have spares lying around at home. Do you think it's better to:

What a question! We're decidedly of two minds, since given a bit of haggling, most retailers will chuck in a branded lead, but we'd hate to get our shiny new gear home to find it's missing a key component the one time they don't. Our dithering aside, it's time to turn the question over to our faithful Engadgeteers with this chance to shape the future of the high-end audio business for the better... we'd better not disappoint the man!

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/29/ae-bundle-cables/

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Maingear announces Nomad 17 gaming laptop, comes with custom paint job


MAINGEAR offers its greatest gaming laptop yet featuring the latest 3rd generation Intel® Core™ i7 mobile processors that performs as good as it looks with an array of custom paint options for free to customers.

Kenilworth, New Jersey - September 30, 2012 - MAINGEAR, an award-winning PC system builder offering custom desktops, notebooks, and workstations is unveiling the new NOMAD 17 custom notebook as the perfect performance mobile solution for gamers and PC enthusiasts alike. It boasts top tier mobile hardware such as 3rd generation Intel® Core™ i7 processors and NVIDIA GTX 600 series graphics, but also keeps user interface and aesthetics close to heart.

Technological Wizardry
The NOMAD 17 gaming laptop supports 3rd generation Intel® quad-core processors up to 3.8GHz for blazing performance and offers cool operation with maximum battery life, up to 32GB of DDR3-1600MHz RAM, and a full array of hard drive support including full size SSD and RAID 0 and 1 arrays. For those looking for faster boot up, there is an SSD caching option that works automatically for faster load times and disk-intensive tasks.

Gaming performance is as sleek as any desktop counterpart thanks to full DX11 and PhysX support, as well as NVIDIA's Kepler architecture in their new 600 series graphics solutions. The powerhouse machine comes stock with NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 675M, upgradeable to the GeForce GTX680M; both featuring NVIDIA's unique Optimus Technology that maximizes power savings by dynamically assigning workload to either the built-in Intel® HD Graphics or the GeForce GPU. The NOMAD 17 also has no lack of connectivity, with USB 3.0, 2.0, eSATA, Bluetooth, Ethernet, 802.11n, HDMI, and VGA out ports.

Style and Functionality
The NOMAD 17 is also making history as the only gaming laptop in the industry to have hand-painted premium automotive paint jobs, free of charge. Customers can select one of the six sexy glossy colors available that matches their color palette. But the indulgence to the senses does not stop there: the NOMAD 17 comes with a fully backlit keyboard, a full HD 1080P 17" matte display, multi-touch trackpad with gesture and scrolling support, and dual speakers with a built-in subwoofer.

"The 3rd generation Intel® Core™ i7 processors are a perfect fit for MAINGEAR's NOMAD 17," said Joakim Algstam, Gaming Segment Ecosystem Marketing Manager at Intel. "MAINGEAR strives to place top tier components in their system, and the great performance and battery life that our solutions deliver make sure that gamers' tough demands are met."

"The NOMAD 17 is a thing of beauty," said Wallace Santos, CEO and founder of MAINGEAR. "With a custom automotive paint job and performance parts, this roadster of a machine is quite a work of art, technologically and aesthetically. Quite simply, it is the finest gaming laptop we have ever offered."

Technical Specification:
· Processor: Up to 3rd generation Intel® i7-3840QM
· Video Card: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 675M or 680M
· Display: 17.3" Full HD 1920 x 1080 - (1080p) (16:9 Aspect Ratio) Anti-glare LED Backlit Matte Finish
· Memory: Up to 32GB Dual Channel DDR5 - 1600Mhz
· Optical Drive: Up to 2X Blu-ray reader/8x Multi Combo (BD-R, DVD+-RW, CD-RW)
· Hard Drive: Up to dual 512GB Solid State Drive or dual 750GB 7200RPM SATA 2.5
· Network Adapter: Integrated 802.11n b/g/n wireless
· Audio: THX TruStudio Pro Integrated High-Definition Audio HD Audio with speakers by DynAudio
· Media Card Reader: Built in 4-in-1 Media Card Reader
· Operating System: Genuine Windows® 7 Home, Professional or Ultimate 64-Bit
· Battery: Removable Li-Polymer Lithium-Ion
· I/O Ports: 1 HDMI out, 1 DVI-I out, 2 USB 2.0, 3 USB 3.0, 1 IEEE-1394 Fire Wire,
1 S/PDIF out, 1 RJ-45 LAN, 1 RJ-11
· Dimensions: (W)16.85" x (H)2.17" x (D)11.34"
· Price: Starts at $1,599

All of MAINGEAR products are supported with lifetime labor and phone support with one to three year hardware warranty. For more information about MAINGEAR's NOMAD 17 gaming notebook, visit: www.maingear.com/nomad17

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/30/maingear-announces-nomad-17-gaming-laptop/

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Razer Blade review (late 2012)

Razer has made a habit of catching us off guard -- breaking the mold as an accessory manufacturer by building laptops, prototype game handhelds and controller-toting tablets. Their Blade laptop cut through our expectations as well, featuring a beautiful aluminum shell and one of the thinnest profiles of any gaming rig on the market. It had some serious flaws, though: it was underpowered, had minor build issues and simply fell short in the audio department. Its maker, apparently, wasn't deterred: mere months after the original Blade's own debut, Razer is now introducing a successor.

Most of the changes are internal: this model swaps out the original's Sandy Bridge CPU and last-generation NVIDIA graphics for a newly announced 2.2GHz Intel Core i7-3632QM processor and a Kepler-based GeForce GTX 660M GPU. It caught our interest -- Razer had previously insisted its first laptop wasn't built just for power, but for a premium experience. Now, the firm seems to be focusing on both (now that's a premium experience we can get behind). So, is this upgrade enough to make up for the OG version's shortcomings? Read on to find out.

Look and feel

The more things change, the more they stay the same -- an old French proverb, the lyrics to a Bon Jovi song, the Razer Blade gaming laptop. If you've seen the original, you've seen the latest, too. We'll get to the granular hardware upgrades shortly, but our previous impressions are worth repeating: the Blade is a gorgeous machine. Its thin, 0.8-inch profile and elegant aluminum casing lend it a premium feel that other 17-inch gaming rigs can't hope to match. It's also worth mentioning in passing that it bears a loose resemblance to the MacBook Pro. Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan even joked with us about it, casually jesting that the Blade could fill the gap the discontinued 17-inch MBP left in the market.

That homage notwithstanding, Razer does give the Blade some unique flourishes, including the company's triple-snake logo, a subtly ridged chassis and green USB 3.0 slots. The trio of USB plugs that adorn the rig's left side (now all USB 3.0, as opposed to the original Blade's mix-and-match affair) are flanked by HDMI, Ethernet and a power socket to their left, with a solitary audio jack on the right. The rest of the machine's edges are left blank, however, save for a pair of vents and a Kensington lock slot. Luddites hanging on to their optical media won't find solace here: the Blade once again forgoes a disc drive -- a concession, perhaps, to keep the chassis as thin as it is. Matching the machine's own slim profile is an equally trim power supply, which is easily half the size of most gaming laptop AC adapters.

A large, glowing power button separates the laptop's keyboard from the speaker bar riding along the hinge. This looks very clean, but isn't the best use of available space -- the power toggle could have been moved to either of the frame's edges to afford the keyboard a slightly higher position on the body's face, giving users just that much more room to rest their palms -- not that it isn't comfortable already, but folks with larger hands (this editor included) would appreciate the extra space.

Speaking of nitpicks, there was one specific complaint we registered with the original Blade that's worth revisiting: the hinge. The old unit's base had a nasty habit of lifting off the table whenever we lifted the lid. Before sending out a machine for review, Razer's CEO personally assured us the problem had been solved. We'll admit, the very first time we lifted the Razer's screen, its body tagged along -- but every opening since then has gone by the book, with the base staying put on the desk where it belongs. Suffice to say, we're satisfied.

Keyboard, trackpad and Switchblade UI

It's hard to recommend any trackpad for gaming, but Razer's touch-sensitive "Switchblade Display" is actually quite tolerable. That's largely thanks to its location. Since it sits in the 10-key's typical spot, the pad lends itself to comfortable gaming more so than what you'll find on most laptops. With so many superior mousing alternatives, there's no reason any respectable gamer should need to take aim with the touchpad, but those willing to try (or those who accidentally left their peripherals at home) will at least find it relatively well-suited to the task. It performs admirably as a regular trackpad as well, and executes multitouch gestures more reliably than most inlaid pointers. Still, the starboard touchpad takes some getting used to -- more than once we found ourselves brushing up against the area below the keyboard, staring in bewilderment at the unmoving cursor on the rig's screen. Ah, right. It's over there.

The Razer's LCD touchpad is far more than a mere mouse, of course -- it's a cornerstone of the outfit's Switchblade interface. This is hardly the first time we've seen Switchblade -- it's appeared in various Razer keyboards, the original Razer Blade and even a prototype that never saw the light of day. It's a neat idea -- 10 customizable screen-packed buttons headlining a small touch display for using custom apps, creating macros and launching applications -- but not much has changed about the interface over the last eight months. Razer's own Synapse software still allows the user to create sets of pre-programmed keys, each with a custom icon and specific task. For instance, you can perform a keyboard or mouse function, launch a program, switch profiles or even tweak settings on another connected Razer product (like a standalone gaming mouse). Again, though, it did all of that before, so this is mostly just a refresher.

The Switchblade UI has learned a few new tricks, which have been pushed out to compatible devices over the past several months. In addition to sporting special modes that stuff Internet Explorer, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, a traditional numpad and a clock in the touchpad's screen, Razer has slowly been adding additional game-specific applications to the Switchblade. The Star Wars: The Old Republic Combat Logger, for instance, keeps track of in-game damage, threats and healing data on-screen. Some of the new offerings aren't so robust, sadly -- the UI's Team Fortress 2 and Battlefield 3 apps are little more than pre-configured profiles -- and not all of their toggles actually correspond to action in the game. Fingering the button that displays the TF2 Engineer's pistol, for instance, brings up a quick-menu for team voice commands. We found we were better off building our own profiles, and ignoring most of the new "apps" entirely.

Razer's interface is nothing if not consistent. Its 10 configurable keys are still a joy to use as an application launcher, and being able to customize the display of each individual key is a geeky pleasure of the rarest kind -- but that consistency means the pad's shortcomings are the same, too. The setup's display-laden keys, for instance, appear to ghost and bleed if they aren't looked upon from just the right angle. Similarly, the trackpad's screen lacks visual fidelity and plays back YouTube videos at a choppy framerate. Using the Switchblade to peek at Twitter or Gmail mid-game is novel, to be sure, but our initial opinion still hasn't changed: a lot of this miniature display's functions are better had on a smartphone.

The pad can be a bit finicky, too -- while it does a fantastic job of recognizing standard Windows multitouch gestures, its own three-finger swipe, used to view the next or previous page of configured buttons, fails to register unless your fingers are lined up perfectly. Three fingers, but staggered, rather than in a straight line? Try again. And again. And again. It becomes tedious. When things go according to plan, though, Switchblade is a joy to use -- it provides quick access to any key combination imaginable, stamped with a colorful custom image. We just see major room for improvement, both on the hardware and software front. Razer's second-gen laptop would have been great for introducing a remodeled Switchblade.

Keyboard preference is a tricky thing, and gamers are among the pickiest -- not that mobile computers offer them much choice. Falling in line with the latest trends, the Blade keeps the same chiclet layout used on the original, though it's worth noting that the keyboard's backlight now illuminates the previously dim Fn functions on the F1-F12 keys. The Blade's alphabet islands live in the shallows, barely traveling at all with each depression. The keys don't feel very mushy, but they don't have particularly soft landing either. At first glance the space bar appears to be a tad short, but our thumbs never wavered, resting comfortably on its outer edge. Our biggest issue with the Blade's keys is also something we admire about it: the delete key. Positioned conveniently above backspace, it granted us immediate access to multi-directional text eradication -- but its close proximity caused more than a few mistakes. As a gaming keyboard? Its anti-ghosting features lend it the necessary cred. We were able to log up to 13 simultaneous key presses on the chiclet clacker, depressing at least four keys on each row of the board's QWERTY alphabet without conflict. Suffice to say, gamers counting their APM (actions per minute) shouldn't have any hardware handicaps to contend with here.

Display and sound

Like most laptops in its class, the Blade features a luxuriously large 17.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 display. It's the kind of looking glass that makes you feel like your rig is only technically portable. Big, yes, but forgivable for the sake of the broad viewing angles it provides -- truly, it's the next best thing to taking your desktop with you. That said, the Blade's humongous screen isn't the most vibrant we've seen on a gaming rig. The LED-backlit display doesn't have any contrast or color issues, mind you, nor does it have particularly bad viewing angles, color banding or any other common plagues -- it just isn't spectacular. This is a well-balanced monitor -- its colors are bright where they need to be, and its blacks are fairly deep. This is a display that won't disappoint, but certainly won't dazzle. It also won't soak up too much glare, featuring a matte finish rather than the glossy mess most displays wear.

The unit's speakers are equally average -- though in this case, "par for the course" is a marked improvement. The first-gen Blade flirted with tinniness and distortion, but we found few hints of either in this refreshed model. The newest hardware still can't shake the table with significant bass, but it won't distort at maximum volume either. Even so, cranking the Blade to 11 sounds a bit more like dialing in to a modest five -- its acoustic chops simply don't reach very far, and couldn't hope to fill a decently sized room. The speakers' central location don't help much either -- positioned dead center below the rig's display, they offer very little in terms of left / right recognition.

Performance and battery life

As much as we'd love to keep gushing about the Razer Blade's slim profile and aluminum styling, the heart of this second-generation laptop comes down to its internals: this is where the real difference is. And believe us, it's a difference worth noting. The newest Blade kicks its old Sandy Bridge CPU to the curb in favor of a brand new Intel Core i7-3632QM 2.2Ghz (that's 3.2GHz with Turbo Boost) processor. In fact, the Blade is one of the first machines out the door with Intel's new silicon -- and man, this thing really cooks. Not only did it net the Blade a hearty 17,120 in PCMark Vantage, but when paired with the rig's Kepler GPU it easily handled two top-tier games running at max settings. It also had no problem juggling a word processor, a few benchmarking tools and six web browser windows whose tabs were streaming music and video, or loading assorted blogs. Save for a bit (well, a lot) of extra heat pouring out the machine's vents, we were hard-pressed to notice a significant difference in system performance. Of course, if you're looking for quantifiable, sane and thoroughly less ridiculous tests, benchmark numbers speak for themselves.

PCMarkVantage 3DMark06 Battery life Razer Blade 2.0 (2.20GHz Core i7-3632QM, GeForce GTX 660M) 17,120 15,876 3:29 Samsung Series 7 Gamer (2.30GHz Core i7-3610QM, GeForce GTX 675M) 11,515 21,131 2:11 MSI GT70 (2.23GHz Core i7-3610QM, GeForce GTX 670M) 14,073 18,955 2:49 MSI GT683DXR (2.00GHz Core i7-2630QM, GeForce GTX 570M) 9,074 16,862 2:40 2011 Sony Vaio F Series (2.20GHz Core i7-2670QM, GeForce GT 540M) 8,116 8,394 2:07 Sony VAIO Z (2.7GHz Core i7-2620M, Intel HD Graphics 3000 / Radeon HD 6650M) 11,855 7,955 4:15 Note: higher scores are better.

The original Blade's lofty price (a staggering $2,799) made its mid-range internals a sore spot with many consumers. It plodded its way through nearly every contemporary game with lackluster framerates. Yes, dialing down the settings produced playable results, but the OG Blade had positioned itself as the "world's first true gaming laptop." Its GeForce GT 555M simply couldn't live up to that promise. NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 660M, on the other hand? Now that has potential. It still isn't the most powerful mobile chip on the market (or even in NVIDIA's own lineup), but it packs more than enough oomph to give the machine the kind of performance we were expecting all along.

Whereas the Blade's predecessor struggled to run The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim without making major concessions in visual fidelity, the newest iteration had no such problems. Tamriel's frozen North came to life in ultra high quality at 43 frames per second. Battlefield 3 didn't shine quite as brightly, but still clipped 30 fps on high, and 38 fps on auto, which tuned textures to ultra while dialing most of the regular settings to medium. Its performance in Starcraft II saw improvements as well, with framerates climbing to an average of 50 fps with settings at their highest levels. Other titles required some concessions, however -- Batman: Arkham City played like a dream as long as DirectX 11 features were disabled, scoring 47 fps with PhysX tuned to high. In Grand Theft Auto IV, it clocked a respectable 32 fps average as long as texture filtering and draw distance were reeled in slightly. Team Fortress 2, on the other hand, required no adjustments -- we blazed along at 54 fps with maximum video settings enabled.

Unfortunately, not everything we threw at it ran smoothly. The Witcher 2 stuttered at a meager 9 fps. Yikes. Turning off über-sampling brought it up to an almost playable 20 fps, but we had to abandon the Blade's native 1,920 x 1,080 resolution to eke out a decent framerate (1,366 x 768 turned out to be the sweet spot.) That visual concession allowed us to push 40 fps on the game's high settings by trading sharp visuals for smooth gameplay. The result was completely playable, but muddied and unsatisfying.

The Blade's CPU and graphics aren't the only upgrades Razer had in store -- it also kitted the rig out with 8GB of slightly faster 1600MHz DDR3 RAM and a 64GB / 500GB hybrid solid state drive. Pitted against the ATTO disk benchmark, the dual-identity drive wrote at 180 MB/s, and read at 476 MB/s. The drive is a tad slower than a dedicated SSD, but the Blade's 25-second boot time is nothing to shake a stick at. Razer says the drive will learn to prioritize your most-used applications over time, but we didn't notice any specific increase in speed for any particular item during our time with it.

When Razer's CEO first told us about the Blade refresh, he let out a slightly sad sigh when he said the one thing the company couldn't improve was battery life. Intel's and NVIDIA's latest chips apparently take too much power. Despite Min-Liang's words of caution, our review unit survived nearly three and a half hours in Engadget's standard battery test -- besting not only its predecessor by a solid 20 minutes, but the runtime of many of its competitors, too. Gaming without a charger yields less impressive results, burning through the rig's reserves in about an hour. High performance activity also generates a fair bit of heat, radiating from the area just above the keyboard and the rear of the machine's underside. It's not so hot that you couldn't tolerate it through a pair of jeans, but it's warm enough that you'd want to keep the Blade off your lap without proper attire. No short shorts, in other words.


In a stroke of pure genius, Razer omitted needless bloatware from its original Blade laptop, a move we're happy to see turning into standard practice for the company. Like its predecessor, the second-generation machine comes pre-loaded only with Razer's own Synapse software -- a suite you'll need to make use of the rig's Switchblade interface. In fact, the fancy keys are reliant on the software -- if Synapse crashes, or is closed for any reason, you can kiss that 10-key program launcher goodbye. The program does more than just manage the Blade's magic buttons, however. It allows you to click on any key -- not just the special Switchblade toggles -- and reassign its function. Do you find the right Alt key to be a bit redundant? Turn it into a program launcher or a sensitivity switch for a compatible Razer mouse. The app is fairly versatile, but not terribly intuitive. Managing the Switchblade keys in particular isn't as straightforward as we'd like, and the experience gave us a rare yearning for a nagging start-up tutorial. Like the interface itself, the Synapse software suite has room for improvement.

The competition

Razer's second-generation Blade comes in a single $2,500 configuration -- with that Core i7-3632QM CPU, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660M graphics, 8GB of DDR3 RAM and a 500GB / 64GB solid state hybrid drive for faster boot and load times. Virtually no other 17-inch gaming rig on the market is going to be able to go toe to toe with the Razer on size, but price and performance? That's another matter altogether. Samsung's Series 7 Gamer, for instance, rings in at a full $600 less than the Blade, outpacing it in game performance without making visual concessions. Still too rich for your blood? Take a look at the MSI GT70 -- it costs nearly $1,000 less than the new Razer Blade and delivers similar performance, albeit with a last-generation GeForce GTX 670M GPU in tow. Each of these machines have marked advantages over the Blade as well -- the GT70 flaunts a far superior sound system, powered by Dynaudio. The Razer's passable display also can't hope to compete with the Series 7 Gamer's 400-nit SuperBright Plus panel. On the other hand, both of these contenders are inferior when it comes to style.

If you're hooked on the Blade's slim profile, but aren't sure black is your color -- there's another option, but you might get laughed out of your next LAN party. Kitted out with its own Kepler-based GT 650M and an Ivy Bridge i7 processor, Apple's latest MacBook Pro puts on a passable facade as a Windows gaming machine -- lagging only slightly behind the Blade when running games at 1,920 x 1,080 on their highest settings. Starting at $2,199 for the Retina display MacBook Pro, however, doesn't net you much in savings -- but if you aren't sold on the Switchblade interface, if you're a Mac fanboy at heart or if you just have money to burn, it might just be a viable alternative. Just don't come looking for us if gamers on the other side of the aisle shoot you a few nasty looks.


It's hard to hit the market with a self-given description as the "world's first true gaming laptop" only to get knocked down by critics. Subpar audio, a finicky hinge and crippled performance were all common complaints about the original Razer Blade. The reaction among gamers sent a shockwave through Razer, and the company vowed to do better. As for us, we're seeing a fixed hinge, better (but still lackluster) audio offerings and a significant leap in performance. And we'll say this: if we had to choose one gaming laptop to lug outside the house, it'd be this. It's slim, attractive, slightly more manageable than other gaming rigs and -- perhaps most importantly -- it won't stick out like a sore thumb in public.

But even with a $200 price drop, the Blade remains firmly fixed in luxury-item territory. Before dropping $2,500, prospective buyers should understand they're purchasing style, not staying power. The new Blade may be fit to take on most contemporary PC games, but it's far from future-proof. Owning the best-looking gaming laptop on the market means making compromises: dialing down performance in games and accepting the fact that you may need to upgrade sooner than you might have if you spent less on a homelier rig. That's a tall order, and it's hard to say if it's worth it. Nobody ever said these kinds of decisions were easy.

Article source: http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/30/razer-blade-review-late-2012/

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