SwitchBlade UI And Keyboard
The top of the palm rest is the same black anodized aluminum that makes up the rest of the Blade. The keyboard and Switchblade UI are set into a slightly recessed tray milled into the aluminum panel. The keys themselves extend slightly above the recess and have a very good feel overall, though if you push directly down with heavy force, there is some slight flex.
It does take some time to get used to the Blade’s keyboard and touchpad layout. If you are coming from a notebook with a full-sized keyboard, number pad, and touchpad below the keyboard, your muscle memory will have to be retrained. We found ourselves constantly looking for the touchpad in the empty space below the keyboard. We also lamented the loss of full-sized up and down arrow keys when going through menus or documents (Ed: Microsoft's Type Cover suffers this same limitation). In the end, though, the keyboard and touchpad layout on the Blade became easy to use after a few hours of acclimation.
The Blade's Switchblade UI is the same one found on Razer's DeathStalker Ultimate desktop keyboard. The UI is made up of a multi-touch LCD track-panel and ten dynamic adaptive tactile keys. Each of the ten keys has a small 115x115-pixel display that can be customized to different uses. The multi-touch LCD track-panel is similar to having a 4” 800x480 smart phone (minus the phone) built into the touchpad. Together, they are capable of providing a highly-customizable interface for gaming and other tasks.
In addition, the applications included with the Switchblade UI run directly on the touchpad. The experience is similar to running Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube on your smartphone. While it might sound more like a gimmick to be able to run these apps, I can see situations where they might be useful. Say you're in class taking notes on the Razer Blade R2. The professor might be hostile to cell phones, go so far as to ban them. You might not want your Twitter feed showing up on your screen for the people behind you. You could bring up Twitter on the Switchblade to keep the feed private, while leaving your smartphone in your pocket. Even if someone only ever uses the number pad and timer modes, the Blade still offers considerably more functionality than standard touchpads.
When used with games, the Switchblade UI and Dynamic keys transform, enabling access to macros and other personalization. This provides a surprising amount of convenience in games where actions tend to be repetitive. We found ourselves setting up custom configurations for questing and professions in Mists of Pandaria. We also used the Switchblade UI in addition to the mouse in multiplayer games like Battlefield 3 and Black Ops II.
Used purely as a touchpad, the Switchblade UI is quite good. We had no issues with tracking, and gesture support is excellent.
The two buttons below the Swichblade touchpad are slightly awkward to use, however. They’re recessed, and have a narrow feel unlike any of the other keys on the machine. While this may be a minor bit of nitpicking on my part, it was noted by two other people that used the Razer. Ideal buttons would be the same as those on the keyboard.
One concern we had about the placement of Switchblade UI and touchpad was their position to the right of the keyboard. While this layout makes sense to gamers, since we usually have our left hand on the keyboard and our right hand on a mouse, what if you’re left-handed? Would deviation from a centered touchpad be an issue? To find out, we took the machine to a couple of lefties. Their only complaint was when they needed to hold down a touchpad button and use the other hand to select something. It was also pointed out that centered touchpads cause your right hand to bunch up under your left when using the standard WASD movement keys. Having the touchpad on the right is really the only logical ergonomic design for a gaming notebook.