Razer Project Fiona Hands-On Preview

Razer made quite a splash at CES 2012 with Project Fiona, a high-end gaming tablet featuring an Intel i7 processor, Windows operating system, and unique controller wings. Be sure to read my Project Fiona reveal story for details on this tablet. Right now I’m going to give you some hands-on impressions of the device, additional details from spending time Razer project evangelist Hilmar Hahn, and original photos of Project Fiona.

Seconds after getting my hands on Project Fiona, I was struck by how light and strong it was. Going off of the press photos, I expected it to be heavy and wondered how sturdy the controller wings were. The device is much, much lighter than I thought it would be, though I wasn’t able to get an official weight out of Razer. The controllers are attached to the tablet by aluminum wings that felt very strong, despite the overall lightness of the device. I was allowed to lift Project Fiona by one wing and move it around (I was going to swing it around my head as if I were wielding a lasso, but I didn’t think Razer would be cool with that). The device felt solid and I never got the impression that it was going to break. (I’m fairly sure it would have held up to my lasso test, for what it’s worth.)

Next I was shown bits of Project Fiona’s custom UI. The top of the screen had tabs for games, web browsing, music, video, and settings. It was easy to get around using touch. The interface seemed simple and intuitive. However, this is a very early version of the UI and I wasn’t able to use it myself for an extended period of time. It’s simply too early to make any judgements on the UI at this time. That said, I like where the interface is going.

If you’ve ever used a Razer mouse or keyboard then you know that the company offers powerful customization options for its PC gaming products. The same holds true for Project Fiona. I took a peak at the customization screen for the controller wings and was inundated by the amount of options shown. All the buttons are programmable, sensitivities can be adjusted, and more. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a company that caters to hardcore gamers.

Getting past the UI, Hahn told me that Project Fiona will be able to run any Windows program. Of course not everything will be ideal for the touch and gamepad controls — pretty sure you don’t want to do extensive Photoshop editing on this thing — but it’s nice that this tablet will have the versatility to run its own UI and a typical Windows shell. While people are impressed by the numbers Apple and Google tout for their respective app stores, being able to run millions of full Windows programs is a powerful option that gives this tablet extreme versatility.

As for gaming — you know, the whole point of this product — I got to play a bit of THQ’s Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine on Project Fiona. The game ran smoothly, which made me curious about the GPU accompanying the Intel i7 CPU. Sadly, that information is not being revealed yet. Controlling the game felt similar to using a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 gamepad. The analog sticks and buttons felt comfortable and familiar. I was very impressed by the performance and feel of the tablet as a gaming device. Usually my expectations of Razer products are high, but Project Fiona is so unusual that I toned it down a bit. Surprisingly, my expectations were exceeded.

Remember how I mentioned that the controllers are attached to the tablet with aluminum wings? Initially I thought the choice of aluminum was about strength and style. Turns out that it’s functional too. After several minutes of Space Marine, the tablet was so hot that I felt the heat on my thighs. The aluminum wings help dissipate the heat and keep your hands comfortable. The Intel i7 CPU and the mystery GPU are powerful chips that run hot. I’m curious to see what, if any, material changes are made to increase heat dissipation.

Project Fiona definitely left me impressed. This is an extremely powerful portable-gaming device with a ton of potential. That said, I still wonder about this product. It’s certainly cool, but is it something that enthusiast gamers want? I’m not yet convinced. Keep in mind that this is still a design concept and a lot of changes can be made before it’s released in Q4 2012. In fact, Razer is looking for thoughts and input on the device. If you have time, please leave a comment with your thoughts on Project Fiona, what you like about the tablet, what you’d change, and what you’re hoping to see.