Razer Switchblade: World of Warcraft in Your Pocket?

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You'd probably play World of Warcraft on a laptop, but on a handheld? Probably not. Not unless it offered enough key-space to manage the interface and compensated for the missing mouse in a way that didn't suck.

Razer has an idea for a handheld that might just pull it off. It's called the Razer Switchblade, and while it's still in the conceptual stage, it's making the rounds at CES in Vegas this week.

Imagine an Intel Atom-powered netbook running Windows 7 that's not really a netbook (it's much smaller) with the graphical oomph to crunch moderately intensive games like World of Warcraft or Warcraft III.

Part of its ability to do so hinges on its relatively low--but high for a 7-inch glossy LCD--resolution 1024x600 touchscreen.

And that's not all you can touch. Flip the Switchblade open and you'll discover what Razer calls a "dynamic tactile keyboard." It packs in 45 reasonably spaced keys, and here's the twist: Each one functions as its own miniature color screen, i.e. 45 plastic keys stretched over a second LCD.

That means each key can independently change its appearance, morphing the key area from a simple QWERTY key bed into something that might display buttons found in the interface of whatever game you're playing.

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You know your mod-customized World of Warcraft button overlay? Imagine that shifted off-screen, or rather below-screen, to the keyboard itself. Imagine keys that look exactly as they do in a game's button overlay, not indirect QWERTY re-maps. No hitting a letter or number to trigger something, the keyboard becomes the buttons and ostensibly lets you shift them around any way you like--up to 45 slots to fiddle with.

Imagine those keys capable of changing on-the-fly, i.e. context-sensitive key-mapping. The interface changes as what you're doing changes.

The keys can even be animated. I'm not sure what you'd want to animate on a keypad--most of us want interfaces that help us keep our eyes off the keyboard. Then again, Nintendo's DS uses two discrete screens. Surely there's a place for keypad animation if a game can be designed to engage the concept properly.

[Check out our hands-on with the device]

The Switchblade packs most of the features you'd expect from a netbook, including Wi-Fi, mini-HDMI, USB 3.0, standard audio out and microphone jacks, and adds integrated 3G network support to boot.

We've heard naught about price or availability so far. As noted above, the Switchblade's still in the concept stage (you can read more about it on Razer's official site), and Razer says even the 'Switchblade' name could change. Whatever form (or name) this thing eventually takes, the company calls it a product "that will change the future of gaming."

If it's actually capable of channeling the world's most popular MMO through a device that fits in the palm of your hand--to say nothing of real-time strategy games and first-person shooters--it's hard to see how it won't, and it's nice to be able to write that without cringing for a change.

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