Razer's Project Fiona: A Tablet for PC Gamers

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Razer--generally known for its gaming peripherals--is working on a tablet called Project Fiona. Let's just file this under "wholly unexpected."

The company's aim is to bring PC gaming to an entirely new and decidedly different form factor. This is Razer’s second fling in the PC gaming space. Last year we caught wind of the Razer Blade, a gaming laptop that was designed to marry performance and portability in a slick shell. Project Fiona is poised to be decidedly different--a bold but cautious step into the dizzying tablet market.

Like the Switchblade prototype I saw at CES last year, Project Fiona’s raison d’être is to get people talking--and to work with developers to gauge the feasibility of such an undertaking.

I was skeptical about the Switchblade. As a dyed-in-the-wool PC gamer and MMO enthusiast, the very idea of playing something like World of Warcraft on a netbook keyboard is laughable--even if the keys are clever.

Razer's Project Fiona prototype
Later, that Switchblade concept evolved into the Razer Blade: A proper gaming laptop that shuffled the excellent dynamic keyboard idea onto a corner of the shell, and left the traditional typing surface alone.

New Concept Makes Sense

Razer Switchblade
Razer Switchblade
Razer aims to adopt the same approach with Project Fiona--hence the code name, instead of a proper moniker. But where the Switchblade left me confused, Fiona makes a tantalizing amount of sense.

First, the hardware: Details are scant, largely because the prototype exists in something of a nebulous state. When I spoke with Razer CEO Min-Liang Tan late last week I was told that Fiona will be packing a Core-i7 Ivy Bridge CPU, a 1280-by-800 pixel resolution, and will support Windows 8.

The device will have a multi-touch screen, THX-certified speakers, force feedback support (with vibration motors in those controller arms), front- and rear-facing cameras, and a battery life akin to what you might expect from an Ultrabook, though we should likely lop an hour or two off for a focus on gaming.

Project Fiona from the side
The target price for Project Fiona hardware is under $1000, but don’t get excited just yet. This is only a concept--the rest of the specs aren’t set in stone, I’ve no word on what type of display the Fiona will be using (and that’s subject to change), and even the design isn’t necessarily finalized. After all, the Switchblade started life as an awkward netbook, and blossomed into a large desktop replacement laptop.

For the detractors: yes, you’re right. This will not be a platform for your MMOs, or your strategy games. But the key point to remember is that the console game developers have already done most of the legwork.

We bemoan shoddy ports and menu systems that are clearly designed for a gamepad, instead of the obviously superior keyboard and mouse. But the design ethos that’s crept into PC gaming over the last few years is Fiona’s saving grace.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a modern PC game that doesn’t support gamepads--the Xbox 360 controller will connect directly to your PC with little effort. That gives Razer a massive library of titles right out of the gate.

Touchscreen Benefits

And then there’s the touchscreen. Like it or not, touch is becoming an increasingly important part of the modern computing experience. Windows 8 only makes the issue that much more pressing, with an interface wholly designed around you getting your hands on with your PC.

Calm down, this isn’t a bad thing. Our mice and keyboards aren’t going anywhere (Razer wants to sell you those, too). Touch simply gives us more options and--where gaming is concerned--more ways to spend our ever-precious free time.

This is where developers come in. We see a lot of All-in-Ones here at PCWorld, with the occasional gaming-focused machine like the Lenovo IdeaCentre B520. But while it packs a touchscreen (and a 3D display), your finger-friendly options are largely limited to ports of mobile titles like Angry Birds. You’ll be reach for your keyboard and mouse for most of your gaming needs.

Razer's Gamble

Lenovo IdeaCentre A720
That’s going to have to change. Yesterday I got some hands on time with the upcoming Lenovo IdeaCentre A720, an imposing beast of a machine that’s built for speed, and has an agile, 27-inch screen that can lie entirely flat, offering up something like a touch-table. It’s just screaming out for a board game, or a touch-centric strategy game.

As more touchscreen-equipped PCs find their way into our homes, it stands to reason that developers will see the light. And I’m willing to bet you’ll be hard pressed to find a PC that’s not an All-in-One in the next few years.

Razer is showing its cards early, but it’s a gamble the company is hoping will pay off. The logic is sound, and while the final product will ultimately depend on its performance, it’s an idea whose time has come.

I’ll get some hands on time with Project Fiona later today, as it’s on the CES show floor with a few games on display. I’m optimistic, albeit cautious. It’s a strange offering, and still in the nebulous concept phase, but as far as I’m concerned, anything that lets me play Terraria on the go is a step in the right direction.

For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PCWorld's complete coverage of CES 2012.

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