I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to think when I was offered the Razer Zephyr for review.
It’s a piece of pandemic tech and future fashion from a manufacturer known for creating rainbow-lit PC and console peripherals. The Zephyr is a breathing apparatus. It’s an N95-rated face mask, or as Razer prefers to call it, a “wearable air purifier”. Upon its announcement, the cyberpunk-styled device took the internet by storm. When Razer made it available via its website, it sold out in minutes. Turns out quite a bit of that stock went to scalpers. Masks have since made drip-fed appearances on resale sites like eBay at prices far above its AU$169.95 RRP. One mask that appeared on eBay in late October sold for US$7,800 (AU$10,780).
What is it about this device that has driven people so wild? And is all that hype founded?
So, as stated, the Razer Zephyr is an N95-rated mask. That means it’s an ideal candidate for filtering small airborne particulates, which is of course how Covid-19 spreads. N95 masks are broadly recommended in the Australian Government’s CovidSafe guidelines but come with the caveat that they must be sealed properly and cleaned regularly to be entirely effective. This means you can wear the Zephyr out and about as an extra layer of protection against the virus if you so desire and it should do the job.
The Razer Zephyr uses an inner silicone pad around the nose and mouth. A drawstring at the rear of the mask allows the user to pull it taught to the back of the head to create that seal. The mask has been designed as a one-size-fits-all situation, but the real world clearly has other ideas. For instance, no matter how tightly I pulled and set the drawstring at the back, the rounded shape of my face kept causing air to bleed from beneath the seal. Slimmer, narrower faces may not run into the same problem, but those with larger, rounder faces should bear this foremost in mind.
The mask comes with a pack of cloth filters. These sit within the circular drums on the cheeks and the exhalation filter along the mask’s lower edge. These filters are disposable and useable for no longer than 72 hours. A pair of small electric fans sits below the filters, drawing air into the mask’s central chamber.
Razer claims the display window around the mouth has an anti-fog coating, but I found condensation built up rather quickly. This was particularly noticeable when breathing through the mouth. Thankfully, you can clean it pretty easily. What didn’t fog up were my glasses, and thank you to Razer for that small mercy.
I used the mask in a couple of situations where the N95-grade filters would be of most use, though primarily while doing some serious dusting and cleaning in a room that hasn’t seen much use in the pandemic. I would know right away if the mask was any scratch at all based entirely on how my hair-trigger dust allergy reacted.
And how did it react? Minimally. Dust was flying everywhere and, remarkably, the Zephyr stood up under scrutiny. Each time I wore the mask during the clean was for periods of between 30 minutes and an hour. Throughout, it kept the dust out of my nose, and for that I am grateful. It did what it said on the tin and pulled all the particles out of the air so I didn’t breathe them in. So there you are. It is, indeed, quite effective as an N95-grade mask.
Covid, but make it fashion
Alright, let’s talk about how the Razer Zephyr looks. The Zephyr’s design is one of the primary factors driving its current sold-out status. Its gas-mask coded façade is like something out of a zeitgeisty cyberpunk comic. The striking, futuristic look very deliberately draws the eye. You can’t not look at it.
So striking is its design that I wonder how many people could feasibly wear it out and about and actually pull the look off. For neon-haired egirls that stream on Twitch, the Zephyr will blend right into their aesthetic without complaint. They will make this thing look cool. For overweight thirtysomething men like me, wearing the Razer Zephyr in public causes me to scan exclusively as a threat. If I tried to wear this thing on a plane, they would throw me off in the name of passenger safety.
No Razer product is complete without RGB strip lighting arranged throughout, and the Zephyr is no different. RBG lighting surrounds the intake vents in a rainbow circle. The clear plastic breathing chamber is lit from within, bathing your nose and mouth in pale green light. This invited people to stare at my neon-lit gob in a way I found truly disconcerting.
On the topic of RBG lighting, you can use the Chroma app to customise the colour display or turn them off entirely. That’s pretty important. Imagine wearing this thing to a movie theatre and not being able to turn the lights out.
The mask is powered on by a small button on the right-hand intake vent. The device charges via USB-C, the port for which is located just below the power button.
Breathe in the future
The Zephyr’s immediate popularity tells us something about the global appetite for pandemic-safe wearables. It sits at the crest of an inevitable wave of Covid couture, gadgets purpose-built for a world in which the virus remains a problem.
While I certainly don’t think Razer expects the Zephyr to appeal to a wide market, there will be those for whom this is an essential purchase. We’ve been locked inside so long that some folks are simply ready to be Perceived. It serves a dual purpose, ensuring personal and community safety while also allowing the wearer to serve a bit of a look.
For me, the question now becomes how much use I’ll get out of it now this review period is concluded. I couldn’t see myself wearing it out because no one needs to see me in a mask like this. But I could certainly see myself pottering around the house in it on those days where I need to get into the cleaning chemicals or when mowing the lawn. My allergies being what they are, this will actually come in quite handy.
I don’t think Razer will be alone in this particular market sector for very long. A glut of high-tech masks will almost certainly follow the Zephyr to market, and soon you’ll see them on faces everywhere. As eye-catching as its design is to us now, Zephyr’s strange intersection of “fashion accessory” and “personal safety device” will be a part of our daily lives before we know it.
The Razer Zephyr is out now. You can find out more via the official Razer website.