Overview: I wore the Razer Zephyr N95 masks for 2 weeks so you do not have to

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Enlarge / Author Sam Machkovech wears the Razer Zephyr mask in public.

Steve Haske

For the past two weeks, I’ve taken the $ 99 Razer Zephyr mask with me almost everywhere – but that’s not the same thing as wearing it.

Razer’s first foray into the world of high-tech wearables comes in the form of an “N95 grade” face mask that claims to surpass anything you can expect from fabric options. The company had pretty high expectations with the unveiling of the mask’s first prototype in January, just to cut features to make the mask cheaper and lighter. But this launch version is still a long way from the fabric masks ubiquitous these days.

And since it’s from Razer, a peripheral manufacturer best known for neon-colored gaming mice, headphones, and keyboards, the mask looks flashy. Look at it! The Razer Zephyr is basically a gaming mouse that you strap on to your face, RGB lighting, and everything. So I had to try.

  • Fresh out of the box.

  • The magnetic clasp that holds every N95 filter in place. When switched on, an RGB strip lights up.

  • One strap goes over your head and the other touches your neck.

I am equally impressed and overwhelmed by my experience with the mask. Last but not least, Razer made an interesting first attempt at making masks more fun. You’re going to be wearing a mask anyway, Razer seems to be saying about this product. Why not attract attention?

However, some everyday technical products may still be worth buying “imperfect but fascinating” – especially if the product offers enough productivity benefits to your daily life to make up for all the tradeoffs. The same description is a much harder sell for something that you stick right on your face.

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  • USB Type-C port for charging. I never had battery issues with my mask set to “low” fan speed and minimum lighting.

  • Internal light turns on when charging.

  • Another angle of the loading lights.

So my Razer Zephyr mask was mostly stowed in my pocket to be displayed as a party trick or worn as an experimental lark. But the space in my pocket is right next to my KN95 rated masks, and I always aim to get back to these as soon as possible.

From hazel to zephyr

The originally teased vision of the Zephyr was enticing, even if it looked like a prop from that classic “Cybergoth Rave” GIF. In the CES version 2021 the following was advertised:

  • Transparent front facing panel
  • Interior lighting
  • A range of indoor microphones and outdoor speakers **
  • Built-in internal fan
  • RGB light strips outside
  • Slots for replaceable N95 filters
  • Pair of rubberized ear straps **
  • An ultraviolet hygiene and charging station **

Of all the proposed “Project Hazel” features, only three failed to make the final cut, as indicated by asterisks.

The original pitch made me think Razer understood some of the most common face mask issues. I was particularly optimistic about the mix of lights, microphones, speakers, and translucent plastic, especially because I have a few friends who are hard of hearing (normal masks attenuate noise and prevent lip reading).

Still, I was concerned that such an over-engineered mask could result in too much weight or heat. And obviously something had to give way, be it weight, warmth, or cost. While I’ll never know how the original model actually worked, the current model definitely doesn’t live up to my accessibility expectations.

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Read my lips: Hmmmphhhmphhmph

  • This gallery was shot in low light to emphasize exactly how underwhelming the internal lighting system can be in a public setting.

  • There’s lip reading potential here, but not much.

  • Angry that the straw can’t go through the plastic.

  • Side view.

At right angles, a photo of the Razer Zephyr – with its translucent plastic and interior lighting – can look clear enough to allow lip reading. But in practice, this translucent plastic causes more problems than lip reading options.

Razer has tinted this part of the mask dark and the entire set is shaped in such a way that it is not possible to manually replace this part with a clearer option. Why would Razer do this? Probably because the shape of the plastic front distorts your lips just enough that your mouth looks like it’s sitting in a tiny, connected TV.

In order to make the lips visible, the interior lighting of the Zephyr must be set to a high, even brightness, which creates a noticeable heat inside the mask. This is where the pair of internal fans come into play. They work at two speeds; “Low” creates an easily noticeable whine, while “High” is loud enough to sound like a tiny leaf blower attached to your face. You don’t need to have the fans on to use the mask, but “low” is essential for long-term comfort as the plastic gasket fits securely around your nose and mouth. And when the interior lighting is switched on, nothing less than “high” keeps the heat in check and prevents fogging inside.

In either case, lighting cannot compensate for natural problems with fogging, viewing angles, and visual distortion. Lip reading is feasible under certain conditions, but requires the wearer to keep the head still for most of the time. And for those who don’t rely on lip reading, the plastic wrap and the constantly running fans dampen average speech. Unless you are in a quiet room, expect to lose most of what you are saying or speak at a higher volume than usual with extra pronunciation.

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