Here at Overclock3D we always love to champion those companies that might not be the first names you think of when it comes to new hardware. But those companies who are now the first ones you think of were once unknowns too.
The other great thing that new companies can bring is fresh ideas and perspectives on how things should be designed and what is possible with hardware. Just as soon as you think that everything that could be done has been, up pops someone who'll change your perceptions and expectations.
Enter Ozone Gaming
Ozone Gaming are most probably a new name to many of you but are making waves within the professional gaming circuit.
I'll let Ozone themselves explain :
Ozone is a company of gaming peripherals that started over when a group of gamers took a step back to take a deeper look at the gaming scene, and they noticed there was a lack in the background.
E-sports and gaming have evolved to unprecedented levels and the peripherals used are today truly advanced compared to some years back. But the market suffered a wide spread in offer. Today gamers have few choices in peripherals and they are pushed to decide whether they purchase cheap peripherals with small features or expensive gear when they are only occasionally gamers or newbies.
Ozone thinks in different ways, and is committed to deliver high tech gear for high demanding levels with a reasonable price.
Ozone managers start gaming when they were still teenagers, and they are strongly aware that is not easy to save enough money to buy the top products.
A very worthy mission. I can't imagine any of us not wanting good gear at reasonable prices. Even better would be great gear at excellent prices.
So let us go and see what we've got in for review today.
The first item we have to look at today is the Ozone Smog. Before we delve into the looks and our feelings, let's have a look at the technical specifications from the Ozone website.
• High Precision Laser sensor Avago 9500 (12000 fps)
• 7+2 Programmable buttons
• 16 bit ultra data-path for ultimate performance
• Polling rate 1000Hz
• 450/900/1800/3600 dpi profiles switchable
• Customizable DPI profiles through software( Max. to 5040 dpi)
• Tracking speed: 150 inch/sec
• Rubber left side grip
• Soften plastic finger groove on the right-side (swappable)
• 4 way scrolling
• Ceramic footpads
• Adjust lift button suites your mouse to the mousepad
• 5 Macro modes allows setting several gaming profiles
• Included Software for personal configuration
• Adjustable weight (includes set with 6x ± 5g weights).
As you can see, any of the high-end features that we'd expect to see on a professional gaming mouse are all there. Very sensitive DPI, lots of customisable buttons and adjustable weights. It certainly cuts the mustard in specifications. Let's have a closer look.
The Smog box nicely follows the Ozone Gaming theme, being attractive, clear and very tasteful. A large Smog logo adorns the top of the box, an immense picture of the mouse below and the colour scheme reflects the mouse itself. It's very classy and lovely to see something that doesn't shout about the various things it does and over-complicate things with logos, rather they let the product do the talking.
Flipping the box over we can see this is continued onto the rear. Normally the preserve of a swathe of information in a plethora of languages, Ozone have kept it simple and just highlighted the main features of the mouse.
A feature that we always love to see here at OC3D is the ability to view the product without having to open the box. Obviously for our reviewing it doesn't matter, but we're also punters just like you and there aren't many things more frustrating than being unable to look at something in a shop without opening the security sealed box.
Ozone have gone the route that is starting to appear on some high end products of having a Velcro front that allows you to open a flap and get a close look at the Smog. The quality of cardboard and glossy packaging is very high indeed.
Taking the mouse out of the packet we get our first look at the Smog mouse. Following the popular red and black theme that never fails to impress we can see the features that we always like to have. Sideways scrolling wheel, grippy sides, big buttons. It's certainly an good looking piece of kit.
Weights are one of those features that many people haven't used and so usually feel that it's a bit of a gimmick, or wont make much of a difference. However anyone who has used a professional mouse knows that the weights can really help fine tune the feel of the mouse. After all having fast feet on a nice pad and getting your DPI settings right doesn't mean a lot of every time you twitch your muscles the mouse doesn't quite go where you want.
Turning the mouse upside down we can get a closer look at the sensor. As this is a right-handed ergonomic mouse it's good to see the sensor positioned on the left hand side nearest to the player. It might only be a centimetre but the further away from you something is, the less control you have over it. So having the meat of the mouse that little bit nearer can make a difference.
It's this snowball effect of tiny things that really adds up to make a product that should perform very highly.
Finally a good look at the ergonomic nature of the mouse. It's definitely a chunky mouse and fits very comfortably into the hand. Often companies design their mice to look sleek on the website without thinking about where it will be used. As, more than any other thing apart from your monitor, it's the most used and important part of the user experience. Ozone have certainly looked at this element. It's very comfortable indeed and all the buttons are within easy reach.
Time for a look at the Strato 5.1 Headset
Strato USB Headset
Secondly in our Ozone round-up we have the Strato 5.1 Headset. At the professional level of gaming the ability to aurally pinpoint your enemy can really give you the cutting edge over your opponents, and naturally a surround headset is ideal for this.
Here are the specifications from the Ozone website. The main thing to notice here is that yes, the headset contains four speakers per cup. The sub-woofer is positions below the centre speaker so should provide a real kick of bass.
The packaging for the Strato headset nicely follows the packaging for the Smog mouse. It's always nice to see a manufacturer keeping a holistic view of their products and this is as sturdy and classy as we saw with the Smog. Large clear logos in the scratch font adorn the front and side panels, with the back of the packaging showing a clear picture of the headset and a sensibly sized specifications panel.
Around the front we find a nice big clear panel allowing us a good look at the rather attractive headset.
Simplicity is the watchword on the top with the Ozone "O" being the only predominant feature. Opening up the thick cardboard packaging reveals the Strato headset in all its glory in a well formed piece of plastic. It's nice to see the section between the headphones is tall too ensuring the box wont get squished accidentally.
The Headset itself
Once removed from their plastic haven we can get a closer look. The part that you can't fail to notice are the side pods that house the surround speakers. The ear pieces themselves are very flexible as befits their design as a professional item. The ear cups are finished in a lovely leather that oozes quality.
Reversing them shows the nice way the microphone has been attached to the earpieces. Often we can find that a pair of headphones are designed, and then a microphone added. Here it's very much an integral part of the design.
As you can see they collapse very well for easy portability. On the headband itself is a glossy reproduction of the Strato logo, nicely finished it black to continue the classy theme that exudes throughout the entire headset.
Microphones fall into two categories. Either very stiff and you have to make the best of it, or so mobile you spend your entire gaming session having to put it back. Ozone have managed to combine both these elements into a microphone boom that is exceptionally easy to manoeuvre and position exactly where you desire, the boom itself is particularly flexible, and yet once in place it will stay where it's put. Unless you're head-banging hard.
Control of the Strato headset utilises both software and an in-line remote volume control. In-line control is excellent with everything within easy reach ensuring you're not constantly swapping back to the control panel to adjust per game.
Finally here you can see them being worn by our glamorous assistant. Please try and concentrate on the Strato headset and no she isn't available for Vogue cover-shoots. We've got her locked up under contract.
Ozone Ground Level Mousepad
Following on from the technical nature of the Strato Headset and the plethora of information regarding the Smog Mouse, we now move on to the infinitely simpler Ground Level Mousepad.
Once again the black and red theme is continued across the whole Ozone range and looks as classy on this small mousepad packaging as it does on the big headset. Unlike many mousepads although it comes rolled up in a sturdy cardboard tube it also has an inner plastic case ensuring it will remain crisp and clean until you need it. It's also handy and light for carrying about with you to your next gaming session.
The rear of the box supplies the usual extra information that one expects to find on the back of pretty much every product these days.
Once out the box and unrolled it flattens out nicely and quickly with none of the limp-lettuce look that some can have until you stack an encyclopaedia on them. The mat itself is very attractive with a simple black background covering the main usage area which should help eliminate any minor laser problems that can occur with large graphics.
Down at Ground Level
In the bottom right hand corner we find the Ozone logo screen printed, and on the top left a very attractive blood splat that will confound the Rorschach fans amongst us. Personally it's a Dragon looking left.
There are three sizes available within the Ground Level series, Small (250x210mm), Medium (320x285mm) and the Large that we have on test today, measuring a not insubstantial 400x320mm. Both the small and medium Ground Level Mousepads are 2mm thick, whereas the Large model is 3mm. Very thin indeed.
Mousepads fall into two categories, hard and soft. The hard mats are usually designed for more speed whereas the soft, or cloth, mats are designed for more comfort and easier all around usage. Ozone have chosen to go for the softer cloth route which should ensure a good performance in all our tests.
The design of the pad follows the rest of the Ozone items we have on test. This point can't really be emphasised too much. So often even gaming hardware manufacturers produce a disparate array of items in either various colours or designs that it is nice to see a coherence across the whole range.
Software and Testing
Smog Mouse & Ground Level Mousepad
Before we get to our testing results, the Smog mouse comes with some configuration software that allows the user to create macros and assign them to a profile. This profile can then be assigned a colour so that when you switch the profile the LEDs on the mouse change to the colour you have selected, enabling both an 'at a glance' way of telling which profile you have currently enabled and also to give yet another layer of customisation.
The software itself suffers from two main issues. Firstly a distinct lack of comprehensive documentation. There is some, but it doesn't go into sufficient depth. For too long manufacturers have provided amazing hardware and paltry or even entirely absent documentation. Of course this wouldn't be an issue if the software is so user-friendly and intuitive that resorting the manual isn't required. Unfortunately with the Ozone Smog it is.
Imagine if you will you want to assign a button to F5, so you can refresh in an instant. You would imagine, as did we, that you'd simply select the button, scroll down a list of available keys, pick the one you want and that's that. However, you actually need to create a macro, record the keystroke, name and save it, then pick it from the drop down list. This is of course wholly natural if you are creating a complex macro that would switch to grenades, throw one, switch back to your main weapon and reload, but for a simple keyboard button? Hmmm. Not a feature we like very much.
Once you've got around this hurdle the software works very well. It didn't crash or hang once during our testing. Just it either needs to be more intuitive or have better documentation.
In actual testing we used the Smog mouse along with the Ground Level pad and it was a combination that really felt nice. The ceramic feet on the mouse work in excellent combination with the slight texture on the pad to give a very silky glide. At no point did we feel the pad was resisting our movements in any way and the 3mm depth gave a lovely cushioning to our wrist.
The mouse performed excellently. We used it as our main mouse for around a week and whether we were browsing the net, mining Tiberium or fragging our enemies it was always accurate and comfortable. Indeed special mention needs to be made about how comfortable the mouse is to use. At first glance it looks slightly cheap with the very glossy top surface and the ergonomics appear to be a little strange with a pronounced hump. However the glossy surface didn't once impede us, nor pool the sweat that can occur under particularly heavy sessions. The extra height really helped keep our palm comfortable and any initial worries the hump would cause wrist strain after a days use were easily dispelled.
We very much liked the volume of buttons available that was neither too paltry or, and certain RPG mice can bow their heads in shame, overwhelming. They have a wonderfully tactile feel when pressed requiring neither so much pressure it affects your accuracy, or so little you accidentally TK everyone.
Strato 5.1 USB Headset
Unsurprisingly the Strato software was much easier to use as it mirrors almost every other audio software we've seen. Everything is where it should be and works how you'd expect.
The Strato Headset provides incredible audio clarity at this price, let down by a few niggles. One of the primary things that is difficult to obtain in almost any pair of headphones that don't require you to sell your grandmother is the combination of good thumping bass and still audible mid and highs. Either the bass is a little weedy or once you dial it in you lose clarity throughout the rest of the audio spectrum. No so here. Whilst they aren't a high fidelity pair for the audiophiles, they are definitely much better than most gaming headsets and provide good performance regardless of whether you are watching a film, listening to music or tearing around Silverstone. The surround is also very good and the use of multiple speakers in a uniquely designed can certainly pays off here. Of course it's not as spacious as a dedicated speaker set, but nobody would expect it to be.
On the downside is comfort. Unlike most headphones/headsets the cups don't actually fit over your ears and they kind of sit on them. Some of you may like this but we definitely do not. It might not be so problematic for a quick LAN session but for those of us who use headphones all the time, either for neighbour or partner reasons this is a huge drawback. Also as they don't cover the ears there is more external noise leakage which again almost negates the point of having your own self-contained audio system.
The remote volume control is excellent, but it does have a light that just wont stop flashing. We tried everything and it was so annoying we covered it in tape in the end. Something to be aware of. We all like a little flash and flair but not at the expense of concentration.
Finally the microphone itself is excellent. Even at low volumes it easily picks up the speech and eliminates a lot of background noise. The ability to position the microphone and it remain in place is a boon as often they are placed so you can't say "Souixsie Sue plays and performs with aplomb" without your conversational partner having their eardrums blown out. Not so with the Ozone Strato.
Phew. Let's wrap this up.
Ozone Smog Gaming Mouse
The Smog mouse is a great piece of design. It's very attractive and definitely on the sturdy side. Those of us with larger hands are often disappointed at the size of mice but here Ozone have managed to strike the perfect balance between making it fit large hands without seeming tiny, and yet not be uncomfortable for the more svelte-handed amongst you.
The buttons are wonderful. It's very difficult to accidentally press them and yet, they are very easy to press. Requiring the smallest amount of pressure to activate.
The scroll-wheel is a joy. It neither has the notchiness that can be found in many scroll-wheels, nor the stiffness that often accompanies smooth scrolling ones. Additionally the sideways scrolling is excellent and so easy to activate. No more do you need to lean hard against the side of the wheel, but the deftest of touches will get it moving.
Unfortunately there are two things that let it down somewhat. Try as we might we were unable to stop the lighting from "breathing" and this is very frustrating and off-putting. Secondly the software is neither intuitive or very user-friendly. Thankfully like all software once you've learnt it's quirks it is capable, but it either needs a bit of a redesign or some more comprehensive documentation.
With a MSRP of £40 it's around the price one would expect for a gaming mouse with this sensitivity and, given the quality we have no hesitation giving it our Gaming award.
Ozone Ground Level Mousepad
Mousepads are pretty universal. You either like hard ones or squidgy ones and once you've found one you like you tend to stick with it. Ozone have clearly designed the Ground Level mousepad to work alongside the Smog mouse because together they are a fantastic pair.
As a cloth mat instead of a hard one it neatly rolls up for taking to your next LAN session. The mat itself at 400x320mm isn't the smallest mat we've tested, but it's also the largest one that Ozone do so if you feel it's a little on the large side fear not, because two smaller models are available. One of the things we liked most was how soft and comfortable it was. At only 3mm thick there was the possibility for it to feel a little unyielding, but Ozone have made sure it cushions your wrist and arm beautifully. The surface itself has a tiny texture to it which leads to fantastic control. If a smooth mat can be likened to silk, then the Ozone Ground Level is Egyptian Cotton. Incredibly soft and smooth, but with an almost imperceptible texture to it.
Although it works fabulously well with the Smog mouse, it also worked equally well with our Logitech G9 and CM Storm Sentinel rodents.
This is without question in the upper echelons of cloth mats and with a retail price of around a tenner it should be high on your list.
Ozone Strato 5.1 USB Surround Headset
There is very little to add to our comments in the testing on the previous page. An outstanding headset with great volume and clarity, designed well and at a fantastically competitive price-point. The surround is more than a good gimmick but genuinely gives a nice feeling of depth to the aural experience and Ozone have managed to avoid the problem that plagues a lot of multi-speaker headphones by neither having the highs over-powering or lost in the quest for bass.
The only drawback is the fact they are on-ear rather than over-ear and that could very well be a personal thing. More of us disliked it than liked it and that's why we're mentioning it. But that is the only slight against an otherwise superb product.
Ozone are retailing the Strato Headset for a mere £55 which is below many competing products and it is our pleasure to award it the coveted OC3D Performance award.
If today's products are indicative of the quality we can expect from Ozone in the future then they will quickly rise to the elite. Excellent packaging, a quality holistic design theme, competitive pricing and great products. There is very little not to like and we look forward with relish to their next product.
Thanks to Ozone for providing todays review samples. Discuss these in our forums.