Gaming mice have certainly come a long way from the early days.
Back when mice were mainly used for pointing and the thought of having a dedicated one for gaming was merely a dream of Thresh, the way that manufacturers differentiated their gaming mice from the regular sort was to make them optical, black and add a click-able scroll wheel. Time rapidly moved on and optical mice were overtaken by laser mice, but still the "all black with loads of buttons" ethos continued. Indeed some mice are so bloated with buttons that it's become tough to find a way to hold them that doesn't lead to pressing 6 different ones at once.
Thankfully companies have realised that what we really care about is having an epic sensor, perhaps a couple of extra buttons and comfort. Ergonomics often lead to mice being the curved shape that best suits right-handed people, which has meant that southpaws, and those of us who don't want a banana on a cord, have had a very short list to choose from for our new mouse.
Enter the SteelSeries Sensei. An ambidextrous sleek affair that concentrates mainly on customisation and comfort, whilst following the modern minimalist design school that is so popular.
A large proportion of the technical stuff will be covered in the next few pages, but here are the facts :
- Weight: 102 grams (0.22 lbs)
- Height: 38.7 mm (1.5 in)
- Width: 68.3 mm (2.7 in)
- Length: 125.5 mm (4.9 in)
- Buttons : 8 (7 customisable)
- Sensor : 1-11,400 CPI, 12000 FPS max, 150 inches per second
Processor : 32 bit ARM. 75 MHz P1 equivalent
That's not everything as it has a swathe of technologies and lighting possibilities too, but that's getting ahead of ourselves. Let's take a look at it all shall we.
The Sensei comes in the now classic SteelSeries packaging of dark grey with orange and white text. Round the back we have the features highlighted, which is what we're here for so let's press on.
It's worth noting that this isn't your regular cardboard box that will collapse once you take the innards out. This is seriously sturdy as one would expect from a top-of-the-range product such as the Sensei. Under the front flap are large orange words that I think we can all identify with. Winning is everything. Other than that there is the normal SteelSeries inclusions of a quick-start, a manual, and some SteelSeries stickers to brand your rig.
The first thing you see when you pop the top of the packaging is the cable, and it gives a strong indication of what you'll find beneath. Soft tightly braided cable with a gold-plated USB. The gold-plating is fairly common, but braiding of this quality certainly isn't.
Enough preamble, time for the Sensei to appear.
I think that someone has it in for me lately. Everything I've had to photograph recently has been piano black and the first thing that isn't is chrome.
The design is amazing to look at and, once again, pictures really don't do it justice. It almost looks molten it's so smooth and rounded. We've seen this design before in the SteelSeries Xai, but somehow in the matt black it wasn't as impressive. Here, in the Sensei, it's jaw dropping.
All the fun stuff isn't confined to the top though. Underneath are three large slippery feet to make sure that using the Sensei isn't restricted by the friction between the mouse and your pad of choice.
The SteelSeries logo on the back of the Sensei is quite a party piece being able to be lit up in any colour that you can think of.
On the left things seem fairly normal with the standard front/back buttons.
On the right-hand side, in keeping with the ambidextrous design of the Sensei, we also have two buttons. These aren't a token effort either, but exact replicas of those on the left.
Up front there is lighting around the scroll-wheel, equally capable of glowing in any colour of your choosing, an indicator LED (again, any colour you like) that tells you which of two DPI modes you're currently in. This is switchable when you press the button that is just below it.
Finally beneath the Sensei we have the LCD display which, here, displays the SteelSeries logo. But can also be used for other things, which we'll cover on the next page.
Now the Sensei doesn't actually require drivers, thanks to that onboard processor and some handy trickery, but to get the best out of it you'll want to grab the SteelSeries Engine software which opens up a world of possibility. It comes with 8 profiles by default, but other ones are easily created. Especially noteworthy is that all the buttons, except the CPI adjustment one, are configurable. So you can easily swap left and right buttons if the mood takes you. Or have the left one perform some complex macro.
Profile management is probably the most elegant solution we've found. Once you've created your meisterwerk you just drag it from the left pane to the mouse and Robert is your mothers brother. If you take your rodent elsewhere on another system, just drag the profile off the Sensei into the left pane and it's all ready for tweaking. Seamless.
There is loads to cover in the settings page, so get comfy. The ExactSens is setting the two CPI profiles that are handled by the CPI switch just behind the scroll wheel. All of the sensitivity is handled "on mouse" so you have zero software lag and therefore your results are exact. Once you hit 5700 CPI, a speedy pointer in anyone's book, you move into the stratospheric levels enabled by the onboard ARM processor, until you hit the giddy heights of 11400 CPI. At those levels you could probably breathe the mouse pointer around.
Below that we have the various lighting options. All fairly obvious, although it's nice that you can choose from any colour you like, rather than a set few. The CPI1 and CPI2 LED colours indicate which of the two CPI modes set above you're currently in. Probably wise to make them disparate. Further down are the adjustments for the LCD screen on the underside. Any bitmap is representable, although obviously if the initial image is 1bit then the LCD will more accurately reproduce it.
On the right hand side are the other tricks in the Sensei's armoury. FreeMove is a version of something which we all detest, mouse smoothing. However, and it's a big however, thanks to the powerful processor it actually works very well. Sure it's taking a level of control away from you, but you can always turn it off. When it's on it makes drawing a straight line much easier, which is not only helpful in art, but in keeping your LMG at head height as you lay down suppressing fire. ExactAccel is a scalable speed up, so if you're desperate to get from one side of a triple-screen monitor to the other in a hurry, this will do the job. ExactAim is more useful because as you slow down, it lowers the sensitivity of the Sensei so you really can shoot the wings off a fly. Or the eyes out of your enemy. Finally ExactLift controls the lift distance so you can fine tune the Sensei to your surface of choice, and the polling rate is something everyone will leave at 1000Hz. But it's nice to have the option.
One fairly strange feature is a statistics option where you can start and then go off to play and the Engine will keep track of how often you've pressed each button. Not immediately useful but if you set two different buttons up for the same job and then see which you hit more often in the heat of battle it could make maximising your profile that bit easier.
Yet another in this plethora of useful features is the ability to change profiles without having the Engine software running. Because everything is handled by the ARM processor onboard you just hold down the CPI change button for a couple of seconds and then either use the scroll wheel or side buttons to switch profiles. If you've forgotten to assign different colour schemes to each, or forgotten what they are, then the LCD display handily lists them so you know which one you're using.
Phew. Time to have a look at some pretty colours and wrap up our thoughts from testing.
I was in two minds whether to include these images because I promise you that the colours contained within the image are about a quarter of the vibrancy in real-life. However they may serve as a small guide to the potential, but they absolutely do not do the uniformity, nor saturation, of the effect justice.
OC3D Blue and Green
Lilac and Red.
Yellow and, of course, what would a customisable logo display be if you didn't stick your name on it? Since man invented a way of customising something the first thing everyone has always done is use their own name. From chalk to Dymo tape and now LCD displays. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Testing and Conclusion
SteelSeries advertise the Sensei as "The Worlds most customisable mouse", and it's tough to argue with that claim.
There have been a raft of mice that enable the user to customise the buttons, or the colours. Record complex macros. Store multiple profiles. However we can't think of any that have done it so brilliantly as the Sensei. The SteelSeries Engine software has always been a user-friendly framework, and the Sensei elements are clear, concise, and laid out with such brutal simplicity that even somebody who didn't know their multifunction delayed macro from their elbow would be able to get things exactly as they want them in a very short time indeed.
The creation and application of specific profiles couldn't be simpler. Merely dragging and dropping gets your settings saved onto the firmware of the Sensei and ready for use. The speed in which it is capable of changing profiles and saving and loading settings is exceptional too. One thing we really loved, and there is much, is the quick change CPI button. It makes a huge difference to have two different sensitivities available rather than having to have two identical profiles but with different CPI settings.
Having such a level of customisation would be naught if the execution was lacking. The Sensei most definitely isn't lacking at all and the major thing it gets right, which has plagued even the finest mice around, is the colours. So often we either have a choice of maybe 8 colours, or a choice of them all, but only perhaps 10 or so are readily distinguishable. Such is the saturation and clarity of the Sensei solution that you really can tell the difference between light blue, ice blue, blue, navy blue, sea blue etc etc. Certainly if you require the very palest colours they can be difficult to notice, but we think everyone will be able to find an exact match for the one they seek.
Even if you have all the lighting off, and we know those who prefer it that way, the Sensei still looks amazing with that metallic-looking cover. Being able to be used with equal efficiency by both right and left-handed gamers is something that the market has long been lacking. There have been great ambidextrous mice, but we can't recall any other genuine top-of-the-line mice. The Razer Lachesis and Roccat Kova are both epic, yet have the Mamba and Kone respectively, above them in the product line. This is the best that SteelSeries does.
Often names are dreamt up for features that sound great in advertising blurb, but don't necessarily translate into anything meaningful in the Real-World™. That claim cannot be levelled at the ExactTech that exists within the SteelSeries Sensei. It's not only how useful they are, but the adjustability of them. You aren't stuck with anything as coarse as on/off, but rather a very fine level of adjustment, with a graphical representation of what exactly your changes are doing. Things like ExactLift might not be as brilliantly useful as the epic ExactAim, but any control that is given to the user to tailor their experience is only a good thing.
All this without even mentioning the main course, that lunatic sensor. 11400 CPI. Now we're good here at OC3D, but we're fairly certain that at full whack that is speedier than even the most hardened gamer will ever require. It's mind-blowing. Of course, like everything on the Sensei, it can be dialled back to something approaching sensible for our talent level, but it's nice to know it's there if you need it. If you're getting fragged to the dark side of the moon you certainly couldn't blame the Sensei.
Now the tricky bit. What don't we like about the Sensei? *insert very lengthy pause*. If you juggle grease for a living then perhaps the top coating might not be as grippy as some of the rubbery rodents out there. The LCD on the bottom is an odd placing to put your clan logo unless you plan on having the Sensei upside down all the time?
Those two hilariously minor points aside, this is a staggering piece gaming mouse. It looks the business, works flawlessly and has customisation options coming out of its ears. This is currently our favourite mouse on the planet and it will take something very special to knock it from the top spot. The SteelSeries Sensei deserves nothing less than a highly-polished Gold Award.
Thanks to SteelSeries for supplying the Sensei for review. Discuss in our forums.