When the SteelSeries Sensei appeared last year it redefined what we at OC3D expected from a top level gaming mouse. It was so much better than everything else that we struggled to see how any manufacturer could knock it off its perch in the foreseeable future. 11 months down the road and the only one that can stand alongside it is the Razer Taipan, which does a similar thing but just lacks the colour options of the Sensei.
So it's safe to say that SteelSeries hit a home run with it. However, in the same way that the 'only available in green' lighting of the Taipan wont dissuade people from purchasing it, we understand that not everyone demands infinite customisation or indeed has the cash available to buy such a premium mouse.
SteelSeries obviously agree that the Sensei is a mighty rodent indeed but is perhaps out of the reach of some, and so they've kept the core values of the full-fat Sensei, and pared down the glitz to bring us the Sensei [RAW]. With only a single colour light, and a choice of matte black or gloss black, does this contain enough of the Sensei DNA to remain a must buy?
Casting an eye down the comparison table you can see that the [RAW] isn't missing an awful lot. We know that some people will prefer the tactile rubberised coating we have on test today, especially as it's quickly become the material of choice for mice. Lighting is one of those elements that is both important and yet not. We all like to be able to tune our colour scheme to our own preferences, but the reality is that in use you rarely see it, and with only a single onboard profile the ability to easily tell which profile you're running is less important.
Perhaps the biggest change is the reduction of the sensor from the double CPI of the Sensei, down to just 5670DPI on the [RAW]. Given that very very few of us can handle a mouse beyond about 5000 CPI it's less of a hindrance than it might first appear, especially with the big drop in price tag.
As with all SteelSeries products the packaging is spot on. We live in an age, for better or worse, of instant gratification and if you can put the image front and centre on a box that is instantly recognisable as a SteelSeries one then that's half the battle. It is a simple and clean design that works regardless of the product being sold.
The [RAW] itself definitely subscribes to the 'none more black' school of design. Even the logo on the palm part of the mouse is much less obvious than it appears in our photographs, except when lit of course. The cable is definitely going to last a long time, with an excellent quality braid that somewhat trades softness for ruggedness. It might take a while to straighten it out when you first remove the tie.
From the top it is identical to the original Sensei, colour notwithstanding. Underneath though they have dispensed with the LCD display and replaced the black base with a transparent one. As we never quite grasped the point on a LCD display you can't see, we fully understand the removal for cost saving reasons.
As it's an ambidextrous mouse it is the same on both sides, with the usual back and forward buttons in nicely ergonomic positions.
Software and Lighting
The [RAW] is compatible with the SteelSeries Engine software, which allows you to run only a single utility and control all of your SteelSeries devices. We've looked at this a lot in past reviews, and it's as easy to use and intuitive as it's always been. Thankfully you can turn the pulsing effect off on the lighting which, although cool, can be distracting.
Otherwise it's the same hugely configurable software we know and love, with easy macro capabilities and a host of customisation options.
The illumination is, as it always is, difficult to photograph. However, on the left is it as bright as it can go, and on the right as low (whilst still being on) although in real life it's still pure white.
As is always the case when a company releases a version of a premium product that is aimed more at the average consumer, our most abiding question is always; has the company kept enough of the essence to make it a worthy purchase, or have too many features been removed? The importance of buying in to a brand identity cannot be underestimated. Businesses throughout the world rely upon creating a highly desirable product, and then selling bucket loads of a more affordable variant. A Custom Shop Fender Stratocaster is hugely expensive and awesome, but a Squier by Fender Stratocaster is easily within the budget of anybody yet of such middling quality that it is sold almost wholly on the brand association as opposed to any logical 'value for money' ideals.
So that rather lengthy preamble brings us to the question, is the Sensei [RAW] trading on the Sensei name, or a worthy model in the line-up? It's worthy. It's most definitely worthy.
Nearly everything about the Sensei that we adored is replicated here. It's supremely comfortable to use, and a perfect size for gamers large or small. Although it's available in a black gloss coating, we have the rubberised model on test today and we love how soft and grippy it is. In fact, whisper it, we prefer it to the coating on the full Sensei. The buttons have a nice quality feel to them when depressed, and there is none of that hollow click that can plague cheaper mice.
Although the sensor hasn't got the double CPI option that the Sensei has, the reality is that for 90% of users the 5670 CPI available on the Raw will be more than fast enough. Similarly it's lacking in the infinite colour options, but as the amount of onboard profiles has been reduced to one, it's much less important. Of course aesthetics, especially of your peripherals, is important. We all want them to blend in to the chosen colour scheme of our main rig, so your mileage may vary upon how much of a deal maker/breaker the "white and only white", lighting is.
The SteelSeries Sensei [RAW] is the Sensei stripped of bells and whistles and given a purposeful black coating, alongside a decent price cut. About the only thing we can complain about is that the Sensei itself is a year old now and the prices have fallen dramatically from the MSRP. So for about £15 more than the Raw you can get the multi-colour, multi-profile, insane DPI model itself. But don't be put off of the Raw. The coating is better, the sensor just as good for nearly everyone, and only the lighting, which is a matter of taste anyway, really separates it from its bigger brother. For £45 we definitely have to award the Sensei [RAW] our OC3D Gold Award. It's not so much stripped of features, but instead it's had the fat trimmed and is leaner and meaner.
Thanks to SteelSeries for supplying the Sensei [RAW] for review. Discuss your thoughts in the OC3D Forums.