Steelseries Sensei; A mouse with a brain
First let me welcome Steelseries to Computer Ed Radio. When we approached them about doing some reviews they sent us a goody pack that was nothing short of amazing. With that in mind I decided to delve right in with their Sensei Mouse. Right on the front of the box it lists the Sensei as, “The worlds most customizable mouse. ” So with a name like Sensei and that kind of proclamation it was like Steelseries was daring us to not like this mouse. Opening the front flap showed them daring us even more with statements like, “Winning is everything” and testimonials from some of the professional gamers that helped designing this mouse. There is a lot of confidence in this packaging.
As I opened the box and started taking out the contents I was a bit skeptical. The mouse has a metallic, shiny looking surface to it that is very smooth, also it has an ambidextrous design. These concerned me because of the way I use mice. You have to understand I have big ole mitts that do not grip a mouse, I maul it. I was concerned the metallic and smooth finish would be slick. My experience with ambidextrous designs have not left me with a good impression as they tend to not fit my hand well. So I was prepared for the worst as I got ready to start using this mouse.
A look at the packages content found a Steelseries sticker for your PC case, a manual and a Steelseries catalog. I was surprised to not find a driver CD in the package. The cable has a nice braided covering which will make it quite strong and a gold plated end for the USB. I must admit to being taken aback by the minimalistic approach to the package contents.
The mouse design is very straight forward with a symmetrical, rounded mouse design, nothing fancy, really a very basic design. The mouse has the left and right buttons, scroll wheel with button as well as 2 buttons on each side. Behind the scroll wheel is a small button for changing the mouse sensitivity on the fly. By default the mouse is set with two levels, 1600 and 3200 CPI.
The mouse has three light zones; the trim along the scroll wheel, a light behind the wheel to indicate which CPI level is selected and then a Steelseries logo on the butt of the mouse. By default these have a yellow lighting with the sensitivity light on when in 1600 mode and off in 3200 mode.
Flipping the mouse over we see the laser sensor that is the business end of the mouse. This does not light up, well at least visibly when in use. Below it is a small LED screen that by default has the words Steelseries on it. THIS is where the fun is, but more on this in a moment.The lack of a driver CD seems to be on purpose as the manual directs you to the Steelseries website to download the latest software for the mouse. This is not really a driver, as drivers are not needed for this mouse to function, rather it is control software for configuring this mouse, remember the claim we mentioned above. The update also includes the latest firmware for the mouse and updates it as you install the software.
I have used a few macro programs in my life and so thought I knew what I would see, man was I wrong. The base screen provides the button configuration for your macros or just basic functions. There are some default profiles loaded with the software as you can see from Evil Geniuses and Fnatic. There are also three basic Sensei modes, plus you can of course create your own profiles as well, as you can see the Computer Ed profile is in place already.
The mouse of course has some default functions for the buttons already set but these can be easily switched out to whatever you choose to use. For example the left keys have function set on them but I found that when I used the mouse I was accidently pressing those left buttons all the time. No problem, it took all of about 30 seconds to go in and turn off those buttons for my profile.
However the claim is that the Sensei is the most customizable mouse. Well setting a few buttons is not that big of a deal. However looking a little deeper into this software shows where the claim comes from. The next screen I am showing is the Settings tab in the software. Here you can change the level of sensitivity to just about any level you want. This allows you to not just set the default level but BOTH levels that you can use with the on the fly setting change button.
We also see control of some of the special features Steelseries has put into this mouse. FreeMove is a technology that helps stop jittery mouse movement. Most mice today use something like this but the Sensei allows you to adjust the aggressiveness, setting this to high will allow some great straight-line movement and lowering it will give you the most precise movement with your hand. This feature is really nice if you are working on picture files and need to be able to move straight, this is not just great for gaming.
ExactAccel is a dynamic CPI system, the faster you move your mouse the more it moves. This means a quick jerk can be used to move over a distance faster. Again increasing the aggressiveness of this setting means the affect is more pronounced.
ExactAim is the opposite of ExactAccel, as you move the mouse slower the CPI dynamically lowers to allow for more precise movement. This is awesome for sniper style players that need the quicker mouse movement for most of their game play but want that slow, deliberate movement for fine tuning their aim.
ExactLift sets the amount of distance the mouse must come up off the surface before it loses tracking. Keeping the value low means that the mouse must be close, this means picking up the mouse to reposition will not move the mouse. Set the number higher allows you to lift the mouse a bit more and still have control.
The Polling Rate is about how often the mouse sends data to the PC for updates. The higher this rate the more of your computer this uses, the lower the rate the less precise the movement translates on screen but it uses less of the computer’s resources to keep track.
Finally we come to the fluff, but fun, stuff. The color settings allow you to change the LED colors of the lights on the mouse. You have independent control of the LEDs for the scroll wheel, LOGO and sensitivity indicator. The pull down has 10 base colors but you have a much bigger selection available. The independent control of the lights mean you can create the look that is all you for the mouse. Last on that fluff list is the ability to create your own text or even image on the LED at the bottom of the mouse. Yeah I know this is not a big deal for using the mouse but it looks really cool. The bitmap has to be 128×32 to work but you would be surprised at what you can make fit in that area and look good. I was able to get Computer Ed Radio to go on like it does on our logo.
Now all this control is really cool, and of course we know you can have a lot of profiles, after all you can store and load them as you need right? But how about being able to have the profiles you use on ANY computer you hook the mouse too? The Sensei has non-volatile memory which allows it to store up to 5 profiles on the mouse. Remember what I said about the mouse not needing drivers, well it doesn’t. The software is for configuring mouse profiles and that is it, the mouse can store profiles on it and switch between them by using the sensitivity switch. Just hold it down for 10 seconds and the profile options appear in the LED and you can pick the one you want.
All of this control is possible because the mouse actually has its own CPU inside. That’s right a 32 bit ARM processor rests at the heart of the Sensei and is what allows for this incredible flexibility. This processor is about as powerful as an old Pentium 75MHz CPU, an awful lot of horsepower for a mouse!
Okay so we have a deep feature set but how does it work? Well you will recall I had some concerns when I first saw the mouse, let me address those first. I was worried the shiny finish on the mouse would be a finger print magnet and slick making it hard to grip. I could not have been more wrong. The surface seems to actually repel dirt with my mouse looking fresh and clean after a few weeks of use. While the surface is very smooth, with no texture on it at all, it is far from slick. My hand has no trouble staying right where it should.
I also expressed some concerns about the ambidextrous design and how it would fit in my hand. I had some issues early on with the mouse buttons on the side. I use the mouse in my right hand and my ring finger would bump the two side buttons fairly often. however this took about 30 seconds to fix with a quick trip into the software and turning off these buttons in my profile. With that problem resolved it only took a couple of days for my hand to adapted to the shape of this mouse. It fills my palm grip well and the side buttons on the left are perfectly placed. My thumbs rests below them so no accidental hits there and a simple lift to my thumb gives me easy access to the buttons.
As for movement the mouse has three large Teflon pads that let the mouse glide across the two moussing surfaces I tested. A really neat feature is that Steelseries has made replacement pads easily available for extending the life of your mouse. The button pressure is spot on with the buttons not being to hard to press or to easy and causing accidental presses.
The level of control you have on the mouse’s function is amazing and with a little effort you can create a truly personalized mouse that is perfect for the way you use it. The ExactAim is a feature FPS players will love. While not playing an FPS I am playing Skyrim in FPS mode and this is amazing to use when sniping with my bow. I have tested against a regular gaming mouse and the difference IS noticeable.
The color change feature might not effect performance but is still really nice. I love the fact I am able to customize the LED look to fit the color scheme of my computer. Add to this the very cool feature of adding a custom graphic to the LED at the bottom and this is a mouse you want to pimp. I still find myself turning over the mouse a few times a day to admire my Computer Ed Radio logo on the bottom.
Finally I am in serious love with the ability to keep the profiles on the mouse and it working where ever I go. I test a lot of software and move between computers more than I like. This way no matter what computer I am at I have my mouse, it truly is my mouse in settings and looks as much as possession.
Steelseries bills the Sensei as the, “worlds most customizable mouse”. I have to say I think they might be safe making that claim. While it may lack the external tweaking that the R.A.T. brings to the table the simple design of the Sensei means it will fit most hands just fine. However they go way over the top with the ability to tweak the way the mouse functions and that in my opinion is a lot more useful at the end of the day.
At the end of the day the best praise I can give the Sensei is to say that is has replaced my Sidewinder mouse. Since the release of the Sidewinder I have used no other mouse for longer than just reviewing it but the Sensei has finally uprooted it from my grip. At this point I have found no other mouse that lets me create as good a mousing experience as the Sensei.
The Sensei mouse is aptly named, it is truly the current master mouse that others can learn from.
Sensei Review Segment as aired live 19 Nov 2011