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SteelSeries Xai Laser Gaming Mouse Review

Author: AkG
Date: February 22, 2011
Product Name: Xai Laser Mouse
Warranty: 1 Year (NA), 2 Years (EU)
Purchase at NCIX: |
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There are some out there who like to think of gaming peripherals as flashy, extravagant products that cater to a select group of well-heeled individuals. However, there is another and some would say much larger segment of the gaming populace who don’t want shiny LEDs or convertible palm grips. They want a straightforward peripheral that works well and features robust yet unobtrusive software yet doesn’t have the look-at-me styling of many other products. That’s where SteelSeries enters the equation.

For many “serious” gamers, SteelSeries is who they turn to for their high performance peripherals like headsets, keyboards some serious gaming mice without any needless extras. Instead of using precious time and untold effort making their products look fancy, SteelSeries’ engineers are in the business of making great performers rather than skin-deep supermodels. Their latest -the $89.99 Laser Xai- hopes to continue this trend of excellence through understated design.


Packaging & Software

The packaging container SteelSeries has opted for is not only colorful, but also allows the mouse to be held without removing it from the packaging.

Unlike the flashy packaging, the Xai Laser’s software isn’t quite eye-catching but it does to the job. In fact we would go as far as saying it was very utilitarian in its approach but this isn’t to say it is in any way an inferior piece of software. It just isn’t as polished as some others we have come across.

Much like the software which has accompanied other mice we have reviewed, the Xai’s software consists of four logical pages which then branch off into a number of sub-sections for fine tuning. The main page is where most time will be spent since it allows for button programming via drop down boxes which have a list of predetermined options.

Meanwhile, the second tab incorporates hardware numerous hardware tweaks for some extremely high levels of customizability. Everything from counts per inch (aka DPI), to polling rate, to advanced settings such as ExactAim and FreeMove are found here. This page may look simple but under that simplicity it really is overflowing with little details one can use to tweak the Xai Laser to suit a particular set of gaming needs. There is even an area where the LCD screen contrast and brightness settings can be adjusted which is interesting considering the screen is located UNDER the mouse.

The third page is used for telling the OS what its standard list of defaults should be set to. Unlike some programs which simply load the default Windows mouse pop-up, SteelSeries has taken a different approach and have seamlessly blended all those options into its own software. Of course, the end result is the same but it will be less confusing to novice users as the Xai Laser software will be their “one stop shopping center” for setting up their mouse instead of the usual dual parallel programs needed by most of the competition.

The last page really is both helpful and yet will not be visited all that often. We say this as its only concern is to indicate which version of firmware and software is running on the Xai Laser and Xai Laser software. It also provides easy to use links which will direct you to the SteelSeries website for possible software upgrades. A built-in scanner is also incorporated alongside this software which will automatically scan the mouse once it is installed and prompt the user to upgrade the firmware and software if either is out of date.

Our only real gripe with the software is the lack of a clearly defined macro editor section. The software from most of the competition puts the macro editor front and center but for some reason SteelSeries tucked it away behind a few doors. Even though the option for modifying macro parameters is there, only way to access it is by selecting one of the six buttons drop down boxes and selecting “Macro Editor”. Doing so allows a separate dialog box to open and the buttons can be further configured via additional modifiers.

The lack of an in-your-face, dedicated macro editor tab may cause some novices to stumble around in the dark but we have to believe most users will find the commands without much of a problem.

Alongside the aforementioned hide and go seek experience with the macro commands; we also found it odd that SteelSeries used some non-standard language in their software. One example of this is the tracking precision being labeled as “CPI” instead of the more commonly used “DPI”. We’re sure everyone will figure this one out for themselves (not to mention the fact that Counts Per Inch is a more accurate way of describing tracking precision) but the deviation is nonetheless noteworthy.

Honestly, besides the hard to find macro editor the only real annoyance we have with this software package is the fact that the number of options included for each button is extremely limited. If you are used to software from the likes of Gigabyte or Logitech, this meager list of options will likely be a bit disappointing. Luckily, the editor itself is quite robust and while not as advanced as some, it is still user friendly and very well thought out.

Helping balance off these minor annoyances is a feature that will make all you left handed users out there instantly sit up and take note: an ability to instantly change the Xai from “right hand” to “left hand” mode. Even for righties, this feature is extremely nice to see as it opens up a whole new set of possibilities. Naturally, the possibility of using this mouse in either hand has more to do with its design rather than any software tricks.




Our Experiences with the Xai Laser


Much like just about any SteelSeries mouse on first glance the Xai Laser doesn’t look all that special. In fact, you could easily be forgiven for thinking it was the stock mouse that came with some off the shelf “prebuilt” system from the likes of Dell and HP. Luckily, perceptions in this case are only skin deep and any such assumptions of banality are seriously misleading since the Xai is truly in a class of its own. To put it bluntly, for the palm grippers out there SteelSeries has made a product that will fit like a second skin, regardless of what size hand is holding it.




Accurately communicating the subtle perfection of SteelSeries mice isn’t easy since in this case there aren’t any easily describable design attributes which allow for greatness. Rather, the utter lack of superfluous “ergonomic” flourishes makes for a product that should appeal to almost everyone.

Usually, the comfort (or lack thereof) of a peripheral is largely dependant upon personal preference but the Xai is designed in such a way that it is almost palm size agnostic. The subtle rise of the back coupled with the rubberized texture ensures a firm grip even in the most sweat-inducing situations and allows for control without any compromise.

With that being said, the Xai’s design doesn’t allow for comfortable use in every situation. I personally have a large hand and found it a touch on the narrow side for my usual finger grip and almost uncomfortable for my hand when used in a claw grip.

When it comes to the features SteelSeries managed to cram into this mouse, here too we were extremely impressed and yet still left craving for a bit more. There are eight buttons and a vertical only scroll wheel but for horizontal scrolling a different SteelSeries product will be needed. While all of these buttons are customizable (via the software) only six can be used for executing macros. The right mouse button, the scroll wheel (up and down) and the ninth button (for lack of a better word) cannot be set up for macros and thus are extremely limited in what they can do besides the standard options.

This “ninth button” we mention isn’t for standard commands but rather it fulfills the role of what a dedicated DPI toggle would do on other mice. Basically, here are two mouse sensitivity options per profile and pressing this button flips between the two (with a little LED to tell you which mode is being used). This may not sound like enough, but in our opinion it does the job without resorting to a mass of lights and other gaudy things. With a bit of practice and patience in setting the two sensitivities properly, this one button can fulfill all the uses of two DPI buttons while providing a much quicker changeover than other products allow. In many ways this single button is best considered an improvement over Cyborg RAT series’ “sniper button” that allows for on-the-fly DPI adjustments. By using this function properly, it is possible to have the Xai set to a fast DPI setting for quick shots and with the press of this button, slow things down for a long range headshot. For any of you readers who have craved the Cyborg RAT’s sniper button but loathed the idea of using a mouse with the Twin-Eye sensor, the Xai Laser is the one you’ve have been waiting for.

The lack of horizontal scrolling abilities for the most part was not missed in our testing but we can see how it could be an issue particularly in some strategy games. Nonetheless, there really aren’t many instances where horizontal scrolling is used in games so we can excuse its absence from the Xai.

Unfortunately the lack of a dedicated profile selector switch on this mouse can be considered a huge loss. Sure, there are two buttons on the right side of the mouse, but neither is meant for this role. SteelSeries fully expects you to either use the software or flip the mouse over and use the combination of the small bottom mounted LCD screen and the DPI button to do what should be a quick and painless operation. Other companies all have mastered the ability of including ten or more buttons on their mice along with a profile switch so we feel fully justified in expecting the $90 Xai Laser should do the same.

Regardless of the MIA profile shortcut, there are enough buttons (with access to macros) that setting up most options in a single profile shouldn’t be an issue. We just have to remember that SteelSeries makes a point of stating that five custom profiles (including downloading professional’s own profiles) can be saved to the mouse itself but fail to say how hard it is to access them on the fly.

We can harp about the lack of a profile button but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that the Xai’s buttons are all extremely well placed and easy to use. The two right sided buttons will take a bit of getting used to but they are perfectly placed for custom macro use and pressing them will soon become second nature.

One of the most impressive aspects of the Xai is its tracking capabilities Even without using the advanced correction features such as ExactAim (which we dislike on general principles), it simply worked on everything we threw at it. On cloth, plastic and even on uneven surfaces we saw steady performance without a single tracking error.



Conclusion


Over the last two years or so, it seemed like every company was hell bent on releasing their own peripheral line to make a quick buck. We have seen our fair share of outlandish features, uncomfortable designs, sky high prices and dead end marketing campaigns but SteelSeries found a way to weather this competitive storm by sticking to a simple, no compromise approach. Instead of trying to stand out from the crowd they went back to the basics of good mouse design and stuck with a tried and true formula for the Xai Laser.

Let’s be truthful here: the Xai really doesn’t bring anything new to the table and in many respects it will likely be considered a basic gaming mouse by many. But that isn’t a bad thing at all. What it sets out to do is provide a no-frills approach to a market that’s full of bloated products and in our opinion SteelSeries has succeeded in leaps and bounds.

There is an understated beauty lying in the simplicity of the Xai but that’s not to say it slouches on the performance front either. From tracking to a well-designed bottom mounted LCD to well rounded software, we were constantly impressed by how it handled itself in games. There are plenty of mice out there which are all show and no go but the Xia Laser proves that “gaming” products don’t need far out looks and an unlimited number of features to be successful.

One of the best things about many SteelSeries products is the fact that features aren’t added simply because they’ll make good looking bullet points on a marketing presentation. This may cause some to overlook some of their more interesting products. However, you owe it to yourself to seriously consider the Xai Laser over the competition since it offers what we find to be an enviable balance of features, comfort for palm grippers and gaming performance.

 
 

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