gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

SteelSeries Xai Gaming Mouse Review

I made no secret about my love for the SteelSeries Ikari Laser mouse, it was a great performer and had an interesting ergonomic that worked in both my left and right hand, despite being sculpted for the right. SteelSeries have broken the mould, however, and produced the Xai. A mouse that is to the Ikari Laser what gods are to mere mortals.

The Xai takes mousing to absurd extremes, building all of the customisable settings you could ever want right into its firmware, editable entirely on the mouse itself. As you might have guessed, customising your mouse using buttons on the mouse might be quite fiddley without feedback on what option you’re changing and to what degree. Fortunately, SteelSeries have, as on the Ikari laser, put a freaking LCD display on the bottom of the Xai to rectify this.

From its outward appearance you could be forgiven for thinking that the Xai is a generic, cheap mouse. It’s not obscenely sculpted, or blessed with blue LEDs or chrome trim. No, the Xai is a truly professional mouse, cold and functional yet somehow elegant and comfortable. Flipping it to reveal its underside shows just how much technology is packed into this gaming tool, and the LCD is the icing on a ridiculously boast worthy cake. Too bad I have never really had the gaming skills to back up my access to such an elaborate selective of hardware.

Unlike the Ikari, where the LCD didn’t really do an awful lot, the mode switching button on the top of the Xai can be held down, granting you access to extensive, multi-profile customisation options. Using the tertiary mouse buttons and/or mouse wheel you can navigate through these options and tweak them to your hearts content, without so much as installing a lick of software on your computer.

Mac and Linux gamers (we’re a slowly growing breed) may now take a moment to rejoice, for there are far too many devices which sport customisation software exclusively for windows and are, thus, not much cop in our weird world of alternative gaming. I, for one, thoroughly enjoy being able to use the Xai, with all its customisation subtlety, with my Mac, in OSX, playing the growing number of games available via Steam, or simply virtualised in Parallels 6 (which plays some games beautifully). There is desktop software available for the Xai, but it’s unnecessary and useful only really for the explanations it gives about the various options. And, naturally, it only runs on Windows.

The Xai includes multiple profiles, each with two modes and a plethora of sensitivity customisation options, the bread and butter of mousing. The ability to bind different settings to the two modes of each profile is available via the built-in LCD customisation menus. The mode is toggled using the button under the mouse wheel and the active mode is indicated with a simple white LED, which is either on, or off. The obvious choice here is run-and-gun and sniping modes, switchable with a single button tap. I find myself using such a setup in BFBC2 and have a slightly improved level of accuracy and a much calmer, more calculated aim as a result.

Alongside these basic options are an array of advanced features such as mouse course correction in the form of FreeMove and ExactAim which control anglesnapping/course prediction and jitter correction respectively. I tend to turn these options off for gaming, but having a profile to hand with them on is great for general desktop mousing, graphic design in particular. SteelSeries are adamant that the Xai gets you closer to hardware precision than anything else out there and the ability to turn off these common mousing correction algorithms, or even adjust them, goes a long way towards achieving this.

More advanced options include ExactRate, rate being the frequency that the mouse reports it’s position to your computer. This can be set to a multiple of your screen refresh rate for optimum mousing smoothness, although you would have to be particularly preceptive to notice a difference.

Sadly the Xai will not gratify out of the box, and the sheer amount of granularity and range available in the core options will demand a lot of time, trial and error to get to grips with. Finding your perfect Xai setup is a chore, but you will be pleased to know that the mouse remembers these settings even if you disconnect it and connect it to another computer.

Customisability aside, the Xai goes back to the classic ambidextrous design of mice, before someone decided they needed hefty dose of lefty thwarting ergonomics. These so called ergonomic mice have never really been any more comfortable than their symmetrical equivalents, and a return to the basic, RSI-friendly concept of a mouse is greatly welcomed.

In fact, the proliferation of RSI is most likely the reason that an ambidextrous approach is making a comeback. Injuries sustained from excessive mousing are no joke, and the ability to comfortably switch hands when the pain hits is reassuring. This isn’t terribly likely to happen in the middle of a gaming session, but during general desktop use you’ll most probably appreciate it more. A button can also be bound to swap the left/right mouse buttons, although I have never seen the point. I simply left click with my middle finger and will probably regret it.

Overall the Xai is a cracking mouse, and I really need to get my hands upon a second one as ferrying it back and forth between work is a nuisance and my Ikari Laser mice are both wearing out from excessive use. Perfect sensitivity and accuracy, coupled with driverless configuration and operation and an ambidextrous design make it the closest thing to mousing perfection. I have yet laid my hands upon. My Magic Mice are feeling mighty neglected right now, and I have even rested the temptation to pick up a Magic Trackpad. That’s saying a lot about how dependent I have become on the Xai. Fairly impressive from a mouse that, at first glance, looks extremely plain and unassuming.

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010, PC, Personal Computing.