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SteelSeries Sensei Gaming Mouse Review

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AkG

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The current peripheral landscape is cluttered with so called “gaming mice” that feature enough marketing lingo to make them all sound like the Second Coming. Unfortunately this situation makes choosing the proper mouse for your needs next to impossible. Nonetheless, there are some key variables that experienced gamers tend to focus upon: ergonomics, features, software and price. On paper the new SteelSeries Sensei hits all of these crucial areas and appears to be a gaming enhancement peripheral worthy of accolades.

SteelSeries has built their reputation upon a solid foundation by giving hardcore gamers what they want, need and desire without any extraneous baubles or gimmicks. Their mice are always cutting edge, hard core gaming peripherals the reflect SteelSeries’ extremely conservative nature. When you buy one you don’t expect it to have gimmicky OLED screens, flashing lights, slip-on over-molded grips, or anything which could possibly take away from your gaming enjoyment. It is simply made to work well in a variety of situations without adding a bunch of unnecessary fluff.

To create the Sensei, the ambidextrous “Xai” design was used but a few additional twists were added. SteelSeries crammed in processing power equivalent to the original Pentium CPU and then added a touch of flash in the form of three distinct illumination zones. This oddball light show makes the Sensei unique amongst SteelSeries mice but it does come with three individually adjustable zones; each capable of producing any one of 16.8 million colors. Some may decry such a “mainstream” feature from a company known for their understated designs but hey, its there if you want it and can be turned off with the flick of a switch.

With a MSRP of $89.99, the Sensei is just as expensive as their Xai Laser, which may seem expensive at first glance but the competition’s offerings are usually priced higher and sport fewer features. Nonetheless, in a market that’s veritably littered with comparable products, the Sensei will need to find a way to stand out

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AkG

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Specifications

Specifications



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AkG

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Sensei Packaging & Software

Sensei Packaging & Software


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Muck like the Xai Laser before it, the Sensei’s packaging is as colorful as it is useful. The amount of information at your fingertips is impressive as is the fact you can hold the mouse in your hand without needing to remove it from the box.

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Unfortunately, while the box is impressive the list of accessories is not. Most high end “gaming mice” include at the very least replacement low friction feet but all we get here is an instruction pamphlet and sticker - seems a touch out dated.

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In our previous SteelSeries mouse review we commented about how utilitarian and confusing the software suite was. Luckily, it appears SteelSeries listened and did things much better this time around. The new software interface which accompanies the Sensei is not only much more polished and refined, but is also laid out in a logical manner. Nothing is hidden behind numerous menus and accessing the macro editor is simple. When you click on a given button, the bottom of the screen switches to editor mode where you can either create new macros or re-use ones previously created.

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While this new software setup is a step in the right direction, SteelSeries has once again only included a smidgen of single key presets for you to choose from. If the action you want is not in this somewhat anemic list you will have to create a custom macro.

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Luckily, things start to shine when you change over to the Settings page. This single page contains all the advanced features of the mouse in one easy to understand grid pattern.

Since the Sensi does come with illumination abilities it is interesting to note that this feature does not get its own dedicated page. Rather than this logical setup, SteelSeries has just included a small box to allow for customizing the three zones.

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The only gripe we have with the customization of the color light zones is a lack of precision. While there is a color pallet to choose from, it isn’t possible to input a precise color in RGB, CMYK or even hex format. You need to randomly hunt for it and hope it is what you are looking for. Considering the software has the ability to precisely adjust the CPI in increments of one (aka ExactSens), this lack of fine grain control over something as unique – for SteelSeries – is jarring in its juxtaposition.

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First time users will most likely be a bit confused by some of the techno-babble SteelSeries use for some of their advanced features but the actual learning curve here isn’t all that steep. We still agree that Counts Per Inch is a more accurate way of describing tracking precision but DPI or Dots Per Inch is the norm.

Counteracting any distress is the massive list of advanced features this mouse offers. Everything from lift off distance to CPI to the CPI doubling setting is all here on one page. There are also some new features with old names. For instance ExactAIM is now useful since it actually reduces – in real time – the CPI setting during small movements but large, fast movements causes the CPI to go back to its default position. When this is coupled with ExactAccell’s ability to dynamically increase CPI, the Sensi becomes the perfect mouse for nearly every situation.

The Sensi uses a 5,700 CPI sensor, yet you can “raise” this to 11,400. This doubling ability – or what SteelSeries labeled DCPI – is thanks to the powerful ARM processor embedded within the housing which interpolates information since 11,400 DPI sensors don’t exist in the market.
 
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AkG

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Our Impressions of the Sensei

Our Impressions of the Sensei


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The most obvious comparison most gamers will be making will like be the similarity between the Sensei’s chassis and that of the Xai Laser. The number of buttons, their layout and even the wheel are the same so anyone is accustomed to the legendary Xai will have no trouble familiarizing themselves with this new mouse. The design is classic to say the least and can be used by either right or left hand dominant gamers so it is highly adaptable.

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Even when looking at the Sensei’s underside, you would also be hard pressed to point out the differences between it and the Xai. There is a small sensor hole and below it a small LCD so SteelSeries fully expects a gamer to stop what they’re doing to either change the DPI setting or scroll through a long list of additional feature. However, this small control area will quickly become an indispensible interface since it allows for on the fly software agnostic changes. In short, you will be able to set up profiles and move the Sensei from one computer to another without having to worry about losing your well-worn settings.

What is simply inexcusable is SteelSeries stubborn refusal to implement a typical profile selector switch button. For all intents and purposes their setup limits you to one profile per game as there is absolutely no way to switch profiles quickly. This has always been a weakness of SteelSeries mice and while the Sensei did get a head to toe makeover, this issue is still around and mars an otherwise impressive design.

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With this major caveat out of the way let us move our attention to the least noticeable new feature: the three zone illumination. These three individually adjustable zones consist of a rather large SteelSeries logo at the back of the mouse, the DPI selector switch and the wheel.

We are mainly ambivalent on the whole lights vs. no lights debate that seems to crop up with every new gaming mouse and our thoughts about this feature on the Sensei is are no different. If you want them on, feel free to play with the 16.8 million available colours but for those of us who can’t stand pointless “bling”, SteelSeries gives you the option to shut ‘em down.

Other manufactures could – and should – take note of this illumination design as it is simply the best implementation of lights we have seen on any mouse. There are no garish front mounted lights or other similar accruements to annoy or break your concentration, yet the illumination provided makes its presence known when necessary.

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While the illumination of the Sensei has been done in an extremely mature, sensible and sane manner the same just can’t be said about the finish. The metallic coating makes this mouse look like the famous T1000 of Terminator fame and runs contrary the SteelSeries’ usually subtle, subdued mentality. It is bold, brash and when used in a bright room actually overpowers the glow emanating from the Sensei. It will be the first thing you notice about this mouse but it allows this mouse to look more like a piece of post modern art than a gaming peripheral.

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Sadly, while this mouse does indeed look like a work of art and is sure to be a conversation starter at LAN events, it is a less than optimal finish for gaming grade devices. While the chromed surface isn’t as slippery as some might think, it does not provide a surefooted grip like the Xai’s rubberized surface. It may have been a rare occurrence, but occasionally it did slip when held in our typical palm grip. The amount of slippage was negligible - as our hand slid down the back of the mouse and rolled our wrist - but it did cause a break in concentration.

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This palm grip slippage issue was rather minor, but the problems we ran into when the Sensei was used in a finger grip were simply unforgivable. With the mouse tightly nestled in a typical finger first position, our grip was rock solid thanks to the rubber side panels but on occasion trying to depress one of the two main buttons our finger would slide along the surface rather than making complete contact. This tended to cost us time and in certain instances it made us miss long range headshots at higher CPI settings which is simply unforgivable in a gaming mouse.

It goes without saying this almost slippery surface will make the Sensei a terrible claw grip mouse and after only an hour we gave up in frustration. It is also worth noting that this all happened when our hands were perfectly dry. We can only imagine how much worse it could get if we had been sweating during in the final round at LAN event where a large payday was on the line.

This is a damn shame as ExactAim and ExactAccel actually do what they claim to do: make quick kills easier. Being able to seamlessly slow things down - like a Cyborg RAT mouse, but without having to hold a button - is amazingly effective at improving precision aiming. The same can be said of the speed increase associated with ExactAccell; we have never been able to do 360° spins to kill someone sneaking up on us as fast and as easily as we did with the Sensei. Honestly, these features are so great and so seamlessly blended into your gaming experience they were unnoticeable until we tried using a different mouse.
 
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AkG

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Conclusion

Conclusion


The gaming mouse niche is easily one of the most fast paced portions of the peripheral marketplace which essentially means every manufacturer is trying to make their products unique. This sometimes leads to great leaps forward but it can also lead to spectacular failure. If history has taught us anything, it is that no company is perfect and even the best of the best can stumble from time to time. So with that in mind, welcome to the world of the SteelSeries Sensei.

Time and again we have seen cutting edge peripherals from SteelSeries which are minimalistic yet infinitely functional for the changing needs of today’s gamers. For the most part the Sensei continues this tradition with its sophisticated, intuitive combination of great software and raw processing power. Everything from adjustable lift-off to CPI doubling abilities puts this mouse in a different league than many so called gaming mice. Even the integrated lights are done in such a way as to make most competitors’ implementations seem immature and tacked on.

Sadly, going hand in hand with the new cutting edge features and light show is the all new chrome look. This move towards loud and some would say outlandish finishing choices is a massive departure away from the usual SteelSeries approach of minimalistic, subtle design. If the new look hadn’t compromised the Sensei’s usability, we’d wouldn’t have a problem but unfortunately, it has compromised both grip and ergonomics. Having your hand slip while in the heat of battle is an unforgivable sin for a gaming mouse and no matter how infrequently it happened, once is once too many. If it wasn’t for this slippery, grip-defying finish, the Sensei would have been the mouse to beat but as it stands, far better options exist in the same price range.

While the grip issue is by far the most glaring problem with the Sensei, implementing profile selections isn’t exactly a cake walk either. Quite a few other gaming mice allow for profiles to be quickly selected with the press of an easily reached button. SteelSeries’ stubborn insistence upon placing the profile button on the Sensei’s underside means on the fly profile changing is impossible without some serious mid-game manipulation.

Regardless of its foibles, the Sensei is still a top tier gaming peripheral that has some truly amazing features that are bound to impress even jaded users. It does have a surface that lacks grip consistency which means it fights an uphill battle against SteelSeries’ own Xai when it comes to input accuracy and long term comfort but we'd still highly recommend taking a long, hard look at the Sensei if you are contemplating a new gaming mouse.


Pros:

- Great looks
- Plenty of useful features
- Three well defined illumination zones
- ExactAim & ExactAccell are simply amazing
- Reasonable price
- Single CPI increment tracking adjustments

Cons:

- Chromed surface provides a less than optimal grip surface
- No fast, easy way to change profiles on the fly
 
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