by J.D. Kane on July 8, 2013 in Peripherals
In our review of CM’s Sentinel Advance II gaming mouse last year, we found it to be a feature-filled product that was also comfortable to use, but it fell short of earning our wholehearted recommendation. This time around, we’ve got the SA II’s direct replacement, Havoc. Will the new kid on the block surpass its predecessor?
I’ve been using the Havoc for about a week-and-a-half. In that time I’ve put it through all sorts of usage scenarios: Gaming, Web browsing, even using it one day at my day job just to get a feel for it as something far more utilitarian than its gaming mouse classification.
Let’s talk about the software first. In my opinion, this is the weakest part of the Havoc package by far. I have to confess that I’m not a big fan of the aggressive black and red aesthetic and the splashy Havoc graphics on the top of the GUI. It’s not that I don’t like the color scheme; I guess I just prefer cleaner and more elegant presentation over garish graphics. I’ll concede that I may not be the target audience for this product and its software (I’m far closer to forty than I am to fourteen). But there’s nothing wrong with straightforward and simple.
But it’s not just the visual presentation where the software seems weak to me. While the GUI lays everything out with an admittedly sensible organization scheme, there are a couple of specifically bad things about it. Foremost of these is in the Macro section. I have to confess that I never got to test this part of the software simply because I couldn’t make it work for me. For whatever reason, it was simply impossible to program macro commands in. I tried consulting the manufacturer’s website for a user’s manual, but the .pdf supplied was utterly useless insofar as teaching you how to use the software. That’s hugely disappointing. The other bad thing is a similar issue with the Library section of the GUI. I couldn’t test this out either because, well, obviously I never got to program any macros in. I was at least able to intuit what this part of the software is for by clicking around it.
I’d say that it’s entirely possible that my inability to test these parts of the software package is purely just my issue, but Rob highlighted the same sort of issues just last summer with his look at the Sentinel Advance II. Still, other end users might be able to figure out how to program macro commands and use the Library section of the software with no problems. In my opinion, though, one end user unhappy with a product for the specific reason that he or she can’t figure out how to use a feature is one too many.
I think that Cooler Master would do its customers a huge service if it wrote and issued a proper user’s manual for the Havoc, particularly with a focus on the software. What good are a product’s features if end users don’t know how to use them?
Happily, the rest of the Havoc’s software is pretty solid. It’s very easy to assign new functions to the buttons; assigning and manipulating user profiles is also very intuitive. Configuring other settings such as DPI, the lighting scheme and coloration, and click speeds is likewise very user-friendly. I especially like the responsiveness and granularity of the software: You tweak something, and you’ll feel the Havoc’s performance change predictably.
Turning our attention to the mouse itself, it’s superb on several levels, and a little quirky in a couple of others. Let’s save the best for last and highlight the quirks first.
First is the trio of thumb buttons on the left flank. This is the second mouse I’ve tested with three thumb buttons. Unlike the other one, though, the Havoc has its three thumb buttons all in the same horizontal row. While the middle button has a totally different texture compared to the ones flanking it, I found it too easy to confuse this button with the one behind it. Consequently, instead of having my Web browser go back one page, the mouse switched User Profiles on me when I hit the rear-most button. Now, this is easily fixed in the software, but if you don’t bother to install the Havoc’s software, it’s a weird phenomenon to experience. Intuitively, the front button tells your Web browser to go forward one page, while the rear button is the page backward command. Unfamiliarity with the Havoc’s default button assignments might be a bit disconcerting. Then again, at least it’s easy to tweak the button assignments in the software.
Another quirk is with the glossy and smooth right flank of the mouse. Visually it’s a great contrasting element to the rest of the Havoc’s matte black rubber coating. For someone with sweaty hands, that shiny and smooth right flank is a minor nightmare. My hands don’t drip with sweat, even while gaming, but they do perspire. Consequently, the right side of the mouse gets moist, and you know what happens when a smooth surface gets any moisture on it: It gets a bit slippery. Not only do I feel like I need to wipe the Havoc down every hour or so just to keep it clean (and good looking; I don’t like smudges or fingerprints on my gear), it also feels odd to have the left side of the mouse be super-grippy and the right side slick. It’s a very unnatural feeling.
These strange details notwithstanding, though, the Havoc is a great mouse. Ergonomically it’s near-perfect. The size and shape lend themselves really well to a palm-style grip. It’s super-comfortable to use, in large part due to the rubber coating. It’s very smooth, yet it’s also quite grippy. Cooler Master has come up with the best surface treatment for a mouse that I’ve ever had my hands on. For this reason alone I was severely tempted to swap out my daily driver mouse for the Havoc. Then you’ve got the rubber thumb grip on the left flank. Feeling that rubber on your thumb inspires confidence; in fact, this one detail is what damned CM’s decision to have the opposite side of the mouse be done with a slippery gloss finish. Otherwise, the only minor ergonomic detail that might need tweaking, at least as far as I’m concerned, is the aforementioned trio of thumb buttons.
There are other things going for the Havoc. The buttons are superb to use. Their positive action, ideal travel and responsiveness all add up to the impression that the Havoc is a high-quality piece of kit. Plus, they’re not loud at all when clicked. Also, the Teflon feet allow the mouse to move smoothly on most surfaces. In fact, the only surface where the feet seem to catch is my Bristol paper board (where I do my photography).
So what do we make of the CM Storm Havoc gaming mouse? The software is mostly solid; my only misgiving about this part of the Havoc package is with its macro-creation capabilities. This could have been addressed very easily if the company had supplied an actual user’s manual for the software. I can overlook the GUI’s aesthetics, but the difficulty I had with the macro-creation feature is too big to ignore. And I don’t think it’s fair to have end users contact the company just to learn how to use a product to the fullest extent of its capabilities.
As for the mouse itself, even given its quirks, I really liked the Havoc. I’d redesign the tri-thumb button arrangement, for sure, so that the buttons aren’t all on the same plane. But more than this, the glossy right flank is visually arresting, but is otherwise useless. I would have rather had a completely rubber-coated mouse and superior grip and maximum control than have a more visually interesting product.
That’s such a shame, too, because the Havoc’s rubber coating is really transcendent. I love it that much. I honestly wish my daily driver mouse had that same surface treatment. And I also love the rubber grips on the left flank. They’re comfortable and are just super-grippy. These design touches are just superior and make me wish all mice had them.
So is the CM Storm Havoc worth its $54.99 asking price? I think the answer truly depends on whether or not you’re willing to overlook its deficiencies (primarily in the software) and quirks. If Cooler Master wrote and provided an effective user’s manual describing how to get the best out of it, then that would be the biggest boon and would eliminate the biggest problem I have with the Havoc. The quirks of the hardware side of the equation are more minor in comparison; either you can tweak the mouse to get around the quirks, or you can eventually adapt to the unusual difference in feel between the left side and the right side of the mouse. If you can forgive these faults, then $54.99 is a great price for such a fully-featured product with truly superior ergonomics and great built quality.
But if I’m being brutally honest, at this point, the flaws are too hard to ignore.
- Great build quality; feels much more expensive than it is
- Priced to sell
- Responsive to changes in set-up in software
- Superb ergonomics: Great shape for right-handers
- Grippy surface coating
- Rubber on thumb rest
- Perfect buttons
- Unintuitive parts of software
- Macro-programming, specifically
- No real or useful instruction manual available
- Slippery right flank is a confusing design detail given being super-grippy overall