Date: September 12, 2012
Author(s): J.D. Kane
SteelSeries unleashed its Sensei in 2011; one year later, the revamped Sensei [RAW] joins its ever-growing gamer-oriented line. Join us as we see whether or not the newest model’s “less is more” approach is enough to merit its celebrated predecessor’s status as one of the acknowledged masters of the gaming mouse class.
Sometimes, it’s quite wonderful to have everything you think you might need available right at your fingertips. That seemingly was SteelSeries’ rationale when it released the mighty Sensei gaming mouse last year (read Rob’s review here in case you missed it).
With its ambidextrous physical design, a top-notch laser sensor, a 32-bit ARM onboard processor, onboard memory for storing mouse user profile settings on the mouse itself, and bling items such as the ability to change the mouse’s LED colors, a white-on-black LCD on its underside, and a shiny metallic-like finish, what more could you possibly ask for? That’s a lot of extras to go with your rib-eye, certainly.
Having so much sizzle with the steak, though, costs. For most people, ~$90.00 for a mouse is a bit rich, no matter how well-equipped. SteelSeries understands this, and smartly has seen fit to release a slightly revamped variant of the venerable Sensei.
Meet the Sensei [RAW].
On first blush, the Sensei [RAW] doesn’t appear to be all that different compared to the all-singing-and-dancing original. The most obvious visual difference is the finish. The [RAW] is available in either a glossy black surface finish or a dark gray rubberized finish. Personally, I would prefer the rubberized finish, simply because shiny surfaces have a nasty tendency to show fingerprints and other blemishes. I also tend to prefer more austere aesthetics, so I’m very happy that SteelSeries saw fit to send Techgage one of its rubberized models.
Like the original, the [RAW] is an ambidextrous mouse. Consequently, it looks identical whether you’re viewing it from the left or the right. The profile view shows the two side buttons. By default, the [RAW] is set up as a right-handed mouse, which means that the left-side buttons are configured like most other right-handed mice: The front button actuates the Page Forward command, and the rear button executes Page Backward.
The mouse has seven buttons, plus one dedicated CPI toggle switch. There are, of course, the left-click and right-click buttons; a pair of buttons on each side; and the scroll wheel button. Speaking of the scroll wheel, it features gradients all along its rotational travel, which gives using the wheel a very satisfying tactile feel. The CPI toggle button is situated just behind the scroll wheel, far enough so that it takes a conscious effort to change CPI settings (instead of, say, hitting it accidentally).
Now looking at the mouse’s underside, we don’t find the original Sensei’s LCD screen. Instead, there is a frosted translucent plastic floor through which you can see the [RAW]’s electronic guts, as well as three feet. Just a few millimeters aft of the mouse’s dead center is the laser sensor emitter.
Flipping the [RAW] right side up again, can see that the mouse does allow one small concession to bling: The SteelSeries logo at the mouse’s rear does have a white LED behind it which lights up when the mouse is plugged in and powered on. The white LED matches two other LEDs on the mouse, which are mounted in the scroll wheel as well as just in front of the CPI button. Unlike the original Sensei, you cannot change the color of the LED. By default, the SteelSeries logo LED lights up and darkens in a breathing effect, but you can change the LED’s behavior if you install the SteelSeries Engine software.
The Sensei [RAW], like all PC mice, works perfectly fine with Windows drivers. However, to take advantage of all of its features, you need to install the SteelSeries Engine software suite.
The download is a mere 36.8MB before installation, so any fears that this is useless bloatware should be allayed. After installation, you can tweak the Sensei [RAW] to your heart’s content.
Engine is divided into four main parts: Button; Settings; Properties; and Statistics. The Button section is like a blueprint, in that it shows you where each button is located. This section also allows you to configure what each button does. If you want a single button to execute a macro or start an application with a single button click, this is where the magic happens. If you want to disable any of the mouse’s buttons for whatever reason, this is where you do it. Finally, if you’re a southpaw and you want your [RAW] to go to left-hand mode, where the left side buttons’ functions are switched over to the right side buttons, it’s all just a click away in this section.
Settings is where the mouse’s sensitivity (measured by SteelSeries in Counts per Inch, analogous to Dots per Inch on other manufacturers’ mice) is configured. As you can see, there are two sliders; the LED Off slider is meant to designate the slower CPI setting, while the LED On slider designates the faster CPI setting. On the mouse itself, you can set the CPI to slow (LED off) or fast (LED on); the sliders configure specifically how slow or fast you want your cursor to move. The extreme degree of granularity of the mouse’s sensitivity adjustment is quite unlike other mice I’ve used in the past.
You can also set the mouse’s Polling Rate and Illumination on the Settings section. The Polling Rate goes in 125Hz steps, from a minimum of 125Hz to a maximum of 1000Hz. Illumination controls the mouse’s LEDs’ behavior. You can set the LEDs’ intensity (Off/Low/Medium/High) and “breathing” effect pulsation (Steady/Slow/Medium/Fast). Just for clarification, “Steady” means “on the whole time.”
The Properties section is where you can define user profiles. Unlike the original Sensei, these user profiles cannot be stored onboard the hardware. That means that you can’t just move your [RAW] to another PC, select your user profile, and start using it exactly the way you use it on the original PC. It’s a hardcore feature, I suppose, but in the real world most people aren’t hardcore (no matter their most elaborate delusions of grandeur). The [RAW], though, allows you to save as many user profiles as you wish. In fact, through Engine, you can theoretically set up a unique user profile tied to specific applications. So, say, you want your Sensei [RAW] to behave in a specific way for Crysis 2 and have it set completely different for Battlefield 3, the Properties section of the Engine software is where it’s done.
Statistics is probably the most superfluous section of Engine. Basically it’s a click-counter. If for whatever reason you want to log how many times you use a particular button (say you’re trying to figure out which buttons would be used the most, in which case you might want to assign your most critical functions to them for maximum efficiency), you can track your click stats in the Statistics section.
Engine is a very intuitive piece of software. Even without the benefit of reading a user’s manual on it, you can figure out how to use it and get the best out of your mouse.
I’ll mince no more words and just say things as simply as I can: The Sensei [RAW] is now my favorite mouse. This baby is a keeper.
Choosing a favorite mouse is all about personal preference. It’s very rare when a mouse won’t do what it’s supposed to do, so how and why a mouse becomes a personal favorite is all about how it goes about doing its job.
Ergonomics is a gigantic consideration, for one. Over the past few years I’ve gotten used to asymmetric, right-handed mice. In fact, all of the mice I’ve owned are strictly for right-handers. Muscle memory conditioned me to assume that having my right thumb sit higher than the outside of my palm was the best way for me. A few short minutes after I first plugged in the Sensei [RAW], all that muscle memory disappeared. What’s left instead is a feeling that is best expressed by the following simple sentence: “This feels so right.”
It’s difficult to articulate how moving from an asymmetric, biased mouse design to a symmetrical ambidextrous one can lead me to such a definitive conclusion. The difference in basic layout (right-handed vs. ambidextrous) is certainly radical, but I think the critical details are not in the layout so much as they are in the execution of the details.
For one thing, the balanced design allied to the size of my hand means that every button, even the right-side buttons, is very easy to reach. I don’t have to shift my grip at all for either my ring finger or my pinky to hit either of them. Maybe it’s simply serendipitous that my hand fits the [RAW] so well, but in my opinion most hand sizes would be accommodated just as well (unless, of course, your hands are as big as Optimus Prime’s).
Speaking of the buttons, the [RAW]’s are probably the most satisfying to use of any mouse I’ve ever tried. Click action is very positive, the travel distance just perfect. Nothing feels chintzy or cheap on the Sensei [RAW]. In the time I’ve spent with this mouse I’ve never had to re-click any of the buttons, nor have I had any accidental clicks. With almost all of my previous mice, I’d either accidentally press one of the buttons or would have to press again to get it to do what I want it to do.
The rubberized surface treatment is also super-comfortable to touch. The texture is not exactly smooth, nor is it too coarse. I can’t compare it with either the original Sensei or the glossy black variant of the [RAW], but the rubberized variant feels like it was made for my hand.
Moving the mouse is also a treat. No matter the surface it’s on, whether it’s a padded mouse pad or a super-rigid one, or even if it’s just the top of my desk, the [RAW] just glides smoothly.
Rob said in his review of the original Sensei that the mouse didn’t make him a better gamer. I don’t game online or competitively, but what I would say is that the [RAW] feels like a natural extension of yourself. Using it in FPS games is intuitive; you never have to hunt and peck for the correct button to execute the appropriate actions in-game. I strongly agree with Rob’s take that while it may not make you a better gamer per se, it makes gaming more enjoyable.
In terms of aesthetics, I’m totally sold. The design is balanced, symmetrical, essentially simple. Not even the big, LED-lit SteelSeries on the [RAW]’s rump doesn’t do anything to detract from its elegance. The austere matte-gray finish, so different from the comparatively garish shiny metallic color scheme of the original Sensei, is the perfect cherry on what is already great aesthetic cake.
Albert Einstein once said, “Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.” It seems SteelSeries took heed: it took what was already a celebrated, highly-rated product and improved it not by adding even more features, buttons, or capabilities, but by distilling all that was great about the original Sensei and then wrapping it all in a far more elegant package. Where the original Sensei tried to wow and overwhelm you with everything it could do – even all those things that you would probably never use or need, but still paid for anyway – the [RAW] instead just delivers on everything you do need. There are still a few concessions to bling (particularly on the glossy black variant), but you now have the choice to wear the classy dark suit if that was your preference.
By keeping things pure, simple, and elegant, SteelSeries now has the ultimate Sensei in the [RAW], especially when you consider that at $59.99, it’s a good bit more affordable than the original Sensei’s $89.99 asking price.
Less sizzle, more steak.
The SteelSeries Sensei [RAW] easily earns Techgage’s Editor’s Choice award.
SteelSeries Sensei [RAW] Gaming Mouse
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