SteelSeries Sensei review: SteelSeries Sensei

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The Good Phenomenal performance. Industry-leading tweaking features. On-board profiles, and on-board profile editing. Ridiculously overpowered CPU. Silky-smooth gliding.

The Bad Confusing custom button assignment. Horrible, inflexible macro creation and editing.

The Bottom Line The Sensei is a phenomenal mouse. It's a testament to its performance that despite having woefully horrible button customisation and macro support, it's still one of our favourite mice.

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9.0 Overall

Review Sections

The images of the Sensei online don't accurately portray the look of the thing; it looks like it's been spray-painted in a glossy reflective silver, of the type that feels like it will rub off a year after you've owned it. This might not be the case, but given the fact that we can hardly hold onto a mouse for a year before we review it, we'll have to give SteelSeries the benefit of the doubt.

Shape-wise, it's tempting to call the Sensei an upgraded Xai, and, given that the major point of difference is that there's a 32-bit ARM processor inside, that may not be an assessment that's too far off. SteelSeries claims said processor is as powerful as the original Pentium 75. Let that sink in for a moment. Technically, this mouse could run the original Quake, which slightly bakes our noggins.

The SteelSeries logo at the base glows an orangey yellow, while the scroll wheel has racing stripes in the same colour, as does the LED for the button underneath. Anything that lights up isn't stuck on orange; the control panel offers a full gamut of colours to play with. There's a button under the scroll wheel that switches between two count per inch (CPI) modes; two side buttons on both sides; and, of course, the usual left and right mouse buttons, as well.

It's an ambidextrous, simple mouse, which, like the Xai, just happens to have an LCD on the bottom.

For the most part, this just displays the SteelSeries logo. You can display a logo of your own; however, its use goes deeper than this — hold the CPI button for three to five seconds then release, and suddenly you can directly edit the profiles that you've saved to the mouse, software-free. The Sensei, like the Xai, is truly a LAN mouse.

SteelSeries also has new software for customising the mouse, which looks decent and does the job well. It doesn't cope very well with the show-desktop function of Windows, though (requiring us to click its icon five times afterwards, before it would reappear repositioned in the top left corner), and the customise-buttons screen is completely over-engineered and confusing. To change a button, you click on the one that you wish to change, and a new panel unrolls. Easy enough. What you're presented with, though, is a bunch of options completely irrelevant to this task: a custom name to call the button; what colour you want that button to be in the config screen; what tooltip you want to assign to it; even what font you want to use. These are distractions — move along.

Below is a text box, completely unlabelled, where you can actually set your button assignment. This is no simple button assignment, though; hover the mouse over, and start inputting keyboard strokes or mouse clicks, and the software starts recording a macro. That's right, folks; every button by default is a macro, and you have to record everything, no matter how simple. There's no insert function here, no list of common game functions — although there is a list of default mouse buttons that you can drag and drop to each mouse button in the diagram, should you really screw things up. Once you're done, click save, and the new button assignment is applied.

I ... er ... huh?
(Screenshot by CBS Interactive)

Once you get used to it, it's not so bad, but SteelSeries offers no hints and no help button to tell you what's going on, and the positions of the save buttons and everything else just don't make sense.

There's also a special type of hell brought about if you've replaced the default function of the left-click button. Without the ability to left click on anything, and with SteelSeries' control panel not respecting keyboard tab navigation of any form, the only way you'll get back that left mouse button is either by fiddling with the hardware profile swap on the mouse, then deleting the software profile (assuming you've still got right click), or by plugging in another mouse so you can click on the appropriate areas.