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Customer Review

on 16 September 2011
Pros:

1) Driverless operation and it can memorize up to 5 profiles without having to install any software. You can switch between profiles using an LCD display on the underside of the mouse and by using middle click + scroll wheel. Once you set up your profiles and store them on the Xai's onboard memory, you literally never have to fiddle with your mouse settings again or reconfigure them because you share your PC with different people, right handed or otherwise.

2) Ambidextrous shape reminiscent of the Microsoft Intellimouse 1.1, a now discontinued and classic mouse with a second hand price that has ballooned in recent years. In use it feels like a wider, flatter Intellimouse 1.1 with smaller side buttons, a rubberized coating and less chunky plastics. Weight is approximately the same. The matte rubberized coating is not a finger print/oil/dust/lint magnet and is similar to the coating on Razer mouse products. Build quality is quite good except for the scroll wheel which feels loose. You can wiggle it from side to side and you if you press on it and wiggle your finger, you can feel it give. It also rattles if you pick up the mouse and shake it. The 8th mouse button (by default the DPI switcher) is located beneath the scroll wheel and this is in an awkward position. Its difficult to quickly and reliably activate it without taking your middle finger off the scroll wheel. The overall impression I got was positive however.

3) The level of customization is unreal and the control panel software is excellent, intuitive and easy to navigate. You can change DPI in increments of 1 up to 5001 and you can change polling rate in 1hz increments up to 1000hz. You can also change windows mouse settings in the control panel such as Windows sensitivity and swapping mouse buttons around (for left handers) so its nice to have access to all your mouse settings in one place. I haven't gone Start -> Control Panel -> Mouse since I picked the Xai up and I don't miss it. There are also a number of tracking/smoothing/aim assist sliders but I like to turn all of these off.

Cons:

1) This mouse has some UEFI compatibility problems that can cause a range of boot sequence related problems depending on your computer. In my case, my keyboard doesn't get detected until I hit the Windows 7 login screen which means I can't enter the BIOS or safe mode. I then have to wait about 10 seconds at the login screen for my keyboard to be detected so I can type in my password. The fix is simple but annoying: don't have the Xai plugged in when you turn your computer on.

It is difficult to tell whether you will experience this problem or not depending on your BIOS but for reference my computer is a Dell XPS8100 from 2010. BIOS is American Megatrends v2.67. Another thing to note is that some users may experience extremely long boot times if their boot order has an external drive in it. This is presumably caused by the Xai's onboard memory getting confused as a USB flash drive with a bootable operating system on it. I fixed this problem by removing external drives from my boot order.

If you don't turn on/off your computer this may be something that you can live with. I didn't have much of a problem with it until one day I did, in a straw that broke the camel's back moment. When I contacted Steelseries about this issue they said it was a firmware level problem, and whilst they were very accommodating and offered to exchange the mouse with another model, they would not confirm or deny that a firmware update was in development. As such I would err on the side of caution and assume that for all intents and purposes, Xai firmware development has ceased and will continue in the Sensei. At least this was the general feeling I got when the Sensei was mentioned in relation to the Xai. I could not fault Steelseries' after sales support however and I think that John W and Mike S are great ambassadors for the company. Hell, they even replied to emails on the weekend.

2) I don't think this mouse tracks very well on cloth mouse pads. I found it very jittery at medium to high sensitivity on a QcK Mass and it only becomes tolerable if you set the DPI very low. In general I found this mouse picky about what surface it will track on. If you buy this mouse, it generally works much better on hard, matte, smooth surfaces. I was loathe to buy into the marketing spiel about 9HD but after picking one up, I have to say Xai + 9HD is a good combination and all of the tracking issues disappeared, even at extreme sensitivity (like 5001 DPI and 1000hz). In case you were wondering, 9HD is the same length as a QcK Mass but the width is about 1 cm less. 9HD also has a cutaway so take that into account too.

Note about positive acceleration:

This mouse has been much criticized for having a small degree of positive acceleration, even with all of the tracking/smoothing/assist features turned off, Windows Sensitivity set to 6/11 and "improved pointer precision" disabled. I can't say the magnitude of this effect is significant or even noticeable though. I couldn't see any discernible difference by sweeping the mouse along a ruler between 2 books at different speeds and at different DPI/polling rate settings. I don't play games competitively and don't need to reflex click on a moving pixel sized object very often, so maybe it is noticeable under such conditions. Nonetheless, it is my understanding that the Xai uses the same Sensor as the Logitech G500, G700 and G9x so if this problem does exist, it also likely exists in a number of other mice.

Conclusion:

On balance this is a good mouse when paired with the right surface. Boot related problems may or may not be an issue for you depending on your BIOS. If you are looking for a modern reinterpretation of the Intellimouse 1.1 then this is it. Like the 1.1, it is relatively comfortable for folks with smallish hands (for reference, mine measures 17cm from the base of my palm to the tip of my middle finger).

I think that one of the great positives of this mouse, its customizability, is also one of its negatives. This is one of the main things that separate it from a 1.1 which is the epitome of simplicity. On this mouse the DPI can be set so high its practically unusable, and if you have various aim assist and smoothing features enabled, or you use it on the wrong surface, this mouse can be really strange to control. You will have no idea what the hell is going on with your cursor/crosshair. The more you change your settings, the less settled you get so I sometimes miss the crudeness of the mice of ye olde days where you just got used to your mouse because there wasn't anything you could do to change it anyway. It begs the question - why offer so much choice and flexibility when the idea is to keep your mouse settings consistent so that mouse control becomes reflexive? On the flipside, theres enough control to tailor the settings so that it behaves the way you want it to, provided you know what that is. The onboard memory and profiling helps to keep your settings consistent, no matter what computer you are using and no matter what drivers other people have installed on it.

I'm not sure I can give it my full recommendation as the boot issues are real and you cannot tell if you will be one of the unlucky ones until you buy it and find out the hard way. All of my boot troubles were fixable with minor inconveniences like having to unplug my mouse whenever I turn off my PC and not being able to boot from a flash drive with my mouse plugged in. If you turn your computer on/off alot, this will eventually drive you mad.
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