SteelSeries gear is only recently come to retail shelves in our wide brown land - previously, if you wanted to side with this premium Swedish-built gear you'd need to order it online. And SteelSeries gear is expensive to begin with, so adding shipping costs could be quite prohibitive. Now that it's here, though, it's much more approachable.
Price and the rather high claims of the company aside, there's no doubting that the Xai feels really great in your hand. It's well-weighted and features symmetrical curves that will leave any cack-handers our there smiling. There's eight buttons in total, and they're set up to also work for left- or right-handers. The smooth finish isn't rubberised, but still feels grippy enough that you're not going to risk throwing the mouse across the room next time you have to wheel and fire in a tense session of fragging.
It also features a classy cloth-wrapped cable, and if you flip the little vermin over you'll find... an LCD screen!?
Yep, that's because you can control the mouse's (mice's? Meese's?) profiles and even more granular settings via the mouse alone. Hold down the button that allows you to change the SteelSeries equivalent of DPI, and you bring up the profile interface and a host of settings, that you can then scroll and click through using the main mouse buttons. But...
For all its cooler-than-thou styling - or, perhaps, because of it - getting to grips with these settings can be a little awkward. For one thing, there's no real manual included with the mouse to explain the difference between the settings. You might think that that'll all be made clear once you install the software, but, again, you'll be disappointed - you'll need to download that from the SteelSeries site yourself.
Even once that comes down, you'll need to wait for the software to update the mouse's firmware.
Once you get all this done, you can start taking advantage of the granularity of the Xai's customisability. But what's annoying here is that you don't get everything you need in a package that's more expensive than the vast majority of mice.
SteelSeries is pretty gung-ho about its take on gaming-grade mousing. Its engineers don't believe in DPI - instead, you get CPI (Counts per inch). This kind of "Only we know how to make a gaming mouse" attitude exists across the board, but even more annoying than the lack of manual or software in the package is the fact that SteelSeries may well be right.
After fiddling with various mouse smoothing and tracking variables, we got to testing. Then we fiddled a bit more, and tested a bit more. At all times, the Xai felt a cut above other mice in terms of the feeling of precision - it didn't necessarily deliver in actual performance increases, but it felt superb.
Compared to our stock mouse - a Razer Lachesis - we got about a second off the completion time on the Killhouse training level in Call of Duty 4. This doesn't really compare to the performance boost that some mice deliver, but it's worth pointing out that we were a lot more accurate in our fire. Lateral movement seemed a little loose, however, as we missed a few vital entrances. But at all times the experience of using this mouse really was... premium!
One of the main issues with this kind of reviewing, however, is spending the time to really learn a piece of technology. It's not usually an issue with mice, as they tend to be good or bad, but the Xai is a breed apart. From the highly tactile click of the two main buttons, to the ease of use for left-handers (there's even a simple button in the control software to switch things around), this is a serious piece of kit. But at the end of the day there's also the price to consider - at $30 more than our KitLog-preferred Microsoft X8, we're just not sure we're getting the most for that money.
If you do have the money to burn, and precision is more important than speed, this is a superb mouse. But for the rest of us, it's more a curio than a must-have.