While the Logitech G9X makes its initial impression of flashy brilliance, the SteelSeries XAI is quite the opposite. This mouse has a much more classy, understated look. The black dark packaging, the jet black body; all with little deviation from its solid dark tones, bar a logo here and there. The retail package contents is similarly simple - you get a mouse, a booklet and a box. Oh, and a SteelSeries sticker.
The XAI isn't going to stun you with its shape or visible features. This mouse looks much like the cheap ones you'll find at the weekend computer markets with its very traditional shape. As far as installing goes, the XAI is also similar to such mice in that you basically plug the thing in and away you go - with no CD supplied in the box, at least not in the one I was supplied, you'd be excused for thinking the XAI was little more than a rebadged cheapy.
However, after some snooping around the supplies manual, you'll learn that software is available for the XAI from the SteelSeries website. And, after snooping around the mouse itself, you'll notice a small LCD on the base of the mouse. The two go hand in hand, in fact. The software, which is quite feature packed, lets you modify the profile settings of the mouse and the LCD on the mouse lets you shift between them. To access the LCD, you hold the triangle shaped button down from the wheel for 2 seconds or so and release, and you use the left hand side buttons to cycle through the profiles.
While this isn't ideal from the standpoint of being easy to change profiles without disruption, the fact the XAI has onboard memory for up to five profiles starts to show this isn't just some rebadged piece of junk.
And if that doesn't do it for you, maybe the software will. As mentioned, the SteelSeries XAI software is feature packed and offers a lot of fine tuning capabilities. In fact, the amount of options is a little overwhelming. SteelSeries ExactAim? ExactSense? ExactRate? FreeMove? ExactAccel? Each of these has a slider bar you can adjust and knowing what each does is anyone's guess.
Not to worry, though, as the software has you covered with a very handy information breakdown of each setting, neatly accessible down the right hand side of the utility. For example, ExactRate is just a fancy name for polling rate, which you can define to the hertz between 125 and 1000Hz. Before long you'll be able to take your mouse configuration to a new level and while each setting alone won't make a huge difference, collectively they allow for an impressive level of fine tuning when it comes to moving your small 2D arrow around the screen. You can even download profiles from the web, including a few from top CS 1.6 gamers from the SteelSeries website.
So while the initial impression of the XAI was quite underwhelming, once you delve a little deeper this mouse really starts to show its muscle. You get the impression SteelSeries was not trying to push the XAI out there as a super mainstream option, but rather as a niche offering for those gamers who know what SteelSeries do and know to check out their range before making a purchase decision.
And perhaps it is because I'm also using a SteelSeries surface, but the XAI just seems to glide with so much ease. The base of the mouse has some very smooth and slippery feet, requiring little effort to move around. The body is also quite comfortable despite its extremely simplistic approach. In fact, this simplistic, traditional approach to the design of the body means the XAI is ambidextrous, at least in theory ; I can't really confirm this as I'm hopeless with my left hand, but it seems to be a symmetrical design, so I can believe it. The weight is also at a very comfortable level. Every button feels solid and crisp, including the scroll wheel, although there is no side scrolling functionality on the XAI.
And that's pretty much the only significant complaint there is to be had of the XAI - that it lacks side scrolling. Like the G9X, the XAI is a wired mouse and, also like the G9X, the cable tends to tangle fairly easily, but likewise again this never really became an issue at any point other than perhaps being ugly to look at. The minimalistic approach to the mouse as far as buttons and onboard gadgets goes means you only have two DPI settings to toggle between (as defined in the software), but like I said in the G9X analysis, do you really need so many to choose from? Two seems suitable to me.
SteelSeries have a winner with the XAI and they have done so while keeping things simple and minimal. The XAI is a modest but very worthy gaming mouse that just feels right. At 79.99 Euros, the XAI translates to a price slightly higher than the G9X as far as RRP goes, but likely significantly higher in the real world since the G9X is supplied in far greater retail channels. Nevertheless, our next mouse up, the Razer Abyssus, has certainly got its work cut out for it.