SteelSeries is one of my favourite gaming peripheral makers and somewhere deep in the cold, stony recesses of my withered heart I carry a burning torch for the simple design ethic it employs.
Efficient, simple, without fancy gimmicks and very often coloured black – that's the SteelSeries way it seems and, while the last point may seem a little bit odd, believe me when I say it can sometimes make all the difference in a world which seems to be predominantly iPod white.
So, I approached the new Ikari gaming mouse and SP gaming mousemat from SteelSeries in a similar fashion. Coolly, calmly and with a mood which, if manifested into physicality, would be like a brewing thunderstorm. That last part wasn't deliberate by the way, I just had a headache and the remnants of a New Year's man-cold lingering in my nostrils.
The grumpy mood turned out to be fairly fortuitous though, letting me review the Ikari with a clear perspective – important because the Ikari itself has been massively hyped and built up in the peripherals circle. Rumours and design schematics can often be found littering, as if whispering of the impending greatness that the mouse could hold. Whether all those rumours were justified or not was something I was going to find out...
When I first got the SP through the post I have to admit that, despite my man-cold induced grumpiness, I was just a tiny bit happy and excited. My mouse mat of choice at work and at home is the SteelSeries SX Steel pad and I love it to bits. Not only is it a smooth, non-slip pad, but the steely nature means it can also be used as a light shield or discus when the zombies inevitably attack.
Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with the SP when I first ripped open the packaging though – and that's not just because the plastic construction ruined its potential as a multi-purpose survival tool either.
On paper, the SP mat is great – it's decently sized at 27cm by 32cm and the rubber underside is the same as on the SX, so that you'll struggle to shift the SP by accident. The top layer tracks beautifully with a number of different laser mice, including both laser and old-fashioned ball-mice.
The problem I had with the SP though was far simpler than any of these worries and was, unfortunately, a constant problem for me. One word: texture.
The surface of the SP is what the packet calls 'macroscopically textured for minimum friction', but I prefer the phrase 'covered with tiny bumps'. The finish is perfect for mice and the pad comes with some fresh adhesive skates in case your mouse has lost it's glide, but it's woefully punishing on the human wrist.
Click to enlarge
Moving the mouse around quickly began to rub on me a little bit and my wrist was quickly irritated. If you're a finger-tip mouser who never moves his arm over the pad then you'll probably be able to escape unharmed – but if that's the case then I don't know what you're buying a mousemat this big for in the first place.
To be completely fair, the more I used the SP, the more I found myself getting used to the gritty underhand feel of it and the more I was able to forgive it – but I still found myself longing for my beloved SX right through my review period.
Mousemats are very hard to review because, not only are they essentially quite boring and samey, but the perceived quality of one is very much a personal thing.
Me? I prefer large, smooth mousemats with a sturdy feel an a completely non-slip underlinging. Rich on the other hand prefers a massively over-sized cloth mousemat, while Tim has so many different mice and mousemats set up with his various PCs that its impossible for even him to keep track.
There's a wealth of different options out there for hardcore gamers without even looking at the various ghetto solutions constantly suggested by some of the forum's most vocal misers – everything from baking sheets to soldered together sweet wrappers.
So, when it comes down to it it's hard to know where to stand with the SP. It's a good mousemat technically, offering superb tracking and all the usual stuff, but whether or not it's really better than any other mousemat depends on the hand behind it.