The SteelSeries Rival optical gaming mouse ($59.99) is a perfectly good product, but it should have been better. Despite an ingenious design and a smart array of features, something about both the mouse and the software that accompanies it feels halfhearted. A few more features, or better implementations of existing ones, could have propelled the Rival to greatness.
In an era in which gaming mice tend to embrace abbreviated bodies and low profiles, the Rival bucks the trend. This is a large mouse, one best suited for people with large hands. Its body is long enough for a comfortable palm grip and curved enough for a comfortable claw grip. Combine those features with pleasantly rough-textured pads for both the thumb and the two outermost fingers, and the Rival has nothing to worry about when it comes to physical design.
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The Rival possesses six programmable buttons: a left button, a right button, a clickable scroll wheel, a dots-per-inch (DPI) sensitivity shift beneath that and two thumb buttons off to the side. The DPI shift is a bit on the small side, but beyond that, all of the buttons are large and provide satisfying amounts of resistance, with audible clicks.
In particular, the thumb buttons are some of the better ones we've seen. The distance between the two buttons makes them easy to tell apart, and the elevated ridge in the center of each makes them both very easy to click. Hardcore massively multiplayer online (MMO) players might need more options than the Rival provides, but otherwise the mouse is a great example of how conservative design is often worth its weight in buttons.
SteelSeries also highlights that you can 3D-print your own nameplate and insert it in the bottom of the mouse, but the feature felt a bit superfluous to us. Even if you have your own 3D printer and the requisite design chops, your palm will cover the front of the mouse most of the time, anyway.
The Rival's software is perfectly functional, and in some cases, attractive and streamlined to boot. The problem is that the software is a bit obtuse and often makes simple tasks much more difficult than they need to be. In a market dominated by the slick, efficient Razer Synapse 2.0 and Logitech Gaming Software, even small inconveniences can hinder an otherwise good mouse.
The mouse runs on the SteelSeries Engine 3 software, which provides a relatively clean and sleek interface. You can use the software to program buttons, record macros, customize the two DPI settings (between 50 and 6,500 — huge for an optical mouse) and control the peripheral's illumination.
You can create as many profiles as you want (though the option is hidden in the vaguely named "configs" menu), and you can even assign multiple games to one profile. This is a great help, as it allows players to use the same configurations for whole genres of games without having to set up new profiles each time.
The Rival's weak illumination poses a real problem, especially given the number of profiles players can program. Users can control the illumination level and color of both the scroll wheel and the SteelSeries logo at the bottom of the mouse. In our tests, the colors were extremely muted, and the mouse could not display deep reds or greens at all. There is no DPI indicator, either, meaning users must tell apart the two DPI settings by feel.
While nothing important is missing from the Rival's feature set, it doesn't go above the call of duty, either. What you see is what you get.
Much like every other part of the mouse, the Rival's performance is exactly what it appears to be: competent and unexciting. When playing "BioShock Infinite," "StarCraft II," "Batman: Arkham City" and "World of Warcraft," we found the mouse to be responsive, precise and accurate.
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The two thumb buttons proved their worth easily, letting us pick up items in "BioShock Infinite" or cast spells in "World of Warcraft" without fumbling around on the keyboard. That said, "World of Warcraft," in particular, could have benefited from more buttons. High-level MMO players may want to seek out a mouse that allows them to assign a multitude of skills and commands rather than just a handful.
The textured pads on the Rival also came in handy for longer play sessions, as our hand never got tired or slipped off, even when sweating. The mouse's design could be a boon for those who play for hours at a time rather than for quick, isolated sessions.
The Rival has no appreciable liftoff range, and the Z-axis tracking is a mixed bag. Picking up the mouse and setting it back down will sometimes cause the cursor to travel, but other times have no effect whatsoever.
The Rival's advertising promises "pro-grade performance," "comfort and control," and "maximum personalization." To SteelSeries' credit, this mouse delivers on every single count — but it's not the only mouse on the market to do so.
Overall, there's very little objectively wrong with the Rival, but there's not much to set it apart from the pack, either. The Logitech Proteus Core has a better design; the Razer DeathAdder has better software; the Corsair Vengeance M65 has more genre-specific features. Still, if you've got big hands and want something comfortable, the Rival is a solid choice.
Laser Depth: 2.5 mm
DPI: 50 – 6,500
Size: 130 x 68 x 40 mm
Weight: 129 g
Grip Type: Palm/Claw
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