SteelSeries still ship their mice in a solid cardboard box. Even though the mouse is relatively expensive it comes pretty much bundleless, all you get is a sticker, and a manual. To my surprise I did not get a driver CD, however, with a mouse as new as the Xai you are better off logging on the their website and getting the very latest driver. As it turned out the mouse also needed a firmware update, this was handled automatically by the driver software and was a totally painless affair you did not even have to unplug the mouse anytime during the update.
The silly trend now-a-days is having mice with braided cables. The Xai features a softer and slicker type of braid than the mice I have previously tested, however, I still much prefer a regular type cable even though it does not look as good, it certainly gets the job done.
The USB plug is gold plated and seems to be of a good quality. The strain relief system seems very solid.
SteelSeries mice have always looked good. And the new Xai is no exception, the simple design is very stylish. It seems that SteelSeries kept the toned down color scheme from the older Ikari mice.
The buttons are seamlessly integrated into the shell of the mouse, just like you see on some Logitech and Microsoft mice. Performance wise the buttons are really neat. The travel is short and the tactile feedback from a click is adequate.
The scroll wheel seems to be a trimmed version of that featured on the now elderly Ikari mice. Back with the Ikari there was a slight problem where if you pushed the scroll wheel sideways a little it would begin to stick somewhat. That problems has been fixed completely with the Xai and the whole scroll wheel assembly feels firmer. Still no horizontal scroll, but with the driver installed you could configure the opposite thumbs buttons to left / right operation.
Another nice thing about the design of the Xai is that it is completely symmetric which means that there is a set of thumbs buttons on each side, which is great news for all the lefties in the world.
On the bottom side of things the Xai keeps the style from the Ikari mice. There is a small illuminated LCD display that can tell you info about the profile being run. The mice feet on the Xai are absolutely brilliant the glide is a lot better than with normal high performance Teflon feet. Besides the glide the mouse feels well balanced and does not tilt back and forth like the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 3.0.
The only bling besides the one LED placed and the LCD on the bottom is a white SteelSeries logo.
The driver suite for the Xai mouse is very well crafted. It seems that SteelSeries have put a fair amount of effort into the drivers for this supposedly driverless mouse. The driver lets you manipulate all sorts of parameters and even gives you the option define your own custom smoothing curve. Beside the smoothing feature which allows you to tweak the mouse response you also get to manipulate the acceleration constant, which can come in handy in some games. SteelSeries say that this mouse driverless, however, with the amount of neat stuff you can trim in their driver you should definitely check it out before settling on a setup.
PerformanceThe SteelSeries mouse exceeds what I thought was possible to achieve with a 2nd generation laser sensor. The SteelSeries Xai manages to provide just as smooth and precise tracking as the recently reviewed mice with twin laser sensors. Interestingly enough the Xai seems to be slightly less put off when you lift it off the surface it is tracking. The odd cursor behavior you get once you lift the mouse is much less interfering with the Xai than with both the CM Storm Sentinel Advance and the Razer Lachesis, which both use sensors from the Phillips Twin-Eye lineup. Even though this mouse is supposed to perform worse than the two others it actually winds up being the other way around. All of the three mice are impossible to trick into doing negative acceleration or other random behavior when it comes to plain on the mat tests.
The tracking of the Xai is impeccable and it does both high and low sensitivities equally well which is nice. The mouse is of course a tad overkill if you are a low sensitivity gamer. At a medium to high sensitivity the resolution of the sensor and the speed of which it tracks movement makes it one of the top performers around. For low sensitivity you are still equally well off with just a Logitech MX-518 or Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer at 1000 Hz polling rate.
Besides the obvious advantage such as the tracking capabilities of the sensor the shape of the mouse is also quite important. The ambidextrous design makes it just as potent with left or right handed gamer. The button configuration and layout is well thought out as well and makes the mouse extremely comfortable to use even over an extended period of time. Ergonomically the mouse reminds me a lot of my old Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 1.1 only a tad bigger, which is sweet for people with normal sized hands. The buttons are quick to push due to the short travel and there is sufficient tactile feedback in order to know whether you actually pressed the button or not.
Another small yet important innovation is present under the mouse. The three large Teflon feet provide perfect glide, and they are actually quite a bit better than what is present on other high end gaming mice. The glide is smooth and stable. The glide is somewhat like what you can achieve with a set of QPAD or SteelSeries glides, but a little smoother which might be the effect of the large area they cover as opposed to the size of regular mouse feet.