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SteelSeries' Rival 700 gaming mouse reviewed

Tactile feedback finds its way to the desktop

Game controllers have used rumble motors to provide gamers with physical feedback for decades. This technology has not only persisted over the years, it's evolved. Haptic feedback is growing in popularity and becoming more fine-tuned and precise than ever before. A number of intriguing products taking advantage of advanced haptics have gained the interest of gamers and the general public, such as Valve's Steam Controller. Virtual reality controllers have also incorporated haptic feedback, and even cellphones have gotten in on the game with tricks like Apple's Taptic Engine.

Gaming mice, however, have been left in the dust when it comes to giving users a buzz. SteelSeries has decided it's about time gaming mice caught up with the crowd and has created a mouse with its own tactile alert system. Say hello to the Rival 700. It not only features tactile alerts, but also comes fully kitted out with a small OLED screen, RGB LEDs, and modular parts.

Before diving into the fancy features of the Rival 700, let's cover the basics. The mouse sports a plain black look, interrupted by a repeating gray triangular pattern on the lower top cover. This triangular pattern surrounds a SteelSeries logo illuminated by RGB LEDs underneath the top cover. An additional LED glow emanates from around the scroll wheel. Thankfully, the LEDs don't emit overly bright, harsh light, and instead produce a soft, pleasant glow. However, most of the glow won't be noticeable as it'll be covered by the user's palm while in use. The LEDs can also simply be turned off for those wanting a plainer look.

Most of the mouse is composed of hard plastic, though the sides are covered by a rough, rubbery texture. The Rival uses a more subdued design than the overly angular stealth-fighter-esque design trend of many gaming mice these days. The few angles it does have are rounded and appropriately placed. It feels incredibly sturdy, with no rattling parts inside or out. The shape and proportions are spot on. It's one of those mice that simply feels good from the moment you first put your hand on it. I've had multiple people use it and immediately remark on how nice it is.

The two main buttons and the CPI toggle button all have a nice, deep, responsive click. The scroll wheel, however, doesn't quite measure up to the quality of the main buttons. Clicking down on the scroll wheel requires a bit more effort than I'm accustomed to, but that's simply my personal preference. At first, the extra effort was a bit tiring while playing Supreme Commander 2 and Planetary Annihilation: Titans, but I quickly grew used to it.

The actual scrolling action left me wanting a bit. The scrolling effort is quite light, but the individual activations are pretty clicky. This combination results in a somewhat cheap feel. Short scrolls feel fine. However, when you make a quick, long scrolling action, the scroll wheel seems to feel a bit unmoored and moves a tiny bit inside its housing. Clicks can also feel and sound slightly inconsistent when scrolling fast. Don't get me wrong: in day-to-day use, the average user most likely won't take issue with the scroll wheel. However, it's also the case that PC enthusiasts and gamers can be quite particular about the tactile elements of their peripherals, and I wish the Rival 700's wheel felt more solid.

The left side of the mouse is home to three buttons. The forward and back buttons are well-placed, well-sized, and delightfully clicky. However, the thumb-tip button in this cluster is placed frustratingly far forward. In order for my thumb to reach it, I would have to move my entire hand up and forward on the mouse. Users with larger hands might be able to reach it more easily, but then the user's thumb is too far forward to comfortably reach the button farthest back. The thumb-tip button isn't just awkwardly placed, it's also difficult to actuate. It's jarring to me how much stiffer this button feels compared to the forward and back buttons, and how unsatisfying its click is. (Other reviewers have had similar experiences.) After some frustrating attempts to use this third button, I simply disabled it and stuck to using the other two side buttons.

Now for a brief chat about what's probably the oddest feature of the Rival 700: the OLED screen. It's a small, rectangular, black-and-white display covered by dark, transparent plastic. By default it displays a SteelSeries logo, but users can go into the mouse software and use the bitmap editor or upload images and gifs that are 128 pixels wide by 36 pixels tall. SteelSeries provides a number of logos and gifs made for the display on its website, from a spinning Nicolas Cage face to a firing machine gun.

As great as a spinning Nicolas Cage face may be, displaying one on a mouse doesn't serve any purpose other than to be an amusing gimmick. The OLED screen's primary purpose is to function as part of SteelSeries' GameSense system, which we'll look at in a bit.

The first two bits of modular customization can be seen from the back of the mouse. For those who dislike the triangular pattern on the lower top cover or just want a different look, SteelSeries sells a swappable cover pack. The pack includes two black covers: one with a glossy finish and the other with a matte, textured anti-sweat finish. The latter also lacks the transparent SteelSeries logo, stopping any LED glow from escaping out the back of the mouse. Different covers seem like a neat idea until you notice that the cover pack costs $15. The average gamer probably won't spend $15 for only two, slightly different looking partial mouse covers.

The second customization option is more reasonable, though it's still not targeted at the average consumer. The rubbery nameplate that reads RIVAL can be removed and replaced with a custom nameplate. SteelSeries doesn't sell custom nameplates, but the company does provide the necessary files for those with 3D printers who would like to create their own. While 3D printers aren't accessible to everyone, custom nameplates are still a neat option to have available. I could see people marking their mice with their gamer tags for LAN parties or esports tournaments, though, again, this isn't a feature for the average gamer. To be fair, the Rival 700 isn't an average mouse.

The other two options for modular customization are revealed when the rodent is flipped over onto its back. Firstly, the sensor can be removed by unscrewing four screws and then pulling the sensor out by the two gaps in the sensor enclosure made expressly for this purpose. What's the point of pulling the sensor out of the mouse? Well, SteelSeries sells a PixArt 9800 laser sensor module that can take the place of the PixArt PMW3360 optical sensor in the Rival 700 by default.

The PMW3360 is considered to be one of the best mouse sensors on the market, and we'll investigate that claim shortly. Spoiler alert, though: unless you have a very specific reason for wanting a laser sensor over an optical sensor in your mouse, I see no reason to replace the PMW3360 already in the Rival 700, especially considering the $25 price tag of the 9800 sensor module. The option is there if you want it, though.

Lastly, two different cables come in the box: a smooth, rubbery one-meter-long cable and a braided two-meter-long cable. The connectors on the ends of the two cables fit snugly into the bottom of the mouse and cannot pop out unless a tab is pushed down, so gamers shouldn't have to worry about the cable disconnecting during use.

Here's a table of the Rival 700's core specifications:

  Rival 700
Dimensions (LxWxH) 4.92" x 2.70" x 1.65"
(125 x 68 x 42 mm)
Weight 4.8 oz (135 g)
Max CPI 16000 CPI
Sensor type Optical (PixArt PMW3360)
Switch type SteelSeries switches
Switch life 30 million actuations
Programmable buttons 7
Max polling rate 1000Hz
DPI switching levels 2
Shape Right-handed
Price $99.99

The weight and price of the Rival 700 are worth talking about briefly. 135 grams is quite heavy for a gaming mouse, especially one without adjustable weights. I personally prefer heavier mice. Heck, my daily-driver, the Corsair M95, is 181 grams. Most gaming mice nowadays are below 100 grams, though, and light mice are recommended and preferred by FPS players especially. If you're looking for a feathery rodent, the Rival 700 isn't it.

As for the price, $100 is quite the hefty price for a mouse, even one of the gaming variety. We've recommended multiple mice that go for half that price. Obviously the Rival 700 offers some features that most mice don't have, but something to keep in mind going further is whether these features are worth the hole they'll make in your wallet.