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:
|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|
|Max polling rate||1000Hz|
|DPI switching levels||2|
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.
Throughout my time with the Rival 700, I played an extensive variety of games, though they mostly fell into the FPS and RTS genres, with Supreme Commander 2, Titanfall 2, and Battlefield 1 being prominent among them. Not once, in all my time using the Rival 700, did I experience any sort of tracking issue. Both in and out of game, the PixArt PMW3360 sensor felt smooth and responsive.
I could end my comments on the sensor here, but simply stating my loose, subjective experience with the sensor isn’t terribly convincing or thorough. Other than simply playing games with the Rival 700, I did a bit of testing in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with raw input on and zero mouse acceleration. First, I put two books on my cloth mousepad, opposite each other with the mouse in between and a gap to move the mouse in. Next, I cosied the mouse up to one of the books and fired a single bullet at the wall. Then I moved the mouse across the mousepad till it rested against the side of the other book and fired another bullet. Finally, I moved the mouse back and forth against the two books.
I repeated this process multiple times in different locations with varying spaces between the two books, along with different distances between my character and the walls around him. Every time the mouse was up against either of the books, the cursor was pointing at the bullet hole left from the bullet fired when the mouse was originally up against that book. What this test tells us is that the mouse has a one-to-one ratio between mouse movement and onscreen movement, which is fantastic. There’s no hidden mouse acceleration happening inside the Rival 700, and the mouse should consistently point where you mean for it to. Sensor tracking consistency is key when building muscle memory in games, so this is great news.
I also tried to get the mouse to spin out or lose tracking in any way by slamming it down at odd angles and violently moving it around my mousepad. However, no matter what I did, the sensor never lost tracking. Lastly, I checked for angle snapping by drawing lines in MS Paint, and there’s clearly none happening, though both mouse acceleration and angle snapping can be turned on and minutely tuned in the software for those who want it.
One final note about the sensor: it comes with an incredibly small lift-off distance, which effectively reduces the chance for rogue movement while picking up and moving the mouse to zero. However, unlike some mouse software, SteelSeries Engine 3 doesn’t have configurable lift-off distance. This isn’t a huge deal as the default lift-off distance is great for most people, but some like to adjust it to their personal tastes. Also, assuming it isn’t a hardware limitation, the software could be updated to allow for configurable lift-off distance.
Like many gaming mice, the Rival 700 has optional downloadable software. Unlike many gaming mice, that software isn’t clunky or gaudy. The SteelSeries Engine 3 greets the user with a clean, intuitive interface and a friendly tutorial outlining its basic capabilities. After the introduction, the user is free to assign various actions and commands to the Rival 700’s buttons, customize its LEDs, adjust its sensitivity, edit its polling rate, and tinker with a whole host of other settings that come standard in most gaming mouse software.
The Rival 700, however, isn’t a standard mouse. The software unlocks the capabilities of the mouse’s OLED screen and tactile feedback features. We’ve already covered the basics of the Rival’s OLED screen, so we’ll focus on the tactile feedback. Outside of GameSense, which we’ll unpack in a moment, the software has two tactile feedback features. Firstly, all buttons have the option of vibrating the mouse when clicked. Ten different vibrations are available as responses to these actions, varying in strength, length, and number.
Secondly, this same concept can be applied as a cooldown timer. Both keyboard presses and mouse clicks can cause the mouse to vibrate after a set duration. The idea here is to set up profiles for games containing abilities with cooldowns. I think it’s a great idea to provide players with tactile feedback when their abilities are off cooldown, though it can take a bit of work to set up if you’re playing a game with a lot of cooldowns like a MOBA or RPG. Thankfully, once you have your profiles set up, you can set up the mouse to automatically switch to the correct profile when you launch a game.
There’s one catch, though: everything saved to the Rival 700’s on-board profiles works without the software installed except for those cooldown timers and gifs. The gifs simply fail to animate, which isn’t a huge deal, but losing all those carefully-set-up cooldown timers is a bummer when moving between PCs. If you want to use the Rival 700 with your cooldowns on another computer, you’ll have to install SteelSeries Engine 3 there, too. Even so, it’s still a plus to have on-board profile storage that allows almost all settings to function software-free.
Sensing the game
Now for the most intriguing feature of the Rival 700: GameSense. GameSense puts the mouse’s tactile alerts, OLED screen, and LEDs to work by having them to react to information and events in-game. The software comes with some events already set, but you can delete these as well as create your own by picking from a list of possible events. Here are just a few examples: tactile alerts when you die, kill-to-death ratios displaying on the OLED display, and the LEDs changing color based on your health.
GameSense currently only supports CS:GO, Dota 2, and, through a mod, Minecraft. However, SteelSeries has a SDK, an API, documentation, walkthroughs, and sample code available for any developers who’d like to incorporate GameSense into their game. The company even has a supported games tab on their site with a “Your game here” slot, and, as it turns out, an indie game titled Utopia 9 already has GameSense integration. However, the game isn’t listed in SteelSeries Engine 3 with the other supported games. Looking at patch notes for the game, it seems as though this app only supports GameSense with one of SteelSeries’ keyboards, so the game may not show up in the software without that keyboard plugged in.
What I’m hoping for is that games featuring GameSense have a system similar to game controllers where the game interacts directly with the mouse without running through extra software, but from looking at the documentation, GameSense integration seems to require SteelSeries Engine 3 to work, so that’s probably not the case. Games interacting directly with the mouse is more of a long term goal, as very few games support GameSense at the moment, and it’s exclusive to SteelSeries products.
As someone who has sunk possibly unhealthy numbers of hours into Minecraft, I was pretty excited about the prospect of tactile alerts in Minecraft, but I was unfortunately disappointed with what GameSense had to offer in that title. There were very few game events available for Minecraft. Being alerted when a tool is about to break or when you run out of breath while underwater is pretty handy, but I think it’d be super cool to feel feedback every time you break a block, shear a sheep, or take damage. Something like that would allow you to feel the game in a way usually not possible when using a keyboard and mouse. However, the mouse’s advertising doesn’t promise haptic feedback, simply tactile alerts.
Anyways, the short of it is, I didn’t end up doing most of my GameSense testing in Minecraft. The same goes for Dota 2. I’m not a fan of MOBAs and am quite bad at them. I spent the majority of my time using GameSense in CS:GO, which also has the largest selection of events and uses for GameSense out of the three supported games.
First of all, I can say that while my mouse’s LEDs changing color as my health went down was kind of cool, it’s completely for show. No serious gamer is going to look at the color of the LEDs on their mouse to roughly estimate how much health they have. When you’re playing a game, your eyes are already on the screen, and most games display a health meter there with your exact amount of health.
The OLED display is also more form than function for CS:GO. It was neat to see my match stats quickly cycled through on the OLED display, but again, without taking your eyes from the screen, you can hold down the tab key and see the exact same stats right there in front of your eyeballs.
Where GameSense shines is its use of tactile alerts. Feeling tactile alerts when my health drops below 75%, 50%, 25%, and all the way to zero is actually useful. However, what I found added most to the gaming experience were the slight vibrations the mouse delivered when I switched weapons. This is less on the tactile alerts side of things and more on the haptic feedback side, which is what I’m looking for.
Feeling instantaneous physical feedback when switching to another weapon feels incredibly satisfying. It gives you the physical payoff of performing an action that you usually don’t get when gaming on a PC. It’s similar to unlocking a phone with the fingerprint reader and feeling the phone vibrate. The vibration makes you feel like you’ve actually done something, even though what you’ve done is digital, not physical.
This isn’t even part of the GameSense system, but I found configuring the mouse to vibrate when the side buttons are pushed creates similarly satisfying physical feedback. Cloaking and uncloaking in Planetside 2, activating the STIM ability in Titanfall 2, or chucking a grenade in Battlefield 1 all felt so much more gratifying with the physical feedback provided by the mouse vibrations.
This all may sound great in concept, but there are a couple potential areas of concern that should be addressed. First of all, the vibrations of the Rival 700 are nowhere near the strength of the rumbles of today’s game controllers. For those worried about the mouse rumbling off the desk or moving slightly, thus throwing off your aim, there’s no chance of any of that happening. The mouse’s vibrations are way closer to a phone’s vibrations, but even then, the vibrations aren’t too strong and are concentrated in the top center of the mouse, so they aren’t going much into the desk below.
This brings up the second possible issue, which a TR gerbil actually inquired about when we first reported we were reviewing this mouse: if the vibrations are focused in the center of the mouse, will claw grip users still be able to feel the vibrations? I’m happy to report that, yes, claw grip users are covered as the vibrations are strong enough to be felt in the front and sides of the mouse.
The SteelSeries Rival 700 is one of the most ambitious mice I’ve had the pleasure of using. It builds onto a mostly solid base by adding an OLED display and incorporating tactile alerts through the GameSense feature. Vibration isn’t something usually seen in a mouse, if at all.
Unfortunately, the mouse does have a few potential shortcomings. The largest issue is the button that’s supposed to go under the user’s thumb tip. It’s both awkwardly placed and doesn’t have the same high-quality click as all the other buttons scattered across the Rival 700’s body. The scroll wheel’s light feel and heavy clicks feel a bit jarring, too. Finally, the weight and price of the Rival 700 are pretty portly for a gaming rodent. 135 grams is heavy for a gaming mouse, especially one targeting CS:GO players. The $100 price of the Rival 700 could be hard to look past, as well. The mouse has a high-quality build and includes some nifty features, but it’s still a hard sell in my eye for that price. Just three games support SteelSeries’ GameSense features, and, as I mentioned, we’ve reviewed similarly high quality mice that go for half the price of the Rival 700.
The OLED screen is also a neat idea, but it’s of dubious value in practice. Gamers have little reason to look away from their screens during intense play, and no matter what stats the Rival 700 can show on its tiny screen, they’re not worth peeling one’s eyes away from the action for. In fact, removing the OLED screen could help some with reducing the weight and price of the mouse. Fix the feel and position of the forward mouse button along with that change, and you’d have a much more tempting gaming mouse.
Even so, all the positives of this mouse shouldn’t be overlooked. It feels great in the hand, all the buttons except the forward side button feel wonderfully clicky and responsive, the software is clean and powerful, and there are a number of modular customization options available to folks who want to change up the Rival 700’s look and feel. More importantly, the Rival 700 proves that tactile alerts can not only work in mice, but significantly add to the gaming experience. I really hope haptic feedback becomes a more standard feature in gaming mice and is commonly supported by PC games.
SteelSeries has actually implemented much of my wish list in another product. It recently introduced the Rival 500, which drops the OLED screen, changes up the button layout, and clocks in for just $80, all while sticking to the same general shape and keeping the tactile alerts. Now, I haven’t tested out the Rival 500, so I can’t say whether the buttons are positioned well or feel as good as the Rival 700’s. However, if the prospect of tactile alerts in gaming mice sparks your curiosity and you’d like to try it out for yourself, the Rival 500 might be worth a shot.