Roccat’s Sova lapboard and Leadr wireless gaming mouse reviewed

Two years ago, I reviewed Corsair’s Lapdog, the company’s first take on a keyboard-and-mouse lapboard for couch gaming. It was pretty rough around the edges, but the concept had merit. Earlier this year, Corsair revealed its K63 Lapboard, which addressed my complaints with the Lapdog and introduced even more features. You can read Jeff’s review of it here.

Corsair having tested the waters, Roccat is now entering the lapboard market with its own Sova gaming lapboard. The Sova takes a somewhat different approach than the lapboards we’ve seen so far. Unlike Corsair’s K63 Lapboard, the Sova has a keyboard built right into the lapboard body.

The Sova itself is made of lightly textured black plastic that feels completely solid. The body doesn’t bow or bend under pressure. The plastic construction keeps the weight down, which is important for a lapboard. The Sova never felt uncomfortably hefty during use at just above five pounds. 

The black plastic extends to the wrist rest and mouse pad. Thankfully, the plastic is just soft enough to comfortably rest your wrists on without being overly prone to scratches. Wrist rests are a must for lapboards, so I’m glad to see one here. The mousepad, on the other hand, is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s definitely plenty big, but plastic is something of an odd choice for the job the Sova needs to do. Gamers going from cloth to hard mouse pads will probably find that mice slide too easily on hard mouse pads, as I did. Consistent mouse feel is important for muscle memory.

Despite that change, I was able to recalibrate my aim for the hard pad more quickly than I expected. The big drawback of a hard mousepad for couch gaming is that your mouse will begin to slide off the pad if you let go of it while the lapboard is resting at an angle. To be fair, though, Jeff says the Corsair K63 Lapboard is no better at keeping a mouse in position if it’s not being held. Out-of-control mice may just be a fact of living-room gaming. An adjustable cable holder is positioned at the top of the Sova’s mouse pad to keep wired mice from completely sliding off, at least.

One of the problems with Corsair’s original Lapdog is its large size. The K63 Lapboard addresses this problem by using a tenkeyless keyboard, but the Sova cuts down on bulk even more by integrating a compact 75% keyboard layout. I’m a fan of 75% layouts, and I think they make even more sense in pure gaming applications like lapboards than they do in keyboards for mixed desktop use. The keyboard functions that don’t have their own dedicated keys in the 75% layout can be accessed through a function layer built into the top row. As always, that layer is activated by holding down the function key. This firmware layer also includes media and LED brightness controls, in addition to a few other functions. 

The Sova’s keycaps are made of the usual ABS plastic, meaning they feel cheap. As always, I’d prefer at least double shot ABS plastic, but I’m a little more forgiving in this case since a lapboard isn’t something you’d use as your daily driver. Unfortunately, the keycaps don’t have standard Cherry stems, so you can’t easily swap them out with your own set.

The keycap stems are designed to fit into housings for rubber dome switches. You can pay an additional $50 for the Sova MK and its Roccat TTC mechanical switches, but my review unit came with rubber domes. The rubber domes in the Sova certainly aren’t going to deliver a great typing experience, but that isn’t the intended purpose of this board. I wouldn’t use rubber domes if I was trying to play at peak performance, but the Sova’s membranes feel perfectly adequate for casual couch gaming. 

The real problem with rubber domes for gaming isn’t the feel of squishing rubber—it’s the actuation point of the switch itself. Rubber domes require you to bottom out the keys to activate them, and once you activate a membrane switch, you pretty much have to keep the keycap bottomed out in order to keep the switch activated. This behavior isn’t problematic when typing, but it does become troublesome when playing games that require you to hold down keys. If you let off a key just a little bit, it will deactivate. 

Just as I found when reviewing Razer’s Ornata, I would frequently deactivate keys by accident while casually playing Warframe, but rarely had that problem while immersed in Brutal Doom‘s intense action. If you plan to relax on the couch and do more than casual gaming with the Sova, you may want to invest in the Sova MK for a more familiar feel.

Roccat claims the Sova has N-key rollover (NKRO), but I was only able to reliably activate four keys simultaneously in AquaKeyTest, not including modifiers. I could activate up to eight keys at once, but only for certain key combinations. NKRO is good to have for peace of mind, but it is overkill. However, merely 4-key rollover is worrisome. I personally never ran into a key activation limitation while using the Sova, but there are games that require four or more keys to be active at once. If you want to use the Sova to play such games, you may be disappointed. I can’t speak to whether the Sova MK fixes this potential road block, either.

The bottom of the Sova is cushioned by four cloth covered pads. The Sova comfortably sat in my lap for extended periods without restricting blood flow to my legs, so it gets an A in the comfort department. You’ll note that the pads don’t cover the entire bottom of the board, meaning that there’s potential room for airflow over the tops of one’s legs, too. That’s an important consideration versus Corsair’s K63, which blankets the tops of the user’s legs in potentially-sweat-inducing foam. The base of this board is also home to two USB ports and a proprietary wired connector on a pigtail. The USB ports are accompanied by access holes for a channel running through the top of the lapboard. This channel is handy for cable management. 

The primary cable begins with a proprietary connector that plugs into the extended pigtail on the lapboard. The pigtail and cable act as a break-away failsafe similar to the one found on the Xbox 360 controller. Two USB connectors can be found at the other end of the cable. The primary connector powers the Sova’s keyboard and USB ports, while the second connector provides additional power to the USB ports. I was able to power the keyboard, a mouse, and a headset using only the primary USB connector, but for peripherals that draw more power, Roccat has your back. The cable is just over 13 feet long (4 m), which is plenty to sit a comfortable distance away from a TV with some slack. My only complaint with the cable is that its rubber sheath is a little too inflexible.

 

Leadr of the pack

While the lapboard itself isn’t wireless and doesn’t include a mouse, Roccat was kind enough to send its wireless Leadr mouse to be used with the Sova. The Leadr, like the Sova, is made of durable black plastic. The mouse feels as solid as a brick. There is a slight rattle if you pick the mouse up and give it a good shake, but it isn’t noticeable during use. I think Roccat really nailed the Leadr’s shape. It feels similar to the old Logitech MX510 in the hand. While it is quite heavy at 134 g, the weight is well-balanced and feels like a perfect 50/50 distribution. The Leadr is five grams heavier than the squat SteelSeries Rival 500, but it feels lighter during use thanks to the excellent weight distribution. 

Nine wonderfully clicky buttons sit on the top of the mouse. Even the scroll wheel clicks pleasantly when pressed down, rather than dully bottoming out. The scroll wheel has a fairly pronounced scrolling action, as well. I could go for slightly more resistant detents, but at least each step is distinct from the next on this mouse.

Gaming mice often have a single button positioned behind the scroll wheel to act as a CPI or mode switcher, but that isn’t the case with the Leadr. The protrusion behind the scroll wheel is actually used to actuate two different buttons by tilting it left and right. The two buttons are used for side-scrolling by default, which seems like a strange design decision since that feature could simply be built into the scroll wheel. Regardless, the two buttons themselves are well-placed. Tilt-left, in particular, is super easy to tap with the side of my middle finger from its position on the right mouse button. 

The four outer buttons on the top of the mouse are also quite well-placed. They’re raised and sloped out of the way to prevent accidental clicks, yet they’re still easily accessible. The two buttons on the left feel completely natural to use, but the two on the right took a bit of getting used to. 

Fortunately, if you’d prefer not to set up your custom button functions on the top of the mouse, the side of the Leadr is tricked out with its own collection of clicky buttons. Thankfully, Roccat has been careful to ensure that there is enough space on the side of the mouse for you to comfortably rest your thumb without activating any of the buttons. The buttons themselves are positioned well to accommodate different grip styles and hand sizes, though if you have large mitts and grasp the mouse far forward with claw grip, you may have to stretch a bit to reach the two buttons farthest back from the front. 

An analog thumb-paddle, a mechanism I’ve never seen on a mouse, juts out the side of the mouse right above two of the buttons. The default function of the paddle is vertical scrolling, which is a bit redundant considering the scroll wheel, but holding down the paddle rather than actively scrolling a wheel is nice when navigating lengthy webpages. The analog nature of the paddle also means you can modulate how fast you scroll. 

Roccat’s Swarm software can be used to configure the thumb-paddle to act as various analog controller inputs. When the paddle is set to act in such a manner, Windows recognizes it as an Xbox controller. Windows seems to be able to handle analog input from the thumb-paddle alongside standard keyboard and mouse inputs without conflict. I was able to use the thumb-paddle set as an analog input in Warframe and Rocket League in conjunction with keyboard and mouse controls. The paddle can be activated with a quick flick of the thumb, but it has enough resistance to perform as a decent analog controller. However, I don’t think the throw is long enough for use as a dedicated analog controller for gaming, outside of some very specific and creative applications. I’ve primarily used the paddle in-game to activate abilities and switch weapons.

The bottom of the Leadr is outfitted with a few things that you probably won’t find on a wired mouse. An on-off switch is accompanied by a pairing button, though I have never once had to use it. I have used the on-off switch, though. The mouse automatically powers down after sitting unused for extended periods and can be woken up by pressing a button. However, the mouse does not shut itself off when you turn your computer off, so I manually switch it off before I get in bed. Otherwise, the LEDs will dimly light the room until the mouse decides to power down. 

There are two ways to charge the Leadr. The first involves two metal prongs on the bottom of the mouse, but we’ll get into that shortly. The second is to just plug the mouse right into your computer with the provided cable. A locking mechanism holds the cable in place, so you could use the Leadr as a wired mouse if you really wanted. If you don’t intend to use the Leadr’s wireless magic, though, I suggest you look at the Roccat Tyon, which is simply a cheaper, wired version of the Leadr.

The last component on the bottom of the mouse we should talk about is the sensor. The Leadr comes equipped with Roccat’s Owl-Eye sensor. You may be wary of that name at first, but if you scroll down on the Owl-Eye webpage, you’ll find the sensor listed as a PixArt PMW3361. Presumably, this sensor is a version of Pixart’s tried-and-true PMW3360. Given the PMW3360’s glowing reputation and my past experience with it, I was primarily concerned with the Leadr’s wireless performance, rather than that of the sensor itself. Thus, I ran all my tests with the mouse in wired and wireless mode.

The Owl-Eye consistently produces smooth curves in MouseTester when plotting xCounts over time. Mouse sensors aren’t perfect, but the occasional hiccups occur at the millisecond level. They aren’t noticeable during use and shouldn’t affect in-game performance. The Owl-Eye passes my one-to-one tracking test, which involves moving the mouse horizontally between two books. If the mouse pointer returns to the same spot every time it is pressed up against a book, the mouse tracks one-to-one. You want precise, one-to-one tracking that smoothly follows your mouse movements, so you can build muscle memory.

I’ve also used the Leadr extensively for gaming, work, and browsing the web, and I haven’t had any problems with it. I honestly wasn’t sure whether a wireless mouse could provide the consistent, smooth experience of a wired mouse, but the Leadr has convinced me that it can. It has performed just like a wired mouse throughout all my testing and use. However, if you acquire a Leadr of your own, make sure you update its firmware, or the sensor will occasionally spin out and lose tracking. Thanks to Rocket Jump Ninja for the tip.

Roccat advertises the Leadr’s max polling rate as 1000 Hz, which the simple graph above confirms. The sensor updates about once every millisecond.

This drawing doesn’t look pretty, but it confirms that the Leadr has no built-in angle snapping, which is good news, especially for gamers. Angle-snapping can seriously mess up your aim.

The mouse itself is accompanied by a stand that functions as both a charging station and wireless receiver. The Leadr can be docked on the stand for charging or showing off by hooking the two metal prongs on the bottom of the mouse into two corresponding slots in the small shelf protruding from the stand. Four LED lights on the bottom left of the stand indicate the mouse’s battery level. Roccat claims the battery will last for 20 hours, which seems to line up with my experience. I used the mouse with the LEDs on for three days on a single charge, and the battery died partway through the third day. Thankfully, the stand makes it easy to keep the Leadr juiced up if you dock it before leaving your desk.

The mouse and stand share a single micro-USB to USB cable. If you want to plug the Leadr directly to your PC, you’ll have to unplug the cable from the stand. The cable is nicely braided. It is flexible, but will stay in whatever shape you bend it.

Here’s a table of the Leadr’s key specifications for easy reference:

Leadr
Dimensions (LxWxH) 5.0″ x 3.1″ x 1.8″

(126 x 80 x 45 mm)

Weight 4.7 oz (134g)
Max CPI 12000 CPI
Sensor type Optical (Roccat Owl-Eye/)
Battery 1000 mAh (rated for 20 hours)
Wireless Connection 2.4 GHz
Programmable buttons 14
Max polling rate 1000 Hz
DPI switching levels 5
Shape Right-handed
Cable length 5.8′ (1.8 m)
Price $139.99
 

Software

Roccat’s Swarm software is one of the better pieces of peripheral software I’ve used. It is not only powerful, but quite intuitive and well laid-out. Everything is clearly labeled and settings aren’t nested down inside a chain of menus. You shouldn’t have a problem finding what you want. There are also some nice convenience features, such as the ability to pin individual settings to pinned page for easy access, or the pre-made macros for an extensive list of games. The interface could be cleaned up a bit aesthetically, but overall, Swarm is in a pretty good place right now.

Conclusions

The PC gaming industry is constantly evolving, and I’m happy to see two new products that build on the lessons of past products and push the industry a little farther forward. Roccat’s Sova is a take on the gaming lapboard that is more manageable size-wise than past efforts, but doesn’t compromise on comfort or useable space. My two real complaints about the Sova are with the mousepad and keyboard. I’d prefer a cloth mousepad for more consistent feel between desk and couch, and I’d also prefer mechanical switches over rubber domes. At least a mechanical version of the Sova is already available. There aren’t many options in the gaming lapboard market, and I think the size, weight, and comfort of the Sova make it a compelling option—at least if you’re willing to spring for the mechanical-key-switch version.

Roccat Leadr

September 2018

The Leadr mouse is a wireless twist on Roccat’s Tyon that delivers the smooth and responsive experience of a wired mouse. The mouse certainly isn’t for everyone, given all its buttons and its heavy weight. However, for those used to lots of buttons and heavier mice, the Leadr is a fantastic rodent. It has a first-rate sensor, clicky buttons, good battery life, and a spiffy charging dock.

If you’re considering getting a Leadr, but don’t care that it’s wireless, get the Tyon. It’s $100 price tag is $40 cheaper than that of the Leadr. However, if you have $140 to spare, are looking for an MMO mouse, and are interested in going wireless, I highly recommend the Leadr. This mouse will be taking the place of the Rival 500 I reviewed last year as my daily driver. It has definitely earned a TR Editor’s Choice Award.

I would give the Sova a TR Recommended badge if it weren’t for the rubber-dome keyboard and its awkward feel during gaming sessions. The mechanical Sova MK does exist, but I don’t want to recommend a product I haven’t used. I would think that a wireless Sova MK would pair even better with the Leadr (although today’s Sova MK is wired like its membrane counterpart). If you do decide to purchase a Sova, it’ll run you $150 for the membrane version and $200 for the mechanical version.

Comments closed
    • Voldenuit
    • 1 year ago

    I recently got a new mouse while waiting on a new build. Ended up getting a Logi G502 after being happy with the Pixart sensor on my spare laptop G303 mouse, although not happy with anything else on the G303.

    The G303 itself was pressed into duty after my venerable Roccat Kova died, and although I loved the ergonomics of the Kova, the sensor itself was not… great.

    It is really hard to find the perfect mouse, though. I just want a Kova with a Pixart sensor, is that too much to ask? Oh, and one where the mousewheel doesn’t die in under two years this time, thanks. And maybe Omrons under the Smartcast buttons instead of cheapo generic no-name switches.

    • squeeb
    • 1 year ago

    Roccat makes some excellent equipment (I have a mouse and headset from them). The lack of wireless is disappointing, but otherwise this looks pretty nice.

    • RAGEPRO
    • 1 year ago

    Nice review Nate. Thanks for pointing out the lack of NKRO. That’s a big dealbreaker for me.

    The Leadr looks pretty sick though. It’s too rich for my blood but I’m definitely interested.

      • Gyromancer
      • 1 year ago

      I thought you might be interested in the Leadr, as a fellow Rival 500 user.

    • Chrispy_
    • 1 year ago

    I read the review wondering how you remove the keyboard when you don’t want the entire lapboard, only to discover that you can’t.

    Things went from bad to worse when I read that it was wired, not wireless. I gave up at that point and that does of course explain why Nathan cannot recommend this product.

    I mean, You can get some awfully nice lapboards for $100 and that lets you choose any wireless keyboard of your choice. You can either use velcro to keep the keyboard on the lapboard, or you can go upmarket and get the thin adhesive magnetic strips to ensure that the keyboard stays 100% fixed in place on the board.

    Seriously though, sofa gaming needs to be wireless. This isn’t the 1990’s anymore.

      • Oem
      • 1 year ago

      I would think some twitch gamers would prefer / be willing to pay the price for a wired connection because of the real or imagined latency benefit, if that’s still a meme these days. (PS/2 4life!)

        • Chrispy_
        • 1 year ago

        I think most gaming-focused wireless peripherals are more than fast enough these days. I’ve certainly read enough reviews of wireless mice and keyboards to know that latency is a non-issue now. It’s measurable only in nanoseconds, when your framerate and inputs are sampled in miliseconds.

        Perhaps if you’re using a $5 unbranded Tiawanese special from ebay, you might have noticeable latency but if you’re going to spend less on a peripheral than a pint of beer, you really should just be thankful it even works at all.

          • Oem
          • 1 year ago

          Nanoseconds? At the risk of being corrected with actual data, I find it hard to believe that Bluetooth or Logitech proprietary radio frequency protocols, then translated to USB, have latencies in the billionths of a second range. Maybe 500-999 nanoseconds, if we’re being very loose with the usage of the word… even a millionth of a second in real world latency would be impressive.

    • drfish
    • 1 year ago

    Great, now I’m dreaming of a mouse with an analog thumb lever that will hold position when you let it go, kinda like a throttle on a joystick. Keyboards and mice just need more Xinput in general, very handy stuff.

    Also, trackballs for life! Get your filthy rodents out of the living room and learn to game from the couch with your thumb.

      • alloyD
      • 1 year ago

      Thumb? Nonsense! Kingston Expert forever!

        • drfish
        • 1 year ago

        You forgot to call me a hippie. 😉

      • derFunkenstein
      • 1 year ago

      If you want a totally cool non-centering stick, all you need is an Atari 5200 controller.

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