Short version: An elegant, functional, and attractive mouse, best suited for those with normal-sized or smaller hands. Aficionados may crave more buttons or a non-ambidextrous design, but the Xai does just fine without. Like other SteelSeries products, it’s a bit expensive, but you knew that.
The fun thing about mice is that there are so many of them. From the tricked-out megamice like Logitech’s MX Revolution and Razer’s Mamba to the slim and elegant Arc Mouse, there’s a huge range to choose from. The Xai sits comfortably in the middle, being a sort of secretly fancy mouse clad in a modest body.
Back to basics
Almost exactly a year ago, at CES, I saw a milled body prototype of this mouse. SteelSeries’ Kim Rom explained that they were going back to basics, and were seeking a kind of fundamental mouse shape. I think they’ve succeeded; the gentle arc and symmetrical design of the Xai are pleasing to both the eye and the hand. While some people will understandably prefer a strongly handed design like the G500 or Imperator, there is something about keeping things basic that is appealing to me. It reminded me of my old Intellimouse 3.0, which I adored.
The downside of the design, a shortcoming the Xai shares with all its ambidextrous ilk, is that a button that is perfectly placed for your thumb will necessarily be in danger of being pressed by your grasping fingers on the other side. Whether you want to disable the buttons or just be careful about it is up to you, but it’s something to consider. If you absolutely need more than four buttons within easy reach, you’d better take other mice into consideration. I find too many buttons counterproductive, but that’s just me.
The buttons are extremely sensitive, and it took me a while to adjust after using the G500 and Mamba, which have a much deeper click. It led to a few accidental selections here and there, but
Semi-freedom from drivers
The configuration of the mouse can be done mostly in the mouse itself, via the little LCD on the bottom. You can switch profiles, set your high and low sensitivities, and adjust the settings like FreeMove and ExactAim, which are movement adjustment settings that reduce jitter and such, if you’re into that. It’s not exactly quick and easy to configure, but it’s all on-mouse and you don’t have to worry about drivers. If you want to set up macros and customize buttons, however, you’ll need the actual configuration app. The number of commands built in is a bit small (no double click? no minimize window?) but you can easily create those and others in the robust macro editor.
It can be a bit time consuming to test out lots of different combinations of these things. I don’t like anything interfering with my mouse’s movements so I knew to put them all at zero, but you’ll find there are more than enough settings to keep the tweaker in you occupied.
One thing that I did not actually try out, but which sounded fun, is trying pro gamers’ mouse configurations. The idea is great: you download the profiles used by champ gamers and try their settings. Maybe it’ll make you a better player, maybe you’ll just be entertained, but it’s a fun idea and I’d encourage people to try it out.
Tracks great, less filling
It’s getting to the point with mice that tracking is pretty much expected to be excellent, so I won’t waste your time here. The Xai tracks very well. I tested it on one of their thin, hard mouse pads as well as on a cloth Razer Goliathus, and lastly on my desk, which is brushed but reflective steel. No problems on anything. The sensor is placed dead center on the mouse; I prefer it forward and to the left a bit, but since it’s ambidextrous they had their hands tied.
The thing I found myself wishing was more sensitivity settings. There’s something to be said for the simple high-low switch, and of course you can configure those settings to a very precise degree, but sometimes you feel like you want something in between. What if I need to do some pixel-by-pixel movements in an image editor? I can’t just zoom down to super-low sensitivity like with a Razer mouse. I’d have to switch profiles or something.
An all-around contender
I like the Xai. It’s compact, elegant, unpretentious, and effective. While I personally prefer a wireless, right-handed device, I found the straightforward design of the Xai refreshing, and of course its performance is beyond reproach. At $90 it’s a bit expensive, though it’s far from the most pricey out there. While for a real tweaker I have to recommend going with one of the many mice with more bells and whistles, the Xai is really an excellent choice for almost anybody.