Both SteelSeries and Razer are releasing some cool new gaming tech in the coming months, and I got to play with all of it for a little while at PAX 2012. And despite being direct competitors in the world of gaming, Steelseries and Razer are focusing on very different product lines and market segments this year.
STEELSERIES: Going mobile (mostly)
SteelSeries’ latest products are primarily focused on mobile and tablet gaming and include two mobile headsets and two game controllers. The sole exception dedicated to pure PC gaming is the wireless version of their World of Warcraft mouse.
Flux Headset: Stylish mobile stereo audio ($99)
The Flux is a foldable, portable stereo headset with interchangeable ear cup covers and ear cup liners—so it can be as colorful on the outside as it is comfortable on the inside. The Flux comes with both soft leather and cloth-covered foam ear cup liners. The FLUX reminds me very much of the NOX Audio Specialist headset—which is a good thing because the Specialist is a favorite of mine when it comes to portable headsets.
Different colored ear caps for the outside of the headset will be available for purchase. The microphone is flexible and retracts into the left ear cup, similar to the Siberia V2 and other SteelSeries headsets. There’s also an external audio connector so you can daisy-chain another headset off of the Flux—good for kids sharing a tablet while watching a movie on an airplane, for example.
My impressions: I liked the comfort of the flux and its flexibility. I would prefer a better carrying case (it comes with a bag, unlike the Specialist which comes with a nice hard case). PAX was too noisy for me to gauge audio quality very well.
Available: October 2012
Flux In-Ear Pro headset: Mobile headphones that (probably) won’t be orange ($129)
The Flux in-ear headset is a pair of straightforward in-ear earphones with an inline microphone. The Flux In-Ear based upon a balanced armature design and suitable for PC or any form of mobile use (tablet, smartphone, etc.)
The Flux in-ear headset shown at PAX had bright orange cords. Personally, I liked the Halloween colors, but apparently fan reaction has been mixed so the Flux in-ear headset probably won’t be released in orange. It will come with 3 different types of ear plugs and a (probably gnome-proof) cloth carrying case.
My impressions: I liked the Flux In-Ear’s Halloween colors, but I suspect I’d like the in-ear FLUX in any color. (I couldn’t gauge comfort or audio quality because there was no way I was going to put those things in my ears at a trade show. Ew.) What I particularly liked about the Flux in-ear headset is its sturdy, tangle free cord that’s actually flatter, wider, and slightly stiffer than typical headphones, so it can easily resist those damnable pocket and luggage gnomes that obsessively tie headphone cords into square knots.
(Yes, I also did a WTF-double-take when I saw the price, but this is apparently in line with headphones based on balanced armature designs.)
Available: Late November 2012
SteelSeries Free mobile gaming controller: Gamepad on the go ($79.99)
The SteelSeries Free (formerly the ION) game pad is a tiny Bluetooth traveling companion for tablets or laptops. Although small, the SteelSeries Free still sports the familiar design of most gampads: dual analog thumbsticks, D-pad, 4 buttons and twin bumpers. Battery life for the Free is estimated at 10 hours of continuous playtime, 20 hours of idle time.
My impressions: Despite its size, I actually found the SteelSeries Free gamepad quite comfortable to use; however, it didn’t help me not suck hard at the tablet-based platformer game SteelSeries had running on their iPad. I can’t blame the controller though.
Available: October 2012
SteelSeries Touchscreen Gaming Controls: Tiny sticky buttons! ($20)
The final piece of SteelSeries’ mobile gaming gear I played with at PAX are some innovative little sticky ‘buttons’ and a sticky D-pad style controller designed for touch screens. They can be attached over the top of touchscreen controls to provide a more tactile but no less-responsive touch control to your tablet gaming. You can clean the suction cups with a dab of water and they are supposed to retain their stickiness for the life of the product.
My Impressions: They seem gimmicky but they actually worked very well. They are easy to install and remove, and yet they stayed in place just fine while I held the tablet. Like the SteelSeries Free gamepad, however, they didn’t stop me from sucking at the demo I was playing.
Available: Q4 2012
World of Warcraft wireless mouse: The WoW mouse gets lighter ($129)
The SteelSeries 11-button WoW mouse goes wireless, and in addition to losing the wire, it also loses its 16.8 million color LED lighting in favor of a grey color scheme and frosty white LED. (This was apparently done to enhance battery life.) However, the extremely charging base is encircled with runes that glow in frosty blue.
My impressions: It’s a bit like the ‘Legendary Edition’ and the ‘Cataclysm’ hade a love child and went wireless. It’s not covered in glossy plastic like its wired predecessor, so that’s a considerable improvement in my book. The back is more of a matte plastic with a hint of texture. The charging base/receiver is probably the coolest design I’ve ever seen for such a device.
Available: Late 2012
RAZER: Sticking to their roots
Razer’s gear lineup for the immediate future is in line with Razer’s PC gaming roots: a powerful gaming laptop, a killer gaming keyboard, a transforming gaming mouse, and a new stereo headset. And only one of these has a name that’s hard to pronounce/spell.
Razer Blade: More power, less money ($2500)
Thanks to all you early-adopters who bought the first generation of Razer Blade gaming laptops, because the sales volume of 1st generation Blades ultimately enabled Razer to get lower costs on the components and make the 2nd generation Blade faster, better, and less expensive than the 1st generation.
Razer’s 2nd generation Blade gaming laptop is more powerful than its predecessor primarily thanks to a 64GB SSD boot drive and the upgraded GeForce 660M graphics chip running under the hood. Best of all, because the 1st generation of the Razer Blade sold so well, Razer was able basically secure lower prices on components and thus drop the price of the 2nd generation by $300. The Razer Blade still sports the same sleek aluminum chassis, thin profile, and the Switchblade technology of its predecessor—a touch screen/trackpad and 10 tactile buttons with miniature LCD screens.
Availability: Q4 2012
My Impressions: WANT. (OK, who doesn’t?) There’s no doubt the Blade is a piece of technology that would turn most of us Chaotic Evil and make us sell our own mother for it. It’s pretty much the sleekest, lightest (though I wouldn’t call it light) gaming laptop in its size that $2500 can buy. Despite the steep price, however, it should now deliver performance that’s in line with its price—a frequent criticism of the previous generation.
Razer Ouroboros: Razer steps into the house that Mad Catz built ($129)
Razer’s 8200DPI Ouroboros is an ambidextrous, transformable mouse that is clearly borrowing some ideas from Mad Catz and their physically transformable RAT series of gaming mice.
Razer didn’t have the extra/alternate pieces of the Ouroboros handy for me to play with, although I was told they were covered in textured rubber—a personal favorite of mine in gaming mice. The palm rest slides forward and backwards, and you can adjust the height by rolling a tiny wheel underneath the back of the palm rest. The “wings” on the left and right side of the Ouroboros are magnetic and easy to attach and remove. There are 2 extra thumb buttons on the side of the mouse, much like those found on the Razer Taipan.
And if that’s not cool enough for you, the Ouroboros can run wired or wirelessly.
My Impressions: Is the Ourboros the mouse that might knock my current favorite, the Mad Catz MMO7, off my desktop? Hard to say, but I liked what I saw. My chief concern is how well the magnetic sides will adhere under duress. But overall the Ouroboros is a lot like the Razer Taipan, which is one of my favorite Razer gaming mice.
Available: Q4 2012
Razer Deathstalker: Switchblade in a keyboard ($249)
Despite not being a mechanical keyboard, the Razer Deathstalker is heavy, coated in soft-touch rubber, and has an outstanding rubber-topped wrist rest that I liked almost immediately. The Deathstalker has a keyboard layout like the Razer BlackWidow, but with the addition of Razer’s “Switchblade” technology—i.e. the same touchscreen and configurable LCD-topped buttons as those found on the Razer Blade laptop.
My impressions: I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t find a couple of USB ports or audio pass through connectors on the Deathstalker. However, I liked the solid weight (like a mechanical keyboard) and feel of the Deathstalker—although I’m still not sure the Deathstalker’s shiny Switchblade Tech will pull me away from the mechanical sweetness I enjoy on Razer’s BlackWidow Ultimate keyboard. (There will be only way one to tell I guess.)
Available: September 2012
Razer Blackshark ($120)
The Razer BlackShark is a rugged, “aviation design inspired” stereo headset designed to offer top notch noise suppression. It features 40mm drivers, has a detachable boom mic, and comes with multiple audio plugs so it’s compatible with nearly any audio device.
My impressions: I liked the solid feel of the Blackshark and its excellent external noise suppression—I wore them for a minute or two (disconnected) just as a brief respite from the noisy insanity of PAX. I would have appreciated slightly larger ear cups, although I didn’t find them uncomfortable. I also like the BlackShark’s generally industrial look, its multi-jointed metal microphone, and its black and green color sheme.
And I still think it should have been called the “Landshark”. (“Candygram!”)
Available: September 2012