Earlier this year, I took an in-depth look at the SteelSeries Rival 700. That mouse could deliver tactile alerts using its GameSense software. I enjoyed having force feedback in a mouse, but that useful feature was held back by a few gimmicks and a high price tag. I suggested that those wanting to get their hands on mouse-based tactile feedback should check out the cheaper Rival 500. However, I warned that I hadn’t tried that mouse out for myself, so I couldn’t speak to its quality. I didn’t want to let that blind recommendation stand, so I asked SteelSeries if it’d send us a Rival 500 for testing. The company assented, and I’m now back to report on the Rival 500 after some first-hand experience.
The Rival 500 comes in matte black with a textured rubber coating on the sides of the mouse to help with grippiness. The entire mouse feels solid and well built. I couldn’t produce any rattling or other untoward sounds when I shook it. The only worry here is that the textured sides have the possibility of wearing out over time. The mouse feels good in my relatively small hand and can work for all grip styles, though this all depends on the size of your hand. The Rival 500 measures in at 4.7″ x 3.1″ x 1.7″ (LxWxH), and it weighs in at a beefy 129 grams.
Other than the two standard buttons, the top of the mouse features a CPI switch and three extra buttons. The two main buttons and CPI switch have satisfying clicks. However, the same can’t be said for the three extra buttons adorning the top edges. The extra buttons have a hard, plasticy feel when pressed and are harder to push down than the main buttons. They don’t feel bad, by any means: there is certainly enough feedback to know you’ve pressed each one. The actuations just don’t feel as nice as those of the other buttons on the mouse. Thankfully, the extra buttons are far enough from the center of the mouse that you won’t accidentally press them, but they’re also not far enough from those clickers to make them awkward to reach. The stiffness of the buttons helps prevent unintentional clicks as well. They are also slanted towards the center of the mouse, which makes them a bit easier and more natural to access.
One of my small gripes with most gaming mice is that their scroll wheels often aren’t capable of side-to-side scrolling. Not many applications or web pages can be scrolled this way, but I like to have a mouse that supports this movement for when it does work. As you may have guessed, I bring this up because the scroll wheel in the Rival 500 can move side-to-side. The wheel clicks nicely in both its straight downward and side-to-side motions, but the scrolling action feels too loose for my tastes. Stronger detents would help the wheel feel much more precise.
The left side of the mouse is where all the action happens. The six buttons arrayed on the side of the mouse are plenty to keep gamers’ thumbs busy. I’m quite happy with the side button implementation. Unlike the three extra buttons on the top of the mouse, the six side buttons are just as delightfully clicky as the main buttons. The bottom two buttons extend out from the mouse and must be pushed downwards, but it’s not an unnatural motion to perform.
One of the buttons is actually a separate panel at the back of the central depression on the rodent. The idea here is that you push in on the button with the joint of your thumb. My main mouse, the Corsair M95, has a similarly-positioned button, so I’m used to using the joint of my thumb to push it. I can reach all the buttons perfectly with a palm grip, but not everyone has the same hand size or grip style. Other reviewers have had issues reaching all the buttons, though.
A switch resides on the bottom of the mouse that immobilizes the two lower buttons for those who prefer fewer buttons. The two buttons are effectively thumb rests when they’re locked in place. The optical sensor can also been seen from the bottom of the mouse, but we’ll cover that later.
Similar to the Rival 700, the Rival 500 has a slot for custom nameplates. At the very back of the mouse is a rubbery insert brandishing the Rival brand. This little piece can be removed and replaced with your own 3D-printed nameplate. While the majority of people don’t have direct access to a 3D printer, it’s still neat little bonus feature. As I mentioned in my Rival 700 review, I could totally see people going to tournaments or LAN parties with mice bearing their gamertags.
Surprisingly, despite being fatter and loaded down with many more buttons, the Rival 500 is actually slightly lighter than the Rival 700. Even so, it’s still on the heavier side when it comes to gaming mice. FPS players tend to prefer mice under a hundred grams, but the Rival 500 falls into the MOBA-and-MMO mouse segment, which is primarily populated by heftier rodents. The Rival 500 is also $20 cheaper than the Rival 700, though the $80 price tag is still a bit up there for a gaming mouse. That said, it’s still in the same price range of other MOBA-and-MMO mice.
One final note: SteelSeries advertises the mouse as being equipped with fifteen different buttons. This is true if you count the scroll wheel side movements, but those aren’t programmable in the software, so I’ve listed the mouse as having only thirteen programmable buttons. Let’s see how SteelSeries lets users program those buttons in software now.
A gerbil inquired about the quality of the mouse software on our news post covering the reveal of the Rival 500, and I’m happy to say that the SteelSeries Engine 3 is quick and quite intuitive. There aren’t a ton of different tabs and menus to navigate in order to find the setting you’re looking for. Once you select the connected device, you’re presented with a single page with all the settings, button bindings, and LED controls laid out in front of you.
You can fine tune how the pointer reacts to mouse movement using settings for sensitivity, acceleration, angle snapping and polling rate. Macros, media buttons, shortcuts, and even applications can all be bound to the mouse buttons. Each button can also be set to vibrate when clicked. There are a number of different vibrations and playback options to choose from. You can take this to the next level by setting up tactile cooldowns that go off at a set time after pushing a button or key.
The Rival 500’s RGB LED settings aren’t the most robust, but the options that are provided can be easily tweaked to your liking. My only complaint in this department is that there isn’t a brightness slider, though thankfully the default brightness isn’t blinding. You can simply turn off the LEDs if you’d like, as well.
The most compelling feature of the Rival 500 is SteelSeries’ GameSense tactile feedback. You can read about my full experience with and explanation of GameSense in my Rival 700 review, but I’ll give you a short breakdown. GameSense allows some SteelSeries products to react to in-game information and events. In the case of the Rival 500, GameSense can control the mouse’s LEDs and tactile alerts. The LEDs can change color based on your health meter, but that’s just for show. My eyes are trained on the screen in front of me while playing games, not my mouse. However, I found that getting a bit of force feedback when my health drops is handy. What I like most about GameSense is that you can set it to give slight vibrations when switching weapons in CS:GO. Feeling a vibration as a rifle appears in your hands seems to give the weapon some physical weight.
Unfortunately, GameSense currently supports tactile feedback for three games: CS:GO, Minecraft, and Dota 2. These are all extremely popular games, which makes them good picks for showing off GameSense, though support for Minecraft is pretty weak. If you really want to go crazy, you can create GameSense support for a game yourself. SteelSeries provides all the necessary files and documentation on its website one would need to get started. The developers of the indie game Utopia 9 built in GameSense support for keyboard lighting effects, for example.
As with the Rival 700, I found that the Rival 500’s force feedback can still shine when you set up your own cooldowns and triggers through the main software interface for titles that don’t support GameSense. Simply feeling a bit of feedback when throwing a grenade in Titanfall 2 makes the game more satisfying, for example. The vibrations made me feel more connected to the game by giving me physical feedback when performing a digital action. It’s a similar sensation to feeling vibrations when unlocking a phone with a fingerprint sensor. Thankfully, SteelSeries’ software can tie all your button bindings and tactile settings to individual games. When you start up a game, your game specific mouse settings will automatically take over, and then go back to your default settings when you exit the game.
The Rival 500 plays host to the current king of mouse sensors, the PixArt PMW3360. Given the sensor’s reputation and my experience with it in other mice, I’m confident that it provides 1:1 tracking and doesn’t spin out or lose tracking. However, some mice modify information input by the sensor and add acceleration or angle snapping, so I ran a number of tests on the mouse. Mouse acceleration and angle snapping were turned off in both the mouse’s settings and the Windows mouse settings for these tests.
The most basic test simply involves playing a variety of games with the mouse. The Rival 500 passed with flying colors. I didn’t pick up on any funky behavior at all: the mouse responded to my movements as expected. Secondly, I violently moved the mouse around and slammed it down at odd angles in an attempt to make the sensor lose tracking or spin out, but I couldn’t get it to do so.
Thirdly, I performed a test in CS:GO with raw input on in order to confirm that the sensor does, in fact, have a one to one movement ratio. This test involved placing the mouse up against a book, firing a bullet at the wall, moving the mouse across my mousepad to another book, and firing a second bullet. Once I had fired the two bullets, I moved the mouse back and forth between the two books. This test was performed in a number of different in-game locations with different distances between the character and the walls around him. When the mouse was pressed up against either book, the crosshair lined up with the bullet fired when the mouse was originally against that book, which means the mouse does indeed have one-to-one tracking. Having a one-to-one ratio is important, because it allows gamers to build muscle memory and precisely point their cursor where they want to.
This lovely piece of art came out of the final test. These sloppy lines drawn in MS Paint show that there is no built-in angle snapping from SteelSeries’ firmware or driver, which is good news.
Taking on a veteran
Rival 500 vs M95
My daily driver mouse has been a Corsair M95 ever since I reviewed it back in 2014. It fits my hand like a glove and has a plethora of buttons on the side with plenty of space in the middle to firmly grip the mouse. However, it’s not without its faults. The side buttons aren’t particularly clicky, especially the lower ones. Age hasn’t helped in that department. Also, as cool as the metal base plate looks, it makes the mouse heavier than it needs to be. The M95 weighs in at a whopping 181 grams. I’ve grown used to the weight, but it’s not optimal for the fast-paced FPS games that I play. As a result, I’ve always been on the lookout for another quality mouse brandishing a full arsenal of side buttons.
When I reviewed SteelSeries’ Rival 700, I was quite impressed with its build quality, and I was a big fan of the force feedback. However, as someone dependent on a large array of side buttons for accessing weapons and activating abilities in-game, the Rival 700 couldn’t fulfill my needs with its three side buttons, one of which is difficult to reach. Even so, I learned that SteelSeries is capable of making gaming mice with fantastic buttons.
With this information in mind, my hopes were high from the moment I first spotted the Rival 500 and all its side buttons. When I finally got ahold of the mouse, my hopes were not violently dashed to smithereens. All the basics are there. It’s a solidly built mouse that fits my hand well, and it has a top-notch sensor. More than that, it has a number of ups on the M95. The side buttons are delightfully clicky, the scroll wheel can move side to side, it’s 52 grams lighter than the M95, and it automatically goes back to my default mouse settings after exiting a game with mouse settings specific to that game.
There are only two things I don’t like about the Rival 500 when compared to the M95. Firstly, the Rival 500’s scroll wheel is too loose. I’ve had a number of frustrating experiences in Titanfall 2 in which the scroll wheel moves forward or back while pressing down in order to perform a melee attack. I’ll come out of the melee animation holding my anti-titan weapon, rather than my main gun, which sometimes results in me being taken out because I can’t fight back properly. More scrolling resistance might help with this behavior.
Secondly, there isn’t a sniper button feature in the SteelSeries software. You can set a CPI toggle that you click to switch between two different sensitivities, but that’s not what I’m looking for. I can’t set a button to switch to one sensitivity while held down, and back to my main sensitivity when let go. Software can be changed without having to replace hardware though, so I’m hoping a sniper button feature will be implemented.
SteelSeries’ Rival 700 is a bit of a novelty mouse. Its tactile alerts are useful, but its tiny OLED screen isn’t. Unfortunately, while it’s a high quality product overall, I discovered a few issues with it in my review. I also thought the Rival 700 was priced too high, possibly because of its gimmicky OLED screen. The Rival 500 scales back a bit from the Rival 700 by ditching the OLED screen and keeping the tactile alerts. The result is a mouse that’s $20 cheaper.
The scroll-wheel action on the Rival 500 might feel a bit loose and the side buttons may be a bit hard to reach for some hands. This mouse also isn’t ambidextrous. Other than those minor issues, the Rival 500 is an excellent mouse. It’s well put together, fits nicely into the hand, and has a first-rate sensor. The software is cleanly laid out, easy to use, and powerful. Lastly, it features force feedback, which is not something many mice can boast. The $80 price tag is still a bit high for a mouse, but it’s reasonable for a MMO-and-MOBA mouse sporting an array of extra buttons.
I concluded my Rival 700 review by steering those interested in GameSense towards the Rival 500. However, at the time, I hadn’t yet gotten ahold of one. Now that I’ve actually spent time with the Rival 500, I’m pleased to say it is a fantastic mouse, and I highly recommend it to those who prefer somewhat bulky mice loaded with buttons, especially those intrigued by the idea of tactile alerts. Even if you don’t use many side buttons, you can disable the bottom two and never use the rest of them. My Rival 500 will be replacing my Corsair M95 until it breaks, or I find an even better rodent. For the moment, however, the SteelSeries Rival 500 is literally a TR Editor’s Choice.