If you ask me, I’ll be the first person to scoff at the performance mouse pad market. So maybe I’ve never been an extreme gamer by any stretch of the imagination with the need for extremely accurate mouse tracking and any of the other things these mouse pads promise you. Getting to actually review one of these premium surfaces has changed my outlook on the industry slightly, but don’t expect stories about how this pad has changed my life. No, I’m not a millionaire now, nor do I have a supermodel wife, and the perfect fairytale life, but the Steel Pad 4S made mouse movements more precise and tracking a good deal better.
The Steel Pad 4S was designed as a “professional gaming mousepad” with an implied “developed by gamers for gamers” mentality. Although one would think the Steel Pad is constructed out of steel, aluminum is used instead and has been hard-anodized. The quality of the anodize process seems extremely high and has been “fiber polished” according to product literature, seen in the matte color and smoothness of the surface finish. Surface-wise, Steel Pad differs from many of today’s performance pads. Rather than using a textured surface, here it is completely smooth. The Steel Pad logo has been laser engraved into the corner. Over time, longevity of the mousing surface should be quite high, much higher than other cloth or plastic based premium surfaces. Eight silicon feet are found below. Shape-wise, the Steel Pad 4S loosely resembles a large (the pad’s dimensions are a hefty 290 x 267mm) rounded rectangle.
Steel Pad also includes a short section of their Teflon-tape product: PadSurfers. These PadSurfers perform two functions: first, reducing the amount of friction between the mouse feet and the mouse pad, resulting in smoother movements. Second, as a result of less friction, reduces the amount of noise the mouse makes as it glides across the surface. Steel Pad is quite noisy, despite the little effort it takes to move the mouse. It seems to “scrap” its way across the surface, inherent in the porous nature of the anodized surface. Using the PadSurfers reduces this noise considerably.
Mouse friction is a matter of personal preference and play style, making testing considerably harder, and very subjective in nature. Although the only game I currently play at this time is America’s Army, where the action is more slowly paced then UT2K3, it serves as a good test. During testing (playing) using a Logitech MX500 I found that sniping at long ranges was more difficult due to the greater sensitivity and responsiveness that the Steel Pad gave, forcing me to adjust the mouse sensitivity in order to compensate. Fast “twitch shots” were also slightly more difficult for the same reason. I tended to overshoot the target, again, due to the greater sensitivity of the mouse pad. However, when I had to track a moving target, whether trying to snipe someone on the run, or trying to SAW (M249) someone down, the greater sensitivity allowed me to track my targets with greater ease. Generally, my game play did improve, but that could be due to more practice or the new cross hair I switched to while testing this mouse pad. While testing with and without the PadSurfers, I found that the greater friction without the PadSurfers was more inline with my preference and style of play despite the higher noise level. As a reminder, purchasing a new mouse pad will not make you a better player; it is merely there to enhance what skill is present at that time. For those still using balled mice, the Steel Pad’s surface provides good traction for the ball, though it cannot match the precision of an optical.
The feet of the Steel Pad 4S did well enduring the many testing sessions I conducted. On top of stone, glass, or wood, they hold more firmly than the superglue you used to bond your arm to your face. Unfortunately, on certain laminate surfaces, the pad often slides beneath rough movements.
Maintenance is key to the Steel Pad 4S. The website recommends a cloth and some kind of cleaner that is used to clean glass which basically meant to me a paper towel and some Windex. Quick circular motions are needed to ensure that the Windex doesn’t leave behind any “water stains”. PadSurfers are recommended to be changed every three or four weeks and are sold in four inch strips for about $4.71 USD which should be good for at least two and a half applications on my Logitech MX500. Of course, there are cheaper alternatives. This brings up another point: at $46.94 USD, the Steel Pad 4S has to be the most expensive performance pad on the market, more than double the price of a RatPadz GS. Nothing cheap about that. Make note that the only Logitech mice that will work well on this surface is the MX series. Another note, if your hands are excessively moist, say you’ve just come from the shower, the moisture tends to condense on the pad.
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