For the most part SteelSeries has stuck to a fairly nitch market. Their products are normally mice, keyboard, headsets, and mouse pads. There have been a few products here and there that have broken that mold like their work with Gunner Glasses and a few products that carried over from their purchase of Ideazon. Surprisingly they recently introduced a new steering wheel, the S1. They worked together with Simraceway to enter into the wheel market. I say wheel because unlike every other product on the market, the S1 is simply JUST a wheel. There isn’t a pedal, gear shifter (other than paddle’s), or even mount for the wheel. With just a USB cord and an F1 inspired wheel between you and the game it’s a different solution, but will it work?
Product Name: SteelSeries Simraceway S1
Review Sample Provided by: SteelSeries
Review by: Wes
Pictures by: Wes
Buttons and Controls
1 Direction pad
Responsive RPM / Shift indicator LED lights
Product weight (g) 577
Product weight (lbs) 1.27
Product width (mm) 228.6
Product width (in) 9.0
Product height (mm) 155
Product height (in) 6.0
Product depth (mm) 55.6
Product depth (in) 2.2
Approximate length of 10 feet
Included in the Box
$10 Simraceway card
Games it works on
Live for Speed
Test Drive Unlimited
Test Drive Unlimited 2
Need for Speed Shift
Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit
Need For Speed Underground
Midnight Club 3 Dub Edition
+ Any other PC racing game on the market.
The S1 is packaged in a box with almost no SteelSeries branding on it. Even at first glance you can tell they really wanted to show the wheel off. 3/4th of the packaging is made out of a clear plastic window giving you almost a 360 degree view of the device. Information on the packaging is few and far between, you will actually find more about the Simraceway game than anything else. There is a short note on the back that lets you know that with the wheel you will also receive a $10 card for in game use. I can’t wait to find a use for it.
Inside the wheel is held into place with two pieced of formed plastic with a red velvet finish (you will see later that that same red velvet came off on the wheel and is in most of our photos). Aside from the wheel itself the only think you will find inside is the $10 currency card mentioned before and a small brochure that gives you quick instructions on how to use the S1 and where to download your game client.
Installing and configuring the S1 depends entirely on what game you are planning to play. For example if you are planning on playing Simraceway with the S1 (and I highly recommend you do, it’s free!) all you have to do is plug it in. You won’t have to install any software or drivers, nor will you need to configure anything to get going in game. I have never seen such an integrated and easy to use solution for any wheel. Typically you would have to install all of the software and at minimum let the software know what game you will be playing. I shouldn’t be too surprised though, this is similar to our experience with SteelSeries mice and their onboard memory. It obviously helps to be working directly with the game developer, but I have seen wheels made for other games that still lacked the simplicity that the S1 had.
So it works with the game its designed to work with, what about other games? Well you still won’t have to install any software. Plugging the S1 in did the trick with windows picking up the needed drivers. When you get into game (for our testing we used F1 2011), you will have to go into your settings and bind each of the controls to buttons and functions on the S1. Once I figured that out it really was simple. My only complaint was that in F1 there wasn’t a way to be able to map the direction pad on the S1 to control the in game menu. This would have made the world of difference and because of this issue I still had to keep my keyboard close. When binding keys in games other than Simraceway you can use every button and paddle but you won’t have any luck using the knobs. Two of the three knobs are specific to Simraceway, with the sensitivity knob still working independent of any software.
As a whole I was content with setting up and configuring the S1. At its best (in Simraceway) its simply plug and play and at its worse (every other game) it’s still easier than setting up any other wheel on the market. The lack of software makes configuration less complicated.
They also included around 10 feet of cord to make reaching your PC easy.
With the S1 I wasn’t sure what to expect, the design is nothing like a standard racing wheel. The small compact design makes it easy to pack up and bring out and is perfect for taking to LAN parties. The downside of course is the small design means you don’t have any way to attach it to your desk. That means anytime you are racing you are holding your arms out slighting, for a fat guy like me this could be a form of torture.
There is a reason why F1 race cars layout everything on their steering wheel, it’s all easy to get too even in the middle of a race. By taking that same design with the S1 they made every single button and knob easy to reach. Each of the buttons uses a switch similar to what a mouse uses, giving them a defined click when you push them. Not only does this make each button easy to use but it also gives it a quality feel. Most other wheels would just go with a mushy silicon switch for their buttons, the SteelSeries engineering is showing through here. Speaking of a quality feel, the entire wheel has a very solid feel to it, you can’t flex it no matter hard you try.
Without a traditional mount to rotate on the S1, much like todays phones, relies on sensors to detect how far you have turned. I was a little worried when we first received the S1 that it wouldn’t be as accurate. Surprisingly it did a really good job. There were a few times with the steering dead zone in game where we saw a slight bit of jitter when holding the wheel straight (it was never an issue while turning). With it set in game to 5% dead zone we were good to go and ready to race. I spent time playing a variety of games. With Simraceway being in beta I did experience a few issues that prevented me from doing as much testing in game as I had hoped. For the other games most of my time was divided between F1 2011 and Dirt 3, but I did get a little time in Need for Speed: SHIFT. Here is a video of me in Dirt3 and F1 2011 with the S1.
The on the fly sensitivity knob came in handy a few times; you can adjust the sensitivity to register full lock from 180 degrees to 360. I spent most of my time with it at 180 just to prevent my arms from getting tangled. Unlike traditional wheels you can’t let go to readjust your arms to turn farther. That’s where the downsides to a free motion wheel come into play. As I said before the hardest part is holding the wheel for extended periods of time. Without a way to rest your arms on the wheel it makes long racing sessions hard to do without your arms getting tired. I noticed that they did include a mounting spot on the back of the wheel. If they introduced a way to mount the S1 it could be the best of both worlds.
Overall and FV
The S1 is an amazing wheel that obviously has its faults. The most frustrating part is the best part of the wheel is its compactness, but in order to fix inherent flaw in the design they would have to mount the wheel making it just like every other wheel. Because of that you kind of have to take the good with the bad. The S1 is a perfect wheel for someone who isn’t prepared to dedicate the space to setup a full racing configuration. This is the first wheel we have ever seen that can be unhooked and setup in the same amount of time it would take to plug in a mouse or keyboard. That means it’s finally a viable solution for someone who uses their PC for more than just racing. Being able to pull the S1 out just like a gamepad means it won’t end up packed away like our old racing wheels and our rock band equipment on our consoles. Just make sure you start practicing your static hold’s to prepare for those long gaming sessions ;).