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SteelPad 4S and SteelPad 4D High Performance Mousepads

Charles Moore - 2004.09.13 - Tip Jar

SteelPad is a jumbo-sized metal mousepad from Denmark aimed particularly to satisfy serious gamers' increasing demands for optimal accuracy. The company pledges, "We want to become the pro gamer's preferred mousepad. We strive hard to keep up with the pro gamer's increasing demands for optimal accuracy."

Incidentally, SteelPad mousepads were developed in consultation with the Schroet Kommando Gaming Clan and are touted as being especially well suited to gaming applications.

Despite its name, SteelPad is actually made from 3.5 mm aluminum plate with a proprietary hardened surface coating engineered to optimize both performance and traction. SteelPad is claimed to provide optimal performance with both conventional ball mice and optical mice - or at least some optical mice. Soft Trading warns that SteelPad doesn't work with Logitech Optical mice other than the MX Series, and I found that the LapWorks Optical Scroll Mini Mouse did not like the SteelPad either.

The SteelPad mousepad comes in two sizes. Our test unit was the larger 4S model, which measures 290 x 267 mm (about 10-1/8" x 11-3/8"). The standard 3S SteelPad has smaller dimensions of 250 mm x 235 mm.

I'm not a gamer, but I do use Quill and Contour Perfit large mice, which are two of the physically largest mice available for the Mac platform. These mice are great - very comfortable for those of us who struggle with mousing pain, but they do tend to be a bit cramped for space on a standard mousepad. I was curious to see how they would fare on a larger expanses of the SteelPad mousepad.

A recommended accessory for use with SteelPad 4S is SteelPad PadSurfer - a self-adhesive Teflon® tape appliqué for the mouse "feet" (or contact surfaces) developed especially for the SteelPad surface. A strip of the PadSurfer material comes with the SteelPad, so the first order of business was to apply it to a mouse. This turned out to be a moderately tedious job. You have to measure the mouse feet and then cut the Teflon film to match their shape as closely as possible (a bit of overlap is recommended). It took me nearly an hour to do two mice (seven "feet" in total). Someone with nimbler fingers might be able to do it more quickly.

toolsTools I used included a ruler, an X-Acto knife, and a pair of scissors. Aside from getting the shape of the cut out material accurately matched, the trickiest part of the job was separating the sticky Teflon film from its backing and then transferring it to the mouse feet without it sticking to itself or my fingers. Also, don't forget to wash any dirt or oily residue from the mouse feet before applying the Teflon film.

Soft Trading recommends that when applying the Teflon tape you make the pieces bigger than the feet and make sure that the tape is glued all over the feet - right down to the mouse bottom surface - to ensure that no edges can pick up dirt. Seal the edges with your fingernail.

That preliminary task accomplished, I proceeded to check out the SteelPad, which is, as noted above, a flat metal slab with a black satin "stealth" finish. On the bottom side are eight rubbery urethane "feet," which seemed to have plenty of traction and do a good job of keeping the SteelPad from skating around the your desk or table.

Apple's hockey puck mouseI found that the mouse slid effortlessly about on the SteelPad's surface with its Teflon coated feet, but then so did an Apple "hockey puck" USB ball mouse I tried for comparison, and it had no Teflon film applied.

The downside was the "metallic" sound either type of mouse makes as it slides across the SteelPad's metal surface. Perhaps you would get used to this, but I found it irritating.

Another characteristic of metal surfaces is that they tend to feel cold under normal circumstances, although I also found that the black SteelPad would get very hot when exposed to direct sunlight. That would not likely be a very common issue, however.

I have to say that I prefer the aural and tactile characteristics of plastic or fabric-coated mousepads.

So how did the SteelPad perform as a mousing platform? Well, with the ball mouse it worked great. This is probably an ideal surface for ball mice - flat, smooth, excellent traction, and easy to clean.

Unfortunately, I didn't fare as well with the optical mice. I established for myself that the Logitech Cordless Mouseman wireless optical mouse wouldn't work at all with the SteelPad, nor would the LapWorks Mini Mouse. The cursor simply refused to respond.

Quill mouseThe Quill mouse's performance was better, but erratic, with the main problem being a reluctance to start tracking from rest. Once you got the cursor moving, it tracked nicely and with satisfactory accuracy, but about half the time (or more) the cursor would get "stuck" and refused to respond until I applied some very vigorous body-English, moving the mouse back and forth on the pad rapidly.

However, I've noticed that the Quill mouse is a bit picky about the sort of surface it's used on, and it has issues with some conventional mousepads as well, especially ones imprinted with text or graphics and uneven coloring. On the other hand, it works great with the black plastic SteelPad 4D mousepad reviewed below.

I am obliged to say that I was not blown away by the SteelPad as a mousing platform for the sort of computering I do. On the plus side, it's very nicely finished and attractive in a subdued and tasteful way. The materials and workmanship appear to be first-rate. The large mousing area would be a major advantage with my big Quill mice (I have both right- and left-handed versions) if it were not for the cursor-sticking problem, but that is a big "if" that renders those mice essentially unusable with this pad.

I can't speak to the SteelPad's advantages or otherwise for gaming - its primary target market - since I have no games on my computer other than a couple of chess applications, which I don't think is quite what they have in mind. However, for ball mice, it is, as I noted, a functionally superb mousing surface.

The SteelPad 4S has a price tag of: DKK 299, €39.95, US$49.95 + shipping, which is a hefty chunk of change for a mousepad. However, if it will give you the performance edge you're looking for in competitive gaming, perhaps the cost is justifiable in that context.

SteelPad 4DHappily, the SteelPad folks have addressed my issues with the SteelPad 4S by releasing a similarly large (11" x 10" or 290 x 267 mm) mousepad styled identically to the for 4S model, but this time made from plastic - the SteelPad 4D. Unlike the 4S, after using it for several months, I can affirm unreservedly that the SteelPad 4D is the best mousepad I've ever used.

Aside from the new (and quieter) material, the SteelPad 4D is also double-sided, with one mousing surface smooth and the other rough-textured, which may work better with in certain mice. The SteelPad 4D also comes with a more heavily textured soft underpad made out of a "stickier" plastic material that cushions the mousing surface and provides traction to keep the SteelPad from skating around on the desk or table surface.

Soft Trading says that the plastic SteelPad 4D is compatible with all mice, and I've found that it works fine with the several I tried - both conventional ball and optical units, including the Quill mouse. The mousing surface is very slick and fast, offering minimal resistance to tracking motion, especially if you employ the "PadSurfer" Teflon mouse foot appliqué material to your mouse. The 4D resists getting dirty and is easy to clean when it does.

I really like the plastic SteelPad 4D, which, in summary, has eliminated the complaints I had about the 4S while essentially retaining its virtues, as well as costing only half as much.

SteelPad 4D sells for DKK 149, €19.95, US$24.95 plus shipping

C/O Soft Trading
Ryesgade 19C
DK-2200 Copenhagen
Denmark
Phone: +45 7025 0075
Fax: +45 7025 0076

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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