Observant readers of our hardware reviews will recall that the last time I tangled with a SteelSeries product, it was for a review of the SteelSeries Prime Pro Series Gaming Mouse, and they’ll also likely remember that I came away from that review not only raving about the product but also about my newfound respect for wired M+KB setups despite my preference for wireless.
So, to now find myself reviewing the SteelSeries Aerox 5 Wireless gaming mouse almost a year later is a sort of “coming full circle” moment, as SteelSeries’ latest product boasts to deliver the best of both worlds, with two different flavours of wireless to boot, SteelSeries’ own proprietary Quantum 2.0 Wireless 2.4 GHz tech and Bluetooth 5.0.
Similar to the Prime, the SteelSeries Aerox 5 comes packed with a detachable, super-mesh data/charging cable that is a generous 2.0 metres in length, except this time, SteelSeries was kind enough to swap out the Prime’s antiquated USB-A to Micro-USB cable with a more modern USB-A to USB-C version. Also included in the box, of course, is the USB-C dongle for 2.4GHz wireless connectivity as well as a Female-to-Female USB-C Extension Adapter which can be used in conjunction with an optional cable to further expand the length of the included one, or alternatively combine it with the cable and dongle to provide a “wired wireless solution” for specific scenarios, which I’ll get into later.
In sharp contrast to the Prime’s simple stylings, however, the Aerox 5 is much more of an extrovert. The mouse features an airy, diamond honeycomb-like mesh along the top and bottom of the device that reveals its inner workings so unabashedly that it’s almost impossible to believe that it also has an IP54 water resistance rating. Of course, the real reason for Aerox’s flirtatious design is to show off the various illumination modes of its Prism RBG lighting, which along with other settings can be customized to one’s tastes via the SteelSeries GG PC app.
With all the light emanating from the bottom of the device, there are three zones of the mouse to which lighting patterns can be assigned, which can make for some pretty fancy patterns once you’ve figured out the somewhat complex process of setting up and saving your selections to them. The Xbox console jockey that I am, I just set all three zones to the closest colour I could find to a pulsating green and called it a day.
In terms of style, the Aerox 5 doesn’t really hold a candle to its futuristic cousin, the Rival 650 and its far more distinguished RGB layout. Surprisingly, it doesn’t even feature the mouse wheel RGB trim that both the Rival and the Prime have, which is a little disappointing if you are looking for a gaming mouse where the illumination takes centre stage at all times. But to be honest, most gaming mice are only noticed visually when they’re sitting off to the side not being used, and when the SteelSeries Aerox 5 is stationary and not obscured by one’s hand, its glowing internal base is pleasantly reminiscent of a large, mechanical, wingless firefly, which is rather cool.
“One thing the Aerox 5 definitely does not skimp on is button selection.”
One thing the Aerox 5 definitely does not skimp on is button selection. Beyond the standard Left, Right, Mouse Wheel and dedicated CPI settings buttons (the latter button now conveniently found just below the Mouse Wheel on the top of the device rather than on the bottom), there are five additional buttons on the left side which can be customized, making this mouse a great choice for use with multiple game genres.
That being said, as someone who generally prefers to play shooters when gaming on PC, not all of those buttons feel naturally within reach of my thumb. More specifically, Side Button 1, the grey button positioned the furthest forward on the device, requires me to push my thumb so far to rest on it that it takes me a full second to slide it back to press any of the other buttons, and I can’t avoid moving the mouse pointer erratically while doing so.
This makes the button almost impossible for me to use in a fast-paced, FPS game. Perhaps it could work as a dedicated button for less crucial functions, such as opening and closing a world-map, and I’m sure it would be fine to use for primary commands at the exclusion of all the other side buttons, but otherwise, it’s a write-off for me. Conversely, Side Buttons 2 through 5 are bunched together rather closely and, although it might require some mental gymnastics to tell them apart at first, with practice I can see switching my thumb between them becoming totally natural.
As we’re on the subject of ergonomics, it should be noted that at 74 grams (only five grams heavier than the Prime), the SteelSeries Aerox 5 is extremely light and its 100% Virgin grade PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene) skates make it easy to slide the mouse smoothly along just about any flat surface, allowing accurate movements in both broad strokes and precise, miniscule actions. Like the Prime, however, its textured matte-black surface coating is rather slippery and might prove more prone to drops when it’s not attached by cable, so it might not make the best travel mouse. Overall though, the Aerox 5 feels amazingly comfortable in hand.
Sadly, there are two perplexing flaws of the SteelSeries Aerox 5 that hold it back from being the ideal gaming mouse, and the first is one that I’ve already personally encountered with another SteelSeries product, the Arctis 1 Wireless Headset for Xbox. Like with the Arctis, SteelSeries for some reason, has decided to saddle the Aerox 5 with an oddly-shaped dongle that is too wide on the connector end to fit comfortably into a USB row or hub when the ports are tightly spaced on the horizontal and other devices are plugged in.
Case in point, on my laptop, the edges of the Aerox 5’s dongle encroach just far enough on both sides that they almost block access to both the HDMI port and one of its two USB-A ports. Even worse, since the dongle’s connector is USB-C, it can’t be directly plugged into the isolated USB-A port found on most laptops that is usually dedicated to mouse use in order to skirt around the problem. In my case, I was still able to make it work, but depending on how the ports of your laptop are laid out and how much space is given to the USB-C port, I can definitely see this being a potential problem.
“I can confirm that the SteelSeries Aerox 5 was not only recognized by the Xbox console, but it also worked flawlessly and was lag-free during several rounds of Halo Infinite.
Thankfully, there are workarounds if you absolutely must use wireless and happen to be in such a tight spot (pun intended). The first option is to connect the SteelSeries Aerox 5’s supplied USB-A-to-USB-C cable and Extension Adapter to one another and then attach the wireless dongle to that. Alternatively, if that lone open port happens to be a USB-C port like the one on my laptop, you can swap out the USB-A cable for a male-to-male USB-C cable (not included) to achieve the same result.
It’s not an elegant solution, and it kind of contradicts the whole point of using a wireless mouse in the first place, but it does at least get around the port spacing issue and also potentially allows the mouse to be used wirelessly from a greater distance away. This is perfect for setups where sitting right up close to one’s monitor isn’t practical, like when gaming on a PC or console via the big-screen TV in the living room.
I’ve actually tested the USB-A Cable + Extension Adapter + Wireless dongle combo with my Xbox Series X. I can confirm that the SteelSeries Aerox 5 was not only recognized by the Xbox console, but it also worked flawlessly and was lag-free during several rounds of Halo Infinite.
The other wireless solution, of course, is to ditch the dongle entirely and put one’s eggs in the Aerox 5’s Bluetooth basket. After all, the marquee selling point of SteelSeries’ Aerox line of gaming mice is the option to use Bluetooth as an alternative to SteelSeries’ Quantum 2.0 tech (continuing the tradition from the Aerox 3), and not needing to sacrifice a valuable USB port to operate the Aerox 5 is a big upside.
As hinted at earlier, however, there’s also a significant downside. Firstly, it would appear that much of the customization options for the SteelSeries Aerox 5 that are available in wired and 2.4GHz mode don’t come along for the ride when Bluetooth is turned on, despite having on-board memory for retaining those settings. According to the SteelSeries GG software, “settings for Angle Snapping, Acceleration/Deceleration, Illumination and button bindings (except keyboard button and mouse bindings) will return to defaults while your device is in Bluetooth mode.”
The Polling Rate (the setting which determines how often the mouse communicates with your computer) will be set to 125 HZ (every eight milliseconds). By comparison, the Polling Rate in both wired and 2.4GHz modes maxes out at 1000 Hz, or one millisecond. As one might expect then, this Bluetooth performance gap results in cursor movement that feels choppier overall and gives off a slightly more “framey” look when controlling the camera in first-person games such as Halo Infinite, Quake, Quake 2 and Portal 2. It doesn’t render those games unplayable by any means, but it does feel a touch less accurate and aesthetically pleasing.
“For slower moving, point-and-and click games or applications like word-processing, video editing and the like, however, Bluetooth Mode should do just fine.”
Another caveat is the loss of one’s lovingly created illumination settings while in Bluetooth mode, which are instead replaced by a generic, multi-coloured shift cycle. Coupled with the low polling rate, this mode may be a dealbreaker for content creators aiming for a specific setup where on-camera colour coordination and 100% dongle-free usage are both musts, but that scenario is unlikely to be the popular use case for most people.
Competitive PC gamers who swear by wired play will always ensure that they have a USB port dedicated to their gaming mouse anyway, while less picky-users can simply alternate and only take advantage of the SteelSeries Aerox 5’s Bluetooth mode to free up a USB port when the need arises. It’s great to always have options, right?
That said, the noticeable difference in performance between Bluetooth and the other modes makes it hard for me to recommend it for fast-moving, twitch-based gaming applications where players have complete control of the game camera. For slower moving, point-and-and click games or applications like word-processing, video editing and the like, however, Bluetooth Mode should do just fine.
One final saving grace of the SteelSeries Aerox 5’s Bluetooth Mode is that the aforementioned CPI (Counts Per Inch) button behaves exactly as it does in wired or 2.4GHz mode, allowing the user to cycle between five of the most common presets for mouse sensitivity, with each preset assigned an easily recognizable colour code that flashes briefly upon selection (Purple = 400 CPI, Blue = 800 CPI, Green = 1200 CPI, Yellow = 2400 CPI, and Red = 3200 CPI).
“The SteelSeries Aerox 5 is a solid, comfortable and visually appealing gaming mouse…”
It’s an especially handy feature for power users who often tend to switch between different kinds of applications or operate the same computer with panels of varying sizes. It quickly facilitates adjustment of the mouse pointer’s speed of travel without the need to open an on-screen menu (especially on PlayStation or Xbox, where there aren’t any).
All in all, the SteelSeries Aerox 5 is a solid, comfortable and visually appealing gaming mouse that falls just short of perfection due to some baffling design choices that ultimately impact the appeal of its versatility. For most would-be buyers out there, the Aerox 5 is the Swiss Army Knife of gaming mice that power users have been waiting for, but the physical design of its dongle can present issues for some computers and its Bluetooth Mode works best when regarded primarily as a non-competitive, “nice to have” wireless gaming option.