CM Storm HS-M Battle Pad SSK - By Bryan Waters
With the recent release of the CM Storm Sentinel Advance mouse, recently reviewed here at OC3D with glowing praise, CM Storm have also released many gaming surfaces to ally to this. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to review the HS-M Battle Pad SSK. Does it live up the brilliance of the Sentinel Advance?
The first thing you notice is the packaging. CM Storm have gone for a black and red theme, which suits the rest of their product range, and have taken the bold and laudable step of not only putting ratings on the front of the box so that the average person in a retail environment would be aware of it's qualities, but also to not fall into the usual manufacturer trap of saying it does everything brilliantly, rather they are aware they have a large range of surfaces covering a variety of specialist tasks.
As you can see from the image to the right, this mat is particularly durable, speedy and good with laser tracking mice, but not so good with general optical mice or control. As someone who hasn't yet managed to get his hands on a Sentinel Advance I'm still using a plain optical mouse so it will be very interesting to see how it performs.
The Gaming Surface Itself
One of the first things that strikes you looking at the mat is how thin it is. It's amazingly thin. At only 4mm high there certainly wont be an issue with it digging into your wrist or causing RSI/cramp and other afflictions that affect those of us who use their computers for long stretches at a time. At 350mm wide, and 260mm deep, there is a lot of real estate for even the most insensitive of mice without it taking up vast swathes of your desk. I'm currently using a very small temporary desk and I had no trouble at all in fitting it on in a usable position. Numbers are all well and good, but a picture paints a thousand words.
The mat is black, adorned with the CM Storm logo in a gun metal grey. However the coating is such that it changes with the light reflecting upon it. As you can see from the picture above on the right, from the users angle it is very unobtrusive, something that I enjoy immensely. It matches the CM Storm Sniper almost perfectly in its stealthy nature. The coating on the mat is tough but slightly flexible. It's warm to the touch unlike other hard gaming surfaces, and the little flex that is in it allows it to adhere to slightly uneven surfaces well. The back is coated with a very fine cross-hatched rubber that should even out the bumps and ensure that it grips to the most shiny of surfaces. However, more on its adherence properties later, how is it to use?
Using the HSM-Battle Pad SSK
I have been testing this mat with my old wireless Microsoft 5000 which is probably long past it's MTBF and so will provide a very good test of how this high-end mat will perform with a low-end mouse. If it's impressive with this, then with a pukka gaming mouse it certainly will deliver. So let's have a quick run through the software I used. I decided that it is important to only use that software you are exceptionally familiar with. Anyone who has rearranged their bookmarks will know how good the body is at muscle memory, and I wanted to be certain that I had an accurate baseline rather than just take a gaming surface and use it for gaming.
I'm a huge user of Adobe Photoshop, so that was my first port of call. As you'll remember from the start of this review this mat is more designed for speed than control so if it's going to come undone, it'll come undone straight away here. It didn't. At all. Many times I've read people describing a surface as "gliding on ice" and I scoffed. But I can think of no better analogy here. This mat is so smooth, and so fast, that it's like taking a teflon sled down a bobsleigh run. So brilliant is it's tracking that I had to turn the sensitivity on my mouse down, because suddenly I could get from one side of the screen to the other quickly and accurately. In fact the most impressive element was that this mind-blowing speed and lack of friction at no point felt out of control. It took a minute or two of adjustment and then I was flying. Masks became easier and more accurate. Pin-point corrections went from a couple of tries and some frustration to first time, every time. Best of all was because it's easier to do everything, because you only need to do things once, because the mat is so frictionless even with my shabby old mouse, I could use it for hours without once feeling tired or aching.
If this mat isn't designed for control and yet delivered, then my gosh I had to fire up a game or two to try this with. Once again out came my favourite game of all-time, Company of Heroes. Whilst it's slightly slower paced than the Command and Conquer series, the small unit count means every click counts and speed and accuracy are more important, because you haven't got the backup of enormous numbers. The HS-M Battle Pad SSK was a revelation. If I was impressed by it in the gentile Photoshop, then its gaming performance is truly special. Selecting an exact unit in the midst of a firefight was crisp. Moving from one side of the screen to the other quickly, when trying to use a pincer movement for example, took noticeably less time than before so complex tactics became less of a risk because I was no longer worried about my mouse sticking, or being not quite where I hoped the pointer would be. My casualties fell, my kills rose. Even the Brutal AI started to be steamrollered.
Of course I know my audience, so finally I had to load a FPS up. After all, these surfaces are mainly designed for the headshot crowd, and I didn't want to disappoint. The old faithful Unreal Tournament 2004 was brought back to life and many a deathmatch later I can report that, like with COH and PS, this is clearly the weapon of choice. By no means am I a frag-junkie. I don't pretend to be even partly good at this genre, and yet even I could hold my own against some tough opponents. Especially impressive was the how quickly I could 'acquire and fire' at targets whilst leaping around like a sugar-filled toddler, and how even at maximum zoom the sniper rifle and lightning guns became a joy to use. In fact it was so much fun I found myself going from the gung-ho type of player to the stealthy "one shot one kill" type.
Performance under pressure
If there is one thing I was concerned about prior to testing it was that the hard surface of the mat wouldn't deal with the moisture that accumulates during a heated gaming session, and that the thin nature of the mat in general would lead to it moving around the desk. Both of these things are a total non-factor. Following an afternoons frantic Company of Heroes activity there wasn't a smear of moisture to be seen on the surface, and at no point did the accuracy of my mouse suffer.
The grip from the cross-hatched rubber base was incredible. The mat didn't budge even the tiniest bit. It reached a point where I was actually trying to get it to move and failing every time. This amazing sticky potential got me to wondering exactly how much friction the base provides, so with the aid of the measuring tool in Photoshop, and my glamorous assistant, I set to finding out. The left hand line is vertical, the right hand line follows the angle of the board that my assistant is holding and Photoshop the measures the difference between the two. In this case, as you can see from the a:18.7° in the toolbar, the mat defies gravity up to 71.3° off of the vertical. More than enough grip to ensure that it wont budge, at all, in the least.
Stunning. CM Storm have produced a product that instantly renders every other gaming surface redundant.
I've long been one of those people who will gladly spend money on hardware, but scrimps a bit on the actual things you use such as mouse mats, keyboards, mice etc. No longer. The HS-M Battle Pad SSK is phenomenally friction free, accurate, durable, sticks to anything, thin, big enough for detail work but small enough to not take up your whole desk. It looks wonderful with its black finish and gun metal logo. It can improve even the most knackered old mouse and has left me gob-smacked that £20 will buy you such an improvement in every aspect of using your computer.To class this as a 10/10 product is doing it a disservice.
If it is this staggeringly impressive with my old mouse, I can only dream of how truly epic it would be when coupled to a CM Storm Sentinel Advance. Dear CM Storm....
- Absolutely everything. It is faultless.
-Nil. Nada. Zip.