Steelseries SRW-S1 Steering Wheel review
UK Price (inc VAT): £99.99
US Price (exc taxes): $100.96
I’m holding the SRW-S1 at eye level, studying the face of it. I’m working my fingers over its buttons and through its grips, feeling the smooth rubber and the solid moulded plastic. I click the gear paddles, squeeze the accelerator and fiddle with the dials. I run my fingers over the rev LEDs and then stare at the 'simraceway' logo printed in the center. I do all this and I marvel at the wheel, it feels great, it looks great, but I look at it and think “this is the most pointless wheel I’ve ever seen”.
Backtrack. The SRW-S1 is a new PC wheel made by Steelseries, primarily for use with new sim racing game Simraceway. On the wheel is two analogue paddles, two digital paddles, 15 buttons, 3 dials, a d-pad, and 15 LED’s lining the top. It’s a proper racing wheel. What you’ll immediately notice is missing, however, is a way to clamp onto your desk (unless you buy some extras) and some foot pedals.
It’s a novel concept: a steering wheel that uses accelerometers (motion control, like your Wii or iPhone) rather than the standard base unit measuring the degrees of rotation, so you just hold it out into the air like when you grab a plate from the kitchen and make “brum brum” noises (right guys?). Plus, it has the accelerator and brake paddles behind the wheel rather than on a separate unit on the floor - both ideas combining to create one super lightweight, self contained steering wheel solution.
I have to ask though: why would anyone want this? Yes, it’s portable, but that is the most redundant feature of hardware like this. Let’s not kid ourselves here, at $100 and a button for front brake balance, this is a wheel aimed at racing enthusiasts. These (me included) people want accuracy and a good racing setup to race against people on the internet. You don’t go to your friend's house for a super serious racing session - hell, I can’t even recall a PC racing sim that supports split screen.
Anyway, accuracy. If the wheel is good at its job then I might as well shut up and stop complaining, so in true bit-tech fashion I’ve benchmarked it. I booted up iRacing and F1 2011 and put some laps in on circuits I know, first with a Logitech G27 (very similar to a Logitech Driving Force GT which is in the same price bracket as the SRW-S1), and then with the SRW-S1. Here are the laptimes I recorded - the best from roughly five laps with each wheel (disclaimer: I’m a bit out of practice):
Okayama Circuit - Mazda Roadster
G27: 1.04.6 | SRW-S1: 1.05.6
Circuit De Spa Francorchamps - Williams F1
G27: 1.56.4 | SRW-S1: 2.00.2
G27: 1.24.1 | SRW-S1: 1.26.3
And at this point, I really didn’t need to do any more science. I couldn’t touch my times placed with the G27 on the SRW-S1, and I should note that these were the hot laps, with the G27 I could get around the same times consistently, the SRW-S1 was often a struggle to just get a lap in at that sort of pace.
Even on its own turf, however, the wheel is a disappointment. Simraceway - the game that it’s explicitly for - is average at best. Graphics look years old, the handling feels messy (incredible understeer at any sort of speed, massive oversteer otherwise, especially under braking), and some of the sounds are noticeably off. It is
free if you’re happy to drive an Evo around a selection of tracks, but then other cars are micro-transactioned with prices ranging from $0.06 for a Kart, and $1.50 for an unlicensed F3 car, to $4.99 for a McLaren MP4 and $6.12 for a Ford GT-R GT2. Basically, if you want something interesting to drive, you’ve got to spend some cash.
The kicker is that the SRW is a bit of a faff to get configured with Simraceway, forcing you to re-assign most of the buttons from the get go so they actually work, even though the game detects the wheel and has a special in-game menu just for it.
Then, the extra kicker (this one’s in the balls) is that you don’t even need most of the buttons. See, changing front and wheel brake balance on the fly isn’t generally something that happens outside of actual F1 racing, and having big, pretty looking dials for changing assist values and steering sensitivity is just unnecessary when, realistically, there’s always going to be a keyboard to hand. I could never get launch control or headlights to work in Simraceway either, but I suppose having to hit a button to turn off a speed limiter is pretty satisfying. Note, however, that any wheel that allows custom mapping will work here with most if not all of the same functionality.
So, back to the question: “why would anyone want this?”. Well, if you really, really like Simraceway; don’t have a wheel, don’t want to use a pad and you wouldn’t rather spend the same money on a fantastic Logitech Driving Force GT, you might be interested. If you’re not bothered about force feedback or automatic centering; you don’t want pedals (there could be some disability benefits here, but it’s beyond the remit of this review) or don’t have a desk, then again, the SRW-S1 ticks those boxes too. Alternatively you might not really mind about laptimes or don’t mind getting arm ache (as with any un-fixed motion control system, it gets tiring on your arms), but you do want a load of brightly-coloured buttons on what is otherwise a very well made wheel. If all of these things apply then, hey, this is the wheel for you.