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SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless Review: Budget Quality

A low-priced wireless gaming mouse that doesn't disappoint

SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless
(Image: © Tom's Hardware)

Our Verdict

The SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless is a compelling option for people seeking a wireless mouse on a budget, but it’s not as much of a standout as the original Rival 3.

For

  • Good gaming performance
  • 2.4 GHz and Bluetooth 5.0 options
  • Long-lasting battery life

Against

  • CPI settings can be unreliable
  • Much heavier than wired version
  • Not rechargeable

In my SteelSeries Rival 3 review in January, I said the mouse was easy-to-recommend to  anyone on a budget (you can find it for $29). In fact, the rat landed itself on our Best Gaming Mouse page as the standout budget option. My primary complaint about the mouse was its cable--a 6-foot-long rubber monstrosity that had a tendency to tangle and a texture that provided more traction than I’d like.

SteelSeries has addressed that complaint with the SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless (MSRP $50). It has some of the hallmarks of the best wireless mouse, like excellent battery life. But SteelSeries also changed a lot of what I liked about the original Rival 3.

SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless Specs

Sensor TypeOptical
Sensor ModelSteelSeries TrueMove Air
Sensitivity18,000 CPI
Polling Rates125, 250, 500 or 1,000 Hz
Programmable Buttons6 (plus scroll up and down)
LED Zones 1 RGB zone
WirelessUSB Type-A dongle or Bluetooth 5.0
Measurements (LxWxH)4.74 x 2.3-2.64 x 0.85-1.49 inches (120.6 x 58.3-67 x 21.5-37.9mm)
Weight (With 1 or 2 AAA Batteries) 3.39 or 3.74 ounces (96 or 106g)

Design and Comfort

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SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
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SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

SteelSeries didn’t reinvent the wheel with Rival 3 Wireless. Its shape closely resembles that of its wired predecessor, with the exception of a detachable top plate, which houses the two AAA batteries used to power the mouse. (We’ll talk more about the wireless functionality in a bit.) The company describes the Rival 3 Wireless as a right-handed ergonomic mouse, but that’s only because it only has buttons on its left side. Otherwise, it’s shaped like an ambidextrous mouse, and SteelSeries targets it toward fingertip and claw grippers.

The Rival 3 Wireless is also ever-so-slightly smaller than the original Rival 3. It’s 4.74 inches long, 2.3 inches wide at the front, 2.64 inches wide at the back, 0.85 inches tall at the front and 1.49 inches tall at its peak. The wired Rival 3 measures 4.75 x 2.3-2.64 x 0.85-1.49 inches.

Unfortunately, the Rival 3 Wireless, which is mostly ABS plastic, is also quite a bit heavier than the Rival 3, weighing between 3.38 and 3.73 ounces, depending on if you opt to use one AAA battery or two for longer battery life. That’s up to 1.01 ounce heavier than its predecessor, which feels more significant than it sounds.

Some weight gain is to be expected when making a wired mouse wireless, however, because of the additional hardware requirements. The Rival 3 Wireless finds itself in good company at this weight: it’s similar to the Logitech G305 Lightspeed for example, as well as the Corsair Harpoon RGB Wireless (3.49 ounces each). Lighter wireless mice, such as the Logitech G Pro Wireless (2.82 ounces) and Razer Viper Ultimate (2.56 ounces) cost significantly more than the Rival 3 Wireless.

Luckily, that added weight also makes the Rival 3 Wireless feel a bit sturdier than its predecessor. Other aspects of the mouse feel mighty familiar. The scroll wheel texturing is typical SteelSeries, the matte coating is grippy without being too rough and the buttons all feel satisfying to press. On the other hand, there is some wobble on the primary mouse buttons, as well as a bit of pre-travel. But in daily use, these issues weren’t distracting.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a mass-market gaming mouse without some form of RGB backlighting, but the approach here is a bit different. The Rival 3 had RGB backlighting along the bottom of its case and via the SteelSeries logo but not on the scroll wheel. The Rival 3 Wireless only features lighting on the scroll wheel, however, likely helping to keep cost and weight down.

Gaming Performance

I’ll be upfront: I would probably like the Rival 3 Wireless a lot more if I hadn’t started using the HK Gaming Mira-M a few months ago. I’ve grown so accustomed to using an ultra-lightweight mouse (the wired rat is only 2.22 ounces) that using a ‘normal’ mouse feels strange. I’ve started to adapt, and this won’t be a negative for people who have yet to hop on the ultra-lightweight bandwagon.

That said, the Rival 3 Wireless mostly performed as expected. It debuts the SteelSeries’ TrueMove Air optical sensor, an upgrade over the wired version’s 8,500-CPI TrueMove Core. The new sensor has a CPI range from 100 to 18,000 that feels like every other modern sensor, as well as a max velocity of up to over 400 IPS if you’re using one of SteelSeries’ best RGB mouse pads and 400 IPS otherwise. The sensor can handle up to 40g of acceleration.

I didn’t have any sensor-related problems flicking on to heads in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, cutting down guards in the demo for Ghostrunner or absently clicking my way through Divinity: Original Sin 2. This is a modern gaming mouse with modern gaming performance.

Going wireless also benefited my game. I appreciated the lack of a cable that can get caught on my desk -- or pounced upon by my cat -- which automatically gives the Rival 3 Wireless an advantage over the Rival 3.

Nothing else about the Rival 3 Wireless truly stood out.The mouse neither astounds nor confounds; it simply meets my expectations for a modern gaming mouse. SteelSeries used mechanical switches for the left and right buttons, but they felt pretty typical. The two side buttons were positioned in a way that felt just right in my hand, so even if there will be some natural variance between users, I’m comfortable saying their placement is fine.

Wireless Performance

The Rival 3 Wireless offers your choice of connecting via Bluetooth 5.0, which should give you longer battery life and save you a USB port, or via a USB Type-A dongle. But for gaming, you’re encouraged to use the dongle.

Because seemingly every gaming brand has its own wireless tech these days, the dongle uses SteelSeries’ Quantum 2.0 Wireless technology. It operates on the 2.4 GHz band, broadcasts on two wireless channels across 40 frequencies to fight data packet loss during potential wireless interference and is also built for long battery life (more on that below).

Due to my setup, I did suffer interference issues with the Rival 3 Wireless and its Quantum 2.0 dongle at first. My PC usually sits under the left side of my desk, and I typically notice connection issues when a wireless mouse is on the far-right of my somewhat large mouse pad, which is roughly 2.5 feet away from my gaming PC. With this setup, I encountered some problems with my crosshair jumping about and button presses being lost, which is frustrating in single-player games and a deal-breaker in competitive titles.

Clearing any clutter from my desk (my phone, any beverages, etc.) and bringing the hardware closer together addressed those problems. Since modifying my setup, the mouse’s dongle connection has been reliable. Some products just have to be met halfway; the Rival 3 Wireless is one of them.

 

Battery Life

SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

SteelSeries claims up to  over 400 hours of battery life with the Rival 3 Wireless, but there are some caveats. The first isn’t surprising: You’ll need to be packing two AAA batteries instead of one. Downloading SteelSeries’ Engine 3 software (more on that below) is also necessary because it allows you to activate the mouse’s High Efficiency Mode, which turns off the RGB, sets the polling rate to 125 Hz and has the sensor draw less power. This didn’t appear to affect my gameplay, but I still  wasn’t totally comfortable with dipping below a 1,000 Hz polling rate, which is what most of today’s gaming mice offer with Razer moving toward offering an 8,000 Hz gaming mouse.

The 400-hour claim applies to both a dongle and Bluetooth connection. If you activate High Efficiency Mode via the dongle connection and SteelSeries’ software, it’ll carry over when you switch to Bluetooth mode.

Other battery life saving settings available in Engine 3 are a sleep timer and Illumination Smart Mode. The latter turns off the RGB when the mouse is in motion. We’ve seen this in the HP Omen Vector, but with that mouse, the RGB on the logo under the palm turns off. HP’s implementation seems to make more sense than SteelSeries’, since you typically can’t see the palm logo when you’re moving the mouse, but you can usually see the scroll wheel.

These features have led SteelSeries to claim the Rival 3 Wireless offers year-long (by which it means 400-plus hours), battery life when using two AAA batteries. People who want to save on weight at the expense of battery life can get by with just one battery, however. SteelSeries claims you get more than double the battery life with two AAAs.

Sadly, it’s impossible to check the mouse’s exact battery life because Engine 3 doesn’t offer a percentage reading of the Rival 3 Wireless’ battery level. What I can say is that the software still claims the battery’s at full charge even though I’ve been putting the Rival 3 Wireless through its paces for just under a week.

Features and Software

The Rival 3 Wireless relies on the free SteelSeries Engine 3 software to do all of the usual gaming mice customization options, like change the RGB on the scroll wheel, set the button layout and edit macros.

Additionally, the Rival 3 Wireless ships with five CPI levels by default, and the currently active level is indicated by a dedicated color on the scroll wheel. I would’ve preferred an on-mouse indicator, though. I also had some problems with the CPI level resetting in between sessions until I decided to delete the unnecessary levels.

One addendum: SteelSeries also claimed the scroll wheel’s lighting can be used to display notifications related to battery health and “in-game notifications.” The feature is a little buried though, and I couldn’t find it at first. It’s located in Engine’s Apps menu, where you have to find the game you want and tweak settings there. But with the Illumination Smart Mode being enabled by default, you’re not able to see any changes to RGB when moving the mouse. And if you’re playing with any level of serious competitiveness, you’ll probably want to avoid taking your eye off the screen just to look at corresponding RGB. The in-game notifications feature seems more like a box SteelSeries wanted to check than a useful addition.

Bottom Line

SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The SteelSeries Rival 3 Wireless has a compelling shape, seemingly durable build and numerous quality-of-life features that should allow it to serve many gamers well. Combine that with the $50 price tag, and it should have the mass-market appeal I suspect SteelSeries was going for.

Unfortunately, the mouse isn’t as easy to recommend as the original Rival 3 is. A lot of that comes down to personal preference: I like my gaming mice lighter, and I liked my setup the way it was before I made concessions for the sake of this wireless mouse. Companies have also released a strong supply of affordable-but-compelling mice this year, though, and for its price,  the Rival 3 Wireless doesn’t stand out as much as the Rival 3 does at $30.

But at the end of the day, the Rival 3 Wireless cuts the cord on a mouse that’s biggest flaw was an annoying cable. It also ups the sensor specs while providing reliable battery life. If you don’t mind the weight, it’s a favorable, well-priced option.