SteelSeries SRW-S1 Racing Wheel Review

 
It’s always cool to receive new toys, and as usual, I’m more than thrilled to receive a new batch from our friends at SteelSeries.
 
The latest gadget I’m reviewing is the SteelSeries SRW-S1 racing wheel. The SRW-S1 wasn’t exactly something I needed considering I already have a Logitech DFGT racing wheel, but I have a feeling that my existing wheel won’t be seeing the light of day too often in the near future.
 
The reason I say this is because the S1 is a fantastic “in-between” product. Sure, for a guy like myself that has both the lower end of the spectrum and the higher end when it comes to racing wheels, having an “in-between” seems like a waste of space. But for those who are looking to get their first wheel, which one do you go for? Does lower end appeal to you, or the best of the best? How about the best of both worlds?
 
As you all pretty much know by now, I love racing games, especially sim racers. Before I launch into my tirade, I’m going to stop myself and just say that sim racers are to be played with a wheel and pedal setup, preferably with force feedback. However, If that just isn’t possible for either cost or space reasons (or both), a Xbox 360 controller also works well due to its “spongier” triggers. But that’s just not the same, is it?
 
The SRW-S1 is a fantastic solution for those who want something as convenient as a plug-and-play controller, but with a lot more tactile feedback than a standard gamepad. Take a look at the picture below:
 
simraceway-srw-s1-steering-wheel_front-image
 
Now consider the fact that all you’re hooking up is the single USB cord. That’s it. No AC adapter, no extra cord for pedals, no extra attachment for the shifter, none of that. The point is, the SRW-S1 was not meant to be a wheel/pedal replacement; it was made to be a gamepad replacement. It’s made to be plugged in and played as quickly as possible, then taken down again as quickly as possible.
 
The S1 wheel is no cheap piece of plastic either (though it IS made of mostly plastic, just high quality vs cheap). The wheel just feels nice in your hands. It’s got a nice sense of weight and density; it doesn’t feel like a Wiimote wheel attachment for Mario Kart, for instance. The buttons all feel nice and tight as opposed to jiggly. Some cheaper controllers I’ve used in the past had buttons that didn’t seem like they fit correctly in the holes. Not an issue here.
 
If you need any further proof that the S1 wheel was developed with quality in mind, consider the fact that it has been tested and approved by professional racers, including four time IndyCar Series winner Dario Franchitti and the late two time Indy 500 champion Dan Weldon.
 
Now, before we dive into all the nitty gritty details, I do want to stress that as good as this wheel is, it still lacks the force feedback available in a full wheel/pedal setup. That’s an important feature in a sim racer; it’s how you can tell the feel of the road and how much grip your tires have. It’s how to can throw yourself into a corner and hang onto that last, tiny shred of control without spinning out. It’s all in the touch, and unfortunately with the S1, you lose all of that.
 
With the S1, the accelerator and brakes are handled by two paddles on the backside of the wheel, right underneath the paddle shifters. They are placed in a very natural position for your middle, ring, and pinky fingers to reach them with no issues. Like I mentioned earlier, the “pedals” are very spongy, which gives players a tremendous degree of touch. With the S1, you are able to determine however much force you need to use on these pedals. You can do anything from fully mashing them down to lightly feathering them for added control. That’s something that’s possible on a controller, but not easy to do due to the triggers’ lack of give.
 
simraceway-srw-s1-steering-wheel_back-image
 
The actual steering itself is handled by an accelerometer. You hold the wheel out and steer much like you would with a smartphone racing game (Real Racing comes to mind). Simply turn the wheel as you would when driving in real life, and the wheel will do what it needs to do.
 
The front face of the wheel is loaded to the brim with a variety of buttons, but don’t let the sheer amount of options freak you out. Most of these buttons won’t be used on a regular basis, as they largely resemble settings that you will most likely set in-game and never touch again (things such as traction control, ABS, etc).
 
One of the features I do really appreciate that’s set right on the wheel is the ability to adjust brake bias on the fly. With the click of a button, I can adjust my brake bias to the front or the rear depending on how much over/understeer I want to have at any given time. That’s a really nice thing to have right at your fingertips as opposed to having it mapped to a keyboard button.
 
This brings up another issue, though calling it an “issue” is a little unfair. Full compatibility with the S1 wheel is reserved only for the game Simraceway. This means that Simraceway will work with the S1 right out of the box without any additional tweaking. All the dials, buttons, and shift indicator lights on the wheel are ready to rock.
 
The S1 is also compatible with nearly every other racing game on the market, but anything other than Simraceway requires customizing all the buttons. Depending on how complex the game is, this can take anywhere from a few minutes to nearly a half hour. I tested the wheel out on iRacing, F1 2012, GTR, Dirt 3, Simraceway, Project CARS, Test Drive Unlimited 2, Need for Speed Shift, Shift 2, Hot Pursuit, and Most Wanted, and RaceRoom Racing Experience. Every single one of these games worked with the S1 and they all worked very well. The difference was in the setup time, and as long as you have the patience to map all the buttons, you’re good to go. I was somewhat upset to find out that none of these games worked with the shift indicator light on the wheel, but that’s not a big deal.
 
The final thing is the price. The SRW-S1 retails through the SteelSeries store for $119. While the wheel quality alone would have warranted a purchase at that price (though I would have to think hard about it), the fact that you can get a Logitech Driving Force GT wheel (complete with wheel, pedals, force feedback, etc.) for $121 on Amazon right now leaves a lot of questions open. Now granted, there is something you should take into account, and that is the purchase of a full wheel setup requires additional money to be spent on something to MOUNT the wheel and pedals to. Whether it’s something you build yourself, or an accessory like the Wheel Stand Pro, look to spend at least another $100-$200 on a mounting solution. And no, trust me, you can’t just plop the wheel on your legs. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and give it a shot, and then dance around to the tune of “I told you so!”
 
Even with a mounting solution, setting up a full wheel and pedals is a pain the hiney. I own a Logitech DFGT mounted to a Wheel Stand Pro. Whenever I want to play a game with it, I need to haul it out of the closet, stand it up, plug the AC adapter in, plug the pedals into the wheel, plug the wheel into my PS3 or PC, then adjust my seat accordingly. When I’m done, I have to do all that again to stow it away.
 
With the SRW-S1, all I have to do is unwind the USB cord and plug it in. Done. Whether or not the S1 is worth the $119 is up to you.
 
So what’s my daily peripheral of choice now that I have a DFGT and a S1 to choose from? Let’s just say that the other day, I stowed away my Logitech DFGT setup in the closet again. I probably won’t bust it out until I need it for Gran Turismo 5.