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Zen and the Art of Mouse Hunting

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
I'm writing this now because I feel like I went through enough over the past few weeks that I should document it. Whether you’ll agree is certainly an open question. Be aware that, for all intents and purposes, this is a story (albeit a true one). So feel free to flame my self-indulgence.

It all began innocently enough, as most odysseys do. I wanted a new mouse. There was nothing "wrong" with my old mouse — a Logitech G5 that had served me faithfully for many years and remained essentially pristine — except that the latest Logitech Setpoint software seemed unable to recognize games upon launch and the middle mouse wheel button took far too much effort to click, a problem the mouse suffered from day one. As regards the former fault (software), I was making do with X-Button Mouse Control, a third-party application that was a satisfactory solution, excepting that it didn't allow me to program all the G5's buttons, but for which I am otherwise extremely grateful (I mean, it’s free, after all — the Internet abounds with generous folks...isn't it wonderful?). And as for the hard-to-press third mouse button — a serious pain in games that encourage you to hold it depressed to, say, swivel the camera — I generally circumvented the issue by reprogramming it to a mouse wheel tilt direction, which worked like a charm.

Still, my trusty G5 seemed old hat. I've improved nearly everything else in my PC, and several key components relatively recently, so I figured that the primary means by which I physically interact with the machine deserved the same consideration. (Perhaps interestingly, the other primary means by which I physically interact with my PC — my keyboard — is a venerable IBM M series "clicky" model that I received free back in the early ‘90s from a generous office tech who was swapping out old hardware at a previous job. Still as good as the day I got it, albeit embarrassingly grimy. In spite of its loathsome beige plastic exterior that matches none of my other possessions, the keyboard and I have entered into an implicit whoever-dies-first relationship.)

However, I had no such attachment to my G5; in its own way even uglier than my homely Model M — it has that truly hideous pre-worn look that was meant to simulate years of sweat and wear, like pre-washed jeans. Only it’s a mouse, so whatever genius designer came up with that gem should have their eyes neatly plucked from their sockets (in this case, blinding would be a mercy). Logitech — aesthetically more at home among office supplies than in a gamer's cave — it must be said, doesn't do stylish, however they may try. So, I had zero misgivings about letting it go.

Plus, I wanted more buttons.

You see, though I view my "hardcore gamer" status as wholly intact, I am part of that lesser breed of gamer who plays a diversity of titles and reserves no special status for either king-of-the-gaming-jungle FPS titles or their slightly lower on the totem pole cousins, RTS and MOBA games. That is to say that I am not a competitive gamer, not an eSports aficionado. I don't have a clue about my kill count or headshot ratio. I don't click away furiously, eyes glued to my monitor, body frozen in the total concentration of a predator moments before an attack. I love my games, including FPS, RTS and some multiplayer, and play them for hours, but somewhat casually, far more intent on experiencing that perfect moment, exploring a virtual world or pulling off a fun stunt than winning. And for that, more buttons renders the action more fluid, upping my enjoyment.

So, as with any prospective new piece of electronic kit, I dove into the research. Graphics cards may matter a lot, but there are effectively two brands. I bought one recently (MSI GeForce 760 Twin Frozr, in case you're curious), and I had my decision nailed down in a matter of hours. Mice are an entirely different animal (pardon the pun). It seems everyone and their brother makes them. Look beyond the major manufacturers — Logitech, Razer et al. — and you'll find a mob of upstarts vying for your peripheral dollars.

Sure, you soon learn that, beneath the surface, there are standards. The ubiquitous Avago sensors and Omron switches are seemingly the common traits of nearly all gaming-grade mice, like shared physiology in mammals. But, entirely unlike, say, video cards, which are all about the Nvidia or AMD processors that underlie them, with mice the surface matters...a lot, as I would learn. More than beauty is skin deep here.

Mouse research, therefore, can only tell you so much. What it told me was there's a lot of good product out there worth a look: Logitech, Razer, Roccat, SteelSeries, MadCatz, CoolerMaster, Thermaltake, Corsair, Zowie, Gigabyte and Mionix all deserved my attention (and if I've neglected one of your favorites, my sincerest apologies — gamers are notoriously passionate about their product allegiances, a quality Razer's marketing plainly exploits with their slightly creepy "Razer faithful" invocations). And while I had no idea what luck I'd have in rounding up the cornucopia of models peddled by these numerous contenders, I knew I had to get my hands on some...literally.

So it was that after days pouring over illuminated manuscripts (read: surfing the net), I left the cloistered halls of the monastery and embarked on my mouse hunt.

Microcenter was my first stop. And it proved a surprisingly good one. They carried far more brands than I'd expected and were accommodating to the point of saintliness about opening boxes on my behalf so I could actually hold the prized specimens (I almost wrote "palm the goods" here, and I won't bother going into all the levels of disgusting that conjures). (And I'm probably playing with fire referencing "nuts" immediately following the prior parenthetical, but here goes...) In a nutshell, here's what I found. First, there are many good mice, at least so far as one can determine quality by holding them, mashing their buttons a few times, etc. I was most impressed by CoolerMaster, Thermaltake, Gigabyte, Roccat and Razer, but then I wasn’t able to sample offerings from nearly all the rest on my list (no SteelSeries, MadCatz, Zowie or Mionix). About the only brand I didn’t come away with a particularly favorable impression of was Corsair, which fit my hand well but felt cheaply constructed, side buttons especially. Second, nothing was perfect. I found myself wanting the size of one, buttons of another, finish of something else, and features of yet another. Futile visions of playing PC-mouse Dr. Frankenstein aside, I walked through Microcenter’s exit doors with nada…that time.

Yes, I went home, “regrouped” and returned the next day. It wouldn’t be the last time either. But I’m getting ahead of myself. On that trip, I re-tested and debated, hemmed and hawed like a pauper at a rich man’s auction for something he can’t afford but desperately craves. I walked away with a CoolerMaster Inferno. Though it boasts nothing close to the popularity of a Razer DeathAdder, it’s a sweet piece. Feels quality throughout. Nice grips and finish. Button presses have that satisfying “click” (and, yes, that’s all of them). And it’s programmable up the wazoo (let’s refrain from lingering on that term and its potential synonyms). Its sensor isn’t at the tippy top of the DPI spectrum, but nearly everybody attests that sky-high DPI numbers are unusable and for bragging rights only. And, at $40, the Inferno’s a steal.

I brought it home happily, proudly — a prudent decision made. It worked just fine, and the software, while needlessly involved, performed as promised. Spend a little time with it and you’ll have oodles of buttons dancing to your tune. So what was the issue then? Why wasn’t this the happy ending to an unexceptional story?

It didn’t fit. Or, if you’re predisposed to being more charitable towards the mouse, I didn’t fit it.

I like motorcycles. And if you do too, then you know that sitting on one in the showroom offers but a mere hint of how it will feel when ridden. Once under power, it vibrates, absorbs the road’s bumps (or, sadly, doesn’t), and gives you an exact sense of what holding yourself up against a 60-mile-per-hour wind feels like (or much more, but we won’t go there). In short, showroom comfortable can turn real-world awful. It’s the same with a mouse. To be fair, the Inferno wasn’t awful, but I wasn’t prepared to share hundreds of gaming hours with it either. Especially not with my old Logitech there, silently gloating over its better fit. Back to Microcenter the Inferno went, leaving me afloat upon the inhospitable sea of indecision.

It’s universally accepted wisdom among storytellers that, when it comes to conveying the emotions of endeavors of endurance that test the human will — like crossing a desert or maintaining a vow of silence or marking time in solitary confinement — it’s a really bad idea to communicate this dramatically by subjecting your audience to a lesser version of same (think a movie that endeavors to convey a character’s profound boredom by having nothing happen). So, I won’t commit this offense by elaborating on all the trips back and forth to various retailers in search of a worthy replacement. Suffice to say, there were many; far too many than can be justified for a sub-$100 peripheral. The walks to and fro (I use public transportation some) were good for my health. And the drives to and fro were good for oil company profits.

Eventually, I found myself back at Microcenter. For whatever reason — perhaps desperation — I chose to try a mouse I hadn’t yet considered: the Razer Naga. In fact, it was the first Razer I’d put my hands on. This may well surprise those of you still reading, since Razer is a top-selling brand and so, an obvious choice. But my research had steered me away. Razers were consistently accused of being expensive and yet poorly made. And most of their models don’t offer the features I was seeking, like a tilting mouse wheel or a surplus of buttons in convenient locations. To be sure, the Naga is an exception on the button count. It has a gamer's feast’s worth. Like 15, if you don’t include the obvious left and right clicks. But 12 of those are on a thumb pad grid. The Naga is an MMO mouse; the first of its kind, apparently. And while I do play MMOs from time to time, my history decidedly reveals me to be a dabbler rather than an adherent, as I unfailingly quit out of boredom after a few months at most. To wit, I’m not deserving of a dedicated MMO mouse.

So, while I wanted more than the standard minimum of buttons, it wasn’t the Naga’s treasure trove of them that drew me. It was the shape. When I rested my ring and pinkie fingers on those right-side grooves, they just felt…home. They felt better than my Logitech, and that was a first. This was a revelation. It was an instant coupling, like some misguided fairy tale of nerd love at first sight (I’m talking with a computer mouse here…not nerd love with another person, which is every bit as moving as when pretty people do it, maybe more because of its statistically poorer odds of happening).

But, can you believe it, I didn’t purchase the Naga there on the spot. No, somewhere in my surely warped psyche was the recollection that there was more than one Naga available to the discerning consumer. In fact, there are about five, give or take. There's the 2012 model that I sampled, distinguished by having twin buttons — intended for DPI switching, but reprogrammable just the same — behind the scroll wheel and three detachable options for right-side grips. The pre-2012, original model had the two DPI buttons in the front left corner at the edge of the left click (but no detachable grips). That is out of production, and so, hard to find new, except that a special edition — the Naga Molten, with truly juvenile lava-cracked-earth graphics — remains on sale. Then there’s the Naga Hex, with six (hence "Hex") larger mechanical thumb buttons instead of 12 on a rubber pad, and, further complicating matters, a glossy finish on the top and a grippy one on the sides — the exact opposite of other pre-2014 Nagas (i.e., grippy top, glossy sides). There’s also an optionally wireless Naga Epic that Razer must have named for its lofty price tag. And, finally, to completely stymie simple decision-making, there’s now a 2014 edition Naga that’s substantially changed — it’s roomier, has a fully mechanical, raised 12-button thumb pad vs. the near-flush rubber one of its predecessor, and it has my beloved tilting mouse wheel, for two extra functions. Indisputably, this is Razer’s response to Logitech’s popular G600 MMO mouse, which many prefer to the original Naga.

There’s a scene from a now old movie starring Robin Williams, Moscow On the Hudson, in which he — a clown who defected to the United States from the Soviet Union while on tour with the circus in New York — wanders into the coffee aisle of a typical Western supermarket. Used to standing in long lines for “the State’s” single brand of coffee, William’s character is quickly overwhelmed and has a nervous breakdown trying to process the staggering breadth of choices offered the American java consumer. I was now channeling that Soviet clown, off the deep end with that preoccupation with minutiae that causes normal people to give obsessives of all stripes — Star Trek weirdos to Antiques Roadshow eccentrics — a wide berth when in the vicinity of convention centers. Though the self-aware me comprehended this in full, I nonetheless pressed on.

Recognizing that returns are a way of shopper life in this most capitalist of countries, I pulled the trigger on the Naga 2014. For just a few more dollars than the 2012 model, it offered a higher DPI sensor (again, worthless in real world application), sturdier mechanical buttons, grippy coating on all surfaces, superior fit for man hands, and my tilty wheel. There are also some software improvements and other details that even I have the good sense not to impose on your surely-threadbare-by-now patience here.

And so, for about 40 minutes, I had attained the inner peace of resolution. All was well with the world. I’d found my mouse. I had closure. Or so I thought.

Nothing was wrong with Razer’s product — it performed exactly as promised. Just like the CoolerMaster Inferno, it’s a quality piece that I’d recommend anyone so inclined give a try. But again, it took me only a short period of real use to determine that it wasn’t for me. The coating, so pleasing in the store, irritated my fingers. And, since your thumb has nowhere to grip but right on top of the 12-now-protruding-mechanical-buttons, it was uncomfortable for me. It’s a good guess that that’s the reason why Razer’s designers gave the “old” Naga the near-flush rubber pad…because you actually need to grip it. Then again, plenty of folks love Logitech’s G600, and it’s got the raised hard buttons that Razer is plainly emulating, so, clearly, it’s a matter of individual tolerance. Also, the Naga 2014, and its Logitech G600 cousin, are obviously intended for palm-grip use, which demands less of the thumb. I use a fingertip grip, and not relying heavily on my thumb for movement in all directions is akin to sitting on a two-legged stool — most assuredly, a short-lived proposition. Sad, I was. I really wanted to love that Razer mouse. After all the time I’d invested, I felt downright obliged to love it. Call me a big wussy for my unwillingness to force my hand into submission, but I could not deny the truth. It wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t right. And my old Logitech was there, soundlessly smug the whole time. You see, it knew there’s no satisfaction in declaring you’ve won when your opponent already knows he’s beaten.

Back to the store (this time a Best Buy) to return the Razer. Before doing so, though, I stopped at the gaming mice aisle. While the majority of their mice were sealed away in their boxes — which, unlike the gallantly unselfish Microcenter, they refused to open without purchase (let’s be honest, Best Buy has always been low class) — they did have a few current Logitech models on display to experience: the G700s, G500s, and aforementioned G600. (If you’re actually still reading, I can picture you slapping your forehead at the possibility that I might have settled on the G600, but, rest easy, I’d learned my lesson.) Quickly dismissing the G600 as effectively “been-there-done-that,” I focused my attention on the G700s and G500s. Both have received good press and count many fans among their numerous users. And their shapes, the G500s especially, is close enough to my own now-infuriatingly-confirmed-to-be-supremely-well-fitted G5 that comfort was nearly assured. I mean, the G500s is basically the suped up descendant of my G5. So it would seem the obvious solution — quite possibly the only solution. But then I took in the details. The left-side isn’t carved as deep for the thumb, offering less fingertip grip. Worse still, the thumb buttons are plasticky and cheap. Even worse yet, the scroll wheel is abhorrently loose, side to side, and rolling it forward and back is so effortless as to virtually guarantee imprecision, even in its incremental, notched mode (there’s a free-scroll mode too). And the G700s suffered the same. Yup, I just wasn’t sold.

And so, I returned home empty-handed. The notion that I’d in fact spent no money was cold comfort; I cared nothing that my wallet was intact. I’d wanted something better. I wanted the satisfaction that I’d improved my often PC-centric existence. What I got was the knowledge that what really worked for me was what I already had. It’s like that proverb of the man who searches the world over for the love of his life, only to find it’s the girl next door. It’s like that insufferable Taylor Swift song (“You Belong With Me,” need you be reminded), and my G5 was humming it.

I’d like to report that I cherished this little pearl of wisdom, this gamer life lesson. Undeniably, there’s a certain poetry to it. But it didn’t exactly bring with it soul-nurturing satisfaction. It was more akin to exhausted surrender, along with whatever decidedly hollow reward that comes from knowing you gave it one hundred percent, even though you failed. But then I spent about 45 minutes seeking out a solution to my G5’s programmable buttons software ills, and uncovered a total fix. And, though this discovery really underscored all that time and effort spent running around when I could have actually been doing something fun like, oh let’s see...actually gaming, and introduced the disquieting notion that the mouse-based discontent that propelled me on this trek in the first place could have been alleviated in just 45 minutes, I felt renewed.

“Be thankful for what you have,” is one of those pat refrigerator-magnet aphorisms that rightly make passionate people who see the world in many dimensions and complex hues of gray want to commit violence. But I’ll admit that my reflections on my mouse hunt did offer some measure of perspective, which, just as getting overly caught up in an of-the-moment desire, surely has its place from time to time.

If you actually made it this far, you have this author's gratitude — thanks for reading.

Edited by MrELB - 9/18/13 at 10:20pm
post #2 of 10
Cool story thumb.gif
post #3 of 10
i wanted to read this thread. but then............
post #4 of 10
Wow. ummm this should be sticky. Now I know how to hunt mice like a cat
post #5 of 10
How did your teacher grade this?
post #6 of 10
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by OCmember View Post

How did your teacher grade this?

Why? What would you give it?
post #7 of 10
Just accept that mucking around with mice is now as much a hobby for you as playing the games you once intended to buy them for.

Oh, and... welcome to the community. thumb.gif
Edited by Imprecision - 9/21/13 at 9:48pm
post #8 of 10
Wow, I'm in awe of this excellent piece of literature. Kudos to you!
post #9 of 10
Originally Posted by MrELB View Post

Why? What would you give it?

I'd say you have great insight on yourself and can express it eloquently. People would enjoy reading your writing
post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 
I am humbled by your remarks and appreciate the feedback. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. - ELB
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