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Mouse Wars: Episode 2 - Attack of the Lasers (or something like that)
Written By:
Date Posted: March 22, 2002

It's been almost a year since our last mouse roundup, so I'd figure it's time to post an update with some of the newest mice on the market. I'm not going to ramble on for pages on each mouse, because let's face it, as important as mice are, they're not all that exciting to talk about.

Unlike the last roundup, we're going to be focussing exclusively on the optical mice. I don't think anyone makes the good ole ball mouse anymore, except for Karna and their Boomslangs. Another change this time around is that all the mice are USB mice. PS/2 adapters are available, but the interface is legacy-ware anyway, and on the way out. Everyone probably has a couple USB ports anyhow, so this shouldn't be an issue.

Optical technology can best be described as a mini camera that takes snapshots of the mousing surface. The information between snapshots translates to movement on your screen. The optical sensors have improved on all the models we're going to look at today, at least when compared to the previous generations.

In the past, optical mice had some tracking issues. For example, unless you had a dark, and uniform mouse surface, the optical is going to have a hard time tracking your mouse movements. Mouse stutter is a common occurrence, and if you decide to game with the mouse, you'd better be careful of not lifting your mouse up or you'll lose tracking again.

Another problem was the cost. The first set of optical mice were relatively expensive. Considering the minor usability improvements, the cost didn't make the purchase seem worthwhile.

Finally, the last problem of older optical mice is that the resolution of the mice wasn't the greatest. For general purpose use, this is fine, but when compared with the Boomslang in gaming, the mice weren't nearly as fast as their ball equipped cousin. When you're trying to do a 360 in Quake, even when increasing the mouse sensitivity, it just didn't feel right. Previous optical sensor technology topped out at 400dpi. This time around, all the mice boasts a minimum of 800dpi.

Optical mice did have some advantages though. In general, their overall usability was better than the ball mice they were upgraded from. The big selling point though was the fact that there were no moving parts, more notably, no ball. Why was this such a big deal? Ball mice get dirty, and when it gets to a specific point of, erm, dirtiness, the performance scales downwards. Optical mice never suffered this problem, hence performance stays even.

Optical mice have come a long way, and some have added some interesting technologies to try to win the buyer dollar. We're going to look at 3 different Logitech mice, and one from Microsoft.

Logitech iFeel Mouseman

We looked at the iFeel a few months ago, and came away with mixed feelings. It's a comfortable mouse, for right-handers, and has very good force-feedback technology built in, courtesy of . The force-feedback works in well in both Windows and in supported games. I know that a few rounds of Unreal Tournament was certainly fun as every weapon had a different feel to it.

Optical technology-wise, not much has changed from the previous non-vibrating version. It's 800dpi, but slightly improved so that it's a little more forgiving in case you take it slightly off the surface.

The Mouseman is a 4 button mouse. You got your left button, right button, scroll wheel/middle button, and a thumb button. This may seem like a lot, since most mice have 3, but I would have liked a 5th button. If you play any games, you'll know that the more buttons you have easy access to, the better. One nice thing Logitech does is the buttons have a good feel to them. They "click" better than other manufacturers, and they don't feel as "squishy" as Microsoft's mice. It's a subjective opinion, so you'll have to try one out yourself to see which you prefer.

Force Feedback

The blurb from Immersion's site regarding force feedback:

"Immersion TouchSense" technology brings a whole new dimension of realism to gaming. Software and hardware developers can add realistic tactile feedback that corresponds to events and environments within the computer game world. For example, you can experience a fish nibbling at your hands or the vibrations of flight turbulence all through your mouse, joystick, game pad or steering wheel."

In practical sense, you'll get a little shake depending on what you do. I didn't test every game out there, but like I said, in UT, the effects are cool. Depending on the weapon, you'll get a different vibration. Not enough to throw off your aim, but it does add a little to the gaming experience. They have a more extensive list of .

My take on all this is that force feedback in a mouse is no big deal. I usually ended up disabling it all together because I found it annoying. Call me a traditionalist, but for a mouse to vibrate everytime I click on something doesn't feel right. A few times when the mouse shook, I thought I ran over a bread crumb on my desk, or something got stuck in my mouse.

Logitech Trackman Wheel

Sometimes, even the most ergonomic, traditional mouse isn't good enough. Depending on the severity, or fear, of carpal tunnel, a track mouse may be a better option. Also, if desk space is tight, the Trackman may be appealing because it doesn't move.

Instead of the built-in camera snapping pictures of the desktop, this time it's the trackball. The ball rolls quite smoothly, and is actually not too hard to get used to. One possible problem is that if your hand is filthy, it'll get on the ball, and likely mess up the mouse. The documentation says the mouse is designed to handle dirt, but just don't wipe your chocolate stains on the ball.

The Trackman is a standard 3 button mouse. You got your left button, right button, and scroll wheel/middle button. For "regular people" work, this should suffice, but for gamers, a fourth button would be nice.

Speaking of games, unless your a trackball wizard, you're going to have one heck of a time playing action games with this. I gave Quake 3 a spin, and spent more time dead than alive. Even at the highest playable sensitivity, it just wasn't practical. Granted, I only gave this mouse one week of testing, so I'm probably too entrenched in my old "traditional" mouse habits. Slower, strategy-type games wasn't a problem, and it was actually faster and easier to select units using this mouse.

The benefits of the Trackman are this: less desk space used, well designed and comfortable, and the ball tracks well. The problems I see are that it's not really suitable for action gaming, and even less suitable for left handers. The learning curve is certainly there, especially if you've never use a trackball mouse before.

Logitech Dual Optical

What's better than one optical sensor? Maybe two? Well, that's exactly what the engineers at Logitech did. Improving upon the original LED sensitivity with their current line of mice, the effective DPI has doubled with the addition of the second LED.

Appearance is everything, and the Dual Optical doesn't disappoint. It's a seXXay looking mouse, and extremely comfortable to hold. It's an ambidextrous design for the most part, but it's still better suited for right handers.

The usual four buttons are here, and the thumb button is nicely placed for easy contact. It actually appears to be part of the design. I just wish there was a fifth button.

At 1600dpi (2 x 800dpi), performance was smooth. Regular, everyday use may not seem all that noticeable, but for gamers, you'll find a lot less mouse stutter when compared to other Logitech mice. It's hard to illustrate, but your gaming will feel a lot smoother, and strafing left to right feels more consistent.

Like the MouseMan, the Dual Optical was designed for right-handers only. For myself, the mouse was extremely comfortable to hold, and has a nice weight to it. Compared with the original Intellimouse Explorer, this doesn't feel like a cheap piece of plastic.

Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer v3.0

Logitech aren't the only ones who overhauled their product line. Microsoft was actually the first to release "new" optical mice, with the most popular being the Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer v3.0. I don't recall ever seeing a v2.0, but the v3.0 is a huge improvement over the first optical mouse M$ released.

One complaint of the previous Intellimouse Explorer, was that it was too bulky for smaller hands to use. Although I didn't have any problems with it's, erm, girth, Microsoft could improve it a little by trimming a little fat off it's bottom. This time around, the Explorer is much more slender, but may still be a tad on the large side for some users.

I was not able to track the exact numbers, but on website, they claim that most optical mice only capture 2500 pictures per second, whereas the MS Explorer captures 6000 pictures. Those are a lot of snapshots, and the result is a very precise, and relatively smoothing mousing experience. In reality, I found the mouse to be the fastest of the group, at default settings, and it's accuracy is only matched by the Razor Boomslang 2000 in day-to-day gaming.

The Explorer comes equipped with five programmable buttons. Those of you who like to set a lot of key binds will find the addition of two thumb buttons a godsend. The buttons are much smaller than before though, and it does take some getting used to if you're use to large thumb buttons, or none at all.

The claims of being a very fast and precise mouse are quite valid. I found this to be the best mouse, in terms of performance and features, for gaming. I do find the thumb buttons to be a tad on the small side, and therefore awkward to depress due to the placement.

Final Words

Which mouse is right for you will depend on many factors...

Hardcore gamer? In that case, either the Logitech Dual Optical or Intellimouse Explorer 3.0 will serve you well. I prefer the Explorer because of the extra buttons.

What if you're sufferring from carpal? Although all the mice are fairly ergonomic, your best choice would be the Logitech Trackman. Then again, action gaming is near impossible, at least for me.

Force feedback? There's only the iFeel Mouseman.

I should point out that at , they reported that there seems to be issues with the Logitech mice and Ratpadz mousing surface. We did test on this surface, and we didn't encounter any problems. Note that this may not apply to everyone, but a quick poll with some online gaming buddies, it seemed none of them had a problem either. If this is a concern, the Explorer 3.0 works great.

The most important thing when choosing a mouse though, is how does it feel to you. Almost every major shop carries all these mice, and put them out for display. You should hold them in your hands, and decide which feels best to you. The mouse is probably the most important computer input item you'll use in your lifetime, and the right mouse will mean a lot to your computing comfort.

Agree? Disagree? Discuss it in our forums




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