Microsoft continues to release gaming products in their SideWinder line and so far things haven't been too bad. Their mice have been decent and while I still go back to my Logitech G9, I did use the SideWinder Gaming Mouse for a while there. A few months ago, Microsoft touted their new BlueTrack technology in their Explorer Mini Mouse. Today, we have their next Blue mouse and it's made for gamers. Say hello to the Microsoft SideWinder X8 as we take a look and see what makes this mouse different from others as well as if it's up to speed for gaming.
The Microsoft SideWinder X8 is a wireless gaming mouse that supports up to 4000 DPI and uses their new BlueTrack technology. Right there are three things that should peak a little interest. Let's start off with wireless. The mouse uses a 2.4GHz radio signal to communicate with the receiver. Wireless mice for gaming has been around for a bit with Logitech in their G7 offering but this is the first one from Microsoft aimed specifically at gamers. It uses one AA rechargeable battery and Microsoft says you can play up to 30 hours on a single charge. Sounds good but what if you run out of power? I remember my roommate in college used a cordless mouse while we were playing Quake II CTF and his batteries died in the middle of him holding the flag halfway back to our base. It was a funny situation since I wasn't the one holding the flag but if it happened to you then it's not funny at all. Well, Microsoft has this cool magnetic charge cable that easily sticks to the top part of the under carriage letting you charge and continue playing at the same time. So, if the mouse is about to die on you just pull out the cable and plug it into place. The cable easily slides into the area and the strong magnets hold on tight so you don't have to worry about it coming loose during times where you are moving it around quickly. The guide says to charge 5 minutes for each hour of usage so going by Microsoft's claim, it should take about 2 and a half hours to fully charge the mouse from a complete drain. When the mouse senses that it is low on power, the LCD will pulsate with a battery indicator and the back of the mouse will start to pulsate an orange glow. With that you know it's time to plug it back in to charge again. A nice feature is that you can use any rechargeable AA battery so you're not stuck with a dead mouse should the battery stop charging. Just pop in a new one and on you go. In a pinch you can just put in a regular AA but make sure not to plug in the charge cable if you do. Recharging is done through the power from the USB port so it's recommended that you plug it into a powered USB plug.
Even though the mouse is wireless, the weight is pretty light. I was surprised at how light it was as I was expecting to have a more bulky feel to it seeing as it is wireless. While it is light, it doesn't fall into the lightweight division and offers a good solid weight to the mouse in my opinion. There are no interchangeable weights like in the original Microsoft SideWinder mouse so what you feel in terms of weight wise is what you get.
4000 DPI is 800 more than the current Logitech high end gaming mouse, the G9 which tops at 3200 DPI. Although it will be 1000DPI less than the top of the line Logitech mouse, which is the G9x sporting a 5000DPI support, when it's released soon but 4000 DPI is still incredibly sensitive. To be honest, I rarely go into the 3000+ range on my G9 so while 4000 DPI is great on paper, are the vast majority using anything close to that high in their gaming sessions? I'm one of those that like to crank the sensitivity up and my co-workers would always comment how crazy sensitive my mouse was when they would come over and use my computer but I don't go north of 3000DPI for the most part. You can switch between three different DPI settings and this is one thing that I wish Microsoft would improve on. The Logitech G9, while it only having two DPI changing buttons, lets you cycle up to five different settings. Some might like the ability to switch to a certain DPI setting with the three buttons distinguishing the three different settings but I'd rather see more options and a way to switch between them rather be limited to three different settings. The placement of the DPI buttons have been improved greatly over the X5 though. With the X5, I had to shift my hand down in order to access the three buttons with my index finger. On the X8, the three buttons have been moved up sitting a lot closer to the mouse wheel. The shift allowed me to press the three buttons with minimal effort and without having to move my hand position on the mouse. This is important if you are trying to change quickly in action games as you aren't taken out of your comfortable mouse grip to do so.
We've come from the mouse ball to red optical to laser. Will the blue laser be the next big thing? This is the third mouse from Microsoft that uses the BlueTrack technology that's suppose to let you use the mouse on more surfaces than the optical kind. Using a blue laser and wide angle lense, the two combine to let you use the mouse on a large variety of surfaces. The blue laser is incredibly bright which is a stark contrast the laser mice that are popular today. Now I don't have that many wide varieties of surfaces to test the mouse on but there was one that I found that the X8 would work on where my Logitech G9 laser mouse had trouble. Taking one of my wife's rounded glass candles on the table, I slid the G9 around the side and saw the mouse cursor become jittery and inconsistent. The X8 though kept moving smoothly no matter how far I went around the glass. So, while hardly a scientific test, there is one surface area type that I saw where the X8 worked well and the G9 did not.
The shape of the Microsoft SideWinder X8 is similar to the two previous SideWinder gaming mouse in the SideWinder mouse and the SideWinder X5 mouse albeit with some subtle differences. Physically, the mouse is a tiny bit shorter compared to the X5 and in turn shorter than the original SideWinder mouse. It is the widest of the three mice though which is a little surprising. A lot of the angles from the previous mice have been rounded off in the X8 as well. Whereas the back of the X5 ended in a point, the X8's back is round all the way around. The hump in the palm area has been reduced a little bit especially in the area between the thumb and index finger. These two small changes made the X8 a more comfortable mouse to hold for me than the X5. Those with smaller hands will definitely like the changes. Colorwise, it's got a shade of grey on the top while there are areas that retain the glossy black from the X5.
Back after a one mouse hiatus is the LCD screen that sits on the left part of the mouse. Like the Microsoft SideWinder, the X8 LCD screen displays the current DPI setting and prompts for when you do macro recording. To help save power, the LCD goes dark after a minute or so and only lights back up if you are changing the sensitivity or recording a macro. Also, when charging the LCD shows a battery to let you know power's going to the mouse. As mentioned earlier, it will also warn you when the battery is low.
The thumb button area now has a divot that your thumb sits in with the two mouse buttons at opposite angles from each other. This lets you rock your thumb up and down to press the buttons or if you still want you can move your thumb out a little and press it in like the X5. I really do like the vertical alignment of the thumb buttons as opposed to the horizontal alignment that most mice have today. I feel more comfortable moving my thumb up and down rather than forward and backwards. The two thumb buttons do exhibit a nice clicking sound and good feedback when pressed.
While the X5 had a rubber mouse wheel, the X8 returns the metal wheel that was featured in the first SideWinder mouse. Now the scrolling isn't as smooth as the X5 though currently but I'm hoping it will become smoother as time goes on. It does feel as though there's more friction than desired when spinning but the clicking of the spin does seem good. Now, if it would just become smoother during a spin I'd be happy but I have to say I like the feel of the mouse wheel in the X5 better than the X8.
New to the series of SideWinder mice and a nice welcome addition is the ability to tilt the mouse wheel. While some may not use it that much, I do like the ability and I'm very happy to see it in the Microsoft SideWinder X8. The tilt also has a nice feel when pressed. I was surprised that the first two SideWinder mouse was missing this feature as it seems to be pretty standard on mice today. It's good that Microsoft decided to incorporate this feature in the X8 so let's hope they continue to do that in all future gaming mice.
Combine the two directions of the tilt, wheel button, two main mouse buttons, and two side buttons and you have a total of seven programmable buttons. In front of the thumb buttons in the indented area of the mouse lies the macro record button. Out of the way so you don't hit it easily, this button lets you record macros on the fly and assign it to a certain button.
Something that went missing from the X5 but comes back in the X8 is interchangeable feet. There are four pads you can change and the mouse ships with three different sets to choose from. Like the Microsoft SideWinder mouse, you just snap them out of the socket on the bottom of the mouse and pop the other one in. It's pretty simple and the top of the storage wheel snaps open to reveal an area to store the feet that are not in use. Three different materials are available: rubber, Teflon, and a composite of the two. While you probably won't change feet much or at all once you like one of the three, it is nice to have the option of cycling between the three depending on the surface and how you want it to feel on that surface. The X8 has one less foot than the previous two mice as the back bottom is rounded up a little so that it doesn't touch the surface. To test this, I slide a piece of paper under the back of the mouse and it stopped at the two feet. For the X5, the piece of paper stopped right at the back end of the mouse. Less feet means less contact and in theory less friction to slow down the mouse.
Included with the mouse is a storage wheel that as mentioned earlier holds extra feet but is also the receiver and houses the USB cable and recharge cable. It's weight down pretty heavily so you know it won't move easily. The USB cable length attached to the storage wheel is pretty long as well as the recharge cable when unwound. I would've liked to have seen some sprint loaded mechanism to retract the recharge cable rather than having to manually wrap it around inside like a yo-yo though. The recharge cable does offer a pretty generous length as well so if you are using it to play while charging, you can have it unwound and away from the storage wheel a good distance so that it doesn't interfere with your activity.
Software wise, it still lags behind some of the competition like Logitech's or Razers. There's a set amount of DPI you can set each button to instead of allowing you to choose from a range between the lowest and the highest. It's a little limiting but there is enough of a range that should satisfy most people. Still I'd rather have the ability to choose specifically what the DPI settings are for each button rather than given the option of some set numbers. Over than that, it's pretty much basic set of items you can do.
For normal usage, the mouse performed well as to be expected. Using Photoshop, I was able to do small slow movements and be accurate in having my pointer be where I want to be. The mouse though was designed for games and two games I tested the mouse with are my Valve favorites, Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2. Both I had set the mouse at 4000DPI, 3000DPI, and 1000DPI. At 4000DPI it was hard to control the characters well and I never felt I had control. I spun wildly around and couldn't really keep a bead on anyone. Now, at 3000DPI I was pretty solid and found the mouse to be smooth and accurate in both quick turns and short slow turns. Playing the sniper, I had no problems keeping the bead on the head to generate some good head shots with the rifle. Playing as Scout, I had some good runs where I was able to navigate the areas quickly and accurately as well as being accurate with shotguns even while spinning in the air on a double jump. With Left 4 Dead, I could quickly maneuver my gun and aim it at the heads of the oncoming zombie hordes. I switched to 1000DPI using the scoped rifle so I didn't move as much and I was able quickly switch back to 3000DPI easily with the new placement area of the sensitivity switching buttons.
Microsoft stated that if you do run out of juice, you could attach the recharge cord and play that way. To test this, I ran the mouse until it was dead. Loading up Left 4 Dead, I waited until the game started and then attached the magnetic cable. Instantly the mouse lit up and I was able to play just like I did with a charged up mouse. I didn't sense any lag or slowness and movement was as smooth charging as it was on a charged battery. Truly you can play with the mouse should the battery be exhausted of its power and you need to tether it to the charging cable.
While I wasn't that much of a fan of the X5, I really do like the X8. The new BlueTrack technology seems to work well, at least as well as laser. It did provide a smooth scroll on a surface that the laser had trouble with in my very unscientific testing using the side of a glass candle. The small changes in shape is a nice welcomed touch but if you didn't like the feel of the previous SideWinder mice, you probably won't like this one as well. The charge cable tucks nicely away on the receiver and having the ability to play and charge at the same times means you won't ever miss out on the action like some cordless mice are prone to. Overall, the SideWinder X8 is a pretty good cordless gaming mouse but I do wish Microsoft would make a little bit better software suite. Coming in at $99, it's a tad expensive but you get great performance and some brand new technology.
I really like the mouse after using it for a few weeks and enjoy the subtle changes that Microsoft has made over previous versions. The BlueTrack laser works well and while I don't know if it is the next big thing, I wouldn't be surprised if more mice don't start using it from other companies. Works well cordless or corded.