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.
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