There are some great cheap, simple, 2-button mice out there, but you'd be surprised how much easier a nicer mouse can make your day. Sure, a nice mouse can be a bit pricier than the $10 two-buttoner you bought at Staples, but whether it's getting rid of wrist pain or just saving you endless clicks on the scroll wheel, they're well worth the money. In fact, the $75 I spent on my mouse is some of the best money I've spent on my entire rig—and since you use these items every time you sit down at your machine, you should make sure they're of good quality. If you're ready to trade in the old beater for a new model, here are some things you'll want to consider.
Size and Ergonomics
Undoubtedly the most important factor in choosing a mouse is how it feels. While you can prevent a lot of strain by merely rearranging your workspace, having a good mouse that works with you can still make a huge difference. For the most part, this involves two things: size and grip. Size is mostly personal preference (plus how portable you want your mouse to be), but certain mice are better for certain types of grips. The three main grips are:
Palm Grip: With this style of a grip, you lay your entire hand on the mouse, using your palm to move the mouse around. You'll feel this most in your wrist and forearm. It's faster than the other grips, albeit less precise, so not always the best for gamers that require very precise movements. It's also the more comfortable of the two, so if you have RSI problems, you're probably better off with a mouse that encourages this type of grip. Usually these mice have a bigger bump on the back end for your palm to rest. Examples include the Razer Lachesis and the Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer.
Claw Grip: The claw grip gets its name from the way your hand looks when you hold the mouse—your palm may still rest on the back, but your top fingers are arched in a claw-like fashion, and you may use your thumb, ring finger, and pinky to give you a bit more control over the mouse. It's more precise than the palm grip, but can be a bit more straining too. These mice are usually longer and have lipped edges, so you can pick the mouse up and move it. This is kind of in between the palm and fingertip grip, though, so you can use a ton of different mice with it, depending on where you fall in the spectrum. The Razer DeathAdder and Logitech G9x are popular gaming mice for this grip, while the Logitech Performance Mouse MX (my personal mouse of choice) is great for regular PC users.
Fingertip Grip: This is the complete opposite end of the spectrum of the palm grip. With this, your palm doesn't rest on the end at all, you control the mouse entirely with your fingertips. This is the most precise of all the grips, but can also be the most taxing. Many people find it also has the steepest learning curve (since the palm grip is what most people use naturally), so if you have issues with RSI, you might want to avoid this grip. These mice tend to be smaller and flatter, like the Razer Abyssus or the Logitech Marathon Mouse M705.
The above images are from Razer's mouse ergonomics guide, which I recommend checking out. It's mainly written for gamers, but can apply to anyone. I also recommend checking out NCIX Tech Tips' guide to mouse ergonomics if you want more information on figuring out your grip and what mice are good for it. Note also that the mice listed above are just guidelines. Everyone's hands are different, and you probably use a combination of the above grips, or lie somewhere in between. The size of your hands can also influence which types of mice work with which types of grips. If you have smaller than average hands, for example, don't be afraid to venture outside the above recommendations to see if your claw grip works with a mouse designed for a palm grip. The best advice I can give is go to the store and try them out—these aren't the kinds of things you can tell when ordering a mouse online.
Wired vs. Wireless
One of the other big deciding factors in your mouse decision is going to be whether you want a wireless mouse or one with a cable attached. In general, wireless mice tend to be more convenient, since the cable can't catch on your desk or get in the way. However, wireless mice can also carry some lag (usually about 8ms), which can feel like an hour if you're in the middle of an intense gaming session. Furthermore, they can sometimes interfere with other wireless devices in your home, like a wireless G router, or 2.4 GHz cordless phones. Wireless mice also require batteries, which can be a pain if you forget to charge them or pick up some AAs at the store.
Also keep in mind that if you're going to go wireless, you have a few different choices—namely Bluetooth and RF. RF mice are usually a bit more responsive and have a longer range, but they require a USB receiver, so they'll still take up a USB port on your machine. They're also more likely to interfere with other wireless devices, as I mentioned before. Bluetooth mice are a bit rarer, but will pair with many computers on their own (if your computer has Bluetooth built-in). Finding a good Bluetooth mouse can be hard, since RF is much more common—so unless you're really short on USB ports, I wouldn't recommend being too picky about Bluetooth versus RF.
Extra buttons aren't just for gamers anymore, folks. You can map your spare buttons to any function, like back and forward in your browse, or to a function like Mac OS X's Exposé. Some Logitech mice even have an awesome "fast scroll" button that'll make your scroll wheel move fast, smoothly, and with momentum, which is great for scrolling through long pages quickly. I wouldn't base my entire decision on how many buttons a mouse has, but getting something with a few extra buttons on the side can be really nice for those features you use extra often. Have to copy and paste a lot of text in your day? Map those to some of your extra buttons. Switch between a ton of virtual desktops to manage your windows? The arrow buttons on the side of many Logitech mice are perfect for that. You're only limited by your imagination with this, so think of the more painstaking keyboard shortcuts you use and map them right to your mouse buttons. You'd be surprised how much of a difference it can make.
I briefly mentioned this above, but if you're doing something that requires precise movements—like gaming or image editing—make sure you get a mouse that has relatively high sensitivity. Your mouse's sensitivity determines how small of a movement you need to make for your cursor to move. Perhaps you've noticed that with some mice, your cursor will get "stuck" if you move your mouse to slightly, and you have to jerk it out of place. High sensitivity mice don't have this problem, since slighter movements yield small movements in your cursor.
Sensitivity is calculated in dots per inch (DPI). Most medium- to high-end mice come with high sensitivities, usually 1200 DPI or higher, which should be more than enough. Just make sure that you aren't getting a cheap 400 DPI mouse if you're doing precision-oriented tasks. Some mice even have buttons on them that let you switch between different sensitivities without opening up their control panel, which is great if you want to quickly switch to a high sensitivity for image editing or gaming, then switch back when you go to do normal work.
What We Use
While we encourage you to do your own research and shopping, here are a few of the Lifehacker staff's favorite mice to get you started:
- At least four of us use the Logitech Performance Mouse MX (formerly known as the MX Revolution), and we're all in love with it. It perfectly contours to your hand, has a few extra buttons that you can remap to whatever you want, and has the amazing momentum scrolling feature I mentioned earlier. While it's designed for more of a palm or claw grip, it'll really work with any grip you want, in my experience. This is a great place to start if you're looking for a good wireless mouse (though it isn't exactly portable, as it's huge).
- On the other end of the spectrum is the Microsoft Wireless Mouse 5000, which is Dachis' favorite external mouse (he's usually a trackpad kind of guy). It's simple, inexpensive, wireless, and portable enough to carry around with you.
- For gaming, Jason is currently digging the Razer Naga, who's main draw is a big panel of twelve—count them—thumb buttons. It's designed for massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, but you can map them to functions in any game you want (or even on the desktop, if you're the adventurous type).