Despite their cord-free convenience, wireless mice have a poor adoption rate among serious PC gamers because of lag and signal hiccups. Microsoft is aiming to solve that problem with its feature-heavy SideWinder X8 Mouse, which sports a hybrid design that lets you swap almost seamlessly between a wired and wireless connection. It's available online for around £50.
The X8 has an attractive, futuristic design that smoothes out some of the rough edges on earlier incarnations of Microsoft's new generation of SideWinder mice. The X8 features a hard-angled mid-section encapsulated by an elegant series of curves that offer logical resting spots for each finger. This design helps your hand fall into a natural grip. Holding the X8 in your left hand feels comfortable enough, but the two side buttons on the left side of the mouse were obviously placed with your right thumb in mind.
Right-handed users will appreciate the layout and design of the two side buttons. Like earlier SideWinders, the X8's thumb buttons have a stacked, vertical layout. But, instead of the older models' rounded nubs, the X8's side buttons slope inward, providing a cradle for your thumb. This design lets you simply rock your thumb up and down to press the buttons, minimising the need for a discrete thumb motion that takes you out of primary control flow. That might sound inconsequential to non-gamers, but we expect the first-person-shooting crowd will approve.
The X8's two primary buttons perform as expected, but we're not massive fans of the metal scroll wheel. A cross-hatch of metal ridges along the wheel is supposed to provide extra grip, but it doesn't work, and results in a less certain feel to the scroll wheel than you get with other mice.
Stuffed with features
The X8 also features Microsoft's proprietary BlueTrack sensor, which debuted in a few Microsoft mice last year. It offers better sensitivity and performance than traditional optical or even laser mice. That improved performance lets you use the X8 and other BlueTrack mice on an expanded range of surfaces, including marble, carpet, wood and almost anything except transparent or mirrored glass. Some sites have reported that BlueTrack doesn't get along with cloth mouse pads, but we used the X8 for an extended period on such a pad with no trouble. A wooden desk, a book and a marble sheet proved equally reliable. You also get three different sets of feet for the X8, allowing you to tailor the tactile feel of the mouse to whatever surface you choose.
Perhaps more important to gamers than surface flexibility, the X8 offers a reasonably large range of sensor sensitivity, from 250dpi to 4,000dpi. That's a respectable range for a gaming mouse, and, while it's not quite as high as the pricier 5,600dpi Razer Mamba, we suspect few gamers will actually push either mouse that far.
You get three hard buttons running down the middle of the X8 that let you switch between dpi settings on the fly, and you can use Microsoft's IntelliPoint software to assign a particular setting to each button. We've come to demand accessible dpi switching buttons on gaming mice, but it's also occurred to us that purely hardware-driven scaling might be the next logical step. Rather than limiting you to three buttons and a fraction of the dpi spectrum at any one time, why not have a slider or a secondary wheel that lets you select from a mouse sensor's entire dpi range?