Are you still using the mouse and keyboard that came with your computer? Or maybe you've tried something new but you've got some nagging RSI strain, cords tangled everywhere or a lagging mouse that's left you unjustly fragged into oblivion? If your mouse and keyboard aren't working for you, it's time to buy new ones. Here are the things you'll want to keep in mind as you shop.
There are some great cheap, simple, two-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 $20 two-buttoner you bought at Officeworks, 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 $US75 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 to 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 2.4GHz 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-end and high-end mice come with high sensitivities, usually 1200DPI or higher, which should be more than enough. Just make sure that you aren't getting a cheap 400DPI 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 favourite 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's favourite 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 12 -- 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).
While you primarily use keyboards for typing -- and while a $20 keyboard will type just fine -- they can do oh so much more. A nicer keyboard gives you extra buttons for quick media control, volume control or even app launching, and if you experience any RSI, a new keyboard can help eliminate that by forcing you to use good posture. When you're ready to bite the bullet and pick up a new keyboard, here are some things to watch out for.
Just like mice, your keyboard is something you use all day at your desk, so you should make sure it isn't going to cause you any strain. Keyboards with adjustable height and tilt are always a good idea, so you can get it at just the right level for where you're sitting. It's also great when a keyboard includes a wrist rest, but you can also buy these separately if need be. Some people love "ergonomic" keyboards like the Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite or the Logitech K350, since they force you to align your wrists in a more comfortable, friendly position. However, they can take some getting used to if you prefer more traditional, flat keyboards, so be ready to make a commitment to your new posture if you buy one of these.
The other half of the ergonomic factor is the feel of the keys. Some keyboards have more traditional raised keys, though laptop-style keyboards are becoming very popular for desktops, like the Logitech DiNovo Edge or even chiclet-style keyboards, like those from Apple. If you have the money to spend, though, mechanical keyboards like the SteelSeries 6Gv2 have become very popular as of late -- that is, keyboards with a mechanical spring inside instead of a rubber dome. These keyboards have a bit more resistance to the keys. It takes a bit more effort to press them down, and they'll spring up faster, but overall they have a better and more consistent "feel" to the keys. They don't wiggle around like traditional keyboards, and you're less likely to get one key that sticks down more than the others. If you can find one to try out, it's worth a look -- many people who use mechanical keyboards say they'll never go back to the standard rubber dome. They do tend to be a bit louder and more expensive, though, so keep that in mind as you shop.
Wired vs Wireless
Like mice, the main draw of wired keyboards is the responsiveness, which can be important in gaming. In my opinion, however, wireless keyboards hold less of an advantage over their wired counterparts than wireless mice do. Since you move mice around a lot, that wire can get pretty annoying, but your keyboard generally stays in one place most of the time. As such, the only thing that really matters is how the keyboard looks with a wire coming out of it, unless you're prone to losing your keyboard on your lap. Wireless keyboards have the same downsides as wireless mice, too: they're more expensive, require batteries, often take up a USB port on your machine anyway (unless they're Bluetooth), and generally just cause one more link in the chain where something could go wrong. Still, if you want to move your keyboard around (or if you ever plan on using it for a home theatre PC), getting rid of that wire can be convenient.
Extra Function Keys
Lots of keyboards nowadays have extra function keys that usually correspond to launching apps, controlling your music player, controlling your volume, and so on. Often, they come as either separate buttons above the normal F1-F12 keys, or as extra actions on the F1-F12 keys that you can access with a FN key. They can be very handy, and you can usually remap them to pretty much anything you want with the the software that comes with your keyboard -- though if your keyboard's software suite isn't very good, you can always just create your own global keyboard shortcuts with something like AutoHotkey, too.
Keyboards come with all sorts of different features these days, so it's hard to cover them all here. For example, some keyboards come without number pads, some come with alternative keyboard layouts like Dvorak, and some even come with extra USB ports for your other peripherals. And if you're a gamer, you have a whole other set of features to deal with, like add-on panels with gaming hotkeys and anti-ghosting features. Illuminated keys are also a popular feature for gamers, or just those that spend a lot of time in the dark. As with most hardware, the best thing you can do is shop around, and shop around in person. The more you can try out keyboards and get a "feel" for them, the more informed your decision will be. Don't just tap on the keyboards, though, go through the kinds of actions you'd go through in a normal day. I'll usually bang out a fake news article, pretend copy and paste some links with my remapped shortcuts, and move my hand between the mouse and keyboard to see if there are any annoyances that will drive me crazy after a few days of use. Plus, the more you shop around, the more you'll discover new features like illuminated keys, which could change your decision significantly.
What We Use
Again, we encourage you to check out different models for yourself, but if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed, here are some of our favourite keyboards:
- Alan and both Adams are fans of Apple's keyboards, for their low profiles and good key action. Despite what you think about Apple and their computers, their chiclet-style keyboards are actually pretty fantastic. The wired version even contains a USB port so they don't "waste" one in your machine.
- When gaming, Alan uses the Logitech G19, which has a ton of extra keys across the top that you can program to different actions in different games (or, again, actions on the desktop). It also has a handy little LCD that can display information in different games, which is super useful. Plus it lights up in different colours. How could you say no?
- Jason's a keyboard hoarder, but right now his favourite is the Microsoft Comfort Curve 3000, which he's written about before. If you're a sufferer of RSI, this is a great keyboard to check out. It's got a nice ergonomic "wave" design that doesn't feel awkward, but forces you to keep good keyboard posture.
- I've used a few keyboards over the years, but I can't pry myself away from Logitech's slim-profile keyboards. As a guy who sits in the dark a lot, I'm currently loving the Logitech Illuminated Keyboard, which has just enough function keys to keep me happy. Logitech's diNovo line is also great though, if you're willing to spend a bit more money for a bunch of other functionality.
Remember, comfort and health comes first. You probably spend lots of time sitting at your desk with these peripherals, and the less likely you are to develop strain injury, the better -- the rest is just a matter of convenience. Got any of your own favourite mouse and keyboard features (or just favourite models you want to share)? Sound off in the comments.