It's not often that you get a glimpse of the past and future in the same space. And yet within the space of a few weeks, Australians have gotten just that with gaming mice.
Local stock arrived recently of two interesting devices. The first is a mouse helping spearhead a popular direction for fans of competitive shooters and battle royales like Apex Legends and Fortnite, the Glorious Model O. It's a lightweight ambidextrous mouse that ships with a specialised paracord, with much of the weight reduction achieved by punching holes into the mice's shell.
It's a technique that was first popularised — and driven into viral overdrive — by Finalmouse, a company that partnered with Fortnite streamer Ninja to promote a special offshoot of their honeycomb-perforated mice. But the technique has since been picked up by other manufacturers, with Glorious starting to ship multiple versions of their Model O, and Cooler Master jumping on the trend.
There's been a bit of a trend in the gaming mice market of late. Users have always cried out for the lightest mice possible, and different manufacturers have tried to shave weight through different means. The most popular method, seen in the Finalmouse and Glorious Model O mice, has been to literally punch holes in the chassis to reduce the weight. It's weird and makes the mouse super vulnerable to spills. But it's a trend that enthusiasts have loved, and now one major manufacturer has jumped on board.
Where a normal mice might weigh over 90 grams, all of these aim to be less than 70g. Cooler Master's MM710 will be the absolute lightest when it ships with 52 grams, although that's a veritable giant compared to the 23 gram carbon fibre creation from Zaunkoenig, which is due for a Kickstarter launch later this year. In short, there's a growing trend to make mice as light as possible, particularly wireless gaming mice.
Amongst all of this, Microsoft decided to relaunch one of the true OG gaming mice — the latest version of the Microsoft Intellimouse Optical.
The Intellimouse Explorer completely revamped the mice market when it launched in April 1999, carrying the kind of marketing and symbolism typical for Microsoft in the '90s. It was "the most radical computer mouse technology" of its time; the company even gave it a whirl at E3, touting the benefits of the optical sensor.
Thing is, they were right. Having an optical sensor instead of a ball that would get clogged up and jam was a revelation. And whether you opted for the right-handed Intellimouse Explorer or the smaller ambidextrous Intellimouse Optical, they were the two best mice on the market. Tables at LANs were filled with them for years. Players loved the IntelliMouse line (particularly the Intellimouse 3.0) so much they bought multiple versions, in case their first one broke.
The Intellimouse has made a couple of comebacks already, first in 2017 with the return of the Microsoft Classic Intellimouse. It wasn't a great launch by Microsoft: while the actual chassis of the mouse was authentic, the clicks were tactile and the shape was authentic to the original, there were some badly needed features that were sorely missing.
Like the original mouse, there's no buttons on the top or rear of the device to change DPI, polling rate, onboard profiles, or anything of the sort. And the same applies to the Pro Intellimouse, which hasn't undergone any drastic changes from the 2017 revamp.
The biggest change with the Pro Intellimouse, apart from the gradient on the exterior, is the implementation of the Pixart 3389 sensor. It's a popular, reliable sensor that's found in plenty of top-tier gaming mice, and it performed just as admirably for me in-game, messing around with circular tests, lift-off distance, and general usage. But that's no surprise — almost all mice on the market use one of three sensors these days (the Pixart 3360 or 3389, or custom sensors like Logitech's HERO), and the quality has improved on sensors so much that the differences are imperceptible.
In a quick interview over email, Microsoft product marketing manager Eric Lovelin noted that the Pro Intellimouse — which first launched in China last year — had been updated with better key actuation and adjustable DPI settings through the Mouse & Keyboard Centre tool. There's also new texturing on the sides of the mouse, and it feels good in the hand. The software itself is well designed and relatively lightweight (especially compared to Razer's suite or the recently updated Logitech G Hub), with options for changing the lift-off distance, angle snapping, polling rate, and the taillight LED at the front of the mouse.
But the real kicker with the Pro Intellimouse is that it still feels like a mouse from the '90s or '00s in day-to-day usage.
Unlike just about every other mouse on the market, the Pro Intellimouse only has one DPI setting at all times. You can adjust that from 200 DPI all the way up to 16000 DPI. But if you ever want to change the setting, you'll need to tab back to the Mouse and Keyboard Centre software, or you'll have to remap one of your buttons instead. There's no dedicated DPI button that lets you quickly switch from a lower DPI that's more useful for gaming to something better suited for productivity, or a button on the rear like BenQ's Zowie mice.
It's also quite a heavy mice by today's standards at 140 grams, more than double the weight of the Ultralight Phantom or the Glorious Model O, almost twice as heavy as the current crop of "light" gaming mice (think the smaller Zowie S1, AM or FK models, Logitech G Pro wired, Ninox offerings, the DM1 or DM3 Mini, or Razer Abyssus mice), and at least 30 grams heavier than the bigger bodied mice like the Razer Deathadder, Logitech G703/G900/G903 or the Steelseries Rival 600.
What exactly do you get for all that extra weight?
Not much, to be honest. And it's a stark contrast when compared to the Glorious Model O, a product billed as a love letter to the fans of the most elite, high performance gaming mice imaginable. The software is optional. You can adjust from one of four DPI settings if you don't want to install the software, which helps in a world where every store and publisher has their own launcher, and every peripheral comes with its own drivers.
And, remarkably, it's also cheaper. The non-matte versions of the Model O are selling for $79 at PC Case Gear, while the matte versions retail for $89, effectively the same price as the Pro Intellimouse. I'd still argue that the shadow black Pro Intellimouse is one of the best looking mice ever made — it's genuinely still a fantastic design.
But gaming mice have come a long way. The Intellimouse, for what it's worth, isn't done evolving either. Lovelin told Kotaku Australia over email that Microsoft were looking at "a wireless version of the Pro Intellimouse" on their future product roadmap, and they'd continue to listen to customer feedback on things like weight, features, and product design.
Microsoft already updated the sensor and added features to the Pro Intellimouse based on the response to the Intellimouse Classic, and there's plenty of improvements to be made still. A re-release of the Intellimouse Optical with on-the-fly adjustable DPI, the same sensor and perhaps some on-board profiles, with consideration to weight, would be hugely popular in 2019. And it'd also give some comfort to users who want a top-tier gaming shape but don't want the risk of a perforated chassis, which is and always will be the biggest problem with the Model O and its ilk: one spill, and the whole mouse is fucked.
I loved the older iterations of the Intellimouse, so it's been a joy to use it again in 2019. But mice have come so far that it couldn't become my daily driver. The mice has so few buttons as is that discarding one of them to act as a pseudo-DPI switch was forgoing too much productivity. And that's an option I shouldn't have to make anyway: other manufacturers have figured it out, and Microsoft can surely do the same. The weight is also a huge problem. Mice around the 100-110 gram range are fairly standard, but there's no real need for something over 140 grams. And despite Microsoft's insistence, braided cables are often too rigid and heavy to be worth the trouble. A simpler oldschool cord would be less of a pain.
But the Model O isn't the right answer either. A perforated shell will always come with risks, not which of least is the structural integrity sacrificed to reduce the weight so far. Nobody wants to pay $80 or $90 for a mouse that clicks when you squeeze it too hard in the middle, or anything so exposed especially in the hotter Australian months: I can just see Model O's breaking from people's palm sweat.
The search for the ultimate mouse continues, then. But to their credit, both the Model O and the Intellimouse Pro achieved what they set out to do: they're certainly authentic gaming mice, depending on what era of gaming you hail from.