I own a lot of gaming mice. I'm talking two full draws of the things. And out of all the mice I've purchased, there's no brand I've bought more than Zowie, the esports-centric peripherals started by some of the oldest Counter-Strike professionals around.
Zowie, which has been owned by BenQ for the last few years, quickly established a reputation amongst gamers for being some of the best, no-frills devices one could buy. The company launched in late 2008, a time when gamers were crying out for reliable peripherals. Laser sensors were still a popular product among manufacturers, mouse sensors weren't as standardised as they were today, and some of the best mice weren't produced in mass quantities or had stopped production altogether.
So to get a mouse that fit the hand perfectly, required no device drivers and did the job without costing over $100 bucks? Zowie mice were a godsend. And just over a decade later, that's still the case for Zowie mice today.
The latest iteration in Zowie's lineup is the S series, with the larger S1 weighing in at 87 grams (sans cable) and the S2 weighing 82 grams. There's some slight differences in height and length between the mice, but they share the same rock-solid 3360 sensor, and four DPI settings (400/800/1600/3200).
The main appeal of the S series, at least compared to the other Zowie offerings, is a shorter overall design. It's meant for gamers who prefer to wrap their whole hand around the mouse, as opposed to the taller FK series. The front of the S mice are slightly thicker too, allowing more room for your fourth and fifth fingers to rest on the side.
If all of this sounds a bit anal, that's partly the point. Unlike Razer, Logitech, CORSAIR or a lot of other mice manufacturers, Zowie has never tried or attempted to compete on features or advanced software. The company's bread and butter has always been in providing a no-frills device with the perfect shape. What the perfect shape is obviously varies from gamer to gamer, which is where Zowie's various product lines come into play: the ZA series was designed for gamers who wanted shorter mice with a hump that fit into your palm, the FK and S series for those who preferred ambidextrous-style designs, and the EC series for right-handed gamers who wanted larger, Intellimouse 3.0-esque designs.
But Zowie's problem in the past couple of years has been a lack of innovation. Whereas Zowie used to maintain a competitive advantage with relatively light mice, a top-class sensor and quality buttons, other manufacturers have swiftly caught up. Other mice have lighter clicks that cause less fatigue over longer periods. Other makers have better mouse wheels that are easier to scroll, and more satisfying to click. Chassis design has improved markedly across the board, and just about every mouse manufacturer uses one of two sensors (and the ones that don't, like Logitech and Razer, have improved their own to the point where most gamers can't tell the difference).
That's not to say Zowie hasn't made improvements. The S series is definitely the best physical iteration of a Zowie mice yet, with lighter mouse clicks than previous versions. The mousewheel is a little less spongy as well, although it's not the most comfortable to click in, but if you're the kind of gamer that frequently uses the mousewheel as a separate button, chances are you'd be looking at a mouse with vastly more functionality. The cable's a little more flexible as well; it's not the ultralight cords that have appeared on the Glorious Model O, the new Razer Viper or the Finalmouse Ultralight offerings, but it's not braided and it wasn't a distraction while doing full-length swipes on the mousepad.
It's never been a huge detractor for me, but the S series only has side buttons on the left-hand side, as opposed to side buttons on both sides. The black S1 and S2 series, which are selling in Australia for $119 later this month, have a matte back instead of the glossy coating of the Divina series. That style of coating isn't especially great for the Australian summer, and if you've got an especially sweaty hand it might be worth looking for a device that'll be more comfortable over longer sessions.
Otherwise, there's little else to note about the S series. The biggest differences with Zowie mice is typically the shape, as the company doesn't compete on advanced features and has built its reputation on selling a consistent product from time to time. But that's also the company's biggest weakness now: by not venturing forward into new offerings or new technologies, they've allowed other rivals to undercut them on price, performance and usability.
The Zowie mice aren't the lightest corded mice on the market. They're not wireless. They're not the most comfortable, due to the stiffness of the clicks and the mousewheel. The S series has improved significantly in both aspects, but compared to the rest of the competition, they haven't advanced far enough.
What Zowie still has in its favour is a solid, reliable shape that you can fling for days on any PC, anytime, anywhere. As a former competitive Counter-Strike player, that's brilliant. But I can do the same with other mice that cost less, mice that are lighter, and mice that are wireless. Zowie's calling card isn't a standout feature anymore, and while their chassis designs are still brilliant, it's about time the company took a proper step forward into the future.