The mouse is one of the most overlooked computer parts. Once you’ve got one, it could easily last you over a decade, and there never seems to be a pressing reason to upgrade the one you already have.
And yet if you’re still using the one that came with your PC, you can do so much better. There are many different types of mice with different technologies for different users — and they are priced anywhere from a couple of dollars to over a hundred.
But how do you even begin to make the right choice? Here’s what you need to know.
3 Main Types of Computer Mice
For most users, the standard three-button mouse (where the scroll wheel functions as a third button) will do the job just fine. But if you need something that’s more of a specialist, there are different types to consider.
PC gamers really should think about the type of mouse they use. It’s worth investing in a proper gaming mouse, even if it won’t make you a better player in the process.
Primarily, gaming mice have ergonomic benefits. It’s important for a mouse to feel right in your hand, and high-end models often include removable weights so you can find the right balance of speed and comfort. Given the unique designs of gaming mice today, you also need to consider whether your chosen design works better for right-handed or left-handed users.
They also sport multiple buttons that can be used to make repetitive tasks easier, whether that means replacing individual keystrokes with button presses or assigning complex macros that can be invoked with a single click. Some mice even have dedicated sniper rifle buttons, in case you play those kinds of games.
Accuracy is also a factor. A lot of gaming mice have DPI switches that you can use to toggle between a higher DPI setting (for faster cursor speeds) and a lower DPI setting (for smoother, more accurate control).
Ergonomic mice are designed to fit in your hand in a more natural way, reducing strain on your fingers and wrist. They also tend to have extra buttons within easy reach of your digits. How comfortable they are depends on many things, including the kind of grip you prefer — some users like to hold their hand flatter while others prefer a more claw-like grip.
Size is also a factor when it comes to comfort, and while many mice come in both right-handed and left-handed versions, not all of them do. As a result, if you’re in the market for an ergonomic mouse, you should really consider testing them out in person before settling on one. (Buying one online could be risky.)
Travel mice are pretty simple. Most are just standard two-button or three-button units that have been shrunk for compactness, and only sometimes come with extra frills and features. Most are wireless, though some use short or retractable cables.
Regardless, the primary purpose of a travel mouse is to be able to fit inside a tight space — such as a laptop bag or a purse — and often aren’t designed with ergonomics in mind. As such, if you need a mouse that you can use for prolonged periods of time, you may want to shy away from one of these.
4 Mouse Features to Keep in Mind
Even after you’ve picked a particular type of mouse, there are some terms and features that you should know about if you want to make the absolute best upgrade for your needs.
DPI (Dots Per Inch)
Dots Per Inch is one of the key specs used to market mice, but while DPI numbers are easy to compare — and bigger numbers always look great — it ultimately doesn’t mean that much at the end of the day.
DPI indicates the sensitivity of the mouse. A higher number means the mouse can respond accurately when it is only moved a tiny amount, and the pointer also travels across the screen much faster.
A higher DPI — over, say, 4000 — is good for precision in gaming (with caveats, as we’ll see next) and for navigating very high resolution displays or multi-monitor setups. For the average user, there’s no real need to even consider DPI.
Optical vs. Laser
The two types of mice commonly used today are optical and laser mice. They’re actually variations on the same technology, with the main difference being that an optical mouse uses an LED to reflect off the surface it is resting on while a laser mouse uses a laser to track movement.
As a result, optical mice can only be used on flat and opaque surfaces while most laser mice can be used on a wider range of surfaces, including glass.
This difference in how they work means that laser mice are more sensitive. They can reach higher DPI ratings, which means they can track movements more precisely and also move across the screen quicker (so you may need to turn your mouse sensitivity down in the operating system).
However, this also results in a problem commonly referred to as “acceleration” where the mouse pointer travels further when the mouse is moved quickly than it does when it is moved slowly. This inconsistency is especially problematic for gamers, many of whom prefer the steadiness of an optical mouse over the increased precision of a laser one.
Wired vs. Wireless
Wireless mice have caught up with their wired counterparts to the extent that their positives now outweigh any downsides. Lag is all but gone — although gamers may still prefer the absolute consistency and reliability that comes with a wired option — and if you pick the right model, it’ll be years before you need to replace the battery.
The main benefit of wireless mice is convenience. There’s no clutter from the cable, and if you use a Bluetooth mouse it won’t be taking up a USB port. The range is also much better, enabling you to control a computer attached to a projector or TV, for example, from as much as 30 feet away.
Bluetooth vs. RF
When buying a wireless mouse, your choice is between RF or Bluetooth models. RF mice may be slightly more responsive, and are much easier to set up: simply plug in the dongle that comes with it.
Of course, that does mean that one of your USB ports will always be in use, and it’s near impossible to get a replacement dongle if you ever lose it. RF devices also tend to be more prone to interference.
Bluetooth is more convenient as it’s built into all modern computers. It won’t use up a precious USB port, and battery life improvements mean you should be able to go many months before you even have to think about replacing it. It’s also a lot easier to share a single mouse between several computers.
On the downside, the setup process for a Bluetooth mouse requires a few extra steps, and you have to wait for it to reconnect when you boot or wake your computer.
What About Mouse vs. Trackpad?
As an alternative to a regular mouse, you could consider a standalone touchpad that’s similar to what you’d find on a laptop. It isn’t suitable for a lot of cases — especially gaming and image editing — but for some users the touch-based system is more intuitive, especially now that desktop software is often designed with touch in mind.
Ergonomically, the flatter design may not work for everyone, although some products get around this cleverly. Microsoft’s Arc Touch Mouse curves into whatever shape you find most comfortable.
Or if you don’t want to give up the mouse entirely, a handy compromise is to get one with built-in touch support, like the Dell Wireless Touch Mouse or Apple Magic Mouse 2. These are normal mice with a touch-sensitive panel on the top that enables you to use the gestures built into the Windows and OS X operating systems.
How to Choose a Mouse
When choosing a mouse, it’s a good idea to think about what you want to use it for, as some products are better suited to certain tasks than others. Designers might prefer the comfort and precision of an ergonomic laser mouse, gamers the stability of a wired optical mouse, and general users might find the gesture support of a touchpad the easiest to use.
You should also think about the kind of surface you’ll be using it on. And most importantly, remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution: the right mouse for you is the one that feels right in your hand.
Now it’s over to you. What mouse do you use? What do love (or hate) about it? And what factors do you consider when buying one? Tell us all about it in the comments.