The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Computer Mouse

The average PC user spends several hours a day touching a computer mouse, making it one of the most critical computer peripherals. And yet, few PC users spend much time considering mice before purchasing one that they’ll end up using for years.

Today, PC users have an enormous variety of mice to choose from, as well as numerous factors to consider before choosing the best mouse for them. Everyone’s hand is a little different, so it makes sense that different hands may prefer different mice.

This guide should serve as a primer to help find your hand the best possible mouse companion. We’ve separated the guide into four sections based on the four main criteria to consider when selecting a mouse: comfort, precision, button layout, and extra features.

Comfort

When shopping for a mouse, the most important factor is that the mouse feels good in your hand. If you’re happy with your experience, and your hand is comfortable using the mouse for extended periods of time, it’s a good mouse for you.

That’s a pretty straightforward concept, but there are a number of factors that affect whether or not the mouse does feel good to you.

For a mouse to “feel good,” it needs to have a grip style, texture, shape, orientation, and weight that you prefer. Obviously, determining this is very subjective, but these are all factors to keep in mind as you assess various mice.

Whenever possible, we recommend testing a mouse in-person before making a purchase to ensure it feels comfortable to your hand and grip style. When it’s not possible to test in person, we recommend that you at least understand your grip style, and try to find reviews from people who share your preference for grip styles.

Your grip style is how you prefer to hold the mouse in your hand. Here’s a quick look at the three most common grip styles:

Popular Grip Styles

Many mice are designed to be used with any grip style, while other mice are particularly well-suited to a specific style. If you have a preferred style, you may it most comfortable to use mice designed specifically for that style.

With palm grip, the user’s hand rests completely on the mouse, with full contact between the palm and the mouse. This is the most common type of grip and most comfortable for most people, but you sacrifice a bit of accuracy because the fingers are not in an ideal clicking position. (The Razer DeathAdder is a good mouse for palm grip.)

Claw grip involves shaping your hand more like a claw, so that your fingertips and the back of your palm are in contact with the mouse, but nothing else. This grip is less comfortable than palm grip, but it allows for greater control and faster clicking, making it more preferable with some gamers. (The Corsair Raptor M45 works well with claw grip.)

Fingertip grip involves only touching the mouse with your fingertips, with the palm resting on the mousepad. The shape of the hand is more natural than the claw, and the fingertips give more control, but this is also the most tiring grip for most people, since you move the mouse with your fingertips alone. (The CM Storm Recon is a good mouse for fingertip grip.)

Once you understand your grip style, you have a context for assessing the other factors influencing mouse comfort.

Mice can also come with a variety of surface textures. Their plastic finish may be hard, soft, rough, or glossy. They might have rubberized surfaces, and they might even have metallic parts.

Surface texture is important for two reasons. First, it determines how “grippy” your mouse is. Do you want a mouse that you can easily slide or glide your hand over? Or do you want a mouse that “sticks” a bit more to your fingers, so that you never drop it if you need to lift it and move it?

Second, people’s hands react differently to different surfaces. Some people complain that their hands are sweaty when using glossy mice. Some complain that they don’t like the feel of rough plastic, while other people insist on it.

Some mice featuring various surface textures:

Surface texture is a very personal choice. If possible, go to the store, feel the different mice, keep your mind out of the gutter, and pick a mouse with a surface texture that feels good to you.

Your dominant hand — whether you’re right- or left-handed — may also influence the mouse you choose. Orientation refers to the shape of the mouse for the hand. Nearly all mice will feature one of two orientations: Right-handed, or ambidextrous. Right-handed mice, such as this Roccat Savu, are designed specifically for the right hand. Ambidextrous mice, such as the Zowie EC1-A, are typically symmetrical, allowing them to be used in either hand.

A few select mice come with left-handed version, such as the Razer DeathAdder. Unfortunately, left-handed options are rare, so left-handers may want to look for ambidextrous mice instead.

The physical size and shape of the mouse is also an important to consider because of the size of your hand. Generally speaking, bigger mice feel better to people with bigger hands, and smaller mice feel better to those with smaller hands. You may also prefer a wider mouse to rest your thumb or pinky finger. (The Mionix Naos 7000 is a great example of a wide mouse that supports the whole hand.)

Height and length of the mouse can also play a factor, depending on your grip style. A mouse that’s too tall may feel uncomfortable for palm grip, while a mouse that’s too long won’t work for claw grip.

The weight of the mouse also plays into your level of comfort. Some people prefer a light mouse that won’t feel cumbersome over several hours of use, while others might prefer the more “solid” feel of a heavy mouse. Today, some mice allow you to add or remove small weights until you find the perfect feel for you. (The Corsair Raptor M45 and Logitech G502 are two examples that come with customizable weights.)

Precision

The purpose of a mouse is to track your hand movements and translate them into cursor movements on the screen. If the mouse cannot track your movements as accurately as you want, it has failed its purpose and it should feel ashamed of itself. A mouse’s most important job is to be precise.

Your mouse’s sensor plays the biggest role in its precision. Modern mice use either an optical LED sensor or a laser sensor to track movements. Generally speaking, optical sensors have superior precision, but they don’t work on shiny surfaces or glass. Laser mice, by comparison, will work on just about any surface, but they are sometimes not quite as precise as optical sensors.

An often-cited specification for mice is DPI (dots per inch) or CPI (counts per inch).

Be aware: DPI and CPI measure sensitivity, not precision. Don’t be fooled into buying a high-DPI mouse thinking that it will be more precise.

The general consensus is that anything in the range of 1,000 to 2,000 DPI is a perfectly fine sensitivity. Gamers who play fast-paced, competitive games may want a mouse with DPI in the 2,400 to 3,200 range. Above 3,200, however, the sensitivity may become more of a hindrance than a benefit, as it may not allow for precise tracking.

You need the cursor on the screen to go to the exact point you think it’s going to go, so that you avoid wayward clicks and minimize frustration.

An imprecise mouse may suffer from jitter, tracking issues, forced acceleration, or more. Some forms of imprecision, such as acceleration, can be acceptable to some users. On the other hand, jitter — where your cursor randomly jumps a few pixels in random directions — is universally unacceptable.

Generally speaking, gamers will want a mouse with excellent or near-perfect precision, while general users would be just fine with precision that’s “good enough.”

Other than the sensor, precision is affected by lag, which may be an issue with wireless mice. Wired mice have very little lag, and thus are usually the best option for gamers. Some wireless mice have good enough lag, but some are downright horrible. We have had experience with some wireless mice that are so laggy and imprecise they are pretty much unusable for gaming.

Button Layout

Some people just want two buttons and a scroll wheel. Others may be dissatisfied with anything less than seven or eight buttons. Typically, gamers may prefer to have more buttons that serve specific purposes while gaming.

But the truth is that plenty of gamers — even competitive gamers who win major tournaments — use mice with as few as three buttons. On the other hand, some MMO gamers use mice with more than a dozen buttons.

If you know you’ll need extra buttons on your mouse for a specific reason, then please get a mouse with the necessary buttons. Otherwise, you might be paying for extra buttons that you won’t use.

Extra Features

Many mice incorporate extra features that may or may not influence your choice.

Lift-off distance refers to how high the mouse can be lifted before it stops tracking. A low lift-off distance is almost always preferable, as long as you have a decent mousepad. A mouse with a high lift-off distance may continue to track when you’re picking it up to reposition, which can be annoying.

Customizeable weight is another feature that some people want. It allows you to make the mouse weigh exactly as much as you desire.

Having a dual-mode scroll can be a deal breaker for some people, while other people strongly desire the feature. It allows you to switch between click-to-click scrolling, or infinitely smooth scrolling. (The Logitech G502 features dual-mode scrolling.)

Other people may be attracted to customizeable lights, while others may not care about that at all.

Mousepads

Finally, we’re often asked: Do you need a mousepad?

You do not absolutely need a mousepad, but we highly recommend you use one. A good mousepad reduces friction, providing a smoother glide and improving precision. Mousepads also reduce wear and tear on both your mouse and your table.

Conclusion

No mouse is perfect for everybody. If possible, our advice is to test the mouse in person to determine if the mouse feels good to you. If that’s not an option, read some trustworthy reviews and recommendations while carefully considering the factors that affect a mouse’s performance and feel. The perfect mouse for you may be unusable to another person, so it’s important to understand your own preferences.

If you want to see our top mouse recommendations, check out the Logical Increments Mouse Guide.

  • wifom

    Damn. I was hoping for a table with recommendations, like if I wanted a fingertip grip mouse, perfect sensor with two thumb buttons and a heavy weight, consider x mouse!

    Still, some solid advice.

  • Hypersphere

    The Zowie EC1-A mouse is not ambidextrous. It is designed for right-hand use.

    • Matthew Zehner

      Thanks for letting us know!

    • Matthew Zehner

      Thanks for letting us know!

  • Dissentient

    Fingertip grip uses wrist for horizontal movement and fingers for vertical movement. It’s good for games like RTS, since it allows vertical mouse movement without movement of the elbow, and consequently allows you to reach any point of the screen without moving your arm, even at fairly low sensitivities.

    • Matthew Zehner

      Thanks for the information!