Review: Microsoft Sidewinder X5

A new Microsoft gaming mouse takes on established competitors. (August 30th, 2008)

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Microsoft

Price: $59.99

The Good

  • Sensitivity up to 2,000dpi, selectable through mouse buttons
  • Forward and back buttons better positioned to avoid accidents
  • Ergonomic
  • Aesthetically appealing

The Bad

  • Right button easy to click accidentally
  • Scrollwheel feels too far forward
  • Windows-only
  • Requires special software, reboot

There was a time when the idea of a high-performance gaming mouse could be considered gimmicky, if not laughable. For the most part, after all, a mouse was a mouse, and game developers couldn't assume you had anything special. The concept managed to gain ground however, and now companies such as Razer have made it their stock and trade. One of the latest Microsoft entries into the field is the Sidewinder X5.

definitions

What defines the X5 as a gaming mouse is its sensor and sensitivity. Whereas most mice are optical, the X5 uses a laser sensor; this allows it to achieve a whopping 2,000dpi, as compared with the 400 to 800dpi resolutions available on more mainstream devices.

How sensitive is 2,000dpi? Probably too much for the average person, at least in the case of the X5. Enabling this resolution can send the cursor flying around the screen at the slightest movement, ironically making it difficult to be precise. The mouse defaults to 800dpi, mercifully, with 400 and 2,000dpi options being relegated to separate buttons on the spine. These values can also be tweaked in software.

The X5 is also light, jet black and highly ergonomic, if mainly for right-handers. Subtle grooves guide fingers into place, and an overall pear shape forces the hand to remain in a level position.

installation and button layout

As one might expect of a modern mouse, installation is reasonably simple; it is a bit more complex here though, mainly due to the need for special software. Gaining full use of the hardware demands IntelliPoint 6.3 or later, which not only has to be installed before the mouse is connected, but requires a reboot.

This seems strangely backwards in an era when mice often can be connected and used without a thought, but it does ensure that all buttons perform their intended functions. It further lets gamers assign custom configurations for each title they own, even if few games can really benefit from an extra two or three buttons.

On the topic of buttons, at its core, the X5 is arranged around a standard three-button configuration: left and right, with a scrollwheel button in the middle. Added to this are the previously-mentioned sensitivity buttons, a proprietary Sidewinder option, and two on the left-hand side, which default to forward and back in a web browser.



strengths and weaknesses

It should be said that in Windows XP -- the X5 is a Windows-only mouse -- the Sidewinder button is mostly useless. It's assigned to open the mouse configuration window, but in an odd decision, the button itself can't be reconfigured. It's slightly more useful in Windows Vista, where it opens Games Explorer, but the feature is hardly as essential as Microsoft would like it to be.

Two remaining complaints revolve around the scrollwheel and the right button. Both the left and right buttons are on a deliberate hair trigger, but due to the way many people may rest their hands, it's all too easy to right-click. This takes some getting used to. The same must be said for the scrollwheel, which can initially feel as if it's set too far forward to be comfortable. This is only relative to the design though, and the feeling goes away with a proper grip.

By contrast, the forward and back buttons are perfectly placed. A problem with similar buttons on other mice is the tendency to place them right where your thumb lands, leading to cases where you accidentally skip through webpages. The X5 moves these controls into a veritcal alignment slightly ahead of the thumb, where they're still easy to reach, but virtually impossible to click in a fluke.



The mouse's greatest value lies in its sensitivity, or rather, the ability to switch it instantly. In playing a game such as Crysis for instance, 800dpi is usually more than enough, but tapping a button for 2,000dpi becomes immensely useful in circumstances like operating a turret. Some other action games can be played entirely at the 2,000dpi setting; strategy titles like Dawn of War tend not to benefit from extra sensitivity, but the option can at least be appreciated by hardcore players.

wrapping up

For most people, the Sidewinder X5 should be a considerable upgrade from the mouse bundled with their PC. It has design quirks that need adjusting to -- namely its right button -- but the customizable response of the X5 is amazing, and for some people the repositioned forward and back buttons may be reason alone to change mice.

The more serious question is if it's worth $60, when so many mice can be had for less. The answer is yes, in terms of proportionate value; it's about $10 cheaper than similar mice from Razer, and even has better button placement, though Razer's designs are more ambidextrous. People who already have an 800dpi mouse may have no problem skipping the X5, but to Microsoft's credit, it's worth a consideration.

by Roger Fingas


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