Microsoft’s recent venture back into gaming hardware has not only introduced one of today’s best gaming and media keyboards, but has put forward a new take on wireless gaming mice that will appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers. Previously spurned because wireless technology suffers from lag (while wired mice offer near-instantaneous response time), Microsoft revealed the SideWinder X8 to change its less than stellar reputation.
The X8 more closely resembles the G9x in design since it is slim at the top and fat near the palm. But that’s where all similarities end, as the G9x looks like a mouse with its sleek shape. The X8 even looks like a robot or a Cylon from the sci-fi TV series "Battlestar Galactica." Black and dark gray cover the majority of the top while the underbelly features a prominent silver finish. All major color differentiation denotes important aspects of the mouse.
For example, the scroll wheel and thumb buttons are silver, the active DPI button glows red below the scroll wheel, and the LED display and laser shine a dull Cylon red. Even the feet, which are detachable plastic sheets, come in three distinct colors for different surfaces. No other mouse we’ve tested so succinctly expresses its functions.
Like the G500, the X8 has a scroll wheel that acts as a third mouse button and scrolls right and left. We especially like the contour of the scroll wheel, which makes it very easy to grip when scrolling in all directions. All other tested scroll wheels are textured for scrolling up and down, and thus aren’t as easy to use for side scrolling as the X8 is.
The next and instant winner for the X8 is the thumb buttons. Unlike most mice, the thumb buttons are placed above and below where the thumb rests, making it remarkably easy to press both without moving your thumb to conform to the button placement. It takes no time at all to adjust to, and is easily one of the best advancements we’ve seen in mouse technology. And it’s simple, so we hope to see other companies implement the same principles in future mice.
Besides the standard five buttons, the X8 has five additional buttons. Three are for adjusting pre-set sensitivity settings (low, medium, and high), which are easy enough to press, although they are clearly not as intuitive as those on the G9x. It also limits the mouse to one profile, so you won’t be able to save multiple settings.
The SideWinder button defaults by opening your PC's Games folder, but can be set to do just about anything. It’s placed below the sensitivity buttons where your middle knuckle should rest, so it isn’t a button you’ll use often. The final button is a macros key, just beyond the thumb buttons. This allows users to set any keystroke for a given mouse button, although it is mostly useless for a mouse.
As a wireless mouse, the X8 impresses with a long 30 hours of play per charge. A switch on the back turns the mouse on and off, and it goes into a standby mode should you forget to turn it off. Standby cuts off once you move the mouse, so if you walk away for 10 minutes or 10 hours and come back, it’ll be ready as soon as you are. There is also no noticeable lag, and we found no evidence that using the X8 made us play worse because it wasn’t directly connected to the computer.
Along with the six-foot USB cable on the transceiver is a three-foot mouse connector for recharging. This magnetized connector is expertly done—just attach it to the mouse and it recharges. The X8 will recharge whether it’s on or off, and works just fine when it’s plugged in. The transceiver also doubles as the charging cable and triples as a container for the mouse feet.
Like Microsoft’s Arc mouse, the X8 uses Microsoft’s patented BlueTrack technology, which works on most any surface. We were able to use the X8 without problem on glass, mirrors, walls, and just about everything, except on cloth. On cloth, which some gaming mousepads are made of, the X8 stutters and tracks poorly, while all other mice performed just fine on this surface.
For gaming, the X8 performs well. There is no noticeable lag commonly complained about with wireless mice. Changing between DPI settings was more cumbersome than we’d like. The thumb buttons are an excellent change to today’s standard mouse layout, and they’re easier to use in-game because it requires moving your thumb up or down instead of pressing a button with the top or bottom of the thumb.
The X8 is a 4,000 DPI mouse and is thus one of the least sensitive mice in the roundup. That didn’t stop it from performing well in our tests. The lighting system can be irritating, especially when it’s plugged in or requires a recharge, where the red lights will brighten and dim repeatedly. This is extremely annoying when gaming, especially in a dark environment.
Microsoft’s SideWinder X8 retails for $55 on Amazon and we’ve seen deals that go even lower. The SideWinder X5, a wired gaming mouse from Microsoft, has some of the same features but is much less sensitive (only delivers 2,000 DPI), bulkier and less comfortable. We do not recommend it over the X8. Razer also offers the Mamba, another wireless gaming mouse, although we did not have one available for this article. The Mamba retails for $130, although we’ve found deals for $110.
Gaming Performance: 5
Non-Gaming Performance: 4.5