7 Things to Consider Before Buying a Computer Mouse

Wired vs. wireless, size and comfort, and bonus features

Since the mouse is generally the most often used computer peripheral, it's wise to research what you need.

Wired or Not?

Whether or not you should get a wireless mouse is a personal preference. With a wireless mouse, you won't risk getting tangled in your cord, but you do run the risk of running out of batteries at an inopportune time. Some wireless mice come with charging docks, so you don't have to worry about buying those AAAs, but you still need to remember to put the mouse in the dock or station. Other mice might have an on/off switch to preserve power; as with the docking station, this is only useful if you remember to switch it off when you finish using it.

Some come with nano receivers that sit flush with the USB port. Others come with larger wireless receivers that jut out a few inches from the port. As you can guess, you typically pay a higher price for the nano receiver, but it might be your best buy if you're a frequent traveler.

If your computer is Bluetooth compatible you can also buy a Bluetooth mouse without a receiver. You will need to pair the mouse before it will work, but you won't have to remember to plug in or bring along a separate dongle.

Hand on blue mouse on mousepad
​Burak Karademir / Getty Images 

With a wired mouse, you won't have to worry about batteries or receivers because it will draw power from your USB (or PS2) port. However, the downside is that you can only move as far away as the cord length.

If you go wireless, you will replace batteries from time to time. To extend battery life, look for a mouse with an on/off switch and use it.

Receivers

As with battery life, this is a concern for wireless mice. Does it use a full-sized receiver that juts out of the laptop, or does it use a nano receiver that lets you pack away the laptop without needing to be removed? Does it come with a receiver placeholder? Mice receivers are easy to misplace, like USB flash drives, ballpoint pens, and spare keys, so having a magnetic placeholder or a designated slot is immensely helpful.

Likewise, check to make sure the mouse comes with the appropriate receiver. That usually isn't a problem for mice that use 2.4GHz wireless technology, but many mice use Bluetooth and often don't come with a Bluetooth receiver. Check to see if your computer has integrated Bluetooth before you purchase a Bluetooth mouse.

Laser or Optical?

Mice operate by tracking in "dots per inch" (or dpi). An optical mouse can track between 400 and 800 dpi, while a laser mouse can generally track more than 2,000 dpi. So do you need an optical mouse or a laser mouse?

Don't let the higher dpi numbers fool you. Your everyday mouser typically won't require precise tracking and will get by just fine with an optical mouse. (Some even find the extra preciseness annoying.) Gamers and graphic designers, however, often welcome the additional sensitivity.

The one advantage a mechanical mouse has over optical is that it works just as well on a reflective or glass surface as it does on a solid opaque one. However, mechanical mice have a tendency to build up dirt and grime internally and need to be manually cleaned fairly often.

Ergonomics

Perhaps the most crucial aspect of any computer peripheral is its ease of use; when it comes to mice, comfort is king. Ergonomics in mice are vital because they can help prevent repetitive stress injuries. However, ergonomics is not a one-size-fits-all feature, and just because a manufacturer claims its device is ergonomic doesn't make it so. 

Unfortunately, the only way to know whether a mouse is comfortable is to use it for an extended period, which is challenging without buying one. As with all computer peripherals, research your device before purchasing it.

If you don't use the mouse for extended periods, you can let aesthetics weigh more heavily in your decision if you'd like. Graphic designers, PC gamers, and other long-term users, however, should stick with what's comfortable, not what's pretty.

Full-Sized or Travel-Sized?

Although manufacturers have no universal sizing, many mice come in two different sizes: full or travel. Even if you never plan to remove your mouse from its home, travel mice can often be more comfortable for people with smaller hands. Likewise, a road warrior may want to stick with a full-sized device because ill-fitting mice can cause discomfort.

Programmable Buttons

Everyone knows about the left- and right-click buttons, and the scroll wheel in the middle. But some mice also come with additional buttons typically located on the side of the device. You can program them for specific functions, such as the "Back" button on your Internet browser. If you consistently work in the same programs, these can be extremely useful and are typically easy to set up.

Gaming Response

Fans of online PC games require mice that can respond quickly and precisely. Attributes include the mechanism of input, such as a laser, which might not work on reflective surfaces, or a rubber ball, the resolution of the tracker, and the speed by which motion input feeds to the computer.

FAQ
  • Who invented the computer mouse?

    The first computer mouse was created by Douglas Engelbart, of SRI International, in 1964. It would later be patented in 1970. This progenitor to what we'd come to know as a mouse had a single button, internal wheels that translated movement, and was carved out of wood.

  • Can I use a computer without a mouse?

    The process isn't as smooth as using a mouse, but it is possible to use a modern computer without a mouse. You can use Mouse Keys on a Mac under System Preferences > Mouse > and turning on Mouse Keys. You can do the same on a Windows machine through Accessibility Options > Mouse.

  • How do I clean my mouse?

    If you're using a wireless mouse, you can clean it with compressed air, a damp cloth, and a cotton swab with some cleaning solution. To clean a mechanical mouse, you'll need to open the bottom to remove the ball, then carefully remove dirt and grime from the wheels inside.

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