8 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.

8 Things to Consider When Buying a Mouse

What you intend to use a mouse for will significantly impact what you'll want to consider. Something simple and inexpensive will probably do if you only need it for basic point-and-click functionality.

However, if you'd prefer not to deal with cords, need something that feels very snappy and precise, or have issues with wrist comfort while working on your computer, there are several options available. These primarily include:

  • Cost
  • Laser or Optical?
  • Wired or Wireless?
  • Receivers
  • Ergonomics
  • Size
  • Programmable Buttons
  • Gaming Response

How Much Should a Mouse Cost?

The cost of a computer mouse mainly relates to how complex it is. More affordable options likely won't have as many bells and whistles, while a more precise mouse with programmable buttons could get into the triple digits. If budget is a concern, think about what you need from your mouse first, figure out your baseline, and then look into more features if you're interested.

Price Range  What You Can Expect
 $5-$30 The most economic option, but not necessarily the worst one. Lower prices will of course yield much more basic hardware, but even as little as $10 can cover a simple wireless mouse. If you look hard enough you can also find models with up to 2,000 dpi under $30.
$30-$75 The higher end of the mid-range, often with more ergonomic options and sometimes built-in lights. Most of what sits in this category is optical, but laser devices aren't impossible to get ahold of at $30 or higher. This tier is also home to many different types of gaming mouse.
$75-$100 This starts to get into the much more complex side of owning a computer mouse, with fast-scrolling options and sometimes over a dozen button customizations. This is also where to look if you want a mouse with adjustable weight, tilt gesture control, or dozens of hours of battery life with intense usage.
$100+ The highest tier starts to pull back on the number of functions per mouse and instead focuses on really refined high-end features: 25,000 or more dpi, Qi wireless charging, 80+ hours of battery life, or possibly an included charging dock.

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.

A mechanical mouse has one advantage over optical in that it works just as well on a reflective or glass surface as on a solid opaque one. However, mechanical mice build up dirt and grime internally and require frequent cleaning.

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.

You can buy a Bluetooth mouse without a receiver if your computer is Bluetooth-compatible. You will need to pair the mouse before it works, but you won't have to remember to plug in or bring 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.


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.


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.

Other Mouse Variations

Additional computer mouses do exist, though they're often either more specialized, somewhat outdated, or exclusive to certain hardware brands. These include:

Trackball Mouse

A trackball mouse is, functionally, sort of like using a regular mechanical mouse upside-down. Instead of placing the mouse on a surface and moving it, causing an internal ball to roll and interact with sensors, the ball sits on top. This way, you can directly move the ball itself with your hand to control the on-screen cursor. Its movement is more restricted, and it's not responsive as an optical mouse, but it requires less movement on your part.

Magic Mouse

The Magic Mouse is a piece of Apple hardware that plays the part of a regular mouse but with some extra functionality. Specifically, the top of the mouse is a multitouch surface that allows you to move your hand over the surface of the mouse itself to scroll and swipe—similar to an iPhone or iPad touchscreen. The Magic Mouse will also work on PCs, but it might not perform quite as well as it would on a Mac in some cases.

Vertical Mouse

A vertical mouse is about the same as a more typical-looking mouse, but you hold it differently. You still move it around on a surface to control the cursor, and it has the standard types of buttons (left-click, right-click, middle wheel). But it's shaped so your hand and wrist rotate at a more natural angle than the flat-against-the-desk position. As awkward as it may sound, the intention is to alleviate repetitive stress injuries and other types of strain you might develop from using a mouse for extended periods.

Who Should Buy a Computer Mouse?

Anyone with a computer with no other interface options needs to get a mouse since they won't be able to do much other than turn it on and off otherwise. However, there are also some scenarios where getting a mouse would be worthwhile, even if your setup already has a cursor interface.

For example, pretty much all laptops these days use touchpads. These are useful, but depending on what you're doing, you may prefer a mouse's precision or comfort (or even just the familiarity). In some cases, it may also be worth having more than one mouse available for different tasks (i.e., one for work and one for gaming).

What to Do After You Buy a Computer Mouse

Once you have your new mouse, you'll want to hook it up to your computer. Plug it in if it's wired, connect the dongle if it's wireless, or turn it on and connect via device settings. And if it's got an internal battery, you may also want to charge it up beforehand. Ensure that it works with your computer and setup.

When you're all done getting your mouse working, take it for a test run. Use it to browse through some websites, make a quick doodle in a graphics program, or play a game with it. Get a feel for its performance and decide if it's to your liking.

More Tips

  • Mind your surfaces. If your new mouse doesn't seem to want to move or the cursor is moving erratically, look at what you're using it on. An optical or laser mouse will have trouble on surfaces like glass, while a mechanical mouse may not be able to get enough of a grip to move on a surface that's too smooth or slippery. Try putting a piece of paper (or even a mousepad) under it and see if that helps.
  • Check your batteries. You won't have to worry about charge levels with a wired mouse, but a wireless one will either have an internal battery or require some AAAs or AAs. If it doesn't turn on, won't stay on, or seems to be having trouble, you might need to charge it or try a fresh set of batteries.
  • Use a light touch. A modern mouse—even an inexpensive one—shouldn't have any trouble registering your clicks. There's no need to press down very hard; doing so over time could damage your mouse. Unless its buttons can process different levels or pressure, think of it like this: If you can hear it, the mouse can sense it.
  • 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: go to System Preferences > Mouse > turn 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, clean your mouse 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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