|Min OS X: Any Version Requires: USB Port|
Stop the presses—Microsoft has released its first dedicated gaming mouse. Last year, Microsoft, after enduring widespread criticism from the press that it was hanging PC users out to dry in favor of the XBox console, reiterated its commitment to PC as a gaming platform by creating the “Games for Windows” brand. As any well-versed gamer (and Microsoft, to their credit) knows, the quality of the interface that binds human to machine is the first thing that can make or break any system as a gaming platform. With that in mind, Microsoft has begun to release a slew of top-notch gaming hardware that should give veteran gaming-specific hardware vendors a real headache. The first product out of the gates of Redmond, Washington is the Habu, a high precision laser mouse that makes the best LED-based mice of yesteryear look like plastic-molded turds.
Habu: Designed to Help You Shoot People™The word, “Habu” refers to any one of the four different species of notoriously venomous pit vipers that can be commonly found on the Ryukyu Islands (a part of the Okinawa, located to the southwest of Tokyo). Around the time of the Vietnam War, the United States Air Force began to fly SR-71 Blackbirds out of Kardena Air Base, located in Okinawa. When the populace saw the strange-looking aircraft, they thought that they looked like the snakes that they had come to fear, and nicknamed the planes the Habu. This insignificant bit of trivia becomes relevant when you first see the Habu—the black matte finish and whip-like illuminated light rails that outline the mouse are both faintly reminiscent of a stealth aircraft and a snake. Don’t let the imaginative references fool you, though—this mouse is all about function. The Habu’s full sized, five-button exoskeleton is skewed right and flares out at both ends, presenting right-handed users with a pleasantly-curved shell that doesn’t place undue stress on the wrist, even after hours of intense play. Eschewing the typical glossy (read: slippery) finish, Microsoft opted for a fine matte surface that does a good job of wicking away both drool and perspiration, and the decision to implement blue, fiber-optic rails along the sides of the mouse was as much about making it a snap to find in the dark as it was to provide some visual flair. Featuring extended left and right buttons that stretch all the way to the middle of the mouse and a pair of innovative swappable thumb-button panels, the Habu is designed to keep every essential button under the fingertips of even the smallest hands. As a result, the Habu achieves the ultimate objective of any input device—the ability to effectively “disappear” from the user’s perspective and become a natural extension of the body.
Habu: Raw PerformanceThe devil’s in the details, or so they tell me. If that’s true, then Microsoft must have hired an army of exorcists. As a classical pianist for the last fifteen years, I know that the piano with the lightest touch isn’t necessarily the best choice when I opt to play Chopin’s devilishly fast Fantaisie-Impromptu. Many gaming mice attempt to woo users with promises of featherweight click action, which makes for a great bullet point for the side of the box, but can actually hamper performance. What may (at first) seem counter-intuitive is the fact that buttons must be under a considerable amount of tension if they are to be toggled briskly, because the spring mechanism has to assist your finger’s motion in addition to its own weight on the return journey. When compared to a limited assortment of the gaming mice on the market today, the Habu’s action is definitely a bit heavier than average, and during testing, that additional spring tension allowed me to sustain nearly eleven clicks per second for moderate periods of time. By contrast, a competing high-end gaming mouse that featured extremely light action clocked in at just over nine clicks per second, which is still better than the average consumer mouse, which can rarely exceed eight. After the fire department finished hosing down my right hand, I concluded that while you’re unlikely to ever need to click a mouse quite that fast, it’s nice to know that when it comes down to who squeezes off that first burst, you have a slight advantage over everyone else.
Flying fingers aside, when it came time to fabricate a tracking engine for this little beastie, Microsoft went to the best in the business for help: Razer, supplier of premium gaming mice since 1990. Borrowing the 2000-dpi, 1000 Hz always-on infrared laser sensor that powers the top-of-the-line Razer Copperhead, the Habu responds instantaneously to the smallest of movements and can track perfectly where the previous generation LED-based optical mice faltered. Essentially, the reason for this augmented ability is due to the fact that a laser emits a focused beam of light, whereas an LED scatters light in all directions. The optical sensor works by tracking the shadows that are created by illuminating scores of tiny imperfections in the surface material, and the focused beam of the laser allows the sensor to see the smaller details that the LED erases by splashing light in all directions. On materials that older optical mice have had trouble with—highly laminated desks, tile, and glossy paper (see the comparison shot), the laser-powered Habu doesn’t skip a beat. Suffice it to say that unless someone comes up with a sensor that can track on glass, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever need to upgrade again for the purpose of increasing your mousing accuracy.