Microsoft Habu gaming mouse review

The Microsoft Habu gaming mouse is just as impressive as its specs suggest. It’s highly accurate and responsive, intelligently engineered, attractively styled, and more than appropriate for gaming. If I gave out those silly editorial product awards, this mouse would get one.

Physical and electrical design

The Habu is overflowing with innovation. I’ll start by saying that the plastic sliders on the bottom of the mouse have been redesigned for better sliding. They’re made of Teflon — which is what most gamers cover their mouse feet with anyway — and have unique positions and shapes that noticeably improve the Habu’s ability to glide over appropriate gaming surfaces. There’s one big banana-shaped pad on the bottom center of the mouse, and two small boomerang-shaped pads near the upper corners. On my battle-worn X-Raypad Thunder 9 mouse pad, I found this new slider design to be much more favorable than the standard little patches at the four mouse corners. There are even replacement pads included, which extends the life of the Habu.

Speaking of buttons, all are reprogrammable to 11 different functions: click, menu, universal scrolling, double-click, advanced functions, DPI settings, Windows button 4, Windows button 5, switch profile, on-the-fly sensitivity, and button off. You can also modify the mouse’s sensitivity and acceleration by X and Y axis, and save settings in up to 5 different profiles for different users or games. All reprogramming features are controlled via Windows-specific software. Aside from the standard two buttons and a clickable, stepping scroll wheel, there are two thumb buttons on the left, and two small round buttons below the scroll wheel. If you find the thumb buttons inconveniently located, no problem — they are mounted in a tool-free, easily removable sidepiece. Take that one out and replace it with the alternate piece (included with the Habu), which has a more rearward button orientation, and you’re all set.

The Habu is also highly responsive. In addition to high-speed motion detection of up to 45 inches (or more than 7000 frames) per second, it also has a 16-bit data pathway and polls at a speed of 1GHz. So not only is the Habu more accurate, but it has the bandwidth to transfer that data to your computer at a sufficiently speedy rate. Unlike other mice, the Habu’s laser does not power down, so it’s always ready for action and there is never any “wake up” lag.

This is a corded USB mouse, and is the first retail packaged Microsoft mouse I have tested that does not come with a PS/2 adapter, so you’re forced to use USB. The cord is a little more pliable and easier to manage than most other corded mice, but still can get in the way if your desktop is not sufficiently cleared of obstructions.

The Habu is just large and light enough to fit comfortably in my hand without generating a high degree of wrist strain, and only a little bit of pinky drag. Every part your fingers touch is rubberized, so sweaty hands won’t be as much of a liability with the Habu as they might be with other gaming mice. The Habu is optimized for right-handed use.

Lastly, the Habu gaming mouse is attractively decorated. A soft, clear rubber outline snakes around three sides of the mouse, and internally a bright fluorescent blue light illuminates both the clear strip and the mouse wheel.

Putting it to the test

The basic features of the Habu are outstanding: it looks great, feels comfortable in my hand, responds instantly to input, and the wheel and the buttons click and move as I want them to. It worked instantly in GNU/Linux, and reasonably well in Windows XP. So right off the bat, I was impress with the Habu — it didn’t have to do anything else in order to pass muster for me.

When I say that the Habu worked “reasonably well” with Windows, I mean that it took about 30 seconds for the operating system to recognize that I’d connected the Habu and that it was a mouse. After the brief delay, all of the mouse’s basic functions were operational. No matter what operating system you use, though, the extra features of the Habu require third-party, memory-resident software from Microsoft’s design partnet for this product, Razer. Like most gamers, I’m not too crazy about having yet another program running in my systray. As it is, nearly every program you install in Windows wants to have its own “quickstart” icon in the systray and remain memory-resident, soaking up valuable resources when you’re not using it. If you’re like me, the first thing you do after installing a Windows program is remove the memory-resident crap and any other added conveniences that I find inconvenient. There is also a shadow of days past when mouse-specific software would cause all manner of problems in Windows, from system instability to unreliable mouse behavior and game incompatibility. That sentiment of distrust for third-party control software was not shaken by the Habu, unfortunately. Upon installing the Razer software and restarting the computer (as required), the first thing that I noticed was that the cursor moved about half as fast as it did before, and the accuracy was horrible.

habu_software
Mouse software is so DOS

If this weren’t a review, I’d have uninstalled the Razer software immediately, figuring that the trend in terrible mouse software (and the fundamental need for it) lived on with the Habu. As it turned out, though, the problems I had were due to the fact that the Razer program selects the slowest, most annoying settings by default, and all you have to do to fix them is click the systray icon and change the DPI and polling rate numbers. In other words, it justified its existence by showing you how much of an improvement it can make with just a few simple clicks.

In addition to the speed and sensitivity of the cursor, the Razer software also enabled the two extra buttons on the top center of the mouse. Previously they did nothing in Windows (and in Linux, one would skip back one tab’s worth of space, the other would act as button 1 by default, but both were customizable in X.org), but the software gave them new default behavior: changing the laser tracking rate up and down in four distinct steps: 200, 800, 1600, and 2000 DPI. That’s slow, kind of slow, just right, and way too fast from my frame of reference. I didn’t like a similar feature on the A4Tech X-750F gaming mouse, but that only had one button for DPI adjustment, and the Habu has two — one up, one down. That configuration makes much more sense, and makes on-the-fly tracking speed switching a more realistic proposition. This is a neat feature, but one that I would never use in Unreal Tournament 2004 or World of Warcraft because when adrenaline-filled situations arise, my mind is on strategy and accurate reflexes, not mouse adjustments. I have a hard enough time switching weapons in emergencies — I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have to think about which DPI mode I’d have to be in as well.

Conclusions and manufacturer recommendations

It’s no secret that computer games drive the desktop computing industry’s innovation, including desktop computer hardware, software, and services. Cutting edge technology is frequently hidden behind the scenes, but in gaming hardware you can usually see, hear, and/or feel how things have changed. The Habu gaming mouse is a significant step up from Microsoft’s standard desktop mice, though it might just be standard fare for Razer, which has several similar products.

The Habu is accurate, responsive, attractively designed, and comfortable. It works well with GNU/Linux despite being a Microsoft product, and the included software is not necessary to take advantage of the Habu’s most important features. Basic functionality, not fancy high-end extra features, is what makes a gaming mouse valuable, and the Habu certainly qualifies.

Despite its technical superiority, the Habu is not a complete pointing solution. The other half of the equation is something to mouse on, and if you’re still using an old cloth mousepad, you’re not playing up to your potential. The Habu works well with plastic pads like the Radpadz GS and the X-RayPad Thunder series, but I prefer metal or glass for a longer-lasting, more comfortable mouse surface.