Saturday, April 21, 2012

NZXT Avatar S Gaming Mouse

Great gaming mouse for all casual gamers.
Review By Migamo

When you think about gaming mice, what brands come to mind? Razer? Microsoft? Logitech? Those are the big boys, but in the past few years we’ve been seeing other hardware companies branching out, such as ThermalTake and Cooler Master. In this review, we’ll be looking at a product from another newcomer to the peripheral game, also noted more for their computer chassis and cooling solutions than anything else. I’m talking about NZXT, whom has recently been making strides to enter the input device arena by leveraging their unique design philosophy. They put together a compelling offering a few years back with the Avatar gaming mouse, which was actually reviewed here on FiringSquad.

Today, though, you get to feast your eyes on what could be considered an evolution of that mouse, which they call the Avatar S. I’m wondering whether the ‘S’ stands for “slim” or something to that effect, as it seems to be somewhat of a focused and streamlined revision, with a lower DPI, fewer buttons, and tweaks to the aesthetics. It still has the same sleek, ambidextrous design overall, which is physically more slender and lower-profile than your average gaming mouse.

The NZXT Avatar S features a 1600 DPI laser sensor that is adjustable to 800 and 400 DPI out of the box. By using a built-in hardware switch (holding the side button down and scrolling), you can swap between these three states, on the fly, without installing any driver software. That’s especially useful when you need to do so in-game, and you can see which DPI mode you’re in by the color of the LED-lit NZXT logo on the side of the mouse itself (it changes between blue, purple, and red).

It has five programmable buttons distributed evenly across its ambidextrous body, blue LED lights than can be turned on or off, and Teflon feet for easy gliding on any type of surface. With a polling rate of 1000Hz, the Avatar S can track movements at speeds of up to 30 inches per second and handles acceleration up to 20G. All of these settings and more are fully-customizable using NZXT’s provided drivers and software, able to be uploaded to the mouse’s internal 16Kb memory bank -- that’s enough storage for a single profile, so you can take your macros, as well as DPI, LED, and other settings, along with you wherever you go.

The NZXT Avatar S comes in some pretty barebones packaging. Inside are the mouse itself and a credit card-sized piece of cardboard asking you to please visit the NZXT website to download the user’s manual -- that’s also where you’ll have to get the driver software, if you want it. I guess it makes sense not to include a CD when most everybody has internet access, but it’d be a lot more convenient to at least include an abridged quick start guide.

Though the NZXT Avatar S gaming mouse does not necessarily require you install its companion software in order to use it, doing so unlocks some additional features that many people would likely be interested in. That includes the ability to assign macros to any button on the mouse, customize the DPI, toggle LED lights on or off, and more. Many settings can be saved as profiles and loaded more easily at a later time, but all of the ones currently in use are uploaded directly to the mouse’s on-board memory so that they may be preserved, even for use on other computers.

The Avatar S has a mostly smooth plastic body, with a slightly rubbery matted texture on top and glossy accents on the sides. It feels a little sticky at first, which might indicate some potential slipperiness for those with particularly sweaty hands. It is shaped concavely on either side, with the extra buttons placed right up underneath each lip. Inside this curvature is some plastic roughness and etching, likely placed as much for looks as some extra grip. It doesn’t fit naturally in the hand, which doesn’t surprise me. That’s sort of the risk associated with creating an ambidextrous design -- you inherently sacrifice some of the comfort afforded by mice that are specifically designed to be held by one hand, whether right or left.

Interestingly, the part of the mouse’s shell that comprises the primary buttons sort of hangs there, not connecting to anything at the front of the body. Not that the primary buttons ever do connect to the front, per se, but it’s rare to see a design that doesn’t hide and protect that action. It may not be likely, but I can see a messy eater dropping some crumbs and mucking up the works or, if you have kids, some tiny fingers getting in there and prying the mouse open like a gator’s jaw. This is a wired mouse, and though the USB cable length is more than adequate at about seven feet, it’s sheathed in plain rubber casing. This is much more likely to create friction, and therefore impede movement, when it’s dragged across a smooth surface than the braided fiber cables you see on some other gaming mice. It’s something to consider if you’re interested in preserving that silky smooth glide provided by those Teflon feet on the bottom.

The scroll wheel on the Avatar S is superb. It’s almost-but-not-quite flush with the main mouse buttons and so is easy to reach for clicking, plus it rolls smoothly and quietly at speed. You can still feel every increment if you need to scroll precisely, however, which is good for changing weapons in a shooter, for example. I very much prefer this to the wobbly tilt wheel that Logitech has been putting on their newest gaming mice… Unfortunately that may be the only thing NZXT does better, as their button placement is otherwise sorely lacking. The Avatar S inherits its predecessor’s side button design and placement, which means they are recessed and awkward to reach. Furthermore, the fact that there is one on either side of the mouse (again, a product of that ambidextrous design) means that if you want to use both, you will need to learn to press the one on the far side with your ring finger. That is, if you’re not already doing so inadvertently!

The Avatar S carries a host of impressive-sounding specifications, such as a 1600 DPI laser, 30 inches-per-second tracking speed, a 1000 hertz polling rate, and maximum acceleration rate of 20G -- but what do they mean? I think this is a major problem with the gaming mouse market, a result of their target demographic being very likely to shop around for things online. Since you can’t physically examine a mouse as you would in a store, they have to sell you on the technical specifications, making you think that these numbers all have to be really high for it to be a good product. The reality is that there’s not a whole lot of difference between the functionality of one gaming mouse or another. Yes, if you’re transitioning from a run-of-the-mill optical mouse that came free with your new Dell, you’re going to notice a major difference, but the performance gap between a mouse that costs $40 and one that costs $140 is not that big.

Even though 1600 DPI is actually on the low end of the gaming mouse laser precision spectrum, with some mice reaching upwards of 6000+, you’re going to have some seriously diminishing returns if you go any higher. Honestly, does anyone really need that much sensitivity in their mouse movement? Personally, I like the medium DPI setting of 800 for general use, adjusting the in-game settings up or down as needed. Very rarely do I need to turn the DPI up or down, and I certainly don’t ever think “Gee, I'd be winning if only it could go up to 5600… *sigh*” That is why, in regard to its technical functionality as a high-performance input device, I feel the Avatar S and other similarly-priced gaming mice are more than adequate. The real determining factors here are whether you like the aesthetics and how the form factor fits your grip.

In terms of good looks, the Avatar S has that in spades. This white variant is particularly sexy, though it clashes with the rest of my gear and I would worry about it getting dirty and discolored over time; if I had bought one myself, I probably would have gone with black instead. Its symmetrical form reminds me of a fighter craft from Star Wars or Star Trek, especially with the “stabilizer fins” on both sides of the rear end. Unfortunately, this isn’t a spaceship, and it doesn’t fit in my hand very well at all. Aside from it being physically smaller than what I’m used to, the ambidextrous shape is better suited to a palm grip -- attempting to hold it like I usually would requires curling my ring and pinky fingers inward and underneath the side lip, which is pretty awkward. And though the mouse seems to be built solidly, it is very lightweight, which is less than ideal, even if I could get used to it eventually.

Overall, the Avatar S is a bit dainty for my tastes. Considering all of the above, I can’t recommend it to fellow claw grippers or those with larger hands. Not to mention, having a side button that would have to be pressed by your ring finger (and interferes with your grip the rest of the time) is a real pain in the neck. Yes, it looks good, but if your eyes are on the mouse even one percent of the time it’s being used, you’re doing it wrong. Comfort is a lot more important, which is why the best mice out there probably wouldn’t win any beauty contests.

With that said, I can see how this gaming mouse would appeal to those with smaller hands, especially if you use a palm grip and/or are left-handed. For them, NZXT’s Avatar S is a solid performer and very customizable, so it’s not a bad choice at all if you can get your hands on one. It just recently (like yesterday) became available on, in both black and white flavors, with pricing around $40.


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