In designing its new Sidewinder Gaming Mouse, we imagine Microsoft's product designers going over the features of the Logitech G5 and the Razer DeathAdder and asking "what else can we cram in there?" For a suggested price of $80, the Sidewinder delivers all of the complexity hardcore gamers demand in their mice, plus it goes a few steps farther. Some of those new features are useful, some less so, but anyone willing to dig in to what this mouse has to offer will find something to like. We have a few criticisms about its design, and overall we still prefer Logitech's G5 Laser Mouse, but this Sidewinder is a formidable competitor, largely because it offers more hardware customization out of the box than any mouse to date.
Like most high-end gaming mice, the Microsoft Sidewinder is a wired, USB 2.0 device with a 2,000dpi sensor and a customizable weight kit. With only one 5-gram weight and three 10-gram weights, you don't get as much granularity as with Logitech's weights, but Microsoft trumps Logitech in its concept for the case in which you store the unused weights. In addition to holding the weights, the small black accessory also contains two different kinds of mouse feet (which we'll get to), but it also doubles as a cable wrangler. You can feed the mouse cable through the case for the purposes of controlling the slack. The case is heavy enough that it stays put on your desk, and this actually provides a fairly handy service, in that you don't have to reposition your mouse to deal with extra cord flopping around.
As for the feet, Microsoft includes three different sets of feet that you can pop into the bottom of the Sidewinder: Teflon, half Teflon, and plastic. The idea is that you can customize the glide of the mouse depending on the surface you use it on. Like the weights, having a sensitive-enough feel to want to swap out your feet is probably the domain of only the most hardcore gamers (or those who want to create that appearance). Still, we can imagine that if you have a weird mouse pad or play on an uncommon surface that you might benefit from a new material on the bottom.
We suspect more gamers will make use of the customizable laser sensitivity. Like Logitech, Microsoft includes hard buttons on the mouse for swapping between different sensitivities on the fly. The default settings are 400dpi, 800dpi, and 2,000dpi, although you can use Microsoft's Intellipoint software to change the defaults to anything from 200 to 2,000dpi.
For button customization, you get five buttons (of the Sidewinder's 10 total) to reassign as you see fit, the two main buttons, the scroll wheel button, and two thumb-side buttons. Microsoft also includes an easy-to-program QuickTurn feature, for setting one button to automatically spin you around in a game, as well as a dedicated macro button on the mouse itself for assigning various commands without switching out of a game.
Less useful is the built-in LCD and the dedicated Games Explorer button. The LCD can tell you what dpi setting you're on, and it also has prompts for the steps involved in making a macro, but none of that information is exactly critical, and it can be found elsewhere (the feel of the mouse, the manual, etc.). And the Games Explorer button, positioned inconveniently under your palm, feels like it's there more to highlight one of Vista's minor features (the Games Explorer folder, complete with parental controls). XP users are more practically served, as under the older version of Windows, the Games Explorer button opens Intellipoint. Even better would be if you could customize it however you wanted.
Finally, we like what Microsoft has done with the shape of the mouse body itself, especially the pinkie-finger ledge on the right side of the mouse that offers support for that extra digit. We wonder if a button on that area would have been possible? What we don't like are the nubby thumb buttons, which don't let your thumb move naturally between them, and require too much distinct pressure. We also wish the bulge for your palm was a bit gentler, as it's so big that it seems to reduce the strength of your grip.