Publisher: Sandio Tech
Developer: Sandio Tech
Release Date: Available NOW
Reinventing the wheel is rarely a wise plan, but that doesn't stop people from occasionally trying it anyway. Such is the case with Sandio Tech, a group of forward-thinking engineers who've decided that mouse-input technology has fallen far behind other PC enhancements. Their solution to this problem is the 6 Degrees of Freedom high-performance mouse. Does it introduce a whole new level of depth to the 3D gaming experience? Not particularly, but it does offer some convenience.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I'd like to take this moment to point out that WorthPlaying as a matter of habit doesn't usually cover hardware. As such, we have no set criterion for measuring the relative merits or flaws of non-software gaming apparatus, so you may find that my style is quite unlike that of pure hardware critic sites. That said, good is good, and bad is bad. As we shall see, this mouse has a little of both.
So what makes this mouse any different from any other? Well, it has three extra "buttons" on it that are (for lack of any better way to describe them) analog joysticks. The first sits under your ring finger, the next just in front of the scroll-wheel, and the third right where your thumb normally rests. There is also an extra button above the thumbstick that is split in two, giving you a total of eight different clickable, movable, and scrollable input options.
The point of these extra options is to allow you the freedom to re-map commands from the keyboard to the mouse, thereby increasing your response speed in various situations. For example, re-mapping your map-scroll command for RTS games shaves off precious half-seconds of time, or setting different potions in RPGs to your mouse rather than a numeric hotkey.
Sandio likes to sell movement as a great feature to use these things for, but I can tell you right now that there is no way the 6DoF mouse is going to replace the W-A-S-D configuration common to most 3D titles. Using this mouse in such a fashion is akin to fusing your mouse with a flight-sim joystick. Well, there's a reason flight-sim joysticks have suction cups in their base. Take that away, and you're looking at rapid development of carpal tunnel or any number of other ligament inflammation issues. It is extremely confusing, inefficient, and offers no actual benefit to the gaming experience.
It was this illogical claim that initially gave me reservations about this device. I knew before even trying is that there wouldn't be a happy ending to using a mouse to cover point of view as well as all movement. However, upon actually trying the 6DoF mouse, I was surprised to discover that it actually does offer some great convenience. The ability to re-map commands such as crouching, reloading, bringing up the map, or drinking potions/using health packs is startlingly handy, and it almost made me an instant believer. Note that I say "almost." Alas, Sandio has packaged this convenience into a terrible example of industrial design.
You see, the 6DoF mouse is too big and too heavy. Out of the box, it's massive simply because it includes a strange clip-on plate that is supposed to double as a wrist-rest. It's a good thing that this excess plastic is detachable, because if you use a gel-rest mouse pad like I do, the 6DoF unit is impossible to use until the plate is gone. Once you've taken this thing off, the size goes from "massive" down to merely "huge." From an ergonomic perspective, it's clunky at best and painful to use at worst. You need to have Sasquatch mitts to fit this thing comfortably, and if you don't, then one of the three analog sticks becomes vestigial. The button-stick on the right side, where the ring finger usually sits, is basically unusable due to the size of this device. Even if you can grasp it comfortably, the excess weight becomes noticeably difficult to deal with over a lengthy gaming session. I've never actually experienced knuckle-cracking fatigue during a play session before; it was a little disconcerting to hear my hands pop like that after three hours of Titan Quest. I don't care how handy the extra buttons are — pain and gaming don't mix, in my opinion.
The weight also tends to defeat the glorious 2000 DPI that the 6DoF sports by default. The pointer is ultra precise, but the weight of the mouse is such that the friction of the device on whichever surface you happen to use rarely allows for exacting placement of your pointer-arrow. I have to fight this thing constantly even when just clicking a link in Firefox. Imagine how much fun it is trying to rapidly snap off a sniper headshot under these conditions? You can reduce the DPI, but that seems to me to defeat the purpose of a high-performance mouse, and it still doesn't fix the weight issue, so it seems like a largely pointless feature to have included. That there are three extra holes to gather dirt, dust, cat-hair, and other such debris is just adding insult to injury. Additionally, Sandio is going to have to be more on the ball regarding configuration updates. There are 20 common 3D game pre-sets you can load up by default, and the starter booklet claims that the web site for the mouse will provide extra configurations as downloadable content, but so far, there is nothing. I suppose this isn't entirely fair to call the company on, as the whole point is custom-tailoring the mouse to your own needs anyway.
After all is said and done, my opinion is this: Sandio is on to something, but it's not the sublime new paradigm they were hoping for. With a few redesigns, I believe they could produce an extremely handy input device that gamers would embrace as essential not because it "offers an unfair advantage" (their advertising tagline), but because it's convenient. As it stands right now, the size and weight combine to form an unwieldy mass of plastic that defeats itself.