In my previous reviews I was handed a selection of ambidextrous mice to review and for a while, around a week or so, I used them both with my left hand to get a feel for how well they catered for lefties. I declared the Steelseries Sensei almost perfect and the Razer Orochi more than held its own, even if the thumb buttons were a little hard to press because I wasn’t used to them. I guess my editors figured at that point that they’d throw me a curve ball – a real left-handed mouse – just to see if I wasn’t sucking things out of my thumb. Enter the Razer Death Adder left-hand Edition…
For those of you who don’t know or don’t remember, I’m completely deaf in my right ear with a 40% loss in pitch and volume in my left. Naturally, I’ve adapted to the disability and have changed my behaviour, picking up some weird habits along the way. One of those is always walking next to someone on their right, so I can hear them at all times. I always sit at the bottom end of a table so I can hear anyone talking with little difficulty. In school I sat in the front of the classroom to the right so I could pick up anything the teacher said. Eventually it becomes so familiar that I do it automatically.
I’m also left-handed. When I was in junior school the teachers messed up my early weeks inside because they were convinced I was right-handed. After trying to get me to do something one way and telling me then to do it the other way, I was confused and very distracted as my brain fought against my natural programming. When they eventually relented and allowed me to write with my left-hand (and charged my parents double for a “special” left-handed rubber grip), I was a much happier person.
When I got into computer class, everything was set-up for a right-handed person – the towers were on your left, the mouse pad was on your right and there was never enough slack for changing them. So, much to my chagrin back then, I learned how to use the mouse right-handed. It was like that for other things as well – scissors, bread knives, toilet handles, doors and even buttoned shirts all seemed to be designed from a perspective of a right-handed person. Sure, we’re only ten percent of the human population but when you line that up with just over seven billion people on the planet, that’s over seven hundred million people that form a market that will pay anything to be able to cut inside the bloody dotted line.
Over time, your brain figures out that you’re not doing this just to mess with it and it learns to live with certain arrangements. I’m much more comfortable these days with a mouse on the right. I can’t cut bread slices to save my life, but that’s okay. I still can only turn left on a push scooter. But there are some things I can still change and my mouse hand is one of them.
I’m not a Parseltongue but this snake understands me…
The arrival of the Death Adder in my house encouraged some Oooh’s and Aaah’s and a little later, one “How am I supposed to use this thing, everything’s turned around! Arrrggggh!” I changed up my desktop to make room for the mouse and spent the first half-hour or so fondling it. The Death Adder has a slightly lower profile compared to the Sensei RAW I had on my desk a while back and the rubberised finish really feels good. Its rather large in-hand and it’s suited to palm grip gamers, of which I am one. Claw grippers will have a little bit of a tough time getting used to it and to be honest, the Death Adder is a too high in this regard.
Raised a bit on the right and lowered on the left, the Death Adder feels comfortable and not at all alien, even though moving a mouse with my left hand still feels weird. Its not that heavy either (lighter than the Sensei RAW) and I would have preferred to have more weighting, particularly in the front end. The braided cable is easily bendable and doesn’t get in the way. At just over seven feet (2.1m) it’s also long enough for most desktops. As with all Razer products the USB connection is gold-plated and I very much doubt there would be rust or wear of any kind for most owners.
The rear end of the mouse slopes down rapidly from its peak and here you can see the black and glossy plastic thumb rest and buttons to the right. When I first felt the mouse up the plastic was smooth and cool to the touch and looked impressive. Glossy plastic, as you know, collects fingerprints faster than Jesse in Breaking Bad can spend all his money and within a few minutes I was tearing my desk apart looking for a lintless cloth to keep the Death Adder clean.
After an hour of gaming on the first day, the sides of the Death Adder were much more greasy and my thumb kept sliding off the buttons in a heated battle with Hyperion robots in Borderlands 2 while I was screaming at my guns to fire faster. The sides also feel greasy now even after a good clean and I suppose the honeymoon period with a mouse as beautiful as this is short-lived. The Razer logo and thumb wheel both glow a bright blue when the mouse is plugged in .
The left side of the mouse is devoid of any buttons and just has glossy plastic and this makes it harder for claw grip gamers because they typically use the side of the mouse and their ring and pinky fingers to stabilise their hand above the mouse. In addition, the glossy plastic is prone to scratching easily. And when I mean prone I really mean that it picks up EVERYTHING. If you live in a dusty house, hairline scratches will appear within days of ownership and you’ll wonder how the hell they got there. Fingernail scratches show up very easily and if you have long, sharp claws, it would be easy to make deep gouges in the plastic’s soft surface over time.
The bottom of the Death Adder has been updated since the original version in 2006 with Teflon feet and they really help to make the mouse glide over most surfaces with little friction. Teflon feet are better suited to fabric-covered mouse mats and I’m certain that they would wear down very quickly on something as roughly hewn as the Steelseries 9HD Pro mousepad I reviewed a few weeks back. The glossy plastic makes another appearance at the bottom and gets just as easily scratched here. The laser is a 3500DPI class 1 infrared laser. It won’t hurt your eyes to look at it although you won’t see it because its in the infrared spectrum. You can make sure it’s working by whipping out your cameraphone and launching the camera app. Aim the viewfinder to the bottom of the mouse and if you see a dim, whitish light, that’s your laser.
Also note that set-in button to the right of the laser pointers – that changes the DPI setting. Yes, that’s a rather odd place to put it.
Synapse doesn’t annoy, doesn’t impress either
As usual, you have to use Razer”s cloud-saving Synapse 2.0 software to configure the Death Adder properly and you can’t do this offline either – the first setup always has to be done with an active internet connection. Its a bit of a cheap shot by Razer to not provide the software on a disk for gamers who are offline (yes, these people do exist, Adam Orth) but I guess that in the countries where Razer advertises and sells the most product, like Asia, America and Europe, that this isn’t a problem for them to any great degree. Rural America does have the same issues we do, though and for them it’s just as irritating.
The options in Synapse show how dated the Death Adder family is. There are only five buttons on the mouse and you can assign them different functions based on the profile that you’re using. The “Link Program” works properly but this only changes the active profile when you launch a program – switching between Google Chrome with 800DPI setting and Microsoft Word at 1600DPI doesn’t change the active profile either. Having the DPI selector on the bottom of the mouse makes it somewhat useless because in today’s world users expect to be able to change the sensitivity on the fly.
In this case the Sensei RAW, with it’s two-step button on the top or the Orochi, with it’s five-step changes handled by the extra thumb buttons on the opposite side, was a much better solution. You can see the button to configure sensitivity stages for the Death Adder but I was only able to switch between three presets, not four as the Synapse software appeared to offer.
Lighting on the mouse can be changed, but not to any great degree – there’s simply “On” and “Off” for the blue lights inside the scroll wheel and the Razer logo. You can set these to both switch off when your monitor goes to sleep but you can’t change the behaviour of the logo’s LED because it only ever pulses. Perhaps in a future firmware update, Razer may change this. The Key customisation also works, but it’s profile-centric and won’t switch on-the-fly either.
Do note that there’s an option to change a key to control sensitivity stages on the fly! This isn’t offered or noted to owners, you have to dig into the options to find it. You can configure the button to raise or lower the DPI or act as a clutch. In clutch mode, you hold down the button and change the sensitivity using the scroll wheel. That’s a good compromise, but it does mean sacrificing a button’s function that could be used for other things. No button can have more than one function.
There’s also the option to change profiles in the same manner but again, you’re sacrificing a button’s function for this. This becomes more annoying when you realise that creating a new profile starts off with everything at it’s defaults – if you want a key to have a consistent function throughout all your profiles, you’ll have to manually set it in. I never noticed this with the Orochi but it was never a problem to begin with with that mouse.
Boom, boom, tsssshhhhhh! *Schlick!* “Grenade!”
In games, the most obvious change to my mindset was aiming. Because I’d gotten to used to lining up the sights with my right hand it took about two weeks until I could play games without embarrassing myself. During that time, I played through a little bit of Crysis 3 and I got the hand of it pretty quickly. Because it’s a little slower-paced than the previous iterations in the series and more corridored than Crysis’ huge island, I did better than I thought I could.
The Death Adder held up really well and performance and tracking was always smooth. I lamented the lack of a DPI switcher on the mouse to quickly change sensitivity when I was aiming with a sniper rifle, although 1600DPI seemed like a liveable compromise. Although I had configured Synapse to make the thumb buttons change sensitivity up and down, I was still able to give them secondary functions in-game to throw grenades and activate stealth mode.
Turning to Borderlands 2, I had a much harder time getting used to things because the game also uses the mouse to control vehicles. So I began by crashing, a lot, but eventually I got the hand of it. The easily pressed thumb buttons came in handy and I had some progress in training my brain to remember that the button features were swapped over but still had the same function. Occasionally, I would lob a grenade instead of throw out my turret and that didn’t help in some particularly hair-raising situations where I was surrounded by a small Hyperion army and needed the extra firepower.
Once again, a DPI switcher would have been useful here because I prefer clearing half the area using a sniper rifle before swooping in with a SMG and a few grenades to finish off the rest. In both Crysis 3 and Borderlands 2, I had a much easier time with the Sensei RAW because of the variable two-stage sensitivity accessible within milliseconds at the click of a button.
In Portal 2 things went through well enough and my accuracy wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. I’m a slight bit ham-fisted with my grip for the moment and I found myself accidentally clicking the right mouse button many times, messing up my progression through the levels and breaking concentration. I will say though that in my testing, button clicks for the Death Adder didn’t require as much pressure so at the end of a long session my fingers didn’t need much flexing to ease out any aches or pains. The ease at which the mouse glided over my fabric-covered mousepad also helped with resetting the mouse’s position on the pad once I had maxed out the virtual scrolling on the virtual dektop overlay that Source-based games use for cursor tracking.
My main gripe with all three titles and many others that I tested unofficially is that game designers just do not take a moment to tailor solutions for lefties. I took out an hour of my evening on a weekend just figuring out what the most comfortable setting for remapping keys was. Instead of WASD, I settles on IJKL. I had to shuffle around many in-game functions for most of my games to accommodate the left-handed setup. The irony is that when I was done with it and clicked “reset keys to default” in Crysis 3, it went back to a right-handed setup.
If games like Peggle and Audiosurf pay at least some attention to the fact that several thousand truckloads of gamers out there are color-blind (which Destructoid’s Anthony Birch ranted about), why can’t developers set up some easy options for left-handed players to have the game controls swapped to a different default to save time and avoid all that flailing about while you decide, in-game, which key to map the grenades to. Translating the game’s narrative for different languages takes a lot of time and money. Giving lefties and colour-blind folk an option to change things to better suit them could take less than a day.
It really shouldn’t be much of an issue to invite game testers into your studios who are left-handed, colour-blind, deaf or all of the above to make sure that you’re not blindly burning bridges to the rest of your potential target market. Did Microsoft ask people who were one-armed to come into their testing centre, stark naked, to make sure that Kinect doesn’t discriminate against people who don’t have a leg to stand on? (here’s a tip – Kinect won’t work if you have you arm amputated above the elbow. Or if you’re a leg amputee with a shiny prosthesis and you frequently play games in your underwear) They sure as hell didn’t think about right-handed people when aligning the menus that pop up on a right-click in Windows 8 because those then get hidden under your hand on a tablet.
But with that small rant over…
I’ve come to like the Death Adder and as a lefty its really a different, arguably enjoyable experience. I’d need more practice to become more comfortable with it but overall it’s a very good mouse. Tracking is smooth, the Teflon feet really make a big difference on the right mousepad and the matte paint finish feels just like the Sensei RAW and helps to stop accidental slips from sweaty palms. In-game performance and accuracy (once i had conquered my suckitude) was great and the tracking sensors never once failed me.
It disappoints in areas other than performance, however. The glossy plastic on the sides makes the mouse feel like it’s constantly covered in grease and keeping it clean may be a chore if you eat a lot of Simba or Doritos chips and it’ll scratch easily within the first week of ownership, especially if you keep your nails long. Having no easy way to change the sensitivity on the fly is also irksome and may be a deal breaker for many gamers who play first-person shooters or even RTS games, because using a button as a sensitivity clutch, which is the best method, does take up your time.
Although you can have the sensitivity changed for separate applications and games once you launch them via profiles set up in Synapse, switching from the browser to Excel, for example, won’t change the sensitivity on the fly because whichever app was last launched is the one that changes the DPI setting. If you’re not big on multi-tasking, maybe this won’t annoy you as much.
In addition, the Death Adder is old. The original mouse was launched back in 2006. The update with a 3500DPI optical sensor came around in 2009, the left-handed version just a year after that. They fixed my gripe about the glossy sides with the Deather Adder Black, but it’s still only available for right-handed gamers and the overall design still hasn’t changed.
While it may hold its own in today’s world, The Death Adder is a holdover from the past. Its longevity is a testimony to how Razer’s products sometimes outshine themselves and I know many, many people who speak of the Death Adder with reverence. But crucially, they speak about it in the past tense. It’s something they used to own, but wouldn’t buy again because there are better options out there these days. I know Razer fixes most of my gripes in the Ouroboros (now a part of NAG’s Dream Machine), but that’s easily over a grand spent and for some people that’s not an option.
It’s a good mouse for sure, but it’s in need of that something special, especially with a R600-odd price tag. When Razer came out with the Boomslang in 1999 they were way ahead of everyone else in catering to gamers and the Boomslang was in a league of its own. The Death Adder Left-hand edition feels a bit out of place here. Giving it a little more weight, rubberised side grips, dual-functions for the buttons and a DPI switch would go a long way to making it much better overall.