Razer Naga Hex Mouse - Review
I am constantly astounded that the market for gaming peripherals is not larger. In a world where even the most novice golfer will spend hundreds of pounds on clubs, it seems an anomaly that the average video game player rarely invests any money on their gear over what is supplied with the machine or they find lying around. Considering that better peripherals (such as gamepads, keyboards and, specifically for this article, mice) will improve performance dramatically and thus potentially increase enjoyment it seems a no-brainer to invest in something half decent.
Razer have been driving the peripherals market for over a decade and have, in the last five years, risen to become the number one supplier aimed specifically at the hardcore PC gaming market, used and recommended by many of the professionals on the circuit. Though perhaps not as cheap as other brands, their devices are known for reliability, accuracy and (although it has not always been the case) quality.
The mouse we have in front of us, gleaming with its ultra shiny coating, is the Razer Naga Hex in red (it is also available in green). This is an offshoot of the original Naga designed specifically for the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games such as Defence Of The Ancients and League Of Legends) crowd and the main unique selling points are the six (as opposed to the Naga’s twelve) extra buttons presented in a circle around the thumb resting position. These buttons allow the thumb, usually left to be fairly lazy, to perform tasks and increase efficiency. More on this crucial function later though.
Razer are clearly trying to impress from the start with a smartly designed box featuring a neat, if rather irrelevant, fold out section containing details of the mouse. The chunky glossy finish to the packaging is asking to be kept and is easily opened without destruction to allow for easy transport and even second-hand sales, a surprisingly important component in the constantly evolving hardcore peripherals market.
It is obviously what is inside the box that counts though. First impressions of the mouse are good. The neat curves flow across the body in one single piece, that sees the standard left and right buttons merge into the rest of the mouse without a jarring line. It is all perhaps insignificant aesthetics, having no effect on performance, yet the high-end sports car look definitely inspires a sense of quality. Arguably however the over-the-top shine of the device adds some sense of tackiness and would feel more professional with a duller tone. Aside from the two standard buttons and a scroll wheel, there are also two extra buttons sat just below the wheel and of course the all-important six buttons, presented in a circle configuration, located on the left hand side.
One very important point to note is the lead. While some recent Razer devices (such as the Mamba) have been shipping with USB and wireless interface, the Naga Hex is USB only, perhaps to keep the cost down Many gamers prefer the reliability of the a wired connection so this may not be an issue to many. In the past Razer devices have been criticised for a low quality plastic wire coating that would short or fray after heavy use (indeed my previous mouse, a rather ancient Razer Deathadder, fell foul to this problem), but fortunately the Naga Hex is fitted with a very handsome 2.1m fabric covered lead with a gold plated connection that should greatly improve longevity and reliability. After some extensive testing we noticed no damage to the cord and it seems much more unlikely to ever become a problem compared to the older plastic wired models.
The mouse feels particularly comfortable in the hand, the shape clearly ergonomically designed to fit neatly into the average paw. The main left and right buttons are particularly enjoyable and lightweight to press which is an added boon for anyone that suffers from symptoms of repetitive strain through overuse. At the same time they still have that necessary clicking feedback that ensures the user knows a button has been pressed, an issue that can sometimes raise its head on mice with a single pieced body.
However, there is one problem here that certainly presents itself during heavy and sweaty gaming moments: the surface being particularly shiny lacks any form of grip and the hand has a slight tendency to shift and slide sometimes changing the position of the hand unintentionally. It is not a huge issue and never something that became irritable, but it seems strange that Razer have not added any grippable areas to hold the hand steady. That being said the owner could easily add some gripping tape if it really became an issue. It is perhaps important to point out here that this mouse is designed for the right hand only. The shape will not sit correctly when used with the left hand and obviously the six extra buttons will not be under the thumb. Sadly left handed users will need to look elsewhere (the Razer Deathadder or the new Taipan are both ambidextrous but do not have the extra buttons).
The thumb rests idly on a small spongy plastic lump in the center of the six extra buttons on the left hand side of the mouse. This lump comes with several varying sized replacements which can be inserted to suit different thumb sizes and hand positions. In theory this ensures that the thumb is kept in a comfortable resting position and does not touch any of the surrounding buttons. We found however that no matter how we adjusted the rest, the thumb still sat awkwardly and bent in an unfamiliar manner which caused cramp particularly during early use. This certainly improved over time and eventually became a non-issue, but perhaps there is a fault with having the entire thumb surrounded with buttons meaning it cannot rest flat against the mouse side. Having buttons only in front of the mouse would help this issue, however this would mean fewer buttons overall, which would diminish its main feature.
We have come this far and have yet to even plug the mouse in! Inserting the lead into a spare USB port, the device works almost instantly on Windows 7 (and above) machines, the drivers being downloaded via Windows update. Windows XP as well as Apple Mac OSX drivers are available online and are fully supported. Linux users may however be out of luck as Razer does not seem to support the operating system, however some clever chap has already managed to convert the drivers across.
Although the mouse works straight out of the box to use the very important extra features users must download the Synapse 2.0 software from the Razer support website (no software is included within the package). This fairly lightweight file (11Mb at present) unlocks the full potential of the device and is a must have for most Razer products. Once installed and registered the software sits running away in the background (using a fairly undemanding 20Mb of memory) searching for Razer connected devices. One neat little feature of this software is that Razer stores your settings on the cloud through your account and can therefore be accessed on any machine with the software installed.
Opening up the software allows you to change virtually everything about the mouse, including not just sensitivity, acceleration and polling rate (how often the device sends information to the computer) but also the ability to change the action of every button (excluding the main left button) so the player can assign them to any keyboard press to suit their needs. These can then be saved in profiles which can be switched to suit different games and, very usefully, can even be set to load automatically when a program is run. This means that players can have one setup for DOTA and another for Call Of Duty and the software will swap effortlessly between them simply when the game is run. It is important to note that the switch on the underside of the mouse needs to be set to the numpad setting to allow this, otherwise the six extra buttons will only ever respond with numbers 1-6, something that does not seem to be clearly explained in the instructions.
Advanced users can go even further with their tinkering using options to turn off the rather garish lights on the mouse or even create timed macros which can be assigned to any button press. These macros are particularly useful, if not wandering into dubious moral territory, in MOBA gaming. For example (if you are familiar with the Valve MOBA game DOTA2) you could create a macro which would combine the complex keystrokes, with appropriate delays and pauses, required to cast spells when playing the notoriously difficult Invoker character into a single button press, dramatically simplifying the process and just asking for your opposition to brand you a cheater.
While the software looks slick and is very intuitive to use, requiring little to no explanation, it does have its fair share of issues. Firstly it seems rather poorly developed, taking a significant amount of time to open and worse we experienced a couple of crashes requiring a restart of the software. These crashes fortunately never happened within a game, but it is worrying to think that your carefully planned setup could disappear at a desperate moment if the software died. Also, while you can assign many functions to the buttons - from keyboard strokes to changing sensitivity - it would have been convenient if you were able to assign Windows tasks such as changing volume or loading programs. In theory this could be fixed with creating complex shortcuts within Windows, but a simpler solution would have been welcome.
Perhaps all we really care about however is how it performs in-game. Firstly booting up one of the games it was specifically designed for: Defence Of The Ancients 2. We certainly found accuracy, particularly clicking on the desired target, considerably improved, something that is particularly difficult using a more basic mouse. Admittedly it did take some time to get used to the change in sensitivity and acceleration (all things that can be altered anyway), however once reactions had adjusted this part of the game stopped being an issue.
What we are most interested in however is the efficacy of the six extra buttons resting under the thumb. To understand the necessity of these buttons requires some knowledge of the game, so here is a brief summary for the uninitiated. Most heroes, whom the player controls, can have four skills (or three and a passive ability) which are usually assigned to key presses. Furthermore there are six inventory slots each potentially requiring a key slot assigned for their use. Then some players prefer a button to open the shop interface, micro-manage allies or even zoom to certain points on the map. In the end virtually every button on the keyboard can be assigned to perform a useful task... and clearly no-one has that many fingers.
Our previous solution to this problem was to use Alt-key presses to change the function of the buttons under the hand. This meant we could use skills and inventory without having to move the hand at all which could potentially be disastrous at crucial points in the game. Unfortunately this solution has the downside of not allowing both a skill and an inventory to be pressed at the same time, which sometimes in the heat of the moment is vital and can turn a game around. This is the very problem that the Naga Hex is designed to solve. The obvious solution, given that there are six buttons, is to assign them to inventory slots. Setup is simply a case of assigning an unused key to one of the buttons and then using the in-game settings to allocate that key to the correct action.
At first using these buttons was disastrous. Using the right hand thumb to press buttons in very close proximity seems complicated and rather unnatural. There are several issues here, firstly because the buttons are so close to each other and the thumb is not in direct line of sight to the screen (as keys usually are) it is hard to distinguish between them. This resulted in many undesired double presses and wasting of items. Early on the only solution we found was to take our eyes off the screen and check which button the thumb was positioned over, clearly unacceptable in intense moments of action. Another problem is that the buttons behind the thumb, towards the back of the mouse, are harder to reach and require a more inconvenient thumb movement than those in front meaning it is preferable to set these for less used actions since the reaction time is far slower.
As with all things in life however, practise makes perfect, and, just like learning to play an instrument, time and use alleviated this problem until we were usually rocking the thumb back and forth to press the correct buttons without issue. However the problem with the back buttons (specifically those labelled as 5 and 6) did not improve as drastically. One final concern with all six buttons is that they are surprisingly easy to hit accidentally, particularly during moments of relaxation where the thumb slips back to a more comfortable position. This can result in undesired use and embarrassment as your hero uses an important item at a completely useless point in time.
The two extra buttons on top of the mouse, located just below the scroll wheel, we found to be extraneous. They simply cannot be used at intense points during gaming as their use renders either the essential left or right mouse buttons impotent, since either the index or middle finger must be used to activate them. We generally set them to less essential functions such as opening the shop window and selecting the courier which tend to be used less in the heat of battle. It is neat to have them, but certainly no game changer.
Even the most dedicated MOBA player will at times move on to less familiar turf, so we play tested the Naga Hex with the remake of the classic FPS Painkiller H&D, a game known for its intense speed and crazy Quake-like instant reaction requirements and used in many competitive tournaments worldwide. Perhaps the perfect game to put a mouse through its paces. Again, instantly we saw improvement in performance compared to a low-end mouse.
The infamously difficult to hit stakelauncher, which fires a single precise bolt, suddenly started to hit targets and gruesomely skewering enemies to walls. The mouse was a joy to use and we found ourselves actually contending in matches rather than languishing at the bottom. As mentioned at the start of this article, a good accurate mouse is the key to winning games.
Sadly we could find no real use for the extra buttons. The most obvious solution is assign them to certain weapons, but since there are more than six weapons in the game (and in most old-school FPSs) this option does not lend itself perfectly. Setting them to your favourite selection does slightly improve the situation, yet you will still be reaching for the number keys at certain points.
This is certainly an issue that raised its head throughout the testing period with the Naga Hex. The six extra under thumb buttons are an interesting feature, yet beyond the MOBA scene (or perhaps ARPGs / MMORPGs) for which it is designed there rarely are cases that you need to use them. At times you may find assigning a couple to in-game shortcuts particularly useful, however rarely will you find them improving your game performance beyond the standard setup.
As mentioned previously, general operating system use is perfectly fine but thwarted by the Synapse 2.0 software. Ideally the buttons on the mouse could be set up for all sorts of interesting application tasks, from opening up your favourite webpage to changing volume. In theory it is all possible but the effort one would have to go through in setting up shortcuts seems almost to negate the slight improvement.
Overall, the Razer Naga Hex is a lovely mouse to use in terms of design and accuracy yet at the same time we wonder whether the extra buttons really provide much benefit. Even in the very specific area for which it is designed (the MOBA community) we still struggled to see much of an improvement compared to the original playing style. Admittedly this would be something that would improve with time, yet the user really needs to be dedicated to practising with it to see it reach its full potential. This means, at the £70 price point the mouse is retailing at, we can really only recommend this mouse to the most dedicated MOBA fan, and even here one that is committed to practising, otherwise a less directed high-end gaming mouse would be preferable.
We believe a better MOBA setup would be to use a more sensible mouse and invest in a gaming orientated keyboard or even a separate keypad such as Razer’s own Orbweaver, which places many buttons neatly under the left hand. In the end one has to ask, if you have a keyboard in front of you, why bother using the barely more accessible buttons on the mouse? That being said, if you are still languishing with a mouse that came bundled with your computer, or, god forbid, a touch pad, then we implore you to head to the land of shopping and purchase a gaming mouse with the necessary sensitivity and acceleration now.