Different Types of Computer Mouses

While tablets and phones use touch screens and laptops use track pads, the mouse is the standard method of pointing, dragging and selecting for desktop computing. Mice come in several varieties, some better suited to specific tasks than others. Understanding the different features of each type of mouse can help you determine which one is best for your needs.

Female hand holding computer mouse
Ergonomic mice are designed to be comfortable during prolonged use.
credit: a-wrangler/iStock/Getty Images

Standard Mice

Standard mice feature two buttons and usually have a scroll wheel that also functions as a third button. As standard mice are the most basic type, they're generally affordable and come in a variety of designs, including ones intended to provide ergonomic support. Optical mice use either an LED or laser sensor to detect the mouse pad or surface, and thereby track movement. Older mice used a rubber ball and sensors to determine which direction the mouse moved, but today optical mice are the most common type.

Trackball Mice

Trackball mice are similar to the older ball-driven mice in that they don't use optical sensors to determine position and can feature at least two buttons. The similarities end there, however, as trackball mice take the roller-ball concept and flip it upside down: The mouse itself remains stationary while you roll the ball to move the cursor. Trackball mice don't require a lot of space and don't have issues with a constantly moving cord, making them a good choice for desks with limited space.

Gaming Mice

Gaming mice differ from standard mice in that they generally feature numerous extra buttons. How many buttons and where they're located vary from one brand and model to the next. The most basic gaming mice feature two additional buttons positioned on the left side of the mouse where they can easily be accessed with your thumb. Some mice are designed for use with specific games or kinds of games, with dedicated buttons for certain tasks. The extra buttons can be useful for non-gaming tasks in some programs, but generally they are best suited for gaming and little else.

Wireless vs. Wired

Mice are either wired and wireless. Wired mice usually connect to your computer with a USB cable and draw their power from the computer itself. Wireless mice require batteries and use infrared or Bluetooth radio technology to connect to the computer. Infrared mice come with a dongle that must be connected to the computer to send and receive signal input. Bluetooth mice pair with your computer's Bluetooth receiver to transmit data between mouse and computer. Wireless mice have a greater range and no cords to tangle, but wired mice have less input lag.