I’ve gone through quite a number of input devices over the years. At present, I use about 6 regularly. I’m more or less a Logitech fanboy, but that sort of loyalty tends to drift for me; at one point, I had more Microsoft input devices than a Kinect convention. I’ll stick with a brand while I’m happy with their gear, but it doesn’t take much to drive me away forever. (Or, in summary, a certain full force-feedback joystick should have received driver support in a certain NT-kernel update to a popular operating system…)
I have a Logitech diNovo Bluetooth Media Desktop that, frankly, I despise. Sadly, it’s been totally reliable for a number of years, and was expensive enough that I’ll probably never justify replacing it. The mouse is pretty OK — it has the now-required “browse forward / browse back” buttons and meets my “has a charging stand” minimum requirement for a wireless mouse. The separate wireless numpad is a mixed blessing — it’s nice to be able to stash it when desk space is at a premium, and it functions as a standalone calculator. But it devours batteries voraciously, and it isn’t ACTUALLY a numpad, meaning you cant use Alt + Numpad to enter extended ASCII. Finally, there’s the keyboard itself. While it has beautiful lines, the spacebar just hates me. It always has. I swear I press it, but it just doesn’t register quite as reliably as I wish. That said, I used this set primarily for years, like that car that doesn’t run quite right but just won’t die. Nowadays, it’s relegated to the secondary computer, the Mac Mini.
I have an actual joystick… in this case, an older-but-aging-well Logitech Freedom 2.4 cordless. I don’t have a ton to say, other than that I require a Z-axis, throttle, and hat for space flight sims, and this joystick has been great for years. At this point, I actually do NOT have a gamepad, because I play console games… well, on my consoles. Also, somebody ought to write a new awesome space flight sim soon, because that genre has been sadly quiet ever since Freespace 2 or so in 1999. (If memory serves, I purchased this particular joystick primarily for Star Wars Galaxies: Jump to Lightspeed. And I still preferred it to using the mouse there…)
I have a Wacom Graphire tablet. Despite what the box promised, I am still unable to draw, even with this device. However, I will never look at photo retouching the same way. If you’ve never tried using a tablet, there’s a bit of adaptation while you get used to the slight disconnect between onscreen and where your pen is on-tablet, but the incredible grace pressure sensitivity adds to even mundane dodge-and-burn or retouch-and-erase just can’t be overstated. The Graphire was a nice balanced entry model, with reasonable quality and featureset but low cost, though it’s a bit older now and there are new models to try out.
The unexpected gem of my collection is my ShuttlePro v2. I bought it for the shuttle and jog wheels; if you do audio or video work, even a few minutes with this kind of device will leave you an absolute convert. I wanted a full-on control surface, but those ranged from $200 for a Fisher-Price feeling el-cheapo model to well into the thousands. The ShuttlePro retails around $110 and can often be found for far less. In addition to jog and shuttle, it has another 15 buttons. Every single “control event” – jog up, shuttle down, each button, and more, can be set to anything from a keypress to a full timed macro of mouse and key events. The “surprise, this device is pretty amazing” feature that catapulted this to the top of my toys list, however, was completely unexpected: the driver software detects your foreground application, and quietly swaps out control sets as you switch — I used this device as heavily in Visual Studio as in Cakewalk. While I’m on the topic of audio input devices, I broke with my old PC designs when assembling my current high-performance rig. Rather than investing in a high-end sound card, I stuck with the onboard audio and spent the money on a decent input device. I settled on the M-Audio Fast Track Pro; the combo XLR-1/4″ inputs with available phantom power accomodate my microphone, guitar, and keyboard easily, and it features MIDI as well if I decide to work with synth. For a low-price input device, it’s performed quite admirably. (And my onboard sound has kept up just fine with even a relatively high number of higher-end software synthesizers.)
For quite a while, I borrowed my wife’s Logitech G7 mouse. The performance was excellent — I preferred the feel and touch to my diNovo quite handily. It also had a feature I found extremely clever; this mouse features TWO replaceable battery cartridges. One sits in a PC-attached charging station while the other is in use, allowing quite an extended romp of gameplay time. However, I found that even the dual batteries couldn’t quite keep up with those truly intense MMORPG sessions ranging into the many-hours-long range. Still, I was overall quite pleased with this mouse. I only returned it because I finally bought my own replacement… the Logitech G700, which the astute among you will note that I am now officially ONE HUNDRED TIMES more badass than my wife in the mouse department. Thise mouse feels a great deal better, with some extra texturing on the sides that makes it extremely comfortable. The number of buttons is approaching ridiculous, with 11 if I counted correctly. In fact, several of them do… well, I’m still not sure after several days of use, though the manual I have yet to read implied that macros could be generated and stored directly on the mouse. DPI sensitivity can be adjusted on-the-fly, making it versatile for quick flailing in an FPS or detailed work in an IDE or other design program. The scroll wheel spins freely and yet has a remarkable weight and momentum when spun quickly. But my favorite feature of all is yet another update to rechargeability: the mouse can be charged via a Micro-USB connection, which can also be used to operate the mouse in a wired mode during those electrical power crises. Top marks to this mouse for general and gaming use.
Finally, I have one input device that I’ll openly admit is frivolous. When building my current Super Gaming Rig, I somehow convinced myself that a Logitech G19 keyboard would be a fun addition. Let’s talk about the features I don’t really use. It has 10 fully-macroable spare function keys, and allows 3 presets (so you have rapid access to a total of 30 macros). The keyboard is powered and fully backlit, with completely customizable LED color. (OK, I exaggerate — I DID, in fact, customize the color to more or less match the green accents on my tower.) There’s media and volume controls, of which I mostly only tap the mute button on rare occasions. The keys are full-size and have a fantastically solid feel for typing. There are two powered USB ports on the keyboard, which is sure convenient with all of these other USB input devices, wireless receivers, dongles, and whatnot to deal with. And the elephant in the room is the G19’s color LCD screen. I’d say I don’t use that either, but this isn’t entirely true — I display a clock on it quite often when gaming, especially in single-player games. Even better, it has relatively deep integration with some games (such as World of Warcraft) and keeps me posted on remaining inventory space, incoming tells and auction sales, and summary screens of my relevant character stats. Let’s get this straight. Nobody, and I mean nobody, needs a G19. But it’s certainly a pleasant high-end keyboard, even if not a deeply single-game integrated video keyboard touchpad monstrosity (and it’s cheaper than THAT monstrosity, at the least.)