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Zalman ZM-M600R, Hands On: A True Budget Mouse With Minimal Compromise

There’s something of a competition in the mouse market wherein companies are trying to offer simpler, “budget” mice without coughing up too many compromises. Several mice have landed in the “simple and budget-friendly” segment recently, but typically at a $50-or-so price. Zalman is looking to undercut the crowd with the $30 ZM-M600R.

Winning By Losing

Many of the accoutrements of these mice are similar, and you can categorize them almost by what they omit rather than what they include. Typically, they come without configuration software, and they do away with complex lighting options. Sometimes there are no left-side navigation buttons. And often, they’re small and light (although there are exceptions, such as the bulky Cougar 250M).  

The ZM-M600R ticks some of those boxes, and in that sense, it’s a lower-priced competitor to the likes of the Nixeus Revel and Dream Machines DM1 Pro S. However, the Zalman offering has a less impressive sensor; although it’s still optical, the ZM-M600R sports a 4,000DPI 3090 sensor, whereas both the Revel and DM1 Pro S rock a 12,000DPI PixArt 3360 optical sensor.

For many users, that presents no issue. High DPI is often used as a marketing foil more than anything (although there is a place for it), and 4,000DPI is more than enough for a large swath of users.

On the upside, the ZM-M600R does support Zalman's Z-Machine software, and it has some lighting features, as well. This ambidextrous mouse does, however, have some odd design elements.

Zalman ZM-M600R
SensorPixArt/Avago 3090
DPI600/1,000/1,600/4,000
Polling Rate125/500/1,000 Hz Manual selection (or Auto select)
Acceleration20g
MCU32-bit
AmbidextrousYes
SwitchesOmron, 20 million clicks
Lighting-Backlit click wheel and palm rest logo-”RGB” auto color cycling on palm rest logo-Click wheel color changes based on DPI setting (yellow, blue, red, purple)
Buttons4 physical: L/R click, DPI button, click wheel
SoftwareZalman Z-Machines
OS Support"Windows and Mac"
Cable1.8m, braided
Misc.-Button on top doubles as back button for web browsing-Custom firmware
Size63 x 115 x 24mm (WxDxH)
Weight90g (including cable)
Price$29.99
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Design

The ZM-M600R is among the smallest and lightest gaming mice you’ll find. It measures just 63 x 115 x 24mm (WxDxH) and weighs 90g--with the cable. (Usually, mouse weights are listed without the cable, and even then, 90g is a fairly light mouse.)

Bearing in mind the total subjectivity of peripherals preferences from person to person, the lightness is an asset for Zalman’s diminutive mouse in that it’s something that helps it stand out. Some people crave a tiny, light mouse, but even then, the weight distribution must be just so. Light mice tend to become ironically tiresome to use if the balance is off, because your hand, wrist, and forearm may have to overcompensate for the lack of resistance.

I found that the ZM-M600R’s weight was evenly balanced front to back, so the nose and palm rest feel about the same. This is a bit of a compromise--some people may prefer a heavier nose or a weightier palm--but the compromise should make it so that the ZM-M600R has broader appeal. Indeed, I felt comfortable using palm, fingertip, and claw grips with this mouse, and I never experienced any fatigue issues.

For as light as the ZM-M600R is, the clickwheel requires a bit more force than I expected and has relatively heavy tactile feedback. This may feel at odds with the otherwise smoothness of the mouse; I found myself lightly holding the ZM-M600R and feeling inconvenienced when I had to grip a bit harder to use the scroll.

When A DPI Button Is Not A DPI Button

A somewhat odd design choice that, to be honest, I still haven’t made up my mind about is the "Z" button on top of the mouse. You would assume that this button is a DPI switcher, but you would be wrong.

In the absence of left-side navigation buttons, Zalman didn’t want to lose navigation capabilities entirely, so it imbued that top-side button with the ability to go back (on a webpage, for example). It’s certainly not as easy and intuitive to click this button as it is to hit forward/back buttons on the left side of the mouse, but--I believe because of how small the ZM-M600R is--I found that I could click it easily and fluidly as I browsed the web. (However, more than once I clicked the back button thinking I was adjusting my DPI. It’s hard to unlearn things sometimes.)

This is Zalman’s capitulation to ambidexterity. If you make an ambidextrous mouse, which the ZM-M600R is, you have a couple of tough choices to make in regard to the forward/back buttons: You can make the mouse with four buttons (two per side), or none. We’ve seen clever workarounds to this issue before, such as Cougar’s brilliant idea of putting one button one either side of the 250M, thus requiring righties to use their ring finger for one of the navigation buttons but ensuring that southpaws could use the thing, too.

Some mice that ship without software will have a few preconfigured DPI settings, and you can use topside DPI switchers to toggle through them. On mice that ship with software and DPI buttons, you can configure the DPI levels in the software and use the buttons to toggle through the stages you set. Other non-software-equipped mice sometimes offer a DPI switch located on the underside of the mouse. This is obviously prohibits on-the-fly DPI adjustment, but at least you have options.

Curiously, Zalman took both approaches. You can configure four DPI stages via the Z-Machine software, but there's a physical DPI switch on the underside of the mouse. However, the idea here is that although the ZM-M600R can use the software, it doesn't need to. It's a plug-and-play device. There's a wrinkle, though. So you have four preset DPI stages that you can set using the underside DPI switcher. That's all well and good, but the switch is stamped, in plastic, with 600, 1,000, 1,600, and 4,000DPI. If you adjust the settings at all via the Z-Machine software, then, those indicators become inaccurate. 

Zalman's logic here is that it expects the majority of users to ignore the software altogether and just rely on the switches, and for those users who are more keen to set custom DPI settings, they'll figure it out and remember which setting goes with which stage. This seems problematic.

Lighting, Etc.

With mice like the ZM-M600R, which are supposed to be really-good-but-without-all-the-bells-and-whistles, it can be hard to see the parts they scale back to keep the cost low (which is a good thing). Other times, the cutbacks are staring you in the face. In the case of this mouse, it’s the lighting.

As we saw with the G.Skill Ripjaws MX780, the ZM-M600R’s LEDs appear somewhat dim, and although the palm rest is supposed to cycle through an RGB color wheel, I sincerely doubt that the LED controller is capable of such a feat. It certainly fails the eyeball test.

Then there’s the curious issue of why Zalman set the palm rest lighting to cycle through colors. It’s true that some users won’t buy a mouse with a single-color LED if that color clashes with the rest of their PC and peripherals setup, so there’s wisdom to offering multiple colors. However, although it’s a neat trick that the click wheel lights up in a different color depending on the DPI you’ve selected (a clever DPI indicator), the backlight of the clickwheel therefore always clashes with the changing light of the palm rest. Well, except for the instant when the color cycling happens to land on the same color as the click wheel. (It’s the “a broken clock is right twice a day” effect.)

It would have been smarter for Zalman to lock both lighting zones to one another. That way, at 600DPI, both zones would be yellow. At 1,000DPI, both would be blue. And so on.

Software

The Z-Machine software that supports the ZM-M600R is less full-featured than some other peripheral software applications out there in that you can't program buttons or create macros, and it does not appear that you can save multiple profiles. However, there are numerous other settings and features you can fiddle with.

You can leave the lift-off distance at Low, or turn LOD off completely, and you can turn angle snapping on or off. You get fairly granular control over the DPI settings. As mentioned, there are four stages, and you can adjust the DPI for each, in increments of 20. There's a handy little indicator that says which of the four stages is currently active, too. The range is 100-4,000DPI.

It also looks like you can adjust the polling rate (Auto, 125Hz, 500Hz, 1,000Hz), but if you click those items, nothing happens. It's set to Auto by default. (You can select a polling rate using the physical switch on the bottom of the mouse, though.)

In the Advanced area, you can change the speed of the double click, scroll, and click response, and you can adjust the sensitivity, too. 

There are two independent lighting zones--the click wheel and the palm rest--and in the Colors section, you can punch in specific RGB colors for both. There are 18 preset colors for the click wheel and 26 for the palm rest. For the palm rest, you can choose from Variation (where the colors cycle through), on, or off. You can switch off the clickwheel light if you like, too, and here you can set the light for each of the four DPI stages.

From the Update tab, you can manually or automatically update the ZM-M600R's firmware. The ZM-M600R has received a firmware update since it started shipping, and you'll need that update to enjoy full Z-Machine software support. The company recommends that you manually download the firmware from here.

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Thirty Bucks? Worth It

Quirky design choices notwithstanding, Zalman is delivering a product for a lower price than one would expect, given the features. The ZM-M600R is a small and light mouse, and it's ambidextrous, with a pair of lighting zones and software support. The mix of onboard and software configuration options is odd, but if you wrap your head around it, you'll find that the combination works well enough. I found no tracking issues in my time with the mouse. 

There are better "budget" mice out there, but it's hard to beat the ZM-M600R at just $30. (It's currently available on Amazon for just $25.)

Zalman ZM-M600RView Deal