Mad Catz Cyborg Rat 9 unboxing and hands-onSee all photos
In case we hadn't already established that it's a looker, let's say it once and for all right now: the Rat 9 is one sexy mouse. Dressed completely in deathly black with sharp angles and rakish curves throughout, it evokes a Skunk Works stealth plane but with metallic components jutting out -- he better to show you precisely where you can tinker with the mouse. Out of the box, it's a modest, narrow peripheral suited for small hands or a fingertip grip style, but you can transform it into a wide, elongated device in under a minute flat -- just unscrew the integrated hex key at the back of the unit and you can adjust the thumb rest's angle and length; replace the pinky rest or palm rest with two alternatives (each); and / or extend the palm wrist with the push of a button to support larger hands. Since the thumb and palm grips do interlock to some degree, not all combinations work as you might expect, but we quickly found a style we liked and only our curiosity and some rough edges (more on that later) kept us fiddling with the settings. Though the Rat 9's metal frame and newly-added lithium-ion battery packs make the mouse fairly hefty to begin with, there's also an weight cartridge on the underside of the mouse, and while it's not as accessible as some of its contemporaries (you have to unscrew the hex key and a retaining nut) you can easily add 42 grams to the device in 6-gram increments.
As far as comfort is concerned, chew on this -- out of the box, the Rat 9's completely coated in soft-touch plastic, and if you don't like that, you can swap for a pair of textured rubber palm and pinky grips instead. There's also a taller soft-touch palm grip for claw-style gamers to better align their wrists. All of this makes for some fairly comfortable mousing options, but as with most one-size-fit-all products (also see: baseball caps) you may not find an exact match. We tend to grip mice between the base of our thumb and pinky, but the Rat 9 isn't well designed for that -- we ended up pinching our skin in one of the mouse's seams where no amount of soft-touch plastic could save us from chafing on those delightfully rakish edges, something that could perhaps have been avoided with a little rubber instead.
We alluded to it somewhat at the beginning of this review, but the Rat 9's not like any other wireless mouse we've seen. It doesn't use a USB dongle and standard batteries, nor a removable play-and-charge cord. Instead, you socket one of two hot-swappable lithium-ion battery cartridges into the back of the mouse, and put the second in a charging station that doubles as the 2.4GHz wireless transmitter and holds additional weights for the Rat as well. This means you're always relying on wireless connectivity (more on that in a sec) but also that you've always got a battery ready to go, and it's admittedly pretty neat to rip out that battery (like a clip from a gun) and slide a fresh one in. Sadly, there's no gun-like eject lever for the lithium-ion cell, as it's fairly hard to grip; we often found ourselves having to remove the palm rest in order to get a better purchase on the little cartridge when it was time to switch.
Of course, what you really want to know is if the Rat 9 has what it takes to be a wireless gaming mouse, and if Mad Catz's claims of a 0.01ms latency really hold up. We don't have the answer to the latter question, but we did have a wired Rat 7 on hand for a side-by-side test, and on the same surface with the same DPI settings we honestly couldn't tell the difference. The Rat 9 does turn itself off after several minutes, but it just takes a click to wake up, and it's instantly ready to start taking potshots without you ever needing to press the physical on/off switch on the bottom. Speaking of that switch, we haven't turned the mouse off more than once in our entire week of testing, but had impressive battery life nonetheless -- we found we were usually able to get through a full day of work, leave the mouse on and not have to swap cartridges until partway through the next day, though it did die once after a solid eight-hour session. Even then, our freshly charged battery pack was only a fifteen-second swap away, and flashing indicators on the side of the mouse always told us well before an existing cell ran out.
Last but most assuredly not least, there's the sniper button, our favorite feature by far, which simply cuts the mouse's sensitivity to a level you customize while you hold the button down, and then instantly raises it back up when you let go. We don't know where this has been all our lives, and we don't know how we'll do without it from now on, as it's equally useful for lining up headshots and getting detailed work done. Now, rather than change our overall DPI to sweep across our wide desktop to a tiny button in our web browser and then have to adjust our wrist's velocity considerably to actually click on a link, we just squeeze that button before we need to make a selection and the mouse speed appropriately slows down.