ZOWIE ZA12-C Review
ZOWIE's C line of mice has been received with praise for bringing the ZOWIE design philosophy to the modern age of mice without losing sight of what makes pros and casual gamers alike love their products, but the C releases weren't without their faults.
The release was also hindered by supply chain issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that product stock suffered, and that new iterations haven't always been as readily available as ZOWIE would have wanted them to be. This is also the reason that our ZA12-C review has been delayed.
All that aside: it's finally here! This renewed ZA has a lower weight, comes with a paracord cable, and now has a 24-step scroll wheel as opposed to a 16-step wheel. All of these features should bring it in line with today's market standards for competitive gaming mice, so we've sent one over to our reviewer to find out if the ZA12-C is ready for the year 2022 (and beyond).
Read our full ZOWIE ZA12-C review to find out everything you need to know!
"The shape, to me, is the main selling point of this mouse right now. It's unlike anything else out there with its excellent combination of elements that make a mouse more nimble and 'pen-like' in the hand combined with a filling back hump that's often associated with more stable, comfy mice.Our mouse reviewer
ZOWIE ZA12-C - Initial Thoughts
The ZA line is without a doubt ZOWIE's least popular line of mice. This can not only be seen in our pro lists, but also in the fact that it's usually the last line of mice to receive updates from ZOWIE. As a consequence, it's also a shape that's almost never cloned by other manufacturers, and that could be a plus for ZOWIE. If you want an FK or EC-style shape you've got plenty of options to choose from, ranging from top wireless mice to budget pointers, but no one seems to mind the ZA. To me, that's a mistake, since the ZA is far more than just a humpier FK, but I will speak more about the shape in the next section.
Regarding the mouse itself: there's not much to say. If you've unboxed one black ZOWIE mouse, you've unboxed them all, and I don't mean that as a negative. You know what to expect from ZOWIE: you get a no nonsense product, made for competitive gaming, without any marketing gimmicks or crazy design ideas.
Inside the box you will find the mouse, a warranty card, an instruction manual, and a pair of replacement mouse feet. ZOWIE has always (at least since I started using their mice) included these replacement feet and I love that. Competitive gamers are no doubt going to be more sensitive than casual gamers to how their feet feel, so I always like to see replacement skates included with a mouse that's aimed at competitive gamers.
Size & Dimensions
Shape, Coating, and Mouse Feet
People who have never tried the ZOWIE ZA line might be inclined to think that it's just an FK with a thicker booty, but that isn't the case if you ask me. Some small millimeter changes can make a huge difference in how a mouse feels, and the ZA definitely feels like its very own entity rather than some iteration on another shape.
What you get here is a mouse with a rather pronounced back hump, a thin (when compared to the rest of the mouse) grip width, and buttons that sit extremely close to the surface that you've put your mouse on. This all results in a gripping sensation that's quite unlike any other popular mouse at this moment, and I have to say that I love it. Speaking as someone who likes to have palm support (I use a claw-dominant grip these days, and my hands are 18x10.5 centimeters) but also likes a thin grip portion (or an indent on the left like on ergo designs) and low main buttons rather than raised ones, this is a shape that really speaks to me.
It feels like it marries the more precise control that you get out of small, nimble and neutral mice (due to the thinner grip width and low main buttons) with the more stable feeling of larger, more filling designs (due to the hump at the back) and it all works together fantastically. This mix isn't something that's easy to come by; a lot of mice try to make this aforementioned marriage work, but few actually succeed, and even though shape preference is something that's deeply personal it's hard to argue with the fact that this is yet another great design by ZOWIE. It's of course not a new one, but it is almost criminally underrated if you ask me.
The coating on the ZA12-C is ZOWIE's standard black matte coating, and sadly I'm less positive about this aspect than I am about the shape of the ZA. ZOWIE's coatings have changed a bit over the years, but they all have one thing in common: they're absolute fingerprint magnets, and that's no different now. There were no grip or performance issues at any point for me personally, but I just don't like the feeling of coatings that don't handle sweat and oils properly because I am someone who tends to get sweaty hands when gaming. It's merely a comfort/feeling issue, but I would still love to see ZOWIE take a look at the coating of their mice.
On the bottom of the mouse you'll find two large feet, along with one ring around the sensor. These feet initially felt a little bit scratchy on certain pads (such as the G-SR-SE and the VAXEE PA), though this feeling disappeared after breaking the skates in for a couple of hours. They're not extremely slick feet, which is something that I like, as I prefer a more controlled glide over a super speedy one. It's worth noting that ZOWIE sells speed skates separately if you're after a faster glide, so there's no need to worry if you've got a need for speed. You will have to pay a bit extra though, as ZOWIE doesn't sell their mice with the speed skates on it by default.
Recommended grip types
The ZA line of mice can (depending on the size you buy and your own hand size) work as both a palm and claw grip mouse if you ask me. Due to the hump at the back I wouldn't necessarily recommend it for fingertip grippers as they would theoretically need to look towards flatter, shorter mice.
Note that this section is just a guideline, not gospel. Whether or not a shape works for you comes down to personal preferences.
Buttons and Scroll Wheel
ZOWIE has been using Huano switches for years now, and that hasn't changed with the C line. Both main buttons require around 85 grams of force to press. That is on the heavier side when compared to other gaming mice, and for me that's a positive. I primarily play tactical shooters and I don't like extremely light clicks, so the reassuring feeling of these more robust clicks suits me well as it prevents accidental clicks.
The buttons themselves are nicely implemented. The pre travel is extremely low, and while there is some degree of post travel it didn't bother me personally. Far more important (to me) than pre- and post travel is the side travel, and that's completely absent. No matter how hard you move around after clicking, there's no grinding feeling and the mouse button stays put after clicking. All in all, this is an extremely solid set of main clicks that feels consistent to use at all times. Exactly as it should be.
The side buttons feel a bit mushy upon actuation, but luckily they're implemented nicely. There is not a lot of pre- or post travel, and they're positioned so that it's relatively easy to roll your thumb onto them without altering your grip style too much.
After years of people complaining about the scroll wheel, ZOWIE has listened. Somewhat. The scroll wheel now has 24 steps instead of 16, but it's still extremely loud. To me, they would've been better off making a change in the other direction: make it quieter, but keep the 16 steps so that there's lots of definition and 'wiggle room' between two scrolls. Right now it's kind of nonsensical to me to have a standard 24-step wheel that's this loud. I say this as someone who has a dedicated productivity mouse though, and I know that the 16-step wheel was a pain to use for anything other than gaming, so on the whole this is a step in the right direction. In my opinion, the next step would be to lower the volume and add a bit more snap and definition in between steps, as the current wheel is somewhat lacking in that department.
Build Quality and Cable
I didn't expect anything less of ZOWIE, but the ZA12-C is built like a tank. I didn't detect any noise when tapping and shaking the mouse, and squeezing it doesn't reveal any flexing issues. I should say that it's technically possible to actuate the Mouse 4 button by applying a ton of pressure on the side of the mouse, but there is absolutely no way that anyone uses a mouse with a grip that tight, so that's a non-issue for me. Do look out for this when you're buying your own mouse, though: it might be more pronounced on other copies.
Another major change that ZOWIE has made to the C series of mice is in the cable department. Gone is the stiffer rubber cable, in is a flexible paracord-style cable, and I don't have anything bad to say about this one. The stress relief portion helps lift it off the pad, and once I stuck it in a bungee I had no performance issues with the cable at all.
I personally prefer wireless mice over wired ones these days since there are so many fantastic wireless options out there at this point in time, but if a cable is implemented in this way I don't have any issues using a wired device for gaming if I have a mouse bungee and there are no wireless alternatives out there.
Sensor and Everyday Performance
The ZA12-C houses the now slightly older 3360 sensor. That's part of ZOWIE's 'don't change what works' design philosophy, and since the 3360 is a flawless sensor I don't have any complaints here. Sure, they could put a newer sensor in there, but the vast majority of gamers won't notice the difference between a 3360 and something newer in actual gaming scenarios, so there's an argument to be made for simply sticking to the 3360.
I also see the other side of the argument, though: ZOWIE mice definitely aren't in the budget tier, and for that kind of money you might expect there to be more cutting edge tech on the inside. For what it's worth: the 3360 inside the ZA12-C works flawlessly. I found no evidence of sensor malfunction during my testing.
As with all ZOWIE mice, the ZA12-C has no driver software. If you're someone like me, that's a blessing. The only thing I do to configure my gaming mice is set the DPI to 1600, and maybe tweak the LOD or button response time a bit, and then I never touch the configuration software or modes again. Changing the click response, DPI, polling rate, and LOD (this now works; early C versions had issues with this) can all be done via a combination of buttons. It's needless to say that you might want to skip this one if you're a heavy macro user or if you play at an odd DPI level, but if that's not you then you've got all the configuration options you might want right there on the mouse itself.
ZOWIE ZA12-C Alternatives
As mentioned earlier on in the review, the ZA is a shape that's not often cloned. I didn't really find any 1:1 alternatives, but you can get a similar-ish feeling from the Xtrfy M42 (Wireless), albeit in a smaller package.
The Endgame Gear XM1 also gets mentioned as an alternative sometimes, but the back portion of that mouse is much wider in comparison to the ZA's, and the hump on the XM1 also doesn't feel as pronounced.
The Cooler Master MM710 can also be considered as an alternative, though I don't have any personal experience with that one.
Conclusion & Recommendation
The ZOWIE ZA12-C is a mouse that lives up to the standards of modern (wired) gaming mice, but it doesn't really do a whole lot more than that. Everything is executed well, and there are no glaring issues to be found, so if you like this shape you should definitely take a look at this one.
If you're only looking at specs, there are objectively better mice to be found at this price point, but you'll be hard-pressed to find an alternative with this exact shape. And that shape, to me, is the main selling point of this mouse right now. It's unlike anything else out there with its excellent combination of elements that make a mouse more nimble and 'pen-like' in the hand combined with a filling back hump that's often associated with more stable, comfy mice.
The ZA12-C isn't the most innovating or exciting mouse out there, but if you're looking for a no-nonsense wired gaming mouse with the aforementioned shape that you will be able to rely on for years to come then you've got to take a look at the ZA12-C, or the ZA-C line in general.