Zowie ZA13-B Review
When you say 'Zowie' most people tend to think about the EC and FK series when it comes to mice. The ZA series is one of the OG Zowie mice but it, perhaps oddly, gets forgotten from time to time, even by Zowie themselves. The ZA series is the last one to get an update so we thought it was high time to take a look at this underrated mouse.
Sticking with their ideals (plug and play, no gimmicks, reliable build quality) this ZA-B series of mice has seen an upgrade mainly in the sensor department but there are also changes to the cable, side buttons, and weight. Is this mouse worth your hard earned money in 2020 or is it time for Zowie to up their game? Find out everything you need to know in our full review!
"The ZA13-B (and ZA-B series in general) is a nice, albeit safely played, upgrade on most fronts, and people who love the Zowie school of design will feel right at home with this B series."Our mouse reviewer
Zowie ZA13-B - First Impressions
I must admit that the ZA is a mouse that's not on the forefront of my mind a whole lot. When I got this ZA13-B (which is the smallest of the bunch: there's also the medium-sized ZA12 and the large ZA11) I immediately noticed how unjustified that is: the shape of this mouse sits really well with me. Of course that's just personal opinion but there definitely is something to be said about the ZA series being overlooked as far as Zowie products go. More on the shape later but it really does stand on its own as as separate shape if you ask me.
Aside from this personal revelation there isn't much to be said about the ZA13-B on the first impressions front: Zowie prefers to let their products speak for themselves rather than go for crazy designs or marketing so what you get here is a plain black mouse without any RGB elements. There's a small Zowie logo at the back of the shell and a barely noticeable BenQ logo on the left side but that's about it. No one would bat an eye if you placed this mouse on any random office desk.
If you've used or seen a ZA mouse before you will also notice that there aren't any side buttons on the left side anymore: that's fine by me since they had absolutely no use for a right handed gamer such as myself but lefties will want to make note of this.
The ZA13-B (the 'B' means it's the upgraded version) is a small ambidextrous mouse with a hump at the back as the main feature which differentiates it from its more popular brother, the FK. One big change is the fact that the side buttons on the right side aren't there anymore, making the mouse lighter as an added bonus. From what I can tell these buttons were worth about 5 grams, so every B series mouse should be five grams lighter than its predecessor, give or take.
Zowie's hasn't changed the packaging for any of their newer models so if you've gotten yourself a Zowie mouse in the past couple of years you know what to expect. Inside the box you get the usual documents, a Zowie sticker, and a set of replacement mouse feet. If you know my preferences a bit you'll know that I absolutely love it when companies include replacement feet for their products so I'm happy to see that Zowie hasn't stopped doing that.
Size & Dimensions
Shape and finish
As I mentioned before the ZA has a rather noticeable hump towards the back. This isn't as sudden as it is on some other mice with this design philosophy but it is something that you need to appreciate. If you need your ambidextrous mice to be as flat as possible this isn't gonna be your jam.
I do like it though: in recent months my grip has shifted from a palm-dominated hybrid to a more pure claw grip but I still like a bit of palm support and the ZA is excellent in that regard. The 13 is just a bit too small for my liking (I've got 19 x 10.5 cm hands, for reference) but something like the ZA12 does fit me like a glove, and if you're someone who thinks that the FK and all of its clones is a bit too flat this could be right up your alley. It is a pretty narrow mouse though, so take note of that.
The coating is that standard Zowie coating that seems to be a blend of glossy and matte. I must admit I'm not a huge fan of the feel of this since it easily attracts fingerprints and oils and I've got pretty sweaty hands while gaming, but luckily there's nothing wrong with the performance. The grip is excellent in all conditions (in fact it's one of the grippier coatings for my 'hand type' so to say) but I did find myself cleaning it off a bit more often than I would like. I am very sensitive to these kinds of things however so you might not have the same issue.
On the bottom of the mouse we find two big and thin mouse feet. These aren't pure PTFE and the glide isn't the fastest out there but it is a smooth experience and I honestly don't really like super slick feet myself so for me these are just fine. The feet haven't been changed though so there should be plenty of aftermarket options if you decide you want to slap a pair of slicker skates on there.
Buttons and scroll wheel
Zowie famously uses Huano switches for all of their mice, with their main clicks usually being a bit harder to press than what some mice with Omrons can offer. I can't say that I ever had a problem with Zowie clicks and I can say the same for these ones. They're not extremely light but I can't imagine any FPS player having a real problem with these unless you absolutely want hair triggers.
While the actual actuation feeling (this somehow feels pretty satisfying to say out loud) feels pretty much the same as with the earlier version of the ZA it does seem like they tightened up the main buttons on other fronts. There's almost no sideways travel on the buttons of the ZA13-B and while there is a bit of pre travel I found virtually no post travel, which I find far more annoying than pre travel in game scenarios so that's good news. All in all I like these clicks. I'm not a big fan of extremely light buttons and these clicks feel consistent and crispy so no complaints there.
Speaking of complaints: the scroll wheel is still Zowie's infamous 16 step wheel (others are usually 24 steps) so that's bad news for opponents of that wheel. I am personally a bit in between. I honestly really like the wheel for gaming but I'm not a fan for browsing or productivity. Since it's such a tactile and loud wheel it will always be a 'marmalade' kind of feature: you either seem to love it or hate it. What I can say is that the wheel on the B series is a lot better than what I got on the older ZA. This new one feels a lot tighter and crispier so in a sense this is an upgrade, if you like this kind of wheel.
The side buttons have little travel time (and less pre travel than what I experienced on the previous ZA version) but if you press hard on the mouse 4 button towards the front there's a significant amount of post travel because the button sort of pivots if you press it at the front. I don't know what happened there since this wasn't an issue at all on earlier ZAs that I tested but it's a bit disappointing. The issue is most pronounced on the ZA13-B but all the B series size variants that I got have it to some degree so I don't believe it's an issue with my specific copy.
Aside from that I do like the experience here: the main clicks feel great and responsive and seem to have been tightened up when it comes to travel, and the implementation of the scroll wheel (regardless of your thoughts on it) has been improved as well. It's a bit of a shame that the mouse 4 button has such a large amount of post travel though.
Quality and cable
One of Zowie's design pillars is their reliability and ease of use. Buy the mouse, plug it in, and you're good to go for years to come. As such I didn't encounter any surprises with the ZA13-B. As I've come to expect from Zowie the build quality is rock solid, with no creaking, flexing, or rattling anywhere. This mouse is one that I'd trust to survive multiple cramped backpack journeys to LAN events and tournaments so all is well here.
On to the elephant in the room, then: the cable. You won't hear me say that this is a bad cable. In fact it's one of the better rubber cables out there but the problem is that rubber cables just aren't the norm anymore. I test mice with and without a bungee and while I had absolutely no problem with a bungee (the stiffer nature of a rubber cable makes it so that a large part of the cable stays suspended in the air when using a bungee) I did feel a bit of cable resistance and drag without a bungee a couple of times. Whether this will bother you or not depends on a number of things: your overall sensitivity, the amount of objects between the cable and your pad, personal tolerance, and so on, but it's hard to overlook the fact that this cable feels a bit outdated.
I kind of get the fact that they want to go for reliability (some of these paracord-style stock cables have caused reliability issues in the past) but I find it hard to believe there isn't a way for a company such as Zowie to find a lighter and more flexible cable with the same reliability. This new cable comes out of the end of the mouse at a bit of an upward angle which helps reduce cable drag but I'd love to see newer iterations at least offer the option to get a more flexible stock cable.
Performance and sensor
One of the main reasons for this refresh was the sensor. Older Zowie mice used the 3310 sensor which could cause spinouts under specific circumstances (mostly when slamming your mouse on your pad at an angle) so the upgrade to this perfectly flawless 3360 is a welcome one to upgrade the mouse from 'reliable in 99% of cases' to 'reliable in 100% of cases'. The implementation is as it should be: there's no smoothing or acceleration here. The 3360 performs as expected from this sensor.
As is well known at this point all Zowie mice are plug and play. There isn't an option to download any software so people who want to configure a bunch of macros should probably sit this one out but for others this isn't something bad at all. I quite like not having to install driver programs every time I go to game somewhere other than at home (which is pretty much never in these times, but you get my drift) and all the common DPI settings (400, 800, 1600, and 3200) are present, as well as the option to change the polling rate so realistically there isn't anything you'd need to download software for unless you're gaming at an uncommon DPI setting.
With its weight of 76 grams the ZA13-B isn't in that ultralight category of mice but it's by no means heavy. Despite having the opportunity to test pretty much every ultralight mouse out there I am still personally absolutely fine using (slightly) heavier mice and the ZA13-B (and the whole ZA-B line) is absolutely okay in the weight department if you're asking me. The largest mouse (ZA11-B) weighs around 82 grams while the ZA12-B weighs in at 78 grams, by the way. That's very respectable and seems like an ideal weight for people who aren't chasing the lightest mouse.
Of course this part is very much subjective but I see the ZA line as being ideal for claw grip and (to a slightly lesser extent, perhaps) palm grip thanks to the hump towards the back. If you want a flat mouse you've got to look at the FK series but if you're someone like me who prefers a bit of palm support this is a great shape. The hump also isn't so pronounced that it forces you to place your entire palm on it so this mouse is once again a great example of how good the people at Zowie are at creating mouse shapes.
As usual I'll end this part with a disclaimer: no one knows your preferences except for you. Us reviewers can give you (good) recommendations based on your hand size and grip style but in the end every person is different so take these grip recommendations with a grain of salt. Feel free to reach out in the comments if you've got any questions though: I answer every comment.
Conclusion & Recommendation
If you operate on the idea that Zowie wants to stay true to their ideals (rubber cable for reliability, not going for ultra lightweight mice) this is a really nice upgrade, aside from the fact that I'm a bit miffed about the post travel on the mouse 4 button. In the end it's a bit of a mixed bag for me. The shape is (as usual with Zowie mice) amazing and the fact that they tightened up the main clicks and scroll wheel along with installing a flawless sensor makes this a 100% reliable mouse if it ticks all the right boxes for you so this is definitely a worthy buy if you like the specs and the Zowie philosophy.
I would love to see them offer something different however. I'm not even talking about the weight here (believe it or not, but a lot of people don't want super light mice and between 70 and 80 grams seems to be a very popular weight bracket) but it would be cool to see at least the option to buy the next iterations of Zowie mice with a paracord-style cable and perhaps faster PTFE feet.
You're not reading my reviews to read about my design ideas for gaming mice though, so I'll end with this: the ZA13-B (and ZA-B series in general) is a nice, albeit safely played, upgrade on most fronts, and people who love the Zowie school of design will feel right at home with this B series.