Saturday, November 7, 2009

Low, Sleek and Mouse

It's ironic that Apple, the force behind making the computer mouse mainstream, is often a couple of steps behind the competition when it comes to pointing devices. I remember going through half a dozen different Microsoft and Logitech mice before Apple supported anything more than a double click. The Microsoft wheel mouse was a revelation, allowing a whole new level of flexibility in working with bigger files. Scrolling horizontally was added with subsequent tilt wheel models, and then Apple finally joined the fray with the "Mighty Mouse" and its little scroll ball. At last, a Macintosh could be used by a typical graphic designer right out of the box, for the first time since 1988.

Apple has now upped the ante with the goofily named "Magic Mouse" It's got to be one of the lowest profile mice ever created — It's so slim it's hard to believe that it encloses a couple of AA batteries. Yes, the new mouse only comes as a wireless model, which means it's a tad tougher to slide around because of the extra battery weight. Too bad it doesn't have the option to work with only one battery like the previous model.

The big news with this mouse is its touch-sensitive surface. A wonderful, curving, smooth, glossy surface of clear plastic with its underside colored opaque white, giving the top surface a slightly transparent look. Incorporating some of the technology that went into the touchpads of its notebooks, scrolling is acheived by sliding your finger over its face; flicking through pictures is accomplished by swiping two fingers. It's an improvement on the tiny scrollwheel — your finger doesn't get as cramped as it swipes through a larger swath of motion to scroll. I love the momentum feature — it gives you a wonderful fluid feeling when you're skating around a large photoshop file. Being an old-school Machead I never set up the mouse with the two button mode — pressing the control key with the other hand to get that functionality is fine by me. The hard edge around the perimeter of the mouse was initially weird feeling, but after a couple of days, I didn't really notice it. It seems to help you position the mouse more precisely, and with a more positive grip, or at least it feels like you are. And I don't miss the loss of the side buttons of the previous mouse. I always turned off that functionality — it was way too easy to trigger accidentally.

The bluetooth technology also seems to have improved — the initial pairing with your computer is a level of magnitude faster than previous mice I've used. A simple slide of the tiny switch on the bottom starts the process — that tiny black dot is a piercing green LED that indicates status.

The level of fit and finish of this new mouse is flawless — the feel of the light click as the whole top surface depresses with each click, the crisp clean edge of the curving plastic, the tight tolerances of the mating parts, even the quality of the little sliding switch and silk screened graphics on the bottom. Apple has often been praised for its high level of design, but here the quality in its manufacturing has reached a new high. It looks and feels like something Bang & Olufsen would put out, except they would charge $600 for it.

The high quality carries through to the packaging — the mouse ships in a clear plastic box contoured to its shape, with room for instructions in its platform base.

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