From the very moment that Microsoft lifted the curtain and revealed Windows 8 at the D9 conference last year up to now, quite a lot of people have been arguing about just how easy the new Metro-infused user interface — one that is rather gesture-heavy and designed primarily with touch in mind — will be to use with a keyboard and mouse.
Whether you’re using peripherals or your fingers, there will always be a bit of a learning curve with Windows 8 due to its relatively gesture-heavy nature compared to the likes of iOS. There are things that you can do with pretty much every corner and side of the screen, and this isn’t a necessarily bad thing. After spending some time using the OS, I became rather well-acquainted with it.
However, as I’ve discovered with OS X Lion — an OS that, on a smaller scale, has also thrown a few touch paradigms into the mix — using a touch-enabled mouse and/or trackpad really enhances the experience. Simple things such as the ability to swipe to go back/forward on a website, tap with two fingers to access Mission Control and see all of your windows, switch spaces with the flick of two fingers, or scroll both vertically and horizontally save time and make using the OS more intuitive and fun.
That being said, I decided to request Microsoft’s entire lineup of touch-enabled mice for review: The Microsoft Touch Mouse, Explorer Touch Mouse, and Arc Touch Mouse to get a feel for their existing approach to touch peripherals.
Before I proceed, however, I need to clarify something. The only “touch” support that the latter two mice have to offer is with scrolling. Not a bad thing, though, as they’re still decent mice; the Arc Touch is awesome from a mobility standpoint, for one. But labeling them as touch mice is pretty misleading as most normal people associate touch with gesture support, and not just a better scrolling experience.
The Touch Mouse actually lives up to its name, however, and offers an assortment of gestures to help users better interact with Windows 8 on their PCs, where the keyboard and mouse still reign as the preferred input method.
Read on for thoughts on using the Touch Mouse in Windows 8, along with general thoughts on the other two mice.
So, here it is: Microsoft’s flagship touch mouse. With a sleek and ergonomic design that makes it comfortable to use — as with most Microsoft peripherals — the touch-sensitive zone is denoted by Xs and dots that also add a pleasant texture to the mouse. Taking a page from Apple’s playbook, the mouse is technically just one giant button, though you can still easily right-click. If you’re not accustomed to this from using Apple mice, you may find it a bit unusual at first.
Having just one button isn’t the issue at hand, however. The problem lies with the actual clicking experience, which feels stiff and unusual. In some cases, right clicks just didn’t seem to register. If, in the next iteration of the mouse, they address this issue, it’ll be much more enjoyable to use.
The mouse communicates with your PC through a USB nanotransceiver that’s easy to lose, so, for safekeeping, it is recommended that you store it in the slot at the bottom of the mouse. The Touch Mouse also utilizes Microsoft’s BlueTrack technology, allowing it to perform well on an array of different surfaces.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about the Touch Mouse’s non-touch functionality; the real reason behind this post are the touch gestures offered by this device, after all.
Back in July, Microsoft announced that some new gestures were made available on the Touch Mouse, designed specifically for Windows 8. To recap, here they are:
- A one finger swipe will allow you to move side to side or up and down, shifting content on your screen.
- Two finger movements manage apps, allowing users to display Windows 8 charms, switch through open apps and show app commands.
- Three finger movements will let you zoom in and out.
- Thumb gestures navigate backward and forward through apps.
As you can see, there’s certainly a cornucopia of gestures that make Windows 8 more intuitive to use when the keyboard and mouse are your primary forms of input. However, that’s useless if the gestures fail to work at all; the mouse often has trouble properly recognizing gestures. It may even misinterpret certain gestures — for example, I may try to gradually scroll down the page, but it would misinterpret it as a flick and sentence me to the very bottom of whatever I was reading — or miss them completely.
If they work out the kinks of this mouse with the clicking experience and gestures, I would definitely recommend it to add to the Windows 8 user experience. However, until then, I can’t say that I recommend purchasing this mouse.
Arc Touch Mouse
Next up, we have the aptly named Arc Touch Mouse, which is explicitly designed for portable, on the go use. When called upon for use, it springs into action and assumes a curved arc position which turns the mouse on, flattening and turning off once the user is finished. While the design, pictured above, may initially look peculiar, the mouse is actually surprisingly ergonomic and enjoyable to use. The area where your palm rests is comprised of a comfortable, soft material — which, unfortunately, is a magnet for dust — while the button area is a glossy plastic.
Now, in terms of touch functionality, what this mouse has to offer is the ability to use your finger to scroll. You may flick, glide, or tap to navigate and scroll through a page. The coolest bit about the scroll area on this mouse — which lies in between the two buttons — is that it gives back tactile feedback in response to your scrolling. Given that there is no actual scroll wheel in that area, this certainly simulates the feeling of one in a much more satisfying fashion.
This mouse doesn’t work with your PC using Bluetooth, though. Instead, a USB nano transceiver is offered, which you can magnetically store at the bottom of the mouse for safekeeping, as pictured above.
The Arc Touch Mouse is rather awesome, and if you’re someone who owns a laptop and frequently takes it with you everywhere you go, or if you travel frequently, I’d definitely recommend it. It’s both portable and usable.
Explorer Touch Mouse
Finally, we have the Explorer Touch Mouse. Like the Arc Touch Mouse, it’s compact and designed for portability, though it’s arguably less portable; while small in size, it cannot be flattened for storage when not in use. Nevertheless, it should still be sufficient for most travelers to carry around and pack. The mouse is also pretty lightweight, thanks to the plastic that it’s made out of. Unfortunately, due to this same reason, the mouse lacks a sense of build quality and sturdiness, but I suppose that the weight advantage outweighs this issue, given its objective to be a very portable mouse.
Like the former two mice, this one communicates with the PC through a USB nanotransceiver and uses BlueTrack tracking technology. And, like the Arc Touch Mouse, it lacks more complex gesture supports.
However, it does offer some pretty nifty scrolling functionality. The mouse supports four-way directional scrolling by using just your finger, and that delightful tactile feedback that we all know and love is given off as you scroll. I find it interesting how four-way scrolling isn’t present on the Arc Touch, which has a scrolling area that closely resembles that of the Explorer Touch Mouse.
If the unorthodox form factor of the Arc Touch mouse doesn’t satisfy the grasp of your palm, and you’re more interested in a regular — but relatively minuscule — portable mouse, than this is the one for you.
Given Windows 8 and the importance of using new gestures to navigate its UI, I was really hoping that the Touch Mouse would come through and be the one, but I’m unable to look past the stiff clicking and frequent misinterpretation of gestures to properly recommend it. However, I’m confident that Microsoft is aware of these issues and will fix them in the next revision of the mouse. Provided this does happen, I’d have no problem wholeheartedly recommending it as an excellent companion to Windows 8.
The real winner in this review has to be the Arc Touch mouse. It’s unique and surprisingly comfortable to use, given its anorexic form factor. You can “flatten” the mouse when you’re not using it, allowing for maximum portability while on the go. And, on top of being portable and pleasant to use, the tactile feedback you receive when scrolling is also a nice touch.
The Explorer Touch Mouse was okay, but nothing really stood out to me about it. But, for those of you who do like smaller mice like it and want a Microsoft hardware product with tactile four-way scrolling and Bluetrack, then you’ll like it a lot.
To learn more about each of these mice, check out the Microsoft Hardware website.