August 23, 2007

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Pocket mice
You can take them with you
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Mac purists who can’t stand anything other than a simple one-button mouse might want to turn the page right now.

One thing laptops have never been able to get quite right is the mouse. When you’re going for portability, a little orb hanging off the side ain’t gonna cut it for any manufacturer trying to sell their model, so pointing devices have mostly been of the integrated variety. You got your touchpads, which take some getting used to and require a delicate finger. Then there are those little nubs in the middle of the keyboard, sort of like miniature, fingertip-only joysticks.

And that’s pretty much it.

Oh, sure, there are some laptops with touchscreens, but that’s more a flashy feature than a primary pointing method. And my old Compaq 486 laptop — the same kind used by Melissa Joan Hart on Sabrina the Teenage Witch, I am compelled to note — had a marble-sized trackball beside the screen, with two buttons on the backside of the cover. Heck, I once saw a laptop that had a tiny mouse pop out the side of it on a spring. Any bets on how long it took that to break?

No, if you wanted an honest-to-goodness mouse, you had to buy and connect one yourself. A cottage industry of mobile mice sprang up, but they were mostly just smaller versions of normal mice. Do your hands get smaller when you use a laptop? Mine don’t.

A few companies have designed some truly innovative travel mice, though, that take up as little space as possible but minimize hand cramps. They aren’t cheap, but neither is carpal tunnel surgery.

• MoGo Mouse: Available in at least three flavors, this thing really is flat — as flat as the card slot in most laptops, because that’s where it stores and charges when you’re not using it. The MoGo Mouse BT is the most basic model, using Bluetooth to wirelessly connect to your computer. Of course, if your laptop doesn’t have Bluetooth built in, you have to use the included dongle adapter, which means the whole shebang does not, in fact, store in your card slot. In any case, the BT is made for traditional PCMCIA card slots.

For all you poor bastards with ExpressCard slots and nothing to put in them, the MoGo Mouse X54 and X54 Pro come to the rescue! They connect via Bluetooth as well, but double as either a media remote (X54) or presentation remote (X54 Pro). All the MoGo Mice feature a little kickstand so they’re not simply laying flat on the table during use. They start at about $60.

• Logisys Optical Finger Mouse: Yup, it straps to your finger. You make a sort of loose fist and move that around on pretty much any surface. The optical sensor picks up the movement when it’s right next to a surface, so when you move your hand back to the keyboard, the mouse isn’t moving wildly over the screen. They even managed to cram two buttons and a scroll wheel onto this thing, all for about $20.

• Rocketfish Twister: This wireless laser mouse is less flat than the MoGo but more substantial in use. Rather than a kickstand, the whole body twists in the middle to make a more ergonomic shape. Costs about $40.