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Building a better mouse

While Apple makes many great products, such as the iPad mini reviewed last week, I wish it would address one product that falls far below its usual design excellence. It’s the wireless Apple Magic Mouse ($70), a beautiful-looking device that we use as much as the computer. It was introduced in October 2009, yet has undergone no noticeable improvements since then. It’s the one Apple product that I’ve found to be disappointing and inferior to other mice.

The Magic Mouse has many advanced features that make it appealing -- such as a touch surface that works much like a touch display, an advanced laser-tracking system and a sleek form factor that’s quite beautiful -- but it’s often frustrating to use and suffers from a number of design deficiencies.

The touch-sensitive surface on the top of the mouse replaces scroll bars and wheels used on other mice. But it’s so sensitive that if your finger accidently touches it while, say editing a Word document, it can cause your document to scroll to another location far from where you were working.

Another big issue is that it consumes batteries many times faster than any other battery product I’ve used, including other mice; I’ve been replacing its two AA cells once or twice a month. Based on sales of Mac desktop computers of 4 million to 5 million a year, that’s about 100 million batteries disposed each year.

For a company that prides itself on being environmentally friendly, it’s missed its mark with the mouse.

The Logitech Wireless Trackball M570 connects wirelessly to the computer. Courtesy photo

When the mouse is dropped on the floor from even from a few inches, the battery door comes off and the batteries often go flying, unusual for most consumer products. Reattaching the door is not at all intuitive because of its complex design.

I’ve also experienced problems when the mouse occasionally disconnects from the computer for no apparent reason. This seems to be a long-standing problem, as reported in Apple’s user forums.

Lastly, the Magic Mouse carries the legacy of being a single button mouse, something Steve Jobs insisted on, when most applications now have important second-button functions.

To use these functions, you either need to use a keyboard modifier key while pressing the top of the mouse or set a preference to use the right side of its top surface as its second button.

But because of the smooth surface, it’s not easy to know exactly where your finger is, and you often activate the left button when you want the right.

With Apple upgrading its iPads, iPhones and computers once or twice a year, it’s time to do the same with the mouse.

So what are some good alternatives? The closest equivalent is the $70 Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse T630 that’s more portable than Apple’s mouse and connects using Bluetooth. While it still has a single button, its batteries are rechargeable and the touch surface is less sensitive to accidental activation.

Another alternative is the Logitech Marathon Mouse M705 ($50) that uses Logitech’s 2.4GHz wireless technology. While it requires a tiny receiver plugged into a USB port, the single AA battery will last about two years and the connection is very robust.

While I was searching for alternatives to the Apple mouse, I came across the Logitech Wireless Trackball M570. I used to love trackballs, but assumed they were extinct. But no, Logitech told me they continue to be very popular. Based on Amazon reviews of this product, that certainly is true: 2,800 reviews average 4½ stars out of 5.

I’ve been using the trackball for about six weeks and like it a lot; it’s a keeper. It connects wirelessly in the same way as the Marathon Mouse and addresses nearly all the objections I have with the Apple mouse.

It has a precision trackball that’s thumb-controlled, a left and right button, a scrolling wheel and an additional customizable button for functions you use frequently, such as copy, paste and so on. The major limitation is that you cannot do horizontal scrolling.

What I like most is the precision of the trackball that lets me position the pointer much more accurately than moving the mouse on a desktop.

Sometimes, newer isn’t always better. ($60, Logitech.com).

Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," published by Financial Times Press. Send comments to phil.baker@sddt.com. Comments may be published online or as Letters to the Editor.

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1 UserComments
Stefani 2:26pm March 31, 2014

The magic mouse is also noisy and bad for your desktop if you don't use a mousepad (the mouse feet eventually wear down). I did find, however, that it is better with Fliders. Can't wait for the new magic mouse, whenever it is slated to come out.