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Review: Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse

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Short version: An interesting little gadget, but practicality seems to have given way to design a bit more than is necessary.

Features:

  • Unique bending design goes flat for easy transport
  • Bluetrack sensor tracks on nearly every surface
  • Tiny wireless USB receiver
  • Touch-sensitive trackpad area
  • MSRP: $79.99

Pros:

  • Unique and interesting design
  • Trackpad thing works most of the time
  • Extremely compact

Cons:

  • Tiny contact areas make mouse movements less than smooth
  • Gripping mouse is an acquired skill
  • Far too small for those with larger than average hands

Full review:

Everyone on the internet was whipped into a frenzy by Microsoft’s surprisingly effective viral marketing for this thing. Of course, there was almost no way for us to put the pieces together, so to speak, since a weird flat mouse like this is pretty much unprecedented. Is it worth the money?

Well, the Arc Touch Mouse is a series of serious strengths and weaknesses, all proceeding from key design decisions. They knew what they were getting into here, so there aren’t design flaws exactly, but rather design consequences.

Design

First of all, the mouse really is very compact. Even the best “travel” mice out there are merely small, not flat, and if space is a premium for you, this mouse outdoes all comers in economical design. The only thing that comes to mind is the previous Arc Mouse, but even then it took up far more volume than this one. This will easily fit in any pocket that can accommodate its length, which when flattened is about five inches. Compare to other portable mice, which won’t fit into flat pockets but are significantly shorter.

It’s also a unique and interesting looking mouse, so kudos to Microsoft for that. People will ask you what it is and how it works if you display it prominently, so if you like that kind of attention, this is a good addition to your stable of eye-grabbing devices.

Although it’s petite-looking, it feels quite sturdy. The rear part of the mouse seems to be a sort of satin-finish rubber, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to crack any time soon. The front is normal glossy plastic and seems tightly put together, enough so that you won’t worry too much about crumbs getting in there. I get the feeling the rest of it will get pretty grubby, though. Why don’t you wash your hands more often, you slob? God!

Performance

Let’s remind ourselves of something here: expectations of mobile mice should be less than those for normal mice — especially for an extra-mobile designer mouse like this one. Still, comparisons have to happen. So let’s take a look.

The incredibly petite structure of the mouse does not, honestly, lend itself to serious mousing. Put your hand on your mouse. Now take all your fingers off except for the two on the top buttons. That’s pretty much what you’ve got to work with with the Arc Touch. There’s very little to grab onto, and where there would normally be a middle to wrap your fingers around, there is naught but air. Sure, this was the case with the old Arc Mouse, but its “body” was a little chubbier and usually your fingers could find purchase. This slimmer version gives you even less to grip, and it is not suitable for those of us with larger hands. This is a shortcoming that is pretty much apparent from the outcome, though.

The Bluetrack sensor is dead center on the front segment, and although it feels a bit far forward, that’s something you get used to quickly. Like other Bluetrack mice, this will track on almost anything; I never had any trouble on any of the surfaces I tried, from steel desk to a couple mousepads, to the wood tables at a cafe.

It tracks well, I should say, when it moves smoothly, but it doesn’t always move smoothly. If you turn over your mouse, you’ll find a number of little patches of smooth teflon, which are the actual contact points between the mouse and the mousing surface. There needs to be enough of it to spread out the weight of your hand and the resultant friction. The Arc Touch mouse has very little teflon down below, which is no surprise since the total mouse pad facing area of the mouse can’t amount to more than a square inch. The fact is there’s just too much weight being accommodated by these tiny spots of contact, and I found the mouse tended to move less than smoothly unless I essentially suspended my hand above it rather than let it rest.

That’s made difficult by the fact that all the action goes on at the very tip of the mouse; the buttons are only pressable at their tips, for about three quarters of an inch, aft of which they can’t be clicked. So your hand is pretty far up on the mouse, meaning your palm is likely resting on the top of the “arc.”

The touch-sensitive scroll pad is an interesting little creature. It works — that much can be said. Is it worth it? It contributes a bit to the flatness and uninterrupted lines of the mouse, and actually, the few gestures you can do with it are handy and reprogrammable. So yes, it’s a nice addition, and I hope to see more of it. The built-in haptic response feels kind of weird to me, but if you want to be sure you’re going up or down a certain number of “ticks,” it’s indispensable.

You can slide your finger up and down to scroll, obviously, and it works with inertia so you can “toss” the thing down to the bottom of a page. Tapping the center of it results in a middle click, and tapping the top or bottom means other button presses, by default page up and page down. It’s actually very handy, except for the fact that the top of the scroll pad is waaay up at the tip of the mouse, so you have to reach forward a bit to hit it.

I never had any trouble with the wireless, and the mouse worked instantaneously on both my MacBook Pro and my desktop PC. The USB bit is tiny and sticks to the bottom of the mouse when not in use, which is nice. I was afraid the normal bouncing around in my bag would dislodge it, but that didn’t happen. I’d still put it in a small pocket, so you don’t have to go fishing for the thing if it were to detach.

Conclusion

If you’re not too concerned with ergonomics and just want a compact and unique mouse to always have with you, the Arc Mouse Touch is a solid choice. If, however, you really rely on your mobile mouse as a serious input device, you should find something more suited to your purpose. Microsoft’s own Bluetrack Mini and the Razer Orochi both are excellent mice for everyday use as well as being relatively compact.

Product page: Microsoft Arc Touch Mouse

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