Review: Microsoft’s Touch Mouse And Explorer Touch Mouse

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I got a chance to play with two of Microsoft’s three touch mouse offerings — the Explorer Touch Mouse and the flagship Touch Mouse — and as far as ideas go, they’re absolutely wonderful. But in terms of execution, the whole “touch” part didn’t exactly impress.

When compared to your standard desktop mouse, these two offerings from Microsoft could easily go toe-to-toe. But once we start getting into the touch capabilities of each — especially the Touch Mouse — things start getting a little shaky. Let’s take a look.

Touch Mouse

Features:

  • BlueTrack sensor
  • Touch capabilities… obviously
  • Works exclusively with Windows 7
  • Nano-tranceiver slot on the mouse itself
  • MRSP: $79.95

Pros:

  • Works really well on just about every surface
  • Super comfortable in the hand
  • Sleek, attractive design

Cons:

  • Has a tough time distinguishing left-clicks from right-clicks
  • No XP, Vista, or OS X support
  • Sloppy scrolling

Long Version:

As I said earlier, Microsoft’s Touch Mouse is a wonderful idea. I happen to favor a touchpad over a mouse on whatever machine I’m using — most regularly my MacBook Pro — and the notion that those same gestures could be found on a much more comfortable mouse got me excited. Unfortunately, things weren’t as seamless as I’d expected.

The Touch Mouse offers a number of different touch-based gestures: a single finger scrolls, pans, and tilts, while a thumb swipe will send you backwards or forwards. Obviously, backwards or forwards can mean different things during different activities, but it’s basically the ability to push the back button or the forward button in your browser, or quickly scroll through PowerPoint presentations. Microsoft also added a flick to its single-finger gestures to allow for super speedy scrolling.

This is where the Touch Mouse lost me. It really doesn’t perceive the difference between a slow, smooth scroll and a flick. I got sent to the bottom of the page too many times to count, and even the slow scroll (when recognized) wasn’t all that smooth. Plus, the mouse is actually just one large button, with sensors to detect whether you’re inputting a right or left click. When I hold a mouse, my middle finger (right clicker) nudges right up against that line, but since the Touch Mouse’s line doesn’t actually separate different buttons, it’s easy to miss.

But the Touch Mouse has its great moments, too. The thumb gesture especially wowed me. Even though it made me feel awful for being too lazy to mouse over to the back button, I still used that gesture as much as possible. Whoever said laziness was a sin? Not Microsoft, that’s for sure.

When I met with Microsoft to talk about the Touch Mouse, they used the word “delight” like a zillion times, most often connecting it with the word “control.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand what they were talking about. But after getting hands-on with the Touch Mouse, it really is an entirely new sense of control over your machine that is, in short, delightful. Again, the idea is fantastic. But until they can make those controls more reliable, it’s hard to recommend it.


Explorer Touch Mouse:

Features:

  • BlueTrack sensor
  • 18-month battery life
  • Five customizable buttons
  • Colors: black, grey and “Sangria” red
  • MSRP: $49.95

Pros:

  • Also very comfortable in the hand
  • Solid tactile feedback on all actions
  • Performs well on any surface

Cons:

  • The touch strip always feels a bit… grippy
  • Still sloppy scrolling, but better than big brother

Long Version:

The Explorer Touch Mouse is really more of a stripped down, less expensive version of the Touch Mouse. Instead of the whole front surface of the mouse being touch-capable, the Explorer features a touch strip right down the center, a bit like the Arc Touch Mouse. The strip lets you control vertical and horizontal scrolling, but as I mentioned before, it’s not the smoothest scrolling I’ve ever encountered.

I can’t figure out whether or not it’s the actual mouse itself that isn’t providing a smooth scroll or if it’s the fact that my fingers always seem to stick on the touch strip. Just so we’re clear, I’ll go ahead and disclose that I don’t (repeat: do not) have unusually clammy hands or fingers. Something about the material that this little guy is made of makes it difficult to slide your fingers across it without sticking a bit. That’s not the case with the Touch Mouse, and I really don’t understand why Microsoft didn’t just use the same material (although that was probably a cost-cutting measure to maintain the lower price-point).

One cool little feature that I really enjoyed was the tactile feedback this mouse gives. Obviously, a Microsoft mouse will always have that crisp click feedback for pressing the buttons, but what impressed me was the feedback from the touch strip. When you flick to scroll — and even on slower scrolls — the touch strip imitates the feeling of a scroll wheel found on most basic, totally uncool non-touch mice. It almost feels like there’s a scroll wheel directly below the touch strip, and you’re just feeling the vibrations as it spins along.

Conclusion:

So maybe the actual touch portion of these two mice wasn’t as amazing as I had hoped. But as far as your standard mice are concerned, these two have ‘em beat. When it comes to the every day, basic uses of a mouse, both the Microsoft Touch Mouse and The Explorer are excellent choices (aside from that whole right click vs. left click thing). I really meant it when I said they could perform on any surface. Trust me, I tried as many as I could find.