September 01, 2011


Microsoft Explorer Touch Mouse. Windows 7, Vista or XP (excluding XP 64-bit) or Mac OS X v.10.4-10.7. Microsoft. $49.95.

     Microsoft may have reached a point of over-differentiating its hardware. It now has three mice in its “Touch” series, with the Explorer Touch Mouse the newest and least expensive entry. But aside from that cost advantage and a much longer promised battery life than its “Touch” siblings have (18 months, which really would be impressive), the Microsoft Explorer Touch Mouse has little to distinguish it from the others in the same group.

     Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing, since the features of these wireless, nano-transceiver-powered Microsoft Hardware offerings are impressive. The Touch Mouse, which works only with Windows 7 and is expensive at $79.95, has some genuine innovations: simply placing one, two or three fingers in particular locations lets users scroll, pan, reveal specific windows or all windows, or see the desktop. The system takes some getting used to, but is efficient once adopted. Arc Touch Mouse, which costs $59.95, is an unusually clever design that shuts off when flattened, then turns on when its strong hinge is folded to give the mouse a more-familiar, humped shape. It is about the size of a cell phone when flat, and is especially easy to carry. And now there is the Explorer Touch Mouse, which works both on Windows computers and on Macs and has five customizable buttons – including the three “button areas” built into the touch strip. The strip is well designed and lets users scroll both vertically and horizontally, at a wide variety of speeds. You can go line-by-line through the first page of a document, for example, then easily switch to super-fast scanning of a hundred pages or more.

     Explorer Touch Mouse also comes in four colors, of which the shiny “coal black” is distinctly ordinary (although certainly appropriate for business), while “storm gray,” “sangria red” and “rust red” all have more character.

     The most likely effect of the release of the Microsoft Explorer Touch Mouse will be to cannibalize sales of the Touch Mouse. There is certainly not $30 more of value in the Touch Mouse, and the fact that Explorer Touch Mouse works on Macs and on PCs that run Windows operating systems predating Windows 7 gives the new mouse some distinct advantages. The five programmable buttons are a nice-to-have feature rather than a need-to-have one, but they are certainly useful; and the available colors allow purchasers of the Microsoft Explorer Touch Mouse to find some attractive ways to personalize their work (or play) environment – an increasingly important element in personal computing today.

     Computer mice are commodities nowadays – easy to buy for as little as $10 or so, which makes it tempting to purchase them, use them for a while and then throw them out (or, hopefully, recycle them through Craigslist or Freecycle). Microsoft’s mice are more feature-rich, more expensive, often sturdier and frequently easier to use than lower-priced mice: they tend to be more comfortable over long periods, and they track more easily on more surfaces. The question for users is how much the Microsoft improvements and enhancements are worth at time of purchase. Microsoft Explorer Touch Mouse is a top-notch product that incorporates some new elements of mouse use and offers a promise of excellent battery life plus an unusual degree of programmability. It is a better product, overall, than the Touch Mouse, which is simply overpriced. Arc Touch Mouse has enough special features to be a fine niche player. But in a sense, all these mice are in a particular niche in terms of cost and function, and it is reasonable to ask whether that niche is big enough to sustain sales for all three of them. Computer users will, of course, decide. You won’t go wrong with any of the mice in this series, but whether they are right for you will depend largely on how much you are willing to invest in this particular form of input device.

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