November 27, 2013


Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Mouse. Windows 7/RT/8 or Mac OS X v.10.6. Microsoft. $39.95.

Microsoft Sculpt Mobile Mouse. Windows 7/RT/8 or Mac OS X v.10.6. Microsoft. $29.95.

     Surface-level similarities are often just that: on the surface. When searching for the best mouse for your particular needs, it helps to delve below names, marketing strategies and even apparent shapes of mice to determine what you really need and what can best give it to you. When dealing with a company that produces as many high-quality mice as Microsoft does through its hardware division, it can be particularly important to consider each mouse’s features very carefully in order to determine which will be the best possible fit.

     On the surface, the Microsoft Sculpt Comfort Mouse and Microsoft Sculpt Mobile Mouse appear very similar, with the same sculpted look (as indicated in their near-identical names) and even the same packaging. Differences seem superficial – slightly different sizes and prices, for instance, and the fact that Sculpt Comfort has a “Windows touch tab” while Sculpt Mobile has a “Windows button.” But the disparities between these input devices are far more significant than they appear at first – different enough so that choosing the right one for your individual needs will have a big impact on your satisfaction level.

     Sculpt Comfort is a Bluetooth mouse, which is great if you are using it with a computer or tablet that has Bluetooth capability but (of course) makes it completely useless in other cases. The absence of a transceiver – one of those small things that it can be all too easy to lose – is a positive aspect here, providing you can use the Bluetooth connectivity. This is a right-handed mouse that is optimized for Windows 8 (or 8.1): that touch tab, a blue section on the left side of the mouse, where a right-hander’s thumb can reach it conveniently, takes you from an app to the Start screen when pressed. It lets you cycle through all open apps (when you swipe the touch tab up) or reveal all open apps so you can pick whichever one you want (when you swipe the touch tab down). This is therefore a mouse optimized for touchscreen computers and for tablets – indeed, it works with many Android tablets and offers full functionality only to hardware with touchscreen capability. This does not mean the mouse fails to work in Windows 7: in that operating system, pressing the touch tab takes you to the Start menu, while swiping up or down moves you forward or back in a Web browser. But these moves are less intuitive and less convenient than the ones that this mouse provides for Windows 8. Furthermore, although Sculpt Comfort does work on Macs, its use there seems like an afterthought: it is fine but certainly nothing feature-rich or special. The four-way scroll wheel does work well anywhere, allowing left, right, front and back motion. And the mouse’s design is quite comfortable for right-handers – it is sculpted in such a way that its ergonomics allow lengthy use without discomfort. So this mouse is definitely worth considering if you are right-handed and using a touchscreen device, especially one running Windows 8. Oh – and it helps if you like the color black, which is the only one in which Sculpt Comfort is available.

     Sculpt Mobile is really a different design – and not just because it comes in no fewer than four colors (black, blue, red and pink). This mouse is symmetrical – it looks little different from Sculpt Comfort, but feels quite different even to right-handers, and is entirely suitable for left-handers as well. Sculpt Mobile uses a USB mini-transceiver, which may seem an odd decision for a mobile-oriented mouse, since the tiny plug-in would seem to be easy to lose. However, the transceiver stores neatly in the mouse and can also be left plugged into a USB port, so concerns about losing it may be more apparent than real. On the other hand, if you are prone to losing small items (computer-related or otherwise), be aware of the need for this transceiver before you opt for this mouse. The Windows button on Sculpt Mobile is centrally placed, which makes sense for an ambidextrous product, and is less tightly integrated with Windows 8 than is the touch tab on Sculpt Comfort. Pressing the Sculpt Mobile Windows button takes Win 8 users to the Start screen and pulls up the Start menu for users of Win 7. This mouse is not significantly smaller than Sculpt Comfort, at least if you measure its dimensions, but it feels considerably smaller, in part because of the symmetrical design – which, however, is less ergonomically supportive than the shape of Sculpt Comfort. The four-way scroll wheel works the same way for Sculpt Mobile users as for users of Sculpt Comfort, allowing left, right, front and back motion.

     Looking at these mice side-by-side tends to emphasize their similarities, and it is clear that they both belong in Microsoft’s Sculpt series. But in everyday use, their differences are far more pronounced than you might expect from simply viewing them. Both are very fine products, durable and offering good battery life; both look good, with that sculpted Sculpt appearance, and both use Microsoft’s “BlueTrack Technology,” thanks to which they are usable on almost any surface except glass or mirrors. The price difference between them is insignificant in the long run – and it does make sense to look at either of these mice for long-term use, since they are so well-built that they can last through multiple upgrade cycles (including an upgrade from a computer to a tablet). Sculpt Mobile is a more-conservative design because of its use of a mini-transceiver and its easy adaptability to multiple operating systems. Sculpt Comfort points more clearly in the direction that Microsoft has gone with Windows 8 (and 8.1), toward a world in which touchscreen use is more common and tablets are increasingly taking market share from desktop and laptop computers. Depending on where you and your company stand in the upgrade cycle and in the use to which you tend to put a mouse – for instance, whether you commonly travel with one – you will find one or the other of these products a better fit for your needs. In a sense, you cannot go wrong with either one: both work very well and will do everything you want a mouse to do, and you can expect both to be long-lasting and sturdy. But in another sense, choosing the mouse that is more in accord with your input-device usage is important, because the niggling little irritations of an ill-matched mouse with your everyday requirements can build over time to a point of high frustration that can make you discard an otherwise perfectly good piece of equipment – simply because you did not choose the one best-suited for your needs in the first place.

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