Mouse traps

So this weekend I finally managed to get my hands on one of those new-fangled Magic Mouse devices from the local Apple Store. They were announced a couple of weeks ago but have been slow appearing in the wild: but this weekend, finally, there were mice to behold and purchase.

Now I should say that I’m not usually the type of person to rush out and get the latest gadget – even the latest Apple gadget – just for the hell of it when it’s released. I was about 18 months late getting an iPhone, for example. But seeing how I also went out and got a new iPod nano the minute I could, I realise that my protestations of not being a new gadget whore appear rather weaker than they might have done previously.

So I’ll try and explain my reasoning and rationale.

Have you ever used the Mighty Mouse, the Magic’s predecessor? (The name change is the result of a copyright infringement court case that went against Apple, by the way.) One of its features is the little “nipple” scroll wheel, which – like all things Apple – is quite beautiful and aesthetically done, but tragically flawed in the pragmatism stakes.

Put simply, the “nipple” wheel gets gunged up very easily. Okay, most scroll wheels on mice do, but here you have Apple a little too in love with the beauty of its products and not wanting to ruin it with anything crass – such as a way of getting into the “nipple” wheel compartment to clean it out. instead you have to make the most of what you can do with paperclips and Sellotape to clean it out, which is a hassle, hard work – and doesn’t work for long.

The Magic Mouse does away with this problem by … doing away with the scroll wheel entirely. Instead, the upper body of the mouse is touch sensitive like a trackpad or an iPhone, and stroking a finger up and down (or left or right or in circles if you’re so inclined) will scroll the window on screen. Sounds good? Well, in practice it’s even better – it’s scrolling as it should always be done. And no more gunging up the “nipple” wheel ever again. Bliss!

The other selling point for me was that the Magic Mouse boasts an improved “laser precision” optical tracking system. For some reason, all the mice (PC as well as Apple) I’ve tried on my desk surfaces end up suddenly shooting off in same random direction, and after a while it gets seriously irritating. It’s the kind of torture they should use in interrogations if they want to drive someone psychotic. So I took a gamble and hoped that this new laser tracking system on the Magic Mouse would fix this. And you know what? It has. Perfectly.

On the flipside, the concern I had in getting the Magic Mouse was that the side profile is very, very low. It looks immediately as though it’s going to be an ergonomics disaster and cripple users within a single sitting. Apple don’t have a very good track record with making ergonomic mice for some reason, and I particularly remember the original iMac’s “hockey puck mouse” as being the worst such device I’ve ever tried, literally unusable. It drove me to buying a Microsoft mouse in replacement, it was that bad!

So it was with some trepidation that I tried thr Magic Mouse in store, decided it didn’t feel at all bad, and decided to risk it nonetheless. But how would it feel after two days of use?

Surprisingly – pretty good. No problems at all. In fact, better and more comfortable than the previous Mighty Mouse. The low profile meant that my hand isn’t held arched over the hump so much, which means that raising fingers to scroll on the surface (rather than on a scroll wheel) feels perfectly comfortable. I’m not saying it’s going to win any ergonomic awards, but I can see that it’s been shaped as it has to do its best in this area even if aesthetics still reign supreme as they always do with Apple.

The biggest different is probably the fact that you can choose how to hold the device – your positioning isn’t determined by where your finger has to fall on the scroll wheel, because you can scroll on any part of the mouse’s top surface. It’s a small distinction but one that makes a big different in comfort.

And in some minor, miscellaneous points about the Mighty Mouse, I’ll add that it feels far more solid and high quality that its predecessor (the added weight is thanks to the batteries – more of which in a minute), and putting the Mighty and Magic Mice side by side suddenly makes you realise that the Mighty Mouse is dumpy, frumpy and old by comparison with the sleek sportscar model that replaces it.

But there has to be at least one downside to all his, right? For me, it comes in the form of Bluetooth: the Mighty Mouse only comes in a wireless version, since obviously sticking on a cable for a USB version of the mouse would offend the beautiful lines of the product and have the Apple designers running screaming form the building, right?

I’ve never seen the problem with having a short cable from my mouse; why are people so obsessed with wireless mice and keyboards? I start obsessing over the battery life of these things and then I get all anal about turning them off when not in use to make the batteries last longer, as opposed to their nice, perfectly behaved cabled counterparts that turn off when the computer turns off. And Bluetooth devices do strange things when you try and turn them off; all of a sudden your sleeping computer wakes up, startled, wondering where its little buddy has disappeared to. “Connection lost!” it insists on waking up the screen to tell you. “Yes, I know, I pressed the ‘off’ button” I have to tell it, before putting it back to sleep, hoping it doesn’t have a second or third anxiety attack that wakes it up again. I’ve never known people with half the separation anxiety disorders of Bluetooth-enabled computers.

Seriously, I’d rather just have a cable. But the cable version of the Magic Mouse doesn’t exist; or rather, it does – it’s a renamed but otherwise identical Mighty Mouse. In the world of Apple, you can have your Magic Mouse anyway you like it, as long as it’s (a) Bluetooth and (b) solid white.

But I guess that’s a minor quibble. Slightly more important is my hope that over the longer term, the mouse doesn’t leave me crippled with RSI. While the signs are good so far, I’ll let you know if there’s any change; although such a blog post would of course be slow coming, as it would have to be typed one-handed…

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