Q: While shopping for a new computer, I have come across many radical mouse designs. I was prepared to purchase a standard optical mouse, but the abundance of fancier options makes me wonder if a newer mouse design might be better. Are some mice better than others? If so, which ones? Is this a ridiculous question?
A: Your question is not ridiculous at all. (Apart from my pillow, I use my mouse more than anything else I own.) It is important to secure a mouse design that enables you to work most efficiently and comfortably. Listed below are factors you might consider when evaluating and selecting a new mouse.
1. Consider the applications you use. Some applications, such as Excel, Photoshop, and web publishing tools, involve more graphical actions, such as selecting, moving, or growing/shrinking objects. In contrast, word processing, accounting, and tax preparation solutions are less mouse-intensive and can primarily be operated using only a keyboard.
2. Work environment. If you mostly work at a desk with sufficient space to accommodate a mouse, then a mouse may be your best option. However, if you travel with a laptop and frequently work in environments with little or no desktop space, then a built-in mouse device (such as a touchpad or attached rollerball) may be better suited for your needs.
3. Wireless or wired? Many people prefer wireless mice, but I’m not a fan for four reasons: (1) Wireless mice can be misplaced; (2) mouse batteries require replacement, usually at inopportune times; (3) compared with lighter mice, heavier mice (due to the batteries) sometimes make my hand cramp after hours of continuous use; and (4) wired mice are less expensive.
4. Movable or trackball? Trackball mice sit still while you roll a large track ball with your thumb or fingers; as examples, the Logitech Trackball M570 and the Logitech Trackman Marble are pictured below. Depending on your environment and any shoulder/arm/other health issues, these options may be best. My experience has been that my thumb cramps or tires after many hours of using this type of mouse; therefore, I prefer a traditional movable mouse.
5. Two-button or multibutton? Traditional mice have a left and right button, but many newer mice offer additional programmable buttons. I have tried using these fancier multibutton designs, but in each case I found that I never used the additional buttons, and I ended up reverting to a traditional two-button mouse because it felt more comfortable.
6. Ergonomic design? Some mice, such as Logitech’s Marathon Mouse and Performance Mouse MX, pictured below, are designed to fit ergonomically in your hand. These mouse designs do feel more comfortable, but I can’t seem to get used to pressing the side buttons with my thumbs.
7. External trackpads. Larger external trackpads, such as Apple’s Magic Trackpad, pictured below, sit beside your computer to provide touchpad technology via a larger platform positioned more naturally for your hand. I do like this touchpad better than the tiny touchpads built into most laptops, but I am annoyed by the false-touch actions that sometimes occur when my fingers hover slightly over the device.
8. Pen mice. Some computers include a pen mouse that can be used to select menus and perform actions on the touchscreen, and can also be used to write directly on the device, which quickly and accurately converts cursive writing to typed text. Historically, stylus-based solutions (such as my 1992 Apple Newton and my 2002 Averatec touchscreen computer) did not perform fast enough to keep up with my handwriting, but my 2014 Microsoft Surface Pro 3 does. You might also consider a third-party pen mouse, such as the Genius Wireless Pen Mouse ($30.26 at Amazon).
9. Multiple mice. I have recently found that using multiple mice can be an effective approach, if for no other reason than to deter repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, which is thought by some to be caused by repetitively using the same input device for years. I currently have three mice plugged into my desktop (traditional mouse, mouse pen, and trackball), and I occasionally switch back and forth, depending on the application I am using. This approach may work for you as well.
10. Resisting change. While we know the metric system and Dvorak-style keyboards are more efficient than the English-based measurement system and QWERTY-style keyboards, most of us stick to the less-efficient options because we are used to them. Many young people today have been weaned on laptops with touchpad controls, and they reject mice altogether. My point is now that your brain has spent several decades learning to use a traditional mouse, you (just like me) may end up rejecting any newfangled options, even if they are better. I purchased two standard Logitech mice about 17 years ago, and despite trying many alternative mouse designs, I primarily use those same two mice today. I’m thinking about framing them when I retire.
J. Carlton Collins (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a technology consultant, CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.
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