Microsoft's Touch Mouse isn't a particularly thrilling piece of hardware to look at. Its smooth, arched back tapers to a pretty point at the front, and a BlueTrack laser system creates an unusual sapphire glow under its belly, but most folks probably wouldn't give it a second glance.
That changes once you put your hand on it.
The lack of a scroll wheel makes the Touch Mouse feel instantly foreign to long-time Windows users. So, too, does the absence of discrete left and right buttons. These traditional mechanical controls have been replaced by a large multi-touch pad that runs about two-thirds the length of the mouse's back.
I have to admit that without the standard tactile feedback I've come to associate with Windows mice over the last two decades I was initially a bit disconcerted – like someone who needs to re-learn how to use his hand. Perhaps Mac users accustomed to Apple's (vaguely) similar Magic Mouse would take to it more easily.
An interactive tutorial led me through the Touch Mouse's unique control schema. I learned that I could place my index finger on the centre of the pad and move it to scroll through documents, pictures, and spreadsheets in any direction, that I could use two fingers to increase and decrease the size of my current window, and that I could slide my thumb up or down the mouse's side to flip forward and backward while surfing the Web.
Even with this tutorial it took a couple of weeks for me to become comfortable with the Touch's many distinctive commands, and I still find that I need to think about certain actions before executing them.
However, I also feel empowered. As a writer, I found sweeping two fingers left and then right to quickly set a pair of documents to opposite sides of the screen to be quite useful. And as someone who often multitasks with half a dozen or more apps at the same time, swiping up with three fingers to instantly show all open windows in thumbnail form is a definite boon.
But these perks are offset by frustrations not normally experienced with standard mice.
I encountered significant problems while scrolling. Documents, pictures, and web pages tended to jarringly jump location rather than spool smoothly, no matter how calmly and steadily I moved my index finger. This kind of imprecision can turn simple navigation into a major headache.
Plus, while the Touch never failed to recognize a left-click or a double-click, I found I often had to tap a second or third time to accomplish a successful right-click. Oddly enough, this may be a mechanical issue. The entire touch pad lowers and ticks lightly when clicking, making me think the problem is the result of two contact points failing to connect.
The Touch Mouse should have appeal for Windows users looking for a more efficient, modern, and empowering PC experience, but it needs polishing, if only to correct its inexcusably imprecise scrolling. My recommendation is to wait and see whether Microsoft's engineers can refine the technology in its successor.
The Touch Mouse is available for $79.95 through Microsoft's online hardware store. ( www.microsoft.com/hardware)