Microsoft's flagship Touch Mouse reviewed

Microsoft Touch Mouse Review

Unveiled at CES 2011, the Microsoft Touch Mouse is a multi-touch, wireless, USB mouse originally designed exclusively for Windows 7. Featuring multi-finger gestures and Microsoft's BlueTrack Technology, this is a great mouse for desktops and laptops alike.

The Touch Mouse is the result of a two-year-long joint research project between Microsoft Research and Microsoft's Applied Sciences Group called "Mouse 2.0". Initially exclusive to Windows 7, Microsoft has now announced that the Touch Mouse will be updated for Windows 8.

Available for purchase since June 2011, you can pick one up in the price range of $40 to $80 from various online retailers. A white limited edition Artist Series version has also been released. The Touch Mouse comes with a three-year worldwide warranty.

Unboxing

Alright then, let's begin with the unboxing. Here's the video:

One look at the packaging immediately gives you the sense that this is a premium product. Opening a magnetic flap on the front reveals the mouse, mounted on a stand and housed in a transparent display case.

Touch Mouse packaging

Included in the box are two AA-size alkaline batteries, a USB nano transceiver, a USB extension cord, and an owner's manual.

Design

The mouse sports a contoured outline and fits in the hand very comfortably. The design is symmetrical, so you can use the mouse with either your left or right hand. The mouse is big enough for small- and medium-sized hands, and should be okay for people with large hands.

Touch-sensitive area of the Touch Mouse

The front half of the top surface is a touch-sensitive area on which you can perform gestures. The touch area is marked and has a tactile feel; it conceals a matrix of capacitive touch-sensing electrodes underneath. Also located on the top surface is a battery status indicator. When you switch on the mouse, the LED flashes green once, then turns off to save battery life. If you get low on battery, the LED continuously blinks red during use.

Underside of the Touch Mouse

On the bottom of the mouse you'll find the on/off switch, the battery compartment, and a slot to hold the tiny USB transceiver in, which can come in very handy when you're travelling, because if you lose the transceiver, your mouse won't work.

Features

Microsoft's proprietary BlueTrack Technology lets you track on just about any surface you can think of. The BlueTrack website says you can use your mouse "on a picnic table, your living room floor, the armrest of a lobby chair, or even your pant leg". We tried the Touch Mouse on all of those and it worked flawlessly. In fact, it also worked great on clear glass, a surface on which even Microsoft says BlueTrack wouldn't work.

The mouse operates on a 2.4 GHz radio frequency channel and has a wireless range of up to 10 feet (3 meters). If you experience connectivity problems (which, although rare, might occur if you connect the transceiver to a back-panel USB port on your desktop), you can use the included USB extension cable to position the transceiver much closer to your mouse.

In our tests, after 12-15 hours of daily usage, the batteries generally lasted for about 3 weeks. This means Microsoft's claimed battery life of 3 months holds true if you use the mouse for a little over 3 hours every day.

Installation

No installation disk is included with the mouse and Windows automatically finds and installs the required drivers and IntelliPoint software. IntelliPoint adds a special Touch tab to the Mouse Properties window (accessible via the Control Panel), where you can enable/disable the touch gestures and change other settings specific to the Touch Mouse. Without IntelliPoint installed, vertical scrolling is the only thing you'll be able to do apart from clicking.

Microsoft Device Center for Windows 8 Consumer Preview

If you're running Windows 8 Consumer Preview, you can download and install Microsoft Device Center. Device Center is an app that lets you customize your Microsoft keyboards and mice from a single location. It provides the same set of options to personalize the Touch Mouse as IntelliPoint, but in a much friendlier Metro interface.

Touch Mouse gesture tutorial

When you connect the mouse to your PC, a nice tutorial takes you through all the gestures you can perform.

Multi-touch

You can do one-, two- and three-finger gestures using the Touch Mouse. Here's a comprehensive list:

  1. One-finger gestures

    • 8-way scrolling

      You can scroll and pan vertically, horizontally and diagonally by moving one finger over the touch area. You can control the speed of the scrolling. For example, a flick will quickly take you to the end of a document.

      As it supports inertia, scrolling with the Touch Mouse can be fun in Office programs and web pages. But in programs such as games or graphics software where you need precision, the scrolling can turn out to be a major annoyance as you might end up scrolling either too much or not at all. In my experience, lifting the other finger(s) off the mouse when scrolling should give you better results.

    • Move back or forward

      You can sweep your thumb up to navigate forward and down to go back. This is very convenient for navigating back and forth between web pages or folders in Windows Explorer.

  2. Two-finger gestures

    • Minimize and maximize windows

      Swipe two fingers up to maximize and down to minimize. This is similar to what the Windows + Up Arrow and Windows + Down Arrow shortcut keys do.

    • Snap windows to the left or right

      Swipe two fingers left to snap (dock) a window to the left half of the screen, or swipe right to snap it to the right half. This is equivalent to the Windows + Left Arrow and Windows + Right Arrow shortcuts.

  3. Three-finger gestures

    • Switch between tasks

      Swiping three fingers up brings up Instant Viewer, a task switcher that shows you a live thumbnail of each open window. You can then scroll to easily select the application you want to jump to. This makes window management much faster compared to using Windows + Tab (Flip 3D) or Alt + Tab.

    • Show desktop

      Swiping three fingers down minimizes all windows to display the desktop. This is the same as using the Windows + M hotkey.

Touch Mouse Instant Viewer

Check out this video from Microsoft Hardware that demonstrates all of these gestures.

We tested and found that all gestures also work well on Windows 8 Consumer Preview. As you can see, many of these gestures offer a quicker alternative to keyboard shortcuts. Instant Viewer is a feature unique to this mouse and I think a lot of users will be using it, along with the thumb gesture.

Issues

When you first try to click with the Touch Mouse, you'll notice something strange - it doesn't have two separate buttons for left- and right-click. Instead, the entire top surface of the mouse acts as a single button, and whether you left- or right-clicked is detected by the mouse based on the position of your fingers. And this is probably the Touch Mouse's main quirk, because it leads to a peculiar situation - you need to lift the finger you use to left-click (the index finger if you're right-handed) in order to right-click.

You also cannot left- and right-click at the same time. Although this action is hardly ever used, if you do happen to use a program that requires this action, you will run into problems with the Touch Mouse. Also, since the Touch Mouse does not have a traditional scroll wheel, it doesn't support middle-clicking. Fortunately, you can get around this issue by using a third-party utility such as Touch Mouse Mate.

Another problem with the Touch Mouse has to do with its weight. Although the mouse itself is pretty light (just 80 grams), after inserting both batteries it gets very heavy. This definitely makes moving the mouse a real task until you get used to it.

Thumbs Up

  • Great for navigation and window management
  • Ergonomic design
  • BlueTrack Technology
  • Easy installation

Thumbs Down

  • Single button for left-click and right-click
  • Poor battery life
  • Heavy

Verdict

There's no denying that the Touch Mouse isn't perfect, but there's also no denying that this is the best multi-touch mouse available today. This is a mouse that'll take a couple of days or perhaps a week for you to get used to. But once you get the hang of it, you'll be addicted and will sorely miss the gestures if you go back to a traditional mouse. Most people will find the Touch Mouse to be a great addition to their Windows 7 (or Windows 8 CP) PC as it makes navigating around faster and fun. Overall, I think the pros outweigh the cons.

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