Of mice and meh

August 21, 2016, I tweet: “why are there no good mice.” It’s a reality I’ve been battling for months now: seemingly nobody else wants the same things out of a mouse that I do. And as I’ve tried to replace my beloved Magic Mouse with something just a little more, I’ve come up with a pretty clear list of what these things are:

The original Magic Mouse hits all of these points, and perhaps I should just stock up on a few of these before they disappear, without searching for something more.

So why the search? Well, middle-click relies on setting a region in a third-party app, BetterTouchTool (BTT) and then hoping I correctly hit that region. The surface of the mouse is fairly small, so finding the perfect touch regions for three virtual buttons is not ideal. I middle click a lot. Pasting in *nix environments, opening links in new tabs (can we teach everyone about this and put target="_blank" to bed for good, please?) as well as closing tabs, opening new windows in Windows… I probably middle-click more than I right-click. The whole ‘lift all your fingers before clicking if you want the region to register properly’ and lack of distinct buttons also just got me wondering what more was out there once my Magic Mouse’s battery compartment became so flaky as to warrant replacement. A lot of this could be solved with better gestural configuration in BTT, but curiosity really has a hold on me.

The current version of the Magic Mouse drops AA batteries for a proprietary Li-ion. In a device like a mouse, I find this to be incredibly misguided. The power draw is low enough that swapping out batteries is not horribly inconvenient, yet when the time comes, I’d like to be able to just swap them out vs. waiting (even a minute) for the dumb thing to charge. Encouraging rechargeable vs. primary cells is good for the world, but push people toward NiMhs instead of a silly Li-ion solution. Aside from the smoke detector and a few flashlights (that rely on lithium primaries), I haven’t used a primary cell in a long, long time.

But I digress; AA (or AAA) battery usage is high up there on my list of wants, and I am disappointed by Apple’s decision there. Also by Logitech for using Li-ions in their much-praised MX Master (which, as pursuit is pursuit, I may still try). I’m also disappointed by all the weird, proprietary wireless solutions out there. I have basically never had an issue with the Bluetooth on my Apple mice. It feels like it’s easier for a company to just include their own stupid dongle vs. getting Bluetooth right. At work, where my machine lacks Bluetooth1, I use a Microsoft Touch Explorer mouse with a dongle. Works fine there, but I don’t want to stretch my USB capacity at home when I have perfectly good BT.

Microsoft makes the Sculpt Touch Mouse, which at first glance appears to be an uglier version of the Touch Explorer with added Bluetooth. Seemingly perfect, I gave this mouse a shot, only to find that middle click was far more difficult than on the Magic Mouse. Even though the touch strip is a physical button like on the Explorer Touch, it is broken into three tiny touch regions: Page Up at top, middle click in the middle, and Page Down at the bottom. This isn’t configurable, and BTT seemingly has no way of dealing with it (the OS recognizes different keyboards, so if I could, in theory, have Page Up/Down from that ‘keyboard’ interpreted as middle click, this mouse would be fine).

Most gaming mice are wired for accuracy purposes, but I learned that Razer makes their travel Orochi in a Bluetooth version. The mouse is about the only thing I really want detached from my computer – I find the cord gets in the way or moves the thing more often than not. Gaming mice are rather ugly things, though no worse than the Microsoft Sculpt. I am not a gamer (at least, not the sort that needs a top-of-the-line mouse), but the additional buttons and high resolution have universal utility. Gamers helped repopularize mechanical keyboards, maybe they know a thing or two about mice as well. And it was a pretty nice mouse: the buttons felt solid and were all easily accessible, the crazy resolution meant never moving the thing more than half an inch or so. But the click-at-a-time scroll wheel simply feels so outdated now, as does the single scroll axis. I couldn’t figure out a way to make BTT map one of the buttons to either switch scrolling axis or simulate Opt, so I was stuck using my keyboard’s Opt for horizontal scrolling. Without inertial scrolling, I was stuck changing input paradigms to jump home or to a predetermined spot in a document. These things were much harder to adapt to than a finicky middle click.

I’m not sure where to go from here. Mice simply don’t seem to be designed with both convenience (BT/AA(A) batteries) and productivity (scrolling, middle click, useful additional buttons) in mind. I might try the SwiftPoint GT despite its battery, I might see what the world of trackballs has to offer these days, or I might just resist change and buy a pile of first-generation Magic Mouses Mice Meese.

  1. Technically, the computer has a BT radio. But it’s disabled, and making it work would involve both BIOS changes and driver installation. Not really my problem to fix. ↩︎