Swiftpoint GT

I previously discussed my overall dissatisfaction with mice these days. I bit the $150 bullet, and decided to try the Swiftpoint GT. A lot of people love this mouse. It has 4.2 stars on Amazon. It nearly octupled its Kickstarter funding goal. It’s natural, it’s ergonomic, it’s gestural. In theory. In practice, it feels to me like it’s been built of outmoded tech and interaction paradigms in order to fabricate a simulacrum of a hypermodern interaction experience. In practice, it’s still a clicky, line-at-a-time scroll wheel. Sure, you can sort-of-kind-of mimic touchpad scrolling by rolling it on your table, but doing so won’t feel any less clicky nor awkward. In practice, the gestural ‘stylus’ is just a tiny upside-down joystick that only works when you find just the right place to tilt it to, that you have to maintain just the right pressure to hold, and that you ultimately still fail to get a smooth navigation experience out of. Neither of these interactions were comfortable, and they both proved better at marring my (admittedly delicately finished) table than anything else.

The ‘stylus’ is one of the more interesting aspects of the mouse, but the implementation is just too clumsy. By default it does some gestural nonsense (much like an Apple pointing device, all the best-left-to-keyboard stuff I would disable on their hardware as well), but fortunately this can be reassigned to something useful in the truly clever web interface (its cleverness, unfortunately, is matched only by its bugginess). Even once you get the sensitivity to a reasonably high value, the experience is insanely disappointing and primitive feeling. Inertial scrolling is only available on Windows, apparently, so even scrolling with the upside-down joystick feels as horrifically retro as scrolling with the table-scratching clicky wheel.

I knew going into this thing that there is no discrete middle click. Left click and right click are handled by two buttons, tip and mid index finger. Middle click is handled by pressing one and then the other, the order of which can be set with the clever-but-buggy web interface. But if you don’t release it perfectly, you end up activating either a left or right click after the middle click. It just doesn’t work right.

I tried to love the Swiftpoint GT, I really did. I don’t think the glowing reviews are dishonest, I just have to assume people have different standards or expectations than I do. I knew going into it that battery life was not great, the battery was a proprietary rechargeable, and charging was handled via a nonsensical proprietary dongle. I knew going into it that middle click was a hackish solution. The demonstrations, the reviews – they offered so much promise for a device that was bringing so many compromises to the table, compromises I could deal with if the rest of the hardware held up its end of the bargain. But it just didn’t. Why am I tilting and moving a tiny joystick with my table when I was using a hybrid optical/gyroscopic mouse1 ten years ago? Why is scrolling such a chore when Apple, Microsoft, and Logitech are capable of offering universally smooth, inertial experiences (either by touch or physical wheel)? Why, upon registering a middle click, does it opt to still send the mouseup action(s) for left and/or right? Nothing about this experience felt futuristic to me, it felt anachronistic and confused. I think the Swiftpoint team has some big ideas, some good ideas… and I will continue to monitor their progress (they’re in the process of releasing a more traditional mouse, unfortunately it’s a bit too traditional in that it’s wired. Though considering it’s aimed at the gaming crowd, this is to be expected.), in hopes that the third Swiftpoint might be the charm.

  1. My Gyration mouse was almost certainly the first generation, but it worked very well – both as an optical mouse and a gyroscopic mouse. Their focus is on the use of gyroscopic interaction for presenting, which makes sense, but I bet they could pull off a more gestural gyro model. ↩︎