I just recently got my hands on a mouse I used and loved over eight years ago, and it forced me to reconsider an experience I have taken for granted for a very long time: using a particular mouse with my computer. In this post I detail me falling in love again again with a mouse from my younger years, and ask some of my friends about the way they use their mice.
I can’t design without one. Some people use tablets for this, but I can not wrap my mind around using a ‘pen’ for pointing at stuff on a screen. Even with my Cintiq, I find it rather annoying and clunky to use the Mac OS X or Windows UI. Try double-clicking with a tablet pen if you want a good example of why the computer interfaces of today are made for mice, and not digitizer pens.
A good 8 years ago, when I was 13, I didn’t do a whole lot of designing. Sure, I dabbled around in Paint Shop Pro (heh), but the majority of my business on the computer was gaming. When Quake 3 came out, I started to get really annoyed with my Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer. As one of the first consumer-grade optical mice, it didn’t have a very high sensitivity. I also never really liked the ergonomics of asymmetric mice. Then, on a cold winter night called Sinterklaas (a Dutch equivalent of Christmas), I got something really cool.
Encased in an aluminium ‘cookie can’, the Razer had an almost Apple-like packaging experience, and the hardware design itself was also quite stunning. Beige mice were all too common back then, and a black mouse was even more special. But the appearance was just a mere facet of the whole experience; big, rubberized primary buttons, a comfortable feel for large hands (I quite surely do not possess the smallest hands in the world) and two side buttons that are actually easy to press while using the mouse. I was blown away when I used it. It was unlike anything else. Unfortunately, I was too young a lad to find the patience to clean it daily on my dusty desk, and moved to Logitech’s cheap optical mice months later. It didn’t feel half as good, but it worked annoyance-free.
Fast forward to a week or two back. I get my old Razer Boomslang back, which my father had uncovered from a dusty corner of their attic, and connected it to my Mac Pro on that same evening. It felt a bit like being reunited with an good friend I hadn’t seen in a very long time. I was eager to put it to the test again – but not before thoroughly cleaning my desk and the mouse itself this time around.
Jokes about using a mouse with a ball in the year 2009 aside, it left me surprised – nay, astonished to see it still blows my regular mice away. The precision and high sensitivity was striking compared to the (wireless) Mighty Mouse and (wired) Logitech VX I used before. A few Photoshop and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars sessions later, I was definitely sold. The only minor annoyance was that the super-sensitive ball trackers inside did tend to collect dust, thereby impeding their sensitivity and sometimes causing unexpected movements. Argh!
Fortunately, I learned that Razer has released a special collector’s edition of the Boomslang in 2007, with an optical sensor and titanium metal body. Despite its limited production run, I managed to order one, and I’ve put it to the test. I really enjoyed unpacking it, as well:
My usage of it so far has been very pleasing. It’s a bit more flat than mice I’ve used previously, but that’s no problem if you can adjust. Of note is that the high-resolution sensor freaks out when you use it on a reflective surface. A mouse mat is once again a necessity. With a few accuracy tests using all four mice I came to the conclusion that I am about 10-15% more accurate with the (optical) Boomslang in a period of ten minutes. Quite a good improvement.
I started to get curious about the way other people use mice, hence I’ve also asked a few friends about their pointer devices. I chose to ask Louie Mantia, a visual designer at the renowned Iconfactory, Mischa McLachlan, a Product Designer on Apple’s MobileMe team, and Danny Greg, a Realmac Software Cocoa developer a few questions.
What would you say you look for in a mouse?
: Disclaimer: I’ve only used Apple mice. If I were looking for a mouse, I’d be looking for one which is simple and comfortable. By simple I mean no more than 2 clickable buttons.
Mischa: I was always a big fan of using the mice that Apple would provide with the computer, so never really needed to look elsewhere. I rocked the apple pro mouse, and the wireless pro mouse too for a while and loved them. However, after initially liking the newer apple Mighty Mouse, i grew frustrated with the scroll ball always requiring cleaning. So i jumped ship, and decided to look elsewhere.
So what i look for in a mouse now is, that it fits nicely in the hand, and that the scrolling mechanism should work flawlessly as well. Following on from those two requirements it should have a nice weight. Not too light, or too heavy.
I’m not so much interested in a mouse with loads of extra buttons, just a simple one will do.
Danny: Pure utility and customisability. I use my mouse for macros, shortcuts etc. so the more buttons the better. Within reason.
How important do you think having the ‘right mouse’ is for your general workflow?
: In all honesty, I don’t think the Apple Mighty Mouse fits the description of comfortable. I’d say simplicity is the most important thing. It would seem having the right mouse isn’t as important as it should be, or I would be constantly looking for a better one than what I’ve got.
Mischa: My workflow utilizes the right click in a big way. Mostly for Photoshop, selecting layers i think is my main use of the right click option. And working with the Layer palette. It would be annoying going back to a single button mouse, or using the Control key modifier.
Danny: Hugely important, or rather now it is. It wasn’t a big deal when I was just using a mighty mouse. Now I have all this function under my right hand I really miss it when I am doing some work on the laptop or another machine.
What do you think are the benefits of using a trackpad over a mouse (if any)?
: I don’t think there are any benefits of using a trackpad, it continually annoys me that I run to the end of the trackpad while dragging a file and I’m not to the target destination yet. Most frustrating.
Mischa: The benefit of the trackpad, is that it’s always there on a portable machine. You don’t need to pack extra equipment. I’ve often grabbed an old apple mouse from my shelf when i travel with a portable, only to realise later that it was an “iMac” mouse, ie, one with a very very short cable. Which basically means you have to have the mouse on the left side of the Macbook i have as their are no USB ports on the right side. So in these scenario’s i’d just have to go back and use the trackpad. But for Photoshop work, a trackpad really doesn’t cut it for me.
Danny: Since I have had the Unibody MacBook Pro I love the 4 finger swipe up and down for Expose. That is about the only thing I miss from a trackpad in my daily workflow.
What mouse do you currently use?
: A wired Apple Mighty Mouse.
Mischa: My current mouse is a Logitech VX Revolution. It’s pretty good. Though, when i was shopping around, it was basically the only Logitech the shop had in stock, and i’d heard that Logitech made good mice, so i just picked it up. However, when i do travel, i take my Apple Mighty Mouse for some reason, as i don’t like having to unplug the wireless receiver on my mac. (I’m well lazy i know!) The VX Revolution has “gears” on the scroll wheel which are kinda cool. I set them to be very rigid rather than smooth, as i feel the smooth option is just well too slippery. The scroll wheel can also go sideways, which i use on occasion. I don’t use any of the other buttons on the mouse, of which there is a few. Simply, Left Click, Right Click, and scrollwheel for me.
Danny: You could probably have guessed by now, a Logitech MX Revolution.
A tip of the hat to Louie, Mischa and Danny for taking the time to answer a few questions.
This whole exploration into mice cemented the idea for me that no mouse is perfect for the world, and companies that strive to make mice that fit all hands and all users will inevitably fail. I am quite sure the same applies to input devices, considering the slew of keyboard designs out there and the range of keyboards I’ve been through*. Trying them out and checking what’s the best for you can be quite important to your productivity and overall workflow. If you’re on a budget, like me, grab some old mice and hook them up. You’ll be astonished at the difference it makes.
* — On that note, my current favorite is the unibody Macbook keyboard: far superior to the ‘feel’ of the slim keyboards for iMacs / Mac Pros. When gaming, however, I prefer my Logitech G15.