In addition to the new mice and keyboards that Microsoft is releasing this year for Windows 8, the software giant has a few carryover products from last year that also offer unique capabilities that will be of use on the firm’s new OS. Two that I happen to have on hand are the Microsoft Touch Mouse and Explorer Touch Mouse, both of which offer Windows 8-friendly touch features.
It’s worth mentioning up front, however, that any Microsoft mouse or keyboard—indeed any third party device, too—will offer some useful Window 8 interaction over and above the obvious. For example, any keyboard (including those built into laptops and portable devices) which has volume keys should work out of the box for controlling the system volume. And the scroll wheel on my Microsoft Explorer Mouse works nicely for scrolling through Metro experiences, both vertically and horizontally. No configuration or tweaking is required.
But there are two Microsoft mice from 2011 that meet a baseline of Windows 8 usefulness: The Microsoft Touch Mouse and Explorer Touch Mouse both offer some form of touch interaction, and since touch is a key interface for Windows 8, these devices are still at least somewhat interesting. (Indeed, I believe that the Touch Mouse will continue forward and is one of the more compelling Windows 8 peripherals.)
The Explorer Touch Mouse is basically last year’s version of the Sculpt Touch Mouse I reviewed yesterday. The devices are very similar, with similar capabilities, so I won’t repeat everything I previously wrote. But there are two things about the Explorer Touch Mouse that bear mentioning.
First, because the Explorer Touch Mouse uses a proprietary dongle instead of Bluetooth, it will with a wider range of PCs—i.e. any PC—than will the Sculpt Touch Mouse. So if you’re using a non-Bluetooth-equipped PC, and like this type of design, this is the better choice.
Second, while both the Sculpt Touch Mouse and Explorer Touch Mouse share a nearly identical touch strip, which provides both middle mouse button and scrolling functionality, the Explorer Touch Mouse offers more features: Its touch strip has additional top and bottom buttons too. You access the top button by tapping the top of the touch strip and the bottom button by tapping the bottom. These “buttons” are mapped to Page Up and Page Down, but can of course be configured for whatever functions you prefer.
Beyond that, the Explorer Touch Mouse, like the Sculpt, is nothing special per se, and I disable the vibration feature on the touch strip, which I find annoying.
The Microsoft Touch Mouse is more interesting. I reviewed this mouse a year ago on Windows 7 and found it to be less useful than Apple’s Magic Trackpad, which provides a more natural surface for multi-touch gestures. But with Windows 8 offering a far more integral multi-touch experience than its predecessor, I figured it was time to look at this device again. And while I still think that a trackpad makes more sense for gesturing, the Touch Mouse isn’t horrible. And if you get the Windows 8 specific drivers, you’ll find some interesting new Metro functionality.
Out of the box, the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center exposes all of this device’s features and provides a very useful gesture practice utility. The basic settings indicates just left and right mouse buttons, plus a set of touch gestures. But if you navigate to that interface, you’ll see you have a lot to learn: This device supports numerous and sometimes complicated gestures.
The basics aren’t hard to understand. With a single finger, you can scroll through center vertically or horizontally, treating the upper surface of the mouse as if it were a small, curved trackpad of sorts (though of course you would utilize two or more fingers on a trackpad to scroll.) And since it’s ambidextrous, you can configure it for left- or right-handed use.
There’s also a single finger gesture you can activate with your thumb: If you move it down on the side of the device while on the desktop, you can trigger the Back action, which is typically used in web browsers. Glide your thumb up and you trigger Forward. Neither feels particularly natural, and they’re both easy to trigger by mistake.
Once you move up to two- or three-finger gestures, things work differently depending on whether you’re in Metro or the desktop.
On the desktop, you can move two fingers down over the top surface of the device to minimize the current window. Move them up to restore or maximize the window. Likewise, you can move two fingers horizontally, left or right, to snap the current window to the side of the screen (on the desktop; not Metro Snap).
In Metro, to can gesture up or down with two fingers and expose the current Metro experience’s app bar. If you move two fingers to the left, you will display the Charms bar. Move them to the right and you will switch between running apps.
Three finger gestures work similarly. If you move three fingers up over the top surface of the device while on the desktop, you’ll display the Instant Viewer, a Mac OS X-like view that lets you pick from the available desktop windows. Move the three fingers down the device and you’ll engage Peek (at desktop).
In Metro, three fingers controls semantic zoom. If you move three fingers forward, you will zoom in (where available). Move backward and you zoom out.
Overall, while neither of these mice is a game changer, they both contribute to what is a very diverse set of peripherals for Windows 8 that will allow users to interact with this new OS in the manner to which they are the most accustomed. Between all the different keyboard, mouse, trackpad, multi-touch, and stylus inputs that are currently available, there’s no reason you can’t find a combination of devices that fits your needs. Chances are, you already own a few of them.