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Microsoft Arc Mouse Touch

A little over a year ago, Microsoft unveiled its first generation Arc Mouse, which was aimed at the mobile market and those who value form over function. As I noted in my review, that original Arc Mouse had a cool design but sacrificed ergonomics for portability. And, on that note, it was a pretty decent mobile mouse, certainly one that was more Apple-like than the typical pragmatic Microsoft product.

Flash forward to today and Microsoft has a second generation Arc Mouse in the market, the Arc Mouse Touch. And while the basics haven't changed since the first unit, this new version features an all-new and innovative design that will turn heads.

In fact, it's hard to even describe this mouse. When it's not in use, the Arc Mouse Touch lays flat and resembles a slab of plastic and the wonderfully grippy material that makes up its back half. This is the mouse's travel mode, and while it's like this, the power is off and you can attach the wireless nubbin, magneto-magically, to the bottom of the device. Doing so, of course, ruins the point of the flatness--its inherent portability--but let's just skip over that inconvenient truth for a moment.

To use this mouse, you have to snap the back down from its flat travel shape to a curved arc. Doing so causes a solid cracking sound that always reminds me of cracking open a lobster's tail, but that comparison might mean little to those outside coastal New England. Suffice to say it's a bit of an odd (and, at first, slightly wrong-feeling) action, but you get used to it.

When you do turn on the mouse this way, two things happen. A green light briefly lights up on the top of the mouse, right behind the scroll strip (not a wheel; explained below), just to let you know that power-on happened normally. And on the bottom of the device, the BlueTrack light also comes on, letting you use the mouse on virtually any surface.

In use, the Arc Mouse Touch suffers from the same ergonomic issues as its predecessor. That is, this is a mobile mouse only and shouldn't be used day-to-day if you sit in front of a computer for hours at a time. The issue is one of size: For the best ergonomics, and protection against Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, you want the biggest mouse you can find. I happen to use a Microsoft Explorer Mouse, which is excellent. It's also thicker than the Arc Mouse Touch, and fits better in the hand.

The point being, for mobile computing, the Arc Mouse Touch is certainly better than the twitchy trackpads found on a typical laptop, and it's only a million times better than any of Apple's sorry pointing devices. Plus, the ambidextrous design will work equally well for lefties.

And there's more to this mouse than the Blue Track and lobster back technologies. In lieu of a standard scroll wheel, as per the original Arc Mouse, the Touch includes a metal touch strip. You glide your finger up and down this strip as you would with a mechanical wheel, and it works as expected, and provides a slight vibration so you know its working. It also unexpectedly issues a realistic mechanical scrolling sound¸ which is unnerving at first. It does serve the purpose of providing feedback, however, and you get used to it and even rely on it over time.

The touch strip can also be touched in other ways. Flick the strip while scrolling and it speeds up. If you tap it near the top or bottom, it's like pressing the Page Up or Page Down keyboard keys, respectively.  There's a middle tap, of course, which works as a middle mouse button would, but also a double-tap that enables the onscreen scrolling widget. (As always, you'll want to install Microsoft's IntelliPoint software to get all the advanced features.)

Compared to the previous Arc Mouse, you do lose a couple of things. There's no handy carrying pouch, as before. And that wireless nubbin just latches onto the outside of the device, and doesn't get tucked under, and protected, as it does on the previous model.

Put simply, the Arc Mouse Touch a good little mobile mouse an innovative design and some basic touch features. But it's not something you should use for lengthy stays in front of the PC. And the company's upcoming Touch Mouse will raise the bar a bit more in the touch department by adding true multi-touch gestures.

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