Mice Buying Guide

All hail the humble mouse, lowly foot soldier of the productivity wars, pint-size pointer-pushing pawn in service to mighty King Mac. Your mouse is the only peripheral you caress for hours a day (you only tickle your keyboard), but you may have never thought of replacing the limited Apple Mouse or Magic Mouse that shipped with your Mac or pondered augmenting your 'Book's touchy trackpad.

Mice have come a long way in the 40-plus years since they were invented by inveterate tinkerer Doug Engelbart and his colleague Bill English at the Stanford Research Institute. Wheels and balls have given way to sensitive optical and laser sensors, blocky hand-twisting designs have been replaced by ergonomic contours, many mice have sprouted multiple buttons on their backs and sides, wireless connectivity has freed us from cable tangle, and powerful driver software offers individualized customization. We're in the Golden Age of Rodents.

It's time to look at the mice you're missing. However, the wealth of choices can be daunting. We have a few tips to help you.

Buying advice: Mice

Wired or wireless: The wired-versus-wireless decision involves a choice between conveniences. Do you want to worry about how much power is left in a wireless mouse's batteries, or do you want to avoid the hassle of a USB tether?

Of course, you could eliminate that first worry if you simply carry extra batteries. Many wireless mice also provide a warning light to alert you when your battery is failing.

USB cables can be a hassle, but so can a wireless USB dongle for wireless mice that use radio frequency (RF) instead of Bluetooth. Some mice use dongles that are tiny quarter-inch nubbins.

Bluetooth or RF: If you've decided on a wireless mouse, your next choice is Bluetooth versus RF. The advantage of Bluetooth is that since it connects to circuitry inside your Mac, you needn't fill a precious USB port with an RF dongle. The disadvantage is that Bluetooth can be finicky, occasionally balking at waking up its connection after your mouse has been napping. RF, on the other hand, is rock-solid.

Shape: A mouse doesn't have to have a simple lozenge shape. A symmetrical lozenge or a humpbacked mouse does, however, have the advantage of being ambidextrous-usable by both right- and left-handed mousers. Unfortunately, your hand isn't symmetrical. A mouse designed for your hand's contours can help ward off dreaded RSI complications such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

What's comfortable for one person isn't for another. It's important to try a mouse before you buy it. Mice that are designed to fit the hand may not necessarily fit your hand.

If you choose a mouse that doesn't have advanced driver software, you can still join the configurability party by installing third-party driver software such as USB Overdrive ($20) or SteerMouse ($20).

Our favorite mice

What mouse you choose depends on your needs-it's important to try before you buy. There are lots of rodents to from which to choose, and it can be a little daunting to figure out which ones to consider. To help you get started, here are three mice that we've reviewed. Use our reviews to get you started.

With its BlueTrack technology, the Microsoft Explorer Mouse has a tracking system that works on a wider variety of surfaces than your typical optical or laser mouse. If you're right-handed, the five-button Explorer Mouse feels great. It uses wireless RF and comes with a USB dongle. Read the full review. [$80 (Get best current price); Microsoft]

The Logitech V550 Cordless Laser Mouse for Notebooks is a wireless RF mouse that does everything right. The ambidextrous V550 is the right weight and the right size, and has the right tracking accuracy, the right software, the right features, and the right accessories to make it the go-to mouse for notebook users. Read the full review. [$60 (Get best current price); Logitech]

While our review of the Apple Magic Mouse wasn't entirely favorable, it is a unique device. It uses Multi-Touch and you can use the whole surface above the Apple logo for finger swipes. You can swipe up, down, left, right, diagonally, or even in a circle. The mouse has only two buttons, and requires Bluetooth. Read the full review. [$69 (Get best current price); Apple]

 

[Rik Myslewski has been writing about the Mac since 1989. He has been the editor in chief of MacAddict (now Mac|Life), the executive editor of MacUser (Ziff-Davis) and the director of MacUser Labs, and the executive producer of Macworld Live. His blog can be found on Myslewski.com. Blair Hanley Frank and Roman Loyola contributed to this guide.]

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