The Zebec M-touch is a multitouch-equipped wireless mouse, but it's not all good news.
Multitouch - the technology that allows multiple finger gestures to be registered simultaneously on a trackpad or touchscreen - has been deployed on a mouse before. Apple famously threw out even the few hardware buttons it had when it produced the Magic Mouse, whose featureless white surface allows the nimble-fingered to scroll, click and swipe with the merest of movements. Now a slightly less well-known firm is attempting to repeat the trick.
With a similarly blank upper surface to the Magic Mouse (and also available in white, although our review model was black), the Xebec M-touch Wireless Optical Mouse looks great, at any rate. That bizarre, modish flat-top exterior gives it a whiff of smartphone glamour, and it's small enough to fit into a shirt pocket. This is a product that intrigues.
The problem is that the user experience doesn't measure up to the anticipation. Using multitouch on a mouse seemed like an iffy idea when Apple tried it, but the Magic Mouse is designed to the highest possible standards and just about makes the concept work. Here, on a cheaper device (with a more cramped surface), it seems very poorly advised indeed.
Two-finger gestures work on a tablet, smartphone or laptop trackpad because the pad is held in place by your other hand, or by the device's weight. But here, you're forced to hold the mouse in place with your thumb and two of your fingers, while swiping with the index and middle fingers. Fans of complex polyphonic piano music will know the dexterity required to split the fingers of a single hand into two tasks, and the frustration it can cause.
And the actual benefits of multitouch here are minor, to say the least. Whereas pinch-to-zoom and the casual lateral swipe transformed the usability of the smartphone, all the Xebec can offer is a forward and back action in Windows or IE (achieved with a pair of fingers swiped right or left). Swiping left is tricky - unless you give in and hold the mouse steady with your left hand - and going right almost impossible.
Other than that, the Xebec allows you to scroll by simply sliding a finger up or down the mouse's face (instead of having to use a wheel or scrollball). This sounds - and looks - splendid, but in practice it's simply not as reliable. The mouse frequently misses what you're doing, and the surface isn't quite smooth enough for even slightly sweaty fingers to glide over it unproblematically - this is where you really see the difference from the impeccably smooth Apple product. And for this reviewer at least, the feeling of a finger juddering awkwardly across the surface was nails-down-a-blackboard torture.
Even the simple left- and right-click 'buttons' - so friendly on most mice - became a tangle of pitfalls on the ambitious Xebec. Even brushing the right-button 'area' with your middle finger can set it off, meaning normally straightforward tasks become exercises in eggshell-walking.