The Microsoft Touch Mouse offers a halfway house between traditional mouse and keyboard-, and touchscreen input. It's a wireless mouse that offers seven different touch functions through which you can swipe and gesture your way to touchy feely Windows 8 nirvana without having to lay a finger on your PC's screen. Thus, although it was announced in mid 2011, the Touch Mouse feels designed for Windows 8 - despite what you may have heard Windows 8 is best used with a mouse and just the occasional bit of touch input, especially in a business situation.
Whether the Microsoft Touch Mouse is the best mouse for this job is open to question, however, as we have some reservations about this device. We tested the Microsoft Touch Mouse with our Windows 8 desktop PC. See also: Microsoft Wedge Mobile Keyboard review and Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse review.
Microsoft Touch Mouse: design
From a distance the Touch Mouse looks nondescript. It's uniform black and measuring 120x62x37mm is pretty much the same size as the bog-standard USB wired mouse that came with our bog-standard Dell desktop office PC. Look a little closer, however, and it is a stylish device topped by a single curvy sweep of black plastic, unbroken by button or scrollwheel. This is because the Touch Mouse is, as the name suggests, a touch-enabled device. Across the top of the front two thirds of the mouse are row upon row of x's and dots, forming a touch-sensitive field to register gestures. Up the middle of this is a single groove, designed to let your digits know where to scroll back and forth.
Flip over the Touch Mouse and you'll find a largely white underbelly, with an on/off button, and a blue light where the BlueTrack tracking technology does its thing in lieue of a trackerball. You'll also find the USB-enabled nano receiver tooked away discreetly: stick this into a USB port on your PC or laptop and you are good to go. Well, you will be so long as you have popped open the white plastic flap on the Touch Mouse's underside and slapped in two AA batteries.
At 80g the Touch Mouse is noticeably heavier than basic wired peripherals, but in the regular ball-park for wireless rodents (which have to carry batteries). It's not an unpleasing heft: you need a little resistance in a wireless mouse.
Using the Microsoft Touch Mouse
With its standard size the Touch Mouse feels comfortable in my standard-sized hands. Its BlueTrack sensor tracks smoothly across my desk.
What you also need with a wireless mouse, however, is responsiveness. Unfortunately, we found the Touch Mouse sluggish at first. Even when we downloaded and installed the Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center, and played with the responsiveness settings, it was difficult to get the perfect speed of mousing. More importantly, scrolling without a scrollwheel just didn't work well for us. It works of course, but there is a level of concentration required that made it marginally less appealing than scrolling with a scrollwheel. And when it comes to interacting with your PC or laptop, the margins are crucial.
We also found it difficult to right- or left-click with the Touch Mouse. Again, difficult but by no means impossible. It is that on several occasions we went to click and inadvertantly pulled up the right-click menu (and vice versa).
These are all personal issues - you may take to using the Touch Mouse with no problems at all. And it is true that some of this is inherent with using a mouse that has no dedicated hardware buttons. It may be the price you pay for having a touchpad with which to gesture control your device. But I started playing with the Touch Mouse the day after I finished using the much smaller but similarly specified Wedge Touch Mouse, and I found that much easier to use.
Microsoft Touch Mouse: gestures
Like the Wedge Touch Mouse, the plain old Touch Mouse offers some gesture control. And then some more. We'd recommend that everyone who purchases this mouse downloads and installs Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard Center, and then goes through the training mode to learn the key gestures. Using the top of the mouse like a trackpad, you swipe one two or three fingers, back or forward, or right to left, in order to execute certain commands. There are even a couple of thumb gestures.
As well as simple scrolling and left- and right-clicking, when using the Microsoft Touch Mouse the key gestures are:
- To show or hide all open windows, you sweep three fingers back or forth on the top of the Microsoft Touch mouse.
- Move your thumb to the right or left to go forward or back.
- Two fingers arrange Windows - move two fingers left and right to snap or unsnap Windows, or up and down to maximise, restor and minimise Windows.
With Mouse and Keyboard Center installed you can also enable touch trails as feedback. Put simply, if you correctly carry out a gesture, you'll see some shiny vapour trails across your screen.
Which is all well and good. But we found that we had to train ourselves to use the gestures, and it was tricky to pull them off consistantly even after a lot of practice. That being the case, and with Windows 8's keyboard shortcuts being so handy, we simply stopped using the gestures. This does seem to negate the point of, well, gestures. Even worse, sometimes we accidentally minimised windows or snapped them to one side when we were trying only to scroll. Bah. You may have a different experience.
Microsoft Touch Mouse: other thoughts
No doubt the Touch Mouse is a high-quality, well-built input device. And at around £39 in the UK it is very well priced. But its killer feature purports to be gesture control for Windows 8, and in our experience this was difficult to use. More importantly, it's not critical. We've been using the final Windows 8 code on a variety of devices for a while now, and although gesture control and touchscreen input are on occasion useful, Windows 8 is perfectly useable with a simple mouse. Which is worth remembering.