By Jeff Field
When picking your mouse and keyboard, personal preference and comfort have to take precedence over any whiz-bang features. Most serious computer users use their mice and keyboards quite a bit during the course of a workday, or when at home, and as such they need devices that will be comfortable being used a long time. Microsoft, while not exactly popular with the Open Source crowd, makes some of the most popular input devices out there. However, there are cheaper alternatives that are just as good, if not better.
The Logitech Wheel Mouse Optical is the latest in Logitech's long line of mice and trackballs. Logitech is the other big name in input devices, and for good reason, because the company offers a wide range of input devices designed to the fit the need of every user, from the gamer (with its line of gamepads and joysticks) to the everyday home user with its keyboards, mice and speakers. Logitech's latest mouse is a two-button wheel mouse priced at $29.99 at most stores.
What makes the Logitech special is the fact that, like Microsoft's Intellieye line of mice, this mouse uses an optical sensor in order to track mouse movements. This lets the mouse operate on any non-reflective surface, such as a desktop or a leg. This means you don't need to waste money on mouse pads, which wear down. The other advantage of not having a wheel is that there are fewer moving parts to break down, in theory making a longer lasting mouse. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, and in fact my Microsoft Intellimouse with Intellieye just had the eye on it die a few weeks ago. The other advantage is that you never have to clean your mouse because there are no moving parts to get dirt and dust caught on them. I have to clean my traditional mice every week or two or the tracking gets quite sloppy.
When using the mouse under XFree86 on Mandrake 7.2, setting up the mouse as a Microsoft Intellimouse was all I needed to get the mouse working with its wheel in X. The mouse worked extremely well, in fact the only problem I had with it was that XFree86 in Mandrake apparently didn't like starting up the mouse while the Belkin Omnicube was set to another machine. However, that doesn't really say anything about the mouse. The mouse is dual USB/PS/2, and you can convert the PS/2 to serial so the entire range of input types is supported, two of them out of the box.
An interesting side note on the packaging: On the outside of each Logitech Wheel Mouse Optical, there is a small red flashing light. It's supposed to grab your attention and show you what the bottom of an optical mouse is like. This wouldn't be worth noting if, when opened, the box didn't reveal two Duracell Ultra batteries that power this thing. Now, don't get me wrong, I like flashing lights as much as the next guy, but those batteries are not exactly the cheapest available. I wonder how much cost is added by these batteries, or if Logitech isn't passing the cost on to the consumer, how much they waste on this little gimmick?
Comfort is a big factor when picking an input device. And while comfort depends on individual tastes, it's fairly easy to tell what most users will like or dislike about a certain design. For instance, I myself like the design of the Wheel Mouse Optical because it fits nicely under my pointer and middle finger. However, to some people this mouse would be too small, and they might prefer the large size of the Microsoft Intellimouse with Intellieye. And, in the end, the comfort of the design should matter more than the features. For those who like smaller mice, however, the Wheel Mouse Optical does have an excellent array of features, so it's certainly a nice option.
The mouse movement was smooth and extremely responsive, and the buttons on the mouse are firm and easy to click; in fact, they feel a good bit nicer than those on the big Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer, which felt sort of soft when you clicked them, and also had a tendency to get stuck.
The Logitech Wheel Mouse is a nice optical mouse, and an excellent alternative to Microsoft's line of mice. However, as I've said, mice should be chosen based on individual preferences. For a school, the Logitech is a nice option because it can be had for $25 or less, and it eliminates the all-to-common problem in high schools of disappearing mouse balls. For businesses with hundreds of machines, such a low-priced mouse with low maintenance can be a blessing. Overall, the Wheel Mouse provides all the functionality the average user needs, and does so comfortably for a low cost. It can be found on Pricewatch for as low as $18.
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