You have less worries
Yes, the sky is blue

Notebook-friendly thumb mouse

23 August 2010, by Bryan    4 comments

A clever little startup company called SwiftPoint in our hometown Christchurch has finally launched their raison d’être — the nifty, incredibly small Future Mouse. It’s the smallest useful mouse I’ve ever seen, and it’s been making a few small waves in the technology world.

For the record: my current favourite mouse is the Logitech Anywhere MX, so if I make any comparisons, that’ll be the benchmark.

I love pointing devices (that is to say, I hate them, and I’m always on the lookout for one that suits my style), and this is certainly one which has held my attention ever since the first whiff got out in 2008. It’s a great buy for the image-conscious computer user, having approximately the same effect on my boring rectangular Thinkpad workhorse as a pair of John Lennon glasses would have had on your high-school accounting teacher.

What’s so great about it?

One of the things I dislike about every mouse I’ve ever used is the need to move my hand away from the keyboard to the mouse and back, whenever I need to click a button or select some text. I’m definitely not the lazy type, but my job involves a lot of typing and clicking. I do need a good break from the screen every hour or so, but not every 30 seconds. Swiftpoint’s videos showed people using the mouse on laptop palmrests, keyboards, and rocky cliffsides, so I was interested.

The low-down: It works fine on my laptop palmrest, but… it kinda gets in the way of my palms. Bummer. It doesn’t work very well at all on the keyboard, I’m afraid. The rocky cliffsides, well, I don’t really use my laptop when I’m climbing (I can’t speak for real climbers, though).

Well, that was my single biggest reason for buying it, and I’m mildly disappointed. Also, there’s not exactly hectares of mousing space on my palmrest. Maybe I should take Swiftpoint up on their satisfaction guarantee, but there’s some other goodies waiting.

First up: “Side-scroll”. The scroll-wheel is positioned such that if you tilt the mouse on its side, the scrollwheel makes contact with the mouse surface, so you can scroll by moving the mouse up and down. Works pretty well. There’s an additional feature that makes it scroll faster when you hold down the secondary mouse button.

Another great reason to hang onto this baby: the wireless USB plug is really tiny. Well, not quite as tiny as the Anywhere MX’s, but small enough to leave it plugged in permanently without it getting in the way. Great! Now I’ve only got one USB port left to plug all my other devices into…

The USB plug doubles as a charger, which is so obviously useful that I’m surprised no other mouse does the same thing (I have to replace my MX’s batteries every few months). The Swiftpoint mouse takes a mere 90 minutes to charge for 2 weeks, but if you run out of juice you’re not left in the cold — it has 30 second supercharge that gives you juice for another hour of usage, so you can wait until you have time for a proper charge. I probably wouldn’t recommend using a wireless mouse in a life-and-death situation, though.

Which brings me nicely to the next loveable feature: the magnet. Your new Swiftpoint mouse (I assume you’ve rushed out and bought one by now) has a little magnet built into the bottom, strong enough to hold it onto the charger while you walk around the airport with your laptop. It works well.

The magnet also holds the mouse onto the small magnetic strip in the middle of the mouse surface which they provide for you to stick over your palmrest. That means you can prop your laptop up on your knees at some weird angle, mouse away, and between mousings, store your mouse in a convenient location on your palmrest (far enough away from your palms, incidentally) without it falling to the bottom of the rocky cliffside (a long way down…)

It’s not all roses, though

The provided mousing surface is a bit of a mixed blessing. The surface is fairly functional, and the magnetic strip is ingenious (and really works as advertised). But I feel like I just put sellotape all over my laptop. It’s ugly, and it looks like a 7-year-old’s DIY job. Remember what I said about your accounting teacher? He can forget about being a rockstar. Needless to say, I removed it — I still have the occasional dream about being a rockstar.

Swiftpoint claims that this mousing surface “won’t leave a sticky residue on your laptop”. Oh yeah? What’s that white sticky stuff then? Fortunately a damp cloth removed it fairly painlessly.

Most of the problem could be solved fairly simply by not making the mousing surface transparent. Any opaque color (black would match my laptop) would look better. Judging by the beautiful mouse, they’ve got a great design team. I’m sure they’re capable of designing a beautiful mousepad.

My solution: neatly cut out the magnetic strip and apply that to my laptop. My laptop palmrest works fine as a mousing surface. I’ll let you know how it goes.

One of the selling points of this mouse is the fact that you can “hold it like a pen”. Brilliant idea, and fairly well executed. It does feel more comfortable and controllable than a normal mouse. However, it’s not 100% “like a pen”, and it will take some getting used to. The angles are slightly awkward, and again, there’s not a lot of spare space for moving a mouse on my palmrest.

While I’m griping, there’s one more item I’d like to add to this list. A hobby of mine, and a significant part of my job, is graphic design & photo manipulation. Most of my design apps use the middle mouse button to pan the drawing canvas around the screen. I’ve looked hard, and there’s no middle mouse button here. The two mouse buttons provided are very ergonomic & robust; no complaints there. But coming from my Anywhere MX (the first mouse where I’ve ever been happy with the middle button), I’m always missing something. Sure, I’m probably using the Swiftpoint for purposes beyond the designers’ intentions, but I’m a one mouse type ‘o guy.

My suggestion: Place a 3rd button right in the hollow of the grip on the right-hand-side of the mouse. That’s what feels most natural and least in-the-way to me. Even better, they could swap the new button with the current secondary button, and the buttons would feel more like they do on a standard mouse.

In summary

This is a fantastic mouse, and a lot of thought has been put into the design. If you travel, it’s a must-have. I’m afraid I won’t be using the Future Mouse for my day-to-day work, but I like it enough that I’m planning to hang onto it. Next time I’m on a plane, or doing a bit of leisurely cliffside computing, I plan to have my Future Mouse with me.

Have you tried this mouse, and do you have any experiences (positive or negative) to share? Any favorite mice you think deserve a mention?

4 comments (oldest first)

David Preece 25 Aug 2010, 17:18 link

Apple’s “Magic Mouse” is actually very good and also holds the distinction of being the first good mouse the company has produced :)

Bryan 25 Aug 2010, 17:54 link

Heh, that’s very cool, David. I saw their new multi-touch “magic trackpad” that came out recently, but haven’t seen this mouse before. I wonder if it works on non-Macs.

I really like how they’ve done the multi-touch. Very clever.

Paul 15 Oct 2010, 10:47 link

It works really well and as advertised. I agree with you on the middle button omission though and this is the only thing stopping me from buying a second one for my desktop.

One other thing, I posted a comment on their forum about the missing middle button with some suggestions, similar to your own, on where it work well for me in future versions. The comment was deleted so they don’t appear to be open to suggestions.

Bryan 15 Oct 2010, 11:05 link

Paul,

Pity about them not being open to feedback :-( Seems like a really bad look for a startup company to delete customer suggestions.