Earlier this year, we looked at three touch-sensitive wearable mice from Mad Catz, SpeedLink, and Microsoft. Each mouse was unique in its own right and all three were good at tracking on my Roccat Sota pad, but I ended up choosing Microsoft Arc Touch as my favorite as it was the most aesthetically pleasing and comfortable of the trio. At $ 45, the price also seemed right.
Microsoft has since given us another touch-based rodent, the Explorer Touch Mouse. In contrast to the Arc Touch, the Explorer offers a more traditional shape with an evenly glossy finish and a simplified layout.
The ambidextrous Explorer Touch Mouse is available in black and gray as well as a limited edition dark red model. The scope of delivery includes the mouse, a 2.4 GHz nano USB receiver, two AA batteries and a package with a quick start guide and other documentation. Microsoft claims the mouse will last up to 18 months before needing new batteries.
A software CD is not included as the mouse will automatically download what you need when connected to your PC. Windows 7, Vista, and XP are listed as compatible operating systems.
As a mobile mouse, the Explorer Touch is smaller than a conventional desktop mouse, so you can easily take it with you on the go. It also means that users with larger hands will likely have difficulty getting used to such a small mouse.
Microsoft provided us with their "Storm Gray" version, although to me it looks more like a deep blue. The top of the mouse is made solid with a glossy plastic finish. The main left and right buttons are molded into the palm rest, with the touch sensitive strip between them. The touch strip is functionally identical to what we saw on the Arc Touch.
You can scroll up and down by sliding your finger in both directions. In addition, you can press the upper, middle and lower areas of the touch strip for three additional click buttons. Just below the Touch Strip is a tiny battery LED indicator that glows green when you turn on the mouse. We assume that it will blink when the batteries are low.
On the underside of the mouse there are two horizontal mouse feet, a BlueTrack laser, an on / off switch and a receiver dock. Microsoft's BlueTrack technology is similar to Logitech's Darkfield tracking system in that you can use the mouse on more surfaces than a traditional laser. The USB receiver clicks into the docking hole when you travel so you don't lose it – a subtle but thoughtful touch. The battery compartment is easily accessible and contains the two AA batteries, one on each side.
After adjusting the vertical scroll speed and changing the vibration feedback, I set about using the Explorer Touch as the main computer mouse for several days. While it took me some time to get used to the smaller pointer, it made me feel at home when I did. As mentioned earlier, the small size will put off most users with larger hands, but again this is primarily a mobile product so this is unlikely to be replacing your desktop clicker.
I measured the effective range of the wireless connection to be about 10 feet before things started to behave. Other than using HTPC or giving a presentation, I can't think of a scenario where you would sit that far from your computer.
In contrast to the HP Wi-Fi Mobile Mouse, I had no problems with the buttons in Touch Explorer. If you remember the HP mobile device, the click zone stretched too far back, resulting in my palm accidentally holding down the mouse buttons after removing my finger. Fortunately, there were no such problems with Microsoft's offering.
The Explorer Touch's touch strip works just as well as the Arc Touch's. It's really hard to describe how it works, but there is a tactical feel and an audible click when the mouse rolls. However, no moving components are visible. It feels like the touch area is really thin with a mechanical wheel underneath. It is certainly unlike anything else I've experienced with a mouse.
The click buttons on the touch strip also worked fine, but the only thing I was missing on this mouse were side buttons. The little HP mouse had right and left click buttons, and I wish Microsoft had implemented them.
BlueTrack worked very well on almost every surface I've tried. The only surface the mouse didn't like was on my lap on my blue jeans. However, it worked just fine on my couch, bare desk, white countertop, and even a paper towel.
The Explorer Touch has an MSRP of $ 49.95, but we could find it on Amazon and other points of sale for just $ 35-40. As a mobile mouse, only the side click buttons are missing. Still, I prefer the Explorer Touch over Microsoft's Arc Touch because it feels more natural.
In addition to the Explorer Touch, Microsoft recently released the "Touch Mouse". This more advanced, desktop-oriented touch-sensitive mouse uses the entire click zone as the touch area, similar to Apple's Magic Mouse. Unfortunately, in either case, people seem to have mixed feelings about these touch-sensitive devices.
Benefits: Touch Strip works well, Bluetrack, ambidextrous design, relatively comfortable.
Disadvantage: No thumb buttons.