I am old enough that I can remember the very earliest days of personal computers…heck, my first computer was the Apple II+ and what a marvel we thought that was. As a result, I have watched firsthand the evolution of personal computers, including the notebook/laptop computer from its earliest incarnation to the current MacBook Air and desktop replacements like the Toshiba Qosmio. Most of the time, when I think back on my first experiences with portable computers (that weighed about 10 pounds) and then flash forward to today…well, it really is astonishing to think about how far technology has advanced and is continuing to advance. Still, there have been a few "dead ends" or areas where the technology seemed to take a wrong turn and got stuck there. One such wrong turn, in my opinion, is the touch pad mouse. I remember the first true laptops I used had a detachable trackball style mouse, which later became the eraser point mouse and ultimately the touchpad. Obviously, the touchpad has the advantage of requiring very little space on a space conscious computer. Otherwise, however, I have found them to be a nightmare. Unresponsive finger swipes, inadvertent taps, and, of course, the patently less than ergonomic position in which these will place your hands. Ever since I got my Toshiba Satellite last year, I have been convinced that there simply must be a better way to control the cursor on my screen. I was just about to give up when Kensington displayed their Slimblade Trackball Mouse at this year’s CES. Was this the solution I had been seeking? Read on and we’ll find out together.
The mouse itself is extremely well designed. It is much skinnier than the standard mouse, without the hump in the middle, hence the name "Slimblade" I found this flat design was comfortable in my hand, and most of the buttons coincided with the natural lay of my fingers, meaning I could use it in what felt like an almost rested position. It is a standard two button mouse, with a small scroll wheel in the middle.
Flip it over and you can see the laser eye which is featured on almost all modern mice today. I liked the addition of the sliding door to cover the eye when not in use. Of course, the most noticeable feature (or lack thereof) is that this mouse has no tail. That telltale wire which almost every mouse since 1980 has featured is gone, replaced with a small blue button. Yup, that’s right. This one will connect to your computer via Bluetooth.
Pairing the mouse is easy, just tap the blue button on the bottom to enter pairing mode, and follow the directions for your Bluetooth software. Once paired, I was extremely impressed to find that the mouse would automatically connect with my computer every time I turned on the computer. Now, given the fact that my laptop almost never plays well with new hardware, particularly Bluetooth devices, I was absolutely stunned by how smoothly this process went.
Of course, if you are like me, and you have a laptop which is more than a few months old, then it may not have come with Bluetooth built in. But wait, before you shrug your shoulders and determine yourself to be left out in the rain again, let me tell you about the Kensington Bluetooth USB Micro Adaptor. This is, bar none, the best Bluetooth adaptor I have ever used. In the past, my experience with Bluetooth adaptors and Windows Vista has been hit and miss. Some have worked, others have not, and none have been particularly reliable. Not so, this time. The Kensington adaptor worked right away on the first try, and every try thereafter.
As much as I adore this adaptor for its reliability, that is not even its best feature. My favorite reason for loving this adaptor is that it is absolutely tiny. This is probably the smallest USB device I have ever used.
Here it is next to the Proporta adaptor I had been using, which I had previously thought was an extremely small device. The Kensington adaptor is so small, in fact, that you never need to remove it from the USB port on your computer. This has always been a pet peeve of mine with USB adaptors. They are small and easily lost. Every time I have to fetch one from my bag, or unplug one from my computer, I run the risk of dropping it (especially on the less than smooth train ride) and losing it forever. With the Kensington adaptor, you can just find an out-of-the-way USB port, plug it in, and forget it. It is small enough and secure enough that you will never need to worry about accidentally knocking it out during travel. This may seem like a small benefit, but any road warrior will tell you that small benefits can reap huge rewards, and leaving this adaptor plugged in at all times has paid off immeasurably with the added convenience , ease of use, and peace of mind it has brought.
OK. Now that you have all of the tools you will need to connect the mouse to your computer, let’s turn our attention back to the mouse itself. There is a third button which I have not told you about yet. Beneath the scroll ball is the mode button. This button will switch the mouse from a standard mouse to a trackball; now you will use that scroll ball like a trackball to easily guide the pointer across the screen. It’s like meeting Clark Kent and, halfway through the conversation, realizing that you are talking to Superman. Just double tap the mode button and you will instantly switch from mouse to trackball and back again. WOW!
This trackball feature is by far the most useful feature I have ever found on a mouse…anywhere. You have to understand two things. First, my desk is a mess, so using a standard mouse can become an exercise in some futility. Second, I use my laptop on the train a lot, where there is really no flat surface on which a standard mouse can operate. Besides, the people sitting next to me keep glaring when I jab them with my elbows while scrolling. So, a trackball mouse, which allows me to control my computer without so much as a wild elbow or twist of my wrist…perfection in the palm of my hand.
The only problem I found when I first started using the mouse was that, while in trackball mode, there seemed to be no way to scroll. I could not easily grab a scrollbar and move down the page. Which is where a few minutes of senseless fumbling can come in handy. Tapping the mode button once will "grab" an item on the screen. Essentially, it offers the same functionality as clicking and holding the left mouse button on a standard mouse. I do wish, however, that this function had been separate from the mode button. Sometimes, if I tried to grab something and missed, tapping the button again too soon could result in accidentally switching modes. It also would have been nice, for such occasions as an accidental mode switch, if there had been a light or other visual cue showing which mode you were currently using.
The Trackball Mouse operates on two AA batteries (included). And I have to admit that these batteries far outlasted my testing. I have been using this mouse on a regular daily basis for several weeks. In fact, I almost never use my computer without it. In the weeks I have been testing it, the battery has only dropped from a full three bars to two bars. And, since the mouse goes into sleep mode anytime your computer does, you can expect to find an extremely long life from your batteries.
Still, if you are concerned, every time you switch modes, the green battery indicator on the back of the mouse will illuminate, showing your power status. I do wish there had been a way to check this fuel gauge, without switching modes, but that was no big deal.
Overall, I had extremely high expectations for this mouse. I saw it is the one which would finally release me from the confines of my hated touchpad, and which would allow me considerably more control while using my computer on the train. No small order. The Kensington Slimblade Trackball Mouse fared beautifully, however, not only meeting, but far exceeding, all of my expectations. It is, hands down, the best portable mouse solution I have ever used.
Name: Slimblade Trackball Mouse
Bluetooth USB Micro Adaptor
Where to Buy: Kensington Slimblade Trackball Mouse
Price: Trackball Mouse: $99.99
Bluetooth Adaptor: $39.99