Earlier this year we looked at three touch sensitive portable mice from the likes of Mad Catz, SpeedLink and Microsoft. Each mouse was distinct in its own right and all three were able to track fine on my Roccat Sota pad, but I ultimately chose Microsoft's Arc Touch as my favorite because it was the most aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to use of the trio. At $45, the price seemed right as well.
Microsoft has since provided us with another touch-based rodent, the Explorer Touch Mouse. Unlike the Arc Touch, the Explorer features a more traditional shape complete with a uniform glossy paint job and a simplistic layout.
The ambidextrous Explorer Touch Mouse is available in black and gray as well as a limited edition dark red model. Included in the retail package are the mouse, a 2.4GHz Nano USB receiver, two AA batteries and a packet with a quick user guide and other documentation. Microsoft claims that the mouse will last for up to 18 months before needing fresh batteries.
A software disc is not included as the mouse automatically downloads 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 traditional desktop mouse, making it easier to carry with you on the go. This also means users with larger hands will likely have a hard time getting acclimated to such a small mouse.
Microsoft supplied us with their "Storm Gray" version, though it looks more like a deep blue to me. The top of the mouse is solidly designed with a glossy plastic finish. The left and right primary buttons are molded into the palm rest and the touch sensitive strip is positioned between them. The touch strip is functionally identical to what we saw on the Arc Touch.
You can scroll up and down by swiping your finger in either direction. Additionally you can press the top, middle and bottom sections of the touch strip for three extra click buttons. Just below the touch strip is a tiny battery LED indicator that lights up green when you turn the mouse on and we presume flashes when the batteries are low.
On the bottom of the mouse are two horizontal mouse feet, a BlueTrack laser, 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 locks into the docking hole when traveling so you won't lose it, a subtle but thoughtful touch. The battery compartment is easy to access and holds the two AA batteries, one on each side.
After adjusting the vertical scrolling speed and changing the vibration feedback, I set about using the Explorer Touch as my main computer mouse for several days. It admittedly took me some time to get used to the smaller pointer but once I did, I felt right at home. As mentioned earlier, the small size will deter most users with larger hands, but again, this is primarily a mobile product so you likely won't be replacing your desktop clicker with it.
I measured the effective range of the wireless connection to about 10 feet or so before things started acting up. Aside from HTPC usage or giving a presentation, I can't imagine a scenario where you'd be sitting that far away from your computer.
Unlike the HP Wi-Fi Mobile Mouse, I had no issues with the buttons on the Touch Explorer. If you recall with the HP mobile unit, the click zone extended too far back which caused my palm to inadvertently hold down the mouse buttons after I removed my finger. Fortunately, there were no such issues with Microsoft's offering.
The touch strip on the Explorer Touch works just as well as the Arc Touch's. It's really hard to describe how it operates, but there is a tactical feel and audible click as the mouse is scrolling. Yet, there are no visible moving components. It feels as though the touch surface is really thin and there is a mechanical wheel under it. It's certainly different than anything else I've experienced on a mouse.
The click buttons on the touch strip also worked just fine, but the one thing I found missing on this mouse are side buttons. The small HP mouse had right and left click buttons and I wish Microsoft implemented them.
BlueTrack worked very well on almost every surface I tried. The only surface that the mouse didn't like was in my lap on my blue jeans. However, it worked just fine on my couch, bare desk, a white countertop and even a paper towel.
The Explorer Touch has an MSRP of $49.95 but we were able to find it at as low as $35-40 on Amazon and other outlets. As a mobile mouse, the only thing missing are the side click buttons. That said, I do prefer the Explorer Touch over Microsoft's Arc Touch as it feels more natural.
As a side note, along with the Explorer Touch, Microsoft recently released the "Touch Mouse." This more advanced, desktop-oriented touch sensitive mouse uses the entire click zone as touch surface, akin to Apple's Magic Mouse. Unfortunately either way you go it seems people have mixed feelings about these touch sensitive devices.
Pros: Touch strip works well, Bluetrack, ambidextrous design, relatively comfortable.
Cons: No thumb buttons.