Apple’s history with mice looks a lot like GM’s history with economy cars. It’s kind of sketchy. From the much-bemoaned “hockey puck mouse” of the late 90s to the translucent Apple Pro Mouse without a right click, Steve Jobs and company have never been squeamish about trampling function for fashion. So when Apple introduced the Magic Mouse, which forgoes any buttons or scroll wheels in favor of multi-touch capability, we approached it with trepidation.
Features and Design
Unlike the arch-backed gaming mice from companies like Microsoft and Logitech, Apple’s Magic Mouse takes a decidedly slim approach to hand support. It’s short. The stubby aluminum base of the mouse arches up like a Pringle on either side to meet a smooth, glass-like top plate, which depresses on the finger end to deliver a click. Since nobody wants a metal slab griding away on their desk all day, Apple has given the bottom two black plastic rails to slip and slide around on. The plate between them serves as the battery door, which can be removed to replace the AA batteries. Apple ships it with two AA alkalines, but we can’t help but think that two rechargeables and a USB cable to trickle charge them would do a lot to further Apple’s green image, considering they’re only supposed to last four months (that’s a lot of alkaline disposables over a several-year lifetime). Two small cutouts in the door also make room for Apple’s laser-based tracking engine, and a tiny nub to toggle the mouse on and off. A green LED no bigger than a pinhead flashes to let you know it’s in pairing mode, and glows steadily to indicate that it has mated up with a Mac. Almost needless to say for an Apple device, the whole thing feels top notch in build quality.
The multi-touch gestures available for the lid correspond closely with the ones you might already be used to from a multi-touch enabled MacBook: drag one finger around on the surface without clicking to scroll in any direction, hold down control and drag to zoom in, or use two-fingered swipes to the right or left to navigate forward and back.
Setup and Installation
Like most Apple products, the Magic Mouse comes packaged in a Spartan and slightly pretentious plastic shell that’s really no bigger than it is, along with an instruction manual, limited warranty, and certificate of Bluetooth compliance. Despite the clean appearances, the sticky cellophane tape holding the Magic Mouse into its packaging actually left a nice archipelago of sticky adhesive on the bottom. Come on, Apple. That’s Packaging 101.
As a mature Bluetooth product, the basics of connecting the Magic Mouse are quite simple. Put it into pairing mode with a flick of the bottom switch, open the Bluetooth control panel in OS X, and click connect. However, you’ll only get basic mouse functions before installing Apple’s Wireless Mouse Software Update 1.0, which unlocks the full capabilities of the mouse. Apple’s pint-sized instruction booklet mentions this briefly, but it could have been spelled out more clearly, and we can definitely picture novice uses fretting over why it doesn’t do everything it’s supposed to prior to rereading the instructions word for word. The 64MB download also balloons to over 100MB on installation, which just seems unnecessarily fatty for a mouse driver.
Usage and Testing
You don’t so much rest your hand on the Magic Mouse as you palm it, letting your thumb, ring and pinky fingers hook around the base while your pointer and middle finger hover up top for clicking. The amount of hand contact with the desk provides an excellent sense of traction, but the swoopy sides of the mouse just don’t provide very much to grab on to – we felt more like we were pushing it around within the confines of our hand than really gripping onto it. The edges around the translucent top plate also feel just as sharp as they look, which is to say, a little bit more than we care to grab on to. In short: Sir Mixalot would not approve. This mouse needs more cushion for the pushin’.
Taking the first couple sweeps around the screen with Apple’s new Mighty Mouse feels quite intuitive. The scrolling requires no forethought at all: Just start dragging your finger around and the computer smoothly scrolls. Besides the ease of use, we especially loved the programmed momentum (similar to what you might find on the iPod Touch or iPhone) which allows a scroll to drift to a stop after you lift your finger, rather than grinding to a halt the second you lift a finger. The zoom works just as well: hold the control button on the keyboard and the screen zooms in and out, silky smooth.
The two-fingered swiping to move back and forth on the Magic Mouse has been implemented so poorly that we’re tempted to call it a nonfeature – a figment of Steve Jobs‘ imagination that somehow crawled off the drawing board and directly into the marketing literature without any engineers attempting to make it work properly. It just doesn’t. To start with, the motion of moving two fingers sideways across the surface invokes an awkwardness evocative of Spock’s Vulcan salute. It feels unnatural, and no amount of practice seemed to make it any more comfortable. Second, Apple’s recognition for the swipe requires a full movement from edge to edge of the mouse. Not only is this nearly impossible to achieve with a standard mouse-holding position, it’s downright tiring, and takes forever.
We were tempted to criticize the lack of other multi-touch gestures on the mouse that we missed from the MacBook trackpad – like pulling up Expose – but after seeing how poorly the Magic Mouse functioned with its sole multi-touch function, we’re actually glad Apple didn’t get a chance to bungle any more.
The concept of a multi-touch mouse remains quite compelling, but tragically, Apple killed the Mighty Mouse the second a designer laid pen to paper and sketched it in its current form. Pretty, yes. Useful, no. The $70 asking price on this little guy actually seems reasonable as a sum of its parts, or even as a piece of art, but for sheer practicality, any money spent on one is really a waste. We can honestly say that we would prefer to work with the cheapo freebie mice that come bundled with all-in-one desktops than a Magic Mouse. Apple can build a killer laptop, a killer phone and a killer operating system, but a reasonable mouse still eludes the Cupertino company.
- Absolutely gorgeous
- Reasonably priced
- Intuitive one-fingered scrolling
- Top notch build quality
- Terribly uncomfortable to hold
- Almost impossible side-to-side swiping
- Install directions could be clearer
- Bloated 100MB drivers
- No rechargeable batteries
- Packing tape left debris