Air mouse? You read that right. Logitech’s new MX Air mouse, priced at $149 USD, is the first mouse that lets you use it on the desktop, then pick it up and wave it around like a remote control. While this design may sound odd to desktop-jockeys who remain seated in front of their screen at all times, it’s something that HTPC (home theater PC) users have been lusting after for years.
Features and Design
Every time Logitech introduces a new mouse design, we think to ourselves, “That’s it! There’s nothing left for them to create. This one does it all!” We thought that when they released the first optical mouse, then the laser mouse, then the mouse with removable weights, and also with the VX Revolution. And while it may be getting tougher to innovate on the standard desktop mouse, the company has now bridged the gap between its desktop mice and its HTPC (home theater PC) remotes with the MX Air.
The MX Air caters to users who need both on-surface mouse functionality and free-floating in-air use, which is mainly for those with an HTPC system. Prior to the MX Air, HTPC users were forced to choose the lesser of two evils by either buying a remote, which is not ideal for controlling a PC-based UI, or a cordless mouse, which is a pain since you need a flat surface to use it, and most couches are not flat (and nobody wants a mouse on their coffee table). Gyration is a company known for producing the in-air mouse, but surprisingly, they are often not included with Media Center/Windows Vista based systems; they seem to cater more towards the hardcore HTPC user.
The package is surprisingly stark: you get the mouse, a USB receiver that is the size of a stick of gum, and an AC charger. When the batteries are full, the Logitech software reports that you have “five days” of usage. You can check the battery level by plopping it down into its charger, or by hovering your mouse over the Logitech icon in the system tray, where a pop-up tells you the battery condition (as well as if NumLock is on or off, which is odd). You can also turn the mouse off via a small switch on its belly.
The mouse uses Logitech’s laser technology, and with its 800 dpi it’s not “gaming” accurate, but more than adequate for 99% of most computing tasks. Its design is ambidextrous, and you can switch left with right mouse buttons via the included software, which you must install to enjoy full functionality of the mouse.
Perhaps the coolest feature of the mouse is that it ties into all of the most popular media applications, including iTunes, Winamp, WinDVD, Internet Explorer, Opera, Firefox, and more.
Image Courtesy of Logitech
Use and Testing
Installation is as simple as plugging in the USB dongle, and installing the Logitech software, which requires a reboot to be implemented. Then you open the software menu, adjust settings to your liking, and you are off mousing.
When using the MX air like a traditional mouse on a flat surface, there are a few new tricks you have to learn. First, rather than using a scroll wheel, it sports a scroll surface that you brush your finger along to scroll up and down. It’s sensitive to the speed of the brush too, so if you give it a light brush it’ll scroll just a few lines, but whip your finger along it and the page will zoom up or down very fast. A cool “clicking” noise emanates from somewhere inside the mouse too, which is awesome. It’s not perfect though, and sometimes a light flick will send the page zooming downward. Let’s just say this new mousing technique requires a little getting used to before you’re completely comfortable with it. You can also scroll by pressing down on the upper or lower part of the bar.
The biggest issue with the lack of a scroll wheel is that middle-click functionality is lacking, and this is a problem for those of us who use that button to open web pages in new tabs in Firefox.
Aside from the scroll surface and left-right buttons, there is a back button, a select button which performs a left click, a play button that stops and starts playing songs when a media application is open, and a volume button. We re-programmed the Play button to open a big on-screen menu that allowed us to play, pause, mute, shuffle and totally control iTunes, which is fantastic. You can even adjust the size of the menu between small, medium and large. Pressing the volume button opens a small onscreen slider that you move by waving the mouse left or right. It works perfectly too, and is very easy to use.
Music Player Screenshot
Pick the mouse up though, and it turns into a remote control that works up to 30 feet away. You are encouraged to flip your hand around and hold it like a remote too, as there’s no need to left-click and right-click from the air usually since the select button performs a left-click. One very cool feature is that when you pick it up the cursor changes to an extra-large arrow, which is vitally important and greatly increases visibility (you can turn this feature off as well, but you’d be silly to do so).
Once in the air, the mouse tracks perfectly, and you can even adjust the sensitivity as well. The only problem we experienced was once in awhile the mouse cursor would wander over to the edge of the screen, even if we were pointing the mouse directly at the center, so we had to move the mouse over to the edge of the screen, line it up with the cursor, then move it back to center. A “center cursor” button would be handy in these situations. It’s also interesting that the MX Air points correctly regardless of the orientation of the mouse, not that you’d ever flip it upside down to use it, but it works regardless. And you don’t have to physically lift your mouse hand up to go up. You just tilt it upwards and the mouse moves. The in-air pointing is very intuitive and works exactly as you would expect.
Logitech SetPoint Screenshot
Though it takes a bit of getting used to, the MX Air is a very well-designed mouse that delivers on the promise of offering the best-of-both-worlds. The MX Air is both an excellent mouse and a fantastic remote control. It’s very expensive, however, and a lot of people might balk at its price tag. If you’re willing to cough up the cash, it’s the peripheral of choice for HTPC folks. If you’re just using it at your desktop however, the benefits of air navigation are negligible at best.
• Elegant design
• Good battery life
• Slick multimedia controls
• Scroll surface can be finicky
• Lacks side-or-middle buttons