Apple has had a number of great successes in its design department. Ever since the original CRT iMac, Apple has been making their designs sleeker and more intuitive, merging form and function into an admittedly high-priced but undeniably high-quality product.

Except in one area.

Apple's track record with that essential input device, the mouse, has been less than stellar. It took years for Apple just to admit that its users would like a second button, thank you very much, and the original round "which way is front" iMac mouse was a dismal failure. Even the recent Mighty Mouse with its tiny scroll ball left a lot to be desired, and Logitech was more than happy to pick up the slack with its comfortable, functional, and flexible devices.

But as any Macintosh PowerBook owner knows, the trackpads are wonderful. The pointer moves with one finger, it scrolls with two fingers, it left-clicks with a one-finger tap, right-clicks with a two-finger tap, and has a large, comfortable tracking surface. I find them a pleasure to work with. The iPhone upped the ante with its smooth and intuitive multi-touch interface. So when I heard Apple had released a multi-touch laser mouse, I immediately began drooling over the possibilities. Could this finally be the mouse that puts Apple into the big leagues in that area?

Not quite, unfortunately. The bottom line is, if you've got a Logitech you're happy with, you should probably keep it. For now. While the Magic Mouse doesn't quite live up to what I had imagined, its shortcomings are all software related and Apple could fix them with a few updates. While it is merely a very good mouse, it has untapped potential waiting to be released.

Software

The Magic Mouse works with OS 10.5.8 or higher. A software update is necessary to unlock its features, before downloading the Magic Mouse drivers, it behaves as an ordinary one-button Bluetooth mouse.

When I first read the advertisements, I had one big misconception about the Magic Mouse. It does, in fact, have an actual button. The whole dang thing is a huge button. Right-clicking must be enabled in the preferences and is accomplished by clicking with a finger on the right corner (this can be flipped to the left corner in the preferences). Clicking anywhere else is a normal click. Where the Magic Mouse disappoints is in its current arsenal of gestures. It only does the following:

  • Click
  • Right-click (must be turned on, click with finger in the corner)
  • Scroll (horizontal and vertical, OS 10.6 supports momentum scrolling like the iPhone)
  • Navigate forward/reverse (two-finger swipe left-to-right or right-to-left)
  • Zoom (hold ctrl and slide your finger up or down)

And that's it. Are more coming? I hope so. A pinch-zoom like the iPhone would be nice. I have my Logitech MX1000 laser mouse set up for web browsing, with a middle-click opening links in a new tab and the rocker around the scroll wheel set up to switch tabs. The Magic Mouse doesn't do either of these things. Other reviews I have read bemoan the lack of support for using Exposé and the Dashboard with gestures, but I don't do this often myself so I don't really miss it.

Ergonomics

There are mixed reviews on the comfort in using the Magic Mouse. It's almost too sleek, with a low, flat curve and a rather small footprint that some find uncomfortable. I don't have a problem with it, but some people are used to resting their hand on Logitech's ergonomic shapes. This would, of course, interfere with the touch interface of the Magic Mouse, however. The two-finger sweep for navigating in iTunes or moving forward and backward in your browser history is another point of contention. You have to hold the mouse steady with your thumb and ring or pinky finger and sweep with your index and middle fingers. I don't have trouble with this, but others have compared it to making the Vulcan salute, so if you have trouble with that this might be an issue.

My one real complaint, besides the current small set of gesture functions, is that even on its fastest setting, it just doesn't track fast enough. Tracking speed should be adjustable from "molasses" to "holy crap", but it tops out at "meh". A quick Google search, however dug up the following tip: Open Terminal and type
defaults write -globalDomain com.apple.mouse.scaling -float 12.0
to change the maximum tracking speed, replacing 12.0 with whatever number you wish. 16 seems to be a comfortable setting.

The Magic Mouse does do one thing better than any other mouse on the market, and that's scrolling. Unlike your typical clicking scroll wheel, the Magic Mouse's gesture-based scrolling is pixel-precise and easy to control, on par with trackpad scrolling and doesn't suffer from the awkwardness of the navigational gesture. It even scrolls beautifully in diagonal directions. OS 10.6 supports momentum scrolling like the iPhone, which some people like. I only have 10.5, but I don't miss it. While momentum is very nice on the iPhone to quickly scroll through very long entries given limited space to gesture in, I don't see this being an issue with a full-sized computer.

Hardware

Physically, the Magic Mouse is a low, flatly curved, rectangular mouse with a touch-sensitive surface that's almost all button. The bottom is aluminum with a door holding two AA batteries (included) that, oddly enough, are installed side-by-side in the same direction, unlike every other battery powered device on Earth. The laser tracker is near the front, next to an on/off switch. Two plastic rails along the bottom provide a surface to slide around on the desk. I immediately swapped out the included alkaline batteries for NiMH rechargeables, which seem to last well over a month between charges. Apple claims alkalines (which hold more charge than rechargeables) can last up to four months. The Magic Mouse communicates via Bluetooth.

3rd Party Extensions

One nice thing about our current internet culture: if software is lacking, somebody out there is probably working on fixing it. There are a large number of 3rd party hacks and additions to try to overcome the limitations of the Magic Mouse, but the nicest one seems to be MagicPrefs. Not only can it increase the tracking speed, but it also can adjust the touch sensitivity, add new gestures, and override existing gestures with new functionality. It's a free download from http://magicprefs.com/.

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