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Monday, 24 November 2008 22:51

Microsoft's Explorer Mouse dissected

Written by test

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Review: Is BlueTrack better than laser?


A little while back Microsoft launched its BlueTrack technology and made a lot of bold claims about how it is better than mice with laser technology. The reason behind this claim is that BlueTrack is meant to work on virtually any surface.

 
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We got our hands on an Explorer Mouse, which is currently the only desktop mouse that uses the new BlueTrack technology, although there’s also the Explorer Mini Mouse for notebook users. The main difference between the two is that the Explorer Mouse is larger and comes with a charging station for the supplied rechargeable AA battery. The Explorer Mini Mouse is as the name suggests smaller and doesn’t have a rechargeable battery and as such you have to use standard AAA batteries.

 

Both models come with a fairly small transceiver which can be attached to the bottom of the mouse. When attached it turns off the mouse and as such disables battery drainage. The only downside to this with regards to the Explorer Mouse is the fact that you can’t charge the mouse at the same time, as it doesn’t fit into the supplied charging station when the transceiver is attached.

 
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The charging station is tiny, although so is the power adapter and it stuck much better to the desk than expected, considering it's small size and light weight. Two pins in the bottom of the mouse are used to attach the mouse to the charging station and this is pretty much a standard for rechargeable Microsoft mice by now. In saying that, as the Explorer Mouse only use a single battery, it’s unlikely that the charger will work with other mice that have two batteries.

 

The mouse itself is rather large, maybe even too large for those with smaller hands, but it has a fairly comfortable ergonomic design. The soft touch rubber material on the back and right side also makes it comfortable to hold and we would’ve liked to have seen more of this material used. A bigger thumb rest would also have been a nice addition that would’ve made this mouse even more comfortable to hold.



 

The Explorer Mouse has two main buttons, a scroll wheel and two very long thumb buttons. The scroll wheel can be clicked and also tilted. However, due to the fairly small size of the scroll wheel, it’s very hard to use it for scrolling sideways. It’s also not as good as the metal scroll wheels on some of the high-end models from Logitech. It also lacks a geared click and having a smooth moving wheel might work well for things like scrolling up and down a Web page, it’s not so good for certain applications and even less so in games. We didn’t manage to find an option in the drives that allows you to set the speed of the scroll wheel which is also frustrating, as the default setting scrolls too much of a page, in our opinion.

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It’s interesting to see that Microsoft has taken on board the large glide pads normally found on gaming mice and fitted them to the Explorer Mouse. This makes for a good gliding action on most surfaces and with claims of this mouse working on virtually any surface, this is an important feature. So, what about the whole BlueTrack thing then? Well, it’s actually rather good and seems to work as advertised.

 

We tried the Explorer Mouse on a variety of surfaces and we didn’t have any problems using it on just about anything with the exception of a mirrored surface, but this was kind of expected. We’re still not sure if it’s better than a laser mouse, although it does work on fluffy surfaces such as carpet or rugs. We didn’t have access to any rough-grain wood or granite to test on, but we take Microsoft’s word on it that it’ll work on these surfaces as well.

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One aspect that we did notice an improvement on was dust and hair around the sensor. This is a problem when you have pets that like to hang around your computer equipment. Despite having several cat hairs caught inside the sensor opening, there were no problems using the mouse, unlike with a laser mouse that tends to become very erratic in use with only minor bits of fluff entering the sensor opening.

 

We haven’t had the mouse long enough to verify the claim about three weeks between charges, although initially it seems like the battery needs a couple of full charges before it gives you its best performance, but this is a common issue with most rechargeable batteries. There’s a small battery indicator behind the scroll wheel, although it only has two states, red for recharge now and green for charged. The green light will also pulsate when the mouse is being charged.

 

Conclusion

 

At around €55/$80, it’s not a cheap mouse, but it’s comfortable to use and it works on virtually any surface, so if you have a problem using your current mouse on whatever surface you’re working on, it might well be worth to check it out. Gamers are advised to wait for the X8 gaming mouse with BlueTrack technology, as the Explorer Mouse is not suitable for most games in our opinion.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 26 November 2008 04:29
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