Buyer's Guide: Mini-Mouses

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted October 10, 2002
By Eric Grevstad

We've grumbled once or twice about their premium prices (although, to be fair, its top of the line is $75 while rival Logitech just hit $80), but readers of these reviews know we've given many thumbs up to Microsoft mice for sleek design and comfortable control. So we're glad Microsoft has joined the ranks of mini-mice - downsized, briefcase- and airline-tray-table-ready replacements for a notebook's touchpad or pointing stick, increasingly popular with not only laptop travelers but desktop users with small hands. We just didn't expect Microsoft's entry to be upstaged by a little-known mouse from an office-supply company.

At $35, the new Microsoft Notebook Optical Mouse is a better value than the competitor Microsoft's engineers surely had in mind, the $50 Logitech MouseMan Traveler. Like that mouse, Microsoft's uses smooth-gliding, maintenance-free optical instead of dust-collecting rolling-ball technology, works on almost any surface without a mouse pad, and has a short (26 inches), thin cord with a USB connector.

Though short or stubby (just under 2 by 3.5 inches), the Notebook Optical Mouse has a more conventionally rounded, ambidextrous shape and plastic case than the squared metal MouseMan Traveler. Once you adjust for its smaller size, it's comfortable to use, with solid- but not sticky-feeling buttons and a good-sized scroll wheel you can click as a third button (activating an auto-scroll feature for surfing through long documents).

Its darkhorse challenger in this review is the Mini Web Pro Optical Mouse from Fellowes, manufacturer of paper shredders, CD cases, monitor glare filters, and other office knickknacks - including mouse pads, keyboard wrist rests, and several trackballs and mice (including the Opti-Gel, a mouse topped with the same slightly squishy padding as Fellowes' desktop palm rests). The company's press release lists the Mini Web Pro at $25, with various online and retail suppliers selling it for $20 to $25, though Fellowes' Web store marks it up to $36.

Fractionally longer than the Microsoft mini (call it an even 2 by 3.5 inches), the Mini Web Pro has a more conventional teardrop or egg shape and much longer (five-foot) cord with USB connector. The longer cord makes the mouse usable with desktop as well as laptop PCs if you're also seeking to replace an old mechanical mouse on your desktop; Fellowes provides a PS/2 adapter plug in case the latter lacks a USB port. On the minus side, it's more twine to tangle when stuffing the mouse, AC adapter, and other components into your briefcase; Logitech's combination of a short cord and supplied extension cable tops both Microsoft and Fellowes here.

Thanks to optical design, both mice move smoothly and work well. We think the slightly longer, tapered Fellowes is a bit more comfortable to rest your hand on, while the Microsoft is a bit more comfortable in operation - the Mini Web Pro's buttons and scroll wheel are smaller and stiffer.

Extra Buttons, Extra Versatility
But the Fellowes counters that by being the first downsized mouse with five rather than three buttons - a small button on either side, in addition to the translucent blue main buttons and clickable scroll wheel on top, so by default you get not only the auto-scroll option but Web browser or Windows Explorer "back" (left) and "forward" (right) buttons.

The Mini Web Pro is so small and light it takes a bit of practice to thumb a side button without pushing the whole mouse aside, but if you've gotten used to the extra buttons on your desktop mouse, you'll be happy to have them on the road. Fellowes' EasyPoint driver also lets you reprogram the buttons-- to cut and paste data, minimize and maximize windows, open the Start menu, activate a screen-magnifying zoom window, or other functions, though not to launch a favorite application.

In other reviews, we've praised Microsoft's IntelliPoint as an even better driver - the best mouse software on the market, able to not only customize buttons but specify different functions in different programs (so auto-scroll in Word can be "back" in Internet Explorer, for instance). But when we loaded the newest IntelliPoint 4.1, we got a surprise that cemented Microsoft's unexpected defeat in this contest: The Notebook Optical Mouse isn't listed as one of the hardware choices.

Microsoft's buying-guide and driver-download Web pages confirm the Notebook Optical joins only Microsoft's cheapest Basic Mouse as lacking customizable buttons ("This part is not supported for use with IntelliPoint software"), and even if you install the software anyway you'll see only Windows' generic mouse control panel. Perhaps Microsoft was aiming for grab-your-laptop-and-go convenience without installing drivers. But its setup software, extra buttons, and longer cord make the Fellowes Mini Web Pro our new favorite mobile mouse.

Reprinted from hardwarecentral.com.

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