Breaking the Scrolling Sound Barrier

By Eric Grevstad | Posted November 20, 2006

Logitech doesn't beat around the bush when touting its new top-of-the-line MX Revolution: Right there on its elegant, near-impenetrable packaging it says, "The world's most advanced mouse."

(Pause for skeptics to say, "For $100, it had better be.")

But in this case, while Logitech may be exaggerating a bit, it isn't lying: Two years in the making (instead of the usual product cycle's six months), the company claims, the MX Revolution brings some radical rethinking to the already highly evolved, ergonomically contoured, multi-buttoned, laser-precise, wireless mouse we all thought was the state of the art.

The difference you'll notice at first glance is the MX's left fender: While many mice have a thumb scoop or cradle, the Logitech has a jutting fin or thumb rest along with a secure, rubbery-feeling grip surface. (In addition to being for right-handed people only, the MX is for Windows XP/Vista and Mac OS X 10.2.8 and higher PCs only — Win 2000 users are out of luck.)

Curvaceous D
The shape makes the MX one of the most comfortable mice we've tried, especially in a palmed or fully-covered-by-the-hand position. We don't call it the most comfortable because, unless you have small hands or hold just the back half of the mouse, it takes a while to adjust to having your thumb press against not a plain surface but one of the Revolution's other innovations — a horizontally mounted thumb wheel.

Instead of spinning it as you do the top-mounted scroll wheel, you nudge this wheel forward or backward a few times — which, depending on your choice in Logitech's SetPoint software driver, either zooms in or out or performs a "document flip." The former expands or shrinks text in a Web page or spreadsheet or pixels in an image editor. The latter is an alternative to Windows' Alt-Tab for navigating a menu of open windows or applications (clicking the left mouse button or the wheel itself switches to the desired program).

Both are handy, though if you've spent years using Alt-Tab or clicking on the Windows Taskbar, you'll likely find yourself getting along without the document-flip feature. By contrast, the two buttons above the side wheel — typically used for Forward and Back in a Web browser, but programmable as Cut and Paste, audio volume up and down, or other shortcuts — are the nicest and best-placed we've seen, neither getting in the way of a resting thumb or obliging you to stretch or contort your thumb to click.

And Logitech has made excellent use of a top-mounted button behind the scroll wheel: Highlight a word or phrase in almost any application, click the button, and the MX launches a search engine to find out more about the topic. (If you haven't installed the software driver, the button brings up Windows' own search pane with the doggie in the window.)

Obviously you can't select just a few words from a browser hyperlink (since you're taken to the link with your first click), and unfortunately you can't add other search engine picks such as Ask.com — your choices are Google, Yahoo and Yahoo LiveWords — but the feature is genuinely smart and convenient. Sadly, it's also a bit buggy, with occasional stumbles such as opening two Internet Explorer windows or Firefox tabs instead of one and alternately bringing the new search window to the foreground or just adding a blinking button to the Taskbar. Switching from the supplied SetPoint 3.01 driver to a downloaded version 3.10 helped, but didn't kill the glitches entirely.

Clearly, the MX Revolution is not your father's mouse. In fact, we've written six hundred words and haven't gotten to its main attraction or number-one invention yet.

It's nothing new for either Logitech or Microsoft mice to offer a scroll wheel that tilts left and right, for horizontal scrolling through extra-wide spreadsheets or images, as well as forward and back for vertical movement.

The Revolution does that, but what it adds is two-speed vertical scrolling: If the traditional one-step- or one-click-at-a-time motion isn't fast enough to skip through many rows of a worksheet or pages of a document, you can shift the scroll wheel to a flywheel mode that keeps spinning, blurring through screen after screen, after a hard flick of your finger.

What Logitech calls the MicroGear Precision Scroll Wheel can spin for as long as seven seconds, whipping through up to 2,500 spreadsheet lines or 200 pages of a word processing or PDF document. That makes the scroll wheel like one of those test-your-strength towers at the county fair: We managed to move 2,200 Excel rows downward with our most furious flick, though not as many heading back up — your accustomed mouse position permits a stronger push south than north, though you can move your thumb and fingertip rearward to just behind the wheel and give it a flick like you're shooting a speck of dirt off your thumb and across the room.

It isn't an earthshaking difference, but scrolling in five seconds a distance that would normally take five minutes definitely changes the way you use your mouse. If you're trying to find an e-mail message that hit your inbox in 2003, for instance, you can whiz through the Outlook pane, keeping an eye on the blurred time-and-date column, before tapping the wheel (not a mouse button) to stop and then proceed more slowly.

The MX shifts between cruising and hyper speed with a click of the scroll wheel, or simply by sensing the change in your input, though in our tests it sometimes didn't sense and shift from slow to fast mode until our second rather than first vigorous flick.

Just as it lets you assign the side buttons and left and right tilt to different functions in different programs, SetPoint lets you specify ratchet or flywheel scrolling as the default for a given application. We found that programs set to free-spin mode required a wheel-click to toggle precision mode, with programs that default to the latter using an automatic transmission as we slowed and sped up.

Speaking of transmissions, the Revolution pops the clutch, so to speak, in one respect: When shifting from fast to slow mode, there's a faint click and vibration as the tiny electric motor inside the mouse pushes the retracted ratchet mechanism back into place. It's not annoying, but it is noticeable.

Recharged and Refreshed
Like a growing number of high-class mice, the MX replaces the old-fashioned LED optical sensor with an ultra-sensitive laser that works on almost any surface short of a mirror or clear glass. Not even glossy photo paper fazed the laser in our tests; in fact, the Logitech was one of only two or three mice out of the scores we've sampled with which we found ourselves preferring a bare desk to a mousepad.

The Revolution's resolution is 800 dpi, which is plenty sharp enough for most people. One tab of the SetPoint menu lets you choose between the mouse and operating-system speed and acceleration settings when playing a game, while the MX kept up with no skipping despite our fastest swoops and swipes in Windows Paint and other image editors.

The mouse uses Logitech's paper-match-sized USB receiver and 2.4GHz radio instead of Bluetooth wireless technology, but we had no problem using it almost 20 feet from the PC. It also, in one of the eternal cordless-mouse debates, uses a recharging stand instead of disposable batteries. This helps the environment, but obliges you to remember to return the mouse to its stand every so often.

Three LEDs on the Revolution's left edge indicate whether you're running low on battery power; restoring our mouse to full power took just two or three hours instead of a night or weekend. Another hiccup in the SetPoint driver plunged the "Remaining battery power" countdown from 14 to nine to two days within the course of one day; when we changed the remaining-power increment from days to percentage, we found the battery 90 percent full despite the 48-hour warning. Using the mouse for several days between charges is no sweat, though it's always safer to park it on the stand — or use the switch on its underside to turn the mouse off — as often as you can.

Overall, its premium price and few driver bugs subtract a star or two from the MX Revolution's review rating, but its supersonic scrolling mode earns at least one star back: Yes, most mice offer faster-than-normal, smooth scrolling via the auto-scroll method of clicking the scroll wheel and then moving the mouse pointer up or down on screen, but the Logitech is the mouse to get if you want to navigate like an over-caffeinated ninja.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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