Review: Microsoft Explorer Mouse with BlueTrack Technology

In today’s mobile computing world, one thing that you may not always have handy is a good, clean mousing surface. When sitting on a crowded train or sprawled out on your living room floor with your notebook, it can be at best a headache and at worst a moment of near panic when you can’t find a good place to use your mouse.

By contrast, Microsoft‘s newest rodent wonder, the Microsoft Explorer Mouse, promises the go-anywhere capability of a Land Rover. Using a proprietary technology that Microsoft calls BlueTrack, the $100 Explorer (not to be confused with the company’s old flagship the IntelliMouse Explorer) combines the width and power of LED optical tracking with the precision of a newer laser mouse.

The result, at least according to the Explorer’s packaging, is the “World’s Most Advanced Tracking” — a mouse that works smoothly on just about any surface, except for the optical-mouseproof duo of mirrors and clear glass.

It’s All About the Blue

The first thing you’ll notice about the wireless mouse is the bright blue glow that emanates from the bottom of the device. Microsoft says the BlueTrack sensor, beside being much larger than the typical mouse lens, teams with the blue light — the result of high-angle imaging optics — to capture a higher-contrast image of the surface at up to 8,000 frames per second or 1,000 per inch of movement. Each image is analyzed by a proprietary chip that provides better pixel architecture for more precise tracking on virtually any surface.

Microsoft Explorer Mouse with BlueTrack Technology
Microsoft Explorer Mouse with BlueTrack Technology

When you take that lovely blue glow and put it under a well-rounded, chrome-accented mouse, the result is a nice-looking peripheral. The 5.4-ounce Explorer’s ergonomic design supports your palm, allowing for a more natural wrist, finger, and thumb placement — unfortunately, left-handers need not apply.

The Explorer is a comfortable size at 3.2 by 4.6 inches. For travelers who shun a full-sized mouse, the same technology is available in a 2.8 by 3.8-inch Explorer Mini Mouse priced at $80. Both are exclusive to Best Buy and its online store through December, then offered to all retailers come 2009.

Set Up and Go

To get started, you’ll need to install the (Windows XP or Vista or Mac OS X 10.2 and up) IntelliPoint 6.3 software found on the bundled CD. The easy-to-configure software lets you customize the mouse’s five buttons — left, right, wheel click, and front and rear thumb buttons.

Options are provided for setting four-way scrolling with left and right wheel tilt for horizontal scrolling, a feature increasingly common in medium- to high-end mice. You can assign buttons to more common functions such as Copy, Paste, Shift, and custom macros, as well as for one-click access to popular Vista features like Flip 3D and Games Explorer.

We found the two thumb buttons to be the ones most likely to give you grief, until you manage to master the art of wiggling your thumb in just the right way to click the desired button — a process that can be tricky as the two buttons are little more than thin lines along the left side.

The Explorer Mouse uses a 2.4GHz wireless connection with a range up to 30 feet. When not in use, you can snap its USB wireless transceiver into the mouse’s bottom for storage and transit, which also turns off the device to save battery power. Unfortunately, the transceiver doesn’t fit flush with the bottom surface when inserted but protrudes a bit awkwardly.

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