Mobile Mouse: Here it Comes to Save the Day

Plenty of laptop owners prefer the comfort and precision of a mouse instead of a keyboard-integrated alternative, but even the most passionate touchpad- and pointing-stick-haters may be overwhelmed by the options offered at Logitech‘s Web site. The company sells no fewer than eight notebook mice, ranging from a $20 corded carry-on to the $70 model V500 Cordless Notebook Mouse.

Judging by its lower model number and lower $50 price, you’d think Logitech’s new V400 Laser Cordless Mouse for Notebooks would fall below the V500 in the ranks of downsized, toss-into-a-briefcase, airline-tray-table-optimized mice. However, unless you crave a funky, touch-sensitive “scroll panel” in lieu of a traditional scroll wheel, the new mouse is the superior product.

How so? Well, while it uses the same 2.4GHz wireless radio technology and the same miniscule (2.0 by 0.6 by 0.3 inches), plug-and-play USB receiver, the V400 is powered by one AA alkaline battery instead of two AAAs &#151 even though, to cite another improvement, it replaces the LED light source of the V500 and most other optical mice with a more precise laser.

Actually, two lasers: Logitech says the new notebook mouse is the first to use a dual-laser sensor developed by Philips that measures changes in the frequency of reflected light as the mouse moves over a surface, instead of comparing rapidly captured digital-camera-style pictures as other LED and laser engines do. (Like all other mouse lasers, the V400’s is so low-powered it’s safe even if you flip the mouse over and stare at it.)

Keep On Trackin’
The result, which Logitech calls All-Terrain Laser technology, yields a mouse that handles both broad swoops and fine detail maneuvers on virtually any surface except mirrors or glass. We tried everything from a plain desktop to a pants leg, from glossy photo paper to clear plastic over carpeting, with no skips or glitches aside from the minor learning curve of making smaller movements than those required with our old mouse.

Subjectively, the dual-laser Logitech’s tracking and accuracy didn’t strike us as superior to single-laser mice we’ve used (including arch rival Microsoft’s. But it’s emphatically worth the trade-up if you’re using an LED optical &#151 or, God forbid, an antique rolling-ball mechanical &#151 mouse.

And while we didn’t quite match Logitech’s claimed range of 30 feet, the V400 equaled our positive impressions from earlier reviews of the company’s cordless technology. Besides working fine with the receiver plugged into a notebook USB port, the 2.4GHz signal performed smoothly instead of stuttering amid Wi-Fi signals or the electromagnetic interference of our desktop PC and CRT monitor, as has sometimes happened with Brand M’s and other 27MHz mice.

When you’re not using the mouse, the receiver fits in the trunk &#151 or rather slides into a slot in the back of the device, which also turns off the mouse to save battery power. The receiver pops out again when you’re ready to resume work, although it doesn’t pop very far; we sometimes needed an extra few seconds to pry it out with a fingernail. Logitech says the green light on the mouse’s backside blinks red when the supplied AA battery is down to about a week’s worth of power.

The V400 is a handsome little devil, available with a black or orange racing stripe &#151 a Nike-style swoosh that wraps around the sides and forms front and rear bumpers contrasting with the silver-gray color scheme. While symmetrically shaped, the mouse favors right-handed users by mounting Web-browser forward and back buttons on the front left edge.

The mouse’s smaller-than-your-palm size obliges you to lift and move your index finger back a bit to click the Back button, but otherwise feels quite comfortable. On the minus side, the forward and back buttons occasionally seemed to misfire or require an extra click when plug-and-playing with the mouse without installing its software driver.

The scroll wheel features Logitech’s Tilt Wheel Plus Zoom design, letting you rock the wheel to the left or right to scroll sideways through wide spreadsheets or zoomed images. Scrolling up and down works normally, complete with the faint clicks that Microsoft’s more slippery tilt wheel lacks; clicking the scroll wheel turns it into a shrink-or-magnify zoom scroller.

You can use Logitech’s SetPoint driver to reassign the forward and back, left and right tilt, and left and right main buttons plus the wheel click to other functions. We could quibble that the menu of keyboard shortcuts is shorter than Microsoft’s driver and that application-specific settings are limited to forward and back navigation in Microsoft Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint as well as Internet Explorer. But we cheer Logitech’s letting you reassign left and right tilt if you don’t need sideways spreadsheeting. Tilt-wheel nudges are delightfully comfortable, convenient alternatives to forward and back buttons, though Mozilla Firefox users must specify Alt-left-arrow and Alt-right-arrow instead of IE’s generic forward and back.

Don’t Try This at Home
Overall, though its dual-laser design merely joins the ranks of other excellent laser mice instead of making them obsolete, we give the V400 Laser Cordless Mouse for Notebooks a definite thumbs-up. Its mix of size, style and functionality makes it a first-class choice for coach passengers.

P.S.: Logitech boasts that the V400 features a shock-resistant exoskeleton and reinforced frame to survive the drops and bumps that plague travel mice. We knocked ours off the desk and dropped it several times with no ill effect, although we had to reseat the battery and insert and remove the receiver to reboot the mouse after dropkicking and bouncing it off a wall.

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