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Design Mouse Roundup

Posted by Scott

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One of the greatest failures of modern computers is the lack of options we have when choosing a way to interact with them. Whether it’s a mouse, keyboard, or pen pad, the medium through which we manipulate our computers is the most important link in our workflow. An 8-core Mac Pro can’t read your mind (yet), so unfortunately we still must rely on rather archaic modes of interaction to get machines to do our bidding. Whether by choice or necessity, most designers use the good old mouse, a device which dates back to 1963 and remains largely unchanged since its inception. Sure, they’ve added lasers, buttons, and scroll wheels, but these aren’t exactly conceptual quantum leaps; the humble mouse still adheres to a fundamentally flawed model for human-machine interaction. I don’t know what’s next, but I can bet it isn’t multi-touch, at least not for us designers.

Pointing devices have always been an important issue for me, when I was in my early 20′s and getting started in design I had to wear a brace for nearly a year and learn to work with my left hand to overcome the repetitive stress syndrome brought on by mousing. This prompted me to get a pen pad, but of course I skimped and got a low end off-brand and really never took to it. I have tried the Wacom tablets, which are admittedly more precise and ergonomic, but after so many years with a mouse it’s hard to make the switch to such a foreign system. That said, I am planning to finally get a good Wacom this week and start the long road to learning it and from what I have heard from other people, I would recommend any young designer not yet set in their ways to strongly consider making the investment and learning Photoshop / Illustrator with a good tablet. Your wrist will thank you and so will your productivity. But the truth remains: most of us still use mice. Go to even the biggest design firms and you’ll see row after row of desks with mice sitting on them. This article is for everyone like me who either doesn’t want to fork out $400 for a decent tablet system or just can’t make the switch from the mouse.

Let me start by saying that I believe Logitech is about the only real player in the mouse game at this point. There are a lot of other competitors, but none offer such a wide variety of options and features in their products. And specs aside, none in my experience come close to the real-world functionality I have found in my Logitech mice. I have looked into many of the specialty companies that offer so-called “ergonomic” mice but have never gone for one since it seems I always have to sacrifice so much in the way of functionality and features to get to the improved ergonomics. I have owned about 10 Logitech mice and all have served me well in different capacities but none have really excelled across the board. I judge my mice on three criteria and in this order: precision (and I don’t mean the quoted DPI of the device, I mean how precise it really handles), ergonomics, features (wheels, buttons etc). What follows is a list of my favorite mice from over the years, why I bought them, and what I liked and didn’t like about them.

Logitech MX518
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This was the first “gaming grade” mouse I bought. The proliferation of gaming mice has been great for us as designers. Apparently we aren’t a large enough group to warrant many purpose made mice but there are a whole lot of gamers out there and they’re driving the market for high precision pointing devices, forcing the manufacturers into a game of one-upmanship in regards to resolution and features, both of which benefit us as designers. The MX518 also marks the first time I went back to a corded mouse after the thrill of cordless had faded. I have never been a fan of cordless mice, they run out of batteries, lose reception due to interference, and are generally less precise than their corded brethren. But many of the best mice are only available in the cordless variety (more on that below) so at times I’ve had to compromise. But that’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to Logitech, they always have a very good selection of corded mice while most other manufacturers are obsessed with cordless (as if a small cord on your desk is so cumbersome, it reminds me a lot of the glossy screen craze that has killed off the matte screen.) The MX518 is, to this day, my favorite mouse. I still have it around and plug it in for large projects. It’s extremely precise, has a good tactile feel when moving it across surfaces, and has enough extra features to be pretty competitive. It has a rudimentary DPI toggle with 3 level settings which is a big plus when moving back and forth from Mac to PC on a KVM switch as the two OS’s have very different mouse behaviors. It also helps to be able to adjust the sensitivity on the fly as the situation dictates. The MX518 is also one of the last corded optical mice you can buy as most new mice are laser-based. Unfortunately, this mouse does not have the MicroGear wheel which I love (more on that below).

Logitech G5
200811302056.jpgI got this mouse because it boasted higher DPI, a laser, braided cord (less tangling) and a custom weighting system. I love heavy mice, I took my MX518 apart and filled it with quarters to make it more solid and precise so the G5 seemed great because it had a built in weighting system out of the box, no quarters required. The only issue I had with it was the lack of a “forward” thumb button, something which the MX518 had. The image below is off the new (and ugly as sin) version of the G5, the old grey one that I had only had one thumb button. It’s still missing the MicroGear scroll wheel, but with the added thumb button this new version would probably be my favorite if I owned it now. Alas, I left mine on stage at a show (San Diego I think) and it was never seen again. R.I.P.

Logitech G9
200811302055.jpgI bought the G9 when I lost my G5 thinking it would be a logical progression in features and ergonomics to its predecessor. It also sports a MicroGear scroll wheel so I thought I couldn’t go wrong. I did. I never liked this mouse, it feels weird in my hand, is too flat, and only has 2 extra buttons. For $100 I want a little more. But this is all beside the point, I left this mouse on stage at a show (detroit?) and never saw it again. Two G-series mice down.

Logitech MX Revolution
200811302054.jpgThis is without a doubt the most advanced mouse you can get. It has a thumb wheel, MicroGear Scroll wheel, and three extra buttons. The only things lacking are a DPI toggle and a cord. I really wish the revolution came in a corded version, the battery life is pretty bad and the battery itself is prone to failure (a fact well-documented in forums all over the web). Mine is sort of in half-failure mode. Sometimes it charges and sometimes it doesn’t, but it always says the battery is dead which is annoying. It’s also not quite as precise as the corded mice above. Regardless of all that, it now serves as my primary mouse for everyday use. The thumbwheel is amazing for OS X (expose etc.) and if Logitech either worked out the battery issue or offered a corded version, this would be the only mouse I’d ever use.

Logitech MX1100
200811302053.jpgI bought this for two reasons: It seemed to have all of the features of the MX Revolution but with replaceable batteries (thereby fixing my main gripe with the Revolution), and it sported a DPI toggle. I also has a new feature which allows you to lock out the MicroGear scroll wheel which is very nice depending on the situation. It takes AA batteries, has an on/off switch, and boasts an extremely long battery life. I put Eneloop rechargeables in it and it worked out great. I love the ergonomics of this mouse and I love the features, but it’s just not very precise. When I got it I noticed something was off and kept trying to tweak settings to get it right to no avail. I run Steermouse on OS X and the Logitech software on Windows and no matter what I tried I couldn’t get this mouse to act right. All in all this thing was a huge disappointment if only for the fact that I had such high hopes for it. I now use it when I travel since it has the on/off switch and doesn’t require a charging station. It works great in this role but I certainly don’t use it to design at home. For some reason, when trying to make very small circular motions with its resolution breaks up and you end up drawing little squares instead. Not a huge deal for browsing the web, but a deal-killer for graphic design tasks.

So there you have it, my admittedly biased mini-reviews of the Logitech lineup. In the end it’s all about your preference so I encourage you to try out as many as you can to find what suits you best. Hopefully I’ll have a tablet review in a month or so once I get up to speed with the Wacom. If you have any experience with these mice or recommendations of others that I haven’t mentioned here please speak up in the comments.

29 Comments Leave A Comment

1

Dirk Dallas says:

November 30, 2008 at 11:47 pm

Scott, thanks for your review on this, I have been waiting to hear what you thought. I use the Logitech MX Revolution at home for my freelance jobs and I love it. So much so that I am thinking about buying a second one to use at my 9-5. So I think I’ll hold off on the Logitech MX1100 and just stick with my MX.

2

b.lew says:

December 1, 2008 at 12:03 am

yo scott, i strongly recommend learning to use a tablet…a wacom tablet. i switched about a year ago…best decision i have ever made. you’re hand is free to move about and get some movement in your work, plus it feels extremely natural. since then, i have never used a mouse with my computer. i have even brought my tablet software to work and have been using my tablet there too…you won’t regret it.

3

jefta says:

December 1, 2008 at 12:20 am

okay, that was alot of information and funny how important mice can be in a person’s life. Eversince my first powerbook, i’ve been hooked on the trackpad and just loving it. Maybe i am just one of the few on this planet that actually loves them. And now having the new macbookpro, it has advanced to a next and promising level. But, one thing i dont understand: you are saying that multitouch is not going to be the future of communicating with your hardware. Here i am, dreaming of the day that my screen will be a big wacom screen, with pen, brushes, fingers and all sorts of things to communicate with your screen. There is so much stuff that i am dying to do faster en more effective, and i definitly feel that advanced touch screens will take us there.

The thing is, if that touchscreen would work, it could not work on a screen as we have it now, and would require a change in the way we build and see computers.

the beginning? http://nl.youtube.com/watch?v=UcKqyn-gUbY

4

Scott says:

December 1, 2008 at 12:40 am

jefta-
I agree that multi-touch is a promising technology, and I suppose it could evolve to some point where it seemed like a viable alternative to the options we have now…But I have yet to see a demonstration of multi-touch that looks like a system I’d like to design with. the tip of my cursor is 1 pixel, the tip of my fingers are like 50 pixels… human hands are big and sloppy compared to cursors. There’s also the issue of modifier keys and text input. I am sure these are things that could be overcome, but the current systems I’ve seen are just novelties that allow weathermen and CNN pundits to look cool while explaining some statistic. My iPhone is great for on the go, but even if it had a 21″ screen, I’d still rather work with my keyboard and mouse. Guys like Jeff Han (from the video you posted) have great ideas which I am sure will benefit a lot of people, but I am not sure what they are doing is the future for designers, CAD operators, and other professionals who require extremely precise interface devices. However, I could see the multi-touch coming in handy as a secondary interface, for doing painterly effects and large-scale manipulations.

All that said, I am probably just being myopic… I am certainly not an expert on the subject and I hope they do perfect it, and I hope it is the next big thing, because pretty much anything is better than what we have now.

as for the macbook pro, I love the new multi-touch pad, it blows away all the other trackpads before it, but I still prefer a mouse.

5

Papa Irry says:

December 1, 2008 at 2:44 am

Choosing a new device is always a source of a massive frustration :)
A year ago, I just gave up and even stopped looking at the logitech line, they all felt so wrong in my hand. And then I found this one, simple and precise:
http://www.razerzone.com/p-99-proclick-v16.aspx
it’s a little bit faster then most of the others, but this is something one can get used to in not more then a day, you can probably give it a try at your local store

6

Daniel Carvalho says:

December 1, 2008 at 3:11 am

Cool post Scott, it’s great that you did a history on all the mice you used up until now, I didn’t expect that.

From what I’ve tried of tablets (I only really consider Wacom a player here like Logitech to mice), is that it’s incredibly natural. I did some sketching work on it and it translates so well and is remarkably accurate. When I was stuffing around in Photoshop doing character design I found that the resulting output on screen looked so much like a real analogue sketch I would normally do with a pen and paper. So I was quite impressed with that. It was when selecting tools in the interface, that I found rather clunky, even though they give you the extra little mouse with it. Switching between the two continuously felt like trying to learn drums for the first time. My first bast was also with a sub-par tablet, and using a Wacom is a real chalk and cheese situation.

I have one question about the MX Revolution though. I was playing around with it the other day and the thumb scroll wheel seems to get in the way. Sort of takes away thumb some room, the tip of the thumb always seems to be hitting the wheel, is it something you get used to?

7

Kristian Roebuck says:

December 1, 2008 at 4:08 am

For the last 3 years (since I bought my iBook) I have used Apple’s Mighty Mouse. Whilst looking a stylish / sleek device, its awkward right click and 360 scroll wheel which without fail manages to clog up with dirty and refuses to scroll.

I’ve done research into other mice, but never bit the bullet. A major problem is being a lefty. Most of the ergonomic mice have been designed for right handers. Sure, the Logitech MX 610 has a left handed counterpart. And unfortunately is one of very few options open to me. Any one else found a solution for lefties?

My other gripe is with wireless mice. The amount of time I spend working on a computer, eventually the amount I will spend in batteries will overtake the amount I spent on the mouse. Does the wire seriously get in the way for anybody? I know when I’m set up, I very rarely notice the wire.

A colleague at work had a tacky £24.99 (around $40) tablet, it was an awful experience, it felt I was working blind. I purely blame this on the fact its bottom of the range. I told him might as well of just thrown £25 away, he didn’t admit it, but deep down he knew I was right.

9

Lars Hedemann says:

December 1, 2008 at 4:47 am

Awesome post, I have been hunting for a comparison of these mice, since I am a longtime G5 user (have 3 or 4 of them, in various places), but had heard good things about the MX1100. Guess I am keeping my G5′s (the old grey versions). I have gone through 2 already, and I can’t get myself to buy the new ones…

Anyway, I just love that it’s corded, and the weighting system is alfa and omega, when you want precision i Photoshop. I always use (at work and home) the Steelseries QCK heavy mousemat http://www.steelseries.com/int/products/surfaces/qck/information (gigantic size: 450 x 400 mm!), which make it even better when you use the G5 at lowest DPI setting. Plus that mat serves as a wrist-rest as well, if you put it over the edge of your desk. Highly recommended.

10

Horacio says:

December 1, 2008 at 6:12 am

I use a logitech LX7 cordless for my laptop, which is less expensive than the ones that you describe, but it’s a great mouse. Good battery life and a very comfortable rubber stripes all around the sides.

Interesting post :)

11

Jay says:

December 1, 2008 at 7:33 am

I too got over the wireless mouse craze, and went back to a standard wired mouse. I bought the MX500, and it’s still working strong. But rather than use the not so great Logitech software on my Mac, I use USB Overdrive X.

12

alex says:

December 1, 2008 at 8:24 am

would anything like the HP Touchsmart pc work for you? i mean, i havent used one and dont know how much interaction is allowed or if a stylus is compatable (wouldnt see why not, but still.) i was interested in it because of the apparent versatility available in the interaction with your work. i think if i were to have the MX518, a Wacom, and this desktop, i think all dark spaces and gaps between human and machine interaction would be filled. (i could be wrong though)

13

Lyle says:

December 1, 2008 at 8:35 am

I have used the Logitech MX1000 Laser (http://www.amazon.com/Logitech-MX1000-Laser-Cordless-Mouse/dp/B0002UM0JW) for almost 3 years now and I have no complaints really. The built in rechargeable battery has a wonderfully long life. I can use it for a few weeks before even placing it back on the recharging station. It has a great precision, and plenty of features. I bought this before the MicroGear came out, so that would be a great upgrade. This has been the best mouse I have ever owned, hands down.

My one recommendation is to buy a high quality gaming mouse pad with a changeable texture (http://www.amazon.com/SteelSeries-4D-Mouse-Pad-black/dp/B000ANEQFM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1228145663&sr=1-1). This type of mouse pad will increase the level of control you have over your mouse, and gives you all the room you will ever need.

14

Greg Formager says:

December 1, 2008 at 8:54 am

I own an MX Revolution and have stopped using it because I couldn’t stand the weird acceleration that it had. Did anyone else notice / have an issue with this? Right now I’m using a G7 which is a little better.

15

Glark says:

December 1, 2008 at 11:25 am

I think we’re mouse history twins Scott! Word of warning on the otherwise excellent MX — HEAVY wi-fi traffic (like sustained Time Machine backups to a Time Capsule) can interfere with the MX’s connection and make the mouse very sputtery and unusable. I had to reluctantly move from the MX to the G9 for that reason (can’t give up that scroll wheel).

16

Eric says:

December 1, 2008 at 12:08 pm

I’m in the Wacom camp, and can’t advocate it enough. I ended up going for the largest size available, the Intuos 12×19, mainly because I wanted something as close to my screen size as possible. I use it for absolutely everything, save for some video games. There was definitely a transitional period that took some getting used to, but now I wouldn’t go back. When I’m forced to use a mouse I feel really inhibited.

That said, the mouse I prefer is the Razer Deathadder, another gaming mouse:

http://www.razerzone.com/p-69-razer-deathadder-gaming-mouse.aspx

I’ve never dug the Logitechs that much, found them too bulky.

17

Abe says:

December 1, 2008 at 1:40 pm

I rarely use a mouse for design stuff anymore. I actually use the touch pad on my MBP believe it or not. I have used a Wacom tablet before but I am a bit hesitant to make the switch. This post is persuading me to go for it. Thanks Scott.

18

jppolk says:

December 1, 2008 at 2:10 pm

Nice review, I think you don’t have to completely commit to the graphic tablet idea, I’ve been using one simultaneously with my MX revolution for at least 3 years. The tablet is great for certain things, I do some design but mostly 3D animation and compositing. But its nice to also have the MX revolution right next to the wacom (6×11) for fast swapping. I think a mouse is better for the web and for dragging and organizing stuff (just don’t use the one that comes with the tablet, that one is crap), but the wacom really improved my speed on PS and Ai paths. There you have it, just letting you know its ok to have and use both, :) looking forward to your wacom review.

PS. I also KVM Mac and PC, witch goes well with the not committing thing.

19

Jayden Lawson says:

December 1, 2008 at 2:27 pm

Papa Irry and Eric – thanks for your Razer info… I’m very interested in these alternatives. Do you guys, or anyone else have reasons for which Razer you chose?

20

Scott says:

December 1, 2008 at 2:56 pm

jayden-
yeah, would love to hear more about the razer….I didn’t include it in the review based on very limited experience. It felt too slim, I like a tall mouse that fills out my palm… but the revolution is actually quite low profile and I got used to that just fine, so maybe a razer would do.

jppolk-
agreed, I could never see doing away with a mouse altogether, I think I would mostly just use it for drawing in PS but given it’s ergonomics it would be nice to think I could use it for a broader range of tasks.

21

Papa Irry says:

December 2, 2008 at 4:14 am

yes Jayden, plenty of reasons actually. fast, precise, extremely comfortable when used for long ours non stop, not intrusive and really usable side buttons, smooth scroll. on the downside – white – even if you wash your hands regularly it ends up looking not so white after a year and a half :) and yes, a bit too fast, so you may consider using a slower mouse pad, but that’s just me. my advice is to take it in your hand and check how you will feel about it, when I did, it just fitted perfectly from the first moment. it’s all about ergonomics done the right way.

22

Chris says:

December 2, 2008 at 5:18 am

I have long found that a mouse is often only as good as the mat it’s on.

I too am a Logitech fan, I tend toward their ambidexterious designs like the MX310. I work in a less enlightened work place, our machines are budget Dells with value LCDs. However they did sneak me in a nice high-dpi Dell mouse that is about as good as non-Logitech’s get for me.

I allways pair my mice with Func 1030 mats as I like low friction and that Alienware used sell them for £8 each.

On reflection I would probably go back to cabled at home and team it up with a hubbed keyboard like those from Apple.

I’d love a Masamune Shirow MAPP mouse by Elecom, but they were rare when they came out and otherwise impossible to get now.

23

clint says:

December 2, 2008 at 2:32 pm

I can’t even imagine using a mouse for drawing anymore. It feels so awkward. Wacom for PS, AI and ACAD. Mouse for internet and email.

25

Anonymous says:

December 6, 2008 at 5:53 pm

Scott,

I know this has already been mentioned, but please try out a few of the products “Razor” has to offer. The DPI and DPI control is amazing, and the ergonomics aren’t bad at all.

Although some look a little cheesy with their glowing logo, they are very
good mice.

28

Andre says:

February 14, 2009 at 9:19 am

Been using this baby and so far no complaints.

http://www.microsoft.com/hardware/gaming/productdetails.aspx?pid=092
http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,2845,2085927,00.asp

I mainly work with PS and AI and the possibility to adjust mouse sensitivity on the fly it’s a great feature. When doing precision work you can lower the sensitivity down to 400dpi (you have three more options 800, 1600 and 2000 DPI) and have a great control over what you are doing. Love the design too, fits perfectly in my hand.

Keep up with your excellent work! I love it!
Cheers!