Speaking to a friend yesterday, I was reminded of a very simple fact: no-one knows everything that anyone else knows. Hmmm. Perhaps that needs a bit more explaining.
We were discussing how we use our computers and software – including how we decide what to use and how to choose what we buy. So I thought this might be a good idea for a series of computer using related blog posts or articles. Nothing high-brow. So here we go.
My Top Tips For choosing A Computer Mouse
First up: Mice – or should that be ‘mouses’?
Types of Mouse
There are mainly three styles, or methods of moving the cursor around the screen: mouse, trackball, touchpad. There are one or two others (finger mouse, graphics tablet), but let’s keep mainstream for this purpose.
Apart from the fact that using the keyboard is arguably more efficient in many cases (which is not the purpose of this article), you have the option of a mouse – which you move around on your desk using your hand and wrist.; a trackball – which is fairly static on the desk, you move a ball with your thumb or fingers; or a touchpad – found mostly on laptops and netbooks. (Yes, I know Apple are coming out with a new touchy-feely mouse, but I don’t do Apple!)
Mice/mouses are usually included when you buy your computer system (not laptops). The cheap ones will work OK, but you may find your hand and wrist ache because of the strange angle at which it must be held. Some are more ergonomic than others, of course. It is possible to get left-handed mice, but you can also use standard mice left-handed as long as the design works for you. Pop along to one of the big computer stores and try out the samples they have on their shelves.
Personally I always choose Logitech or Microsoft mouses (strange, this computer-speak) because I prefer their ‘action’. The click is smooth, they feel comfortable and they move around well. Optical is best, laser very good.
Next up is a trackball. Trackballs are particularly good because they sit still on the desk, your knee, or arm of the chair and simply need your thumb or finger to move the ball which in turn moves the cursor; that makes them ideal when working with a laptop which is not on a desk (trains and sofas come to mind). They are usually ‘handed’, which means there aren’t very many made for lefties. One particular benefit is with accuracy and the cursor not slipping; lift your thumb or finger from the ball and the cursor stays put. Very good if you have the sort of work where you need to type and use the number pad at the same time as clicking with the mouse in the same spot all the time.
If you have a laptop then you will most likely have a touchpad, some also have a ‘nipple’ which sits in the middle of the keyboard. However, both of these may cause your hand and wrist to ache if you use them for any length of time because of the way you need to hold your hand to use them. Yes, they are fine in short doses and when you are restricted for space.
Because touch pads are small it may mean you have to keep stroking the pad to move the cursor around – lots more work for your digits. You can get around this to some degree by using it with either hand or even both hands at the same time – for example, one finger moves the cursor the other clicks; you can get up quite a bit of speed like this.
If you use a different computer in more than one location, why not have a mouse on one and a trackball on the other. You could also put the mouse on the left of your keyboard and use it with your left hand; (not so practical if someone else shares your workspace). Have a trackball on your other pc and use it with your right hand.
In my last job I had this set up. At first, using the mouse left handed (I’m a right-hander normally, but pride myself on being 80% ambidextrous) I didn’t switch the buttons over and found I was starting to get RSI in my middle finger – until the penny dropped! When I came home I used a trackball. Both were wireless too. I sometimes had to enter a lot of numbers into spreadsheets, so having the mouse on the left let me use the number pad on the right more efficiently. You can get separate number pads, by the way. (Think outside the box!)
Don’t think you can’t work left-handed – you can. But you will need to concentrate a bit harder to begin with. Also, you will need to switch buttons on the mouse so that your left index finger clicks in the same way your right index finger would on a right hand mouse. Honestly, it’s really easy to set up – and even to switch back and forth. Have a shortcut to your mouse settings on your desktop.
Lefties – please note: the reverse can apply to you too)
Now here’s another interesting thing – you can have more than one mouse/trackball/trackpad set up and working at any one time! One may be through a PS2 port, one on a USB and the third the built-in trackpad. Cool eh? You can have a lot of fun with wireless mouse too – especially of your colleague on the desk in front of you has the same model – just swap their mouse with yours and watch his or her face as their cursor moves around without them doing it!
Test drive your future mouse? – you are joking!
It’s actually quite hard to get a proper test drive of a mouse and you will be hard-pressed to even find a trackball worth its salt on the usual computer shops’ shelves! I bought one from a well-known High Street store. It wasn’t very expensive but looked as if it would do everything I wanted, even though it was not my usual brand – Logitech or Microsoft. I set it up and it was awful! It was noisy, clunky, sticky and the computer had to be left on to charge it (how daft is that). So I took it back for a refund. At first they wouldn’t give me one because I had opened the packet. Now tell me, how do you try out a product without opening the packaging? It was one of those fearful plasticky sealed jobs, but fortunately I’m a dab hand at getting those opened very neatly, so I won my case – although simply stating ‘not fit for the purpose’ probably clinched it.
When mice are on display it is usually not possible to position them so that they accurately reflect the location where you will be using it – on your desk. So check about refunds if it doesn’t work for you when you have tried it at home.
That leads me on to the next section about mouses…
Wired or wireless
Older computers and ancient laptops (aka breeze blocks) may not have a USB slot (you do know what that looks like, don’t you), so you will need a PS2 connection. Most new mice come with a little adaptor plug to go from USB to PS2. Newer PCs and laptops usually have both types of connections. If you are setting up more than one mouse on the same PC, having both as USBs might not work too well anyway as they sort of conflict with each other especially if they are different makes. Worth a try though.
A wireless mouse is often the better option because those darn mouse wires are forever getting caught up on something which is extremely frustrating. They are so inexpensive now that they make even more sense. But as usual there are several options here as well. I’ll put them as bullet points to try and make it all a bit easier to follow – these are all for wireless mice:
- replaceable batteries – make sure you have spares on hand as they can stop working all of a sudden
- rechargeable batteries – is this with a separate power supply, or does the computer need to be on to charge them through the USB (not very good)
- sender/receiver plugs directly into pc – this is OK if there is nothing big blocking the signal, so may not work so well if your computer is under your desk
- wired sender/receiver so that you can position it anywhere on your desk or even stick it to the side of your monitor
- sender/receiver can be palm sized or USB stick size which sits in a holder so ends up palm size(ish), needs line of sight from mouse to sender
Next we need to look at size, because this is important. There are standard mice and there are mini mice – being half the size or less of normal mice. But be careful, long use of a mini mouse may rear the ugly head of RSI again! Mini mice are good if you have a laptop but only insomuch as they save space. A standard mouse is only a little bit heavier. But then I wouldn’t use a mouse with a laptop anyway because you will still need a flat surface to work on. I wish they would do a good mini trackball. My son uses a mini mouse on his desktop – but he’s a bit geeky so we’ll let him off! Even standard size mice and trackballs can cause RSI, which is why the swap-around I mention above is to be recommended as it gives your hands a break.
All this talk about mice and trackballs; perhaps you would refer a graphics tablet – a pen-like device? It’s an option, but I’m not going to go into those here as I’ve no real experience with using them. I should imagine they are great of you need to do really fine selection work with drawings, for example. But if you are touch typing then you will be constantly picking-up and putting down.
What else do you need to know about computer mice?
I’ve tried to cover as much as I can here, but do please pop a comment below if there are any mickey questions you may still have and I will do my best to answer them as soon as possible.
What shall I write about next? Hmmm. (Why not make some suggestions about that too.)