Blue Da Ba Dee
By Kenny Yeo
Most of you might not be aware, but apart from being a software giant, Microsoft is equally strong in the hardware business too. In fact, they've been in the hardware business for over 25 years. In particular, Microsoft have been strong in mouse technology, having popularized the scroll wheel and introduced the world's first optical mouse.
Not wanting to rest on its laurels, Microsoft has now developed what they call the "world's most advanced tracking technology", simply named "BlueTrack". BlueTrack technology is found in the latest Explorer mice (which will now emit a bluish light as a result) and according to Microsoft, this technology will allow these new Explorers to work over surfaces which would stump other mice.
Microsoft doesn't reveal much about the underlying technology of BlueTrack, only that it works thanks to a Microsoft-designed imaging sensor which allows the mouse to generate a high-contrast picture of the surface, resulting in exceptional tracking accuracy. This is also why it can track over surfaces like carpet, granite and marble, which would have other mice stumped. And if you are wondering, no, it still won't be able to track across clear glass or mirrors.
Does it work? To be sure, it does, we tested it over nearly everything we found in our labs, carpet, anti-static bags, boxes and even on our jeans and pants, and found that the Explorer Mini handled all that quite brilliantly. Unfortunately, our enthusiasm faltered when we tested regular mice and found that they too could track over these surfaces as well, albeit slightly inferior to the Explorer mouse. This puts a bit of a damper on the Explorer Mini.
Thankfully, the Explorer Mini has other things to look forward to beyond its BlueTrack tracking sensor. The Explorer Mini is a wireless mouse that makes use of a USB transceiver and the smart thing about it, is that the USB transceiver can be conveniently snapped onto the bottom of the mouse to turn it off and for easy storage. Microsoft also claims that the 2.4GHz wireless technology is capable of delivering a reliable connection up to a distance of 30 feet. Our only gripe is that the Explorer Mini requires an AA battery for operation. But it has a claimed battery life of around 4 months, so replacing it shouldn't be that much of a hassle.
Secondly, we found the shape of the mouse to be suitably ergonomic. It felt natural to use and even after many hours of use, our wrists did not feel strained or numbed. Additionally, it is also designed to be neutral in orientation, so left-handed users can heave a sigh of relief.
The Explorer Mini has two additional buttons apart from the standard left and right buttons and the scroll wheel. They are customizable of course, but by default, they serve as dedicated back and forward buttons for web-surfing. Also, the buttons on the mouse felt solid and chunky enough to handle even the manic clicks of a child high on sugar.
While Microsoft's BlueTrack technology might not the revolution Microsoft was hoping for, it does however improve mouse tracking on unconventional surfaces, if only by a bit. Happily, it does have a lot more going for it, such as its ergonomic design, cleverly-designed transceiver and excellent build quality. At a recommended retail price of S$79.90, it is not cheap, but then again wasn't there a saying that goes "you pay for what you get"? It certainly rings true here.