Review: Microsoft Explorer Mouse with BlueTrack Technology

Thursday Dec 11th 2008 by Vangie Beal
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Microsoft says its new flagship mouse's glowing blue bottom is the key to better tracking and precision than any other optical or laser mouse. We test the company's claim that BlueTrack works on virtually any surface: Denim? Tile? Skin? Carpet? Kleenex? Lego?

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.

One thing we liked was that the Explorer runs on a single AA battery, making it easy to find a temporary replacement should you forget the small AC adapter base provided to refuel the standard 2100mAh rechargeable battery.

While it can take up to three hours to fully charge the mouse, you can give it enough juice to run for a full day in a quick 15-minute charge. Microsoft says that a full three-hour charge typically lasts for three weeks.

Since Microsoft claims you can use the Explorer on almost any surface, we felt obligated to set up an obstacle course. Using a browser and Microsoft Word document to check accuracy and usability, we tested the mouse on more than 20 different surfaces with excellent results.

Hostile Territory

Paper items including newspaper, glossy white photo paper, and both plain brown and glossy corrugated cardboard all produced trouble-free, precise responses. A glossy hardcover book jacket that stymied two other optical mice in our collection was also a success.

Fabrics we tested included a cotton T-shirt, a rough towel, a Kleenex tissue, denim, and carpeting, with the Explorer handling each with no loss of accuracy. Among nonstandard surfaces commonly found in homes and offices, we tried a variety of wood including laminate flooring, rough pine board, and coated pressboard. There was no discernible difference between using these and an actual mousepad.

Just for fun, we tried Styrofoam, a plastic container lid, a round fireplace log, the arm of a leather office chair, Lego, and a plastic bag. All worked very well, except the Lego which was too bumpy to make it worth using as a mouse pad (not a big issue, since we're pretty sure Lego won't be the surface of choice for most users).

The Explorer Mouse also worked beautifully on smooth and textured frosted glass and on ceramic tile. (Again, clear glass and mirrored or metallic surfaces thwart any mouse's optical scanning of movement from one frame to the next).

So much for clean -- how about dirty surfaces? We happily scooped old ashes out of the fireplace and sprinkled them onto our desk. The ashes did not interfere with mouse movement at all. We had the same results when coating the desk with a finer layer of chalk dust. Clearly, the Explorer is an attractive option for those working in a dusty workshop or garage.

If you have no mouse space at all, you can use your lap, arm, face, head, or even massage your neck and shoulders with the Explorer Mouse. It took some practice to adjust to surfing the Web with a back-scratcher, but it really can be done.

In short, we found Microsoft's claim to be true: The Explorer really does work on virtually any surface.

The Explorer Mouse is an innovative peripheral with a stylish design. When the novelty of trying to make it work on every surface in your home or office wears off, chances are you'll still be pleased with the mouse -- it's comfortable to hold, it offers excellent tracking and scrolling, and it's easy on the wrist. Plus, that sexy blue glow will match many desktop systems' tower LEDs.

The fact that you can take it with you and use it on just about any surface is icing on the cake. Hmm, we haven't tried cake yet ...

Adapted from Hardwarecentral.com.

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