A Reliable Road Rodent

by Eric Grevstad

Microsoft's latest wireless mouse for notebooks offers a straightforward design and precise tracking at a low price.

Is it just us, or are mice names getting longer? Last month we reviewed the Logitech V400 Laser Cordless Mouse for Notebooks, and now we're maneuvering Microsoft's Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse 3000. You'd think the labels would be lighter, considering that both are pre-shrunk, portable alternatives to a laptop's touchpad or pointing stick.

Perhaps the names are so detailed because vendors' product lines are overflowing: Currently, Microsoft offers notebook nomads a choice of five mobile mice, two corded and three cordless. The 3000 is the lowest entry in the latter group, lacking the extra button and horizontal- as well as vertical-scrolling Tilt Wheel of the 4000 model and the deluxe laser optics of the Wireless Notebook Laser Mouse 6000.

As such, the 3000 is merely an under-the-hood, outwardly identical upgrade of the Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse the company introduced in 2004: a smaller (3.9 by 2.3 inches) sibling of your average two-button, clickable-scroll-wheel rodent. Thankfully, "average" here means modern, smooth-moving optical instead of dust-magnet mechanical or rolling-ball mouse technology.

And what's so bad about upgrading what was already Microsoft's best seller? While the 6000 lists for a pricey $55 and the Logitech V400 is $50, the 3000 sells for $30. It uses a single AA alkaline battery that Microsoft estimates will last for up to six months. It fits easily into a briefcase or jacket pocket and needs only a thin strip of your airline tray table to work.

And it's so plug-and-play simple to use that it doesn't even come with a software driver CD, although we recommend visiting Microsoft's Web site and downloading the IntelliPoint driver anyway (more on that in a minute).

Look Sharp
The Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse 3000 is a cute, chunky oval suitable for either left or right hands, with a handsome matte blue finish and straightforward styling. Comfortable grooves or scoops on top cradle your index and middle fingers, helping you adjust quickly to the mouse's petite size.

You may not adjust so quickly to the 3000's hair-trigger tracking: At first, you're likely to fly past or overshoot your on-screen targets, thanks to what Microsoft calls high-definition optical technology. While the 3000's sensor uses a conventional glowing LED light source instead of the laser of Redmond's topmost mice, it takes the same 6,000 frames or snapshots per second to yield the same 1,000 dpi resolution.

Allowing room for the mouse itself, we needed a desk or table area only about three and a quarter inches wide to span our 1,280 by 1,024-pixel desktop display.

Look Out Below
The 3000 also worked well when we ventured off the mouse pad to a bare desk, pants leg and most other surfaces. It doesn't match the traction of the laser mice we've tested — the pointer stood still when we slid the mouse across glossy photo paper, for instance, whereas lasers work on virtually any surface short of clear glass or a mirror. Realistically, though, that's not a big problem; if your hotel-room desk has a glass top, you can stick a magazine or piece of paper under the mouse.

In another bit of good news, the 3000 proved less vulnerable to the skipping and skittering of electromagnetic interference we've encountered with some other Microsoft wireless mice. The blue mini performed capably even when surrounded on three sides by a desktop PC, CRT monitor and oscillating fan, though the buttons seemed to be less responsive or require a firmer tap than they did when using the mouse with a notebook on an otherwise bare table.

The mouse's 27MHz radio receiver has a working range of about two feet. It's smaller than the previous model — a stubby stick instead of J-shaped pivoting antenna — but works the same way: When it's not plugged into a laptop's USB port, it snaps into a recess on the mouse's underside for easy, one-piece packing.

Tucking the receiver away also turns the mouse off, helping to conserve the AA battery, which you access by pressing a latch button to open the hood. The 3000 comes with one alkaline cell to power your first six months or so.

One negative note: While Logitech's V400 notebook mouse survived being dropped several times, the first time we knocked the 3000 off our desk it popped open, scattering mouse, lid and battery. It worked fine when reassembled.

All You Really Need
When used without a software driver, the 3000's left and right buttons and the scroll wheel work as you'd expect them to, with a click of the scroll wheel toggling an auto-scroll function. Downloading and installing Microsoft's IntelliPoint 5.5 driver (7MB) lets you customize the buttons, choosing from a good-sized list of keyboard shortcuts with the option of application-specific functions — a click of the wheel, say, serving for Back in Internet Explorer and Undo in Excel.

Another IntelliPoint choice is a magnifier that you can drag to zoom in on any part of the screen (except OpenGL and DirectX screens for Windows, and only the whole screen for Mac OS). Its press-while-scrolling procedure for resizing the magnifying lens is awkward, but it's a handy tool for occasional use. The various driver options aren't as convenient as having additional physical buttons, but they help to personalize an otherwise minimalist mouse.

With so many mice to choose from, the small-and-packable segment is splitting into high-end and mainstream/value picks just like the desktop mouse market. Right now, the Logitech V400 is our favorite upscale laptop mouse, but the Microsoft Wireless Notebook Optical Mouse 3000 scores just as highly for its simple, surefooted design, precise tracking and low price. It's not the flashiest mobile mouse on the market, but it might be the easiest to like.

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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This article was originally published on Friday May 19th 2006
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