Wireless Intellimouse Explorer, by Microsoft
Posted: 23-Mar-2002

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Microsoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Bill Catambay Class: HARDWARE
Although Apple gets it right most of the time, when it comes to the idea of a two-button mouse, Apple has baffled most of us as they continue to push out a single-button mouse. Thanks to third party vendors, however, Mac users have access to a variety of add-on mice, most with 2 to 4 buttons and a scroll wheel.

The Wireless Intellimouse Explorer is Microsoft's newest arrival on the high tech multi-button mouse scene (it's predecessors being the
Intellimouse Explorer and the Intellimouse Optical). Like it's predecessors, the Wireless Explorer is USB, multi-button, has a scroll wheel, and is very simple to hook up. In addition to being an optical mouse, what really sets this mouse apart from the rest is the fact that it is wireless.

This mouse sports a stylish design. The optical feature allows the mouse to work without any ball (no cleaning, no stuck ball, no need for a mouse pad). It has a cool red light in it that turns on only when the computer is on. It sports a silver and gray stylish look and ergonomic contours. It includes two top buttons, a scroll wheel button, and two side buttons. Like the regular Explorer, the Wireless Explorer has it's two side buttons on the same side (the left side). The placement of the buttons on the Wireless, however, are a great improvement over its predecessor. The buttons are much easier to access, requiring very little reach, and with the more contoured design of this mouse, the entire grip and feel of the mouse is better than any others I have used. To add to the ergonomic achievement, this mouse has no wire attached to it. That means no wire to restrict movement, no wire to get entangled behind the keyboard or beneath the desktop. The Wireless Explorer uses a base station (pictured to the right) to transmit all movement and button signals, and the base station relays the signals to the computer through its USB connection (either to the computer's USB port or a USB hub). Ultimately, the ideal situation would be to have the base station integrated into the computer, eliminating the need to have "yet another" hardware device hanging around. That may not be feasible at this point, and the base station has a small enough footprint to make this a non-issue.

One concern over any wireless device is how stable the signal is. With a device such as a mouse, stability is of crucial importance. After weeks of heavy use, I was ecstatic to discover that the signal between the Wireless Explorer and its base station was far more stable than I had anticipated. I placed the base station in two different places for two different tests. In one test, I set the base station on top of the desk (next to the USB hub), and in the other test I set the station on the floor down by the power strips (near the back of my G4). In both tests, I was very impressed with the stability. While I cannot report that the throughput was perfect, I can say that interruptions in mouse movement were rare. With a USB wired mouse, you don't run the risk of any signal interruption, but even when the wireless dropped the signal, it was for a fraction of a second, causing a negligiable pause in mouse movement. Compared to a mechanical mouse (non-optical ball-controlled mouse), the Wireless Optical beats it in stability with flying colors.

As with all the Microsoft Mice, setting up the mouse preferences is done using the Intellimouse control panel that comes with the mouse. I was easily able to adjust the settings on the mouse, including changing the functionality of the buttons and scroll wheel. The control panel is very intuitive, providing controls over mouse movement, buttons, precision, and any other mouse functionality you might want to manage.

The only real downside of the Wireless Explorer is the way that it is powered. Since it is not powered through the USB cable, power must be supplied through another means. Microsoft chose to use two AA batteries, your first set which comes with the mouse. I put emphasis on "first" set, as after a few weeks of heavy usage, my system put up an alert that the batteries in my wireless mouse were getting low and that I should consider replacing them. Having to worry about replacing the batteries in your mouse every month or two is not desirable (for some, it may not be an acceptable trade-off for gaining wireless functionality). On the other hand, the mouse continued to work despite the warning, so I don't really know how much longer it had, nor can I be certain that the warning was not premature. The batteries that came with the mouse may not have had a full charge to begin with as well.

Putting the uncertainty on the battery life aside, another problem with the batteries for which I am certain is the extra weight. There was a tremendous drag on the back of the mouse due to the weight of the batteries. I decided to wait until I used the mouse for a few weeks to assess whether the added weight was really a bad thing or just something to get use to. At the end of five weeks, the drag from the battery weight was still as distracting as it was in the beginning. If it wasn't for the excellent ergonomic design of the mouse, this drag would have had a much more serious impact. As it was, the weight became a constant distraction, but did not really prevent me from working productively. Using the mouse in sensitive mouse operations, such as in Photoshop, the drag could impede on the ease of performing a task.

Summary
All in all, the Wireless IntelliMouse Explorer is a smart mouse, feels good, and functions extremely well. The optical feature and the extra buttons and scroll wheel make it a wonderful enhancement to your Mac setup. The ergonomic design of this mouse is better than its predecessors; in fact, better than any other mouse I've used by any manufacturer. The wireless aspect is great, as it frees your mouse up from wire entanglement. The stability is not perfect, but it is far superior to an old-styled mechanical ball-controlled mouse, and close to being as reliable as a wired optical mouse. The big down side is the battery-controlled power, requiring you to replace the batteries when they wear down, and adding an undesirable drag weight to the mouse. Because of the latter, I consider this rendition of the mouse more of a sneak peek at what's to come. Once these power and weight issues are resolved, I can see this mouse becoming the new standard for all computers. As it is, I think this mouse is better suited for those who want to go wireless now, and those who are big into having the latest and greatest technology. If you are a heavy mouse user and cannot afford to have your work distracted by an undesirable drag weight, you may want to weight for the next model that resolves the battery issues.


Pros

  • Stylish design
  • The most ergonomically fit mouse I've used
  • Optical (no moving parts, no clogged ball rollers)
  • Wireless (no entangled wires to restrict mouse movement)


Cons

  • Have to replace batteries
  • Battery weight causes undesirable drag weight
  • Although a negligible difference, wireless is not as stable as wired
  • Base station adds another piece of hardware to your station clutter


Overall Rating

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice