Monday, March 31, 2008

Hardware Review: Contour Design Rollermouse Pro

Rollermouse proThey say there is no such thing as love at first sight, unless of course you are watching a Hollywood movie. On the big screen, you see your life partner from across the room and you both know you'll end up together, though it may take years.

I saw the Contour Design Rollermouse at Macworld '07 and instantly fell in love. I'm in that tiny minority that actually like track pads. I type pretty darn fast and hate having to stop typing and remove a hand from the keyboard to control the mouse. Also, it's an awkward strain to reach over all the time, and I have particular shoulder problems on that side of my body from repetitive mousing over. When I bought my first USB-only Mac I was devastated I couldn't use my old trackpad keyboard on the computer. It was my old pal from the days of my IIvx and was still running strong. I used an ADB to USB converter, but it's software was flaky and I eventually gave up.

When I gave up on my original ADB trackpad keyboard, I tried a few trackpad USB keyboards designed for PCs, but they were clunky and I hated not having the keys mapped for a Mac. I suffered along, accepting I couldn't have what I wanted and started doing more serious work on my laptop, because I could type faster on that unit. I accepted it was better to have love and lost, than to have never loved at all. At Macworld, I saw Sarah Bullock and found my next true love...ooops...we're talking about computers here. Seeing the RollerMouse was years later! As soon as I started using it, I knew I was hooked. I could type quickly and actually control the mouse better than I could on a trackpad. The RollerMouse is hard to describe, and much easier to see. Contour Design's website has a great video of it.

In a nutshell, the RollerMouse simulates a trackpad environment in that you can control the mouse movement without having to take your hands off the keyboard. Your thumbs do all the work. Best of all, it acts as a keyboard tray and wrist rest, so you can use any keyboard you want with the RollerMouse. Note that because it has it's own wrist rest, ergonomic style keyboards with their own wrist area do not work well with the RollerMouse. I had to give up my Logitech Wireless and Use a Macally Icekey instead. What we do for love!

Rollermouse close upThe RollerMouse is a rubberized rod that is placed in-between the two wrist rests, you slide the dowel right to move right, left to move left. However, it also acts like a scroll wheel, you can click the RollerMouse and roll up and down. The RollerMouse combines the best of a track-pad, a trackball, and a mouse. Unlike a track-pad, the faster I roll the the RollerMouse, the faster the mouse moves on the screen. One quick flick of the thumb and I've scrolled all the way up, because the momentum of the physical RollerMouse carries the icon up the screen. Unlike a mouse or trackpad, the RollerMouse allows 360 degrees of movement. It's very easy to move between any two points on the screen in one fluid motion. Although I'm not a video editor, I do occasionally watch TV shows via QuickTime. The RollerMouse accurately simulates the functions of the jogwheel video editors use. I can easily skip commercials and get right to the beginning of the show.

The RollerMouse comes in two flavors: Classic and Pro. The Pro features higher DPI for more precise movements and more programmable buttons. I tried out the Pro. One of the minor problems with the RollerMouse is an inability to program what each button does. There is a tiny "dip" switch that gives you 3 different combinations of what the buttons will do, which is somewhat limiting. USB Overdrive allows you a greater range of choices regarding each button's function, but other mice don't limit your choices as much as the RollerMouse. If we were scripting the Hollywood love story, this would be equivalent to not replacing the toilet paper when the roll is empty. Annoying, but unless you are Seinfeld, it's not a deal-breaker in the relationship.

Of course, love knows no price. I believe the going rate for a wedding ring is two month's salary, and my love of this mouth carries just a hefty price tag. The RollerMouse Classic is $189 and the RollerMouse Pro is $199. Ouch. Eliot Spitzer knows love sometimes comes at a high price. Fortunately, Contour Design has a generous 30 day free trial (how many relationships give you that?) I doubt if many people return it after using it for a while.

This mouse is not for the casual user. This is for the person who spends hours a day at the computer and in particular, begins to develop repetitive stress injury. If all you do is check email and surf the web on your computer, you are unlikely to see the true value in this input device. On the other hand (figuratively and literally), if your shoulder aches at the end of a busy day from using the mouse so much, then this mouse is for you! You can spend more time at your keyboard, and less time reaching over for your mouse. I'm truly in love with it and I wrote my old mouse a nice Dear John letter. It found a lovely home on eBay and is making a grandmother in Pittsburgh very happy. My MacBook trackpad is wondering why I spend so much less time with it. Yes, I've found another input device. When I need to do input on the road MacBook, your trackpad will satisfy my needs, but when I'm at my desk I'm delighted to see my MacPro will get my full attention with the help of my RollerMouse Pro.

Pros: Saves valuable time and effort by putting a mouse accessible to your hands without leaving the keyboard. Perfect for fast typists
Cons: Lack of button choices, cost.

Five out of Five Dogcows

Article was republished by the Lawrence Apple User's Group 2.0 here as well as other groups listed on the right