Miscellaneous Ramblings

Miscellaneous Ramblings Review

2 Wireless Alternatives to Apple's Magic Mouse

Charles Moore - 2009.10.27 - Tip Jar

Targus for Mac Wireless Mouse: 4 out of 4

Targus for Mac Bluetooth Laser Mouse: 3 out of 4

Apple's new wireless Magic Mouse, introduced last week, may well turn out to be the best computer mouse Apple has ever offered. Unfortunately, the bar isn't set very high, especially in the USB era.

Apple's Hockey Puck

Apple's round USB mouseThe original "hockey puck" Apple USB mouse that shipped with the original iMacs and Power Macs of the era was something of a self parody. Almost everyone hated it. I know I found it annoying and uncomfortable to use, although my daughter liked it and still says it's one of her favorite mice.

Actually, it's turned out to be one of my favorite mice too, but for an unconventional reason. I've discovered that with the ball removed and the hole taped over (to prevent dust from collecting inside), the Apple hockey puck mouse makes an excellent foot mouse for clicking.

I have chronic neuritis and find most clicking tends to aggravate the nerves in my arms and hands, causing pain and motor issues, so I do what I can to minimize that sort of stress. Clicking with my foot has proved an excellent workaround. The hockey puck mouse's rounded contours make it comfortable to operate (clicking only - I haven't even attempted to master tracking with my foot) in a sock or barefoot.

They seem to stand up amazingly well under this sort of hard use that they were never designed for, and the shortest time I've had one in this service before mechanical failure of the switch was around one year. The latest one has lasted more than two years and is still going strong. I'm in no danger from running short of them, since a friend in the computer repair business handed off a whole bagful of them, all blueberry and all in excellent condition, as a gift.

Apple's Later USB Mice

I digress. Anyway, the first "serious" Apple USB mouse, which had a much more conventional shape, made the entire upper housing the "button". It was something of an improvement, but I still didn't like the one that shipped with my G4 Cube very much and quickly substituted a third-party two-button mouse.

I haven't been very happy getting along with one button for a long time - actually, almost since I first experimented with using a two-button mouse back in the mid-90s. Aside from it's only having one oversized "button", I also didn't like the relatively stiff action of Apple's mouse, although its shape was reasonably comfortable. MacMice made several much nicer-to-use rodents with essentially the same housing shape, but with two buttons and a scroll wheel.

wireless Mighty MouseHowever, as uninspiring as the second USB Apple mouse was, it was better than iteration three: the late, unlamented Apple Mighty Mouse, which I consider one of the worst computer mice ever made. Instead of a decent scroll wheel, Apple insisted on using a woefully undersized and near-useless trackball, adding insult to injury by making the trackball mechanism impossible to take apart and clean when it inevitably got gummed-up with grime.

Apple's Magic Mouse

Now we have Apple's third mouse design since the round USB mouse, dubbed Magic Mouse, and this time instead of a trackball, it incorporates a mini trackpad supporting Apple's Multi-Touch™ technology that was originally developed for the iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple notebook trackpads. Multitouch allows Magic Mouse users to navigate using finger gestures.

Instead of mechanical buttons, scroll wheels, or trackballs, the entire top of the Magic Mouse is a seamless multitouch surface on top of a touch-sensitive enclosure, which allows it to be a virtual single- or multibutton mouse with gesture support. Using gestures, users can scroll through long documents, pan across large images or swipe to move forward or backward through a collection of web pages or photos. Magic Mouse works for left- or right-handed users, and multibutton or gesture commands can be configured from within System Preferences.

The Magic Mouse uses a laser tracking sensor that works effectively on a wider variety of surfaces than traditional optical tracking systems, and it communicates with the computer via the Bluetooth wireless interface. The wireless Magic Mouse is powered by two AA batteries, and to extend battery performance, it includes an advanced power management system that works with Mac OS X to automatically switch the mouse to low power mode during periods of inactivity.

This all sounds very promising. I haven't actually gotten my hands on one yet, being out here in the boonies (150 miles from the nearest Apple authorized reseller). I may actually end up liking the Magic Mouse, which would make it the first Apple mouse that appealed to me since the ADB era - other than my esoteric usage of the hockey puck version.

Targus Touch Scroll

However, I'm not completely inexperienced using mice that operate via finger gestures rather than mechanical solutions like scroll wheels. For more than a year now, Targus has been offering two mice in its "For Mac" suite of computer peripherals, both of which incorporate Targus' Touch Scroll four-way wheel-less optical scrolling and quick scroll technology.

Targus For Mac miceTouch Scroll is not quite as sophisticated as Apple's Multi-Touch, and the Targus Touch Scroll mice still have conventional buttons for clicking, but Touch Scroll works on an analogically similar principle. I find it quite pleasant and effective to use, although I still think I prefer the nicely weighted scroll wheel in my Logitech V550 mouse, which also supports horizontal scrolling by nudging the scroll wheel to the left or right.

Nevertheless, Targus' Touch Scroll technology is very slick and gets quite addictive.

The Wireless Mouse and Bluetooth Laser Mouse are identical in size and shape; they share a large proportion of their engineering, with the main distinctions being that one uses conventional optical tracking technology and while the other uses laser tracking and connects via Bluetooth, obviating the need for a receiver dongle on Macs equipped with Bluetooth.

As with most USB RF wireless receivers these days, the Targus Wireless Mouse 's unit is low profile, so in most instances it will be possible to leave it plugged in a laptop USB port when the computer is carried or stored in a computer case or sleeve. If that's not convenient, there's a handy slot inside the mouse for storing or transporting the RF receiver securely when it's unplugged from the computer.

I hasten to add that while the Wireless Mouse for Mac's low-profile receiver is a specifically laptop-friendly feature, these two mice are not undersized "notebook mice". Indeed, they are perhaps a bit larger than average by current standards (exterior dimensions: 2.51" x 1.45" x 4.64"). That suits me just fine, as I like largish mice for use with either laptop or desktop computers - and your hands don't get any smaller when you travel.

Targus Bluetooth Laser Mouse for MacStyling-wise, the two mice are very similar, the main difference being that the Wireless Mouse for Mac's housing is entirely the glossy "Lunar Gray" plastic, a Targus for Mac signature, and the Bluetooth Laser Mouse for Mac is two-tone with a darker gray bottom case housing. Personally, I prefer the look of the all Lunar Gray unit, but that's just my subjective preference.

Being cordless mice, these units are both powered by onboard batteries, happily standard AA cells all-round (the same kind used in Apple's Magic Mouse). AA's are cheap and easy to find almost anywhere. AA cells are fairly heavy, but Targus has done a good engineering job of making these mice smooth, well-balanced, slick trackers. Estimated battery life is up to six months, and the Touch Scroll optical scanner will blink when less than one hour of battery life remains. (Editor's note: We have contacted Targus regarding compatibility with rechargeable batteries and will update this column with that information once we receive our answer. dk)

Both Targus mice have a manual power button on their undersides so you can positively power them down when idle.

Hands On

optical Touch Scroll sensor on Targus miceAs for using the four-way optical Touch Scroll optical sensor technology that replaces the usual scroll ball or scroll wheel, I found it quite intuitive with almost no learning curve climbing required. Cursor movement is activated by moving your fingertip directionally across the optical sensor, which is a natural-feeling way of manipulation. I did have to dial down the scrolling speed in the OS X preferences from where I had it set for my usual, scrollwheel equipped mouse. I found that scrolling in small increments for precision tasks isn't quite as easy to modulate as it is with a really good, sensitive, weighted scroll wheel, but it's better than some scroll wheels I've used. Especially convenient is the quick scrolling function that facilitates rapid scrolling up and down through lengthy documents with a quick swipe (gesture) of your fingertip. (For more, see Moore's 4-way Touch Scroll in Targus Mice More than Just a Cool Gimmick.)

With 1200 dpi tracking resolution optical and laser sensors respectively, both of these Targus mice are fast and accurate for precision pointing tasks (with a qualification on that for the Bluetooth unit that I'll get to in greater detail in a moment). Both mice have a wireless range of up to 33 feet, which might be helpful for making presentations with your laptop, although I would recommend checking out the Targus for Mac Bluetooth Presenter (which also incorporates the optical Touch Scroll technology) if you do a lot of that.

One big distinction between these Targus mice and the Apple Magic Mouse is that these units have buttons as aforementioned - the front part of the top housing is split in order to let it flex under finger pressure to do double duty actuating the left/right click functions. I found the Targus mice have a very pleasant tactile feel for clicking - smooth and positive with just the right amount of effort required - not too stiff and not too light on the trigger. Full marks in that department, and I think I prefer having mechanical buttons to the gestures that will be required for virtual clicking with the Magic Mouse.

Basic click and scroll functions work just fine with OS X's default mouse drivers, but a download and install of Targus' proprietary driver software, which installs a System Preference panel, is required in order to use the programmable third and forth click buttons, which can be configured for individualized one-click access to favorite functions, programs or toggling AppleScripts. These buttons are located on the left side of the lower housing in a low-profile rocker switch configuration that is out of your way when you're not using them, but is fairly conveniently accessible for your thumb if you're right-handed. However, allowing them to protrude just a bit more would have made them easier to actuate, due to the inward taper of the lower housing.

Bluetooth's Shortcomings

I personally have a preference for RF connected wireless mice, and I am not much of a Bluetooth fan, even though I appreciate its several advantages: no RF receiver dongle to plug in, using up a precious USB port (always at a premium on Apple laptops), and potentially getting lost or misplaced.

However, I find Bluetooth's shortcomings, such as the necessity of Bluetooth configuration (device seeking and pairing) a pain. OS X's Bluetooth Setup Assistant does a good job of making this relatively straightforward, but it's still time-consuming and an unwelcome extra hassle. There is also the standard Bluetooth wake-up lag while connection is restored after the computer and/or mouse have been asleep.

The heretofore most egregious thing about Bluetooth, cursor latency - that microsecond of lag between moving the mouse and cursor response - has been much improved in recent Bluetooth mice, including these from Targus, but the RF version still has the edge in instant "right there, right now" responsiveness. Happily with the For Mac series, Targus gives you the option of essentially the same cool feature set, save for Bluetooth connectivity and a laser sensor, in the less-expensive Wireless Mouse for Mac.

Summing Up

Both Targus mice require Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger" or better, and of course the Bluetooth model demands a Bluetooth-equipped Mac. Magic Mouse requires Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later, so OS X 10.4 holdouts - and folks who use even older versions of the Mac OS - are out of luck with Apple's newest mouse.

Tiger users can use the Targus mice, which are really nice products with a very high standard of finish, and the Touch Scroll technology is genuinely innovative and not a gimmick. It remains to be seen how gimmicky users find the Multi-Touch Magic Mouse. I turned out liking the Multi-Touch, å trackpad in my Unibody MacBook more than I thought I would.

I do, however, like the presence and feel of Targus mice's main click buttons, the smoothness with which these mice glide across my mouse pad, and the Touch Scroll feature works well. They appear to be well made and are backed by a one-year Targus limited warranty.


  • Targus for Mac Wireless Mouse: 4 out of 4
  • Targus for Mac Bluetooth Laser Mouse: 3 out of 4

A rating for the Magic Mouse will have to wait.

The Targus Bluetooth Laser Mouse for Mac sells for $69.99, which is 99¢ more than Apple wants for the Magic Mouse. However, the Targus Wireless Mouse for Mac sells for an easier-to-swallow $49.99.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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